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Trump urges governors to let houses of worship reopen.
President Trump stepped into the culture wars again on Friday, taking the side of some religious leaders against governors who have moved slowly in reopening places of worship amid the pandemic.
Without any clear authority to do so, Mr. Trump said that he was calling houses of faith, including churches, synagogues, and mosques, “essential services” and urged governors to reopen them “right now.”
“Today I am identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogue and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Mr. Trump said at a hastily scheduled briefing at the White House on Friday. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right.”
After he spoke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a number of long-delayed guidelines with suggestions for steps that houses of worship can take to curb the spread of the virus. Among them was a recommendation that religious officials defer to the directive of state and local governments.
Still, the president threatened to “override” the governors if they did not follow his order, though it was not immediately clear what powers he was claiming. “I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now,” he said. “If there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me, but they’re not going to be successful in that call.”
When the C.D.C. recently released a set of guidelines for reopening, its report largely mirrored an earlier draft version that the White House had rejected because Trump administration officials worried that the suggestions infringed on religious rights.
On Friday the C.D.C.’s new guidelines for religious communities suggested that they consider a number of limitations to keep congregations safe. Among them:
“Take steps to limit the size of gatherings in accordance with the guidance and directives of state and local authorities.”
“Consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition. The act of singing may contribute to transmission of Covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”
“Consider temporarily limiting the sharing of frequently touched objects that cannot be easily cleaned between persons, such as worship aids, prayer rugs, prayer books, hymnals, religious texts and other bulletins, books, shared cups, or other items received, passed or shared among congregants.”
Mr. Trump said Friday at the White House that the nation needs religion. “In America, we need more prayer, not less,” he said. He left without taking questions.
David Postman, the chief of staff for Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, said the state didn’t know what the president’s comments meant and noted the state had not seen any formal order.
“We don’t believe the president has the ability to dictate what states can and cannot open,” Mr. Postman said.
States differ on their approaches to religious services during the pandemic.
It was not clear what authority President Trump was invoking on Friday when he called for governors “to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now,” and threatened to “override” them if they did not. Soon after he spoke, though, the C.D.C. issued guidelines urging faith leaders to “take steps to limit the size of gatherings in accordance with the guidance and directives of state and local authorities.”
States and localities have been taking a variety of approaches to religious services since the outbreak began.
Houses of worship were already allowed to operate in more than half of the states, though many remain under social distancing instructions and many individual churches, synagogues and mosques have decided to remain closed for safety.
There have been tensions in places that still have restrictions in place. In California, more than 1,200 pastors signed a declaration protesting the state’s restrictions on in-person services and pledged to reopen their churches by May 31 even if the restrictions are not lifted. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said Friday that the state was working with faith leaders on guidelines to reopen in “a safe and responsible manner” that would be released by Monday at the latest.
The state’s guidelines, which will distinguish between megachurches and smaller venues, deal with the configuration of pews and “sanitation protocols,” the governor said.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on Friday that he would “continue to operate on the basis of science and data” in deciding when it was safe for houses of worship to open.
“I’m as anxious as anybody to make sure that our churches, our mosques, our synagogues open back to where they were before Covid-19 came along,” Mr. Pritzker said. “We’re gradually moving in that direction. But there’s no doubt the most important thing is, we do not want parishioners to get ill because their faith leaders bring them together.”
The president’s call to let in-person services resume came just before one of the biggest Muslim holidays of the year, Eid al-Fitr, which starts Saturday night.
Washington State currently allows drive-in services, where congregants remain in their vehicles, and allows houses of worship to bring in personnel to broadcast and stream videos of services. Officials there have been working with an interfaith group to develop guidelines on how religious institutions can safely open up for more in-person activities.
And in some states, houses of worships were never required to close. In Pennsylvania, religious institutions were exempt from a stay-at-home order, though Gov. Tom Wolf has advised religious leaders not to hold in-person services or large gatherings to protect people from the virus.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who on Friday extended the state’s stay-at-home order through June 12, has banned large gatherings but also said that houses of worship would not be subject to penalties, leaving the decision in the hands of religious leaders. Many churches, synagogues and mosques there decided to remain closed anyway, and those that are reopening often remain under strict guidelines, including limiting the number of congregants who could enter.
In hard-hit New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo moved this week to allow religious gatherings of up to 10 people to resume as long as attendees wear masks and maintain social distance. The announcement was particularly significant for Jewish congregations, where a minyan, defined as 10 people over 13, is required for a worship service.
Birx expresses concerns about case levels in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington.
