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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reversed a heavily criticized guidance it issued last month about who should be tested for the novel coronavirus. The agency updated its recommendation to call for testing anyone — including people without symptoms — who has been in close contact with someone diagnosed with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The change took place after the agency was directed last month by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to shift its testing guidance. The Task Force-directed guidance said those without symptoms "do not necessarily need a test.”

Here are some significant developments:
September 18, 2020 at 10:30 PM EDT

Van Morrison announces anti-lockdown protest songs

Singer-songwriter Van Morrison has announced the release of three protest songs in which he blames the British government for “taking the freedom” of people and calls for an end to coronavirus shutdowns.

In one of the lyrics, Morrison accuses scientists of “making up crooked facts” to justify the protective measures, which he said are enslaving the population, according to the BBC.

“No More Lockdown,” one of the three discordant tracks, is full of attacks on the government-imposed measures meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus

“No more lockdown / No more government overreach,” Morrison sings in the chorus. “No more fascist bullies / Disturbing our peace.

“No more taking of our freedom / And our God-given rights / Pretending it’s for our safety / When it’s really to enslave.”

The songs “Born to Be Free,” “As I Walked Out” and “No More Lockdown” were recorded in Belfast and Britain and will be released in the next few weeks, with the first, “Born to Be Free” coming Sept. 25. They follow a string of scornful remarks from the musician against global restrictions to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the Belfast-born Morrison, who is known for hits such as “Brown Eyed Girl,” reproached social distancing mandates for concerts, arguing they are not economically viable. He called other singers to join his campaign “to save live music,” claiming the coronavirus restrictions are based on “pseudo-science.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson aligned with Morrison’s aversion to new shutdown measures this week, claiming that his government was doing “everything” in its power to prevent a second round of restrictions.

Other health officials have warned a second short-term national shutdown might be on the near horizon as new coronavirus cases throughout the country continue to grow.

By Paulina Villegas
September 18, 2020 at 10:05 PM EDT

TSA would screen travelers for fever under new legislation proposed in the Senate

The Transportation Security Administration would do temperature checks of travelers at U.S. airports for signs of fever under new legislation introduced Friday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), would require the TSA to set up a 120-day pilot program. Data collected from the pilot project would be used to expand the program to additional airports. Legislation to create a similar program was introduced in the House in July.

“Americans deserve all the available tools to fight COVID-19,” Cantwell said in a news release announcing the legislation, referring to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “For workers and the traveling public, a temperature check program provides important data. The legislation I introduced would require TSA to use innovative temperature screening technology to better protect passenger and worker health, and build public trust in the aviation system.”

By Lori Aratani
September 18, 2020 at 9:45 PM EDT

U.S.-Mexico border closure extended days after State Dept. lifts ‘do not travel’ advisory

Mexico announced Thursday that its border with the United States will remain closed for another month to further prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The border closure was due to expire on Sept. 21.

The Mexican secretary of foreign affairs said that Mexico and the Unites States would continue the terms of that closure, which have been in place since March, until at least Oct. 21.

The announcement comes days after the State Department had lowered its travel advisory for Mexico to a Level 3 from its highest-possible a Level 4, the highest on the scale.

By Shannon McMahon
September 18, 2020 at 9:00 PM EDT

European countries opt for local measures over national shutdowns as coronavirus cases surge

BERLIN — Amid surges in novel coronavirus case numbers across Europe, some governments have imposed new measures meant to slow the spread of the virus — opting mostly for localized measures over the widespread shutdowns imposed earlier this year.

Officials announced targeted measures in England, France, Spain and elsewhere, and other countries appeared to be on the brink of doing the same.

On Thursday, a top World Health Organization official warned of a “very serious situation” stemming from a resurgence of the coronavirus in Europe, with case counts swinging upward after having been under control for much of the summer.

“More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10 percent increase in the past two weeks,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, told reporters at a briefing. The caseload in seven countries has doubled in the past two weeks, he said.

By Rick Noack
September 18, 2020 at 8:15 PM EDT

He and his family had dreamed of his major league moment. Amid a pandemic, he reached it alone.

The texts bounced from Texas to Long Island, to cousins and coaches, through a living room in Kingwood, just outside Houston, where a broadcast met the sound of sniffed-back tears: Kyle is in.

“ … as we will witness the major league debut of Kyle Finnegan,” said a Fox announcer through the TV, right as Kyle — their son, their brother, their friend and their dad — drew a deep breath and took the mound in Washington. “ … who spent a long time in the A’s organization, seven seasons.”

Everyone was a bit quieter then, watching Finnegan take the sign, reach back and skip a fastball to the backstop at Nationals Park. However long “seven seasons” sounded to fans, it felt much longer to the 28-year-old’s family. Finnegan’s father, Willy, paced through the house and whispered “Come on, Ky” under his breath. His wife, Rachel, tried to stay calm, hoping that would reach Finnegan in some cosmic way. And their daughter, Brayden, 8 years old and beaming, recorded a video with her iPad.

