Masks Are ‘Most Important, Powerful Public Health Tool,’: Live Covid-19 Updates

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Masks are ‘the most important, powerful public health tool we have,’ Redfield says before the Senate.

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‘They Are Our Best Defense’: Redfield Renews Call to Wear Masks

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told senators that if all Americans wore masks, the coronavirus could be controlled in six to 12 weeks.

Today, and even after we have a vaccine, C.D.C. encourages all Americans to embrace the powerful tools that we have right now — to wear a mask, particularly when they’re in public, maintain social distancing, routine vigilant handwashing. Be smart about crowds, and stay home when you’re sick. We’re going to continue to give Congress and the nation the best public health advice. We’re not going to let political influence try to modulate that. Face mask — these face masks are the most important powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I’ve said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control. These actually, we have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take the Covid vaccine because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent, and if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.

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Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told senators that if all Americans wore masks, the coronavirus could be controlled in six to 12 weeks.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appeared to clash Wednesday with Mr. Trump on the value of masks in stopping the pandemic, although the White House press secretary insisted that the president had only been criticizing inappropriate use of masks.

In an ABC News town hall on Tuesday, the president gave several views of mask use, praising it, questioning it, offering lessons about inappropriate use and concluding that, “There are people that don’t think masks are good.”

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, insisted Wednesday he was only talking about problems with inappropriate use as when he described waiters touching their masks and then touching plates of food.

And on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the director of the C.D.C., Robert Redfield, told a Senate hearing that masks are “the most important, powerful public health tool we have” in fighting the pandemic.

He said universal mask use could bring the pandemic under control in a few months and said “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine.” Vaccines are not 100 percent effective, whereas masks, worn properly, do what they are designed to do.

At another point in the hearing, Dr. Redfield was asked when a coronavirus vaccine might be available to the public. He estimated one could be available for limited use by the end of the year, and for wider distribution by the middle of 2021, an estimate that echoed what other top health officials, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, have used in recent weeks.

And even if a vaccine were available now, Dr. Redfield said, it could take six to nine months to get enough Americans vaccinated for there to be widespread immunity.

His comments contradicted Mr. Trump, who said at the town hall event that a vaccine could be ready within “three weeks, four weeks.”

Caputo will take a leave of absence from health department.

ImageMichael R. Caputo, left, the embattled top spokesman of the cabinet department overseeing the coronavirus response, will take a leave of absence, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.
Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Michael R. Caputo, the embattled top spokesman of the cabinet department overseeing the coronavirus response, will take a leave of absence “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

Mr. Caputo’s science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, will be leaving the department.

The announcement came after a bizarre and inflammatory Facebook outburst on Sept. 13 and disclosures that he and his team had tried to water down official reports of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention about the pandemic.

Mr. Caputo, a longtime Trump loyalist and the health department’s assistant secretary of public affairs, had apologized for his Facebook presentation to his staff and to Alex M. Azar II, the department’s leader, after his comments became public.

Since he was installed at the department in April by the White House, Mr. Caputo, a media-savvy former Trump campaign aide, has worked aggressively to develop a media strategy for dealing with the pandemic. But critics, including some in the administration, complained that he was promoting the president’s political interests over public health.

His Facebook talk, which was shared with The New York Times, was filled with ominous predictions of left-wing “hit squads” plotting armed insurrection after the election and attacks on C.D.C. scientists, who he said had formed a “resistance unit” determined to undercut Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election. He accused the scientists of “rotten science” and said they “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants” except to plot against the president at coffee shops.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., told a Senate panel Wednesday morning that he was “deeply saddened” by Mr. Caputo’s comments and said his remarks about government scientists committing “sedition” were “false accusations” offensive to career officials at his agency.

“C.D.C. is made up of thousands of dedicated men and women, highly competent,” he said. “It is the premier public health agency in the world.”

Mr. Caputo and a colleague pushed the C.D.C. to delay and edit closely-guarded and apolitical C.D.C. health bulletins, called Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, in an effort to paint the administration’s pandemic response in a more positive light.

