Parties and Covid-19 Outbreaks Threaten University Reopenings in the U.S.

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As more U.S. universities and colleges try to reopen with in-person instruction, outbreaks, student parties and pushback from instructors and students are threatening their plans.

More than 51,000 cases have been reported at more than 1,000 campuses. Some students have faced serious consequences for breaking the rules. Northeastern University in Massachusetts dismissed 11 students last week for violating safety precautions. New York University, Ohio State, Purdue and West Virginia University have all suspended students over violations of rules intended to curb the virus’s spread on campus.

On Monday, W.V.U. said that it was moving all undergraduate courses online through Sept. 25 at its Morgantown campus, following reports of parties held over the Labor Day weekend that surfaced on social media.

Coronavirus testing at the university has found a growing number of cases, including 112 new positive results between Aug. 30 and Sept. 3. Against that backdrop, the reports of parties prompted officials to take action. In a statement, the school’s dean of students, Corey Farris, asked students who traveled home for the weekend to stay there and not return to campus yet.

Two of the parties that raised concern were held Friday and Saturday nights by the school’s Theta Chi fraternity chapter, in apparent violation of orders from the university that members living in the fraternity house isolate or quarantine themselves after one member tested positive. The university announced on Saturday that 29 members of the fraternity had been issued immediate interim suspensions.

Another Theta Chi chapter, at the University of New Hampshire, was placed under interim suspension over the weekend after 11 coronavirus cases were linked to an Aug. 29 party attended by more than 100 people, according to a letter from the university’s president, James Dean, who called the party “reprehensible.”

At the University of Michigan, a labor union representing graduate-student instructors and assistants said it would go on strike Tuesday over virus safety and other concerns.

The union, GEO, submitted a letter signed by 1,800 people to university administrators calling for a “safe and just pandemic response for all,” including the right to work remotely. The letter also demands that the university sever its ties with the Ann Arbor Police Department and ICE, arguing that the university’s decision “to expand the policing of our community in a perverse effort to enforce social distancing” would be harmful to mental health on campus.

Rick Fitzgerald, the university’s assistant vice president for public affairs, said that most of the union’s demands were “not appropriate” now, and that a strike would violate state law as well as the union contract. The university intended to hold classes in any event, he said.

A student group at the University of Kansas, where there are nearly 500 cases, is planning a “strike” to push the university to move to remote learning, The Kansas City Star reported; this follows a similar “sickout” last week at the University of Iowa.

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China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, declared on Tuesday that the country’s success in suppressing its coronavirus outbreak was a vindication of Communist Party rule.

Mr. Xi spoke during a televised ceremony to honor doctors, nurses, local officials and others who party officials said had made an outstanding contribution in fighting the virus, which first spread in central China late last year. He said that the crisis had ignited a patriotic surge that bolstered the party.

“The great strategic outcomes achieved in the struggle against the new coronavirus have fully demonstrated the clear superiority of Communist Party leadership and our socialist system,” Mr. Xi said, addressing rows of award recipients in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Mr. Xi’s triumphant account would probably have drawn much wider skepticism in China earlier this year, when many people were angered by officials who understated the spread of infections in Wuhan, where the epidemic took off. But the public mood shifted as China emerged from the crisis far more smoothly than the United States and other advanced economies did.

Near the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the thousands in the hall observed a minute or so of silence to mourn the thousands who died in China from the virus, including many medical workers. But online, Chinese people lamented the lack of mention of Li Wenliang, the Wuhan doctor who was chastised by the police for alerting his colleagues to the then little-understood virus, and later died from Covid-19.

“Dr. Li, I thought your name should have been at the award day ceremony,” said one of many similar comments on Dr. Li’s page on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese social media service.

Now China is trying to turn attention to economic recovery, and the government has chosen an unusual set of volunteers to test a coronavirus vaccine: its trade negotiators, who are more likely than most Chinese to interact with potentially infected foreigners.

Chen Deming, a former commerce minister who is still active on trade issues, was maskless when he took the podium at an economic policy conference on Tuesday morning in Beijing. He drew laughter and applause when he began by saying, “The host doesn’t have to wear a mask because I’ve already had the Phase 3 trial vaccine shot.”

Mr. Chen, a Communist Party elder statesmen who turns 71 this year, added that he had developed antibodies to protect against the coronavirus.

In a short interview after his speech, Mr. Chen said that he had received the Sinopharm vaccine, one of several now in Phase 3 trials in China. A third of the Commerce Ministry’s staff has joined him in applying for the trial and receiving the vaccine, he added.

