Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump Administration Aims to Block New Funding for Testing and Tracing


The White House pushes to eliminate billions from a relief proposal drafted by Senate Republicans.

The Trump administration has balked at providing billions of dollars to fund coronavirus testing and shore up federal health agencies as the virus surges across the country, complicating efforts to reach agreement on the next round of pandemic aid.

Senate Republicans had drafted a proposal that would allocate $25 billion in grants to states for conducting testing and contact tracing, as well as about $10 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and about $15 billion for the National Institutes of Health, according to a person familiar with the tentative plans, who cautioned that the final dollar figures remained in flux. They had also proposed providing $5.5 billion to the State Department and $20 billion to the Pentagon to help counter the virus outbreak and potentially distribute a vaccine at home and abroad.

But in talks over the weekend, administration officials instead pushed to zero out the funding for testing and for the nation’s top health agencies, and to cut the Pentagon funding to $5 billion, according to another person familiar with the discussions. The people asked for anonymity to disclose private details of the talks, which were first reported by The Washington Post.

The suggestions from the administration infuriated several Republicans on Capitol Hill, who saw them as tone deaf, given that more than 3.5 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and many states are experiencing spikes in cases.

With unemployment benefits and a number of other aid measures included in the stimulus package set to expire at the end of the month, Congress is rushing to pull together the measure within the next two weeks.

The administration’s position presents an added complication to negotiations between Democrats, who are pressing for a more expansive aid bill, and Republicans, who hope to unveil a narrower opening offer for virus relief as early as this week.

On Friday, for the second time, more than 70,000 coronavirus cases were announced in the United States, according to a New York Times database. A day earlier, the country set a record with 75,600 new cases, the 11th time in the past month that the daily record had been broken.

The F.D.A. signs off on pooled testing, which significantly expands diagnostic capacity.

As the United States struggles to contain surging caseloads and an increasing death toll from the virus, the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued its first emergency approval for a testing approach that allows samples from multiple people to be combined for much faster tracking of new infections.

The agency gave so-called emergency use authorization to Quest Diagnostics to test combined samples from up to four people — a method known as pooled testing. If the pooled test is negative, then all four are in the clear. If it is positive, then each sample would be individually tested to determine who was infected.

The decades-old method has been used to test for the virus in China, Germany, Israel and Thailand. In Nebraska, a state scientist found a loophole that allowed him to circumvent federal prohibitions on the method.

The U.S. military has used the technique for diseases at its bases worldwide since it first tested for syphilis in the 1940s.

This approach expands the number of people who can be tested without requiring the use of additional crucial materials and staffing.

“Sample pooling becomes especially important as infection rates decline and we begin testing larger portions of the population,” the F.D.A. chief, Stephen Hahn, said in a statement.

The number of weekly tests reported nationwide has increased to more than five million in early July from about one million in early April, according to data collected by the Covid Tracking Project. At the same time, the rate of positive tests, which had steady declined from late April to early June, has been increasing in recent weeks, the data show.

The federal action to speed testing came as at least two states, Arizona and North Carolina, announced single-day records on Saturday. Arizona reported more than 130 new deaths, and North Carolina said it had more than 2,360 new cases.

As school districts around the United States debate when and how to reopen schools, a large new study from South Korea offers a note of caution. It found that children between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do, suggesting that middle and high schools in particular may seed new clusters of infection.

Children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often, the study found, although the risk is not zero. That is consistent with what many other studies have reported.

Several experts said that the study was carefully done and that the results suggested schools should have concrete plans in place for dealing with outbreaks before reopening.

“I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota.

“There will be transmission,” Dr. Osterholm said. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.”

The South Korean researchers identified 5,706 people who were the first to report Covid-19 symptoms in their households from Jan. 20 to March 27, when schools were closed. They then traced the 59,073 contacts of these “index cases.” They tested all of the household contacts of each patient, regardless of symptoms, but only tested symptomatic contacts outside the household.

President Trump and his top aides decided to shift responsibility for the coronavirus response to the states during a critical period of weeks in mid-April, focusing on overly optimistic data signals and rushing to reopen the economy, a Times investigation found.

