Biden Team Readies Plan to Fight the Virus, Now Surging at Record Levels – The New York Times


Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

As coronavirus outbreaks rage in the United States at harrowing new levels, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a victory speech Saturday evening that he would announce a Covid-19 task force on Monday.

Mr. Biden, who made criticism of President Trump’s handling of the pandemic a centerpiece of his campaign, left no doubt that the virus was his first priority.

“Our work begins with getting Covid under control,” he said.

Mr. Biden is expected to name three co-chairs of the 12-member panel: Vivek Murthy, a former surgeon general, who has been a key Biden adviser for months and is expected to take a major public role; David Kessler, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale University professor.

The announcement of the task force would be part of a weeklong focus that Mr. Biden intends to place on health care and the pandemic, as he begins the process of building his administration, a person close to the transition said.

During the campaign, Mr. Biden repeatedly assailed Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic, his refusal to wear a mask and his downplaying of the threat from the virus, which has spread across the country.

“I will spare no effort, none, or any commitment to turn around this pandemic,” Mr. Biden said Saturday.

But Mr. Trump, who has largely shuttered the White House Coronavirus Task Force and has repeatedly told voters that the country was “rounding the corner,” is not due to leave office for two more months. And the pandemic shows every sign of exploding further in that period, deepening Mr. Biden’s challenge.

The United States reported more than 132,790 new cases on Friday, a single-day record, according to a New York Times database. Saturday brought about 126,100 more new cases, the fourth tally exceeding 100,000 in four days. On average over the past week, the country has reported nearly 107,000 new cases a day, and its total case count from the start of the pandemic is rapidly approaching 10 million.

At least 16 states reported single-day records for new cases on Friday, and nine did so on Saturday, : West Virginia, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada.

More than 54,800 people were hospitalized with the virus on Friday, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Deaths are also rising. On Saturday the country recorded more than 1,000 corona virus-related deaths for the fifth straight day, the first time that had happened since August. West Virginia set a record for new deaths in one day; seven states announced more deaths in the last week than in any previous week. More than 237,500 people in the country have died in the pandemic.

Mr. Biden has vowed that on Day 1 of his administration, he will move rapidly to confront the pandemic by appointing a “national supply chain commander” and establishing a “pandemic testing board,” similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wartime production panel.

His aides have assembled a group of roughly two dozen health policy and technology experts to look at the development and delivery of a vaccine, improvement of health data and the securing of supply chains, among other issues.

Aides said Mr. Biden would use the power of the presidency to invoke the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law, more aggressively than Mr. Trump has, to order businesses to build up stocks of necessary supplies.

While Mr. Biden would like to see a national mask mandate, his advisers have concluded that he does not have the legal authority to impose one. So he will try to increase mask wearing in other ways. He has already said that, as president, he would require masks on all federal property, using an executive order that could have wide reach and is likely to come in the first hours or days of his presidency.

In addition to mandating masks in federal buildings, Mr. Biden has said he would require them on “all interstate transportation.”

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Surges in the United States and Europe have driven daily global counts of coronavirus infections and deaths to ominous highs this week. New cases surpassed 600,000 for the first time on Thursday, a day after daily deaths rose beyond 10,000 for the first time.

Globally, the virus has claimed 52,732 lives over the last seven days, bringing the death toll to more than 1.24 million since the pandemic began.

More than 49 million people have been infected since the pandemic began, and new infections have risen more than 27 percent over the past 14 days, according to a New York Times database. The harrowing milestone of 50 million cases is expected to be reached within days.

The United States accounted for a fifth of Thursday’s record total, reporting more than 121,000 new cases, a record it broke the following day with 132,797. In at least 24 states, there have been more cases announced in the past week than in any other seven-day stretch since the pandemic began, and total infections are nearing 10 million.

Europe’s outbreak is harder to quantify, largely because there is no single definition of which countries would belong in that count. By one count — from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan in its tally — total cases have reached over 11.8 million.

