DES MOINES, Iowa — Even as a new surge of coronavirus infections sweeps the U.S., officials in many hard-hit states are resisting taking stronger action to slow the spread, with pleas from health experts running up against political calculation and public fatigue.

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Medical personnel don protective equipment while attending to a patient (not infected with COVID-19) at Bellevue Hospital in New York on Wednesday. Hospitals in the city’s public NYC Health and Hospitals’ system have been upgrading their equipment, bracing for a potential resurgence of coronavirus patients, drawing on lessons learned in the spring when the outbreak brought the nation’s largest city to its knees. Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Days before a presidential election that has spotlighted President Trump’s scattershot response to the pandemic, the virus continued its resurgence Friday, with total confirmed cases in the U.S. surpassing 9 million.

The number of new infections reported daily is on the rise in 47 states. They include Nebraska and South Dakota, where the number of new cases topped previous highs for each state.

The record increases in new cases have eclipsed the spikes that set off national alarms last spring and summer. During those outbreaks, first in the Northeast and then in Sun Belt states, many governors closed schools and businesses and restricted public gatherings.

But this fall’s resurgence of the virus, despite being far more widespread, has brought a decidedly more limited response in many states. Most are led by Republican governors backing a president who insists, falsely, that the country is getting the virus under control.

Over the past two weeks, more than 76,000 new virus cases have been reported daily in the U.S. on average, up from about 54,000 in mid-October, according to Johns Hopkins University. Deaths, which usually lag case numbers and hospitalizations, are also rising, from about 700 to more than 800 a day.

The virus has now killed more than 229,000 Americans.

Nevertheless, many officials have resisted calls to enact measures like statewide mask mandates or stricter curbs on the size of gatherings, casting the response to the virus as a matter of individual decision-making.

“At the end of the day, personal responsibility is the only way. People will either choose or not choose to social distance, or choose to wear a mask or not,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican. “What we can do is to remind them is that personal responsibility can protect them.”

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On virus, Trump, health advisers go their separate ways

WASHINGTON  — A multi-state coronavirus surge in the countdown to Election Day has exposed a clear split between President Trump’s bullish embrace of a return to normalcy and urgent public warnings from the government’s top health officials.

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From left, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Adm. Brett Giroir, head of the U.S. Public Health Service, listen as Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn testifies before a House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Capitol Hill in Washington in June. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Associated Press

It’s the opposite of what usually happens in a public health crisis, because political leaders tend to repeat and amplify the recommendations of their health experts, not short-circuit them. “It’s extremely unusual for there to be simultaneous contrary messaging,” said John Auerbach, who heads the nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health.

The Republican president and the health officials appear to be moving farther apart since White House chief of staff Mark Meadows declared last Sunday “we’re not going to control the pandemic.”

Since then, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir has done a round of interviews warning that the country’s situation is “tenuous” but that Americans can indeed control the virus by practicing what he calls the “3W’s” — watching your distance from others, wearing a mask and frequently washing your hands.

White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Deborah Birx, touring the states to raise prevention awareness, lamented in Bismarck, North Dakota, that she hadn’t seen such disdain for mask wearing elsewhere. “We find that deeply unfortunate because you don’t know who’s infected and you don’t know if you’re infected yourself,” she told reporters. The state’s positive test rate is 11 percent, above the level indicating widespread transmission.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar, for his part, has a profile photo of himself masked up on his Twitter account.

But Trump continues to ridicule masks and mask-wearing as he insists the U.S. has turned the corner on the virus.

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A virus experiment involved an indoor concert. The results are in.

BERLIN – German researchers who invited thousands of people to a concert two months ago to study gatherings during the novel coronavirus pandemic have found “glimmers of hope” for the future of indoor events amid the spread of the virus.

Mandatory mask-wearing, adequate ventilation systems, additional entrances and other measures could help to reduce the risk of infection significantly, the researchers said in a news conference Thursday, summarizing the initial results of a government-funded study that has not yet been peer-reviewed, to be published in the coming days.