One testing measure shows that coronavirus cases are persisting at worrisome rates in three major metropolitan areas — Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — that are still under stay-at-home orders, a top White House official said on Friday.
“We have concerns of where cities have remained closed and metros that have remained closed but have still persistent high number of cases,” Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters at a news conference. She said officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were working with local officials in the three cities “to really understand where these new cases coming from, and what do we need to do to prevent them in the future.”
Dr. Birx’s concern did not suggest that the case rates in the three regions were spiking to alarming new levels, but rather that they were not dropping at the same rate as in many other cities.
Dr. Birx singled out the Washington area — which includes the district as well as parts of Maryland and Virginia — and said it led the country in the percentage of positive test results, a measure different from total coronavirus cases. Among those who have tested positive is the former N.B.A. all-star Patrick Ewing, now the men’s basketball coach at Georgetown University in Washington, who announced on Twitter on Friday that he had the virus.
Unlike New York, the Washington area has seen no “dramatic decline” in positive test rates or emergency room visits, Dr. Birx said.
Further complicating the picture, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington said on Thursday that the city could begin a phased reopening as early as May 29, pointing to figures that showed a downward trend in spread of the virus for almost two weeks. Yet on the same day, Washington, D.C., and Virginia announced single-day highs in cases.
The Washington region’s high positive-test percentage comes despite reassuring news in most states: 42 have a rate under 10 percent of positive test results as part of a rolling, seven-day average, Dr. Birx said.
The New York area, which includes Jersey City and Newark, is seeing steeper declines by that test result measure, Dr. Birx said. And cities that have been especially hard hit, such as Detroit, Boston and Miami, now have more promising daily case counts.
Some White House officials suggest deaths are overcounted. Experts disagree.
Mr. Trump has begun questioning the official coronavirus death toll, suggesting the numbers are inflated, even as most experts say the opposite is likely.
In White House meetings, conversations with health officials have returned to similar suspicions: that the data compiled by state health departments and the C.D.C. include people who have died with the coronavirus but of other conditions, reported Noah Weiland, Maggie Haberman and Abby Goodnough.
Last Friday, Mr. Trump told reporters that he accepted the current death toll, but that the figures could be “lower than” the official count, which now totals nearly 95,000.
Most statisticians and public health experts say he is wrong; the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known. People are dying at their houses and nursing homes without ever being tested, and deaths early this year were likely misidentified as influenza or described only as pneumonia.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has said publicly that the American health care system incorporates a generous definition of a death caused by Covid-19.
“There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition, and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the I.C.U., and then have a heart or kidney problem — some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a Covid-19 death,” she said at a White House news conference last month.
In a brief interview Thursday, Dr. Birx stressed that there had been no pressure to alter data.
Robert Anderson, who runs the mortality statistics branch of the C.D.C.’s National Center for Health Statistics, said it was unlikely that there was any kind of overcount.
“The case reporting system asks: Did the patient die from this illness?” he said. “It’s not asking if the patient with Covid-19 died. It’s asking if they died from Covid-19.”
White House officials say skepticism in the Trump administration over C.D.C. data, including for opioid use, long predates the coronavirus outbreak. But new reasons have cropped up.
The Trump administration has looked to the outside to get its numbers. The Department of Health and Human Services has used a technology program devised by Palantir to track numbers gathered by federal agencies, states, private health providers and universities. The administration also signed a $10 million deal with a tracking contractor — first reported by The Washington Post — that monitors hospital capacity and Covid-19 deaths, essentially repeating and privatizing the work of the C.D.C.’s National Healthcare Safety Network.
A C.D.C. test counting error baffles epidemiologists.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is combining tests that detect active infection with those that detect recovery from Covid-19 — a system that muddies the picture of the pandemic but raises the percentage of Americans tested as President Trump boasts about testing.
Stunned epidemiologists said that data from antibody tests and active virus tests should never be mixed.
“It just doesn’t make any sense; all of us are really baffled,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida.
Now that serology tests, which look for antibodies in the blood of people who have recovered, are more widespread, C.D.C. officials said Friday they would work to separate them from the results of diagnostic tests, which detect active infection. One of the agency’s data tracker websites has been lumping them together.
Serological testing can be unreliable, and patients who have had both diagnostic and serology tests would be counted twice.
Epidemiologists, state health officials and a spokeswoman for the C.D.C. said there was no ill intent; they attributed the flawed reporting system to confusion and fatigue in overworked state and local health departments that typically track infections — not tests — during outbreaks. The C.D.C. relies on states to report their data.
