The Northeast Held the Virus in Check. Now Cases Are Inching Up Again.


Protective shields at a library in Southington, Conn. The state is one of several in the Northeast that is seeing new clusters of the coronavirus.
Credit…Dave Zajac/Record-Journal, via Associated Press

The Northeastern United States, devastated by the coronavirus in the spring and then held up as a model of infection control by the summer, is now seeing the first inklings of what might become a second wave of the virus.

The rise in case numbers has prompted state and local officials to reverse course, tightening restrictions on businesses, schools and outdoor spaces.

In Boston, plans to bring children back to school have been halted as cases climb precariously. New virus clusters are emerging in Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. In New York City, the number of new cases each day now averages more than 500 for the first time since June, and the city is putting strict rules in place in some neighborhoods.

In New Jersey, where hospitalizations are on the rise and the rate of infection has almost doubled, towns have closed public parks and picnic areas to discourage people from gathering. Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island extended restaurant capacity rules for another month.

Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota, said that early in the nation’s outbreak, New York and much of the Northeast had successfully tamped down transmission of the virus with physical distancing and masking, as much of Europe had done.

“The point is, once you let up on the brake, then eventually, slowly, it comes back,” Dr. Osterholm said.

By many measures, the Northeast is still doing quite well, particularly compared with virus hot spots elsewhere in the country, including the Midwest and Great Plains.

Still, the number of people in the hospital — a clear measure of those most seriously affected by an outbreak — is starting to trend slightly upward again in the Northeast.

There may be a number of reasons for the upward trend in cases.

The air turned suddenly chilly in past few weeks, sending people who had been lounging in sunny parks indoors. Students returned to schools and college campuses.

But it may also be that Northeasterners, who were among the first to take the virus seriously, are simply growing weary.

“We’re all kind of exhausted with it,” said Danielle Ompad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at New York University. “We have to acknowledge that this is not easy.”

Two additional White House residence staff members tested positive for the coronavirus in an outbreak there nearly three weeks ago, two people familiar with the events said.

That brings the total number in that outbreak to four people, including three members of the housekeeping staff who work on the third floor of the residence, as well as an assistant to the chief usher, Timothy Harleth, the two people said.

None of those staff members typically come in direct contact with President Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, but Mr. Harleth told a group of residence staff members roughly three weeks ago about the outbreak, urged them to “use discretion” and said that he had informed Mrs. Trump and Mr. Trump about the developments.

In another outbreak at the White House, several people who attended a White House event on Sept. 26 have since tested positive for the coronavirus, including the president and the first lady.

Residence staff members, who fall under the purview of the East Wing, which first lady Melania Trump oversees, have been wearing masks for months, as have aides to the first lady. They have also been tested daily, officials have said. The staff are among communities that can least afford to fall sick. They are predominantly people of color who earn modest wages.

But the president has been dismissive of mask-wearing among his staff, some of whom have said privately that they felt what amounted to peer pressure to avoid wearing them, because their presence bothered the president.

A spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump declined to comment, but has previously said the East Wing takes protecting the residence staff seriously. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump told his own advisers about the outbreak in the residence.

Sam Kass, an assistant chef and food policy adviser in President Barack Obama’s White House, said it would be unusual for such a thing to happen and the first couple not to be told.

“I have no direct knowledge whether the chief usher notified the president and first lady that there was a Covid-19 outbreak in the residence,” he said, “but I have zero doubt that he did, there is absolutely no way as the head of the house you don’t tell the first family of something as serious as that.”

Aid sent by the World Food Program was distributed in Yemen in June.
Credit…Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

The World Food Program, a United Nations agency, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for its efforts to combat hunger globally, the Nobel committee announced.

The organization was recognized for its work during a coronavirus pandemic that has “contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world,” the committee said in a statement.

The United Nations body — the largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security internationally — last year provided assistance to nearly 100 million people in 88 countries.

But in many countries, particularly those wracked by war, the combination of conflict and the pandemic has sharply increased the numbers of people on the brink of starvation.

“In the face of the pandemic, the World Food Program has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts,” the committee said.

The Minskoff Theatre in Manhattan last month.
Credit…Daniel Arnold for The New York Times

Broadway is going to remain closed at least through next May 30, which is 444 days after all 41 theaters went dark in as part of New York’s effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On Friday, the Broadway League, a trade organization representing producers and theater owners, announced that it was suspending all ticket sales through that date.

All Broadway theaters closed on March 12 as part of an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus by limiting large gatherings.

The continued shutdown means a delay for “The Music Man,” a lavish revival starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, which was initially scheduled to open next week, then chose an opening of next May 20, and will now have to try again, as well as for “MJ,” a Michael Jackson biomusical that had planned to open this summer, and then next spring, and now will have to reschedule.

