Covid-19 Live Updates: More Chaos for Students as Virus Upends College Admissions Tests

The virus and wildfires stopped many students from taking the ACT Saturday. The same may happen with the SAT this week.

After a spring and summer when most opportunities to take college admissions tests were lost to the pandemic, many students were counting on taking the ACT on Saturday, one of the first big standardized testing dates of the fall.

But once again, disaster intervened. More than 500 ACT testing centers across the country were closed because of the coronavirus, the wildfires on the West Coast, or both. Students hoping to take the test at one center in Reno, Nev., learned it was closed only after arriving to find a sign taped to a nearby car: “Canceled due to poor air quality.”

The last time the test was offered, in July, some 1,400 students who had signed up experienced problems with closed testing centers.

The organization that administers the ACT has not said how many students were affected by closures on Saturday. It said earlier this month that it would help any affected students re-register for a later testing date.

The College Board has similarly struggled to administer the rival SAT test amid the pandemic. Of the 402,000 students who were registered in August, nearly half were unable to take it because of closed testing centers.

Many high school seniors have been left in limbo as they scramble to find an open test center, and some have even crossed state lines.

“It’s going on 18 months since I first started studying for the test,” said Ava Pallotta, a high school senior in New Rochelle, N.Y., whose spring test date was canceled. “Month after month, not knowing what my test score is has been so nerve-wracking.”

The next SAT testing date is coming up on Saturday, and Ms. Pallotta is registered to take it in Albany, 150 miles from home. Like thousands of others, she is praying for no last-minute closure that would leave her applying for college without an SAT score.

Most colleges and universities have moved to “test optional” admissions policies since the coronavirus outbreak began, but many students still want to submit scores. More than 1,600 of the country’s 2,330 colleges and universities have at least temporarily stopped requiring the tests, according to FairTest, a group pushing to end standardized testing for college admission.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly introduced — and then on Monday quietly withdrew — guidance on its website acknowledging that the coronavirus is transmitted mainly through the air.

The rapid reversal is another in a string of confusing missteps from the agency regarding official guidance that it posts on its website. The latest debacle concerns the spread of the virus by aerosols, tiny particles containing the virus that can stay aloft for long periods and travel farther than six feet.

Aerosol experts noticed on Sunday that the agency had updated its description of how the virus spreads to say that the pathogen is spread primarily by air.

The virus is spread through “respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols, produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes,” the C.D.C. said in its guidance posted on Friday. These particles can be inhaled and seed an infection, the agency added: “This is thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

But that language disappeared on Monday morning.

“A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website,” the agency said, and that once the final version is complete, “the update language will be posted.”

The document was posted to the C.D.C.’s website “prematurely” and is still being revised, according to a federal official familiar with the matter.

More than 200 experts in aerosol transmission appealed to the World Health Organization in July to review the evidence on aerosol transmission of the coronavirus. The W.H.O. acknowledged that this route appears to contribute significantly to the spread of the pandemic, but health experts disagree as to its importance relative to the heavier respiratory droplets that are sneezed or coughed by infected patients.

In another change of guidance on its website, the C.D.C. said in August that people who were in close contact with an infected person but had no symptoms didn’t need to get tested. But last week, after The New York Times reported that the guidance was dictated by political appointees in the administration rather than by scientists, the agency reversed its position and said all close contacts of infected people should be tested regardless of symptoms.

An N.I.H. official was perpetuating conspiracy theories about the pandemic while employed by the agency.

A public affairs official at the National Institutes of Health is retiring after reports that he had surreptitiously attacked his employer in wild and conspiratorial terms as a managing editor of the right-wing website RedState.

The official, William B. Crews, worked for the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases while simultaneously denouncing the agency’s work and its chief, Dr. Anothony S. Fauci, dismissing their research and public health advice in wild and conspiratorial terms under the pen name “streiff.”

His writing on the blog was first reported by The Daily Beast, along with a slew of posts on Twitter which spread misinformation about the coronavirus.

One post referred to Dr. Fauci as a “mask Nazi” while another warned of people being forced to “cooperate with the public health Gestapo” under “Fascist Governor Jay Inslee,” the Democratic governor of Washington.

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The revelation comes after reporting by The New York Times last week showing that the head of communications at the N.I.H.’s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, also accused federal scientists of using the coronavirus to try to defeat Mr. Trump. That official, Michael R. Caputo, went on medical leave on Wednesday, and his science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, left the government.