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the health panel, said at the hearing that it was “dangerous and unprecedented that political appointees are editing, censoring and ultimately undermining a report that is intended to give families, public health pros, researchers and health care providers what they need: the truth.”

Dr. Redfield pledged that “at no time has the scientific integrity of the M.M.W.R. been compromised.”

“We’re not going to let political influence try to modulate that,” he said. “The scientific integrity of the M.M.W.R. has not been compromised and will not be compromised on my watch.”

Dr. Redfield also told senators that he was ordered by the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to transfer $300 million from his budget for a public relations campaign to bolster American morale — a campaign that Mr. Caputo said he was tasked with overseeing.

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Trump undercuts the Republican position on more virus aid, calling on them to ‘go for the much higher numbers.’

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Mr. Trump urged Republicans on Wednesday to “go for the much higher numbers” in stalled negotiations over another economic recovery package, undercutting his party’s push for a bare-bones plan that omits another round of stimulus checks for Americans struggling to weather the pandemic-induced recession.

The comments on Twitter Wednesday morning were the latest instance in which Mr. Trump has undermined the Republican position in high-stakes negotiations, muddling the party’s message along with lawmakers’ chances of reaching a politically palatable solution.

Democrats are pressing for at least $2.2 trillion in stimulus spending, a sum that White House negotiators and Republican leaders have said is far too high. Senate Republicans tried last week to push through a substantially scaled-back package that would provide only about $300 billion in new spending — and did not include the $1,200 stimulus payments — but it did not reach the 60-vote threshold and Democrats called the bill inadequate.

In his tweet, the president falsely asserted that it was Democrats who had opposed the stimulus checks — which have been a part of every aid plan they have proposed, including the $3.4-trillion measure they pushed through the House in May.

Top Democrats, who are under mounting pressure from centrist lawmakers to act on another relief plan before the November elections, seized on Mr. Trump’s comments to try to pressure Republicans to bow to their demands for more spending. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said they “look forward to hearing from the president’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway.”

“We are encouraged that after months of the Senate Republicans insisting on shortchanging the massive needs of the American people, President Trump is now calling on Republicans to ‘go for the much higher numbers’ in the next coronavirus relief package,” the two leaders said.

Republicans were bewildered.

“That probably needs to get translated for us,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said when informed of the president’s tweet, which he suggested did not reflect the political reality in the Senate.

“I know kind of what the threshold is for what we can get Republican votes for in the Senate,” Mr. Thune told reporters. “I think if the number gets too high, anything that got passed in the Senate would be passed mostly with Democrat votes and a handful of Republicans, so it’s going to have to stay in sort of a realistic range.”

The Federal Reserve says it plans to leave interest rates near zero through at least 2023.

Federal Reserve officials expect to leave interest rates near zero for years — through at least 2023 — and will tolerate periods of higher inflation as they try to revive the labor market and economy, based on their September policy statement and economic projections released Wednesday.

The announcement codifies that the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, and his colleagues plan to be extraordinarily patient as they try to cushion the economy in the months and years ahead.

The policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee “expects it will be appropriate to maintain this target range until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time,” officials said in their statement.

Fed officials are also mulling when and how to update their asset purchase program — which involves buying large quantities of Treasury securities and government-backed bonds — and said Wednesday that they would maintain purchases at their current pace.

The Fed updated its summary of economic projections, a set of estimates for how the economy and interest rates will develop in coming years. Officials saw unemployment ending 2020 at a lower rate than it previously forecast: The median official expects the rate to average 7.6 percent over the final three months of the year, compared to 9.3 percent when the Fed released its last set of projections in June.

The head of the United Nations calls the virus the world’s top security threat.

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Coronavirus Is the ‘No. 1 Global Security Threat,’ Head of U.N. Says

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called the coronavirus pandemic the world’s top security threat, and called for greater cooperation in controlling outbreaks and developing an affordable vaccine.

