As the science on masks’ effectiveness mounts, so does the U.S. debate on mandates.
As caseloads surge in many states, especially in the West and South, the debate over mask mandates continues, though evidence of their benefits has mounted substantially in recent months.
President Trump, who first wore a mask in public on July 11, acknowledged in a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace broadcast on Sunday that he is a “believer” in masks, though he also said he would not support a nationwide mask mandate: “I leave it up to the governors.”
The consistent message from the White House that virus restrictions be made at the local level has led to a patchwork of policies. More than half the states have issued mask requirements, but given that many Americans feel that mask orders impinge on individual freedom, some governors are holding out.
The issue dominated talk shows on Sunday.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes for Health, called the politicization of face coverings “bizarre” in an interview on the NBC program “Meet the Press.” “Our best chance is for all of us to get together and do the right thing, and stop fighting so much about the divide between different political perspectives, which is just getting in the way,” Dr. Collins said.
Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado defended his decision to issue a statewide mask mandate that took effect Friday. New cases have been rising for a month, nearing the tallies during the peak of Colorado’s crisis in April, though deaths remain far lower. Mr. Polis, a Democrat, said on the ABC program “This Week” that it “was a really easy decision” after he saw data suggesting that local mask orders in his state were tied to lower case numbers.
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi said that he would not issue a statewide mask order, even though cases and hospitalizations were soaring. “If I believed that was the best way to save lives in my state, I would have done it a long time ago,” Mr. Reeves, a Republican, said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” He said he preferred a “surgical approach” with precautions varying county by county.
In Georgia, the Republican governor, Brian Kemp, has sued the Democratic mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, over virus policies in Atlanta that include a mask order. On the CBS program “Face the Nation,” she called the lawsuit “a blame game.”
On the ABC program “This Week,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican, said he would not support a national mandate, though he issued a state ordinance on Thursday. He said he had waited because a mask mandate was “not popular” in his state. Arkansas has been averaging more than 660 cases daily, which is near the state’s peak level, according to a New York Times database.
Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, said on “Meet the Press” that his state was heading in the “wrong direction” and that he would not rule out a mask order. While single-day tallies for new cases in Ohio averaged around 400 a month ago, they peaked on Friday, with 1,679 cases.
Representative Donna E. Shalala of Florida, a Democrat who was formerly the nation’s longest-serving Secretary of Health and Human Services, called on her state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, to issue mask and stay-at-home orders. State health officials on Sunday reported more than 10,000 new cases for the fifth consecutive day. “We need to close down in Florida,” Ms. Shalala said on “This Week.” “We’ve asked the governor to do that. We’ve even asked him to do the simplest thing: That is to require masks for everyone.”
Trump calls Fauci ‘a little bit of an alarmist,’ the latest salvo of White House criticism.
President Trump called Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, an “alarmist” who provided faulty information in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
His remarks, in an interview with Fox News that aired Sunday, were the latest public criticism from a White House that appears to be mounting a coordinated effort to discredit Dr. Fauci, on the record and off, and in presidential tweets. Administration officials deny doing so.
“I don’t know that he’s a leaker,” Mr. Trump said during the interview with Chris Wallace “He’s a little bit of an alarmist. That’s OK. A little bit of an alarmist.”
Mr. Trump said that Dr. Fauci had been against his decision to close the borders to travelers from China in January. That is not true: While Dr. Fauci was initially opposed to the idea on the grounds that a ban would prevent medical professionals from traveling to hard-hit areas, he supported the decision by the time it was made.
Mr. Trump also said that Dr. Fauci had been against Americans wearing masks. Dr. Fauci has said that he does not regret urging Americans not to wear masks in the early days of the pandemic, referencing a severe shortage of protective gear for medical professionals.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, was asked on the NBC program “Meet the Press” whether anyone at the White House had asked him to demote or fire Dr. Fauci, whose agency is under Dr. Collins’s supervision. “Nobody has asked me to do that and I find that concept unimaginable,” Dr. Collins said.
In the hourlong interview on Fox, Mr. Trump, whose administration made crucial missteps in handling the virus earlier this year, made several false claims on the government’s response to the pandemic.
