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On Monday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention swiftly edited its Web page describing how the novel coronavirus spreads, removing recently added language saying it was “possible” that the virus spread via airborne transmission. The agency had posted information Friday suggesting the virus can transmit over a distance beyond six feet, suggesting that indoor ventilation is key to protection against its spread. Experts had been advancing that idea, and it had appeared that the agency had come around. But Monday, the CDC said an unreviewed draft had been published in error.

Here are some significant developments:
September 21, 2020 at 11:45 PM EDT
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Chance of Obamacare survival in Supreme Court diminishes with RBG’s death

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is not-so-great news for Obamacare.

Legal scholars tell me the long-embattled health-care law's prospects for surviving yet another Supreme Court hearing, scheduled for one week after the election, are far less certain now that the court has lost one of its four liberal justices.

“It’s insane to me the validity of a law passed 10 years ago is in jeopardy because of the death of an 87-year-old woman,” Nick Bagley, a health law professor at the University of Michigan who closely tracks Affordable Care Act-related litigation, told me.

September 21, 2020 at 11:30 PM EDT
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Key GOP senators introduce bill to give airlines $28 billion more in payroll aid

By Ian Duncan

Two leading Republican senators introduced legislation Monday that would give airlines and ground contractors another $28 billion in payroll support to avert tens of thousands of layoffs planned for the beginning of October.

There is broad bipartisan support in Congress for providing more government help to the airlines, which continue to struggle as fewer people travel during the pandemic. But reaching a final deal on any extra help has been stymied by lawmakers’ inability to agree on a broader coronavirus relief package.

The new bill’s sponsors, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, which oversees aviation, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who leads the transportation funding subcommittee, said their bill would protect workers’ jobs until March 31 and ensure airline service continues to communities across the country.

September 21, 2020 at 11:00 PM EDT
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Powell to cast recovery as improving, yet highly uncertain, in remarks before lawmakers

By Rachel Siegel

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell casts the economy as showing “marked improvement” but still highly uncertain, and possibly requiring more aid from Congress, in remarks to lawmakers, he’s scheduled to make on Tuesday.

Economic activity — from household spending to the housing market — has picked up since the economy bottomed out in the second quarter, according to Powell’s prepared remarks before the House Financial Services Committee. The testimony notes that household spending looks to have recovered about 75 percent of its earlier decline, thanks in part to federal stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits.

Still, with about half of the 22 million payroll jobs lost in March and April still off the books, Powell’s statement suggests the rise in joblessness has been especially severe for low-wage workers, women and people of color.

September 21, 2020 at 10:30 PM EDT
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Museums, gardens and zoos are reopening across the D.C. region. Here’s what you can visit now.

By Fritz Hahn

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a major impact on Washington’s cultural institutions, even as the region begins to reopen. The responses differ by institution: The Kennedy Center has canceled most performances through the end of 2020. The Smithsonian is taking things slowly, using the analogy of a dimmer switch, rather than just flipping the lights back on: four more museums began welcoming visitors in September, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, after the National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center successfully reopened in July.

As attractions swing open the doors to their buildings and sculpture gardens, safety is obviously a concern, with stringent social distancing precautions: “Thou shalt wear a face mask” is one of the Museum of the Bible’s “Covid Commandments,” and the Smithsonian requires all visitors ages 6 and older to wear face coverings at all times. The Spy Museum provides a “spy gadget,” or stylus, for use with touch screens, elevator buttons and any other surface that might spread germs. The National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden has designated entrance and exit gates to control crowd flow.

If you’re looking to get the kids out of the house for a few hours, or just spend an afternoon enjoying art in the open air, one of these museums or historic homes could be the answer. Remember to check websites and social media, as some attractions are operating with shortened hours, and not all exhibits may be open.

September 21, 2020 at 10:00 PM EDT
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House, Senate on collision course over government funding as shutdown looms in nine days

By Erica Werner

House Democrats unveiled a short-term spending bill on Monday that Senate Republicans immediately said they would oppose, raising the prospect of a government shutdown weeks before the November elections.