Interviews with more than two dozen senior administration officials, state and local health officials and a review of documents revealed a haphazard response during the initial surge in cases in the United States, characterized by offloading authority and, at times, undercutting public health experts.

A team in the White House led by Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, met daily on the crisis, but the ultimate goal was shifting responsibility. “They referred to this as ‘state authority handoff,’ and it was at once a catastrophic policy blunder and an attempt to escape blame for a crisis that had engulfed the country — perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations,” write Michael D. Shear, Noah Weiland, Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger.

Mayors and governors said that the White House approach was guided by an overarching strategy of reviving the economy, which failed to address how cities and states should respond if cases surged again.

Key elements of the Trump administration’s strategy were drafted privately with comment from aides who for the most part had no experience with public health emergencies. And the president quickly came to feel trapped by the administration’s reopening guidelines, which hinge on declining case counts, leading him to repeatedly rail against increasing testing in the United States.

The investigation found that White House officials failed to acknowledge the scale of the pandemic until early June, and that even now internal divisions remain over how far to go in having officials publicly acknowledge the fallout of the pandemic.

Dozens of fiercely loyal members of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front party — mayors, judges, police officials, council members and government bureaucrats — have died over the past two months.

All are thought to be victims of the coronavirus, though few have been acknowledged as such, as is the case with most virus fatalities in Nicaragua. Many are officially attributed to “atypical pneumonia.”

The string of fatalities has highlighted the fact that the disease is much more widespread than the government has publicly acknowledged.

And to critics of the government, the deaths underscore the consequences of President Daniel Ortega’s haphazard and politicized response to the pandemic — with no encouragement of wearing masks or social distancing measures, and little testing and no stay-at-home orders or shutdowns. The government held mass gatherings, including a March rally in support of other stricken countries called “Love in the Time of Covid-19.”

Several young epidemiologists, virologists and related specialists said in the medical journal Lancet that Nicaragua’s response “has been perhaps the most erratic of any country in the world to date.”

Officially, the government reports that just 99 people have died from the virus, although the Citizens Covid-19 Observatory, an anonymous group of doctors and activists in Nicaragua, has registered 2,397 probable deaths.

The government is now taking measures to combat the virus, creating Covid-only hospital units and using the military to organize mass disinfection campaigns. On Sunday, its annual extravaganza celebrating the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, which toppled the Somoza family dictatorship in 1979, will take place virtually for the first time.

But the toll is already high. Carlos Fernando Chamorro, editor of Confidencial, a leading news outlet, said his team had counted some 100 deaths of Sandinistas, including about 10 well-known figures.

“The problem is that here, nobody officially dies of Covid-19,” he said.

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, raised alarms on Saturday about the economic fallout from the pandemic and the ripple effects it could have on poverty and wealth inequality.

“Covid-19 is shining a spotlight on this injustice,” Mr. Guterres said. “Entire regions that were making progress on eradicating poverty and narrowing inequality have been set back years in a matter of months.”

Striking a sober tone in a speech honoring Nelson Mandela’s legacy, Mr. Guterres stressed that the pandemic was pushing developing countries to the brink of disaster, and that women, migrants and racial minorities were all likely to suffer disproportionately.

“We face the deepest global recession since World War II, and the broadest collapse in incomes since 1870,” he said. “One hundred million more people could be pushed into extreme poverty and we could see famines of historic proportions.”

His comments came as David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, urged the Group of 20 major economies to take steps to help the world’s poorest countries by extending a freeze in their official debt payments through the end of 2021, Reuters reported. Speaking to G20 finance ministers meeting virtually, Mr. Malpass also recommended talks on reducing the debt of some countries.

Mr. Guterres said the United Nations would continue its mission to assist countries in need, but that the pandemic had demonstrated a severe erosion of social safety nets in countries worldwide.

Reflecting on Mr. Mandela’s work to fight racism, Mr. Guterres also said the recent anti-racism movement born out of the killing of George Floyd had caused rising awareness of racial inequality, and that the pandemic had shed light on systemic racism globally.

