World|Covid-19 Live Updates: Michael Caputo, Trump Health Aide, Apologizes for Facebook Outburst, Considers Leave of Absence
Sept. 15, 2020, 3:40 p.m. ET
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the House would not leave for the November elections without acting on an additional round of aid. Pakistani high schools and universities reopened for the first time in nearly six months.
The German government will invest 750 million euros, or $891 million, to bolster three domestic companies’ quests for a Covid-19 vaccine, two German ministers confirmed at a news conference.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Trump health aide considering a leave of absence after accusing government scientists of traitorous acts.
- Even as cases rise, Europe tries to contain the virus with targeted measures rather than nationwide lockdowns.
- Pelosi says the House will not leave for the November elections without acting on another stimulus measure.
- Deaths of young Covid patients mirror patterns in adults, with higher rates among young people of color.
- Germany’s government invests millions in domestic vaccine production.
- Connecticut adds fines for attending and hosting private events that exceed the state’s gathering limits.
- Several states see a record number of new cases and deaths over the past week.
Image Michael Caputo, left, in 2018, after being interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staff members investigating Russian election meddling. Mr. Caputo, now assistant secretary of health for public affairs, is considering a leave of absence after a Facebook outburst.Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Trump health aide considering a leave of absence after accusing government scientists of traitorous acts.
Michael R. Caputo, the assistant secretary of health for public affairs, apologized Tuesday morning to Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II and his staff for a Facebook outburst in which he accused federal scientists working on the pandemic of “sedition” and warned of coming violence from left-wing “hit squads.”
He is considering a leave of absence to address physical health problems, according to one source familiar with the situation.
Mr. Caputo, 58, a longtime Trump loyalist, told staff members in a hastily scheduled meeting that he was under stress because of concerns about his physical health and threats to his safety and that of his family. He said he regretted having embarrassed Mr. Azar and the Health and Human Services department.
Since he was installed at the 80,000-employee department last April by the White House, Mr. Caputo, a media-savvy former Trump campaign aide, has worked aggressively to control the media strategy on pandemic issues. But over the weekend, he was engulfed in two major controversies of his own making.
First Politico, then The New York Times and other media outlets, published accounts of how Mr. Caputo and a top aide, Paul Alexander, had routinely worked to revise, delay or even scuttle the core health bulletins of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to paint the administration’s pandemic response in a more positive light. The C.D.C.’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports had previously been so thoroughly shielded from political interference that political appointees only saw them just before they were published.
Then on Monday, The Times reported that a Facebook presentation by Mr. Caputo the previous night was filled with bizarre and incendiary comments. He had attacked C.D.C. scientists as anti-Trumpers who had formed a “resistance unit,” engaged in “rotten science” and “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants” except for coffee shop meetings where they plotted against the president. He urged his gun-owning followers to buy ammunition because “it’s going to be hard to get” and warned that left-wing hit squads across the nation were training for violent attacks. He also referred to physical health concerns and said his mental health “had definitely failed.”
In a statement Monday he said since the spring, he and his family had been continually harassed and threatened, including by some individuals who were later prosecuted.
In other fallout, McMaster University in Canada issued a statement on Monday distancing itself from Dr. Alexander, whom Mr. Caputo hailed to his Facebook followers as a “genius.” He did receive a doctorate from the university, but he is not on the faculty, the university said.
“He is not currently teaching and he is not paid by the university for his contract role as a part-time assistant professor,” a McMaster spokeswoman, Susan Emigh, said in a statement.
“As a consultant, he is not speaking on behalf of McMaster University or the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact.”
Even as cases rise, Europe tries to contain the virus with targeted measures rather than nationwide lockdowns.
A bar in Paris on Sunday. Deaths from the coronavirus in France, about 30 people a day, have reduced markedly from the peak, when hundreds and sometimes more than 1,000 died daily.Credit…Kiran Ridley/Getty Images
Much of Europe has opted for a similar strategy as infections keep rising, summer recedes into a risk-filled autumn and the possibility of a second wave looms over the continent. Having abandoned hopes of eradicating the virus or developing a vaccine quickly, people have largely gone back to work and school, leading lives as normally as possible amid a pandemic that has already killed nearly 215,000 in Europe.
The approach contrasts sharply to the United States, where restrictions to protect against the virus have been politically divisive and where many regions have pushed ahead with reopening schools, shops and restaurants without having baseline protocols in place. The result has been nearly as many deaths as in Europe, though among a far smaller population.