Congress in recent years has frequently failed to pass the 12 annual must-pass spending bills to fund government agencies on time, and has had to resort to short-term spending bills. There have also been a number of government shutdowns, with a lengthy one running from December 2018 until January 2019.

The short-term spending bill, as introduced in the House, does not include any new provisions related to economic aid for the coronavirus. Talks around a new coronavirus relief bill are essentially dead, despite pressure on Pelosi from moderate House Democrats to revive them.

September 21, 2020 at 9:30 PM EDT
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Chirping smoke detectors at students’ home were disrupting virtual classes. Now firefighters are helping to fix them.

By Perry Stein

The principal at Whittier Elementary in Northwest Washington was the first to contact the fire department. Students’ smoke detectors kept chirping in the background of virtual classes. The problem seemed widespread at the elementary school of more than 300 students, and the principal sought help from the fire department on how to address the low batteries in smoke detectors.

But soon after, other school leaders across the city starting calling, too, according to Tony Falwell, fire marshal and deputy chief at the D.C. fire department. Smoke detectors in homes were disrupting classes across the city, and to Falwell — an experienced firefighter in the department’s fire prevention division — that meant that homes were more susceptible to dangerous fires.

And while the teachers heard it, the parents and students at the homes seemed so accustomed to the incessant noise that they didn’t notice it.

September 21, 2020 at 9:28 PM EDT
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Anti-Fauci, anti-mask blogger exposed as NIH staffer

By Lenny Bernstein, Elahe Izadi and Jeremy Barr

A public-affairs specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will retire after revelations that he used a pseudonym online to savage the government response to the covid-19 pandemic — including the work of Anthony Fauci, who heads that agency, an NIAID spokeswoman said Monday.

William Crews told NIAID officials he will retire after the Daily Beast revealed he is also the managing editor of the conservative web site, where, under the pseudonym “streiff,” he has ridiculed the government’s activity against the coronavirus outbreak, according to the NIAID spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified because the matter involves personnel.

The spokeswoman, who confirmed the Daily Beast’s reporting that Crews is the pseudonymous writer, said the agency had learned of the matter Monday morning.

September 21, 2020 at 9:11 PM EDT
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Apple CEO Tim Cook: Company likely will not return to in-person operations until ‘sometime next year’

By Meryl Kornfield

The majority of Apple employees are working remotely, CEO Tim Cook said.

Speaking at the Atlantic Festival virtually Monday night, Cook said that 85 to 90 percent of Apple workers have been doing their jobs from home since March. The company likely will not return to in-person operations until “sometime next year,” Cook said.

But the executive said that half-year away has proved working from home has its virtues.

“I don’t believe we will return to the way we were, because we found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually,” Cook said, citing the company’s recent product announcements.

But creativity and serendipity have suffered, Cook said, with a virtual work setup.

“You depend on people running into each other over the course of the day,” Cook said. “We’ve designed our entire office such that there are common areas where people congregate and talk about different things. You can’t schedule that.”

Cook did not say if he was referring to corporate or all workers. The company did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s question about his interview. Apple has more than 90,000 workers in the United States.

Tech giants have announced distant return-to-office dates, as the industry has adapted to the social isolation of the coronavirus pandemic more smoothly than other fields. Google announced on July 27 it would let most employees work from home through mid-2021. Facebook workers who can do their jobs remotely will be virtual through the end of 2020.

September 21, 2020 at 9:00 PM EDT
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San Francisco Bay area reports first cases of influenza as flu season adds new threat to pandemic

By Lateshia Beachum

Hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area have recorded their first cases of the flu this season, representing the start of a potentially tumultuous several months of dual epidemics, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The University of California at San Francisco’s emergency department reported its first case of Type A influenza this week, and a hospital in the East Bay region announced its first Type B case last week, infectious-disease experts told the Chronicle.

