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Covid-19 Live Updates: Health Officials Tiptoe Around Trump’s Vaccine Timeline

2020-09-20 21:46:35

Health officials sidestep questions about Trump’s timeline for ‘enough vaccines for every American by April.’

As the nation’s coronavirus death toll neared 200,000, top administration health officials on Sunday delicately sidestepped President Trump’s ambitious declaration last week that a vaccine would be available for every American by April.

Instead, Adm. Brett Brett P. Giroir, who heads up national testing efforts, and Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, offered a slightly more conservative timetable for vaccine availability.

Both seemed to defend the forecasts made by experts including Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was publicly rebuked by the president for estimating that an effective vaccine may not be widely available to the general public until the middle of next year.

On the CNN program “State of the Union,” Admiral Giroir told the host, Jake Tapper, that “in front of the Senate, Dr. Redfield and I both said that a vaccine that would be widely available in hundreds of millions of doses would not likely happen until mid-2021. That is a fact.”

However, he said, that the president was correct in saying that “We could have as many as a hundred million doses by the end of this year. That is correct.”

“I think everybody is right,” Admiral Giroir said.

Mr. Trump has often promised that the United States would produce a vaccine by Election Day on Nov. 3. But his optimism and projections for widespread availability have been roundly disputed. At the White House on Friday at a news conference, Mr. Trump said that once a vaccine is authorized, “distribution will begin within 24 hours after notice.”

He added: “We will have manufactured at least 100 million vaccine doses before the end of the year. And likely much more than that. Hundreds of millions of doses will be available every month, and we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April.”

The U.S. population has reached 330 million, according to estimates by the Census Bureau.

Several recent public opinion polls have shown a growing distrust or wariness among Americans of a rushed vaccine. In a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, fewer than 1 in 10 Americans had a great deal of confidence in the president’s ability to confirm vaccine effectiveness; 18 percent reported only a “good amount” of confidence.

In their separate TV interviews, Admiral Giroir and Mr. Azar reiterated the need for the public to wear masks, a practice the president often mocks. Mr. Trump’s recent campaign rallies are crowded full of supporters who do not wear face coverings, in violation of mask requirements in some localities.

Mr. Trump also clashed last week with Dr. Redfield on the value of masks, saying that the C.D.C. director was also mistaken when he compared the value of masks to a vaccine.

Mr. Azar told Chuck Todd on the NBC program “Meet the Press” that masks were clearly important. “I think the point the president was making is there’s not an equivalence between masks and vaccines,” he said.

In recent weeks, Mr. Azar and some of his deputies have faced withering criticism, accused by public health experts and lawmakers of censoring and altering C.D.C. researchers’ reports on the virus and of putting politics over science at the Food and Drug Administration. In a stunning declaration of authority last week, Mr. Azar barred the nation’s health agencies from signing any new rules regarding the nation’s foods, medicines, medical devices and other products, including vaccines.

On Sunday, Mr. Azar was asked about whether the White House had forced him to hire Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs, who is on medical leave after he posted a Facebook video in which he accused scientists at the C.D.C. of “sedition” and warned of a leftist uprising after the November presidential election.

Mr. Caputo later apologized for the tirade, in which he said, “There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president.”

Mr. Azar said he wouldn’t discuss personnel matters and added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Michael. He added value and helped with our Covid response.”

Representative Jahana Hayes, Democrat of Connecticut, said on Sunday that she had tested positive for the virus and would quarantine for 14 days.

More than a dozen lawmakers in the House and two in the Senate have tested positive for the virus, and dozens more have come into contact with someone who tested positive, gone into quarantine, or both.

Members of Congress are not regularly tested on Capitol Hill, even though they travel frequently back and forth between their districts and Washington, a point that Ms. Hayes raised in her announcement.

She tweeted a video of herself being tested for the virus, and then posted that she was largely asymptomatic, “except for breathing issues which are being monitored,” and that she had taken “every possible precaution” while on Capitol Hill and in Washington for votes this week.

“My experience and the experience of my staff underscore the need for a nat’l testing strategy with a coherent way to receive speedy, accurate results,” Ms. Hayes wrote on Twitter. “This level of anxiety and uncertainty is untenable.”

Ms. Hayes said she tried without success at two urgent care centers to get tested on Saturday, and finally got an appointment at a third site for Sunday morning.

Indoor dining in Maryland will rise to 75 percent of capacity Monday.

Maryland will allow restaurants to expand indoor dining on Monday to 75 percent of capacity — and is encouraging its citizens to eat out — despite concerns over the spread of the coronavirus in the state.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced the expansion of indoor dining in Annapolis on Friday, to coincide with Maryland’s first statewide Restaurant Week, a 10-day promotional event with discounts and specials meant to draw back customers after months of pandemic restrictions. Governor Hogan wrote on Twitter that restaurants could expand to 75 percent from 50 percent “with strict distancing and public health measures in place.”

