Children across the U.S. have faced chaotic school reopenings, and New York may be next.
With the planned first day of school in New York City rapidly approaching, Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing mounting pressure from the city’s teachers, principals and even members of his own administration to delay the start of in-person instruction to give educators more time to prepare.
Mr. de Blasio has been hoping to reopen the nation’s largest school system on a part-time basis for the city’s 1.1 million schoolchildren on Sept. 10. No other big-city mayor is attempting reopening on such a scale, and many smaller districts that have already reopened have had to change course significantly almost immediately after students returned.
In Arizona, where the virus surged earlier this summer, many students started school on Monday. But classes in the J.O. Combs Unified School District, about an hour outside of Phoenix, were canceled through Wednesday after a significant number of teachers and staff members called in sick to protest in-person classes, and it was unclear when and how the school year may start there.
Near Oklahoma City, an infected student at Westmoore High School attended class last week before his quarantine period was over, NBC News reported, saying the child’s parents told the school that they had “miscalculated” the timing. Twenty-two students who came in contact with that student or another at the school who tested positive have been quarantined.
And in Cherokee County, Georgia, which by the middle of last week had nearly 1,200 students and educational staff ordered to quarantine, a third high school closed to in-person learning this week after 500 of its students were quarantined and 25 tested positive for the virus.
Still, the closest comparison to New York may be Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school system. There, public schools on Monday began a sweeping program to test hundreds of thousands of students and teachers — even though, for the time being, the Los Angeles Unified School District will begin school online.
If New York is able to reopen schools safely, it would be an extraordinary turnaround for a city that was the global epicenter of the pandemic just a few months ago. Schools are the key to the city’s long path back to normalcy: opening classrooms would help jump-start the struggling economy by allowing more parents to return to work and would provide desperately needed services for tens of thousands of vulnerable students.
But the push to reopen on time is now facing its most serious obstacle yet: The city’s principals are questioning the city’s readiness.
“We are now less than one month away from the first day of school and still without sufficient answers to many of the important safety and instructional questions we’ve raised,” Mark Cannizzaro, president of the city’s principals’ union, wrote in a letter last week.
New York City has a virus transmission rate so low that it is closer to that of South Korea than of many other American cities, and there is agreement among many public health experts that the city’s infection rate is low enough to reopen at least some schools.
The city’s public school principals say they do not know how many of their students will report to buildings on the planned first day, because there is no deadline for families to switch from hybrid learning to remote-only. So far, about 30 percent of city families have said they will start the year remotely, but that number could change significantly.
That has made it all but impossible for principals to plan their class schedules, and to determine how many teachers they will need to staff remote instruction, in-person learning or both.
And though the city has begun to ship personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to schools, and has made strides in preparing many of its aging buildings for reopening, there are lingering questions about how many classrooms will have proper ventilation, and about how frequently staff and students will be tested after buildings open.
The presentation at times resembled an online awards show, and it offered a vivid illustration of how both the pandemic and widespread opposition to President Trump have upended the country’s politics.
Capping the evening was an urgent plea from Michelle Obama, the former first lady, for voters to mobilize in overpowering force to turn Mr. Trump out of office and elect the Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Breaking through the stilted online format, Mrs. Obama provided the emotional high point of the night as she confronted the president directly. “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” she said. “He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment.”
Perhaps the most searing critique of Mr. Trump on Monday came not from an elected official but from Kristin Urquiza, a young woman whose father, a Trump supporter, died after contracting the virus. Speaking briefly and in raw terms about her loss, Ms. Urquiza said of her father, “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.”
A large federal study that found an antiviral drug, remdesivir, can hasten the recovery in hospitalized Covid-19 patients has begun a new phase of investigation.
Now researchers will examine whether adding another drug, beta interferon — which mainly kills viruses but can also tame inflammation — would improve remdesivir’s effects and speed recovery even more.
So far, remdesivir, an experimental drug, has received emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration to treat hospitalized Covid-19 patients. In a large clinical trial, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, remdesivir was shown to modestly shorten recovery time, by four days, on average, but it did not reduce deaths.
The additional drug, beta interferon, has already been approved for treatment of multiple sclerosis, which takes advantage of its anti-inflammatory effect.
The U.S. trial, called ACCT, is designed to move quickly. Known as an adaptive trial, it is a race between treatments. It tests one treatment against another, and, when results are in, the drug that won becomes the control drug for the next phase, in which it is tested against a different drug.
The new phase is the study’s third. A total of 1,000 patients will receive either remdesivir and a placebo or remdesivir and beta interferon.
Interferon is given as an injection. Remdesivir, made by Gilead Sciences, is given as an intravenous infusion.
Faced with a recent resurgence of coronavirus cases, officials in France have made mask-wearing mandatory in widening areas of Paris and other cities across the country, pleading with people not to let down their guard and jeopardize the hard-won gains made against the virus during a two-month lockdown this spring.
