October 19, 2020

Florida Lifts State Restaurant Restrictions: Live Covid-19 Updates

Here’s what you need to know:

ImageDiners sit outside of a restaurant in the Miami area in August.
Credit…Angel Valentin for The New York Times

Florida is lifting state restrictions for restaurants and many other businesses, the governor said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Friday that the state would move into the next reopening phase, lifting state restrictions for restaurants and many other businesses.

Mr. DeSantis, a Republican and avid supporter of President Trump who spoke at the president’s rally in Jacksonville on Thursday, said that he would sign an order allowing restaurants and many other businesses to operate at full capacity as part of Phase 3 of his administration’s reopening plan.

“We’re not closing anything going forward,” the governor said in St. Petersburg.

County governments would be allowed to limit capacity but not by more than 50 percent, Mr. DeSantis said — a new restriction on local control.

“I think this will be very, very important to the industry,” Mr. DeSantis said, calling the wholesale shuttering of restaurants in particular to be unacceptable. “You can’t say no after six months and just have people twisting in the wind.”

Mr. DeSantis refused to mandate mask usage in the state, insisting that such a decision should be left up to local governments. Yet his administration has increasingly stepped in to prevent counties from imposing more stringent virus restrictions. Many of Florida’s largest counties are run by Democrats.

Under the state’s reopening plan, Phase 3 allows for bars and nightclubs to operate at full capacity “with limited social distancing protocols.” Bars have yet to reopen in Miami-Dade County, the county hardest-hit by the virus. The county’s mayor has said he hopes to allow for some operation with restrictions such as table service only.

Cases are down significantly in the state after a big surge over the summer. The governor has touted the fact that Florida was able to come down from the spike without imposing a lockdown as evidence that shutting down businesses should not be contemplated to try to contain the virus in the future.

As of Thursday, Florida was testing 38 percent of a testing target developed by researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute. The state had a positivity rate of 12 percent for the total number of tests processed over the two-week period ending Thursday, according to data analyzed by The Times. Positive rates should be at or below 5 percent for at least 14 days before a state or country can safely reopen, according to the World Health Organization.

Emergency room visits related to the virus peaked in early July and hospitalizations on July 21, Mr. DeSantis said.

“That’s over two months ago,” he noted. Since then, “we’ve actually seen more economic activity, more interactions. Schools have opened. All the theme parks are open. More people have visited. And what has happened with hospitalizations? Covid-positive hospitalizations are down 76 percent since the July peak.”

On Friday, Florida added more than 2,800 new cases and 120 new deaths. In total, the state has recorded more than 695,000 cases and more than 13,900 deaths, according to a Times database.

If a county wants to restrict restaurant capacity between 50 and 100 percent, Mr. DeSantis said, it will need to provide justification to the state.

“The idea that government dictating this is better than them making decisions so that their customers have confidence I think is misplaced,” he said.

Other states have also tried to reign in municipalities where local officials wanted to impose restrictions beyond what the state required. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, filed a lawsuit in mid-July against the mayor of Atlanta, a Democrat, who wanted to require her constituents to wear masks in public. At the time, cases in Atlanta were mounting by the day. Mr. Kemp eventually withdrew his complaint.

In Texas, after weeks of resisting calls for masks from mayors of some of the state’s largest cities, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, was slammed by members of his own party when he changed course and mandate that Texans wear masks in public. At the time, in late July, the state health system was overwhelmed with the spike in patients, as the average number of new daily cases climbed to seven times the size it was in early June.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, had resisted allowing local governments to issue their own mask mandates but reversed that stance in June in response to pressure from the mayors of Arizona’s largest cities.

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The former leaders of a Massachusetts veterans’ home were charged after 76 residents died in an outbreak.

Credit…Cj Gunther/EPA, via Shutterstock

Two former leaders of a Massachusetts veterans’ home were indicted on charges of criminal neglect in connection to the coronavirus deaths of at least 76 residents at the facility, the state’s attorney general said on Friday.

Bennett Walsh, 50, and Dr. David Clinton, 71, were indicted Thursday by a state grand jury on charges related to their work at the facility, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Mass.

“We began this investigation on behalf of the families who lost loved ones under tragic circumstances and to honor these men who bravely served our country,” the state attorney general, Maura Healey, said in a statement. “We allege that the actions of these defendants during the Covid-19 outbreak at the facility put veterans at higher risk of infection and death and warrant criminal charges.”

Each man was indicted on five counts, and the specific charges were for caretakers who “wantonly or recklessly” permit or cause bodily injury and abuse, neglect or mistreatment of an older or disabled person.

