Trump Administration Aims to Block New Funding for Coronavirus Testing and Tracing

The Trump administration has balked at providing billions of dollars to fund coronavirus testing and shore up federal health agencies as the virus surges across the country, complicating efforts to reach agreement on the next round of pandemic aid.

Senate Republicans had drafted a proposal that would allocate $25 billion in grants to states for conducting testing and contact tracing, as well as about $10 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and about $15 billion for the National Institutes of Health, according to a person familiar with the tentative plans, who cautioned that the final dollar figures remained in flux. They had also proposed providing $5.5 billion to the State Department and $20 billion to the Pentagon to help counter the virus outbreak and potentially distribute a vaccine at home and abroad.

But in talks over the weekend, administration officials instead pushed to zero out the funding for testing and for the nation’s top health agencies, and to cut the Pentagon funding to $5 billion, according to another person familiar with the discussions. The people asked for anonymity to disclose private details of the talks, which were first reported by The Washington Post.

The suggestions from the administration infuriated several Republicans on Capitol Hill, who saw them as tone deaf, given that more than 3.5 million people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and many states are experiencing spikes in cases.

With unemployment benefits and a number of other aid measures included in the stimulus package set to expire at the end of the month, Congress is rushing to pull together the measure within the next two weeks.

The administration’s position presents an added complication to negotiations between Democrats, who are pressing for a more expansive aid bill, and Republicans, who hope to unveil a narrower opening offer for virus relief as early as this week.

On Friday, for the second time, more than 70,000 coronavirus cases were announced in the United States, according to a New York Times database. A day earlier, the country set a record with 75,600 new cases, the 11th time in the past month that the daily record had been broken.

As the United States struggles to contain surging caseloads and an increasing death toll from the virus, the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued its first emergency approval for a testing approach that allows samples from multiple people to be combined for much faster tracking of new infections.

The federal action to speed testing came as at least two states, Arizona and North Carolina, announced single-day records on Saturday. Arizona reported more than 130 new deaths, and North Carolina said it had more than 2,360 new cases.

“I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota.

“There will be transmission,” Dr. Osterholm said. “What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.”

The South Korean researchers identified 5,706 people who were the first to report Covid-19 symptoms in their households from Jan. 20 to March 27, when schools were closed. They then traced the 59,073 contacts of these “index cases.” They tested all of the household contacts of each patient, regardless of symptoms, but only tested symptomatic contacts outside the household.

A team in the White House led by Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, met daily on the crisis, but the ultimate goal was shifting responsibility. “They referred to this as ‘state authority handoff,’ and it was at once a catastrophic policy blunder and an attempt to escape blame for a crisis that had engulfed the country — perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations,” write Michael D. Shear, Noah Weiland, Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger.

Mayors and governors said that the White House approach was guided by an overarching strategy of reviving the economy, which failed to address how cities and states should respond if cases surged again.

Key elements of the Trump administration’s strategy were drafted privately with comment from aides who for the most part had no experience with public health emergencies. And the president quickly came to feel trapped by the administration’s reopening guidelines, which hinge on declining case counts, leading him to repeatedly rail against increasing testing in the United States.

The investigation found that White House officials failed to acknowledge the scale of the pandemic until early June, and that even now internal divisions remain over how far to go in having officials publicly acknowledge the fallout of the pandemic.

There are no signs to signal the way to the New Valley of Peace, or, as the Iraqis call it, the “Corona cemetery.” But it’s not hard to find: Just follow the cars. It’s the only place they are headed on the rough desert road.

Ground was broken on this cemetery in southern Iraq four months ago, and already there are more than 3,200 graves. The backhoes work every night to make new furrows in the sandy soil.

The story of how the cemetery came into existence starts when the first coronavirus patients began to die in March in Baghdad. The religious and health authorities were unprepared for the sense of stigma that having the disease carried, as well as the fear that touching the body would risk contagion. People whose relatives had not died of the virus felt it was a stigma to be buried next to someone who had.

