Here’s what you need to know:
- Lawmakers and White House officials remain at an impasse on a new relief package.
- Birx urges Americans in hot spots to consider wearing a mask at home if they live with someone who is especially vulnerable.
- Hurricane season in a pandemic: Florida is hit with a tropical storm as virus cases surge.
- Its outbreak untamed, Melbourne, Australia, escalates a lockdown.
- The U.S. reels as July cases more than double the total of any other month.
- As Ethiopian workers return home from abroad, many may carry the virus.
- New York’s subway has been largely shunned in the pandemic. But it may be safer than people think.
Lawmakers and White House officials remain at an impasse on a new relief package.
With coronavirus cases soaring across the United States, the debate in Washington over a new relief package to help people and businesses weather the crisis is set to take center stage in the coming week, and negotiators were meeting over the weekend in hopes of making progress on a deal.
“The president’s determined to spend what we need to spend,” said Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, speaking on the ABC program “This Week.” “We’re acting very quickly now.”
Unemployment benefits lapsed this week for tens of millions of people, but officials have struggled to agree over new aid. Mr. Mnuchin’s remarks came after he and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, met with top congressional Democrats in a rare Saturday meeting on Capitol Hill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who hosted the meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, said that staff members would meet on Sunday and that the main negotiators would convene again on Monday. They called the discussion on Saturday productive but said that the sides remained far apart on several matters.
“We must defeat this virus, and that’s one of the points that we still have not come to any agreement on,” Ms. Pelosi said, speaking on “This Week.” (Mr. Mnuchin, appearing afterward, refuted the suggestion that the administration is not invested in defeating the virus.)
At issue is the gap between the latest relief packages put forward by Democrats and Republicans.
A $1 trillion proposal issued by Senate Republicans and administration officials last week includes cutting by two-thirds the $600-per-week unemployment payments that workers had received since April and providing tax cuts and liability protections for businesses.
A $3 trillion relief package approved by House Democrats in May includes an extension of the jobless aid, nearly $200 billion for rental assistance and mortgage relief, $3.6 billion to bolster election security and additional aid for food assistance.
Birx urges Americans in hot spots to consider wearing a mask at home if they live with someone who is especially vulnerable.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus coordinator, said on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday that the country is in a “new phase” of the coronavirus pandemic, and that it is much more extensive than the spring outbreaks in major cities like New York and Seattle.
She recommended that people living in communities where cases are surging consider wearing a mask at home if they live with someone who is especially vulnerable because of age or underlying medical conditions.
“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread,” Dr. Birx said, adding that rural areas have not been spared. “So everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune.”
She emphasized the significance of asymptomatic transmission. “If you have an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you’re positive if you have individuals in your household with co-morbidities,” she said.
Both she and Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, emphasized the importance of mask wearing, hand washing and avoiding crowds. Admiral Giroir said some of the efforts seemed to be helping in recent weeks to reduce the number of cases in Arizona and some other states that have been hard hit this summer.
He repeatedly returned to mask wearing as perhaps the most effective preventive measure in communities experiencing an outbreak. “Wearing a mask is incredibly important, but we have to have like 85 or 90 percent of individuals wearing a mask and avoiding crowds,” he said. Those percentages, he said, give “you the same outcome as a complete shutdown.”
Asked if he was recommending a national mask mandate, Admiral Giroir said, “The public health message is we’ve got to have mask wearing.” He added: “If we don’t do that, and if we don’t limit the indoor crowded spaces, the virus will continue to run.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on CNN that in many areas where cases are surging, the availability of tests was badly lagging. “In 18, 20 states, the number of tests being done is actually falling and falling because our testing system is under such strain that we just can’t even deliver the test today that we were doing two weeks ago. That’s very concerning because when cases are rising, and your number of tests are falling, that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
Admiral Giroir defended the nation’s testing program, noting it has been increased exponentially in recent months. He said that both testing and contact tracing were crucial responses, but not particularly helpful in large, communitywide outbreaks.
Hurricane season in a pandemic: Florida is hit with a tropical storm as virus cases surge.
Virus-battered Florida is confronting a new challenge: Tropical Storm Isaias, which is whipping the coast with high winds and creating the risk of flash flooding as it makes its way up the East Coast.
At 11 a.m. Eastern time, the center of the storm was about 30 miles offshore, east of Jupiter, Fla., and was moving north-northwest at about eight miles an hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Isaias — which is written Isaías in Spanish and pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — had clobbered the Bahamas with hurricane conditions on Saturday after hitting parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. As it advances northward, the center of the storm may skirt close to the coast of Florida without making landfall, or it may come ashore briefly on Sunday, forecasters said. Storm warnings were posted up the coast as far as North Carolina on Sunday.