China’s vaccine makers have been turning to Chinese citizens who travel overseas, and to countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, in their search for people with whom to test whether their products work.

“For those people who have a high overseas or travel exposure, they have a high priority to receive the vaccine,” said Wang Huiyao, the president of the Center for China and Globalization, an influential Beijing research group that organized the conference at which Mr. Chen spoke.

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Before Memorial Day weekend in May, the United States recorded a seven-day average number of new cases of 22,580, according to a New York Times database, and the average for new deaths announced was 1,216.

At the beginning of Labor Day weekend on Friday, the seven-day average number of new cases was 41,233, and the average number of new deaths reported was 851.

Within those numbers are more complicated stories:

In May, the country was beginning to emerge from lockdown. The number of overall deaths in the U.S. was nearing 100,000. And doctors were trying to find answers to a mysterious virus-related ailment affecting children. The death toll in New York, once the center of the virus outbreak, had dropped below 100 for the first time since March.

Renu Kuinkel, 32, of Queens, said she and her husband tested positive in the spring and have been largely staying home ever since. “It’s been really bad,” she said.

This weekend, though, they took a road trip to Maryland. “Now we are feeling fine with the kids,” Ms. Kuinkel said. “It’s been hard, but a little bit fun, too.”

Most parents and children are now in the early stages of another round of online learning. Many colleges and universities have welcomed students back. The country is mostly open. And New York, once the hottest of hot spots, announced that the positivity rate for the state had remained under 1 percent for the past month.

Still, cases are rising in the Midwest and the western New York state region. A big school district outside Buffalo, Williamsville, announced a delay for the start of online-only instruction for students in grades 5-12 after higher than expected demand, while nearly 100 staff members took a leave of absence and more than 100 resigned. On Monday, the school board voted to place the superintendent on administrative leave.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on Sunday that exhaustion with social distancing and other measures meant to slow the spread of the pandemic is a potentially serious problem as the seasons change.

“In the wintertime, you see respiratory pathogens spread more aggressively, in part because people are indoors more,” he added in an appearance on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “They’re in congregate settings where respiratory pathogens can spread more efficiently.”

More than 260 deaths and at least 25,160 new cases were reported across the United States on Monday. But because of the Labor Day holiday, some states and counties did not report data.

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Thousands of trainee doctors in South Korea returned to work on Tuesday, ending a two-and-a-half-week strike that had complicated efforts to battle the coronavirus at a critical point in the outbreak.

Intern and resident doctors went on strike on Aug. 21 to protest the government’s medical reform program, which included plans to increase the number of medical school students and open public medical schools. The walkout caused delays ​at major hospitals — where nurses, intern and resident doctors form the backbone of emergency rooms and intensive care units​ — even as the government battled a second wave of infections.

The government wants to increase the number of doctors to better handle emergencies, including Covid-19, and to provide greater medical access in rural areas. But young doctors said the country already had enough physicians and that the proposed reforms would result in more doctors in big cities like Seoul, where many of them specialize in popular and lucrative specialties like plastic surgery, dermatology and dentistry.

The Korea Medical Association, a lobby for doctors, reached a deal last Friday to end the strike after the government agreed to shelve its reform programs and review them from scratch after the pandemic ends. But the young doctors stayed on strike for a few more days, saying they had not been consulted.

They returned to work on Tuesday, but many medical students are still refusing to take final licensing exams​ scheduled for this week,​ ​demanding a firmer commitment from the government not to push its reform program.

South Korea’s second wave has been linked to churches and a large antigovernment protest in the capital, Seoul, last month. The daily number of new cases in the country, which was below 100 for months, has soared to three-digit spikes​ per day since mid August. The government reported 136 new cases​ on Tuesday.

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Alaska chopped resources for public broadcasting. New York City gutted a nascent composting program that could have kept tons of food waste out of landfills. New Jersey postponed property-tax relief payments.

Prisoners in Florida will continue to swelter in their cells, because plans to air-condition its prisons are on hold. Many states have already cut planned raises for teachers.

And that’s just the start.

Across the United States, states and cities have made an array of fiscal maneuvers to stay solvent and are planning more in case Congress can’t agree on a fiscal relief package after the August recess.

House Democrats included nearly $1 billion in state and local aid in the relief bill they passed in May, but the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has said he doesn’t want to hand out a “blank check” to pay for what he considers fiscal mismanagement, including the enormous public-pension obligations some states have accrued. There has been little movement in that stalemate lately.