Our world is nearing the grimmest of milestones: one million lives lost to the virus. Meanwhile, the outbreak remains out of control. The virus is the No. 1 global security threat in our world today, and that is why in March I called for a global cease-fire. My appeal resonated with member states, civil society and a number of armed groups across the world. And today from Afghanistan to Sudan, we see hopeful new steps towards peace. Many pin their hopes on a vaccine. But let’s be clear. There is no panacea in a pandemic. We need to massively expand new and existing tools that can respond to new cases, and provide vital treatment to suppress transmission and save lives, especially over the next 12 months. But starting now, a vaccine must be seen as a global public good because Covid-19 respects no borders. We need the vaccine to be affordable and available to all.

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United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called the coronavirus pandemic the world’s top security threat, and called for greater cooperation in controlling outbreaks and developing an affordable vaccine.CreditCredit…Mike Segar/Reuters

The coronavirus is out of control and is the “No. 1 global security threat in our world today,” the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said Wednesday at a news conference outlining his messages for this year’s General Assembly session. The session, which began this week, will largely be held via virtual meetings because of the pandemic.

Mr. Guterres called for greater cooperation to develop and distribute an affordable vaccine and criticized what he called “deadly misinformation” that could dissuade people from getting vaccinated.

Mr. Guterres also said he would press the organization’s 193 member states to help ensure that nations heed his plea for a worldwide cease-fire in all armed conflicts, which he called for six months ago to help combat the pandemic.

The United Nations has been unable to orchestrate a coordinated global response to the scourge and its pleas for billions of dollars in emergency aid for the neediest countries have so far only engendered what Mark Lowcock, the organization’s top relief official, has called a “tepid” response.

On Tuesday, the new president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, a veteran Turkish diplomat, announced he would convene a special session of the body during the first week of November devoted to addressing the pandemic.

The Big Ten conference will try to play football in 2020, and colleges are cracking down on Greek life.

Credit…Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

The Big Ten Conference said Wednesday that it would try to play football as soon as the weekend of Oct. 23, potentially salvaging the seasons of some of the most renowned and lucrative teams in college sports and reversing a decision from just over a month ago not to compete because of the pandemic.

The move will likely appease some prominent coaches, parents, players, fans and even Mr. Trump, but is also likely to provoke new accusations that the league is prioritizing profits and entertainment over health and safety.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, the league said players, coaches, trainers and others on the field would undergo daily testing for the virus, and that any player who tested positive would be barred from games for at least 21 days.

Leagues that have already returned to play, like the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12, have been forced to postpone a handful of games or bench players because of positive tests or exposure to the virus. Stadiums are operating with fewer spectators in the stands or none at all.

Complicating matters is the association between football and social gatherings like tailgate parties. Health officials near some Big Ten campuses, including Michigan State and Wisconsin, have begun cracking down on students for partying, threatening harsh penalties and putting fraternities and sororities under quarantine. In Ingham County, home to Michigan State University, local health authorities ordered residents of nearly two dozen Greek houses, as well as several other group houses, to quarantine for 14 days after the university reported 160 new cases.

“While we know many students are doing the right thing, we are still seeing far too many social gatherings in the off-campus community, where individuals are in close contact without face coverings,” Mayor Aaron Stephens of East Lansing said on Saturday of the order.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is also part of the Big Ten and had a sharp uptick in cases last week, local health authorities ordered all Greek organizations with one or more cases among their live-in members to quarantine. Several states, including Kansas, Colorado and Michigan, have tracked coronavirus clusters to Greek houses.

And at SUNY Oswego, which recorded 70 new cases since Saturday, officials warned students that any parties hosted by fraternity or sorority members, even if not technically sponsored by their Greek organizations, would still lead to “severe individual and organizational penalties.”

In recent days, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have canceled spring break, when students often travel to places like Florida and spend a week partying.

LATEST IN SCIENCE ROUNDUP

The U.S. says it plans to start distributing a vaccine within 24 hours of approval.

Federal officials outlined details on Wednesday of their preparations to administer a future coronavirus vaccine to Americans, saying that they will begin distribution within 24 hours of any approval or emergency authorization, and that their goal is for no American “to pay a single dime” out of their own pocket.

