Easing of social distancing guidelines — whether by government edict or individual decision — has led to new coronavirus flare-ups in the United States and abroad, even as pressure builds to loosen restrictions that have kept millions isolated and decimated economies.
Officials in Pasadena, Calif., warned Saturday against Mother’s Day gatherings after a cluster of new covid-19 cases was identified there among a large group of extended family and friends attending a recent birthday party, despite a stay-at-home order in effect.
Through contact tracing, investigators discovered more than five confirmed cases and “many more ill individuals” linked to the party, the local public health department said.
The controversy over when, and how much, to open up has taken on sharp political overtones, with protests and occasional violence against those trying to keep the rules in place.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement that a report by the Associated Press alleging the White House had held back restrictive recommendations from experts on how to safely reopen hinged on a premature “draft” that “had not been vetted through the interagency process.”
Trump administration officials previously said that the recommendations were overly specific and did not take into account regional differences in the threat level.
In a series of Saturday tweets, President Trump accused California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) of opening a public polling place to favor Democrats in a special congressional election to be conducted largely by mail-in ballots next week, while Newsom has refused to open “restaurants, beaches and stores.”
Voters were encouraged to vote by mail because of the novel coronavirus, with a few in-person polling places. Democrats in the district had raised concerns that a city with a large African American population didn’t have an in-person voting place, leading the new voting center to be added.
The race, in the 25th District north of Los Angeles, is between Democratic state assemblywoman Christy Smith and Republican businessman and ex-Navy pilot Mike Garcia, who are seeking to fill a vacant seat. Whoever wins on Tuesday will hold the California seat through the end of the year. Regardless of the outcome, the two will face each other again in November for a full two-year term.
Because of the coronavirus, voters were encouraged to mail-in ballots, with every voter receiving a pre-stamped ballot to fill out and return. But a limited number of in-person polling places were long planned to be open, and one was added recently in Lancaster.
Tesla on Saturday filed a lawsuit against the California county that has prohibited the electric car company from producing vehicles during the outbreak.
The company alleged in its suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, that Alameda County had violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and sought an injunction that would allow the company to operate. Its Fremont manufacturing plant is located in that county.
The suit followed chief executive Elon Musk threatening in a series of tweets earlier Saturday that the company would sue and move Tesla’s headquarters and future programs to Texas and Nevada. He appeared to leave open the possibility of maintaining some operations in Fremont depending “on how Tesla is treated in the future.”
South Korean officials, who recently began to loosen social distancing requirements, ordered more than 2,100 nightclubs, discos and bars in Seoul to close Saturday after the country recorded dozens of new cases linked to partygoers in the city last weekend.
In Germany, where the government has outlined a cautious but steady opening, hundreds of workers in at least three meat-processing plants have tested positive for the coronavirus, medical and local officials said. Word of the new infections came as Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in her weekly video message to the nation, said that “we are excited to take the first steps towards normal, everyday life.”
As governments try to balance health and economic priorities, medical experts have said that new flare-ups are inevitable, but that widespread testing and contact tracing are key to preventing breakouts. Both South Korea and Germany have been among the countries adopting the strictest shutdown measures and providing the most testing and contact tracing.
Trump, who has pressed to reopen schools and businesses sooner rather than later, said Friday that “testing isn’t necessary.”
On Saturday, two senior members of the administration’s coronavirus task force said they would self-quarantine after being exposed at the White House.
Redfield and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn will isolate for two weeks, the CDC and FDA said, after coming into contact with White House staffers who have tested positive for the virus.
Vice President Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, and one of President Trump’s personal valets tested positive last week, although neither they, nor Redfield or Hahn, have been reported ill.
France and Spain, among the hardest-hit countries, but with declining death rates, have scheduled partial reopenings this week. Italy recorded a decline in new infections, but remains the country with the third-highest confirmed death toll, at more than 30,000, behind Britain, with nearly 32,000, and the United States, the highest at more than 78,000.
In a telephone call with his former aides Friday night, former president Barack Obama characterized the administration’s response to the pandemic as “absolute chaotic disaster,” according to a recording of the call obtained by Yahoo News and confirmed to The Washington Post by Obama spokesperson Katie Hill.
Obama, who has said he will campaign for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, said that “what we’re fighting against” in the upcoming election “is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life.”
The response “would have been bad even with the best of governments,” Obama said. “It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mind-set — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mind-set is operationalized in our government.”
Amid the worst U.S. unemployment figures since the Great Depression and ongoing partisan finger-pointing, a stalemate continued between the White House and congressional Democrats on a new relief package.
Separately, Trump announced $3 billion worth of dairy, meat and produce will be purchased from American farmers, as part of a larger aid package intended to help the farming industry.
In a tweet, Trump said that products from farmers, ranchers and specialty crop growers will be redistributed, in a program he called “FARMERS TO FAMILY FOOD BOX,” to food kitchens.
Last month, Trump committed $19 billion to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, “to provide critical support to our farmers and ranchers, maintain the integrity of our food supply chain, and ensure every American continues to receive and have access to the food they need,” according to a statement on the USDA’s website. The remaining $16 billion will go to direct payments to farmers and ranchers.
According to an April report from the Food & Agriculture Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri, the pandemic will have “broad implications across the agriculture sector.” The report projected a net farm income decline of approximately $20 billion.
On the medical front, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said that three New York children have died of a mysterious inflammatory syndrome believed to be related to the coronavirus.
The state’s health department is investigating 73 reported cases among New York children of the syndrome, which has symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome, Cuomo said during a news conference. The children tested positive for the coronavirus or had antibodies triggered by the virus, but they had not been hospitalized for respiratory symptoms, he said.
“We were laboring under the impression that young people were not affected by covid-19,” Cuomo said. “We’re not so sure that is the fact anymore.” He said the CDC has asked New York to develop national criteria for other states and hospitals.
The FDA announced that it has issued an emergency authorization for a new coronavirus screening, called an antigen test, that is conducted by a nasal swab and can quickly detect proteins found on or within the virus.
The antigen test, manufactured by Quidel Corp., can produce diagnostic results within minutes. The FDA said in a news release that the test is “important in the overall response” against the virus because it can be produced at a lower cost than other tests and can “potentially scale to test millions of Americans per day” once other manufacturers enter the market.
The federal government has already authorized two other coronavirus tests. The first, called a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, detects genetic material from the virus. The second is a serological, or blood, screening, which is not meant to diagnose an active case but to detect antibodies that signal a person was previously infected and has developed an immune response to the virus.
The serological test is cheaper and faster than the PCR test, but is also less reliable, with positive results being “highly accurate,” but negative results not necessarily ruling out the presence of the virus. To backstop a potential false negative, the FDA said that negative tests should be confirmed with a PCR test.
In terms of drugs to affect the course of the disease itself, a study published Saturday in the British medical journal Lancet, said that a triple combination of antiviral drugs has shown initial promise in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate cases.
Scientists conducting a small trial based in Hong Kong found that patients who were given a cocktail of three drugs — the HIV drug lopinavir-ritonavir; ribavirin, a treatment for hepatitis C; and interferon beta, which is used to treat multiple sclerosis, tested negative after seven days, compared with 12 days for a control group receiving only the HIV drug.
Researchers not involved with the trial said that the early results of the study, which involved 127 patients in six hospitals in Hong Kong, were promising but that larger studies were needed.