When will Broadway actually reopen?

“That’s the question of the hour and the day and the month and the year, because we truly don’t know,” Charlotte St. Martin, the League’s president, said in an interview on Friday. “Certainly a lot of shows are making their plans, and some think we will open in the summer, and I hope they are right. But I think people’s bets are the fall of next year.”

A League statement suggested that producers imagine a staggered reopening, rather than all theaters opening at once. “Dates for each returning and new Broadway show will be announced as individual productions determine the performance schedules for their respective shows,” the statement explained.

Dr. Sean P. Conley, the president’s physician, on Saturday. In a memo on Thursday, he said that President Trump had remained “stable” and “devoid” of symptoms.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Trump announced on Thursday that he hoped to return to the campaign trail on Saturday, just nine days after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

In his first extended public comments since learning he had the virus last week, Mr. Trump balked at participating in a debate next Thursday with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. if it was held remotely as the organizers decided to do out of health concerns.

But Mr. Trump secured a statement from the White House physician clearing him to return to public activities on Saturday and then promptly said he would try to hold a campaign rally in Florida that day, two days earlier than the doctor had originally said was needed to determine whether he was truly out of danger.

The president again dismissed the virus, saying, “when you catch it, you get better,” ignoring the more than 212,000 people in the United States who did not get better and died from it.

In his statement on Thursday night, the physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley, reported that Mr. Trump “has responded extremely well to treatment” and that by Saturday, “I fully expect the president’s return to public engagement.” Dr. Conley, who has previously acknowledged providing the public with a rosy view of the president’s condition to satisfy his patient, contradicted his own timeline offered upon Mr. Trump’s release from the hospital, when he said doctors wanted to “get through to Monday.”

The president has not been seen in person since returning to the White House on Monday, but he sought to reassert himself on the public stage with a pair of telephone interviews with Fox News and Fox Business as well as a video and a series of Twitter messages.

In an interview on Fox Business, Mr. Trump again suggested that veterans and their families had spread the coronavirus at the White House, floating the idea that a meeting with the loved ones of fallen military members might have been the source of his own infection.

Global Roundup

Medical workers at the SinoVac vaccine factory in Beijing, China.
Credit…Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

China said on Friday that it would join a multilateral effort to manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine, portraying itself as a responsible global citizen dedicated to improving public health around the world.

The decision to join was “an important step China has taken to uphold the concept of a shared community of health for all and to honor its commitment to turn Covid-19 vaccines into a global public good,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the country’s Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.

The decision highlights how Beijing is positioning itself as an influential player in international diplomacy at a time when the United States has pulled back from its role as a global leader. Such moves could potentially help China push back against accusations that its ruling Communist Party should be held responsible for its initial missteps when the virus first emerged last year.

More than 160 countries have joined the international agreement known as Covax, which aim to ensure both rich and poor countries receive new coronavirus vaccines simultaneously.

The Trump administration said last month that it would not join Covax because it “will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”

For weeks, China, which has four vaccine candidates in late-stage clinical trials, had been reticent about whether it would participate in the group.

Ms. Hua said on Friday that the country had decided to join the vaccine agreement “even when China is leading the world with several vaccines in advanced stages of R&D and with ample production capacity.”

“We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support Covax,” she added.

In other news around the world:

  • The health authorities in Sri Lanka ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, casinos, nightclubs and spas as they worked to contain a growing cluster of new virus infections, The Associated Press reported. The country reported its first locally transmitted case in more than two months last weekend, which led to the discovery of a cluster centered in a garment factory in densely populated Western Province, home to the capital, Colombo. By Friday the number of cases linked to the cluster had climbed to 1,053, with more than 2,000 more people asked to quarantine at home. Sri Lanka has reported 4,488 cases of the virus, and 13 deaths.

  • Oman will reintroduce a nighttime ban on movement and enforce the overnight closure of shops and public places starting Sunday for two weeks to help contain the virus, Reuters reported. The country’s beaches will also be closed until further notice, state media said, reporting a decision from the supreme council in charge of coronavirus policy. Oman has recorded 104,129 virus and 1,009 deaths.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of talks with Republicans, “We want to continue the conversation.”
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

On Tuesday, the bipartisan stimulus talks were off, abruptly ended by a series of indignant tweets by President Trump. On Wednesday, there was a glimmer of hope when he suggested he might reconsider, and top negotiators haggled privately by phone over possible legislation.

By Thursday, the president performed a complete about-face and suggested that a deal could be at hand — then turned around and derided Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrat in the discussions, as “Crazy Nancy.” Ms. Pelosi, for her part, teased the announcement on Friday of legislation establishing a commission to advise Congress on whether the president should be forcibly removed from office for mental or physical impairments.

