Pence and Azar attribute surges to more testing. Health experts and the evidence say otherwise.
Vice President Mike Pence and the nation’s top health official, Alex M. Azar II, continued to assert on Sunday that reopenings in many states were not causing the sharp rises in coronavirus cases, but rather that increased testing was uncovering more and more infections.
But their position was disputed by other public health experts, who said that broadened testing is revealing not only more total cases, but also a higher rate of positive cases. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said of the Trump administration: “They’re basically in denial about the problem. They don’t want to tell the American people the truth.”
On “Fox News Sunday,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that both the total number and the percentage of positive tests for the coronavirus had increased in several states, saying, “There’s also no doubt that the virus has the upper hand.” He predicted that the explosive spread in some states would continue to worsen over the coming weeks.
While much of the Sunday talk shows were more focused on exploring reports that Russia had offered, and paid, bounties to Taliban fighters for killing U.S. soldiers, the country’s surging pandemic remained a major topic. And the comments by Mr. Pence, Mr. Azar and Dr. Frieden exemplified the contradictory positions taken by the White House, which is pressing full speed to reopen the economy and for Mr. Trump to resume in-person campaigning for the fall election, and health experts, who are alarmed by case surges around the country.
Mr. Pence, on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” said, “I know there’s a temptation to associate the new cases in the Sunbelt with reopening,” but denied that to be true, adding that many states with increased cases had already reopened weeks ago.
When the show’s host, John Dickerson, cited the concerns of health experts that states had opened too early, Mr. Pence replied, “I beg to differ.”
Even as residents in some states have been turned away from testing sites that have reached capacity, Mr. Pence falsely said that anyone who wanted to be tested for the coronavirus could be tested.
“Because of the public-private partnership that President Trump initiated, we are literally able to test anyone in the country that would want a test who comes forward,” Mr. Pence said.
Other highlights from the Sunday talk shows:
Mr. Pence downplayed the seriousness of the increase in new cases by saying that the virus had predominantly infected younger people, who are less likely to be hospitalized. But Dr. Frieden noted that it took time for Covid-19 patients who felt sick to be hospitalized and potentially die, and also that infected young people were also carriers was significant. “What starts in the young doesn’t stay in the young,” he said. “Younger people have parents, uncles, nephews. We’re going to see increasing spread.”
Mr. Azar, the secretary of health and human services, sought to reassure the public that — despite accounts to the contrary emerging in new hot spots like Houston — there would be enough protective gear and hospital capacity for patients, including ventilators. He disputed accounts last week by members of the American Medical Association that physicians and hospitals, particularly those in Latino communities, still did not have sufficient personal protective equipment.
Face masks were a theme. Mr. Azar said masks would protect those in reopening areas, blaming “inappropriate individual behavior” for spreading the virus, while also defending President Trump and Vice President Pence for not wearing masks in public because they are tested every day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” said, “My understanding is that the Centers for Disease Control has recommended the use of masks but not required it, because they don’t want to offend the President.”
Mr. Azar, asked why the administration was still seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which could take insurance away from 24 million Americans, said that officials would ensure that health care for virus patients would be free. But he did not disclose details of any replacement plan that would guarantee protections for people with pre-existing conditions so that they would not face higher costs for insurance.
Coronavirus testing sites in Arizona, Florida and Texas have become a source of tension and risk, with numerous residents waiting in long lines, and others being turned away as sites reached capacity. Crowding is raising the risk of infection as people rush to the front of the line at some centers.
Residents of these and other hard-hit U.S. states are turning out in droves to get tested as the virus continues its surge across the South and West, threatening to overwhelm areas that until recently were spared the worst of the pandemic.
“Pushing, yelling, ZERO social distancing enforced,” one Houston resident wrote on Twitter. Two testing sites at Houston stadiums reached capacity just hours after opening on Saturday, according to the local health department. The city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, has said that intensive care units there are nearly at capacity.
Elsewhere in Texas, Stefano West drove more than an hour from Killeen to Austin to find a testing site, noting that few were available closer to him. He said he then waited about four and a half hours in his car at the site.