Europe accounts for almost every one of the 20 countries with the highest per capita new cases for the last seven days, according to a New York Times database. Luxembourg, Belgium and the Czech Republic top the list, and Austria reported a record high of 8,241 on Saturday, but Europe’s larger nations are adding far greater numbers.

Poland reported a record 27,875 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, taking its total number of reported cases over 500,000. Several other countries reported single-day records this week and then quickly broke them, including France, with 58,406 for Thursday and 60,486 for Friday; Germany, with 21, 506 for Thursday and 23,399 for Friday; and Italy, with 34,502 for Wednesday, 37,802 for Thursday, and 39,811 for Friday. All three, along with Britain and Spain, are at or near record highs in their seven-day averages of new cases.

And deaths are rising in more than 20 European countries, led by the Czech Republic, Belgium Spain and Hungary.

Hospital systems around the continent are strained, prompting officials to order fresh lockdowns. Germany closed bars, gyms and theaters on Monday. Portugal declared a new state of emergency on Friday, and Romania, which passed 10,000 daily cases for the first time, announced that it would close schools and implement an overnight curfew. Poland reported a record 445 virus deaths on Friday and admitted the first patient to its new field hospital at a stadium in Warsaw, and on Saturday, it shut most shops in shopping malls, theaters and museums.

Credit…Calla Kessler for The New York Times

As cases of the coronavirus soared across much of the United States — the nation recorded more than 100,000 new cases for the third straight day and more than 1,000 deaths for the fourth straight day — places that held the virus at manageable levels for months are now experiencing major outbreaks.

Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming — states that drew little attention compared with epicenters like New York or Florida — are now repeatedly setting single-day case records. And deaths are rising in more than half the country.

Indiana reported 4,911 new cases on Saturday, marking the fourth single-day record in a row. Other states that recorded new records included Virginia and West Virginia.

In at least 24 states, there have been more cases announced in the past week than in any other seven-day stretch since the pandemic began. More than 54,800 people were hospitalized with the virus on Friday, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Nebraska reported more than 2,600 new cases on Friday, a single-day record. In the past week, the state has averaged more than 1,400 cases per day, an increase of 68 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

Neighboring Colorado has averaged more than 2,700 new cases per day for the past week, an increase of 138 percent from the average two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database. The state reported a single-day record of 3,814 cases on Thursday.

More than 1,000 people were hospitalized in Colorado with the virus on Friday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. And late last month, Gov. Jared Polis warned residents that the state risked running out of hospital beds by the end of the year.

“We can’t stay on the curve we’re on, particularly if we juxtapose some relaxation during the holidays,” said Dr. Samet. “The whole state is heading in the wrong direction.”

In New Jersey, an early epicenter of the pandemic, a spike has its governor warning of new restrictions, as the state surpassed 2,000 new cases Friday for the second time in a week.

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Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, disclosed on Saturday that he had tested positive for coronavirus antibodies this week, but said he did not know when he had contracted the virus.

Mr. Gaetz said he received the positive test result on Tuesday, Election Day.

“I have no symptoms and no live virus,” Mr. Gaetz said in a text message. “No idea when I had virus.”

Mr. Gaetz’s disclosure comes on the heels of the news late Friday of another outbreak at the White House. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, a senior administration official said. A Trump campaign adviser, Nick Trainer, has also learned he has the virus, a person briefed on his diagnosis said.

And four other White House officials tested positive for the virus, a person familiar with the diagnoses told The New York Times.

Mr. Gaetz’s positive test for antibodies does not give a strong indication of when he might have been infected. In most people, antibodies generally arise within a week of infection and persist for at least a few months.

In March, Mr. Gaetz mocked efforts to minimize transmission of the virus by appearing on the House floor sporting a gas mask, and referring to other members of Congress as “human petri dishes.”

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, has contracted the coronavirus, as have five other White House aides and a Trump campaign adviser, officials say, raising fears of another outbreak sweeping through the ranks of the nation’s top officials.

A Trump campaign adviser, Nick Trainer, along with four White House officials also tested positive for the virus, people close to the administration told The New York Times on Friday.