Lawyers for Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton, of Springfield and South Hadley, Mass., could not immediately be reached.

The Soldiers’ Home, a state-run facility that provides health care, hospice care and other assistance to veterans, has been under investigation since early April, when the attorney general’s office learned of “serious issues with Covid-19 infection control procedures.”

Investigators focused on the events of March 27, when staff members combined two dementia wards with infected veterans and healthy residents, “increasing the exposure of asymptomatic veterans to the virus,” the attorney general’s office said.

Because of staffing shortages, the facility consolidated the units, which had a total of 42 residents who had different statuses, the office said. Residents who were positive or symptomatic were placed six in a room that typically held four veterans, it said.

Residents believed to be asymptomatic were placed in nine beds in the dining room, where they were “a few feet apart from each other” and next to the room where the infected patients were, it said.

“The residents in the consolidated unit were allegedly mingling together, regardless of Covid-19 status,” the attorney general’s office said, adding that this decision was reckless from an infection control perspective and placed the asymptomatic veterans at an increased risk of contracting Covid-19.”

The office said that Mr. Walsh and Dr. Clinton would be arraigned in Hampden County Superior Court but did not specify a date.

The U.S. hits seven million cases, with California leading the way.

Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed seven million on Thursday, according to a New York Times database, although the country is recording fewer new daily cases than it did during the pandemic’s midsummer peak.

The nation has averaged at least 41,000 new cases a day over the past week, compared with a daily average of about 65,000 cases in July.

In California on Thursday, officials recorded their 800,000th case since the start of the pandemic. That is more than any other state, but the figure is cumulative, and does not capture the state’s current situation.

With health officials in California testing enough of the population to contain the spread of the virus, the state is reporting a relatively low number of new cases a day, according to the Times database.

More broadly, California the most populous state in the country, has had significantly fewer virus cases per capita than other states like Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. California currently ranks 36th among states and territories in known new cases per capita over the past seven days, and 26th in the total number of known cases per capita since the start of the pandemic.

It was less than a month ago that the United States reached six million cases, on Aug. 30. It had taken more than three months for the country to record its first million amid limited testing capacity in the beginning of the pandemic.

The story of how California came to lead the country in the total number of cases goes back to the spring and summer months, when new cases surged across the Sun Belt states. New cases in California peaked at the end of July when the seven-day average doubled from what it was a month earlier.

It was a far cry from the early days of the pandemic, when most virus cases were in the Northeast and Washington State, and California emerged as a national role model when it became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order.

But the number of cases there began to climb when that order was lifted.

Like health officials in many Sun Belt states, the authorities in California attributed the spike to a premature easing of restrictions. In early July, when virus-related hospitalizations in California were up by more than 50 percent over a two-week period, Gov. Gavin Newsom halted reopening plans and ordered bars and indoor dining closed for most residents.

Argentina’s death rate soars as the virus spreads in provinces far from the capital.

Credit…Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

Outbreaks hitting various parts of Argentina are raising alarm as the country grapples with one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates.

Argentina reported 2,306 deaths over the last seven days, a rate of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 residents. That places Argentina behind only tiny St. Maarten in the Caribbean in per capita virus deaths in that period, according to a Times database.

The country has recorded a total of 76,553 cases over the last seven days, the sixth-highest total worldwide, behind India, the United States, Brazil, France and Spain. But its per capita rate of cases in that period, 172, was higher than all of those countries.

In the Americas, only Aruba and Costa Rica reported more cases per capita than Argentina in that period.

The soaring figures reflect how the virus can spin out of control when mitigation efforts are relaxed. Argentina, which implemented one of Latin America’s strictest lockdowns in March, now seems to be faring worse than countries like Brazil and Mexico, which have grappled with devastating outbreaks.

But they may also reflect inconsistencies in data reporting that can cloud the picture of what the virus is doing. Federico Tiberti, a Princeton doctoral student who analyzes Argentina’s coronavirus data reporting, pointed out that 80 of the 390 deaths reported on Thursday in the country involved fatalities from more than a month ago, as officials make their way through a backlog.

The lag in registering the deaths raises the possibility that the virus could have been spreading more intensively in the country than previously estimated in recent weeks.

While the Buenos Aires metropolitan area had previously been hit by outbreaks, the spread of the virus into provinces with fewer health resources is fueling concerns. In the province of Rio Negro, 87 percent of I.C.U. beds are occupied, followed by Salta and Mendoza, both of which are at 81 percent, according to Health Ministry data.

