Parties Delay the Start of In-Person Classes at Some U.S. High Schools

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ImageSchool districts in New York and Massachusetts have postponed the start of in-person instruction after high school students attended large parties.
Credit…Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

Several K-12 school districts in the U.S. Northeast have delayed the start of in-person classes in recent days after high school students attended large parties, leading to concern about increased spread of the virus.

After several weeks of partying college students complicating their schools’ reopening plans, high school students are now creating the same disruptions, underscoring the yawning gap between policy and enforcement — and the limitations of any school to control the behavior of young people.

Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury, Mass., just west of Boston, delayed opening classrooms by two weeks, to Sept. 29, after the police broke up a party involving 50 to 60 students from the school on Saturday, local officials said.

The Board of Health said the police had reported that the students were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, and that many had either fled when the police arrived or given false names to officers.

Although there were no known cases of the virus among students at the party, the board said that without complete information about who had attended, “the risk to the school community cannot be adequately assessed.”

In nearby Dedham, Mass., the school district also delayed in-person instruction after an uptick of cases in the town, which local health officials attributed to two recent gatherings of young people, including a party attended by high school students.

In Pelham, N.Y., high school students partying during and after the Labor Day weekend led the school district to postpone the start of in-person learning for all students and to require that high school students either be tested before coming to school or quarantine for 14 days.

The superintendent, Cheryl H. Champ, wrote in a letter to families that more than 100 teenagers appeared to have attended the parties and that video showed students “engaging in risky behavior, failing to practice physical distancing, and not wearing masks or face coverings.”

Also in New York, Carle Place Union Free School District on Long Island delayed bringing students back to school after end-of-summer parties led to positive cases.

“As we are learning the hard way, the actions of a few can impact the many,” the superintendent, Christine A. Finn, wrote to families.

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President Trump and his campaign are defending his right to rally indoors after they held one on Sunday in Nevada. But some aides have privately called the move a game of political Russian roulette amid growing concern that such gatherings could prolong the pandemic.

“I’m on a stage, and it’s very far away,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday, after thousands of his supporters gathered on Sunday night inside a manufacturing plant in a Las Vegas suburb, flouting a state directive limiting indoor gatherings to fewer than 50 people.

The president did not address health concerns about the rally attendees, a vast majority of whom did not wear masks or practice any social distancing. When it came to his own safety, he said, “I’m not at all concerned.”

The decision to hold a rally indoors, officials said, was something of a last resort for a campaign that had tried to procure five different outdoor locations. A Trump campaign official said they all faced pressure from state officials not to host the rally. The plant where the rally was ultimately held, Xtreme Manufacturing, has been fined $3,000 by the city of Henderson, Nev., the local news media reported.

Upcoming rallies in Wisconsin and Minnesota are planned for outdoor airport hangars, the kind of gathering the president recently resumed scheduling with little fanfare but which still violates state guidelines limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people. But some states, including North Carolina, where Mr. Trump held an outdoor rally in Winston-Salem last week, have a First Amendment exemption permitting crowds to gather in the name of freedom of speech.

Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, defended the decision to carry on with an indoor rally.

“No one bats an eye at people gambling in casinos or tens of thousands of people protesting shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “People should be able to gather peacefully under the First Amendment to hear from the president of the United States.”

But the decision to forge ahead created a wave of internal backlash, including from a top Trump adviser who said the campaign was taking a cavalier approach to the pandemic that could backfire politically. The adviser requested anonymity so as not to anger Mr. Trump.

More than 100 people, a majority of them not wearing masks, packed into a hotel ballroom in Arizona for an event on Monday.

For the president, the quiet return of the classic Trumpian political event has been a way to give himself a sense of control at a time when he has little influence over events or news cycles.

education roundup

Credit…Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

A sweeping initiative to test and screen all 700,000 students and 75,000 employees in the Los Angeles public schools for the virus has started, with five cases detected last week among more than 5,400 children and adults tested, the district’s superintendent said.

All were among adults who work for the district. Up to 20,000 more employees are to be tested this week, said Austin Beutner, the superintendent, whose Los Angeles Unified School District is the nation’s second largest, behind New York City’s.

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Updated 2020-09-15T07:41:39.051Z

Some 700 small children in district-provided child care were also tested, Mr. Beutner said, but none were infected.

With the exception of certain special-needs students, who recently received the go-ahead to return to classrooms for very limited instruction, classes at Los Angeles Unified have been remote.