Complicating the emergency response to the storm, reported coronavirus cases continue to rise sharply in all four of those states, and health officials have warned that their health care systems could be strained beyond capacity. The situation would worsen if the storm knocks out power across wide areas or forces evacuations of hospitals and nursing homes.
Emergency management officials have been drawing up new plans to accommodate people who must flee their homes. To avoid virus exposure in shelters, the first choice is for coastal residents in homes vulnerable to flooding to stay with relatives or friends farther inland, being careful to wear masks and remain socially distant.
“Because of Covid, we feel that you are safer at home,” said Bill Johnson, the emergency management director for Palm Beach County. “Shelters should be considered your last resort.”
Its outbreak untamed, Melbourne, Australia, escalates a lockdown.
Officials in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, announced stricter measures on Sunday in an effort to stem a coronavirus outbreak that is raging despite a lockdown that began four weeks ago.
For six weeks starting on Sunday, residents of metropolitan Melbourne will be under curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. except for purposes of work or giving and receiving care.
As under the current lockdown, permitted reasons for leaving the house include: shopping for essential goods and services; medical care and caregiving; and necessary exercise, work and study. Food shopping is limited to one person per household per day, and outdoor exercise is limited to one hour per person per day, both within about three miles of home. Public gatherings are limited to two people, including household members.
In explaining the new measures, Premier Daniel Andrews said the high rate of community transmission, including 671 new cases reported in the state of Victoria on Sunday, suggested that the virus was more widespread than known.
“You’ve got to err on the side of caution and go further and go harder,” he said.
Less stringent restrictions are being introduced in the rest of the state starting at midnight on Wednesday, and further measures regarding businesses will be announced on Monday.
Victoria has had 11,557 confirmed cases, almost all of them in metropolitan Melbourne, and 123 deaths.
The U.S. reels as July cases more than double the total of any other month.
The United States recorded more than 1.9 million new infections in July, nearly 42 percent of the more than 4.5 million cases reported nationwide since the pandemic began and more than double the number documented in any other month, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The previous monthly high came in April, when more than 880,000 new cases were recorded.
The virus is picking up dangerous speed in much of the Midwest — and in states from Mississippi to Florida to California that thought they had already seen the worst of it.
Gone is any sense that the country may soon get ahold of the pandemic. In many states, distressed government officials are retightening restrictions on residents and businesses, and sounding warnings about a rise in virus-related hospitalizations.
The Northeast, once the virus’s biggest hot spot, has improved considerably since its peak in April. Yet cases are increasing slightly in New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts as residents move around more freely and gather more frequently in groups.
The picture is similarly distressing overseas, where even governments that would seem well suited to combating the virus are seeing surges.
New daily infections in Japan, a country with a long tradition of wearing face masks, rose more than 50 percent in July. Australia, which can cut itself off from the rest of the world more easily than most, is battling a wave of infections in and around Melbourne. Hong Kong, Israel and Spain are also fighting second waves.
As Ethiopian workers return home from abroad, many may carry the virus.
As the pandemic ravages nations around the world, many Ethiopians who found work in other parts of Africa or in the Persian Gulf before the coronavirus arrived are heading home unemployed.
The wave of migrant workers returning by the thousands, some of whom may have been infected on the way, now represents a major strain on Ethiopia’s fragile health system.
More than 30,000 laborers have re-entered Ethiopia since mid-March. Of those, at least 927 had the virus when they returned, according to the government, though that figure has not been updated in over a month and is almost certainly an undercount.
Workers in many Gulf countries have been confined to crowded jails before being expelled, and faced harrowing conditions on the journey home. Some said they were chased out and shot at on the way, or paid smugglers to help them cross waterways en route back to Africa.
Health officials in Ethiopia are reporting spikes in the number of migrant workers seeking treatment for the coronavirus. And many fear that workers who already faced stigmatization and oppression abroad are slipping into the country unseen, possibly infecting others, and suffering all the more at the hands of the virus.
Even upon return, many are met with poor job prospects, and those who have contracted the virus face severely limited treatment options in medical facilities already short on equipment and staff.
New York’s subway has been largely shunned in the pandemic. But it may be safer than people think.
Five months after the coronavirus engulfed New York City, subway ridership is 20 percent of pre-pandemic levels, even as the city has largely contained the virus and reopened some businesses.
But a picture emerging in major cities across the world suggests that public transportation may not be as risky as New Yorkers believe.
In countries where the pandemic has ebbed, ridership has rebounded in far greater numbers than it has in New York City — yet there has been no notable superspreader event linked to mass transit, according to a survey of transportation agencies conducted by The New York Times.