“I began to see these scenes on TV — I still remember them — there were seven or eight bodies thrown outside a hospital morgue and they left them there,” recalled Sheikh Tahir Al-Khaqani, who is head of the Imam Ali Combat Division, one of the first militias created to fight the Islamic State. Unlike some of the militias that are close to Iran, the Imam Ali brigade is linked to the moderate, inclusive senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The idea came to Mr. Al-Khaqani that the solution was a new graveyard just for those who died of the coronavirus. He conferred with the governor of Najaf, with Mr. Sistani and with the leader of the Shia Endowment, which is in charge of all Shiite financial and real estate matters.

Within days, they had a 1,500-acre patch of ground 20 miles from the city of Najaf, allocated for the burials.

The Imam Ali combat division volunteered to run the cemetery. Its medical teams took on the job of receiving the dead, disinfecting the body bags in which they arrived and then washing the deceased.

Other contingents took responsibility for the digging and burials. Some took on the role of guides to help family members when they come to find their relative’s grave among the thousands stretching out across the desert. Family visits are permitted 10 days after burial.

Under orders from the grand ayatollah, although the graveyard is run by Shiites, it welcomes everyone regardless of faith or sect and burial is free.

Mohammed Qasim, a date and vegetable farmer from near Baghdad, said those digging the graves, attending to the washing and pronouncing the last rites are “human angels.”

“Yes, these are the noblest people I have ever met,” he said. “How can they not be the noblest when they are with death at the same table for breakfast, lunch and dinner and yet they do not complain.”

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, raised alarms on Saturday about the economic fallout from the pandemic and the ripple effects it could have on poverty and wealth inequality.

“Covid-19 is shining a spotlight on this injustice,” Mr. Guterres said. “Entire regions that were making progress on eradicating poverty and narrowing inequality have been set back years in a matter of months.”

Striking a sober tone in a speech honoring Nelson Mandela’s legacy, Mr. Guterres stressed that the pandemic was pushing developing countries to the brink of disaster, and that women, migrants and racial minorities were all likely to suffer disproportionately.

“We face the deepest global recession since World War II, and the broadest collapse in incomes since 1870,” he said. “One hundred million more people could be pushed into extreme poverty and we could see famines of historic proportions.”

His comments came as David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, urged the Group of 20 major economies to take steps to help the world’s poorest countries by extending a freeze in their official debt payments through the end of 2021, Reuters reported. Speaking to G20 finance ministers meeting virtually, Mr. Malpass also recommended talks on reducing the debt of some countries.

Mr. Guterres said the United Nations would continue its mission to assist countries in need, but that the pandemic had demonstrated a severe erosion of social safety nets in countries worldwide.

Reflecting on Mr. Mandela’s work to fight racism, Mr. Guterres also said the recent anti-racism movement born out of the killing of George Floyd had caused rising awareness of racial inequality, and that the pandemic had shed light on systemic racism globally.

“Covid-19 has been likened to an X-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built,” he said.

In other news around the world:

  • Iran started enforcing new restrictions in Tehran on Saturday, banning large gatherings and closing cafes, gyms and some other facilities, as coronavirus cases surge in what health officials say is even worse than the first wave that hit the capital in March. The country has reported more than 270,000 confirmed cases, the 10th highest in the world, but President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that 30 million to 35 million people are “likely to be exposed to the disease in the coming months,” the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.

  • Chinese officials are battling a growing outbreak in the far western Xinjiang region, the center of the country’s broad crackdown on predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities. Thirty confirmed infections have been reported in its capital, Urumqi, since Thursday, 13 of them on Sunday; there are an additional 41 asymptomatic infections. The government flew in 21 lab technicians and their testing equipment from three hospitals in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged late last year, and residential compounds were under lockdown.

  • Lawyers in India say the authorities are seizing on the pandemic as an opportunity to round up critics of the government.

  • Thailand, a rare success story in fighting the virus, has recorded fewer than 3,240 cases and 58 deaths. But its tourism-dependent economy has been ravaged. Some migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar and Cambodia are stuck with no wages from their jobs as hotel cleaners, kitchen hands and food stall operators, and the Thai tourism and sports ministry estimates that 60 percent of hospitality businesses could close by the end of the year.