If the agency intended to bolster the testing numbers for political purposes, the advantage to President Trump would be minimal. The Atlantic reported that on Monday, one of the C.D.C.’s trackers reported that 10.2 million viral tests had been conducted nationwide since the pandemic began. On Wednesday, after the C.D.C. stopped differentiating virus tests, the number rose to 10.8 million.
An anti-malaria drug Trump promoted may be harmful when taken to treat the virus.
People who received the drugs were more likely to have abnormal heart rhythms, according to the study, which was published in the The Lancet. They were also more likely to die.
Mr. Trump has said he has been taking hydroxychloroquine in hopes of preventing a virus infection, despite a safety warning last month from the Food and Drug Administration, which said that the drug should only be taken by virus patients in clinical trials or in hospitals where they could be closely monitored for heart problems.
His promotion of the drug has been criticized by medical experts and has led to an uptick in reported use by Americans. Hours after Mr. Trump first touted the drugs in March, new prescriptions for them poured into retail pharmacies at a much higher rate than had previously been seen.
The study was observational, meaning that the patients were not picked at random to receive the drug or not. It is based on data from 96,032 coronavirus patients from 671 hospitals around the world. Observational studies like this one cannot provide definitive evidence about drug safety and effectiveness.
Even so, the authors of the study recommended that the drugs not be used outside clinical trials, and they said carefully controlled trials were urgently needed. Several clinical trials are underway around the world.
Employers are preparing to test their workers as they return to offices.
As the country reopens, employers are looking into how to safely bring back their workers. One recurring question: Should they be tested for the new coronavirus?
Some businesses are moving ahead. Amazon plans to spend as much as $1 billion this year to regularly test its work force, while laying the groundwork to build its own lab near the Cincinnati airport.
Las Vegas casinos are testing thousands of employees as they prepare to return to work, collecting nasal samples in convention halls. Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada is hoping to reopen the state’s gambling industry by June 4, he said on Friday.
And Major League Baseball, eager to begin its season, is proposing a detailed regimen that involves testing players and critical staff members multiple times a week.
While public health experts and government officials have emphasized that widespread testing will be critical to reopening, state and federal agencies have given little clear guidance on the role employers should play in detecting and tracking the virus.
Despite rapid advancements in testing, many limitations remain. Diagnostic tests, for example, only detect infections during a certain period. And antibody tests alone should not be used to make decisions about when people can return to work, the Association of Public Health Laboratories and Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists warned.
Some public health officials also said that broad-based testing might have unintended consequences.
“We don’t want people to get a false sense of security,” said Karen Landers, a district medical officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health, which is not recommending that employers test all workers.
A vaccine developed in China appears to be safe and may offer protection against the virus, scientists say.
The early-stage trial, published in the Lancet, was conducted by researchers at several laboratories and included 108 participants. Subjects who got the vaccine mounted a moderate immune response to the virus, which peaked 28 days after the inoculation, the researchers found.
A vaccine to the new coronavirus is considered to be the best long-term solution to ending the pandemic and helping countries reopen their societies. Nearly 100 teams worldwide are racing to test various candidates.
On Monday, Moderna announced that its RNA vaccine appears to be safe and effective, based on results from eight people in its trial. On Wednesday, researchers in Boston said a prototype vaccine protected monkeys from coronavirus infection.
The vaccine reported today was created with another virus, an adenovirus called Ad5 that easily enters human cells.
But the virus is one that many people already have been exposed to, and some experts have worried that too many already have antibodies to Ad5, limiting its usefulness as a way to deliver a vaccine.
Although the vaccine did elicit some immune response, the results are based on data from just a short period. It is not clear how long-lasting the protection might be.
Apart from pain at the injection site, close to half of the participants also reported fever, fatigue and headaches, and about one in five had muscle pain.
The participants knew whether they were receiving a low, medium or high dose, however, which may have influenced their perceptions of the side effects.
The country enters a Memorial Day weekend to remember (or forget).
Mobbed beaches. Crowded parades. Congested public ceremonies. Jam-packed backyard barbecues. Memorial Day, which has come to signal the beginning of hot weather across much of the United States, typically brings millions shoulder to shoulder, towel to towel.
But this year, these first rites of summer are taking place as the country grapples with the pandemic and cautiously emerges from months of quarantine. People are eager for social interaction and fun, yet public health officials warn that those impulses could result in an uptick in cases.
Many traditional Memorial Day events have been canceled or replaced with socially distant formats. Elected officials and event organizers are struggling to bring back as much normalcy as possible without jeopardizing public health. The results have been hopeful, maddening and bewildering. But many Americans are pressing on, and trying to preserve what is important while letting go of what is not.