The diagnoses came as the pandemic rampaged across the United States, which has recorded an average of more than 100,000 new cases per day over the past week and hit another record on Friday, with more than 132,700 cases in a single day. The country also recorded more than 1,220 deaths.

Mr. Meadows, who abided by President Trump’s efforts to play down the coronavirus throughout the summer, is only the latest in a string of people in the president’s circle to contract the virus in the past seven weeks. Others include Mr. Trump himself and the first lady, Melania Trump, and several aides to the president and Vice President Mike Pence. Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was elected the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, made criticism of Mr. Trump’s pandemic response a central feature of his campaign. Since Election Day, Mr. Biden has been briefed on the pandemic by economic and health advisers.

In a brief speech on Friday night, Mr. Biden vowed to control the virus and noted that the Covid-19 death toll in the United States was approaching 240,000.

“That’s 240,000 empty chairs at kitchen tables and dining room tables all across America,” he said. “We’ll never be able to measure all that pain and the loss, the suffering, that so many families have experienced.”

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Wuhan, once synonymous with the devastation that the coronavirus could wreak, has become the subject of glowing paeans across Chinese media, lauded by officials as a symbol of the country’s resilience in the outbreak’s aftermath.

Propaganda agencies have churned out the television tributes to the city, where the outbreak first emerged, while the national Ministry of Culture and Tourism sponsored a new opera about its doctors.

Wuhan is getting such attention as a city of heroes in part because it has truly made a remarkable recovery. The city, with its packed pool parties and crowded amusement parks, is now proof of the country’s broader recovery. Cases there and nationwide now hover near zero.

But the acclamation is also part of a campaign by the Chinese government to position Wuhan — and by extension China — as a global emblem of superior governance. It’s a propaganda push designed to help sand away any lingering public anger over the government’s costly missteps in the early weeks of the pandemic.

One documentary series, produced by the state broadcaster, for instance, does not mention Li Wenliang, the doctor who was punished for warning friends about the virus and then later died of it. Internet users have condemned the omission.

And some residents said they still see the scars of the outbreak all around them, alongside the signs of recovery.

“I think many Wuhan people are still living in a kind of pain,” Sophia Huang, a lawyer, said.

She would gladly watch an objective documentary about the outbreak that took stock of both the government’s victories and its mistakes, she said. “But obviously that is not possible right now.”

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The city of Simi Valley, near Los Angeles, this week announced that police would remove customers from the premises of businesses if they refused to wear masks inside.

The policy was triggered by episodes in which customers became unruly, said Samantha Argabrite, Simi Valley’s deputy city manager.

The police will not cite those individuals or pursue charges, she said, adding that in the two days since the city made the announcement, no business owner had called the police for assistance.

“We want to ensure our business community is aware that if it escalates to the point where the business owners don’t feel safe, they can reach out to the police department,” she said.

But Cmdr. Steve Shorts, a spokesman for the Simi Valley Police Department, said that mask ordinances were a public health order and that his officers were not eager to get involved.

“We are not an agent of the health department,” he said. “There’s nothing enforceable in the penal code, and law enforcement as a whole has not been responsible. We don’t want to get involved at all in the mask ordinance.”

If called to a business about a unruly customer, he said, “we will go over and ask them if they mind complying with the order. If they refuse again, it’s back in the business owner’s lap what they want to do,” including making a citizen’s arrest or pursuing charges for trespassing.

Ms. Argabrite said city officials “want the community to know the police are available as a resource.”

“We don’t want to put them in a position where they are the mask police,” she said.

Though mask mandates are issued on a county or state level, enforcement has largely been left to local governments to manage. Police departments have endeavored to steer clear.

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Infectious-disease experts warned about the dangers of cramming thousands of revelers into the Black Hills of South Dakota at the height of a pandemic. But it was the 80th anniversary of the annual Sturgis rally, and bikers were coming no matter what.