A small circus outside Frankfurt closed Friday after the government issued new restrictions. A new study conducted in Germany may lead to safer public gatherings. Associated Press/Michael Probst

In one scenario modeled by the scientists, the infection risk for participants and their contacts was around 70 times lower when health and safety instructions were followed, compared with what it could have been under pre-pandemic behavior.

“A concert or handball game with a strictly enforced safety protocol is safer than the participation in a big wedding,” said Michael Gekle, the dean of the medical department at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, who was involved in the research.

The scientists’ conclusions are based on an experiment that drew around 1,400 people to an indoor concert simulation in August, hosted in one of the country’s largest venues in the eastern German city of Leipzig.

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Remote Alaska sees rise in virus cases

The Siberian Yupik town of Gambell, Alaska, sits on the western edge of St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, closer to Russia than the Alaska mainland and two plane rides from Anchorage. Whale and walrus are among the primary stocks harvested for food; the nearest hospital is more than 100 miles away in Nome. But Gambell’s remoteness has not protected it from the coronavirus.

Gambell, Alaska Photo courtesy of U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

Now everyone in this 700-person Indigenous community knows someone who had the coronavirus. Thirty-three residents tested positive this month, part of a wave of coronavirus cases that have shut down small towns in Alaska. Currently, more than 20 communities in western Alaska are either on strict lockdown or advised to be on one.

For months, Alaska’s remote, mostly Indigenous rural communities protected themselves from the coronavirus through restrictions on travel and local health measures. Once the virus arrived, though, conditions enabled it to spread like wildfire. Cases have exploded in recent weeks in some of the country’s most geographically isolated regions, leaving residents and health officials fearful that acute cases could quickly overwhelm the state’s meager hospital system.

In Chevak, a town of 1,075 near the mouth of the Yukon River in far western Alaska, almost a fifth of its residents have tested positive for the coronavirus as of this week.

After a handful of positive tests, Mayor Richard Tuluk said, leaders and health officials in the region quickly arranged for widespread testing at Chevak’s small local clinic. More than 700 people submitted samples. Tuluk says around 170 came back positive.

Chevak and other towns in the region have suspended in-person instruction across dozens of tiny community schools, relying on distance learning in a region with inconsistent and expensive internet. The community’s lone store closed for days, prompting complaints from residents unable to get necessities like milk or diapers. The post office is severely backlogged. Masking is more strictly observed, and gatherings beyond immediate family have all but ceased.

The western edge of the Brooks Range is the backdrop for Esieh Lake in northwest Alaska. Lockdowns, quarantines and self-isolation are difficult in rural Alaska. The Washington Post/Jonathan Newton

Alaska managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the first months of the pandemic by locking down early. But numbers crept up over the summer and are now rising exponentially, with hundreds of daily cases reported. At 48.3 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, the positivity rate is the eighth highest in the country, though Alaska has so far maintained among the lowest mortality rates for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Chevak hasn’t yet seen high numbers of people falling seriously ill after testing positive.

“Knock on wood,” Tuluk said. “So far we haven’t heard of any of our elders getting sick or things like that.”

California health officials identify first case of simultaneous coronavirus and flu infections

A coronavirus patient in Solano County, Calif., has also tested positive for influenza — this flu season’s first known case of “co-infection” in the greater San Francisco Bay area, and possibly the entire United States.

The dual infection prompted health officials Thursday to urge residents to get flu shots, noting that it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective. Solano County health officer Bela Matyas told the San Francisco Chronicle that the patient was a health-care worker between the ages of 20 and 65 with no other health conditions, and appears to have recovered.

Little is known about the potential risks of co-infection, since only a small number of cases were documented during last year’s flu season, which coincided with the start of the pandemic. Data presented last week at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America found that people who battled the flu at the same time as the novel coronavirus did not experience more severe outcomes, but the sample size was limited to 18 people.

A study of 64 patients hospitalized last winter with dual flu-coronavirus infections in Wuhan, China, produced different results: Scientists found that the “viral shedding time” of people who were also infected with the flu lasted five days longer, on average, than for those without a flu co-infection. While their symptoms were not necessarily more severe, co-infection “was a significant risk factor for prolonged hospital stay,” co-author Rui Zeng told the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Generally speaking, public health experts agree that dealing with two viruses at the same time is unlikely to make recovery easier — and they are worried about what that will mean as flu season ramps up and caseloads continue to surge around the United States.

