Health & Fitness

Coronavirus Stay Updates: U.S. Lawmakers Stay at Deadlock in Stimulus Bundle Talks

A dispute over Postal Service funding complicates the U.S. stimulus impasse as talks continue.

Top lawmakers remained nowhere close to an agreement on Wednesday for a new economic rescue package amid the recession, and appeared to be growing increasingly pessimistic that they could meet a self-imposed Friday deadline.

Disputes over funding for the United States Postal Service have risen to join expanded unemployment benefits and aid to state and local governments on the list of issues dividing Democratic leaders and the Trump administration.

“I feel optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said after hosting another round of talks in her Capitol Hill office with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary; Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. “But how long that tunnel is remains to be seen.”

On the Senate floor, Mr. Schumer called for the post office to fix mail delays that have resulted from cutbacks that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has implemented during the pandemic, which Democrats and voting rights groups have charged are part of a deliberate effort by President Trump to undermine the Postal Service in order to interfere with mail-in voting that will be critical to a safe election in November. Democrats have called for $3.6 billion in the aid package to ensure a secure election, including broader mail balloting, but Republicans are opposing the funds.

Other outstanding disputes include whether to appropriate hundreds of billions of dollars to help states and local governments avoid laying off public workers as tax revenues fall, and whether to reinstate a $600 per week unemployment supplement to laid-off workers from the federal government.

Democrats are pressing to extend the payments, which lapsed last week, through January. Republicans on Tuesday countered with a plan to resume them at $400 per week through Dec. 15, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions who insisted on anonymity to describe them. Democrats declined the offer, they said.

“There are no top-line numbers that have been agreed to,” Mr. Meadows said after the meeting, charging that Democrats were unwilling to make significant concessions. “We continue to be trillions of dollars apart in terms of what Democrats and Republicans hopefully will ultimately compromise on.”

“Is Friday a drop-dead date? No,” he added. “But my optimism continues to diminish the closer we get to Friday and certainly falls off the cliff exponentially after Friday.”

Mr. Trump on Wednesday again suggested that he would act on his own to impose a federal eviction moratorium and temporarily suspend payroll tax cuts if an agreement could not be reached. He also reiterated his opposition to a critical Democratic proposal to send more than $900 billion to state and local governments whose budgets have been devastated by the recession.

“We have some states and cities — you know them all — they’ve been very poorly run over the years,” he said. “We’re not going to go along with that.”

Education roundup

After parents and teachers opposed a hybrid model, Chicago schools will reopen online only.

Public school students in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest district, will begin the academic year remotely in September, leaving New York City as the only major school system in the country that will try to offer in-person classes when schools start this fall.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Dr. Janice Jackson, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, made the announcement Wednesday morning, as the Chicago Teachers Union was in the midst of tentative preparations for a strike over school safety.

“We have to be guided by the science, period,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “When we announced the potential for a hybrid model some weeks ago, we were in a very different place in the arc of the pandemic.” She added, “This was not an easy decision to make.”

Of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, only five now plan to open the school year with any form of in-person learning. Six of the seven largest will be online.

New York City schools, the nation’s largest district, are scheduled to reopen in about a month, with students having the option of attending in-person classes one to three days a week. But the city is confronting a torrent of logistical issues and political problems that could upend Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to bring students back to classrooms.

In other parts of the country where schools have already opened, they have quickly encountered positive cases, with some having to quarantine students and staff members and even close down schools temporarily to contain possible outbreaks. On Tuesday, the second day of its school year, Cherokee County in Georgia closed a second-grade classroom after a student tested positive for the virus.

In other school news:

Public schools in Arkansas must open for students five days a week when the school year begins on Aug. 24, state officials said Wednesday. Districts should “allow for flexible schedules and virtual learning options, but must first provide an on-site option where students can access educational resources, school meals and other needed support daily,” the state’s department of education said in a statement, adding that some schools could open four days a week pending approval from the board.

Education officials in Kenya announced in July that they were canceling the academic year and making students repeat it. They are not expected to begin classes again until January, the usual start of Kenya’s school year.

Boston Public Schools announced on Wednesday a draft plan for preliminary reopening that would permit schools to choose between remote learning and a blend of in-person and online instruction, meaning neighboring schools could be providing different options to families at the same time this fall. The district, the largest in Massachusetts, serves more than 50,000 students at more than 125 schools.

For many students in Tennessee, the school year has already begun; some districts there open their doors in early August, earlier than in many other parts of the country. Already, several schools in the state have reported Covid-19 cases on their campuses. Some have enforced temporary closures in response, while others are trying to keep track of the infections through contact tracing and urging staff members and students who may have been exposed to stay home.