“Covid-19 has been likened to an X-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built,” he said.

In other news around the world:

  • Face coverings will be required in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, whenever people leave home, officials there said Sunday, citing a recent increase in cases. The requirement will take effect on Wednesday. Violations could result in a fine of 200 Australian dollars, or roughly $140. Exemptions will be given to some people, including children under 12 and workers for whom wearing a mask is not practical, such as teachers in school.

  • Iran started enforcing new restrictions in Tehran on Saturday, banning large gatherings and closing cafes, gyms and some other facilities, as coronavirus cases surge in what health officials say is even worse than the first wave that hit the capital in March. The country has reported more than 270,000 confirmed cases, the 10th highest in the world, but President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that 30 million to 35 million people are “likely to be exposed to the disease in the coming months,” the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.

  • Chinese officials are battling a growing outbreak in the far western Xinjiang region, the center of the country’s broad crackdown on predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities. Forty cases have been reported in its capital, Urumqi, since Thursday, 23 of them on Saturday. The government flew in 21 lab technicians and their testing equipment from three hospitals in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged late last year, and residential compounds were under lockdown.

  • Lawyers in India say the authorities are seizing on the pandemic as an opportunity to round up critics of the government.

  • Thailand, a rare success story in fighting the virus, has recorded fewer than 3,240 cases and 58 deaths. But its tourism-dependent economy has been ravaged. Some migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar and Cambodia are stuck with no wages from their jobs as hotel cleaners, kitchen hands and food stall operators, and the Thai tourism and sports ministry estimates that 60 percent of hospitality businesses could close by the end of the year.

  • The authorities in Britain have temporarily suspended the release of the daily toll of deaths attributed to the coronavirus, in response to a request from the government after it raised concerns about accuracy. The authorities in England had been including all people who tested positive for the virus in their daily count, regardless of the cause of death — one analysis noted that the current standards would have included someone who tested positive for the virus three months ago and then “had a heart attack or were run over by a bus.”

  • European Union leaders agreed to go back to the negotiating table Sunday after two long, difficult days of talks during which they have been trying to bridge differences over how to distribute and oversee a radical stimulus plan that would send 750 billion euros, or about $840 billion, into the bloc’s economies to push them out of the recession the pandemic has sunk them in.

Major League Baseball’s plan to use all 30 of its teams’ ballparks for an abbreviated, 60-game season met an immovable obstacle on Saturday: the Canadian government. The Toronto Blue Jays, the only M.L.B. team based outside the United States, will not be allowed to stage home games during the pandemic.

Marco Mendicino, Canada’s immigration minister, announced that the government had turned down the Blue Jays’ request to play at Rogers Centre, where their first game had been scheduled for July 29 against the Washington Nationals.

The Blue Jays have been training at home this month, and they had received permission from the city of Toronto and the province of Ontario to play games there. But the federal government ruled that hosting 10 series involving eight visiting teams was not worth the risk.

“Unlike preseason training, regular-season games would require repeated cross-border travel of Blue Jays players and staff, as well as opponent teams into and out of Canada,” Mr. Mendicino said in a statement. “Of particular concern, the Toronto Blue Jays would be required to play in locations where the risk of virus transmission remains high.”

The Blue Jays said in a statement that they were searching for an alternative park, and an official with knowledge of the Blue Jays’ plans said the most likely destination would be Buffalo, which is nearly a two-hour drive south and is the home of the Blue Jays’ Class AAA team.

As Texas reported single-day records for cases and deaths this week, more than 1,000 of the 1,798 inmates at the Federal Correctional Institute in Seagoville, a suburb of Dallas, had tested positive as of Saturday.

In Nueces County, where beach-seeking tourists caused a spike in cases by flocking to Corpus Christi, 85 infants 1 or younger have tested positive since the first case appeared there in March, the county’s public health director said in an interview on Saturday.

And in an apparent acknowledgment of the public health risks of holding a large-scale gathering during a pandemic, a federal judge blocked the Texas Republican Party from hosting an in-person convention in Houston, the mayor said on Twitter early Saturday.