  • The authorities in Britain have temporarily suspended the release of the daily toll of deaths attributed to the coronavirus, in response to a request from the government after it raised concerns about accuracy. The authorities in England had been including all people who tested positive for the virus in their daily count, regardless of the cause of death — one analysis noted that the current standards would have included someone who tested positive for the virus three months ago and then “had a heart attack or were run over by a bus.”

  • European Union leaders agreed to go back to the negotiating table Sunday after two long, difficult days of talks during which they have been trying to bridge differences over how to distribute and oversee a radical stimulus plan that would send 750 billion euros, or about $840 billion, into the bloc’s economies to push them out of the recession the pandemic has sunk them in.

A year from now, the world will begin to gather in Japan to celebrate the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, which were originally supposed to begin this coming week.

Or maybe they won’t.

Four months after the International Olympic Committee and officials in Japan postponed the Games amid soaring coronavirus infection rates and lockdowns across the world, uncertainty prevails. The unpredictable nature of the virus is making it impossible for officials to say definitively that the Games will happen or, if they do, what they might look like.

Maybe there won’t be spectators. Maybe only people living in Japan will be able to attend. Or maybe only those from countries where the virus is under control. Will there be an Olympic village, the traditional home for the roughly 10,000 competitors? Will athletes from the United States, where the pandemic shows no signs of abating, be allowed to attend?

In a news conference last week, Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C., said that planning for the Games now involves multiple options. All of them, he said, prioritize the health of the athletes.

“It includes all different countermeasures,” Bach said of the planning. “An Olympic Games behind closed doors is clearly something we do not want. We are working for a solution that safeguards the health of all the participants and is also reflecting of the Olympic spirit.”

Bach has said a further postponement is not an option at the moment; if the Games cannot be held next summer, they will not be held at all.

Greece, though suffering less from the pandemic than either Italy or Spain, has still seen scant evidence of a rebound in tourism. In the first 12 days of July, passenger traffic at the Athens airport was down 75 percent from a year ago.

Though all of the countries of southern Europe have emerged from lockdown, new outbreaks there and quarantine orders elsewhere have added hurdles. This month, Britain said that people coming from Portugal, among other countries, would be forced to quarantine on arrival, a move that essentially choked off British tourism there.

Outbreaks have also occurred around major tourism hubs like Barcelona, where about three million residents were told on Friday to stay indoors to help contain the coronavirus.

Carlos García Pastor, the marketing director of Logitravel Group, a Spanish travel operator that had revenue of about €800 million last year, said that his company expected earnings to drop at least 50 percent this year.

The final result, he said, “will really depend on how many new outbreaks there are.”

Dozens of fiercely loyal members of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front party — mayors, judges, police officials, council members and government bureaucrats — have died over the past two months.

All are thought to be victims of the coronavirus, though few have been acknowledged as such, as is the case with most virus fatalities in Nicaragua. Many are officially attributed to “atypical pneumonia.”

The string of fatalities has highlighted the fact that the disease is much more widespread than the government has publicly acknowledged.

And to critics of the government, the deaths underscore the consequences of President Daniel Ortega’s haphazard and politicized response to the pandemic — with no encouragement of wearing masks or social distancing measures, and little testing and no stay-at-home orders or shutdowns. The government held mass gatherings, including a March rally in support of other stricken countries called “Love in the Time of Covid-19.”

Several young epidemiologists, virologists and related specialists said in the medical journal Lancet that Nicaragua’s response “has been perhaps the most erratic of any country in the world to date.”

Officially, the government reports that just 99 people have died from the virus, although the Citizens Covid-19 Observatory, an anonymous group of doctors and activists in Nicaragua, has registered 2,397 probable deaths.

The government is now taking measures to combat the virus, creating Covid-only hospital units and using the military to organize mass disinfection campaigns. On Sunday, its annual extravaganza celebrating the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, which toppled the Somoza family dictatorship in 1979, will take place virtually for the first time.

But the toll is already high. Carlos Fernando Chamorro, editor of Confidencial, a leading news outlet, said his team had counted some 100 deaths of Sandinistas, including about 10 well-known figures.