In Paris, public health authorities conducting contact tracing found that none of the 386 infection clusters identified from early May to mid-July were linked to the city’s public transportation.
A study of coronavirus clusters in April and May in Austria did not tie any to public transit. And in Tokyo, where public health authorities have aggressively traced virus clusters, none have been linked to the city’s famously crowded rail lines.
Still, public health experts warn that the evidence should be considered with caution. They note that ridership in other major cities is still well below pre-pandemic levels, that tracing clusters directly to public transit is difficult and that the level of threat depends largely on how well a city has reduced its overall infection rate.
Among the range of urban activities, some of the experts say, riding in a subway car is probably riskier than walking outdoors but safer than indoor dining — as long as the car is not packed with people and most riders wear face coverings.
Scientists study whether people with the virus can infect bats and other wildlife.
Could humans pass the coronavirus to wildlife, specifically North American bats?
It may seem like a minor worry — far down the list from concerns like getting sick, losing a loved one or staying employed. But as the pandemic has made clear, the more careful people are about viruses passing among species, the better.
The scientific consensus is that the coronavirus originated in bats in China or neighboring countries. A recent paper tracing the genetic lineage of the virus found evidence that it probably evolved in bats into its current form. The researchers also concluded that either this coronavirus or others that could make the jump to humans may be present in bat populations.
So why worry about infecting more bats with the current virus?
The U.S. government considers it a legitimate concern both for bat populations, which have been devastated by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome, and for humans, given potential problems down the road. If the virus can pass easily between species, it could potentially spill back over to humans.
Another concern is how readily the coronavirus may spread from bats to other kinds of wildlife or domestic animals, including pets. Much attention has been paid to the small number of pets that have been infected, but public health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that, although information is limited, the risk of pets spreading the virus to people is low.
They do recommend that any person who has Covid-19 take the same precautions with their pets that they would with human family members.
In Moscow, packed bars suggest little concern about the pandemic.
In Russia’s capital, anxieties over the pandemic appear to have slipped away, at least judging from the unmasked crowds flocking to restaurants and bars.
Despite laws requiring gloves and masks in public spaces, many people appear to have grown blasé about the dangers of the coronavirus, packing into small spaces to eat and drink. Yet casual attitudes about personal protection do not appear to have led to a public health crisis so far, according to official statistics.
According to government data, Russia has not had a surge of infections, and the daily infection rate nationwide has hovered around 5,000 to 6,000 cases ever since President Vladimir V. Putin declared victory over the pandemic last month.
Some amount of data manipulation may be responsible. The mayor of Norilsk, an industrial city in the Arctic, resigned recently after accusing regional officials of underreporting coronavirus figures. He said the real number of cases was more than twice the official count.
But while masks have not become as politicized as they have in the United States, they have quickly fallen out of favor with older men, and younger people who have labeled them unfashionable. Some hip restaurants popular with youth have even started banning them.
“It is better to get out and live normally and perhaps even get sick than to stay at home forever doing nothing,” said Polina Fedotova, 27, a patron at a cocktail bar in Moscow.
“We are people, not robots, and want to have a life,” said her companion, a 28-year-old doctor who works at a large Moscow hospital and who previously contracted the virus.
Viewers flock to Mexico’s flagging telenovelas, seeking the familiar in a time of distress.
Mexico’s love affair with melodrama appeared to be over. Now, thanks partly to the pandemic, the telenovela is roaring back.
Confined to their homes, millions of Mexicans have devoted their evenings to the traditional melodramas and other kitschy classics, finding in the familiar faces and happy endings a balm for anxieties raised by a health crisis that has left at least 43,000 dead and millions unemployed in the country.
The resurgence has been a boon to Televisa, a onetime media monopoly that had taken a beating from streaming services. During the second quarter, 6.6 million people watched Televisa’s flagship channel during prime time each evening, when telenovelas and other melodramas air. Viewership was around five million in that period last year, according to the network.
Miguel Ángel Herros, the executive producer of the melodrama “La Rosa de Guadalupe,” has been filming for shorter periods, in locations that leave ample space for his crew. Actors have their temperatures taken when they arrive on set, and rehearse with masks and face shields.
It is unclear whether the success will last through a pandemic that has forced physical displays of affection out of telenovelas.
“There are no kisses, no hugs, no caresses, no scenes in bed,” Mr. Herros said.
Is it feasible to travel this year?
Travel looks very different in 2020. Here are some questions to help you decide whether you would feel comfortable taking a trip during the pandemic.
Reporting was contributed by Benedict Carey, Emily Cochrane, Tess Felder, Christina Goldbaum, James Gorman, Andrew Higgins, Jennifer Jett, Natalie Kitroeff, Simon Marks and Patricia Mazzei.