Coronavirus Live Updates: Tensions Grow Over Masks in the U.S.



California issues new rules for masks, which are now a political flash point.

Tensions over face masks are growing in the United States, even as several states are seeing surges in coronavirus cases. Mask orders have become a point of point of political contention, with some regarding them as an essential safety measure and others considering them an unacceptable infringement of personal liberty.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California on Thursday ordered people to wear face masks in most indoor — and some outdoor — public settings. President Trump has eschewed masks in public. This week Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, which is also seeing record numbers of new daily cases, gave mayors the power to require wearing masks.

Mr. Newsom’s guidance came as California reported more than 4,000 new cases on Wednesday, a new one-day record.

“Simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered, putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease,” Mr. Newsom said.

In Tulsa, Okla., people were lining up early for Mr. Trump’s rally on Saturday, the first since the start of the pandemic.

Officials at the BOK Center, the arena where the rally is scheduled to take place, have asked the campaign for a written health and safety plan detailing precautions it will take.

The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said this week that attendees would be given face masks, but using them would be optional.

Businesses are also getting caught in the fray. American Airlines on Thursday barred a conservative activist who is an ardent supporter of Mr. Trump, one day after he was removed from a flight for refusing to wear a mask.

Separately, the chief executive of AMC Entertainment Holdings, Adam Aron, prompted a backlash on social media by saying that moviegoers would not be required to wear masks at the company’s theaters when they reopen next month.

“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Mr. Aron said in an interview published on Thursday by Variety magazine. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary.”

His comments drew swift criticism.

“How is public health ‘political?’” one person wrote on Twitter.

The coronavirus kills by filling the lungs with fluid and robbing the body of oxygen, yet the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a federal health agency known as BARDA, notified companies and researchers this month that it was halting funding for new treatments for this severe form of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The new policy highlights the Trump administration’s staunch support for a potential vaccine as the way to return American society and the economy to normal. BARDA has pledged more than $2.2 billion in deals with five vaccine manufacturers for the coronavirus, compared with about $359 million toward potential Covid-19 treatments.

The decision to suspend investment in lung treatments blindsided academic researchers and executives at small biotech companies, who said they spent months pitching their proposals to BARDA. The change in policy was posted without fanfare on a government website on June 3, and was not announced in a statement.

Some clinicians and bioethicists contend that BARDA should continue supporting research into treatments for lung conditions, while other experts contend the new policy is a sensible use of limited federal dollars.

About 95 percent of the patients hospitalized for Covid-19 at Northwell Health in New York, a system of 23 hospitals at the epicenter of the region’s epidemic this spring, have developed severe respiratory distress, said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, the regional director of critical care medicine at Northwell.

“You’re going to need other forms of treatments for a lot of those people, and I feel like that’s where there’s going to be a gaping hole,” she said.

Key Data of the Day

Two months into reopening, South Carolina sees new daily cases rise to nearly 1,000.

South Carolina’s state epidemiologist pleaded with residents to wear masks and practice social distancing as the state identified more than 990 new cases of the virus on Thursday. It was the sixth time in 10 days that the state broke its single-day case record.

“We understand that what we’re continuing to ask of everyone is not easy and that many are tired of hearing the same warnings and of taking the same daily precautions,” Dr. Linda Bell, the epidemiologist, said in a statement. “Every day that we don’t all do our part, we are extending the duration of illnesses, missed work, hospitalizations and deaths in our state.”

For much of the spring, between 100 and 250 new coronavirus cases were announced most days in South Carolina. It was a numbing, deadly plateau, but far less than what many other states endured.

A few weeks after South Carolina’s economy began reopening on April 20, case numbers rose. There were more than 300 new cases on May 29, more than 500 on June 10, more than 800 on Sunday, and then nearly 1,000 on Thursday.

“By not following public health precautions, many are putting all at risk,” Dr. Bell warned.

The spike in South Carolina comes amid growing outbreaks in much of the South and West. Officials in Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma all reported their highest daily case number yet on Thursday.

As in much of the Sun Belt, testing in South Carolina has increased, but that alone does not account for the spike. About 14 percent of people being tested for the virus in South Carolina are positive, up from about 5 percent a month ago. Far more acute care hospital beds in the state are occupied now than when the virus peaked nationally in April.

The outbreak is surging, with clusters on several continents.

The coronavirus caseload is surging globally, driven by outbreaks in Latin America, Africa, South Asia and the United States.

More than 140,000 cases were reported on Tuesday and another 166,000 on Wednesday, two of the three highest tallies since the outbreak began. Seventy-seven nations have seen a growth in new cases over the past two weeks, while only 43 have seen declines.

While Wednesday’s total, the record high, was inflated by a backlog of more than 30,000 mishandled and unreported cases that Chile added to its tally, the rising daily numbers reflect the pandemic’s stubborn grip on the world.