Economists warn that further state spending reductions could prolong the downturn by shaking the confidence of residents, whose day-to-day lives depend heavily on state and local services like education, public safety, health care and unemployment insurance.

“People look to government as their backstop when things are completely falling apart,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “If they feel like there’s no support there, they lose faith and they run for the bunker and pull back on everything.”

State officials say they have little choice but to keep cutting if more aid doesn’t arrive.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has warned that without further relief New York will cut $8.2 billion in grants to local governments, a blow he said had “no precedent in modern times.” The cuts would hit “nearly every activity funded by state government,” including special education, pediatric health care, substance abuse programs, property-tax relief and mass transit, he said.

The state faces a $14.5 billion budget gap this fiscal year, according to budget officials. As an alternative to more cuts, progressive Democrats have proposed taxing the rich.

Mr. Cuomo, however, says the potential benefit of new revenue from doing so would be far outstripped by the negative impact on the state’s highest earners, who already shoulder the bulk of the state’s taxes.

“I don’t care what you increase taxes to, you couldn’t make up that deficit,” Mr. Cuomo said last week upon releasing a letter asking congressional leaders for a whopping $59 billion to cover two years of projected state deficits and more.

global roundup

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Spain surpassed more than 525,000 total cases on Monday, according to a New York Times database, making it the only country in western Europe to exceed the half-million mark.

The country is experiencing a second wave of cases after a relative lull during the summer, and the virus is spreading much faster there than anywhere else on the continent.

Spain was already one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe. But after one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns, which checked the virus’s spread, the country enjoyed one of the most rapid reopenings.

The return of nightlife and group activities — which came far faster than for most of its European neighbors — has contributed to the epidemic’s resurgence in Spain. Government officials have announced that schools will reopen this month, with masks obligatory for students 6 and older.

Many doctors and politicians are not as terrified by Spain’s second wave as they were by its first. The mortality rate is roughly half of what it was at the height of its crisis — falling to 6.6 percent from the 12 percent peak in May — and the median age of people who tested positive has dropped to around 37 from 60.

Still, experts fear that the growing number of cases could signal a new surge across the continent.

In other developments around the world:

  • Japan on Tuesday approved a plan to spend more than $6 billion from its emergency budget reserves on coronavirus vaccines. The chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters that AstraZeneca had agreed to supply 120 million doses starting from early 2021, and that Pfizer would supply 120 million doses by the end of June. Mr. Suga said the government was also negotiating with Moderna for more than 40 million additional doses.

  • Hong Kong will expand the size of legal public gatherings to four from two on Friday, as the Chinese territory loosens restrictions that it imposed this summer to fight a third wave of infections. More sports and entertainment venues will also be allowed to reopen.

  • Denmark announced on Monday that the limit on the size of public gatherings would be lowered from 100 to 50 in Copenhagen and other cities in response to a rise in cases. The measures were announced by the country’s health minister and will be implemented on Sept. 9 for 17 municipalities, including Odense, Denmark’s third largest city. In addition to the new limits on the size of assemblies, bars and restaurants will have to close by midnight, Magnus Heunicke, the minister of health and elderly affairs, said during a news conference.

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Used cars are usually overlooked in the fanfare accorded to cutting-edge electric cars and gussied-up pickup trucks. Now they are suddenly the industry’s hottest commodity.

Consumers are snapping up used vehicles as second or third cars so they can avoid trains, buses or Ubers during the coronavirus pandemic. Others are buying used rather than new to save money in an uncertain economy, not knowing when they or their spouse might lose a job. Demand for older cars has also been fed by a roughly two-month halt in production of new cars this spring.

Across the United States, the prices of used cars have shot up. The increase defies the conventional wisdom that cars are depreciating assets that lose a big chunk of their value the moment they leave the dealership. In July alone, the average value of used cars jumped more than 16 percent, according to Edmunds.com.

In June, the most recent month for which data is available, franchised car dealers sold 1.2 million used cars and trucks, according to Edmunds, up 22 percent from a year earlier. It was the highest monthly total since at least 2007.

The boom has turned the business of selling cars upside down. Because used cars don’t come from factories in Detroit, dealers are having to work as hard to buy cars as they typically do to sell them, they say, including running ads and cold calling people to ask if they would be interested in selling their old car. That’s how strong demand for used cars has become in the pandemic.