“The cities that have greater mobility due to economic and production activity is where there is more incidence of cases,” Fabián Puratich, the health minister of southern Chubut province, where cities like Comodoro Rivadavia and Puerto Madryn are facing outbreaks, said in a video message this week.

Argentina has seen a total of 678,266 cases of the virus, and 14,766 deaths, according to a Times database.

US ROUNDUP

Virginia’s governor and his wife test positive for the virus.

Credit…Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch, via Associated Press

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia said Friday that he and his wife, Pamela Northam, had tested positive for the virus.

They were tested after learning they had been in close quarters with a staff member who had been infected. Mr. Northam, a Democrat, said that he felt fine, while his wife was experiencing mild symptoms.

“As I have been reminding Virginians throughout this crisis, #COVID19 is very real and very contagious,” Mr. Northam wrote on Twitter. “We are grateful for your thoughts and support, but the best thing you can do for us — and most importantly, for your fellow Virginians — is to take this virus seriously.”

The state has been reporting relatively low numbers of new virus cases a day — about 862 — over a seven-day period ending Thursday, according to a New York Times database. Deaths, while on the rise, are still modest with an average of about 28 deaths over a seven-day period.

Mr. Northam is the third governor to test positive for the virus. On Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, a Republican, announced that he would cancel campaign events in his re-election bid and isolate after he and his wife, Teresa, tested positive. Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, also a Republican, contracted the virus in July.

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican who became known for his aggressive approach to containing the virus, initially tested positive as part of a screening to meet President Trump in August, but it was a false positive. He later received a negative result from a more precise test.

In other U.S. news:

  • A federal judge barred the Trump administration on Friday from ending the 2020 census a month early, the latest twist in years of political and legal warfare over a contested population count that was delayed for months because of the pandemic. In U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Lucy H. Koh issued a preliminary injunction preventing the administration from winding down the count by Sept. 30, a month before the scheduled completion date of Oct. 31.

  • Oklahoma on Friday reported 1,276 new cases, a single-day record for the state. More cases have been announced in Oklahoma over the last week than in any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic.

Indiana University shuts a fraternity though next summer after health rules were ignored.

Joining a growing number of colleges that have taken disciplinary action against Greek organizations that violate health rules, Indiana University has forced a fraternity to shut down through next summer because it held a large event at which people did not wear face masks or socially distance.

The fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, agreed to close its chapter house in Bloomington. The Monroe County Health Department found that members of the fraternity had “intentionally instituted, permitted, or maintained conditions which may transmit the spread of Covid-19,” according to a department news release.

The closure stems from an event held at the fraternity house on the night of Sept. 16. A university official said the gathering was probably a pledge event for selecting new members.

“This agreement directly addresses the health concerns in this house and reflects the serious nature of ensuring student safety” Chuck Carney, a university spokesman, said in an email on Thursday.

Mr. Carney said 14 fraternities and sororities were currently under quarantine. The most recent positivity rate for residents of Greek houses was 3.3 percent — down from 14.6 percent the week before — though it remained higher than the rate among students living in dorms, according to the university’s Covid-19 dashboard.

Universities have struggled with how to prevent sorority and fraternity houses from turning into virus clusters. Earlier this month, the University of New Hampshire suspended a fraternity that hosted a party linked to at least 11 cases. Furman University in South Carolina suspended a fraternity for at least four years over a party held in August. That same month, the University of Kansas issued cease and desist orders to two fraternities accused of violating health and safety guidelines.

N.Y.C. will make its outdoor dining program permanent and year-round.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Less than a week before indoor dining resumes in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that the city’s outdoor dining program would be made permanent and year-round. The program, scheduled to expire Oct. 31, was meant to provide a boost to the city’s roughly 25,000 restaurants and bars, though many are still in financial free fall and closing for good.

The ongoing travails of the industry were underscored by a survey released this week by the New York City Hospitality Alliance, which found that nearly nine out of every 10 dining establishments had not paid full rent in August and that about a third had not paid any rent.

As temperatures drop, restaurants will have the option of enclosing their outdoor area, too, but if they do, they will have to adhere to indoor dining restrictions of 25 percent capacity, the mayor said.

“I think this will really help us,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We want restaurants to do well.”

Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the hospitality alliance, and Robert Bookman, its general counsel, welcomed the news. In a statement, they called permanent outdoor dining “a major step to rebuilding a stronger, more resilient and livable city” and said it would help restaurants “generate much needed revenue.”