Brazil reported more than 32,000 new cases on Wednesday, the most in the world, and the United States was second, with more than 25,000. The leaders of both nations have been criticized for their handling of the outbreak.

On Thursday, California and Florida reported their highest daily totals of new cases yet. And Texas became the sixth state in the nation to surpass 100,000 cases, according to a New York Times database. Cases there have doubled over the past month.

The virus is also taking off in other parts of the world.

If the outbreak was defined early on by a series of shifting epicenters — including Wuhan, China; Iran; northern Italy; Spain; and New York — it is now defined by its wide and expanding scope. And more risks lie ahead as nations begin to reopen their economies.

In India, which initially placed all 1.3 billion of its citizens under a lockdown — then moved to reopen even with its strained public health system near the breaking point — officials reported a record number of new cases Wednesday. And the virus is now spreading rapidly in nearby Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.

It took Africa nearly 100 days to reach 100,000 cases, the World Health Organization noted, but only 19 days to double that tally. South Africa now averages a thousand more new cases each day than it did two weeks ago.

And some countries where caseloads had appeared to taper — including Israel, Sweden and Costa Rica — are now watching them rise again.

Italian scientists on Friday said they found traces of coronavirus in samples of sewage water collected in December, further suggesting that the coronavirus was already circulating in the country months before the outbreak at the end of February.

Researchers at the Italian National Institute of Health discovered the presence of the RNA of the virus in samples taken in the northern cities of Milan and Turin on Dec. 18, more than two months before the first case was diagnosed in Italy, on Feb 20. Traces were also found in samples collected in the city of Bologna, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of Milan, on Jan. 29.

“We showed that the virus was already circulating,” said Lucia Bonadonna, the director of the Department of Environment and Health at the institute. “Probably in asymptomatic or little-symptomatic forms before we had our first local case.”

While the new findings shift the virus’s timeline earlier in Europe, they do not significantly change the chronology as it is presently understood. Chinese officials reported the outbreak in Wuhan on Dec. 31, but they later traced cases that had emerged as far back as early December.

Italian scientists and officials have long suspected that the virus had moved undetected in the northern region of Lombardy, an economic hub where there is frequent trade with China, at least weeks before the contagion came to light.

Similar evidence has recently emerged around the world, indicating that by the time the authorities were aware of an outbreak, the virus was already more widespread than initially believed.

In France, a sample taken from a patient on Dec. 27 tested positive for coronavirus last month. And in California, health officials discovered a coronavirus-linked death on Feb. 6, weeks before the earliest recorded case of community transmission in the United States. A recent study from the Milan Polyclinic Hospital found that one in 20 healthy adult blood donors in the area already had the virus’ antibodies just days after the first Italian patient was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

For the study released on Friday, Italian researchers examined 64 samples of sewage water, of which 40 were taken between October and February. No trace of the virus was found in the 24 control samples taken between September 2018 and June 2019.

“Genetically, the virus we found is the one that epidemiologists have already identified,” Ms. Bonadonna said, adding that their discovery better pinpointed the timing of the start of the Italian outbreak.


To control Beijing outbreak, China tries an approach marked by restraint.

As China tries to stifle the new outbreak in Beijing, it is applying something often alien to the instincts of the country’s rulers: restraint.

Beijing’s leaders are trying to stamp out the latest outbreak, now at 183 infections after 25 more were announced on Friday. But they are not placing the entire city, and its nascent economic revival, under heavy-handed restrictions.

The approach contrasts with China’s earlier efforts to contain the virus in the central province of Hubei and its capital city, Wuhan, where the epidemic broke out late last year. For over two months, the city of 11 million was under a tight lockdown that required support from tens of thousands of doctors, party officials and security personnel. The lockdown helped control the outbreak but also stalled the economy.

If successful, the new approach being taken in Beijing could be a bellwether for how China may handle future outbreaks, which many experts say are almost certain.

“You cannot expect people to accept the pain for too long,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations who has closely followed China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. “Because then you have unemployment problems and even emotional stresses that could all have huge implications for social and political stability.”

City officials say their cautious approach is bearing fruit: the number of new cases per day is already dropping. Officials in Beijing appear increasingly confident that they have caught the outbreak before it could spin out of control through untraceable infections.

In other news from around the world:

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan lifted a virus-related ban on domestic travel on Friday. Mr. Abe’s government is also in discussions to ease international travel bans for passengers arriving from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam.

  • Britain reduced its Covid-19 alert level to three from four on Friday. At Level 3, the virus is considered to remain “in general circulation.” But the change paves the way for a gradual easing of social-distancing measures. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a five-level alert system in March, and Britain has remained at Level 4 for most of its lockdown period, with shops, restaurants and bars closed, but parks open. Level 4 indicates that transmission is considered to be “high or rising exponentially.”