The signs of a new wave of infection emerged over the summer as people began resuming much of their pre-coronavirus lives, traveling across France and socializing in cafes, restaurants and parks. Many, especially the young, have visibly relaxed their vigilance.
In recent days, France has recorded about 3,000 new infections every day, roughly double the figure at the beginning of the month, and the authorities are investigating an increasing number of clusters.
Thirty percent of the new infections are in young adults, ages 15 to 44, according to a recent report. Since they are less likely to develop serious forms of the illness, deaths and the number of patients in intensive care remain at a fraction of what they were at the height of the pandemic. Still, officials are not taking any chances.
“The indicators are bad, the signals are worrying, and the situation is deteriorating,” Jérôme Salomon, the French health ministry director, told the radio station France Inter last week. “The fate of the epidemic is in our hands.”
France has suffered more than 30,400 deaths from the virus — one of the world’s worst tolls — and experienced an economically devastating lockdown from mid-March to mid-May. Thanks to the lockdown, however, France succeeded in stopping the spread of the virus and lifted most restrictions at the start of summer.
The course of the pandemic in Europe has followed a somewhat similar trend, with Spain also reporting new local clusters. But important disparities exist among countries. In the past week, as France reported more than 16,000 new cases, Britain reported 7,000, and Italy 3,000, according to data collected by The New York Times.
Postal slowdowns and warnings of delayed mail-in ballots are causing election officials in the United States to rethink vote-by-mail strategies, with some states seeking to bypass the post office with ballot drop boxes, drive-through drop-offs or expanded in-person voting options, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020 election was supposed to be the largest-ever experiment in voting by mail, but the Trump administration’s late cost-cutting push at the Postal Service has shaken the confidence of voters and Democratic officials alike. The images of sorting machines being removed from postal facilities, mailboxes uprooted or bolted shut on city streets, and packages piling up at mail facilities have sparked anger and deep worry.
Even if, as the Postal Service says, it has plenty of capacity to process mail-in ballots, the fear is that the psychological damage is already done. So as Democrats in Washington fight to restore Postal Service funding, election officials around the country are looking for a Plan B.
Planning in the states proceeded Monday, as House Democrats prepared for a Saturday vote on legislation that would reverse cost-cutting measures at the Postal Service and pump $25 billion in emergency funding into the ailing agency. Democrats were also pressuring the Postal Service board to reverse those policies.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, along with Robert Duncan, the chairman of the agency’s board of governors, agreed to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee next week, as questions arose about a potential conflict of interest from a logistics company Mr. DeJoy holds a stake in that could be shaping the decisions of the Postal Service’s Trump-appointed leadership.
Hong Kong’s latest coronavirus outbreak appears to be tapering off, but the port city’s enhanced coronavirus testing has revealed a new cluster among its dock workers.
As Hong Kong deals with a third wave of infections, it is ramping up testing of workers whose jobs place them at heightened risk of infection. As of Monday, 57 dockside laborers were among 65 cases linked to the city’s Kwai Tsing Container Terminals.
Some workers fear that cramped conditions in the dorms, some of which hold up to 20 people, could accelerate the spread of the virus.
Two of the Hong Kong dock workers who tested positive this week had been living temporarily in cramped port dormitories fashioned from shipping containers. They were trying to avoid traveling to their homes in Shenzhen, a city in the Chinese mainland — a trip that would have required them to quarantine upon their return.
On Monday, the Union of Hong Kong Dockers called on container companies to expand their accommodation for employees and to hire workers directly instead of outsourcing recruitment to smaller firms.
In 2016, Hong Kong reported that its maritime port industry employed 86,000 people and accounted for 1.2 percent of its gross domestic product.
After battling back two waves of coronavirus infections, Hong Kong kept its new cases in the single digits for months. But cases began to spike again last month, to more than 100 per day, in part because officials had exempted seafarers, airline crews and others from mandatory quarantine.
The city has since reimposed strict social-distancing measures, and health officials have reported fewer than 100 infections a day for more than two weeks.
In other developments around the world:
Officials in New Zealand on Tuesday pushed back against President Trump’s assertion that the remote Pacific country was “having a big surge.” New Zealand, where the national election has been delayed from September to October because of a growing cluster in Auckland, has reported 22 deaths and fewer than 1,700 cases during the entire pandemic. “I’m not concerned about people misinterpreting our status,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
After a surge in infections in the past week, South Korea on Tuesday tightened social-distancing rules in the Seoul metropolitan area, banning all gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and more than 100 outdoors and shutting down high-risk facilities such as nightclubs, karaoke rooms and buffet restaurants. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun also said that churches must switch to online prayer services.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis of the Bahamas on Monday extended the country’s latest national lockdown for seven days and announced greater restrictions on the island of New Providence, which includes the capital, Nassau, amid a surge in cases and worries about strains on the country’s health care system. The archipelago nation has had 1,329 cases since the virus emerged there in March, almost all of them since international tourists were allowed to return on July 1. Mr. Minnis said in a national address that too many people had been defying lockdown orders by visiting their friends and family.