Mr. Trump falsely claimed that the coronavirus rate in other countries was lower than in the United States because those nations did not engage in testing. When Mr. Wallace pointed out the lower case rate across the European Union, the president replied, “it’s possible that they don’t test.” When Mr. Wallace pointed out the increasing death rate in the United States, Mr. Trump replied, “It’s all too much. It shouldn’t be one case. It came from China. They should have never let it escape.”
Mr. Trump said that he doubted whether Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., was correct in predicting that the pandemic would be worse this fall. “I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said. “And I don’t think he knows.”
He said that public health experts and the World Health Organization “got a lot wrong” in the early days of the pandemic, including a theory that the virus would abate as the weather warmed, and then reiterated his earlier claim, unsupported by science, that the virus would suddenly cease one day. “It’s going to disappear and I’ll be right,” Mr. Trump said. “Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”
Mr. Trump threatened to pull federal funding from schools if they did not open soon. When Mr. Wallace pointed out that only a small portion of funding from the federal government goes to schools — and is mostly used to support disadvantaged and disabled children — the president replied, “Let the schools open.”
Mr. Biden, who has been critical of Mr. Trump’s handling of the outbreak, said in a statement on Sunday: “In the middle of a pandemic that continues to worsen on his watch, President Trump is trying to keep money away from the public health measures that we know will keep us and our families safe. He even went on to attack the value of testing again in the same interview, perpetuating a terrible monthslong streak.”
“Mr. President, your ignorance isn’t a virtue or a sign of your strength,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s undercutting our response to this unprecedented crisis at every turn and it’s costing Americans their jobs and their lives.”
As demand for coronavirus testing surges around the nation, laboratories that process samples have backlogs that have left anxious patients waiting days — and sometimes a week or more — for their results.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, acknowledged the dangers associated with such delays in an interview on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”
“The average test delay is too long,” Dr. Collins said. “That really undercuts the value of the testing, because you do the testing to find out who’s carrying the virus, and then quickly get them isolated so they don’t spread it around. And it’s very hard to make that work when there’s a long delay built in.”
On the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said that “once testing is delayed more than 48 hours, it becomes not very useful.”
The longer it takes for people to determine whether they’ve been infected, Dr. Gottlieb said, the more difficult it will be to curb the spread of disease and drive new-case numbers down.
To speed turnaround times, Dr. Collins said, health officials are pushing for more point-of-care testing — “on the spot” assays designed to be done rapidly and easily without the need for specialized laboratory equipment or highly trained personnel.
Some of these tests could be completed in a doctor’s office, or perhaps even at home, in less than an hour. Simple, speedy tests could be a boon for institutions and communities that care for large numbers of vulnerable people, like nursing homes. A handful of point-of-care tests have been approved for emergency use by the F.D.A.
“We need to invest a lot of money, and the government is willing to do so, in scaling those up,” Dr. Collins said. “That’s the kind of thing that I personally, along with many others in other parts of the government, are working on night and day to try to do a better job of.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti says Los Angeles is ‘on the brink’ of a new stay-at-home order.
Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said that the coronavirus was spreading in the city to the point where a new stay-at-home order would have to be issued.
“We’re on the brink of that,” he said on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday.
He declined to be more specific about the timing or scope of a new order, except to say, “We have to be surgical, rather than a cleaver that would just shut everything down.”
He said he agreed that earlier restrictions had been relaxed too quickly. “Mayors often have no control over what reopens up and doesn’t,” he said. “That’s either at a state or county level.”
But he added, “It’s not just about what’s open and closed, but it’s also about what we do individually.”
Los Angeles County has recorded more than 153,000 cases so far, and the spread of the virus has been quickening across Southern California. “Cases have gone up, but we also have the most aggressive testing,” the mayor. “We were the first city to offer tests to people without symptoms.”
In other news around the country:
Congressional leaders are puzzling over how to safely and appropriately honor Representative John Lewis of Georgia, an icon of the civil rights movement who died on Friday. Congress has honored more than 40 people by allowing their remains to lie in state under the Capitol dome, and many believe that such an honor would be fitting for Mr. Lewis. But the Capitol is closed to tourists and those allowed inside are encouraged to stay six feet apart.
The Defense Department sent Navy teams to help support four medical centers in South and Southwest Texas as the virus surges there, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas announced on Sunday. The teams were dispatched to Harlingen, Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Rio Grande City. The state has recorded 71,779 new cases in the last week, bringing its total case load to over 330,000, with nearly 4,000 deaths.