Europeans, for the most part, are putting to use the hard-won lessons from the pandemic’s initial phase: the need to wear masks and practice social distancing, the importance of testing and tracing, the critical advantages of reacting nimbly and locally. All of those measures are intended to prevent the kind of national lockdowns that paralyzed the continent and crippled economies early this year.
“It’s not possible to stop the virus,” said Emmanuel André, a leading virologist in Belgium. “It’s about maintaining equilibrium.”
New infections have soared in recent weeks, especially in France, but the country’s death rate is a small fraction of what it was at its peak. That is because those infected now tend to be younger and health officials have learned how to treat Covid-19 better, said Dr. William Dab, an epidemiologist and a French former national health director.
In Germany, too, young people are overrepresented among the rising cases of infections, but they are not generally not becoming severely ill, spurring a debate over the relevance of infection rates in providing a snapshot of the pandemic.
Hendrik Streeck, head of virology at a research hospital in Bonn, cautioned that the pandemic should not be judged merely by infection numbers — health authorities are testing over a million people a week — but instead by deaths and hospitalizations.
“We’ve have reached a phase where the number of infections alone is no longer as meaningful,” Mr. Streeck said.
Pelosi says the House will not leave for the November elections without acting on another stimulus measure.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a news conference last week. Ms. Pelosi privately told lawmakers “we have to stay here until we have a bill.”Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on Tuesday that the House would not leave for the November elections without acting on an additional round of stimulus to prop up the coronavirus-ravaged economy, responding to growing concern among rank-and-file lawmakers over the prospect of returning home to face voters without doing so.
“We have to stay here until we have a bill,” Ms. Pelosi privately told lawmakers on a conference call on Tuesday morning, according to two people familiar with the remarks who disclosed them on condition of anonymity.
Shortly afterward, Ms. Pelosi repeated the promise in an interview on CNBC.
Her vow came just before a bipartisan group of 50 centrist lawmakers was planning to present a $1.5 trillion stimulus plan, making a last-ditch effort to revive stalled talks between top Democrats and the White House.
Members of the group — which calls itself the House Problem Solvers Caucus — concede privately that their framework stands little chance of becoming law. But the decision to offer it up publicly reflected the frustration among some lawmakers in both parties at the failure by their leaders to agree to another round of pandemic aid.
The proposal includes measures that enjoy bipartisan support, like reviving the popular Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses and direct checks of $1,200 or more for American taxpayers, as well as more contentious ones like new legal rights and protections for workers and their employers.
But the bulk of its proposed spending would fall somewhere in the middle of what Republicans and Democrats have championed. The measure would reinstate lapsed federal jobless aid at $450 per week for eight weeks, then replace up to $600 weekly in lost wages for an additional five weeks. That is more than Republicans wanted, but less than the flat, $600-a-week benefit that lapsed at the end of July. And the proposal would send $500 billion to strapped state and local governments, less than the nearly $1 trillion Democrats included in their $3.4 trillion stimulus plan that passed the House in May, but roughly double what the White House has signaled it could support.
Deaths of young Covid patients mirror patterns in adults, with higher rates among young people of color.
Although children and young adults are less likely to suffer deadly consequences following infection with the coronavirus, young Americans are not immune. A new study of Covid-19 deaths suggests some youth populations may be especially vulnerable and that many young patients appear to be brought to the hospital only once they have become severely sick.
The analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published on Tuesday, looked at 121 infants, children and young adults aged 20 and under who died of Covid-19 between Feb. 12 and the end of July. Deaths in this age group are rare, representing 0.08 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the United States, the researchers found.
Most of those who died had underlying health problems, and many had two or more underlying medical conditions, including chronic lung disease, obesity, neurologic and developmental conditions, and cardiovascular conditions. But one-quarter of those who died were healthy before being infected.
The report found that while 65 percent died after being admitted to the hospital, many others died at home, or were critically ill by the time they were brought to the hospital and died in the emergency room. Infants and those 14 to 20 years old were most likely to have died at home or in the emergency department.
Ten percent of those who died were under a year old. And while 70 percent of deaths occurred among those between 10 years and 20 years old, college-aged adults between 18 and 20 years old represented 41 percent of the deaths.
People of color — including Hispanic, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native people — accounted for about three-quarters of the deaths, while representing only 41 percent of the American population in this age group, the study found.
Nearly half of the deaths occurred among Hispanic young people and non-Hispanic Black young people accounted for nearly one-third. Men and boys were also disproportionately affected, representing 63 percent of the deaths.