“Used cars are supposed to depreciate, but I’d look up the book value of a car on the lot and see it was higher than at the beginning of the month,” said Adam Silverleib, president of Silko Honda in Raynham, Mass. “I’ve never seen that before.”

Mr. Silverleib recently sold a 2017 Honda Pilot with 22,000 miles to Suzanne Cray and her husband. The family had gotten by with just one car. But Ms. Cray, a nurse who works at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said the family had decided it needed another to ensure that no one had to ride with Uber or on public transportation.

The boom is of a piece with other unexpected trends in a recession that has left millions of people unemployed and has devastated airlines, restaurants, hotels and small businesses. Despite that pain, the pandemic has been a boon to old standbys of the economy, like canned and processed foods and suburban home sales, that had fallen out of favor in recent years.

The growing desire to own a car has caught many people by surprise and unnerved others who are worried about what it might say about the future of cities and transportation. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who gets around in an S.U.V., recently implored New Yorkers, many of whom don’t own vehicles, not to buy a car, saying they represent “the past.”

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Early on in the pandemic, a pervasive myth among patients and some health authorities was the idea that Covid-19 was a short-term illness. Only fairly recently has more attention been given to Covid-19 “long-haulers,” whose sicknesses have persisted for months.

In online support groups like Body Politic and Survivor Corps, long-haulers have produced informal surveys and reports to study their course of illness, and many have opened up about how their mental health has suffered because of the disease. Dozens wrote that their months of illness have contributed to anxiety and depression, exacerbated by the difficulties of getting access to medical services and experiencing disruptions to their work, social and exercise routines.

“I felt this stigma like, ‘I’ve got this thing nobody wants to be around,’” said Angela Aston, 50, a nurse practitioner who was sick for weeks. “It makes you depressed, anxious that it’s never going to go away. People would say to my husband, ‘She’s not better yet?’ They start to think you’re making it up.”

Natalie Lambert, a health researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine, recently surveyed more than 1,500 long-haul patients through the Survivor Corps Facebook page and found a number of common psychological symptoms. She found that anxiety was the eighth most common long-haul symptom, cited by more than 700 respondents. Difficulty concentrating was also high on the list, and more than 400 reported feeling “sadness.”

Dr. Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, estimates that between one-third and one-half of Covid-19 patients experienced some form of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, fatigue or abnormal sleeping.

“I’ve had three OK days, but I’m hesitant to share that, because it could go away,” Ms. Smith said. “Long-haulers will tell you that. We preface every conversation when we feel good with, ‘I’ll regret saying this tomorrow.’”

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Despite a resurgence of the virus in France, officials from the French Tennis Federation announced on Monday that they will allow spectators at the French Open, which will take place from Sept. 27 to Oct. 11. The plans have been scaled back, however, to 11,500 people a day.

Roland Garros stadium, where the tournament is held, stretches across almost 30 acres and will be split into three separate zones. The two larger ones will allow 5,000 people each; the third will allow 1,500. Normally, the stadium holds about 35,000 people.

“The French Tennis Federation, with advice from a committee of expert scientists, is acting responsible and in close collaboration with the French government authorities to draw up a strict protocol that will ensure the health and safety of everyone who is on site at Roland Garros stadium during the tournament,” the officials said.

The U.S. Open is currently underway at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, but without any fans in the stadium. The French Open, usually played in late May, was pushed to September because of the pandemic.

In early July, Bernard Giudicelli, the president of the French Tennis Federation, said the tournament may be able to accommodate 20,000 fans per day. At that time, the seven-day average for the daily number of new cases was about 700, according to a New York Times database. In the two months since, the seven-day average has risen to more than 5,000, rivaling the first peak of cases in April. On Friday alone, there were nearly 9,000 new cases.

Spectators will not be able to move between zones of the stadium and everyone over the age of 11 will have to wear face coverings.

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India, home to the world’s fastest-growing outbreak, has surpassed Brazil to become the country with the second-highest number of cases.

On Monday, India reported 90,802 new cases, breaking its own record from the day before and taking its total to more than 4.2 million, according to a New York Times database. Brazil is now third with more than 4.1 million cases.

In early July, India surpassed Russia to become the country with the third-highest number of cases. By then, the United States was entrenched at No. 1, where it remains, with more than 6.2 million cases.

“Crowded cities, lockdown fatigue and a lack of contact tracing have spread Covid-19 to every corner of this country of 1.3 billion people,” The Times’s Jeffrey Gettleman and Sameer Yasir reported in late August.

