- 1 A teachers’ strike closes down a school district in Arizona that was set to begin classes on Monday.
- 2 The F.D.A. gives emergency approval for a new spit test as U.S. testing stalls.
- 3 A pandemic-induced public transit crisis is borne unequally and expected to get worse.
- 4 Alternatives to learning pods.
A teachers’ strike closes down a school district in Arizona that was set to begin classes on Monday.
A school district outside Phoenix has canceled its plans to reopen schools next week after teachers staged a “sick out” in protest.
“We have received a high volume of staff absences for Monday citing health and safety concerns,” Gregory A. Wyman, the superintendent of the J.O. Combs Unified School District, said in a letter to families posted online Friday.
The “overwhelming response” from staff has hamstrung plans to begin the semester, and the district “cannot yet confirm when in-person instruction may resume,” Mr. Wyman said. Virtual classes were also canceled for the time being, though breakfasts and lunches will be available for pickup.
The J.O. Combs school district, which includes seven schools, according to its website, had moved forward with a plan to reopen despite falling short of benchmarks that the Arizona Department of Health Services had said must be met before in-person instruction resumed.
While new cases have fallen sharply in Arizona since a peak in July, according to data compiled by The New York Times, state information released on Thursday shows that no county in the Phoenix metropolitan area has met all the benchmarks necessary for in-person learning.
The staff rebellion against the early opening comes after some schools in other parts of the country have struggled to safely open and enforce precautionary behavior among students.
A suburban county outside Atlanta was forced to quarantine nearly 1,200 students and staff members this week after a wave of infections tore through the county’s schools.
The F.D.A. gives emergency approval for a new spit test as U.S. testing stalls.
With the United States facing an alarming drop in coronavirus testing that threatens to undermine national monitoring efforts, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for a new saliva-based test to detect the virus.
The new test, SalivaDirect, was developed by researchers at Yale University with some of the funding coming from the N.B.A. and the National Basketball Players Association, the university announced on Saturday in a news release. The method, it said, was being further validated through testing of asymptomatic N.B.A. players and staff members.
SalivaDirect is not the first test of its kind to secure the F.D.A.’s backing — a lab affiliated with Rutgers University received emergency authorization in May for a similar test.
Public health officials have argued for months that to get a handle on the pandemic, the United States still needs to increase overall testing, perhaps up to four million people daily, including many who are asymptomatic. But reported daily tests have trended downward for much of August and testing shortages have remained pervasive in many states.
According to the release, the researchers said they developed the test with affordability in mind, looking for ways to cut costs such as by eliminating the need for expensive collection tubes. They said they hoped labs could administer the test for around $10 per sample, contributing another test that could help combat the recent testing slowdown.
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said Saturday that there were “signs of hope” that the virus had retreated from its peak levels in the country, and announced the easing of some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in the world.
In a televised address, Mr. Ramaphosa said that the number of new confirmed cases had dropped over the past week to some 5,000 daily cases from a high of about 12,000 a day.
“All indications are that South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the inflection point of the curve,” he said, adding that infections had most likely peaked in the three most populous provinces, including in Gauteng, home of the economic capital, Johannesburg.
The country will now move to a so-called Level 2 alert at midnight on Monday, meaning bans on the sale of tobacco and alcohol will be scrapped, travel between provinces will be allowed, and bars, restaurants and taverns will return to normal business, subject to strict hygiene regulations, Mr. Ramaphosa said. Gatherings of up to 50 people will also be allowed.
But the president cautioned that complacency about basic hygiene and wearing masks “could lead to a resurgence in infections at a rate and on a scale far greater than what we have seen so far.”
Businesses and schools initially shuttered for five weeks after a wide-ranging lockdown was announced in March. But cases surged after restrictions eased, pushing South Africa to the fifth-highest caseload in the world. On Saturday, the ministry of health said 583,653 people had tested positive to date, and 11,667 had died.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed an executive order Saturday that allows local governments in the state to require masks but offers an exemption for private property owners.