South Dakota’s Republican governor, a vocal opponent of lockdowns, gave her blessing; local leaders set aside their misgivings; and 460,000 people from every state in the nation rolled into Sturgis in August. And then they went home, scattering across the country, some with T-shirts declaring, “Screw Covid I Went to Sturgis.”

In the aftermath, hundreds of people have gotten sick, and Sturgis has become a rumbling symbol of America’s bitter divisions over the pandemic, even now, as cases surge and the nation’s death toll nears 235,000.

Family members who stayed away are angry at relatives who attended and brought the virus home. Sturgis City Council members who approved the rally have been bombarded with death threats. And health experts and politicians are still arguing over how many cases it may have led to.

In all, infections tied to the rally reached more than 20 states and involved at least 300 people, according to state health officials.

And today, South Dakota itself has one of the highest infection rates in the country, averaging about 1,100 cases a day. For much of August and September, it was fewer than 100.

Health officials say a lack of contact tracing and the sheer scale of the event have made it impossible to know how many people were infected directly or indirectly because of Sturgis.

“We don’t know if we’ll ever know the full extent,” Dr. Benjamin C. Aaker, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, said.

Officials in Fitchburg, Mass., said that a cluster of over 200 coronavirus infections had been linked to multiple gatherings in a local Pentecostal church in mid-October, causing a wider fallout throughout the area.

A statement from the city’s health director, Stephen D. Curry, said that the outbreak centered on the Crossroads Community Church had “affected over 75 businesses” and that more than 80 percent of the people who had tested positive had developed symptoms of Covid-19.

At least one churchgoer was hospitalized and in intensive care after attending services, according to reporting from The Boston Globe.

The discovery of the outbreak has forced the city of roughly 40,000 people to consider backtracking on plans to fully reopen, according to a release from the local health board.

Massachusetts has been working to beat back a fresh spike in coronavirus cases that has pushed new infections to its highest levels since May, with nearly 1,500 new cases per day reported over the past week, according to data compiled by The New York Times. On Friday, the state put in place an overnight stay-at-home advisory to help mitigate the spread, urging residents not to go outside between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The church, which voluntarily closed, according to the city’s statement, lashed out against city officials for rushing to “judgment” in associating it with the outbreak.

“Their statements were hurtful, irresponsible and not reflective of the spirit of cooperation that has been the relationship between the city and Crossroads for years,” the church said in an unsigned post on Facebook. “Attributing the Covid outbreak within the City of Fitchburg to Crossroads Community Church is unfair and a distortion of the facts.”

Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

A spike in cases in recent weeks has left New Jersey on the cusp of new restrictions meant to keep the coronavirus at bay, officials said on Friday, as the state surpassed 2,000 new cases on Friday for the second time in a week.

The climbing daily case counts follow increases in the daily positive test rate in New Jersey, an early epicenter of the pandemic. That figure, a proxy for the virus’s prevalence in the community, stood at 6 percent earlier this week — above the 5 percent figure that public health authorities consider problematic, and nearly three times as high as the state’s rate in mid-September.

By contrast, officials in New York, which was also hit hard by the pandemic’s first wave and imposed a strict lockdown to fight it, said on Friday that the positive rate there was around 2 percent and being pushed up by so-called hot spots in several regions.

New Jersey’s central and northern sections were being hit the hardest, data showed.

Gov. Philip D. Murphy, speaking at a news conference where the virus figures were announced, did not specify what measures might be introduced or when, although he did say that action was coming soon.

“We’re working on making sure that we’ve got a right balance between strategic, scalpel-like actions and some broader actions that we will almost certainly take sooner than later,” Mr. Murphy said.

Credit…Sebastian Willnow/dpa-Zentralbild, via Associated Press

Protesters in Leipzig, Germany, attacked law enforcement officers and journalists on Saturday after the police began shutting down a large demonstration against coronavirus restrictions because most of the participants refused to wear masks and follow social distancing protocols.

The demonstration, which took place just six days after Germany went into a lockdown, was organized by people who call themselves Querdenker, which translates as “lateral thinkers” and means “mavericks.” The demonstration united “coronaskeptics” and far-right activists against the latest restrictions, including a limitation on meetings to members of two separate households.