By Jesse Dougherty
September 18, 2020 at 7:36 PM EDT

University of Cincinnati investigating allegation instructor said ‘chinese virus’ in email to student

The University of Cincinnati on Thursday said it was looking into allegations that an instructor used the phrase “chinese virus” in an email to a student, a phrase often used by President Trump that critics have decried as racist.

Evan Sotzing, whom the Cincinnati Enquirer identified as a third-year engineering student, tweeted about the message.

“My girlfriend tested positive for COVID and the University of Cincinnati’s Health Department instructed me to not attend my in-person lab,” Sotzing said in his tweet.

“Not only did my professor give me a zero for not going, but this was his response,” Sotzing wrote, sharing an image of what appears to be an email from John Ucker, an adjunct instructor, with the reply, “For students testing positive for the chinese virus, I will give no grade.”

By late Friday, the student’s tweet had been reposted 31,000 times.

The university, Sotzing and Ucker did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The 20-year-old student told the Enquirer that he objected to being punished for following coronavirus guidelines and called the language in the email “racist” and “completely unacceptable.”

“It has no place in this country and it contributes to Asian xenophobia,” Sotzing said, adding that he believes Ucker should apologize.

John Weidner, dean of the university’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, told CNN he assured the student he would investigate the incident.

“These types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling,” he said. “We know we can better protect and care for all when we speak about covid-19 with both accuracy and empathy — something we should all strive for.”

President Trump and some Republican lawmakers have frequently used the phrase despite warnings against using geographic locales to refer to outbreaks of infectious diseases. As the pandemic has spread across the United States, there have been reports of spikes in verbal and physical abuse targeting Asian Americans.

Marietta Vazquez, vice chair of diversity, equity and inclusion for pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, wrote in March that xenophobic comments carry the potential for debilitating effects.

“This behavior, and the stigma associated with referring to an illness in a way that deliberately creates unconscious (or conscious) bias, can keep people from getting care they may desperately need to get better and prevent others from getting sick,” Vazquez said. “When faced with this type of constant, heightened discrimination our friends, neighbors and colleagues of Asian-decent can feel uncomfortable in places they should feel welcome, included, and safe.”

By Darren Sands
September 18, 2020 at 7:33 PM EDT

Long lines and hand sanitizer on the first day of early voting for general election

MINNEAPOLIS — Jason Miller, a house painter in Minneapolis, had been itching to vote. So on the first day of early voting, the sun barely up on a chilly Friday morning, he became one of the first people in the country to cast his vote in person for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“I’ve always said that I wanted to be the first person to vote against Donald Trump,” said Miller, 33. “I just couldn’t wait. I just couldn’t. . . . And for four years I have waited to do this, so here I am.”

Early voting for the November election kicked off Friday in four states as voters showed up in person to cast their ballots, driven by a sense of urgency about the divisive presidential election, growing unease over the timely delivery of mail ballots, and fear of exposure to the novel coronavirus at the polls on Election Day.

By Michelle Lee and Holly Bailey
September 18, 2020 at 7:30 PM EDT

Bloc Québécois leader tests positive for coronavirus with Canada’s Parliament set to resume

TORONTO — Yves-François Blanchet, the leader of the separatist Bloc Québécois party, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the party said in a statement Friday.

The leader and the rest of the caucus went into self-isolation this week, after a party aide and Blanchet’s wife tested positive for the virus. Blanchet, who is the first federal party leader in Canada to test positive for the coronavirus, will remain in isolation at his home in Quebec until Sept. 26.

The news comes less than a week before Canada’s Parliament is set to reconvene Sept. 23 for a throne speech outlining the government’s agenda. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the speech will be put to a confidence vote. There remain questions over whether virtual voting will be in place.

Ottawa’s top public health official told reporters Friday that the city is in the middle of a second wave of the coronavirus. Some testing centers in the city have been so overwhelmed that they’ve reached capacity before opening.

By Amanda Coletta
September 18, 2020 at 6:45 PM EDT

Southwest Airlines extends block on middle seats through Nov. 30

Southwest Airlines has extended its ban on middle seats during flights through Nov. 30, highlighting the travel industry’s need to adapt to both safety precautions and continued operations to survive the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ryan Green, Southwest’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, announced the policy extension in an email to customers Friday.

“We hope this provides peace of mind as you plan your travel this autumn and through Thanksgiving,” he said. “Of course, if you are traveling with your family or others, you can still sit together. Otherwise, middle seats will be open.”

Airline companies have adjusted their coronavirus-related policies and introduced new social distancing measures as the number of travelers has increased. Delta Air Lines is blocking middle seats through Jan. 6, 2021, except for parties of more than three people who are traveling together. JetBlue recently extended its middle-seat ban for larger aircraft and aisle seats on smaller aircraft for individual travelers through Oct. 15.

But neither United Airlines nor American Airlines has a similar policy. Between mid-May and the end of July, United promised to avoid seating fliers next to each other, but with no guarantees.