The $150 million program, announced last month amid national alarm over inadequacies in testing, is expected to be among the largest and most comprehensive school-based initiatives in the nation by the time Los Angeles classrooms fully reopen, which will depend on positivity rates.

Last week’s tests, conducted on Thursday and Friday, were among principals, custodians and others working in sanitized school buildings, as well as children in the district’s child care program.

“The next round will be for all employees, whether or not they’re at a school site, and then we’ll roll into testing students,” Mr. Beutner said.

The positivity rate — about 0.1 percent of tests conducted — was far lower than the 3.4 percent overall rate in Los Angeles County, said Mr. Beutner, who said that was to be expected. Los Angeles Unified’s tests are being administered regardless of symptoms, whereas the more than 11,000 tests conducted each day in the county have tended to be among people who have sought testing because of symptoms or fear of exposure.

In other education news:

  • Twenty-three fraternity and sorority houses and seven other homes at Michigan State University were ordered to quarantine by the county health department. If they don’t comply with the orders, which require that residents distance themselves and wear masks within the homes and return calls and text messages from officials “within two business hours,” they could face up to six months in prison, a fine of $200 or both.

  • Some low-income K-12 students had depended on visits by dental hygienists to school gyms and nurses’ offices for their dental care, but with many schools closed, oral health care providers are concerned that children “could have a mouthful of cavities” without their parents knowing.

  • With universities largely putting the onus on students not to spread the virus, students are using platforms like Twitter and Reddit to argue against their schools’ pandemic policies. When James Madison University in Virginia hosted an outdoor movie night, a student posted a photo of the event’s crowded lawn in a Twitter thread highlighting the school’s “failure in handling this pandemic.”

Credit…Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News, via Associated Press

A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled on Monday that several restrictions ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf to combat the pandemic in the state were unconstitutional. The decision struck down stay-at-home orders and the closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses, directives that were issued in March and have since been suspended.

The judge also declared that a current order limiting the size of gatherings — no more than 25 people indoors and 250 outdoors — violated “the right of assembly enshrined in the First Amendment.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, said the administration was seeking a stay of the decision and an appeal. William Shaw Stickman IV, the judge who ruled on the case, was nominated to the bench by President Trump in 2019.

Mr. Trump, at an event in Arizona, celebrated the decision, calling it a “great ruling.”

As in other states, many Republican politicians in Pennsylvania have been steadfastly opposed to their state’s pandemic mitigation strategy, with some in Pennsylvania urging the governor’s impeachment. In July, the State Supreme Court rejected a suit filed by Republican legislators seeking to end Mr. Wolf’s emergency authority.

Some of the most vocal opponents of the governor, including Representative Mike Kelly, a Republican whose district is in western Pennsylvania, were among the plaintiffs in the suit that was decided on Monday.

“The court believes that defendants undertook their actions in a well-intentioned effort to protect Pennsylvanians from the virus,” Judge Stickman wrote. “However, good intentions toward laudable ends are not alone enough to uphold governmental action against a constitutional challenge. Indeed, the greatest threats to our system of constitutional liberties may arise when the ends are laudable, and the intent is good — especially in a time of emergency.”

In a statement, the governor’s spokeswoman said that “the actions taken by the administration were mirrored by governors across the country and saved, and continue to save, lives in the absence of federal action.”

Credit…Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A senior Chinese health official said a coronavirus vaccine could be available to the public in China as early as November, the state news media reported on Tuesday.

Dr. Wu Guizhen, the chief expert for biosafety at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the state broadcaster CCTV that “ordinary people” in China could be given the vaccine in November or December. “Current progress has been very smooth” for vaccine candidates in the final stage of clinical trials, she said.

China now has five vaccine candidates in late-stage clinical trials, including one being developed in collaboration with other countries, Dr. Wu said. Two production factories have been approved for manufacturing, and a third is in the approval process, she said. China, the world’s largest vaccine producer, has put the prospect of a Covid-19 vaccine at the center of a diplomatic charm offensive.

China has already approved at least two experimental vaccines under an emergency use program, which began this summer with soldiers and employees of state-owned companies and has quietly expanded to include health care and aviation workers.

Dr. Wu, who said she was still doing well after receiving one of the experimental vaccines in April, said she expected them to remain effective for one to three years.

Dr. Wu’s estimate that a vaccine could be ready in November is not far off from predictions made by President Trump. His administration has told state officials to be ready to start distributing one as soon as late October. That would be just before the U.S. presidential election, and the timing raised concerns that a vaccine could be rushed for political reasons. A group of drug companies racing to develop a vaccine has pledged not to release anything that does not meet efficacy and safety standards.