Doctors emphasized the benefits of widespread acceptance of the annual flu vaccine and warned that even a mild flu season would be cause for concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re not handling COVID-19 very well,” Charles Chiu, head of UC-San Francisco’s infectious-diseases division, told the Chronicle. “A few thousand flu cases could be enough to overwhelm our hospital system.”

Experts told the Chronicle that the region’s hospitals usually see a few flu cases over the summer, so the recent cases are not unusual. They said reports of influenza actually have been lower than usual recently, which could be due to a combination of infrequent testing and social distancing.

Low numbers of flu infections in the Southern Hemisphere during their winter months could indicate that the United States will also have an uneventful flu season, some doctors said.

“We’re really, really hopeful that universal masking will not only decrease transmission of COVID but also flu,” Maria Raven, chief of emergency medicine at UC-San Francisco, said Wednesday in a panel discussion on the pandemic, according to the Chronicle. “We’ve seen that in the Southern Hemisphere. We’re hopeful for that to happen here, but prepared for it to not happen.”

September 21, 2020 at 8:08 PM EDT
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Analysis: A third of states are still seeing new cases at at least 75 percent of their peaks

By Philip Bump

The United States is poised to see its 200,000th confirmed death from the coronavirus shortly, if it hasn’t already happened by the time you read this. That’s confirmed deaths; the country has already certainly experienced far more than 200,000 deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as made obvious by the country’s year-over-year increase in deaths.

President Trump is eager to suggest that this unhappy metric is beside the point. The point, he likes to say, is that the country has “turned the corner” on the pandemic, put this thing mostly behind us as we look to the future. It’s a claim that he makes independent of how the pandemic progresses. To Trump, we have rounded the corner now as surely as we had 100,000 deaths ago.

Assuming that we reach confirmed 200,000 deaths on Monday, the pattern we’ve seen on fatality is grim. The most recent 10,000 deaths will have been added in nine days, three fewer than the 10,000 deaths that preceded those. It’s taken about 12 days on average for each of the last 10 10,000-death intervals, a fairly static death toll that keeps pushing higher.

September 21, 2020 at 7:30 PM EDT
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No matter what the CDC says, many scientists think the coronavirus is airborne.

By Ben Guarino and Chris Mooney

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday removed language from its website that said the novel coronavirus spreads via airborne transmission, the latest example of the agency backtracking from its own guidance.

It was the latest disorienting turn in a scientific debate with enormous public consequences for how we return to schools and offices. The debate is over whether the extreme infectiousness and tenacity of the coronavirus is due to its ability to spread well over six feet, especially indoors, in small particles that result from talking, shouting, singing or just breathing.

September 21, 2020 at 6:57 PM EDT
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Air purifiers can help against coronavirus spread, experts say

By Kim Bellware and Meryl Kornfield

Despite the CDC’s latest reversal on the issue of airborne transmission of coronavirus, the growing scientific consensus points to the virus spreading through aerosols, or micro-particles in respiratory droplets that linger in the air. Some consumers in turn are looking at air filtration technology as another line of defense against infection, alongside masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectants.

The virus’ ability to infect people depends on the concentration of the virus in aerosols and the length of time people are exposed; super-spreader events have consistently been linked to situations where people are in close proximity with little ventilation, including a Washington choir practice and an indoor wedding in Maine.

Researchers generally agree that air filtration systems, like those with HEPA filters, can help reduce the concentration of aerosols in a space as long as the systems are properly sized and the filters are regularly replaced.

Jose-Luis Jimenez, a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in an early August Twitter thread that effective systems include filters on home or office HVAC systems that have at least a MERV-13 rating; HEPA filters on portable air purifiers and even makeshift systems where filters are fixed to box fans that, if properly sealed, can help exhaust indoor air. Jimenez discouraged filters with what he said were unnecessary and potentially harmful additions, includes those with ions, oxidation or UV technology.

Air foggers, where bleach or disinfectants are released in the air, are discouraged by researchers who note they are less effective than air filtration methods as they can only be deployed after someone has already coughed, spoken, sneezed or shouted when the virus’ concentration in aerosol is the highest. Fogging or spraying disinfectant can be dangerous if the chemicals, which are harmful if inhaled, don’t have enough time to dissipate.