India has recorded 71,642 deaths from the virus, the world’s third-highest toll after the United States and Brazil, though as a youthful nation India has a relatively low death rate per capita.

India’s surge in cases comes as the government continues to ease lockdown measures in an effort to help the economy. On Monday, the subway system in New Delhi, the capital, began a phased reopening after being shut for more than five months.

The pandemic has been economically devastating for India, which not so long ago dreamed of becoming a global powerhouse. Last week, the government reported a 24 percent contraction in the second quarter, the worst among the world’s top economies.

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Pakistani officials said on Monday that they plan to open high schools and universities across the country as of Sept. 15, encouraged by the decline in cases over the past couple of months.

The seven-day average of new cases was 467 as of Sunday, according to a New York Times database (the average was not as of Monday). Overall, Pakistan has had more than 298,000 cases.

“We have decided to open education institutions in a phased manner,” Shafat Mehmood, the country’s education minister, said during a press briefing in Islamabad, the capital.

Officials said they will monitor the situation for a week and, if things remains under control, classes for younger children will begin on Sept. 23.

“It is a very big decision,” Mr. Mehmood said. “I want to thank the parents and students who were very patient over the last six months. These were difficult times.”

Pakistan has seven million students in high schools and universities, and 6.4 million students in sixth through eighth grades, Mr. Mehmood said.

The numbers of cases and deaths in the country have fallen steeply in recent months. Cases rose sharply in the middle of June, leading to fears that the country’s weak health care system would be unable to cope with the pandemic. But officials said a coordinated national effort to impose selective lockdowns and safety measures led to decline in the curve.

Health experts said that several other factors also helped stop the spread of the disease. They have credited the country’s large youth population and the existence of vaccination programs for diseases like tuberculosis and leprosy. Still, there is no definitive answer as to why Pakistan has been spared the kind of confirmed spread that has afflicted other countries, like neighboring India.

Dr. Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to the prime minister of health, said school authorities will work to ensure that social distancing is maintained during classes.

“The most important role will be that of a mask,” Dr. Sultan said. He added that students who are sick or have a cough or fever should stay home.

“We cannot lower our guard,” he said.

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Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, announced on Monday that she was canceling her first planned campaign appearance because of the spread of the virus, as officials said two members of her household staff had tested positive.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a member of parliament who serves as state counselor and foreign minister, is running for re-election in her district in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, in national elections scheduled for Nov. 8.

The isolated country, wedged between China, Bangladesh and Thailand, had largely been spared from the virus until last month, when it began spreading in Rakhine State in western Myanmar.

As of Aug. 20, the country had fewer than 400 cases. But by Monday, the government reported more than 1,400 cases and eight deaths. Some provinces have imposed travel restrictions on other regions, including requiring visitors to undergo 21 days of quarantine upon arrival.

Officials said Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had not had personal contact recently with the two staff members who tested positive at her lakeside house in Yangon, where she spent 15 years under house arrest during military rule.

In canceling her campaign kickoff appearance scheduled for Tuesday, she said the minister of health, U Myint Htwe, had advised her against traveling to her district from the capital, Naypyidaw, where she now spends most of her time.

“At the moment the ministry of health is the most powerful,” she said in a video appearance on Facebook. “We need to follow the instructions of the ministry of health.

The recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has received widespread international condemnation for her refusal to defend the Rohingya Muslims, the target of a genocidal campaign by the Myanmar military with whom she now shares power.

About 1 million Rohingya have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar to Bangladesh where they live in crowded refugee camps. Aid officials there worry that they are highly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Myanmar’s election Nov. 8 will serve as a referendum on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, which won by a landslide five years ago but has struggled to improve the country’s standard of living.

Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Neal E. Boudette, Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley, Choe Sang-Hun, Chris Buckley, Alan Burdick, Kenneth Chang, Nick Corasaniti, Thomas Erdbrink, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Jacey Fortin, Natasha Frost, Claire Fu, Emma Goldberg, Ethan Hauser, Makiko Inoue, Cindy Lamothe, Salman Masood, Jesse McKinley, Christina Morales, Saw Nang, Richard C. Paddock, Bryan Pietsch, Anna Schaverien, Mike Seely, Neil Vigdor, Mariel Wamsley, Mary Williams Walsh, Michael Wines, Sui-Lee Wee and Elaine Yu.

Source: nytimes.com

Tags: health

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