A court overruled the city’s attempt to move the event to a larger area, instead allowing 16,000 people to demonstrate in an area where only 5,000 could fit if social distancing protocols were followed. By early afternoon, the police estimated the crowd at about 20,000.

“The escalation and reckless behavior of the so-called Querdenker are shocking,” tweeted Martin Dulig, the deputy governor of the state of Saxony, which is home to Leipzig. “They are chaos.”

Germany has seen a number of similar protests in the past, but the aggressiveness of some of the protesters on Saturday surprised many. During a protest during the summer in Berlin, several hundred people stormed the stairs of the Reichstag, the historic Parliament building.

In other news from around the world, compiled with the help of wire services:

  • Britain banned entry to visitors from Denmark in response to concern over outbreaks of the coronavirus on Danish mink farms. Denmark imposed strict new lockdown rules and a nationwide mink cull after authorities discovered a mutated coronavirus strain in the animals that might undermine the effectiveness of a vaccine.

  • Italy has approved a new aid package to cushion the blow to the economy from restrictions it introduced earlier this week in an effort to stem its surge in cases. The measures, agreed by the country’s cabinet overnight, are worth 2.9 billion euros, or $3.4 billion, Reuters cited a source as saying.

  • The health authorities in Thailand on Saturday confirmed a new case of local transmission of the coronavirus, one of only a handful discovered in recent months. The infection is in a 37-year-old Indian man working as a waiter in the southern province of Krabi, a province on the Andaman Sea normally popular with tourists, though the country was shut to foreign tourists from early April until last month.

  • Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, announced that a Cambodian bodyguard who had worked for Hungary’s visiting foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, had tested positive for the coronavirus. Mr. Szijjarto tested positive after leaving Cambodia on Tuesday following meetings with Mr. Hun Sen and four cabinet ministers, who are now in quarantine.

  • In Australia, the state of Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, is expected to relax more coronavirus restrictions on Sunday, including the removal of the no-travel “ring of steel” surrounding Melbourne. Direct flights from New Zealand are to resume on Monday, the first international flights into Melbourne since June 30. After eight days of no new virus cases or deaths, the state appears to have ended an outbreak traced to infections among staff members at two hotels that were acting as quarantine locations for arriving overseas passengers.

Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

PARIS — On a recent breezy day, Jérôme Callais wrapped a secondhand biography of Robespierre tightly in cellophane, covering the burgundy leather hardcover with an expert flick of the wrist and positioning it near a weighty tome on Talleyrand inside his dark green bookstand above the Seine.

In normal times, Parisiens and tourists from around the world would be browsing his wares, and those of the roughly 230 other open-air booksellers known as “les bouquinistes,” whose boxy metal bookstalls stretch for nearly four miles along the Left and Right banks of the river.

But as lockdown restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic keep browsers at bay, the booksellers’ livelihood is in jeopardy. Over four-fifths of the stands are more or less permanently shuttered. Many are bracing for what they fear may be the final chapter for a centuries-old métier that is as iconic to Paris as the Louvre and Notre Dame.

“We’re trying to keep this ship from sinking,” said Mr. Callais, 60, who is also the president of the Association of Bouquinistes. “But Covid has made most of our customers disappear.”

Even before France imposed a new nationwide lockdown last month to combat a resurgence of the virus, the tourists had largely stopped coming. And the beloved Parisien pastime of flânerie — strolling aimlessly to enjoy life — has been all but snuffed out, stifled by curfews and quarantines that have deprived the booksellers of die-hard clients.

Sales have plunged an average of 80 percent this year, Mr. Callais said, throwing many vendors into precarious straits, especially those who milked Eiffel Tower key chains, Mona Lisa coffee mugs and other kitschy souvenirs over books as cash cows when tourists jammed the quais.

David Nosek is one of the bouquinistess trying to stay open. “The bouquinistes have been here since the Middle Ages,” he said. “I’d like to think that the coronavirus won’t finish us off.”