  • Spain has updated its death toll from the virus for the first time in almost two weeks. On Friday, the country’s health ministry said 28,313 people had died, up from 27,136 on June 7. Officials said the intervening time had been used to ensure that all Covid-19 fatalities were properly recorded. Last month, the ministry prompted questions about how Spain was counting its dead when it abruptly reduced its tally by about 2,000, citing testing uncertainties.

  • South Korea reported 49 more cases on Friday, as a second wave of infections continued to spread in the Seoul metropolitan area.

Health insurance needs may push some of the most vulnerable Americans back to work quickly.

The employment-based health insurance system in the United States could become another liability in the country’s fight to contain the coronavirus.

Consider Patti Hanks, 62, who recently had ovarian cancer treatment. With her immunity low, she was nervous about returning to her workplace, a store where she would be drawing up financing plans and taking cash payments from customers. The cancer makes her particularly susceptible to severe complications should she contract the virus.

But Ms. Hanks was even more worried about losing her health coverage if she didn’t go back. Finding a job with health benefits that allowed her to work from home felt like a pipe dream in the midst of an economic downturn.

So despite her reservations, she returned to work. She wears a mask and makes sure customers sit a good distance away at an L-shaped desk.

Pre-existing conditions may motivate other workers like Ms. Hanks to return to work especially fast. Those people need coverage to treat the conditions that make them vulnerable in the first place. In the United States, 61 percent of working-age adults get health insurance through work.

“It is one of the many ways the U.S. health care system has made us so much more vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic than other countries,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “In other countries, you don’t hear about people losing health insurance when they lose their jobs.”

Economic lockdowns meant to contain the coronavirus pandemic have come with weird side effects, from aggressive rats to the dawn of pouch cocktails. Add this to the list: America’s banks are running out of coins.

“What’s happened is that with the partial closure of the economy, the flow of coins through the economy, it has gotten all — it’s kind of stopped,” Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, told lawmakers while testifying on Capitol Hill this week, noting that places where people exchange their quarters and pennies for cash and stores have closed, disrupting the normal flow.

“We’ve been aware of it, we’re working with the Mint to increase supply, we’re working with the reserve banks to get the supply to where it needs to be,” he said.

Mr. Powell was responding to questions from Rep. John Rose, a Republican from Tennessee, who said a bank in his district had reported that the Fed had notified it that it would receive only a “small portion” of its weekly coinage order.

“His institution will likely run out of coins by Friday,” Mr. Rose said, and, after some research, he found that many banks were having similar problems. “I know we don’t want to wake up to headlines in the near future, such as: ‘Banks out of money.’”

The Fed said in a June 15 notice that coin circulation has been disrupted by the pandemic, and the U.S. Mint’s production of coins also decreased because of measures to protect employees. Bank coin orders have increased as states reopen, causing the coin inventory — which the Mint prints but the Fed manages — to dip below normal levels.

“It’s something we’ve been working on,” Mr. Powell said. “We believe it’s just temporary.”

For now, the Fed’s regional banks are allocating pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to banks “as a temporary measure,” the Fed said in its notice, based on historical order volume and other factors.

For small towns in the West, canceled rodeos are more than just forgone sports events.

Stonyford, Calif., can feel like the middle of nowhere. But it could always count on a few crowded days every year during its annual rodeo, when the town’s population swells into the thousands.

Not this year. There was no 77th Stonyford Rodeo.

Some rodeos, like Stonyford, with $18,000 in prize money, are relatively small affairs. Others are immense undertakings filled with concerts, carnivals and livestock shows — and $1 million or more in payouts.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the governing body of about 700 annual rodeos, estimates that about half will not take place in 2020. Those still on the schedule are working with fingers crossed, some moving dates to buy more time.

“Covid-19 has impacted the entire country, every business you can think of,” said George Taylor, chief executive of the association. “Our business is a representation of that, but also represents a loss of community — something that brings these small towns together.”

Rodeos hold a unique spot in the American sports landscape. They are not a league, but a loose coalition of community events, usually run by nonprofit organizations and volunteers.

In late May, when Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming tearfully announced the cancellation of July’s Cheyenne Frontier Days for the first time in the event’s 124-year history, he was surrounded by representatives of other canceled Wyoming rodeos. They were socially distanced, wearing masks and cowboy hats.

Reporting was contributed by Keith Bradsher, John Branch, Emma Bubola, Chris Buckley, Nancy Coleman, Jenny Gross, Sarah Kliff, Raphael Minder, Elian Peltier, Motoko Rich, Jeanna Smialek, Kaly Soto, Katie Thomas and Neil Vigdor.


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