Officials in Louisiana reported 3,116 new cases today, exceeding the previous single-day record of 2,728 new cases, which were reported on April 2. The state did not provide any update yesterday, which is a likely explanation for today’s spike.
The Canadian government said it would not allow the Toronto Blue Jays to stage home games. The team had hoped to play at Rogers Centre beginning on July 29, as part of Major League Baseball’s plan to use all 30 of its teams’ ballparks for a shortened 60-game season, with a number of precautions including having no fans in the stands. But on Saturday, Canada’s immigration minister said repeated cross-border travel by players and staff members posed a health risk. The team will play its regular-season home games in the United States instead, most likely at its AAA minor-league affiliate’s stadium in Buffalo.
The Trump administration has balked at providing billions of dollars to fund coronavirus testing and shore up federal health agencies as the virus surges across the country, complicating efforts to reach agreement on the next round of pandemic aid.
Senate Republicans had drafted a proposal that would allocate $25 billion in grants to states for conducting testing and contact tracing, as well as about $10 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and about $15 billion for the National Institutes of Health, according to a person familiar with the tentative plans. They had also proposed providing $5.5 billion to the State Department and $20 billion to the Pentagon to help counter the virus and potentially distribute a vaccine at home and abroad.
But in talks over the weekend, administration officials instead pushed to zero out the funding for testing and for the nation’s top health agencies, and to cut the Pentagon funding to $5 billion, according to another person familiar with the discussions. The people asked for anonymity to disclose private details of the talks, which were first reported by The Washington Post.
The administration’s position presents an added complication to negotiations between Democrats, who are pressing for a more expansive aid bill, and Republicans, who hope to unveil a narrower opening offer for virus relief as early as this week.
On Saturday, more than 62,300 coronavirus cases were announced in the United States, according to a New York Times database, and more than 770 new deaths. On Thursday, the country set a record with new cases topping 75,600, the 11th time in the past month that the daily record had been broken.
Hong Kong, which weeks ago appeared to be one of the most effective places in containing the coronavirus, announced on Sunday a suspension of nonessential government services after the city reported a record daily number of new infections.
Health officials reported 108 cases on Sunday, the highest number of infections that Hong Kong has recorded in a single day. The territory recorded more than 500 new cases in the past two weeks after officials relaxed social-distancing restrictions and allowed businesses to reopen, underscoring the scale of what experts have described as the city’s most serious surge after months in which few or no new daily infections were detected.
Carrie Lam, the leader of the semiautonomous Chinese territory, introduced a series of regulations and containment measures, including a requirement to wear masks in all indoor public spaces. Most civil servants will be required to work from home for a week. Prohibitions on dining inside restaurants after 6 p.m. will be extended for another week. “The situation is very serious, and there is no sign of it coming under control,” Mrs. Lam said.
With two designated laboratories operating around the clock, the city processes testing samples for close to 10,000 people every day, focusing on high-risk groups like nursing home workers, taxi drivers and catering staff.
An eye clinic said it would close temporarily after three clerical employees who had interacted with hundreds of patients contracted the disease. A customs officer and an airport cleaner have also been hospitalized after testing positive for the virus.
Mrs. Lam said that while hospitals did not immediately face risks of overcrowding, she planned to expand a newly built quarantine center to accommodate 3,500 close contacts of coronavirus patients by the end of the year. She cited concerns about a new wave of cases after temperature drops, and the possible need to evacuate and quarantine a large number of high-risk older citizens, should there be an outbreak at a large nursing home.
After nine months of waiting for surgery, Ruth Fawcett’s knee muscles wasted away, causing her joint to come loose in its socket and leaving her unable to walk without assistance.
“They’ve just stopped doing surgery for cases that they call nonlife-threatening and when they start again, they will probably have to prioritize the most urgent cases,” she said, taking a deep sigh.
Ms. Fawcett, 82, a jewelry designer from the northwestern county of Cumbria, is one of nearly four million people in England on the National Health Service waiting list for routine hospital treatments.
With hospitals operating at pandemic-reduced capacity, the waiting list could soar to 10 million people by the end of the year, according to the N.H.S. Confederation, which represents hospitals and other health care providers, though the service rejects that estimate.