The researchers concluded that children and young adults of color were disproportionately affected by the pandemic because racial and ethnic minority groups are overrepresented among essential workers who have been unable to work from home, and the virus spreads quickly within households, the researchers concluded.
Germany’s government invests millions in domestic vaccine production.
The German education and research minister, Anja Karliczek, said, “A vaccine can only be used if the proven benefit is significantly higher than possible risks.”Credit…Pool photo by Markus Schreiber
The German government will invest 750 million euros, or $891 million, to bolster three domestic companies’ quests for a Covid-19 vaccine, two German ministers confirmed at a news conference on Tuesday.
The goal is to get safe vaccines to the majority of Germans and other Europeans as soon as next summer.
CureVac and BioNTech are developing vaccines using messenger RNA, which carries instructions for cells to make proteins. There’s never been a vaccine made with this technology that has reached the global market.
CureVac will receive 252 million euros and BioNTech will receive 375 million euros in federal grants, according to Anja Karliczek, the minister for education and research.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Trump Administration tried to convince CureVac to move its research to the U.S., according to German officials.
In the United States and elsewhere, BioNTech is partnering with Pfizer on its vaccine, which began human trials in May. The U.S. government has a $2 billion contract with the companies for 100 million doses of the vaccine.
Funding talks with a third company, IDT Biologic, which is developing a vaccine using a different technology, will conclude soon, Ms. Karliczek said.
Both Ms. Karliczek and federal health minister Jens Spahn emphasized that the vaccines would not be available until they had been proven safe after extensive testing.
“A vaccine can only be used if the proven benefit is significantly higher than possible risks,” Ms. Karliczek said.
Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker
A look at all the vaccines that have reached trials in humans.
Connecticut adds fines for attending and hosting private events that exceed the state’s gathering limits.
You can now be fined in Connecticut for failing to wear a mask.Credit…John Moore/Getty Images
In Connecticut, people attending a private party that exceeds the state’s gathering limits will face a fine of $250. Hosting that party? A $500 fine.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced the series of fines on Monday for those caught breaking rules meant to prevent the spread of the virus. Violating the state’s mask mandate results in a $100 fine.
Private gatherings across the state are limited to 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
“If you have to count, get out,” Mr. Lamont said at a news conference.
The fines give municipalities “more leverage” to enforce rules without having to charge violators with misdemeanors, he said. Fines can be issued by police officers, local health officials, or local elected official designees, and were set to take effect this week, a state official said Monday.
State officials also adjusted the rules for travelers coming from its list of restricted states. Travelers must quarantine for 14 days or have a negative coronavirus test result from three days before arrival. They can also get tested after arriving in Connecticut, but they must remain in quarantine until the results are negative.
If travelers who are required to quarantine fail to do so or do not complete the state’s required travel health form, they face a civil penalty of $1,000.
On Tuesday, Connecticut said travelers from Puerto Rico are now required to quarantine for 14 days, joining a list of dozens of states and Guam. California, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio were removed in the weekly update.
Key Data of the Day
Several states see a record number of new cases and deaths over the past week.
Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas addresses members of the media during a news conference Monday.Credit…Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal, via Associated Press
It has been a bleak week across parts of America’s heartland, with a record number of virus-related deaths over a 7-day period ending on Monday in Kansas and Tennessee, and the highest number of new cases over a 7-day stretch in Missouri, Wisconsin and North Dakota, according to a New York Times database.
Fifty-eight people in Kansas died from a virus-related condition over a 7-day period ending Monday, and more than half of those deaths were concentrated in the state’s most populous counties. In Tennessee, 228 people have died during the same time period.
Returns to campus have also fueled an increase in cases in Missouri, Wisconsin and North Dakota. Each state reported the most number of cases over the past seven days, compared with all other 7-day stretches.
North Dakota currently has the highest number of new cases per capita in the country. In Cass County, home to North Dakota State University, 400 new cases have been reported in a 7-day period ending Monday. Some of the cases are attributed to the 153 students and employees who tested positive for the virus in the past two weeks, according to the university. As of Tuesday morning, more than 200 students were in quarantine in university housing.
And in Wisconsin, nearly 20 percent of the new cases since last Monday have been in Dane County, home to the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus. On Monday, the university reported another 194 virus cases on campus, which includes 134 people living in student housing.
As many colleges shift to remote learning, these U.S. universities are bringing more students back to campus.
At Brown University in Providence, R.I., last year.Credit…Steven Senne/Associated Press
Even as U.S. colleges and universities have become hot spots, forcing some schools to suspend or cancel in-person classes, a few — Brown, Clemson and Miami University of Ohio — are inviting more students back to campus.