“This is a very clear indication of the potential for this to occur,” Matyas told the Chronicle. “Getting a flu vaccine this year is more important than ever.”

U.S. average daily virus cases rises to over 74,000

WASHINGTON — The seven-day rolling average for daily new coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks from 52,350 to more than 74,180.

That’s according to data through Wednesday from Johns Hopkins University, marking a return to levels not seen since the summer surge. The rolling average for daily new deaths rose over the past two weeks from 724 to 787.

Positive test rates have been rising in 45 states, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Fifteen states have positive test rates of 10% or higher, considered an indicator of widespread transmission.

Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Adm. Brett Giroir said earlier his week the proof of the uptick is the rising numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.

The U.S. leads the world with 8.9 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 228,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

More than 400 miles of backed-up traffic surrounds Paris hours before lockdown

Paris witnessed its worst gridlock in years on Thursday night as people rushed to leave the city before the start of a new national lockdown, creating hundreds of miles of backed-up traffic.

Videos of bumper-to-bumper vehicles exiting the city led many to worry that Parisians headed to more spacious homes in the countryside could be carrying the coronavirus with them, potentially putting rural areas at risk. But roads into Paris were also jammed as residents who had been traveling for school holidays this week hurried to get back to their city apartments, Le Figaro reported.

By 6 p.m. on Thursday, a few hours before the start of the lockdown, Paris’s traffic-monitoring system showed 706 kilometers (more than 438 miles) of backups throughout the region — the second-highest number ever recorded, exceeded only by the chaos during a 2018 snowstorm, according to Le Parisien.

France’s new national lockdown is a return to some of the strictest requirements imposed this spring, with residents allowed to leave their homes only for essential tasks such as buying food or getting medical treatment for the next month. Residents trying to stock up on supplies like toilet paper and pasta before the shutdown may have also resulted in a larger-than-average number of cars on the road, Le Parisien suggested.

The first lockdown imposed in France this March also led to an urban exodus, prompting some backlash against city-dwellers who were thought to be spreading the virus to otherwise-unaffected regions. But as the BBC noted, France’s first wave of infections was especially bad in Paris, while this time all areas of the country appear to be affected.

Testing site opens at Logan Airport

BOSTON — Boston’s Logan International Airport has a coronavirus testing site.

The site opened in Terminal E and is operated by health and wellness company XpresSpa Group.

It’s available for airport and airline employees at first but will test travelers in mid-November. The facility will offer three types of tests — quick test that returns results within 15 minutes; a nasal swab test; and a blood antibody test. The company says it will process about 400 tests a day.

It already operates coronavirus testing facilities at Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

Hong Kong raid leads to 100,000 counterfeit masks

HONG KONG — Customs agents in the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong have seized 100,000 counterfeit face masks and arrested one person in what the government called the largest operation of its kind on record.

The masks were set to be shipped overseas and had a market value of almost $400,000, the government’s Information Services Department reported Friday.

The masks were seized at a storehouse in Hong Kong on Wednesday after agents received a tip-off, the department said, leading to a further raid on a trading company where a 71-year-old manager was arrested

“Initial investigations revealed that unscrupulous merchants intended to transship the batch of masks overseas for sale and profit. Customs is looking into the source of the face masks involved in the case. Samples have also been sent to a laboratory for safety testing,” the department said in a news release.

Customs agents launched an operation codenamed “Guardian” across the city in late January involving spot checks on common protective equipment such as masks, resulting in 80 arrests and the seizure of nearly 6 million face masks, along with other items, the department said.

Mainland China is a major source of personal protective equipment such as masks and bodysuits, some of which have been found to be counterfeit or of inferior quality.

New cases set record in South Dakota, October has been the deadliest month

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Hospitalizations from COVID-19 in South Dakota reached new heights for the fourth straight day on Wednesday.