As tens of millions of Americans, schools and businesses watched the flurry of developments that could determine whether they would receive another infusion of desperately needed pandemic relief, confusion reigned in Washington about whether an elusive stimulus compromise was dead, alive, on life support or somewhere in between.

What remained clear was that the political stakes, which have long imperiled a bipartisan bargain, have only heightened. And the collateral damage across the country has continued to mount in the absence of federal funding, with more than 800,000 Americans filing new applications for state benefits, before adjusting for seasonal variations.

In separate appearances on Thursday, Mr. Trump and Ms. Pelosi insisted that talks were continuing, with the president suggesting that negotiators were now discussing $1,200 stimulus checks in addition to a potential aid measure for airlines to prevent tens of thousands of workers from being furloughed or laid off.

A New York Times survey of more than 1,700 American colleges and universities — including every four-year public institution and every private college that competes in N.C.A.A. sports — has revealed more than 178,000 cases and at least 70 deaths since the pandemic began.

Most of the cases have been announced since students returned to campus for the fall term. Most of the deaths were reported in the spring and involved college employees, not students. But at least two students — Jamain Stephens, a football player at California University of Pennsylvania, and Chad Dorrill, a sophomore at Appalachian State — have died in recent weeks after contracting the virus.

At Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, where several students living off campus tested positive, officials moved most classes online and put in effect a broader testing regimen. At several colleges, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Kent State University, some residents of fraternities, sororities or dorms have been asked to quarantine after outbreaks. And at SUNY Cortland, administrators announced a two-week “study-in-place” period as case numbers spiked.

“I will not try to sugarcoat it: The next two weeks will be challenging,” the school’s president, Erik J. Bitterbaum, wrote in a letter to students and employees. “But it’s what we need to do in order to continue functioning as a campus and a concerned member of the Cortland community.”

People waited for a rapid antigen test in Madrid on Wednesday.
Credit…Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Spain’s government on Friday decreed a state of emergency for the Madrid region, overruling Madrid’s own regional politicians, who had applied a limited lockdown on specific neighborhoods to try to stop a second wave of Covid-19.

The government decided to use its emergency powers to lock down Madrid after suffering a major legal defeat on Thursday, when Madrid’s top regional court declared illegal its earlier effort to isolate Madrid from the rest of Spain.

The intense feuding between the government and the regional administration of Madrid is highlighting the failure of Spain’s politicians to coordinate their response to the coronavirus, amid party polarization and fragmentation.

At a cabinet meeting on Friday, the government decided that the state of emergency should come into force immediately, in a bid to stop about 4.8 millions of residents of the Madrid region from leaving for a long weekend, as Monday is a holiday in Spain. Police officers were expected to set up new road check points by 3 p.m. Friday.

Enrique Ruiz Escudero, the regional health minister of Madrid, said that his administration would “ask every day for the state of emergency to be lifted because the numbers back us,” in insisting that locking down specific neighborhoods was sufficient to rein in the latest wave of Covid-19 in Madrid.

The residents of Madrid, he added, “will not understand” the intervention of the central government, given the recent improvement in Madrid’s Covid-19 data. According to the regional government, the number of Covid-19 patients in the hospitals of Madrid has fallen to about 2,800 from 3,300 on Sept. 21, when selective lockdowns were introduced. However, Madrid’s lockdown strategy also triggered social tensions, because the restrictions affected mostly poorer areas of Madrid.

Sports Roundup

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Credit…Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The 124th edition of the French Open was postponed four months by the pandemic and will end this weekend against the same backdrop, as infection rates rise quickly in France.

The controlled environment constructed by tournament officials to keep the participants safe is holding — but barely.

On Wednesday, the host country reported 18,746 new cases. That same day, the men’s No. 11 seed, David Goffin, who lost in the first round to Jannik Sinner, announced on Instagram that he had become the latest of a handful of participants to test positive for the virus.

The spike in infections in and around Paris led local government officials to place the city on maximum alert starting Tuesday, leading to the closure of all bars and gyms in the city. Restaurants have been allowed to stay open but with stricter health protocols, including social distancing, contact tracing and a closing time no later than 10 p.m.

“It’s hard to see these things unfold again after six months,” the men’s world No. 1 singles player, Novak Djokovic, said, alluding to the first lockdown, which lasted eight weeks in most of France. “It’s hard to believe that we’re going to go through that again.”

In other sports news:

  • For the second consecutive week, the N.F.L. has shuffled its schedule to accommodate teams that have had players and staff members who have tested positive for the coronavirus. The rescheduled games include one involving the Tennessee Titans, who have had the league’s worst outbreak, with nearly two dozen players, coaches and staff members testing positive.

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