But any filtration is only effective to a certain degree, said Claudia S. Miller, an immunologist, allergist and professor emeritus at the University of Texas. Filters cannot kill every virus in a space, and only one lingering air droplet is all it takes.

“It’s a probability game,” Miller said in an interview with The Post. “What is the probability that a viral particle from that person goes through this maybe very excellent filter before it reaches you? It’s not great.”

September 21, 2020 at 5:58 PM EDT
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Traveler with covid-19 defied quarantine and attempted to board plane in Maine, state says

By Reis Thebault

Two travelers — one who tested positive for the novel coronavirus and that person’s close contact — flouted quarantine requirements in Maine on Sunday and attempted to board a Florida-bound flight at the state’s largest airport, health officials said.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a branch of the state health department, warned in a Monday statement that the pair might have exposed an unspecified number of fliers at the Portland International Jetport to the coronavirus.

The agency advised those who passed through the airport between 12:30 and 4 p.m. on Sunday to monitor themselves for symptoms of the disease.

A health department spokesperson did not respond to a request for elaboration on the news release, which did not identify the two people or specify their home state — and it did not disclose whether they face any sort of fine or other punishment for attempting to board a flight despite being told to quarantine.

Health officials “became aware” that the two intended to fly to Florida, the release said. They contacted the person with the confirmed covid-19 case, who had tested positive last week, and the individual “subsequently chose not to board the aircraft.” The person’s close contact, who has not yet tested positive, was “removed from a plane before takeoff.”

“The individual with covid-19 returned to isolation, and the close contact of that individual returned to quarantine,” the agency release said. “People with covid-19 must isolate until a public health official can confirm that they meet the criteria for recovery.”

News of this exposure comes days after the release of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that identified nearly 11,000 people who were potentially exposed to the virus on flights. However, the agency hasn’t been able to confirm a case of transmission aboard a plane due to the paucity of contact tracing information and the virus’s days-long incubation time.

The best way to protect oneself and others from the virus, CDC guidance states, is to avoid travel.

September 21, 2020 at 5:49 PM EDT
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Biden attacks Trump on 200K deaths: ‘He failed to act’

By Meryl Kornfield

Two hundred thousand empty dining room and kitchen chairs.

Speaking in Manitowoc, Wis., as the country has summited the grim tally of 200,000 coronavirus-related deaths, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden compared the unprecedented loss to the image of vacant seats — a haunting symbol of families ripped apart when the virus has stolen our chance to grieve in person.

“We can’t let the numbers become statistics or background noise, just a blur that we see on the nightly news,” Biden said. “Two hundred thousand moms, dads, sons, daughters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, co-workers, who are no longer with us. And so many of them didn’t have to lose their lives to this virus.”

Biden wore a mask during his speech, which was harped on by conservative commentators — and is also required in Wisconsin. The state has seen a recent surge in cases, pushing Gov. Tony Evers (D) to enact a face-covering requirement until Sept. 28. The state’s seven-day average for new confirmed infections was 1,877 cases Monday, double what it was two weeks ago. The state also leads the country with the highest positivity rate for coronavirus testing at 17 percent.

President Trump’s delayed response to the pandemic, Biden said in his speech, as he has argued before, cost the country valuable time to stock up on protective equipment, educate the population and implement lifesaving guidelines.

“He froze,” Biden said. “He failed to act. He panicked. And America has paid the worst price of any nation in the world.”

Biden also criticized Trump’s political rallies for putting more lives in danger as mask-less audience members do not stand six feet apart. Trump held rallies in airport hangars over the weekend in Bemidji, Minn., and Fayetteville, N.C. Biden said Trump was being insincere for allowing his supporters to gather as he eludes close contact with crowds.

“Next time he holds one, look closely,” Biden said. “Trump keeps his distance from anyone at the rally. The folks who come are packed in tight as they can be, risking disease, mostly without masks. But not Trump. He safely keeps his distance.”