In Maryland, Montgomery County officials have been wrangling with Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, over reopening private schools. Public schools in the county, the state’s most populous, will start the school year learning remotely, and county officials used a directive to make private schools do the same. Mr. Hogan overruled it, arguing that private schools should be free to make their own decisions. But on Wednesday, county officials issued a new order to keep them closed, citing a new authority under state law.

New York City will set up checkpoints at major bridge and tunnel crossings to inform those entering the city about a state requirement that travelers from dozens of other states quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday.

The announcement conjured images of police officers stopping cars and detaining people from out of state. The reality may be a lot less stark — and a lot more confusing.

The authorities will not be stopping every car. They will probably not be at every crossing on any given day. The Police Department will not even be involved. The checkpoints, run by the city’s Sheriff’s Office, will focus on informing travelers about the rules

The state’s restrictions have been in place since late June, and have applied to travelers entering New York by road or rail, but the enforcement efforts have so far focused mostly on airports. As cases surged across the country, however, officials have grown worried about the prospect of another widespread outbreak in New York.

As of Tuesday, travelers from 34 states and Puerto Rico, where virus cases have risen, are subject to the quarantine. And as of this week, a fifth of all new cases in the city were coming from out-of-state travelers, said Ted Long, the executive director of the city’s contact tracing program.

At the bridge and tunnel checkpoints, officers will stop a random sampling of vehicles, the city’s sheriff, Joseph Fucito, said. The effort will begin Wednesday.

Officers will then ask travelers coming from designated states to fill out forms with their personal information and provide them with details about the state’s quarantine rules, officials said.

Laura Feyer, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, said that the city would most likely not announce where the checkpoints would be so that motorists would not try to route around them.

Virginia on Wednesday released the first app in the United States that employs new software from Apple and Google to notify users of their possible exposure to the coronavirus.

The announcement of the app, called Covidwise and developed by the Virginia Department of Health, comes two days after the state of Alabama announced a test of a similar one also using the tech companies’ system.

Use is voluntary, but strongly encouraged, Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference. “I hope Virginians across the state will use this,” he said. “This is a way that we can all work together to contain this virus.”

China and other countries have used virus apps to impose new forms of social control. The Apple and Google software, by contrast, offers public health agencies a system with some built-in privacy protections.

Rather than continuously track users’ locations, which can reveal sensitive details about people’s routines, for instance, the Apple-Google software uses Bluetooth signals to detect app users whose smartphones come into proximity with one another. And it logs the contact with rotating ID codes, not personal information like names or phone numbers.

If an app user later tests positive, they can use the app to notify other users, like strangers they sat near on a train, without sharing that information with government agencies.

Epidemiologists say such apps may be helpful in places with widespread, efficient testing and contact tracing, but they may offer little benefit when people have difficulty getting tested or face long waits for results.

The app can only tell whether two users have come into proximity with one another; it cannot tell whether they were wearing masks, or take into account whether they were in a poorly ventilated restaurant or on an outdoor patio. And it cannot detect exposure to people who are not using it.

Even so, health agencies in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Switzerland and other European countries have recently introduced national virus-alert apps based on the Apple-Google software. Google said last week that 20 U.S. states were considering doing the same.

global roundup

Welcome back to Germany. Now take your free virus test.

As Europe reopens, cases have begun ticking up nearly everywhere, in varying degrees, leaving countries in a constant, seesaw battle to tamp down outbreaks before they undo months of hard-won progress made during costly lockdowns this spring.

Germany is no exception. This week it recorded 879 new coronavirus infections in a single day, part of a rising trend that has begun to worry officials as people return from trips abroad during the summer vacation season.

To address that concern, Germany this week began requiring virus testing for all travelers who enter the country from coronavirus “hot spots,” again making it a leader in using testing as a firewall against the spread of the virus. It has set up free testing sites at airports and border crossings. Results come back in a day or two.

Germany has made testing a primary tool in its battle against the virus since the start of the pandemic, and its capacity to make testing accessible and efficient has distinguished it among industrialized nations.

In other world news:

Japan’s virus-related travel rules have put foreign residents in a bind. Nearly 100,000 foreign residents who traveled abroad have been prevented from re-entering the country since April. Executives at major international firms say they are rethinking their ties to the country, including how its handling of foreigners could hinder business continuity.

The number of virus deaths around the world passed 700,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. The virus has sickened more than 18.5 million people. Almost twice as many countries have reported a significant rise in new cases over the past two weeks as have reported significant declines, according to the database.

About one-third of Afghanistan’s population, or roughly 10 million people, have probably been infected by the virus and recovered, Afghanistan’s health ministry said on Wednesday, based on a household survey that deployed rapid tests for antibodies. Kabul, the capital city of more than five million people, has been worst hit, with about 53 percent of the residents infected.