Democrats are preparing a new $2.4 trillion stimulus bill as time wanes for a compromise.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and top Democrats on Thursday moved forward with the development of a roughly $2.4 trillion stimulus bill that would provide pandemic aid to American families, restaurants and airlines, amid growing pressure from moderates who demanded additional action before lawmakers leave Washington next week to campaign for re-election.

The effort to present a new package was the first sign of movement in negotiations between Democrats and the White House that have been stalled since early August, and it came as Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said he and Ms. Pelosi had agreed to revive those talks. But it was far from clear that the measure Democrats had in mind, whose cost is about $1 trillion more than the Trump administration has signaled it could accept, would lead to a deal.

Ms. Pelosi privately told top Democrats that the House could vote on it anyway, which would allow anxious Democrats who have been quietly agitating for more action on a stimulus measure to at least register their support for additional relief. Earlier in the week, she instructed lawmakers to begin work, a move previously reported by Politico.

“We are still striving for an agreement,” Ms. Pelosi told top Democrats in a private meeting on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the remarks who disclosed them on the condition of anonymity. “If necessary, we can formalize the request by voting on it on the House floor.”

The measure being drafted is substantially smaller than the $3.4 trillion package the House approved in May, but it is expected to contain some of the same elements, as well as additional funding for needs Ms. Pelosi said had emerged in recent months.

Israel will prohibit citizens from traveling abroad in some instances as cases surge.

Credit…Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israelis will only be allowed to fly out of the country for vacation if they had already purchased air tickets before new coronavirus lockdown rules came into effect at 2 p.m. on Friday, officials said.

The travel restrictions come as part of a national effort to confront a growing caseload. Israel has recorded nearly 37,000 new cases of the virus over the past week, a per capita rate that is the highest in the world, according to a New York Times database.

Outbound tickets purchased after the Friday deadline will not be honored, Israel’s Ministry of Transportation said in a statement, but the thousands of Israelis already abroad will be allowed to return on their original flights and enter self-quarantine on arrival, if required.

Only a very few countries currently accept Israeli travelers, including Greece and Serbia.

The national lockdown, Israel’s second this year, began last week. It is expected to last at least another two weeks but will probably continue in some form until late October. In light of soaring infection rates, the government approved the tightening of restrictions on Thursday.

The authorities had considered shutting down Ben-Gurion International Airport for all but cargo and emergency flights. But since the airlines were not likely to cancel all their scheduled flights on short notice, there were concerns that thousands of Israelis who had already purchased air tickets would sue the state for refunds, the Israeli news media reported.

Miri Regev, the Israeli minister for transportation, said the decision to curtail outbound travel was meant to balance between the interest of keeping the airport and its workers functioning, the rights of those who had already bought air tickets and “the principle of social solidarity” as part of the national effort to combat the pandemic.

Australian rules limiting air travel into the country leave thousands stranded abroad.

Credit…Loren Elliott/Reuters

Tens of thousands of Australians have been stranded abroad because of government coronavirus restrictions that cap the number of people allowed on flights into the country.

Australia is one of the few places in the world that is barring citizens from leaving their own country and limiting the number of those who can return. The tough regulations have raised legal concerns about the right to freedom of movement, and have been especially painful for the large numbers of Australians who turn to travel as a balm against the tyranny of distance from the rest of the world.

“We wanted to take our kids out of the Australian bubble,” Daniel Tusia, 40, said of his family’s decision to travel internationally for a year. Mr. Tusia ended up spending $14,000 on business-class tickets to get his wife and their two children, one of whom has special needs, back to Australia after weeks of trying to get home.

“It never entered our mind before this point that Australia would actually physically and legally obstruct you from entering,” he said.

Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, has framed the country’s hard-line approach as crucial to avoiding the kind of rampant spread of the virus experienced in countries that have travel restrictions that are looser or nonexistent, as in the United States.

“As an island continent, control of our borders has been a means by which we have kept Australians safe,” he wrote in a letter in August sent to those requesting consular assistance to return. He acknowledged that the measures were “frustrating,” but said they were necessary.

But as many of those stranded abroad have become more publicly vocal about their plight, some opposition politicians have expressed more empathy. “These are people who have the right to come back to their country, because they are Australians,” Kristina Keneally, the Labor Party’s top official for home affairs, told Parliament in September.

Last week, under growing pressure, Mr. Morrison said the caps on passengers entering the country would be raised to 6,000 per week from 4,000. Those numbers, though, depend on cooperation from the states and their capacity to quarantine arrivals, and travel industry experts said they still fell far short of demand.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Moscow adds restrictions, showing officials are wary of rising cases.