A vaccine approved by Russia in August was met with skepticism from experts who warned against rushing normal procedures, and Russian and Chinese vaccines have been criticized over their designs. Health officials have warned against thinking of a vaccine as a “silver bullet,” saying that even if one is approved before the end of the year, it will take time to produce and distribute and will not mean an immediate end to pandemic restrictions.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Credit…Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The French cities of Marseille and Bordeaux significantly tightened restrictions on public gatherings on Monday after officials pointed to a concerning surge of cases in the cities and surrounding areas.

The two cities were among several areas where the French government, amid a nationwide rise in cases, has identified a worrying spread of the virus, including among older people.

Officials in both cities imposed a new ban on gatherings of more than 10 people in public places like parks, riverbanks and beaches and canceled school outings and student parties. Visits to retirement homes will also be more restricted.

In Marseille, a city on the Mediterranean coast, officials banned the selling and consumption of alcohol after 8 p.m. And in Bordeaux, in the country’s southwest region, the authorities banned bars from having standing customers or playing music on the street, and made it illegal to drink alcohol in public areas.

The limit for large outdoor gatherings in Gironde, the area that encompasses Bordeaux, had been 5,000 — the same as the limit for the rest of the country. Now public gatherings are limited to 1,000 people, and events like carnivals and antiques sales will be banned, local officials said in a news conference on Monday.

Fabienne Buccio, the prefect for the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, which includes Bordeaux, said at the news conference that venues that usually organized “dancing parties” like weddings would no longer be allowed to do so.

“The idea is not to no longer get married, but to postpone big festivities tied to weddings,” Ms. Buccio said, adding that public transportation would be bolstered during rush hours to avoid overcrowding in buses and trains.

In other developments around the world:

  • The Australian state of Victoria, the center of the country’s outbreak, on Tuesday reported no new coronavirus deaths for the first time in more than two months. The state’s capital, Melbourne, remains in lockdown, but restrictions have been loosened in the rest of the state as cases continue to fall.

  • New Zealand on Tuesday reported zero new cases of community transmission as it begins to loosen restrictions that were imposed after an outbreak last month in Auckland, its largest city.

  • Hong Kong on Tuesday reported zero new cases of community transmission for the first time since a third wave of infections began in July. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, also praised a two-week mass testing program that ended on Monday but, which did not draw as many participants as the government had hoped. Almost 1.8 million people, or about a quarter of the population, signed up for the testing, which uncovered 32 cases, or about two per 100,000 people tested.

  • The United States relaxed its travel advisory for China and Hong Kong on Monday, warning Americans to “reconsider travel” but not outright advising against it, as the State Department had previously done because of the virus. In its updated guidance, the department said China and Hong Kong had resumed most business operations.

  • In Jordan, schools will be closed for in-person classes, restaurants will be open only for delivery and takeout, public markets will shut down and houses of worship will suspend prayers for two weeks starting Thursday in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, the country’s state-run news agency said on Monday.

  • Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, left a Milan hospital on Monday, nearly two weeks after he was admitted for pneumonia caused by Covid-19. In a short speech, he warned Italians not to underestimate the gravity of the virus. Cases have been growing in Italy in recent weeks, and Mr. Berlusconi most likely contracted the virus while vacationing on the island of Sardinia, which became a viral hot spot in August.

  • Starting Monday, Britain has lowered the limit on the number of people allowed to meet to six from 30. The country recorded 3,330 new infections on Sunday, the third consecutive day of new case counts surpassing 3,000, a level not seen in Britain since May.

  • Antarctica, the only continent free of the coronavirus, is preparing for an influx of researchers in the coming months as a change of season makes studies on the icy South Pole more feasible. The first researchers, from the United States, arrived on Monday after quarantining in New Zealand.

  • A health official in Australia said on Monday that she was under police protection because of death threats amid rising opposition to her pandemic policies. Dr. Jeannette Young, the chief health officer of Queensland, had been criticized over a requirement that travelers from other parts of Australia quarantine for two weeks, especially after a woman in quarantine was not allowed to attend her father’s funeral.

Credit…Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

The top communications official at the powerful cabinet department in charge of combating the virus accused career government scientists on Sunday of “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and warned that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

Michael Caputo, 58, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, said without evidence that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was harboring a “resistance unit” determined to undermine President Trump. He also suggested that he personally could be in danger.

“You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Mr. Caputo, a Trump loyalist installed by the White House in April, told followers in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page.

In a statement, the department said Mr. Caputo was “a critical, integral part of the president’s coronavirus response, leading on public messaging.”