A Republican congressman who pushed for routine Covid testing on Capitol Hill tests positive.

Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, becoming the third member of Congress in one week to be found to have the virus.

Mr. Davis said in a statement from his home in Taylorville that he tested positive after taking a routine temperature check and noticing a higher than normal reading. He said that his wife and aides with whom he worked this week had tested negative and added that he would quarantine at home.

“During these challenging times, protecting the public health is my highest priority,” Mr. Davis said. “If you’re out in public, use social distancing, and when you can’t social distance, please wear a mask.”

Mr. Davis had pressed to implement routine testing procedures on Capitol Hill, where leaders in the House and the Senate have repeatedly declined to put in place a campuswide testing program for lawmakers and their aides.

The congressman reiterated his concern about a lack of testing in Congress last week after Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, was found to have the virus at the White House, sending dozens more aides, reporters and the attorney general scrambling to be tested.

Representative Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona and the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, interacted with Mr. Gohmert at length during a hearing held by the panel and tested positive shortly after his diagnosis

U.S. ROUNDUP

Major U.S. health insurers are reporting big profits, benefiting from the pandemic.

The leading U.S. health insurers are experiencing an embarrassment of profits.

Some of the largest companies, including Anthem, Humana and UnitedHealth Group, are reporting second-quarter earnings that are double what they were a year ago.

On Wednesday, CVS Health, which owns Aetna, the big insurer, said net income for the second quarter reached $3 billion, about $1 billion more than it reported for the same period of 2019, on revenues of $65 billion. Others had already trumpeted blockbuster results, ensuring that their stocks weather swings in the markets.

Insurance profits are capped under the Affordable Care Act, with the requirement that consumers should benefit from such excesses in the form of rebates. The Health and Human Services Department advised companies to consider speeding up rebates, and on Tuesday, suggested they reduce premiums to help consumers through the economic downturn.

Although many hospitals have been overwhelmed by outbreaks, insurers have shelled out billions of dollars less in medical claims in the last three months as many expensive, elective surgeries have been postponed and people have steered clear of doctors’ offices and emergency rooms out of fear of contracting the virus.

The companies’ staggering pandemic profits put a spotlight on big insurance companies as government officials in many states face huge budget shortfalls. Some states are discussing cutting payments to insurers that offer Medicaid plans to their residents.

“This could tilt the politics against insurers on a whole number of fronts,” said Larry Levitt, the executive vice president for health policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. Others say it could revive support for “Medicare for all,” a proposal to replace the private health care system with a government one guaranteeing coverage for all U.S. residents.

Face masks became mandatory in some places in Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands on Wednesday for everyone over the age of 13.

There is no national mask mandate outside of public transit in the Netherlands, but last week local governments were given the power to issue mask orders. The mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the two largest cities in the country, both with rising case numbers, took action.

In Rotterdam, masks will be required in designated busy areas in the city’s center, including indoor shopping malls and street markets. In Amsterdam, the masks will have to be worn in designated locations, including in two markets and the Red Light district.

The Albert Cuyp Market, one of Amsterdam’s most famous street markets and a popular tourist attraction, is one of those places. On the day before the rule was set to take effect, small groups of people strolled the largely empty street.

“We don’t like it,” said Anuscka de Graaf, who has sold cheese on the market for 10 years. Face masks aren’t really necessary on the open-air market, she said, and they would probably hurt business.

Others, though, saw the benefits of the masks.

“We will wear face masks, we should,” said Mohammad al-Zobai, 30, who works for a stand that serves coffee and sandwiches. “It’s good for us,” he said. “I’m with the government on this.”

He said that the face masks would make him feel safer. “I saw the numbers,” he said. “People should be worried.”

Masks are not mandatory in museums, gyms, or hospitality establishments, like hotels or cafes.

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Reporting was contributed by Fahim Abed, Reed Abelson, Alan Blinder, Julie Bosman, Luke Broadwater, Emily Cochrane, Nick Corasaniti, Melissa Eddy, Catie Edmondson, Reid J. Epstein, Nicholas Fandos, Manny Fernandez, Jacey Fortin, Hailey Fuchs, Katie Glueck, Michael Gold, Virginia Hughes, Juliana Kim, Lisa Leher, Dan Levin, Mujib Mashal, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Sarah Mervosh, Raphael Minder, Claire Moses, Tara Parker-Pope, Amy Qin, Simon Romero, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear, Natasha Singer, Kaly Soto, Eileen Sullivan, Katie Thomas, Glenn Thrush, Kenneth P. Vogel, Mary Williams Walsh, Noah Weiland, Will Wright and Billy Witz.

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