Mr. Kemp a Republican, has feuded with Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, since she issued an order last month that conflicted with statewide guidelines encouraging but not requiring face coverings. Atlanta, and some other municipalities in Georgia, had made masks mandatory when cases surged after the state emerged from a lockdown.
Earlier this week, the governor withdrew a lawsuit he had filed against Ms. Bottom and the Atlanta City Council over their decision to issue orders more restrictive than the state’s.
Under the order Mr. Kemp signed on Saturday, a local government is allowed to impose a face-covering requirement if the community reaches a certain threshold — more than 100 confirmed cases in a county per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days.
But that rule cannot be enforced on private property, including businesses, if the owner does not consent.
Other exceptions to local mask rules include people who are eating and drinking, those who have difficulty putting on or removing a mask by themselves and those with religious or medical reasons for not wearing a face covering.
Mask rules may be enforced only against individuals, according to the order, which protects private establishments from being fined for customers’ violations. Face-covering requirements also cannot be enforced at polling places.
The governor’s order also prohibits large gatherings, excluding summer camps, and requires those with medical conditions to shelter in place. According to New York Times data, Georgia ranks fifth in the country for total coronavirus cases, with at least 218,344 as of Saturday. There have been at least 4,568 deaths. The governor’s order will remain in effect until Aug. 31.
A pandemic-induced public transit crisis is borne unequally and expected to get worse.
As U.S. cities’ transit budgets have been crippled by the pandemic, passengers have endured long waits amid reduced service, and then often boarded crowded trains or buses, raising fears of exposure to the coronavirus.
Public transit leaders across the country have issued dire warnings to Congress, saying that the $25 billion in aid they received in March is quickly drying up. And without more help, they say, their systems will face a death spiral, in which cuts to service make public transit less convenient for the public, prompting further drops in ridership that lead to spiraling revenue loss and more service cuts.
Yet Congress has shown few signs that it will soon pass another stimulus package or that such a deal would include any of the $32 billion in new assistance that transit experts say is needed.
“It seems like we’re invisible, and they don’t care about us,” said Nina Red, a New Orleans resident who said her bus trip to the grocery store now sometimes took almost three hours instead of the usual one.
Ridership on top city systems has declined 70 to 90 percent during the pandemic, and sales tax revenue, which fuels many transit agency budgets, has cratered because of a collapsing economy.
As a result, cities like San Francisco have cut half their bus lines. In New Orleans, where 14 percent of transit workers have tested positive for the virus, fare revenue has dropped 45 percent.
And as service cuts have begun, experts say the brunt of the problem is being borne by the nation’s low-income residents, people of color and essential workers. Two economic studies have found Black people could be dying at nearly double the rate of white people from the coronavirus, in part because of their heavier reliance on public transportation.
Experts say the greater ability of higher-income workers to work remotely or to use cars highlights another systemic inequity that has become glaringly obvious during the pandemic.
“People with enough money can choose to opt out for a while,” said Beth Osborne, the director of Transportation for America, an advocacy group. “That’s quite a luxury.”
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, who has emerged as one of President Trump’s fiercest Republican critics over the last year, offered a biting appraisal on Friday of U.S. struggles with the pandemic and the challenges it has raised with the November election.
Asked about the federal coronavirus response in an interview with the Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake City-based conservative think tank, Mr. Romney faulted the Trump administration for being blasé about the dangers posed by the virus in the early months of the pandemic.
“I think it’s fair to say we have not distinguished ourselves in a positive way by how we responded to the crisis when it was upon us,” he said. “We have 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the deaths due to Covid-19, and there’s no way to spin that in a positive light.”
Mr. Romney said he supported proposals to increase funding to states that are bracing for a flood of mailed ballots this fall. Many voters are expected to be wary of casting ballots in person.
“I would prefer us providing additional funds for states that don’t have as effective voting systems,” he said.
Mr. Romney dismissed out of hand warnings by Mr. Trump and his allies that an increase in mail-in voting would lead to rampant voter fraud.