“I can’t think of a precedent for these vicious attacks against Dr. Fauci from someone in his own agency,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It adds a terrible new twist to the pressure that many public health officials are facing.”

A mix of joy, confusion and hope coursed throughout New York City on Monday, on a first day of school unlike any other for the nation’s largest school district.

Up to 90,000 children in pre-K as well as students with advanced disabilities streamed into about 700 school buildings for the start of in-person classes. But the vast majority of the city’s 1.1 million students started the school year on Monday online and will have the option of returning to classrooms over the next few weeks.

The city’s roughly 1,400 school buildings have sat largely empty for six months, after the city abruptly closed classrooms in mid-March to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Early in the morning, Tiyanna Jackson, who had quit her job in the spring to care for her 4-year-old daughter, Zuri, was flooded with relief as she arrived at a pre-K center in the South Bronx. Finally, she said, with Zuri starting school, she could get back to work.

In the East New York section of Brooklyn, Balayet Hossain’s day began with disappointment after he brought his two daughters to school, only to find that the children, a kindergartner and first grader, could not return to school buildings until next week.

And in Corona, a Queens neighborhood that was hit particularly hard by the virus in the spring, Baryalay Khan said dropping off his daughter, Fathma, at pre-K made him feel that the city was finally recovering.

“Schools are reopening, it’s a good sign,” he said.

Though Monday’s reopening falls far short of what Mayor Bill de Blasio originally promised — all students having the option to return to classrooms — it still marks a significant milestone in New York City’s long path to fully reopening. It is one of the few cities in the country where some children are now back in classrooms.

“Something great is happening today in New York City,” the mayor said during a news conference on Monday, shortly after he visited a pre-K program in Queens.

Still, the start of the school year here is freighted with anxiety and unknowns, many of which were on display on Monday morning.

The Department of Education’s login page for remote learning crashed for about 10 minutes at 9 a.m., just when hundreds of thousands of students were attempting to sign in for their first day of classes. Dozens of parents vented their frustration on Twitter about technology problems, and some lamented that only a few students were able to sign on at all.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain plans to impose new restrictions on nightlife, including the early closure of pubs and restaurants in England, as he ramps up the country’s efforts to curb a rising tide of coronavirus infections.

Pubs and restaurants will be restricted by law to offering table service only and must close at 10 p.m., beginning on Thursday, Downing Street said late on Monday; ordinarily, there is no mandatory closing time, though many close at 11 p.m. The new rules are the most stringent since restaurants, pubs and many other businesses were allowed to emerge from full lockdown in July.

Mr. Johnson was scheduled to officially announce his latest move in Parliament on Tuesday before making a broadcast address in the evening. The intervention comes after days of speculation that Britons could face tougher enforcement of existing rules, new curbs on different households meeting up with each other and shorter opening hours for pubs and restaurants.

Tighter restrictions are already in place in some parts of the country, and the virus alert rating was raised on Monday to level four, signifying that it is in general circulation, with transmission high or rising exponentially.

Like much of Europe, Britain is firmly in the grip of a second wave of the pandemic. Confirmed new infections fell from more than 5,000 a day in April and May to about 600 in early July, but have rebounded to about 3,600.

Much of Europe is scrambling to avoid another round of economically devastating widespread lockdowns as new spikes emerge in France, hospitals begin to fill in Spain, and officials in Britain warn that a six-month fight to contain the virus remains ahead.

New targeted lockdown measures took effect in Madrid on Monday, restricting nearly a million residents from traveling outside of their neighborhoods except for essential activities like work, school or emergency medical care.

The rules, which some residents protested over the weekend, come amid a spike in cases around the country, but concentrated in Madrid, where virus-related hospitalizations have tripled. New cases in Spain have risen to more than 10,000 per day on average over the past week, exceeding the official tally in the spring, when Spain was one of the worst-hit nations in Europe. Testing is more widely available now.

Though deaths countrywide have not risen to the levels seen earlier this year, the authorities in Madrid said on Sunday that 37 people there had died of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, and about 4,000 patients were hospitalized, including some 300 in intensive care. The authorities there were preparing to reopen field hospitals if necessary.

In Britain, top scientific and medical advisers warned on Monday that infections could reach 50,000 a day by next month and spur a significant new spike in fatalities, as Wales announced an expansion of lockdown orders to take effect on Tuesday.

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“We have, in a bad sense, literally turned the corner,” said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, in a rare televised statement alongside Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser.