Credit…Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, asked older people to stay at home and businesses to move to remote work in the clearest sign yet that the authorities are wary of the rising number of cases in the city.

The mayor also noted doctors’ concerns that the flu will coincide with the pandemic, risking more lives, and warned that if people do not take the orders seriously, a full lockdown could follow.

“We all really don’t want to return to the harsh constraints of this spring,” Mr. Sobyanin said.

The order for a partial lockdown contrasted with President Vladimir V. Putin’s suggestions that Russia has the virus largely under control and that a vaccine is ready. Mr. Putin warned on Thursday of rising cases.

Reported cases have been ticking upward in the Russian capital after plateauing at a few hundred per day over the summer. On Friday, Moscow reported 1,560 new cases. In the past week, Moscow hospitals reported a 30 percent rise in virus patients, Mr. Sobyanin said.

The rise in Russian cases comes despite the country being the first to register a vaccine last month for emergency use. People at high risk, such as doctors and teachers, can legally take the vaccine outside of a clinical trial, but few have done so. As of Friday, 126 health care workers in Moscow have taken the vaccine, not enough to slow the spread of the virus in a city of 13 million inhabitants.

Russia has recorded at least 1.1 million cases of the virus, the fourth-highest tally in the world after the United States, India and Brazil.

In other international news:

  • South Korea announced new social-distancing guidelines on Friday as millions of people prepared to travel to their hometowns during one of the country’s biggest holidays. The Chuseok holiday runs from Wednesday to Oct. 4. and poses a new challenge for health officials who have been struggling to contain infections. Starting Monday, villages cannot hold community parties of more than 50 people indoors and more than 100 outdoors, and facilities for entertainment, including drinking, will be closed in provincial towns.

  • The annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro will be delayed next year for the first time in more than a century, Brazilian news outlets reported on Thursday. During a typical Carnival, which is held during the peak of summer in the southern Hemisphere, rambunctious street parties and performances engulf the city. But that could now be an epidemiologist’s nightmare, in a country that has so far reported more than 4.5 million cases and nearly 140,000 deaths, and whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, announced in July that he had tested positive. Rio de Janeiro alone has reported more than 250,000 cases, including more than 11,000 in the past week, according to a Times database.

  • The regional government in Spain’s capital, Madrid, has added eight areas to the partial lockdown that went into effect this week. Spain has been fighting a resurgence of the virus, and Friday’s addition extends the restrictions to about one million residents.

  • London will be made an “area of concern” and added to the British government’s watchlist of hot spots that could soon be subject to a local lockdown. Reacting to the news, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said in a statement that the city was at a “very worrying tipping point” and urged residents to follow health guidelines, calling on the government to increase testing capacity.

  • Attendance at the French Open tennis tournament, which begins Sunday, will be capped at 1,000 spectators per day as part of tightened restrictions in France, which has recorded a daily average of nearly 12,000 new virus cases a day in the past week.

Can New York City schools pull off their ambitious hybrid teaching plan?

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Over the summer, the mayor of New York City and his aides settled on what seemed like a logical solution to the puzzle of how to reopen schools with less-crowded buildings during the pandemic. Students, they decided, would cycle in and out of classrooms, learning remotely the rest of the time.

But turning this so-called hybrid system into a reality has proved to be a logistical morass.

The city still needs to hire thousands of teachers to staff online and in-person classes, and the staffing crisis forced Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay the start of in-person classes for a second time last week.

A web of restrictions, pushed for in part by the teachers’ union, has essentially forced principals to create two versions of school: one in person and one online. That has led to last-minute scheduling changes that have frustrated parents.

Now, the city’s 1,700 principals are racing to make their limited staffing work for children in elementary, middle and high school. Only pre-K students and children with advanced disabilities have been allowed to return to classrooms so far.

The task, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a national teachers’ union, is “the hardest logistical challenge in probably most administrators’ careers.”

Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Pam Belluck, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Johnny Diaz, Michael Gold, Antonella Francini, Mike Ives, Isabel Kershner, Juliana Kim, Andrew E. Kramer, Dan Levin, Raphael Minder, Saw Nang, Richard C. Paddock, Azi Paybarah, Daniel Politi, Alan Rappeport, Simon Romero, Daniel E. Slotnik, Anna Schaverien, Eliza Shapiro, Jeanna Smialek, Mitch Smith, Eileen Sullivan, Michael Wines, Elaine Yu, Mihir Zaveri and Karen Zraick.