In the New York region, beach battles erupted ahead of the holiday weekend. After Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City moved to keep the city’s beaches closed, officials in the region, fearing an influx of sun-starved city dwellers, took steps to limiting outsiders at beaches from the Hamptons to the Jersey Shore. The city, however, is seriously considering opening its beaches to swimming in June, though the mayor declined to give a date.
The Memorial Day ceremony in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is on but organizers are begging the public not to come. The boardwalk in Ocean City, Md., opened this month, but signs reminded that groups of 10 or more were discouraged. And in Massachusetts, beaches will reopen for swimming on Memorial Day, but volleyball is banned and sunbathers must place their towels 12 feet apart.
Here are some general tips for planning a trip to the beach.
People are also beginning to feel the negative health effects of social isolation, which Steve Cole, a social genomics researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, argued can increase the chances of chronic disease and other types of illnesses the longer it goes on.
“We don’t want to be packed like sardines in a crowd,” he said, “but at the same time, a lone human being is a recipe for death.”
Deadly diseases could surge after disruptions to vaccination programs.
The widespread interruption of routine immunization programs around the world during the coronavirus pandemic is putting 80 million children under 1 year old at risk of contracting deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases, according to a report Friday by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
The groups surveyed 129 poor and middle-income countries and found that 68 had some degree of disruption of vaccine services through clinics and through large inoculation campaigns.
Many public health experts say they are worried that deaths from diseases including cholera, rotavirus and diphtheria could far outstrip those from Covid-19 itself.
But officials are now moving toward a cautious risk-benefit analysis.
The virus still does not spread easily on surfaces, the C.D.C. says.
Guidelines from the C.D.C. making the rounds online this week are clarifying what we know about the spread of the virus.
But this information is not new; the agency has been using similar language for months. If anything, the headlines have pulled into sharper focus what we already know. The virus is thought to spread mainly from one person to another, typically through droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks at close range — even if that person is not showing symptoms.
The C.D.C.’s website also says that “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes” is a possible way for people to become infected. But those are “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
N.Y.C.’s suburbs could start to reopen next week, Cuomo said.
Long Island and the suburban counties north of New York City could begin reopening next week if the number of virus-related deaths keep declining and local officials set up strong contract-tracing programs, Mr. Cuomo said on Friday.
As of Friday, only New York City and the surrounding areas have yet to meet the state’s seven reopening metrics. Both Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Bill de Blasio said New York City, which has met four of the state’s criteria, was not likely to begin reopening until June.
New York City still needs to have at least 30 percent of its hospital beds and at least 30 percent of its intensive-care-unit beds available. As of Friday morning, it had 27 percent of hospital beds and 26 percent of its I.C.U. beds available.
Both city and state officials have said that their metrics were likely to go hand in hand, and that they would coordinate in their decisions on reopening, though the governor on Friday suggested that the state’s guidelines took precedence.
This is how to fix your work-from-home tech.
The last thing you need right now is a spotty Wi-Fi signal interrupting your workday. Good news! There are some simple steps you can take to improve that. And, while you’re at it, take a look at the rest of your computer setup and see what may be slowing you down. A little tweak can make working from home less miserable.
China abandons a growth target for the year and more from our international correspondents.
Parting with years of precedent, China on Friday abandoned an annual growth target for 2020, in an acknowledgment that restarting its economy after the outbreak will be a slow and difficult process. In his annual report to lawmakers meeting in Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang said that the country had made major achievements in its response to the epidemic and that economic development was a top priority. But while he set goals to limit inflation and unemployment, he did not announce a target for economic growth for the year.
Reporting was contributed by Steve Eder, Ellen Gabler, Sarah Kliff, Heather Murphy, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sheila Kaplan, Denise Grady, Alan Blinder, Michael Cooper, Eileen Sullivan, Christopher Flavelle, Apoorva Mandavilli, Mike Baker, Karen Barrow, Patricia Mazzei, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Kassie Bracken, Niraj Chokshi, Michael Gold, Dana Rubinstein, Keith Bradsher, Mohammed Hadi, Chris Buckley, Sarah Mervosh, Julie Bosman, Jan Hoffman, Annie Karni, Corey Kilgannon, Alan Rappeport, Joseph Goldstein, Jesse McKinley, Emily Rhyne, Biance Giaever, Robin Pogrebin, Marc Santora, Elizabeth Dias, Jeanna Smialek, Farah Stockman, Noah Weiland, Maggie Haberman and Abby Goodnough.
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