He argued that it would be easier to investigate potentially fraudulent mailed ballots than to detect foreign efforts to attack or manipulate in-person electronic voting systems — a threat to democracy he described as comparable to the president’s attacks on mail-in voting.
“We should make every effort to assure that people who want to vote get the chance to vote, and that’s more important even than the outcome of the vote,” Mr. Romney said. “We have got to preserve the principle of democracy, or the trend we’re on is going to continue to get worse.”
The chaotic response to the coronavirus in Brazil, where it has killed more than 105,000 people, made the country’s experience a cautionary tale that many around the world have watched with alarm.
But as the country’s caseload soared, vaccine researchers saw a unique opportunity.
With sustained widespread contagion, a deep bench of immunization experts, a robust medical manufacturing infrastructure and thousands of vaccine trial volunteers, Brazil has emerged as a potentially vital player in the global scramble to end the pandemic.
Three of the most promising and advanced vaccine studies in the world are relying on scientists and volunteers in Brazil, according to the World Health Organization’s report on the progress of vaccine research.
The embattled government hopes its citizens could be among the first in the world to be inoculated. And medical experts are imagining the possibility that Brazil could even manufacture the vaccine and export it to neighboring countries, a prospect that fills them with something that has been in short supply this year: pride.
Brazil will be the only country other than the United States to be playing a major role in three of the leading studies as an unparalleled quest for a vaccine has led to unusually fast regulatory approvals and hastily brokered partnerships.
Brazil’s explosive caseload has made it the second hardest-hit nation in the world after the United States. While other countries in the region have higher per capita rates, experts have assailed President Jair Bolsonaro’s cavalier handling of the crisis.
The president, who caught the virus in July, has called it a “measly flu” and sabotaged calls for quarantines and lockdowns.
Recruiting volunteers for the ongoing studies in Brazil has not been a challenge, said Soraya Smaili, the president at the Federal University of São Paulo, which is involved in one of the studies.
“People have stepped forward and everyone wants to be part of the solution,” she said. “This has been a lovely social movement.”
Brazil has a universal public health care system with one of the best immunization programs in the developing world, which has enabled it to contain outbreaks of yellow fever, measles and other pathogens.
A coronavirus breakthrough could galvanize the country’s vaccine sector. It could also invigorate its scientific institutions, which employ world class scientists but have been reeling after years of budget cuts that have weakened the public health care system and dented the country’s reputation as a research powerhouse.
Ukraine, with relatively permissive reproductive health laws and an abundance of willing mothers in a poor population, is a surrogacy hub, executives in the industry and women’s rights advocates say.
Because Ukrainian law bans surrogacy for same-sex couples or for clients who wish to select the sex of the child, women are sometimes moved across borders for impregnation and birth, sometimes to legal gray zones like Northern Cyprus.
But with virus travel restrictions in place, biological parents, babies and surrogate mothers have become scattered and stranded in multiple countries for months this year.
In February and March, 14 Ukrainians who gave birth in a different country returned home before the children were legally transferred to their genetic parents, leaving the babies in legal limbo. They feared being stuck in the other countries because of pandemic-related travel bans.
Earlier this year, 100 babies were stranded in Ukraine after surrogate births, and in Russia, where surrogacy is legal, it has been reported that as many as 1,000 babies born in surrogacy are stranded.
Recently, surrogacy operations have come under scrutiny for providing women with shoddy medical care and forcing them to have cesarean sections.
“These illegal programs became visible” only because the virus travel bans disrupted their business model, said Svitlana Burkovska, director of Mothers’ Force, a nongovernmental group.
Ms. Burkovska estimated that last year, before the travel bans, about 3,000 Ukrainian women traveled abroad for surrogacy births, mostly in secret.
As the school year ended and summer began, Page Curtin was looking at a summer of canceled plans for her three children.
Then she heard about a program that aimed to teach girls financial, entrepreneurial and business skills in a five-week virtual program. Her 12-year-old daughter jumped at the opportunity, and during the program she joined other girls to create a mask awareness campaign driven by tweens.