Mr. Caputo delivered his broadside against scientists, the news media and Democrats after a spate of news reports over the weekend that detailed his team’s systematic interference in the C.D.C.’s official reports on the pandemic. Former and current C.D.C. officials described to Politico, The New York Times and other outlets how Mr. Caputo and a top aide routinely demanded the agency revise, delay and even scuttle the C.D.C.’s core public health updates, called Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, which they believed undercut Mr. Trump’s message that the pandemic was under control.

Those reports have traditionally been so shielded from political interference that political appointees see them only just before they are published.

Mr. Caputo on Sunday complained on Facebook that he was under siege by the news media and said that his physical health was in question and his “mental health has definitely failed.”

In his Facebook video, Mr. Caputo ran through a series of conspiracy theories, culminating in a prediction that Mr. Trump will win re-election, but his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., will refuse to concede.

“And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. He added: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”

U.S. Roundup

Credit…Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, via Associated Press

Wisconsin is facing its highest level of new daily cases during the pandemic, averaging more than 1,000 new cases a day in the last week, with college towns driving the troubling surge.

On Sunday, the state reported a new daily record of 1,582 cases and a 20 percent positivity rate. Most of the cases have been among people between the ages of 20 and 29, a health department spokeswoman said.

Wisconsin has reported more than 1,700 cases linked to college campuses, according to a New York Times database, with over 1,000 of those at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the school’s flagship campus. La Crosse County, home to University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, had one of the highest per capita case counts in the state over the last seven days, while some large counties like Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine have not seen a major uptick in cases and remain below the state average.

On Sunday afternoon, the chancellor at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse announced “shelter in place” restrictions for all residence halls on campus. And in Madison, the faculty senate voted on Monday afternoon to shorten spring break to a three-day weekend.

Wisconsin was not hit as hard as some other states early on in the pandemic, but it has not made it through unscathed. Just over 1,200 people have died of the coronavirus, with some of the highest daily death reports coming in late May.

In other news around the United States:

  • Instead of its usual two-and-a-half-mile journey through Manhattan, the 94th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be confined to the Herald Square area and broadcast for viewers to watch, the company announced on Monday. This year’s event is “basically the end portion of our traditional march,” said Orlando Veras, a Macy’s spokesman.

  • South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, Pamela Evette, said Monday that she had tested positive, but has had “only mild symptoms.” She was last in close contact with Gov. Henry McMaster on Sept. 6, a spokesman said, adding that Mr. McMaster received a negative test result on Sunday.

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Monday that he was prepared to negotiate with Speaker Nancy Pelosi with “no conditions” on an economic stimulus plan, as talks between the White House and Democrats on such a package remained stalled. Speaking to CNBC, Mr. Mnuchin said that while he believed a robust recovery was underway, parts of the economy, particularly small businesses, needed more help. But Ms. Pelosi accused Republicans of merely pretending to want to provide additional aid, saying a plan they brought up in the Senate last week was “relief in name only.”

Credit…Carlos Barria/Reuters

As wildfires tore through huge areas of Oregon this week, prison inmates were hurried away from the encroaching flames — not to freedom but to an overcrowded state prison, where they slept shoulder to shoulder in cots, and in some cases on the floor. Food was in short supply, showers and toilets few, and fights broke out between gang members.

They were safe from one catastrophe, but delivered to another: the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread at an alarming rate in America’s prisons.

“From what we know about Covid-19, how quickly it can spread and how lethal it can be, we have to prepare for the worst,” said Bobbin Singh, the executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a prisoner advocacy organization.

Twin crises of the pandemic and a devastating wildfire season have taken a significant toll in prisons along the West Coast. Virus outbreaks have spread through cellblocks — Oregon’s state prison system has had 1,600 infections over the past three months — and poor ventilation systems have whipped in smoke from the fires.

Kristina Boswell, a prisoner in Oregon who was moved overnight on Friday, described a chaotic evacuation in an audio recording her lawyer shared with The Times.

She said prisoners were bound together with zip-ties and loaded into buses in the middle of the night, without their medications or water. When they arrived, she said, there was a shortage of mattresses and no chance of social distancing.

“We’re all in dorm settings,” said Ms. Boswell, who was among more than 1,300 female prisoners moved to Deer Ridge Correctional Facility in Madras, Ore. “Everyone is crammed in.”

An arthritis drug that suppresses the immune system may slightly improve recovery times in severely ill Covid-19 patients, the drug’s makers announced on Monday.

