As U.S. infections hit 3 million, the Trump administration presses local officials to reopen classrooms in the fall.
As the total number of coronavirus cases in the United States topped three million on Tuesday, threatening to overwhelm health care systems in some regions, President Trump and other senior administration officials kicked off a concerted campaign to assure that schools across the country would physically reopen in the fall.
The push to return to classrooms, rather than limiting instruction to online sessions, is vital to the administration’s efforts to reinstate a sense of normalcy even as the virus has surged during the country’s halting attempts to emerge from lockdowns. Mr. Trump has been pressing more businesses to reopen, but it will be difficult for many parents to work if schools do not reopen and the families have no other access to child care.
The campaign involved a daylong series of conference calls and public events at the White House, during which governors, mayors and other local officials — who actually control the schools — were pressed to find ways to safely resume classes in person.
The president and his allies argued that the costs of keeping children at home any longer would be worse than the virus itself.
“We hope that most schools are going to be open, and we don’t want people to make political statements or do it for political reasons,” Mr. Trump said. “They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed. No way. We are very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools to get them open.”
Beyond generalities, neither Mr. Trump nor his team offered concrete proposals for reopening schools.
The president brushed off the risks of spiking infection numbers even as cases have risen in 37 states over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. This week the nation has been averaging roughly 50,000 new cases a day — double what it did in mid-June. Half a million new cases have been reported since June 26, driving the total number over three million — the most of any country in the world. The second-highest total, about 1.67 million cases, belongs to Brazil, whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, had long resisted protective measures. He announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the virus.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, cautioned on Tuesday that it was a “false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” which Mr. Trump, top White House officials and several governors have stressed in recent days.
“There are so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus,” Dr. Fauci said at an event with Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama. “Don’t get yourself into false complacency.”
On Tuesday, more than 54,000 cases were announced in the United States, according to the Times database. At least six states — California, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas — set single-day records for new cases; Texas recorded more than 9,200 cases. At least three — Arizona, Mississippi and Texas — reported their highest daily death totals of the pandemic.
Many countries rushed out apps to trace and monitor the coronavirus this spring, only to have to scramble to address serious complaints about privacy and security threats. Now, some countries have been forced to turn off their apps.
Human rights groups and technologists warned that the design of many apps would put hundreds of millions of people at risk for stalking, fraud, identity theft or oppressive government tracking.
The apps might also undermine trust in public health efforts, they warned.
The problems have emerged as some countries are poised to deploy even more intrusive technologies, including asking hundreds of thousands of workers to wear virus-tracking wristbands.
A recent software analysis by Guardsquare, a mobile app security company, found that “the vast majority” of virus-tracing apps used by governments lack adequate security and “are easy for hackers” to attack.
“App makers unfortunately do not seem to be taking the risks seriously enough yet,” the Guardsquare report said.
In mid-June, after a barrage of criticism from privacy advocates, Britain abandoned the virus-tracing app it was developing. This week, Norway’s data watchdog formally imposed an interim ban on the country’s app.
In April, The New York Times found that a government virus-tracing app in India could leak users’ precise locations. The Indian government immediately fixed the problem and soon began offering financial rewards to security researchers who find vulnerabilities in the app.
In May, President Trump declared places of worship part of an “essential service” and threatened, though it was uncertain he had the power to do so, to override any governor’s orders keeping them closed. Now new outbreaks of the coronavirus are raging through churches where services have resumed.
More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the past month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities.
The virus has struck churches that reopened cautiously with face masks and social distancing in the pews, as well as some that defied lockdowns and refused to heed new limits on numbers of worshipers.
In Texas, about 50 people contracted the virus after a pastor told congregants they could once again hug one another. In Florida, a teenage girl died last month after attending a party at her church.
Though thousands of churches, synagogues and mosques across the country have been meeting virtually or outside, the right to hold services within houses of worship has become a political battleground.
But as the virus rages through Texas, Arizona and other evangelical bastions of the South and the West, some churches that fought to reopen are closing again and grappling with whether it is even possible to worship together safely.
“Our churches have followed protocols — masks, go in one door and out the other, social distancing,” said Cynthia Fierro Harvey, a bishop with the United Methodist Church in Louisiana, where three churches closed again over the past week. “And still people have tested positive.”
Five American travelers who set out for an island getaway in Sardinia were turned away last week after their private jet landed on the Mediterranean island. In Canada, two Americans were fined for flouting the border ban with their northern neighbor. And in Mexico, governors are pleading with the central government to introduce tighter restrictions on travelers from the United States to prevent an influx of potentially disease-carrying visitors.
While virus travel restrictions may vary from country to country, much of the world is united in one aspect of their current response: Travelers from America are not welcome.
An American passport was long seen as a golden ticket to travel visa-free in much of the world, save for a few notable exceptions. Now that former symbol of power and exceptionalism is becoming stigmatized as the United States continues to break records of new cases.