“The problem is that here, nobody officially dies of Covid-19,” he said.

In Ohio, where case numbers have spiked and some have resisted pleas to wear masks, state officials are using the uncertain future of sports to prod residents to take the virus more seriously.

“If we want Friday night football in the fall,” Gov. Mike DeWine posted Friday on Twitter, “we must all take precautions now.” After urging social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing, Mr. DeWine added “#IWantASeason,” a hashtag he and others have posted repeatedly in recent days.

Though governors aren’t known as hashtag trendsetters, the #IWantASeason message has resonated in sports-loving Ohio, where more than 1,600 new coronavirus cases were announced Friday, a single-day record. With some states already announcing plans to limit in-person classes this fall, and with college sports stuck in limbo, the governor’s message has taken on urgency over the past week.

Members of the Ohio State University football team have tweeted the hashtag. So has the university’s mascot and marching band. So has the FC Cincinnati soccer team. And so have coaches, players and parents at high schools across the state.

“We practiced our fight song dance this morning,” the cheerleading coach at Lakewood High School in Hebron posted on Twitter. “I put the music on then looked up to see one of my seniors sobbing while dancing. We want a season. We want football Friday nights. We want our band. Please do what we need to do so we can have a season!”

Similar messages have poured in from the Whitmer High girls’ soccer team in Toledo, which posted a socially distanced photo urging mask usage. And from the Upper Arlington High boys’ soccer team, whose “seniors want to play their last season of high school.” And from the Xenia High Buccaneers. And the Middletown High Middies. And the Woodridge High Bulldogs.

Janitors say they have not been given enough resources, time or training to effectively fight the pathogen. They are often not told if someone has tested positive where they are working, making it difficult to protect themselves and others.

Cleaners have recently fallen ill across the country, from the University of Texas at Austin, to a Fox Entertainment lot in Los Angeles, to casinos in Mississippi. Interviews with dozens of workers, employers, cleaning company executives and union officials, as well as a review of records from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reveal other glaring problems.

Airlines have tried to win back customers by raising sanitation standards, but pilots, flight attendants and cabin cleaners report that the efforts are still inadequate, with reused rags, unwiped tray tables and bathrooms that aren’t disinfected between flights.

“The only part of the passenger seats that was wiped down was the seat itself,” one pilot wrote in a union report last month. “Not the area that passengers touch constantly, such as seatbelts, window shades, arm rest, etc. Also, the entire plane was supposedly wiped down in less than 10 minutes.”

Many of the country’s more than two million custodians do their work at night, unseen, for minimum wage. Cleaning company executives and union officials say that standards have fallen in recent years as businesses have cut back on janitorial services.

At a luxury office tower in Miami, Martha Lorena Cortez Estrada resorted to bringing in her own Clorox and gloves and making her own masks. “Our brooms were worn out; we were mopping with just water and no disinfectant,” said Ms. Cortez, 58, who makes $8.56 an hour.

Several cleaners said they were expected to clean a space where someone infected may have been, but were not made aware of it.

Canada has had about half as many coronavirus deaths per capita as the United States. The number of cases in Canada has been steadily declining since April, while cases in some states are surging.

“I’m not very optimistic at all,” Steve Seymour said during a recent interview at the family business, Drayton Harbor Oysters. “Why would they let us in?”

Traveling these days requires lots of research, precision planning and a willingness to play by new and very stringent rules.

Reporting was contributed by Rachel Abrams, Hannah Beech, Ginia Bellafante, Keith Bradsher, Emily Cochrane, Farnaz Fassihi, Matthew Futterman, Maggie Haberman, Jan Hoffman, Virginia Hughes, Jodi Kantor, Andrew Keh, Tyler Kepner, Michael Levenson, Eric Lipton, Apoorva Mandavilli, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Raphael Minder, Zach Montague, Elian Peltier, Alan Rappeport, Motoko Rich, Frances Robles, Katie Rogers, Carol Rosenberg and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Alissa Rubin, David E. Sanger, Michael D. Shear, Mitch Smith, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Muktita Suhartono, Noah Weiland and Michael Wolgelenter.

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