“I was annoyed,” Mr. West said. “There wasn’t really communication. No one explained the process.”
In Florida, the first car on Saturday at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando found its spot in line for testing at 12:30 a.m., according to the Florida Association of Public Information Officers, even though testing did not start until 9 a.m. At a site in Jacksonville, the testing line was cut off in the early afternoon, before closing time, the association said on Twitter.
In Arizona, people seeking drive-up coronavirus tests in Phoenix have faced car lines up to three miles long. On Friday, the state’s largest laboratory received twice as many samples as it could process.
Nationwide, coronavirus cases have risen 65 percent over the past two weeks. On Saturday, more than 42,000 cases were reported across the United States, including single-day records in Florida, Nevada and South Carolina. It was the third consecutive day with more than 40,000 new cases in the country.
Poland and France hold their first votes since the pandemic arrived.
No mask? No vote.
Voters in Poland and France headed to the polls with caution on Sunday for the first elections in their countries since the pandemic began. Polish voters — taking part in the first round of a presidential election — were required to bring their own pens to polling stations. And the French voted in the second round of municipal elections, with many eyes focused on the mayoral race in Paris.
Both elections had been delayed for months because of the pandemic. Fears of a possible resurgence in infections had raised concerns about voter turnout, and rising numbers of cases in other parts of Europe did little to quell those worries.
This weekend would normally have been a time for large Pride marches, parades and parties. And in New York City, Sunday’s events would have included the 50th anniversary of the city’s Pride March.
Instead, with public life only gradually resuming amid the coronavirus pandemic — and restrictions being tightened in some places where cases have spiked in recent days — these events were replaced with small gatherings and virtual events, including a 24-hour online celebration streamed on YouTube and the Global Pride website.
And while the Pride celebrations are not alone in being called off, few other events are as much about being seen — by everyone. So this year, some L.G.B.T.Q. people are missing out on an important moment of visibility and acceptance: their first Pride.
“It’s something that’s so central to our identities as L.G.B.T.Q. folks,” said Fred Lopez, the executive director of San Francisco Pride. “To remember that time when we were able to walk hand in hand with a boyfriend or a crush, even amongst hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, is really inspiring.”
An in-person Pride gathering was held on Sunday in Taiwan, however, as the self-governing island has largely kept the coronavirus at bay, with just 446 recorded cases and seven deaths since its first case was reported in January.
A giant rainbow flag led a procession across Liberty Square, a large plaza in central Taipei, in an event that Darien Chen, one of the organizers, said he hoped would bring comfort to the millions around the world who could not attend large gatherings because of the pandemic.
“We really hope we can bring some hope to all the L.G.B.T. community who can’t march for themselves this year,” he said.
Yemeni militiamen rumbled up to a group of migrants in a settlement one morning, firing their machine guns at Ethiopians caught in the middle of somebody else’s war. The militiamen shouted: Take your coronavirus and leave the country, or face death.
“The sound of the bullets was like thunder that wouldn’t stop,” said Kedir Jenni, 30, an Ethiopian waiter who fled the settlement near the Saudi border in northern Yemen that morning in early April. “Men and women get shot next to you. You see them die and move on.”
This scene and others were recounted in telephone interviews with a half dozen migrants now in Saudi prisons. Although their accounts could not be independently verified, human rights groups have corroborated similar incidents.
The Houthis, the Iran-backed militia that controls most of northern Yemen, have driven out thousands of migrants at gunpoint over the past three months, blaming them for spreading the coronavirus, and dumped them in the desert without food or water.
Five years of war between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition propping up Yemen’s government have ransacked the country, the poorest in the Middle East, starving and killing its people.
Humanitarian officials and researchers say that the African migrant workers who traverse Yemen every year endure torture, rape, extortion, bombs and bullets in their desperation to reach Saudi Arabia. And this spring, when the pandemic made them scapegoats for Yemen’s troubles, they lost even that slender hope.