While restrictions have been centered on travelers coming from U.S., rather than on all American citizens, the cachet of the American passport has nevertheless been dented. Last week, the American passport suffered a stinging blow when the European Union formalized a plan to restart travel from certain countries, and visitors from America were conspicuously absent from the list.
The U.S. passport had long provided its holders with an outsize sense of freedom that was the envy of others. The restrictions that Americans now face are “something that much of the rest of the world knows very well,” said Dimitry Kochenov, a co-creator of The Quality of Nationality Index, which explores the benefits accorded to citizens of different countries.
What would happen in a pandemic if a government allowed life to carry on largely unhindered?
As the world looked on, Sweden conducted what amounted to an unorthodox, open-air experiment testing just that proposition.
Now the results are in.
Not only have thousands more people died in Sweden than in neighboring countries that imposed lockdowns, but its economy has fared little better.
“They literally gained nothing,” said Jacob F. Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “It’s a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains.”
The results of Sweden’s experience are relevant well beyond Europe.
In the United States, where the virus is spreading with alarming speed, many states have — at President Trump’s urging — avoided lockdowns or lifted them early. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reopened pubs and restaurants last weekend.
Implicit in these approaches is the assumption that governments must balance saving lives against protecting the economy.
But Sweden’s grim result — more death, and nearly equal economic damage — suggests that the supposed choice between lives and paychecks is a false one: A failure to impose social distancing can cost lives and jobs at the same time.
Sweden put stock in the sensibility of its people as it largely avoided imposing government prohibitions, allowing restaurants, gyms, shops, playgrounds and most schools to stay open.
More than three months later, the virus has been blamed for 5,420 deaths there. Per million people, Sweden has suffered 40 percent more deaths than the United States, 12 times more than Norway, seven times more than Finland and six times more than Denmark.
In other news around the world:
China on Wednesday joined those criticizing the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said: “This practice of the United States undermines international anti-epidemic efforts, and in particular has grave implications for developing countries in urgent need of international support.”
Hong Kong has entered what one health official described as “a third wave” of coronavirus infections, a setback for a city where the Covid-19 death toll remains in the single digits. The health authorities reported 38 new cases on Tuesday and Wednesday, after months in which few or no new daily infections were detected. Most traceable clusters are linked to a nursing home and two restaurants.
Protesters in Serbia denounced a curfew that President Aleksandar Vucic said would “probably” go into effect over the weekend. Serbia reported its highest daily death toll on Tuesday, with 13 people dying overnight, and 299 new cases. The total case count for the country is about 16,000
Disney World draws excitement and incredulity as its reopening nears.
Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., will welcome back visitors on Saturday even as coronavirus cases in Florida remain high. In doing so Disney is stepping into a politicized debate surrounding the virus and efforts to keep people safe, where even the wearing of masks has become a point of contention.
The Florida Department of Health reported 7,347 new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, with 1,179 in the central part of the state, which includes Orlando. Those numbers are among the highest in the United States.
Visiting Disney World will be different: Parades, fireworks and most indoor shows have been suspended. There will be no opportunities to hug any costumed characters. Fingerprint scanners will not be used at park entrances.
“Covid is here,” Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park chairman, said. “We have a responsibility to figure out the best approach to safely operate in this new normal.”
The company has been posting marketing videos to highlight the safety procedures it has designed to protect visitors and employees.
“I feel safe because Disney has gone above and beyond what they needed to do,” an employee named Sam says in one of them while standing near Fantasyland.
Some of the 1,000-plus responses to that particular video were supportive. Others were incredulous: “You gotta be kidding,” wrote Alexander Jones, a Seattle motion graphics artist.
Even New Zealand’s response to the coronavirus — lauded as one of world’s most effective — has holes. And sometimes those holes are literal.
A man who tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday will face criminal charges in New Zealand’s largest city after he sneaked out of a hotel quarantine site through a gap in fencing during a smoke break, the public broadcaster RNZ reported.
He ventured out into central Auckland on Tuesday night for a little over an hour and visited a supermarket. RNZ called the escapade a “Covid-19 escape.”
After reviewing security footage, the authorities said that the risk to the public from the man’s temporary escape was low. But they said they were looking at measures like identification bands to strengthen quarantine protocols and prevent further breaches.
The man, who had returned to New Zealand from India, could face up to six months in prison or a $2,600 fine. The supermarket that he visited was closed for cleaning.
Megan Woods, the minister in charge of the country’s isolation and quarantine measures, told RNZ on Wednesday that no one in quarantine had tried to “climb fences or slip through gaps” during early days of the lockdown — and that the recent escape underscored how attitudes toward the rules had shifted.
“Things have changed, even in the last week and a half, in terms of the range of incidents we are seeing, in terms of noncompliance,” Dr. Woods said. She added that the smoking policy for state-managed isolation and quarantine sites was being reviewed.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Brooks Barnes, Kate Conger, Michael Cooper, Peter S. Goodman, Erica L. Green, Jack Healy, Mike Ives, Tiffany May, Claire Moses, Andy Parsons, Natasha Singer, Mitch Smith, Megan Specia and Lucy Tompkins.