The drug, baricitinib, was tested in a large clinical trial sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. More than 1,000 hospitalized patients were randomly assigned to receive either the arthritis drug plus remdesivir, an antiviral shown to modestly speed recovery, or remdesivir plus a placebo.

Those taking the two-drug combination recovered on average one day sooner than those taking remdesivir alone, said Eli Lilly and Incyte, the makers of baricitinib. But the companies provided no data.

The N.I.A.I.D. confirmed that the Eli Lilly announcement is accurate but would not comment further, as government researchers analyze the trial results and prepare a paper for publication.

“Their priority is assuring scientific rigor in how the data are disclosed,” said Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, the chief scientific officer of Eli Lilly. “Ours is that when we have potentially material information, we get it out to our shareholders.”

Baricitinib is used in an attempt to quell the so-called cytokine storm, an overreaction of the immune system occurring in some severely ill Covid-19 patients. In a cytokine storm, the immune system itself may cause illness and death.

Citing the drug’s benefit, Eli Lilly said it would ask the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization, allowing it to sell baricitinib at a 40-milligram dose before the company formally submits an application for marketing.

The news poses a problem for doctors and hospitals. While the baricitinib trial was underway, researchers in Britain reported that a cheap generic steroid, dexamethasone, can improve recovery and reduce the death rate in Covid-19 patients. That drug also works to tamp down the immune system’s overreaction.

The studies aren’t entirely comparable, however. Doctors and patients knew who was getting the drug in the British study, but not in the American trial, and the study populations differed. The death rate among patients in Britain was also four times that of patients in the United States.

In addition, a six-milligram tablet of dexamethasone costs about $1.30 in the United States. In contrast, 20 milligrams of baricitinib — half of the dose that was used in the trial — has a list price of $87.50 per day.

Credit…Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

The damage to the world’s major economies from coronavirus lockdowns has been six times more severe than the 2009 global financial crisis and created an “unprecedented” blow to growth in the second quarter in almost every country except China, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Monday.

Growth in the nations represented by the Group of 20 — an organization of 19 countries and the European Union, representing 80 percent of the world’s economic production — fell by a record 6.9 percent between April and June from the previous three months as governments kept people indoors and froze business activity. The drop eclipsed a 1.9 percent contraction recorded in the same period in 2009, when the financial crisis was at a peak, the organization said.

China, where lockdowns ended earlier than in the rest of the world, was the only economy to bounce back, expanding at an 11.5 percent rate.

While growth figures have been published by national governments, the organization’s tally puts the magnitude of the damage into a global perspective. The biggest growth declines were in India (minus 25.2 percent) and Britain (minus 20.4 percent).

Growth in the United States shrank by more than 9 percent, and by nearly 15 percent in the euro area. By contrast, China, South Korea and Russia appeared to be the least negatively affected.

The global economy will fare far worse should a second wave of infections lead governments to renew wide-scale quarantines, the organization has warned.

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Amazon said on Monday that it would hire 100,000 new workers in the United States and Canada for its warehouses and logistics network, another sign that the pandemic has resulted in a huge growth in demand for the e-commerce giant.

Amazon has been one of the biggest winners of the crisis as people turn to online shopping rather than visit traditional brick-and-mortar retailers; those businesses have been decimated. As the broader economy suffered from the economic fallout of Covid-19, Amazon reported record sales and profit last quarter.

Dave Clark, senior vice president of worldwide operations for Amazon, said in a news release that the company was opening 100 buildings this month for sorting products, delivery and other purposes. The new jobs will pay a starting wage of $15 per hour and will include a $1,000 starting bonus in some cities.

The hiring announcement is on top of the 33,000 salaried job openings that Amazon said last week it had available in areas like cloud computing and warehouse management. In 2020, Amazon said, it has opened 75 new fulfillment and sorting centers, regional air hubs and delivery stations in the United States and Canada.

Amazon previously said that it had hired 175,000 additional people to meet the huge surge in demand related to Covid-19.

Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Liz Alderman, Tim Arango, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Aurelien Breeden, Maria Cramer, Abdi Latif Dahir, Shaila Dewan, Shawn Hubler, Jennifer Jett, Annie Karni, Isabel Kershner, Gina Kolata, Alex Marshall, Jennifer Medina, Bryan Pietsch, Elisabetta Povoledo, Alan Rappeport, Campbell Robertson, Amanda Rosa, Adam Satariano, Anna Schaverien, Michael Shear, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Kurt Streeter, Kate Taylor, Katie Thomas, Sui-Lee Wee and Elaine Yu.

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