“They won’t tell me where I am on the list, or how urgent they consider my case to be,” Ms. Fawcett said. “I can hardly walk. My knee just wobbles about and if I don’t use my two walking sticks, I will fall. It’s very scary.”
In other news around the world:
Turkey has suspended flights to Iran and Afghanistan in response to infections in those countries, its Transport Ministry said. President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said on Saturday that some 25 million Iranians may have been infected with coronavirus as Iran reimposed restrictions in the capital and elsewhere. The figure, from a report Mr. Rouhani cited in a televised speech, was far higher than Saturday’s official figure for infections of 271,606.
Face coverings will be required in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, whenever people leave home, officials there said on Sunday, citing a recent increase in cases. The requirement will take effect on Wednesday. Violations could result in a fine of 200 Australian dollars, or roughly $140.
Chinese officials are battling a growing outbreak in the far western Xinjiang region, the center of the country’s broad crackdown on predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities. Thirty confirmed infections have been reported in its capital, Urumqi, since Thursday, 13 of them on Sunday; there are an additional 41 asymptomatic infections.
European Union leaders agreed to go back to the negotiating table on Sunday after two long, difficult days of talks during which they have been trying to bridge differences over how to distribute and oversee a stimulus plan that would send 750 billion euros, or about $840 billion, into the bloc’s economies.
As countries told people to stay home to slow the spread of the virus, doctors in neonatal intensive care units were noticing something strange: Premature births were falling, in some cases drastically.
It started with doctors in Denmark and Ireland. Each team, unaware of the other’s work, found that during the lockdowns, premature births — especially the earliest, most dangerous cases — had plummeted. When they shared their findings, they heard similar anecdotal reports from other countries.
They do not know what caused the drop in premature births, and can only speculate as to the factors in lockdown that might have contributed. But further research might help doctors, scientists and parents-to-be understand the causes of premature birth and ways to prevent it, which have been elusive until now.
Their studies are not yet peer reviewed, and have been posted only on preprint servers. In some cases the changes amounted to only a few missing babies per hospital. But they represented significant reductions from the norm, and some experts in premature birth think the research is worthy of additional investigation.
“These results are compelling,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, an obstetrician at Emory University’s School of Medicine in Atlanta.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies born premature, especially before 32 weeks, are at higher risk of vision and hearing problems, cerebral palsy and death.
Transit leaders in cities including Seattle, Los Angeles and Miami warn they need billions of dollars in aid to prevent their systems from collapsing, as pandemic precautions and the economic crisis continue to take a toll and as the first round of congressional aid is quickly drying up.
The cratering of the economy has put nearly 11 percent of Americans on the unemployment rolls and closed about 66,000 small businesses, dealing a blow to the sales and income tax revenues that many cities and states use to fund transit agencies.
The mix of forces has been brutal: Ridership has plummeted 90 percent on some of the nation’s biggest systems, including in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. Transit agencies across the country are projected to rack up close to $40 billion in budget shortfalls, dwarfing the $2 billion loss inflicted by the 2008 financial crisis.
Midsize agencies have not been spared. Denver’s transit agency is cutting service by 40 percent. In New Orleans, where 14 percent of its transit workers have tested positive for the virus, fare revenue has dropped by 45 percent. Cleveland, where unemployment levels have reached 23 percent, will lose 14 percent of its revenue by 2021.
According to the head of San Francisco’s network, this could plunge systems into a “transit death spiral,” where cuts to service and delayed upgrades make public transit a less convenient option for the public, which prompts further drops in ridership and further cuts, until a network eventually collapses.
Ben Fried, a spokesman for the TransitCenter, a philanthropic foundation that supports nationwide transit overhaul, said, “If the emergency response is not robust, and robust over a prolonged period of time, these agencies will be looking at long term cuts to service.”
“It’s just really scary to think about where transit systems and transit riders are going to end up,” he added.
How to have a better backyard.
We’re all spending more time outdoors. Here’s a few tips to take your tired backyard, stoop or balcony into a true escape.
Reporting was contributed by Sarah Almukhtar, Luke Broadwater, Emily Cochrane, Melina Delkic, Rebecca Halleck, Tiffany May, Raphael Minder, Elizabeth Preston, Roni Caryn Rabin, Katie Rogers, Mitch Smith, Lucy Tompkins, Pranshu Verma, Katherine Wu, Ceylan Yeginsu and Karen Zraick.