The number of daily new cases also set a record, with 1,270 people testing positive for the virus. The virus has surged in the state and region, sending South Dakota to the nation’s second-worst ranking in new cases per capita over the last two weeks. Johns Hopkins researchers report that one out of roughly every 77 people in the state has tested positive in the last two weeks.

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People wear red in solidarity against a potential city-wide mask mandate during a city council meeting in Brookings, S.D. in September. Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via Associated Press

The wave of cases has resulted in 412 people being hospitalized with the virus.

Health officials also reported nine new deaths. October has become the state’s deadliest month of the pandemic, with 189 deaths so far.

As cases soar, an El Paso judge ordered a shutdown. But the Texas AG says the judge has ‘no authority.’

Even with an additional 100 beds at El Paso’s University Medical Center and an outdoor tent, the hospital is so full it’s sending patients to a children’s hospital and airlifting patients critically ill with the novel coronavirus to other cities. In April, the hospital had 67 hospitalizations from covid-19 – on Thursday, there were 937.

With surging infection rates and hospitalizations that have risen over 350% this month, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Thursday ordered a two-week shutdown of all nonessential businesses.

“What I am doing now is not anything that has not been tried, but things that have worked not only for our community but for other communities as well,” Samaniego, a Democrat, said at a news conference announcing the order.

But within hours of his announcement, El Paso Republican Mayor Dee Margo questioned whether the order was legal, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, quickly said that it violated executive orders from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott allowing businesses to reopen in limited capacity.

“El Paso County Judge Samaniego has no authority to shut down businesses in El Paso County,” Paxton tweeted from the attorney general account “This is a direct violation of @GovAbbott’s executive order. My office is quickly exploring all legal actions.”

The judge acknowledged on Thursday that his shutdown contradicted the governor’s order, but added that he had consulted with health-care experts, county judges and his legal department.

“I feel we stand in strong, sound, legal ground to do what I need to do at this point in time,” Samaniego said.

Abbott’s office has not yet commented on the judge’s order, but the case sets up a political conflict at a moment when cases in Texas are soaring. In the past week, there has been a 16% increase in infections, according to The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker. So far, there have been more than 886,000 cases of the coronavirus in Texas and almost 18,000 deaths. In comparison, New York, which was one of the first major hotspots in the country, has had more than 500,000 cases.

El Paso County has had more than 45,000 cases, with nearly 8,000 of those cases emerging in the past week, The Washington Post’s tracker shows. For several consecutive days, the average daily cases have exceeded 1,000.

“The hard truth is that the people who are dying are El Pasoans,” Samaniego said. “And I have a responsibility to do everything I can to protect El Pasoans.”

New York, Los Angeles hope to boost restaurants by adding ‘COVID-19 recovery charge’ to bills

Los Angeles may allow restaurants to tack on a “COVID-19 recovery charge” to diners’ bills, echoing a policy that was rolled out in New York City this month.

In both cities, the goal is to help businesses cover costs such as buying personal protective equipment for their staff and constructing outdoor seating areas so that they can safely remain open during the pandemic. New York caps the surcharge at 10 percent, although restaurants aren’t obligated to make it that high, and limits it to in-person dining only. Restaurants can also choose to opt out and not add a surcharge — as will also likely be the case in Los Angeles, where the county Board of Supervisors is in the process of drafting an ordinance.

A waiter serves two customers at Junior’s Restaurant in New York in September. New York City’s restaurants are employing only slightly more than half the number of people they were before the coronavirus wreaked havoc in the industry. Associated Press/Mark Lennihan

While there’s little doubt that the pandemic has been devastating for restaurants, giving owners the option to impose additional fees on diners has proven controversial in New York. As Eater reported, some in the industry worry that customers will be deterred by the additional charge, and others suspect that they will simply make up the difference by tipping less. There’s also the fact that it places the onus for paying for safety measures and helping businesses to survive on diners, rather than the government.

But advocates argue that restaurants need all the help they can get to survive, and allowing them to add on extra fees just gives them one more way to make up for dwindling sales.

“Until full indoor dining is once again permitted, the independent hospitality industry is unlikely to generate the revenue they produced before covid-19,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, who backed the proposal, said in a statement. “It is critical that we continue to support this sector.”

 


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