They cautioned that Britain faces a six-month battle to control the virus. Britain has imposed fines of at least 1,000 pounds, about $1,300, on those who do not self-isolate after testing positive or being exposed to the virus. The fines, which begin on Sept. 28, can increase to a maximum of £10,000 for repeat offenders or for the most serious breaches.

Though Britain has fewer cases or fatalities than some European countries, like France and Spain, the fear is that it is following the same trajectory, with cases rising sharply as children return to school, students to colleges and workers to offices.

Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, announced Monday that the country would mandate virus testing for people traveling from Paris and other parts of France where the virus is “significantly circulating.”

California’s new coronavirus case numbers have been on a steady decline in recent weeks, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday, suggesting that the state’s second major attempt to reopen businesses is going better than its first.

As of Monday, the state’s average positivity rate over the past two weeks dipped to 3.1 percent, even as the state continued to ramp up testing. On average over the past two weeks, more than 108,000 tests were administered each day, a number that Mr. Newsom has said may be depressed because of the wildfires burning across the state.

And he cautioned that Californians shouldn’t get complacent; it’s still unclear whether there will be a spike in cases stemming from increased travel over Labor Day weekend. Furthermore, flu season is on the way.

Still, Mr. Newsom hinted that more counties would be able to move ahead in their phased reopenings, and described the numbers as encouraging.

Mr. Newsom said that significant increases in testing, coupled with much faster turnarounds of those tests, would allow the state and counties to better gauge when to reopen schools and lift restrictions on other types of businesses.

Distrusting the F.D.A., Black doctors form an expert panel to vet virus vaccines.

An organization of Black doctors is forming a task force to screen federal decisions about coronavirus vaccines and treatments, the latest sign of the medical community’s eroding trust in the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Trump.

The panel is being set up by the National Medical Association, which was founded in 1895 when Black doctors were being excluded from other professional medical societies, STAT News reported on Monday.

Nonwhite communities have suffered disproportionately more from the virus, as hospitalization and death rates have been higher, particularly in Black communities.

“It’s necessary to provide a trusted messenger of vetted information to the African-American community,” Dr. Leon McDougle, the association’s president, told STAT news.

Dr. McDougle cited the Trump administration’s push to approve the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19. The F.D.A. gave the drug an emergency use authorization in March but revoked it in June when studies found significant risks and no benefit to Covid-19 patients.

Many experts are worried that the push to deliver a vaccine on a short timeline will yield an inoculation that has not been rigorously screened and tested, Dr. McDougle told STAT News, and that could lead Black people — who have long been underrepresented in drug trials — to believe that a vaccine endorsed by the government may still not be safe.

The foundations of trust between Black Americans and the medical establishment have been shaken over the years by unequal and sometimes unethical treatment, and especially by an infamous 40-year research study known as the Tuskegee experiment, in which Black men infected with syphilis were deliberately left untreated by federal health officials so they could observe the course of the disease. The experiment ended in 1972. (An earlier version of this item incorrectly said the men were infected by the officials as part of the experiment; they were not.)

The W.H.O. says 156 countries support its plan to buy and distribute vaccine doses around the world.

Countries accounting for about 64 percent of the world’s population are supporting an initiative led by the World Health Organization for buying and distributing coronavirus vaccine doses around the world.

Despite the notable absence of the United States, China and Russia in the project, officials emphasized on Tuesday that 64 high-income countries — including Japan, Britain and Canada — were now part of the effort involving a total of 156 countries.

“At a time when the world has been so worried about countries going bilaterally, we now have 64 percent of the world’s population, and this is growing still,” Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the W.H.O.’s director general, said in a news conference. “This is huge progress.”

The participation of rich countries in the project, known as the COVAX global vaccine allocation plan, is viewed as essential for pooling the resources needed for doses to be distributed equitably around the world. Officials said they are hoping to deliver about two billion doses worldwide by the end of 2021.

The W.H.O.-led project is intended to build on various efforts in different parts of the world to curb the spread of Covid-19. CEPI, a public-private partnership to develop vaccines, is part of the W.H.O. initiative and is currently supporting nine potential vaccines, eight of which are in clinical trials. More than 130 potential vaccines are estimated to be in development globally.

The W.H.O. said on Monday that governments, vaccine manufacturers and other funding sources, including philanthropic organizations and individuals, have committed $1.4 billion for research and development of the vaccine. The W.H.O. added that between $700 million and $800 million more was still needed to advance the vaccine efforts.

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GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Cuba faces one of its worst food shortages in years after the pandemic shattered its tourist-dependent economy.