The officials, who are part of the government’s Operation Warp Speed — the multiagency effort to quickly make a coronavirus vaccine available to Americans — also said the timing of a vaccine was still unclear.

“We’re dealing in a world of great uncertainty,” said Paul Mango, the deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services. “We don’t know the timing of when we’ll have a vaccine. We don’t know the quantities. We don’t know the efficacy of those vaccines.”

The officials said they were planning for initial distribution of a vaccine — perhaps on an emergency basis, and to a limited group of high-priority people such as health care workers — in the final three months of this year and into next year. The Defense Department is providing logistical support to plan how the vaccines will be shipped and stored as well as how to keep track of who has gotten the vaccine and whether they have been given one or two doses.

In other science news:

  • A single infusion of an experimental drug has markedly reduced blood levels of the coronavirus in newly infected patients and lowered the chances that they will need hospitalization, the drug’s maker announced on Wednesday. The drug is a monoclonal antibody, a man-made copy of an antibody produced by a patient who recovered from Covid-19.

  • Russia’s vaccine, which has been approved by the government but not yet fully been tested for safety and efficacy, won a new customer on Wednesday in India, according to a Russian financial company backing the vaccine. The Indian company, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, agreed first to cooperate on clinical trials and, if they are successful, to buy 100 million doses, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said in a joint statement with the company.

Education ROUNDUP

The University of Michigan’s president calls a graduate student strike a ‘profound disruption.’

As a strike by University of Michigan graduate students demanding more protection from the virus has extended into a second week, the school has gone to court seeking a judge’s order that would force the students to return to work.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization went on strike Sept. 8, demanding the right to opt out of in-person teaching and other concessions. Residential advisers have demanded hazard pay and regular access to testing, among other issues.

The university said it had offered the students some concessions but its proposals have been rejected. In its court filings, the university accused the union of “interfering in the university’s mission to educate students by unlawfully withholding their labor.” It is illegal for public employee unions to strike in Michigan.

Erin Markiewitz, the graduate student group’s vice president, said Wednesday that the university was “leaning into anti-union laws in an attempt to ignore their workers’ real concerns about the public health crisis on this campus.”

About 90 percent of the university’s undergraduates take a course taught entirely or in part by a graduate student, according to court filings. The university has said that about 75 percent of graduate students are teaching remotely, and that it will accommodate opt-out requests.

“What we cannot welcome is the profound disruption to the education we’ve promised our undergraduate students,” the university’s president, Mark Schlissel, said in a video town hall meeting this week.

Hillary Rubin, the parent of a freshman, said the university appeared to be unprepared for the complexities of college life amid the pandemic.

“I’m not going to take sides for or against the university,” Ms. Rubin said. “I’m saying they need to figure this out. We’re paying tuition, and our kids don’t have classes.”

In other campus news:

  • All students at the University of Colorado Boulder, which has an enrollment of about 35,000, were advised to quarantine for two weeks by the county’s health department on Tuesday after a surge of cases tied to the university. The county health director said that mandatory restrictions would be imposed if the positiviy rate remained high.

  • The University of Arizona, with about 45,000 students, also asked students living on or near campus to quarantine this week and next, with the exception of attending classes, after a major spike in cases. And Grand Valley State University’s 21,000 students in Allendale, Mich., were also ordered to “stay in place” for two weeks by the county health department.

NEW YORK ROUNDUP

Not all N.Y.C. public school students will get daily live instruction while they’re remote.

Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Just hours before New York City’s 1.1 million students logged on for virtual school orientation on Wednesday morning, the Department of Education announced a last-minute change to how children will learn when classes officially start on Monday.

The city announced earlier in the summer that all schools would be required to provide at least some live instruction to all students on every day they were learning at home. Principals and teachers have been warning for weeks that there were simply not enough teachers to educate students in-person and online; different teachers have to instruct each cohort. The city finally acknowledged the enormous staffing crunch, which the principals’ union estimated could be as large as 10,000 educators, with Tuesday night’s announcement.