The program, Girls With Impact, “became a great Plan B,” Ms. Curtin said. “It provided a little bit of structure to the week. She had homework, and she was accountable for each session.”
It also helped her daughter begin to understand things many parents fret about for their children: knowledge of personal finances, business skills and the ability to collaborate.
A majority of parents surveyed this year ranked financial literacy at the top of their list of noncore courses they wanted taught in school, according to a report to be released next week by the Charles Schwab Foundation. The report surveyed 5,000 people in February before the pandemic took hold and 2,000 more in June.
“This pandemic has exposed so many Americans’ financial vulnerabilities,” said Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation. “People are putting a high priority on educating this next generation, so they don’t experience what they’re experiencing today.”
Interest in the program has surged. In the six months of the pandemic, more than 2,900 girls have completed the program, increasing the number it has reached since starting two years ago. In total, 3,175 girls have participated in the program, which can reach even remote areas. Because the program has always used Zoom, it had already worked out the kinks in online learning before the coronavirus.
When Southern California’s soaring coronavirus caseload forced Chapman University this month to abandon plans to reopen its campus and instead shift to an autumn of all-remote instruction, the school promised that students would still get a “robust Chapman experience.”
“What about a robust refund?” Christopher Moore, a spring graduate, retorted on Facebook.
A parent chimed in: “We are paying a lot of money for tuition, and our students are not getting what we paid for,” wrote Shannon Carducci, whose youngest child, Ally, is a sophomore at Chapman, where the cost of attendance averages $65,000 a year.
Back when they believed Ally would be attending classes in person, her parents leased a $1,200-a-month apartment for her. Now, Ms. Carducci said, she plans to ask for a tuition discount.
A rebellion against the high cost of a bachelor’s degree, already brewing around the United States before the coronavirus, has gathered momentum as campuses have strained to operate in the pandemic.
At Rutgers University, more than 30,000 people have signed a petition started in July calling for the elimination of fees and a 20 percent tuition cut. More than 40,000 have signed a plea asking the University of North Carolina system to house students in the event of another Covid-19-related campus shutdown. And about 340 Harvard freshmen — roughly a fifth of the first-year class — deferred admission rather than possibly spending part of the year the online.
Universities have been divided in their response, with some offering discounts but most resisting.
The White Mountain Apache tribe, spread across a large reservation in eastern Arizona, has been infected with the virus at more than 10 times the rate of people in the state as a whole.
Yet their death rate from Covid-19 is far lower, just 1.3 percent, as compared with 2.1 percent in Arizona. Epidemiologists wonder whether intensive contact tracing on the reservation enabled teams to find and treat gravely ill people before it was too late to save them.
Contact tracing is generally used to identify and isolate the infected, and to slow the spread of the virus. Elsewhere in the United States, the strategy is largely failing as tracers struggle to keep up with widespread infections.
But on the reservation, contact tracers — equipped with oximeters, to detect low blood oxygen levels in people who often didn’t realize they were seriously ill — have discovered effective new tactics as they trek from home to faraway home.
Experts suggest that their approach may offer a new strategy for reducing deaths in some of the hardest-hit communities, especially among those in housing where multiple generations share space.
Dr. Vincent Marconi, the director of infectious diseases research at Emory University in Atlanta, said it was “incredible” that contact tracing could have such an effect on a population so disadvantaged and at such high risk.
If the reservation’s methods have lowered death rates, he added, “then absolutely, without a doubt, this needs to be replicated elsewhere.”
Alternatives to learning pods.
If your children will not be returning to classrooms this fall, you may have considered joining with another family to create a learning pod, or even hiring a tutor to assist in your children’s studies. There are some other options.
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Luke Broadwater, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Marie Fazio, Shawn Hubler, Corey Kilgannon, Gina Kolata, Zach Montague, Sarah Mervosh, Elisabetta Povoledo, Nikita Stewart, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Paul Sullivan, Maria Varenikova and Pranshu Verma.