Cuba, a police state with a strong public health care system, was able to quickly control the coronavirus, even as the pandemic threw wealthier nations into crisis. But its economy, already hurting from crippling U.S. sanctions and mismanagement, was particularly vulnerable to the economic devastation that followed.

As nations closed airports and locked down borders to combat the spread of the virus, tourist travel to Cuba plummeted and the island lost an important source of hard currency, plunging it into one of the worst food shortages in nearly 25 years.

What food is available is often found only in government-run stores that are stocked with imports and charge in dollars. The strategy, also used in the 1990s, during the economic depression known as the “special period,” is used by the government to gather hard currency from Cubans who have savings or get money from friends or relatives abroad.

Even in these stores, goods are scarce and prices can be exorbitant: One shopper recently couldn’t find chicken or cooking oil, but there was a 17-pound ham going for $230 and a seven-pound block of manchego cheese with a $149 price tag.

And the reliance on dollar stores, a move intended to prop up the socialist revolution in a country that prides itself on egalitarianism, has exacerbated economic inequality, some Cubans say.

In other international news developments:

  • The Taj Mahal, one of India’s most famous landmarks and a huge tourist draw, reopened on Monday after being closed for more than six months as part of efforts to curb the spread of the virus. The monument, which receives an average of 20,000 visitors daily, will restrict admittance to 5,000 people a day. The site reopened despite India having more than 5.4 million cases, and daily case counts of more than 90,000, the second-highest caseload behind the United States.

  • The German city of Munich will require masks in some of its open-air spaces, including busy streets and popular squares, starting Thursday, the mayor announced on Monday. Though masks are required when shopping, on public transportation or other indoor spaces in most of Germany, public outdoor spaces have avoided the kind of mask rules in place in other European cities.

  • Virus restrictions on travel and gatherings will be lifted across most of New Zealand starting at midnight on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. However, in Auckland, the country’s largest city, restrictions are still in place and will be eased — but not lifted entirely — starting Wednesday. The city was the center of a mysterious outbreak in August. New Zealand, an island nation of five million people, has reported just over 1,800 cases of the coronavirus and 25 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

One of the world’s wealthiest and most influential donors on health issues, Bill Gates, said it is “outrageous” that coronavirus test results for most people are not returned within 24 hours.

“We need to own up to the fact that we didn’t do a good job,” Mr. Gates, a founder of Microsoft, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You know, part of the reluctance, I think, to fix the testing system now is that nobody wants to admit that it’s still outrageous.”

Turnaround time depends in part on which type of test is used and on laboratory processing capacity. For the types most widely used in the United States, results can take up to two weeks, leaving people who may be infected in the dark about whether they could endanger others. Tests that yield faster results, including 24-hour tests, come with a high price tag, giving those who can afford them an advantage over those who cannot.

Mr. Gates has been critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, including its failure to develop a national testing plan. The president has blamed testing for increases in virus cases around the country and has allowed politics to shape policy against the advice of experts.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is financing research and development programs related to the virus, Mr. Gates said. Early in the crisis, he helped back a popular testing program in Seattle that included at-home virus tests. But the Food and Drug Administration ordered the program to shut down.

Students attending schools in the Cajon Valley Union School District in California, which serves a mostly low-income community in San Diego County, have been going to in-person classes as part of a hybrid learning model — a rarity in the state where more than nine out of 10 of California’s 6.3 million public school students are doing only distance learning.

And so far, it’s working.

The district’s 27 schools have not experienced any outbreaks, even as the county saw nearly 2,000 new cases over the past seven days. In one instance, a group of students had to quarantine for 14 days after a parent tested positive for the virus. But no student or teacher cases have materialized.

Two additional factors contributing to the district’s early success are its policy of providing every student with a laptop, and the extensive high-tech training for teachers that it has offered for the past seven years.

In other developments around the United States:

  • The “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy apologized on Monday on behalf of the network for a recent report on a local affiliate that alleged the Nashville mayor, a Democrat, had hidden virus data. The affiliate retracted its story, but not before the allegations made the rounds on conservative media.

Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Jenny Anderson, Stephen Castle, Manny Fernandez, Emma Goldberg, Apoorva Mandavilli, Raphael Minder, Zach Montague, Adam Nagourney, Jeremy W. Peters, Simon Romero, Marc Santora, Anna Schaverien, Christopher F. Schuetze, Eliza Shapiro, Eileen Sullivan, Sameer Yasir and Karen Zraick.


Source NY Times

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