Barraged by protests from angry teachers, parents and students, the British government has abandoned the improvised college-entrance exam system it cobbled together for schools in England after the pandemic made traditional testing impossible.
Sororities and fraternities pose a virus-fighting challenge for colleges.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, officials abruptly called off in-person classes on Monday after identifying four clusters in student housing facilities, including one at the Sigma Nu fraternity.
The New York Times has identified at least 251 cases of the virus tied to fraternities and sororities at colleges and universities across the United States.
At the University of California, Berkeley, 47 cases were identified in a single week in early July, most of which were connected to the Greek system. In Mississippi, a significant outbreak in Oxford, home to the state’s flagship university, was partially blamed on fraternity parties. At the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, at least 165 of the 290 cases identified by the school have been associated with its Greek Row.
As students return to campus, there have been virus outbreaks at residence halls and other university housing as well. More than 13,000 students, faculty and staff members at colleges have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a Times database of cases confirmed by schools and government agencies.
But fraternities and sororities have been especially challenging for universities to regulate. Though they dominate social life on many campuses, their houses are often not owned or governed by the universities, and have frequently been the site of excessive drinking, sexual assault and hazing. That same lack of oversight, some experts say, extends to controlling the virus. Even on campuses that are offering online instruction only, people are still living in some sorority and fraternity houses.
“Fraternity and sorority homes have long functioned as a kind of ‘no-fly zone’ for university administrations,” said Matthew W. Hughey, a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut who has studied Greek life and social inequality on campuses. “The structure that’s already been set up makes them harder to control when it comes to the transmission of disease.”
The young people crowded into the pool, standing shoulder to shoulder, as they listened to a D.J. No one was wearing a mask, and no one seemed to care.
The scene would be incredible anywhere but was especially so in this case. It was in Wuhan, the city in central China where the coronavirus pandemic began late last year.
A series of photographs and videos posted by Agence France-Presse captured the moment on Saturday night, when hundreds of people attended a pool-party rave that would have been unthinkable only months ago.
The images seemed to touch a nerve in a world where lockdowns remain in place, where fear of public spaces and entertainment venues remains high, and where the idea of wading into a public pool is tantalizingly off limits to millions of people.
It was also another example of how life is slowly returning to normal in China, even in its hardest-hit city, as other countries — even those that coped well with the first wave, like South Korea and New Zealand — struggle with new outbreaks.
Shanghai Disneyland reopened in May, while movie theaters reopened across China last month. The step-by-step return of the country’s cultural life has not ignited any significant new outbreaks, though the government remains extraordinarily vigilant.
China on Tuesday reported no new locally transmitted cases of the virus on the mainland for the second consecutive day.
The pool party in Wuhan took place at Maya Beach Water Park in conjunction with a musical festival at an adjacent amusement park called Wuhan Happy Valley. They reopened in June, two months after the city’s 76-day lockdown was lifted, although in a nod to coronavirus precautions, the parks have limited capacity by 50 percent.
The parks have been holding Saturday night concerts since July 11, featuring some of the country’s biggest performers, including Panta.Q, who performed in Happy Valley last Saturday. Up next Saturday: The singer Big Year.
As bikers return home from a South Dakota motorcycle rally, outbreaks could be difficult to track.
More than 350,000 vehicles had flocked into the small town during the first week of the event, according to the South Dakota Department of Transportation. Many people went without masks.
Uncertain still was what effect, if any, the event would have on the spread of the virus. Because of the time it can take for symptoms to appear and the way cases are tracked, officials may never know whether the annual rally was a place where the virus was widely passed along.
There were no immediate signs that the rally had led to a significant uptick. But if a flurry of new cases were to emerge, they would likely be reported by attendees back in their hometowns, and would not necessarily be tied to the rally.
In this city of fewer than 7,000 people, some residents seemed relieved that it was over. “There was no stopping it. People had plans to come, whether we were going to have it or not,” said Lisa Logan, 60, who left town for Iowa for much of the 10 days.
Native American tribes in western South Dakota turned away motorcyclists who attempted to travel through the reservations to Sturgis. “If they’ve come from out of state or from hot spots, we turn them away and ask them to seek an alternate route to their destinations,” said Remi Bald Eagle, the intergovernmental affairs coordinator for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Sixty percent of residents favored postponing the event, according to a city survey, and hospital officials said they intend later this week to administer coronavirus tests to any Sturgis resident who wants one.
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Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Alexander Burns, Stephen Castle, Choe Sang-Hun, Nick Corasaniti, Claire Fu, Thomas Fuller, Trip Gabriel, Amy Harmon, Ethan Hauser, Jennifer Jett, Gina Kolata, Jonathan Martin, Tiffany May, Constant Méheut, Steven Lee Myers, Norimitsu Onishi, Frances Robles, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear and Mark Walker.