Reducing seat capacity is extremely expensive; in May, JetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes said: “Because [of] the economics of our industry, most airlines have a break-even load factor of 75 to 80 percent, so clearly capping flights at 55 to 60 percent, which is what we’re doing right now … is not sustainable.”

By Hannah Denham
September 18, 2020 at 6:00 PM EDT

China and Russia are ahead in coronavirus vaccine race, an unexpectedly complex geopolitical challenge for the United States

SEOUL — China and Russia have begun a mass rollout of their coronavirus vaccines before clinical tests are complete, in what is emerging as an unexpectedly complex geopolitical challenge for the United States.

China's Sinopharm announced this week that it would provide emergency doses of one of its two trial vaccines to the United Arab Emirates, prioritizing the U.S. ally over the vast majority of Chinese. China is now the sole supplier of coronavirus vaccine to the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund signed a deal this week to supply India with 100 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

By Eva Dou and Isabelle Khurshudyan
September 18, 2020 at 5:15 PM EDT

Trump, in reversal, now says vaccines available for all by April

Earlier in the week, Trump challenged CDC Director Robert Redfield when Redfield said a coronavirus vaccine wouldn’t be widely available to the public until the middle of next year. Trump claimed Redfield was “confused” by the question and misspoke.

“I think he made a mistake with that statement,” Trump said Wednesday. “When he said it, I believe he was confused. I’m just telling you we’re ready to go.”

Trump said then that a vaccine would be ready in weeks and swiftly made available.

But on Friday, Trump essentially said the same thing Redfield had: All Americans will have the ability to be vaccinated by April of next year.

Hundreds of millions of doses will be available every month, and we expect to have enough vaccines for every American by April,” Trump said at his Friday briefing.

By Colby Itkowitz
September 18, 2020 at 4:45 PM EDT

Guatemala’s president has tested positive for coronavirus

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has tested positive for the coronavirus and is under medical observation and in isolation, the federal government announced Friday.

“This shows that all of us Guatemalans are exposed to the covid-19 virus,” an official statement said, urging the population to continue to abide by social distancing norms, use of masks, hand-washing and other preventive measures.

Giammattei, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, told a local radio program Friday that he is working from home and “feeling well.” He started showing symptoms Thursday, he said, after being in touch with a person who contracted the virus Sept. 14 during an official event at the National Palace, according to Prensa Libre, a national newspaper.

The announcement coincides with the country’s reopening of its borders Friday, when the first international flights will be allowed in after a six-month strict closure in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Health officials announced this week that all foreigners seeking to enter Guatemala will be required to present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before arrival, at the latest.

The Health Ministry announced that foreigners showing symptoms during a flight will not be allowed to enter the country.

Giammattei is the fourth head of state in Latin America to have tested positive for the coronavirus, along with Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Honduras’s Juan Orlando Hernández and Bolivia’s interim president Janine Añez, as well as several other high-ranking government officials and cabinet members.

By Paulina Villegas
September 18, 2020 at 4:16 PM EDT

Stocks slide with Friday’s market close

U.S. stocks ticked down into the red leading up to Friday’s market close, closing out a week of slumps as tech shares led sell-offs and as investors reacted to hopes of a quick economic recovery dwindling as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.

The market experienced a deeper midday slide in trading, with the Dow Jones industrial average plunging down nearly 1.4 percent, but recovered modestly by market close. The Dow closed down about 245 points, or 0.9 percent. The S&P 500 index was down nearly 38 points, or 1.1 percent, by market close, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite was down almost 117 points, or nearly 1.1 percent.

Big Tech shares led the end of the trading day’s dive, marking the Nasdaq’s seventh weeks of losses. Apple closed down nearly 3.2 percent, Alphabet closed down almost 2.4 percent, Amazon closed down about 1.8 percent, and Facebook closed down 0.9 percent. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Biotechnical firms that are in the process of developing vaccines and treatments for the novel coronavirus were a mixed bag in today’s trading. Moderna closed up 2.9 percent and AstraZeneca closed up almost 1 percent, while Amgen closed down roughly 0.2 percent.

By Hannah Denham
September 18, 2020 at 3:45 PM EDT

These countries crushed covid-19 — but are now reporting higher infection rates than the U.S.

Israel, Spain and France all fought the novel coronavirus into abatement in the first months of the pandemic with tough measures that won international praise. But the three countries now share a painful distinction: Their infection rates have shot past the United States, even though Americans never got the virus under control.

The experience of these three nations demonstrates the difficulty of keeping the virus at bay, experts and officials say, and how reopening too quickly and other missteps can undermine successful national policies. For countries with more chaotic approaches, such as the United States, the challenge may be even greater.

“We are going into a worsening situation,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s top official in Europe, told reporters Thursday. He said the rising numbers on the continent should serve as “a wake-up call for all of us” to be more vigilant about the transmission of the disease.

By Michael Birnbaum, Ruth Eglash and James McAuley