For students in the hybrid education model, which involves physically attending school one to three days per week and learning remotely the rest of the time, the new rule will no longer require schools to provide daily live instruction when those students are remote. The roughly 40 percent of students who have chosen to learn remotely full-time will still get live instruction each day. Students can switch to full remote learning at any time.

When the students in the hybrid model do not receive live instruction, they might instead watch a prerecorded video of a lesson, or complete assignments on their own time. The city also said that if schools have enough staff to provide daily live instruction on days when hybrid students are at home, they should do so.

The city’s mayor has argued that reopening schools for in-person instruction is crucial for the city’s hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children who were largely failed by remote learning. But the scarcity of both in-person instruction and live teaching has frustrated many parents.

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city would add more teachers throughout the fall to provide live instruction.

Elsewhere in the New York area:

  • After months of complaints about testing delays, New York City officials are set to announce on Thursday that they have opened a lab in Manhattan that should significantly cut down on wait times as the city prepares for its most ambitious period of reopenings, with public school classes and indoor dining scheduled to begin this month. The new facility will prioritize New York City residents, meaning turnaround times within 24-48 hours, officials said.

  • Mr. de Blasio on Wednesday announced that he is furloughing his own staff at City Hall, himself included. The policy would affect 495 mayoral staff members, who would have to take an unpaid, weeklong furlough at some point between October and March 2021. The mayor intends to work during his furlough without pay, his spokesman said. The furloughs would yield $860,000 in anticipated savings, but the move has symbolic implications and could be a precursor to similar maneuvers to slash the budget.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

India quickly surpasses 5 million cases.

Credit…Adnan Abidi/Reuters

India’s overall caseload surpassed five million on Tuesday, less than a month after hitting the three million mark.

More than 82,000 coronavirus patients have died in India, but, per capita, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India’s younger and leaner population.

India reported 90,123 new cases on Tuesday, and its seven-day daily average of new cases is more than 92,000.

The country took a hard line early, placing all of its citizens under a national lockdown that was considered largely effective, and was widely obeyed. Restrictions began being lifted in May as economic pressures led its leaders to prioritize reopenings and accept the risks of surging coronavirus infections.

But the country’s public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds. Crowded cities, lockdown fatigue and a lack of contact tracing are contributing factors for the virus’s spread, which has reached every corner of the country of 1.3 billion people.

India’s total caseload has become the world’s second-largest, behind that of the United States.

In other developments around the world

  • The Jerusalem Great Synagogue will remain closed over the Jewish high holidays for the first time in its more than half-century of history. Israel’s infection rates have spiraled to among the worst in the world, and the government has mandated a second, nationwide lockdown to begin Friday afternoon, hours before the eve of the Jewish New Year holiday, and to last at least three weeks, extending to the last day of Yom Kippur and the festival Sukkot.

  • A health official from Madrid’s regional government warned that the capital was preparing to impose “selective lockdowns” in districts where the number of cases has recently risen significantly. The minister, Antonio Zapatero, said that the region needed “to flatten the curve” urgently, before the arrival of colder weather that could help spread the virus faster. Spain registered an average of 8,000 new cases a day over the past week, about a third of them in Madrid.

  • Six months after locking down the country to curb the spread of the virus, Nepal is starting to welcome back trekkers and mountaineers. The decision is aimed at reviving the country’s ailing economy, which is heavily dependent on mountain tourism. Trekkers visiting Nepal will be required to produce documentation showing that they tested negative before flying in, and to quarantine before traveling to tourist destinations. The country has reported nearly 60,000 cases, or 208 per 100,000 people, and less than 400 deaths.

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Alan Blinder, Luke Broadwater, Emily Cochrane, Michael Corkery, Melissa Eddy, Rick Gladstone, Anemona Hartocollis, Mike Ives, Isabel Kershner, Andrew E. Kramer, Gina Kolata, Sapna Maheshwari, Raphael Minder, Benjamin Mueller, Richard C. Paddock, Linda Qiu, Gretchen Reynolds, Dana Rubinstein, Eliza Shapiro, Bhadra Shrama, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Glenn Thrush, Marc Tracy, Noah Weiland and Sameer Yasir.

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