“Covid is just one tragedy inside so many other tragedies that these migrants are facing,” said Afrah Nasser, a Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The community around the University of California, Davis, used to have a population of 70,000 and a thriving economy. Rentals were tight. Downtown was jammed. Hotels were booked months in advance for commencement.
But when the campus closed in March because of the coronavirus, an estimated 20,000 students and faculty members left town. With them went about a third of the demand for goods and services, from books to bikes to brunches. And officials expect most of that demand to stay gone even as the city reopens.
Reliant on institutions that once seemed impervious to recession, “town and gown” communities that have evolved around rural campuses — Cornell, Amherst College, Penn State — are confronting not only Covid-19 but also major losses in population, revenue and jobs.
For the cities involved, the prognosis is daunting. In most college towns, university students, faculty and staff are a primary market. Local economies depend on their numbers and dollars, from sales taxes to football weekends to federal funds determined by the U.S. census.
Where business as usual has been tried recently, punishment has followed: Last week, the Iowa health authorities reported case spikes among young adults in its two largest college towns after bars reopened. And on campuses across the United States, attempts to bring back football teams for preseason practice have resulted in outbreaks.
“One of the things that makes a college town so wonderful is the vibrant young population,” said Davis’s incoming vice mayor, Lucas Frerichs, who attended the university and has lived in the city for 24 years. “They’re the lifeblood.”
Including last week’s votes in New York and Kentucky, 46 states and the District of Columbia have now completed primary elections or party caucuses, facing the large challenge not just of voting during a pandemic, but also of voting by mail in record numbers.
Despite debacles in some states, votes have been counted and winners chosen largely without incident — a notable feat, some say, given that many states had just weeks to scrap decades of in-person voting habits for voting by mail.
Yet the challenges — and the stakes — will be exponentially higher in November, when Americans choose a president and much of Congress.
For starters, in some areas, elections boards are already short of cash. Postal and election workers overwhelmed by 55 million-plus primary-election voters now face triple that turnout in November.
States must recruit armies of poll workers to replace older ones deterred from working because of the virus — nearly six in 10 poll workers were 61 or older in 2018, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.
And election offices will have to process millions of ballots packed in millions more specialty envelopes — which only a handful of companies are capable of printing.
The primaries have “provided a sort of training ground for states to turn the corner on voting by mail,” said Barry C. Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
November, he said, could be like the pandemic itself: manageable if done right, but vulnerable to unpredictable hot spots — “and we only need it to go badly in a few places for the whole election to feel like it’s in trouble.”
As New York City’s gradual reopening has been rolled out in recent weeks, people have begun returning to restaurants, bars, offices and hair salons. And on Sunday, the city’s iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral is opening to the public for Mass for the first time since lockdown measures were imposed.
Attendance at the cathedral — the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York — will be limited to 25 percent capacity, and those present will be subject to strict health and safety guidelines. The cathedral was also sanitized to prepare for the Masses, scheduled for 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern.
The closing of houses of worship around the globe during the pandemic has been painful for those who would typically seek both solace and community there, particularly on religious holidays.
It has also been a subject of heated debate, with some arguing that the closings violate freedom of religion and others wary of the public health risk since enclosed spaces with large numbers of people in close contact have fueled outbreaks.
Many have hosted services and events online throughout the pandemic, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral will continue to do so with its Masses. When it was closed during Easter, its Palm Sunday service attracted more than 100,000 viewers.
“We do miss the people in the pews,” Jennifer Pascual, the cathedral’s music director, said at the time. “It’s kind of odd to be doing Mass and doing it to an empty cathedral. You look out there and there’s nobody there.”
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Reporting was contributed by Christopher Cameron, Rebecca Chao, Melina Delkic, Tess Felder, Rebecca Halleck, Chris Horton, Shawn Hubler, Sheila Kaplan, Sarah Kliff, Pierre-Antoine Louis, Raphael Minder, Tiksa Negeri, Elian Peltier, Michael Shear, Michael Wines, Vivian Yee, Carl Zimmer and Karen Zraick.