Many of the babies who tested positive in Nueces County seem to have been infected from close family members who had the virus, said Annette Rodriguez, the health director, and a majority of the babies have had influenza-like symptoms and recovered on their own.

The number of infections among babies in the county reflects a rate similar to the one health officials are seeing among adults, Ms. Rodriguez said. And children are generally less likely than adults to become sick from the virus.

Ms. Rodriguez said she had released the figure on infants because she hoped that it might prompt more residents to wear masks and follow strict social distancing measures.

“To me, if it was my baby and it’s a novel virus that we don’t know a lot about, I would be concerned,” Ms. Rodriguez said.

Nueces County has the fastest seven-day-average new case growth of all metropolitan counties in Texas, officials said at a news conference on Friday.

As cases in Texas have surged over recent weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott has faced mounting criticism over the state’s reopening strategy. On Thursday, the state reached a single-day record in new infections with 15,038 cases.

Early this month, Mr. Abbott announced an executive order requiring masks in public after demurring for months. But in recent days, he has said the state will not consider a second lockdown, even as hospitalizations have surged and deaths from Covid-19 have surpassed 100 per day on average over the past seven days.

Harris County, which includes Houston, had 700 people in I.C.U.s fighting the coronavirus, a local news affiliate, citing city health officials, reported on Friday.

U.S. retailers are taking the lead on masks as some states have stalled.

Some of the largest brick-and-mortar retail stores in the United States announced this week that they would enact policies requiring patrons to wear masks while shopping inside their stores.

Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart and Best Buy were among those that joined retailers like Costco and Starbucks in embracing mask requirements. C.V.S. said it would require face coverings in its stores beginning on Monday, and Target will do the same beginning on Aug. 1.

The corporate decisions to establish these rules comes as many states have issued orders requiring masks in public. But several states seeing a heightened spread of the virus have yet to follow.

Utah, Iowa and Nebraska are among the handful of states that have yet to issue statewide policies for masks in public, even as each has seen case counts climbing over recent weeks.

The companies have said the new policies will apply across all of their locations. But many businesses requiring masks have previously run into problems enforcing the rules, as employees have faced violence while confronting customers refusing to comply.

Throughout the pandemic, videos circulated online have shown retail workers forced to address angry customers that entered without masks or refused to observe social distancing requirements.

The rush for a vaccine generates a new wave of skeptics.

Almost daily, President Trump and leaders worldwide say they are racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine. But the repeated assurances of near-miraculous speed are exacerbating a problem that has largely been overlooked and one that public health experts say must be addressed now: persuading people to actually get the shot once it’s available.

A growing number of polls find so many people saying they would not get a coronavirus vaccine that its potential to shut down the pandemic could be in jeopardy. Mistrust of vaccines has been on the rise in the United States in recent years, but the rapid push to develop a coronavirus vaccine has generated a different strain of wariness.

“The bottom line is I have absolutely no faith in the F.D.A. and in the Trump administration,” said Joanne Barnes, a retired fourth-grade teacher from Fairbanks, Alaska, who said she was otherwise scrupulously up-to-date on getting her shots. “I just feel like there’s a rush to get a vaccine out, so I’m very hesitant.”

A poll in May by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that only about half of Americans said they would be willing to get a coronavirus vaccine. One in five said they would refuse, and 31 percent were uncertain.

How to plan a vacation in the midst of a pandemic.

Traveling these days requires lots of research, precision planning and a willingness to play by new and very stringent rules.

Reporting was contributed by Rachel Abrams, Hannah Beech, Ginia Bellafante, Keith Bradsher, Emily Cochrane, Farnaz Fassihi, Maggie Haberman, Jan Hoffman, Virginia Hughes, Jodi Kantor, Tyler Kepner, Michael Levenson, Eric Lipton, Apoorva Mandavilli, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Raphael Minder, Zach Montague, Elian Peltier, Alan Rappeport, Frances Robles, Katie Rogers, Carol Rosenberg and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, David E. Sanger, Michael D. Shear, Mitch Smith, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Muktita Suhartono, Noah Weiland and Michael Wolgelenter.

Source NYTimes

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