They are also beseeching students not to allow the decision to backfire.
“I want to kindly ask each and every one of our students, faculty and staff to do all they can to minimize the spread of this virus,” wrote James P. Clements, Clemson’s president, when announcing that about 7,000 students could move into on-campus housing, and that the South Carolina school would return to some in-person instruction on Monday.
He said the move did not suggest that the outbreak was over, adding that “we should expect to see more cases over the next few weeks.”
A New York Times tracker has identified at least 782 cases at Clemson since the pandemic began. A Clemson spokesman said the university believed it was safe for students to return.
“We delayed the return of our on-campus population,” he said, “as we worked with both internal and external medical experts and modelers and learned from peer institutions.”
At Miami University of Ohio, in Oxford, which has recorded at least 836 cases since the spring — and where students were cited by police last week for holding a house party despite being under quarantine — students are allowed to begin moving into residence halls on Monday, although it is limiting campus housing capacity to 40 percent.
Miami’s president, Gregory Crawford, warned students in his reopening message that they would “need to make a conscious commitment to live differently this term.” In-person classes will begin Sept. 21.
A spokeswoman said the university was testing every arriving on-campus student before allowing them to move in, and the positivity rate among them was less than 1 percent.
She said the decision to return to in-person instruction “was influenced by our students and their families, many of whom desire to have in-person and hybrid class options, and the fact that Covid-19 is with us indefinitely.”
Brown University is allowing the majority of undergraduates to move back to campus this weekend, and said some smaller classes would begin meeting in person on Oct. 5.
High schools and universities in Pakistan reopen for the first time in almost six months.
Video A steady decline in coronavirus cases led Pakistan to reopen universities and high schools. Students were put into two groups, which attend classes on alternate days.CreditCredit…Arif Ali/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
High schools and universities in Pakistan opened Tuesday after being closed for almost six months. Online classes were offered in most schools.
Students were divided into two groups, which attend classes on alternate days. Officials said that they would monitor the situation for a week and if things remain under control, classes for young children would begin in the coming weeks.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, the special assistant to the prime minister on health, said that school authorities would try to ensure that social distancing is maintained during classes.
“The most important role will be that of a mask,” Mr. Sultan said, stressing that parents should make sure that their children wear masks in schools.
Selected schools will undergo testing to keep a check on any possible spread of the virus. If security protocols are broken, local officials have the power to close or fine a school. The academic year is likely to be prolonged, officials said.
Pakistan has documented at least 300,000 cases of the virus and nearly 6,400 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
In other developments around the world:
The Australian state of Victoria, the center of the country’s outbreak, on Tuesday reported no new coronavirus deaths for the first time in more than two months. The state’s capital, Melbourne, remains in lockdown, but restrictions have been loosened in the rest of the state as cases continue to fall.
Hong Kong on Tuesday reported no new cases of community transmission for the first time since a third wave of infections began in early July. Bars, nightclubs, karaoke parlors, theme parks and swimming pools will be allowed to reopen starting Friday, officials said. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, also praised a two-week mass testing program that ended on Monday but drew fewer participants than the government had hoped. Almost 1.8 million people, or about a quarter of the population, signed up for the testing, which uncovered 32 cases, or about two per 100,000 people tested.
In England, new lockdown measures went into effect on Tuesday in parts of the West Midlands, which includes Birmingham, the country’s second-largest city. Under the restrictions, people are barred from meeting others who are not part of their household, either indoors or outside. The measure comes after the British government lowered the limit on gatherings to six from 30.
A senior Chinese health official said a coronavirus vaccine could be available to the public in China as early as November, the state news media reported on Tuesday. Dr. Wu Guizhen, the chief expert for biosafety at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the state broadcaster CCTV that “ordinary people” in China could be given the vaccine in November or December. The state, however, has not shared data from late-stage trials that would demonstrate if the vaccine is safe and effective.
At least 17 members of India’s Parliament have tested positive for the virus, Reuters reported. The lawmakers were screened for the virus before Parliament opened on Monday. The number of confirmed cases in India is nearly 5 million, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and at least 80,000 people have died.
Thailand’s cabinet on Tuesday agreed to allow international tourists to stay in the country with a special visa for up to nine months to bolster its economy. Starting as early as October, hundreds of visitors each month who agree to a 14-day quarantine would be allowed a 90-day visa that could be extended twice.