The governor cited hopeful trends in the state’s coronavirus statistics, like falling numbers of patients in intensive care units and a seven-day positivity rate of 2.85 percent. (The positivity rate is the share of coronavirus tests conducted in the state that come back positive.)

But data from Johns Hopkins University, calculated in a different way, indicated a positivity rate of 5.7 percent for the state, above the widely recommended 5 percent ceiling for relaxing restrictions.

Some public health experts expressed reservations about the expansion of indoor dining. The director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group said that it could “risk lives unnecessarily.”

And a few counties and cities in Maryland were holding back, including Baltimore, where a spokesman for the mayor told The Baltimore Sun: “We simply do not have enough data to responsibly increase indoor dining capacity within the city.” Baltimore officials have already had to reverse an attempt to reinstate indoor dining in July after a spike in cases.

Around the country, restaurants and bars were hit hard by lengthy shutdowns and have struggled to rebound. New case clusters have been linked to reopening of indoor dining in some places, although it can be very difficult to trace whether they began with workers, patrons, or a combination.

In Howard County southwest of Baltimore, where the expansion is moving forward, the owner of Ananda, an Indian restaurant, says he does not plan to add more tables. “Our capacity is 391 people, and we never seat at any given hour more than 60 people,” said the owner, Binda Singh, adding that “Right now, our tables are about 10 feet apart.”

Opening at 50 percent of indoor capacity got the restaurant back up to 80 percent of its typical profits, with diners still feeling safe.

The extra space used to allow Ananda to accommodate weddings, conferences and parties, but large gatherings like those are out of the question now.

Many restaurants like Ananda have used outdoor seating to serve more guests over the summer. But as the weather grows colder, that will wane, contributing to the growing tensions playing out across the nation between restaurateurs and public health officials who are concerned about indoor spread of the virus.

The U.S. military has set up a field hospital in Jamaica.

The United States said it has delivered a field hospital to Jamaica to aid its pandemic response, as the Caribbean is bracing for a surge in coronavirus cases and an increasingly dangerous hurricane season.

The 70-bed modular hospital was delivered by military cargo planes to the Caribbean island on Saturday and will be deployed in the coming days, the U.S. Southern Command said in a statement. The U.S. military delivered similar facilities to the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica in recent weeks.

The aid comes as Jamaica struggles to contain its worst coronavirus outbreak yet, after keeping the disease in check for months. The island’s total Covid-19 deaths more than tripled, to 70, over the past month.

Overall, more than 3,500 people have died from Covid-19 in the Caribbean, half of them in the Dominican Republic, according to the World Health Organization.

About 8 percent of recorded coronavirus cases in the Caribbean result in deaths, compared with an average of 3.4 percent in the Americas as a whole.

The W.H.O. warned last week that many parts of the Caribbean are approaching a peak of the pandemic, just as the region is dealing with one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record. Any natural calamities would complicate a pandemic response in a region already reeling from the collapse of its all-important tourist industry.


Desperate to avoid another nationwide lockdown, Britain moves to impose harsher fines for breaches of the rules.

With the number of new daily cases in Britain rising above 4,000 for the first time since early May, the government has announced tougher penalties for those who don’t follow coronavirus restrictions, in hopes of avoiding widespread lockdowns.

The government will impose fines of 1,000 pounds, about $1,300, against those who do not self-isolate after testing positive for the virus or who leave their home after being traced as a close contact of someone who has. The fines, which begin on Sept. 28, can increase to a maximum of £10,000 for repeat offenders or for the most serious breaches.

“We’ve relied on people’s civic duty to do the right thing, but there is a minority of people who are not,” Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, told the BBC on Sunday.

The government will also introduce a £500 payment for people on low incomes who are told to self-isolate, an incentive intended to cushion the blow of any financial loss and to encourage compliance.

Where “hot spots” for virus spread have been identified, the government’s strategy has recently favored local restrictions, but Mr. Hancock said on Sunday that he could not rule out another national lockdown.

Roughly 10 million people in central and northern England have already been banned from meeting with anyone outside their household as part of local restrictions, and many pubs and restaurants in those areas have been told they must close at 10 p.m.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is pushing for similar restrictions to be implemented in the British capital.

Elsewhere in the world:

  • Residents of Madrid took to the streets on Sunday to protest the return to lockdown of dozens of areas of the Spanish capital, mostly in working class suburbs that are most densely populated. As of Monday, about 850,000 residents in 37 areas will be allowed to leave their zones only for work, school or emergency medical help.

  • Italy is allowing as many as 1,000 spectators to attend top-tier soccer matches nationwide starting on Sunday. Officials reported more than 1,600 new infections on Saturday, compared with daily increases of more than 6,000 during the peak of Italy’s outbreak in March, when public attendance was suspended at matches for Serie A, the country’s top soccer league.

  • Indonesia has announced a seven-day suspension of a seafood company’s exports to China after the outside of packaged fish products tested positive for the virus. The Indonesian Fisheries Ministry said on Saturday that an investigation had been opened into the company, PT Putri Indah, according to a Reuters report. Other companies were not affected, the ministry added, and “can still do export activities as usual.”

  • Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, moved closer to easing lockdown rules after recording only 14 new cases on Sunday.

  • New Zealand on Sunday reported four new cases. In a case reported the day before, a man who traveled to New Zealand from India last month developed symptoms after his two-week quarantine and infected two household members, officials said. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to announce on Monday whether restrictions will be further eased in Auckland and lifted entirely in the rest of the country.

Democrats link the coming battle over the Supreme Court to the pandemic and health care.

As the battle got underway over how the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be filled, Democrats argued Sunday that the stakes for the pandemic-battered nation were as much about health care as about the usual hot-button divides over guns and abortion that typically define court confirmations.

In August, Nadzri Harif, a D.J. at Kristal FM radio station in Brunei, set foot in an airport for the first time in six months. The experience, he said, was exhilarating. Sure, moving through Brunei International Airport was different, with masks, glass dividers and social-distancing protocols in place, but nothing could beat the anticipation of getting on a plane again.

His destination: nowhere.

Mr. Harif is one of thousands of people in Brunei, Australia, Japan and Taiwan who have started booking flights that start and end in the same place. Some airlines call these “scenic flights.” Others are more direct, calling them “flights to nowhere.”

“I didn’t realize how much I’d missed traveling — missed flying — until the moment the captain’s voice came on the speaker with the welcome and safety announcement,” Mr. Harif said of his 85-minute experience on Royal Brunei Airlines. On its flight to nowhere, which the airline calls the “dine and fly” program, Royal Brunei serves local cuisine to passengers while flying over the country.

At a time when most people are unable to travel as the pandemic has gutted the global air-travel industry, flights that take off and return to an airport a few hours later allow airlines to keep staff working. The practice also satisfies that itch to travel — even if it’s just being on a plane again.

Royal Brunei has run five of the flights since mid-August, and since Brunei has had very few cases of the virus, the airline does not require passengers to wear masks, though staff members do. The Taiwanese airline EVA Air filled all 309 seats on a Hello Kitty-themed jet for Father’s Day last month in Taiwan, and the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways had a Hawaiian-resort-themed, 90-minute flight with 300 people on board.

When California schools began shutting down in March, David Miyashiro, the superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union School District, immediately started connecting with families and teachers. During hundreds of calls, Zoom meetings and socially distanced in-person gatherings, he heard pleas from parents torn between work and home instruction, or who needed support for high-needs students.

Mr. Miyashiro vowed to reopen schools in the fall, and over the coming months, he took steps to pave the way. The district near San Diego offered free emergency child care for essential workers in April. It ran an in-person summer enrichment program for more than a third of its 17,000 mostly low-income students, road-testing safety measures.

While many low-income districts have been staying remote, Cajon Valley has opened its 27 schools for a mixture of in-person and remote instruction. It was, in the minds of Mr. Miyashiro and many educational experts, a small victory for poorer students who, according to studies, have been disproportionately hurt by remote instruction.

After the first week and a half with in-person instruction, the district has had no infections..

But parents and teachers said the district had prepared in many ways, starting with a good job of responding to the virus crisis when it first hit. In March, the district created playlists with curriculum and content for every grade. Principals frequently made goofy videos to send to students to show that there could be lightness in a heavy moment. Teachers all had Zoom office hours, as well as regular online classes.

Well before that, Cajon Valley had prepared for the kind of challenges the pandemic has presented.

For seven years, the district has provided every child a laptop and access to a curriculum that blends technology into day-to-day teaching. Teachers have received extensive training for high-tech, “blended” classrooms, showcased in YouTube videos as far back as 2014.

Mr. Miyashiro praised the teachers’ union for raising safety concerns he had failed to see, and committed to using federal stimulus funding to offer wraparound services — nutrition, recreation, distance-learning support — for families who need support during the three days that students are not in school. Thirty percent of children’s families opted for all-remote learning until December, while the rest have returned two days a week.

The scene came seven minutes into a new Chinese-government-sponsored television drama, so short that it would have been easy to miss: The head of a bus company in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus outbreak began, asks his drivers if they are willing to make emergency runs during the city’s lockdown. A line of volunteers forms. None are women. The official asks why.

In reality, women made up the majority of front-line workers during the crisis, according to the official news media. That roughly minute-long clip has set off a furor on Chinese social media. Users have called the scene a flagrant example of sexism in Chinese society and an attempt to erase female contributions to the fight against the virus.

By Sunday, a hashtag about that segment, which aired on Thursday, had been viewed more than 140 million times. Tens of thousands of people had called for the show to be taken off the air.

Reporting was contributed by Jenny Anderson, Emily Cochrane, Manny Fernandez, James Gorman, John Koblin, Andrew E. Kramer, Raphael Minder, Tariro Mzezewa, Simon Romero, Marc Santora, Anna Schaverien, Mark A. Walsh and Vivian Wang.


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