The United Nations is about to turn 75, but celebrations will be muted. World leaders are unable to gather in person — the pandemic has reduced the General Assembly beginning this week to virtual meetings — but the organization is also facing profound questions about its own effectiveness, and even its relevance.
Bill Gates is pushing Congress to spend $4 billion on vaccinations for poor countries.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.Credit…Mike Cohen for The New York Times
On Monday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released the fourth of its annual Goalkeeper reports, which track the slow but steady progress the world has made toward more than a dozen health-related goals set forth by the United Nations in 2015.
This year’s report, which Mr. Gates discussed in an interview with The New York Times, was unrelentingly grim. Not since 1870 have so many countries been in recession at once, it says.
Between 1990 and 2020, the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty, which is now defined as living on less than $2 a day, shrank to less than 7 percent from 37 percent. In just the past few months, 37 million people have fallen back below the line, the report estimated.
One of the starkest conclusions in the report is that nearly twice as many deaths could be prevented if Covid-19 vaccines were distributed to all countries based on their populations rather than to the 50 richest countries first.
The assessment comes as the United States, stung harder by the virus than any other country, is retreating from the global health stage and seems focused primarily on saving itself.
Still, Mr. Gates harbors some optimism.
“It’s my disposition,” he said. “Plus, I’ve got to call these people up and make the pitch to them that this really makes sense — and I totally, totally believe it makes sense.”
By “these people,” he was referring to leading figures in the White House and Congress, whom he has personally lobbied to do “this”: namely, approve $4 billion so that poor countries can get Covid-19 vaccines. Funds to that end were included in the $1 trillion proposal Senate Republicans unveiled in July, but the package did not advance because of divisions within the Republican conference and objections from Democrats.
As he did in Silicon Valley while battling competitors and antitrust regulators, Mr. Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, can calculate his chances of success with a ruthless logic. That has rarely been as true as it is now, as a once-in-a-century pandemic devastates the impoverished countries where he focuses his giving.
The damage has been wrought less by the virus — so far it has killed much smaller percentages of the populations of Asia and Africa than of the Americas and Western Europe — than by the economic impact, which has been far greater in countries where people and governments “have no spare reserves to draw on,” Mr. Gates said.
Ukraine sends reinforcements to its border with Belarus to stop Hasidic pilgrims from entering the country.
Visitors at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of the Hasidic movement, in the town of Uman in central Ukraine on Tuesday.Credit…Genya Savilov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hundreds of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims seeking to enter Ukraine from Belarus in defiance of virus travel restrictions were stopped by border guards on Tuesday, as Ukraine mobilized additional guards to bolster its forces.
Ukraine closed its borders last month as cases in the country ticked up, partly to halt the yearly pilgrimage to the city of Uman, the site of the grave of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of the Breslov branch of the Hasidic movement. The pilgrimage is timed to the Jewish New Year, which begins on Friday. Israeli health officials have supported Ukraine’s decision in light of the pandemic.
The pilgrims began arriving at a border crossing with Belarus on Monday afternoon, according to the Ukrainian border guard service. Authorities in Belarus let the group pass and they gathered on a road in the buffer area between the two border stations.
Through the night, hundreds of men and boys danced and sang songs. Their luggage was piled along fields on both sides of the road. The men tried to convince the border guards to let them through to celebrate the new year, the most important religious holiday for Hasidim. Little boys, looking bored and sleepy, stood by watching.
Some of the pilgrims had traveled to the Novi Yarylovychi border crossing believing it was open, which was not the case, Israel Public Broadcasting tweeted. Ukrainian authorities said the foreigners were warned about the border closure.
Three charter flights also brought about 600 pilgrims to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, according to a statement issued by the head of Ukraine’s State Border Service, Serhiy Deyneko. Belarusian media reported that about 1,500 pilgrims were at the border on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said that the border closure will be enforced until it expires on Sept. 28. The country has reported nearly 20,000 new virus cases over the past week, bringing the total to more than 160,000, according to a Times database.
Reporting was contributed by Sarah Almukhtar, Matt Apuzzo, Emma Bubola, Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, Antonella Francini, Rick Gladstone, Jennifer Jett, Anemona Hartocollis, Eric Lipton, Salman Masood, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Constant Méheut, Claire Moses, Eshe Nelson, Norimitsu Onishi, Gaia Pianigiani, Roni Caryn Rabin, Campbell Robertson, Amanda Rosa, Christopher F. Schuetze, Michael D. Shear, Jeanna Smialek, Eileen Sullivan, Maria Varenikova, Sui-Lee Wee, Ceylan Yeginsu and Elaine Yu.