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President Trump on Wednesday said a plan by the Food and Drug Administration to issue tough new standards for emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine “sounds like a political move” and warned that the White House might reject it.

Here are some significant developments:
September 23, 2020 at 11:45 PM EDT
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This college football team has now had five opening games. They’ve all been called off.

By Matt Bonesteel

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen entire college football conferences shut themselves down but then return. One program — Army — saw its schedule reduced to just three games with a month left before the season before somehow rebuilding it. Another — FBS independent Massachusetts — at first canceled its season but then announced Monday that it will play a limited number of games against whichever opponent needs a game.

But no team has exemplified the strange, frustrating college football world we’re living in more than Houston, which on Wednesday had an opponent postpone or cancel a game for the fifth time this season, this time North Texas.

The Cougars were supposed to start the season Sept. 3 against Rice, but that game was called off way back on Aug. 10 when the Owls halted all football-related activities (it’s still unclear whether Rice will play this season). Then Houston’s Sept. 12 game against Washington State was canceled after the Pac-12 ended its season. A game against Memphis on Sept. 18 was called off and not yet rescheduled after the Tigers saw a spike in cases.

September 23, 2020 at 11:00 PM EDT
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Covid eliminated airline change fees. Could hotel resort fees be next?

By Shannon McMahon

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has grounded flights and led to massive job losses, most travel companies are searching for new ways to entice travelers. In late August, for example, airlines had an unprecedented showdown over change fees that resulted in all of the U.S.’s major players — United, Delta and American — dropping the added cost “permanently.”

Could other travel sectors see the value in ditching fees to attract travelers during this period of uncertainty?

Experts say not to hold your breath for the controversial resort fee to disappear widely — even though the amenities they typically cover, such as fitness centers and towel service, are closed because of the novel coronavirus. But some hotels say they are forgoing the fee, with one major chain saying that its properties have been pulling back on resort fees since the pandemic began.

September 23, 2020 at 10:15 PM EDT
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Top CEOs call for ‘major’ coronavirus stimulus to keep economy from backsliding

By Hannah Denham

Roughly 1 in 4 chief executives of some of the nation’s largest companies say their businesses have recovered or will have by year end, despite the lingering ill effects of the coronavirus recession, according to a survey.

But the economy remains fragile, they say, and the federal government must provide “further major support” to ensure it does not backslide.

Business Roundtable surveyed 149 members about projected sales, capital spending and hiring for the next six months. The CEO Economic Outlook Survey rose to 64.0 in the third quarter, the headline index’s first quarterly increase in nine quarters, according to a report released Wednesday. The index is up 29.7 points since last quarter but remains well below the historical average of 81.7, which dates to 2002.

September 23, 2020 at 9:30 PM EDT
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Coronavirus caseload in D.C. region ticks down to lowest point in two months

By Rebecca Tan and Tim Richardson

The daily average of new coronavirus infections Wednesday in the greater Washington region fell to its lowest point in more than two months.

The rolling seven-day average of new cases in D.C., Virginia and Maryland ticked downward to 1,421 — a number last seen across the region in mid-July. The decline comes as the two states have seen a slight drop in cases in recent days, while D.C.’s caseload continues to hold steady at a rate below either Maryland or Virginia.

While the number of cases has slightly declined in the region, officials said Wednesday they are making preparations for a possible second wave of coronavirus infections.

September 23, 2020 at 8:55 PM EDT
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Trump calls FDA’s stricter vaccine requirement ‘a political move’

By Meryl Kornfield

The White House “may or may not” approve stricter vaccine guidelines recommended by the Food and Drug Administration, President Trump said in a media briefing Wednesday.

Trump called the upgraded standards meant to shore up the public’s confidence in the coronavirus vaccine “a political move more than anything else,” hours after top health officials said the opposite. Trump said he trusts the companies producing the vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — to follow protocol. He also argued that a quicker turnaround distributing immunizations would save lives from the disease caused by the virus.

“Why would they have to be adding great length to the process?” Trump said of additional vetting.

Earlier Wednesday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn testified in Congress with other members of the White House coronavirus task force, telling the Senate’s health committee that the agency will not be “pressured by anyone” with its coronavirus vaccine approach.

“I know there has been particular attention paid to a few of the decisions made by FDA in the last few months,” Hahn said. “I want to assure you and emphasize every one of the decisions we have reached has been made by career FDA scientists based on science and data, not politics.”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci rebuffed a question about Trump speeding up states’ plans for vaccine distribution.

September 23, 2020 at 8:45 PM EDT
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Second wave underway in Canada, Trudeau says in rare address to the nation

By Amanda Coletta

TORONTO — In an extremely rare address to the nation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday delivered a stark warning to the country about the novel coronavirus, saying the country is already in the middle of a second wave that could be much more severe than it was in the spring, when soldiers were deployed to hard-hit long-term-care homes and much of the country shut down schools and businesses.

The address comes a day after federal public health officials unveiled new modeling showing that Canada could see as many as 5,000 cases per day by late October if the country continues on the current course.

“I know this isn’t the news that any of us wanted to hear. … It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving,” Trudeau said in the address. “But we still have a shot at Christmas.”

Cases of covid-19 have been climbing in several provinces for many weeks. The seven-day average of daily case counts Tuesday was up 178 percent from mid-August. Testing centers have been overwhelmed, with many reaching capacity before they even open. Some provinces have reimposed restrictions on private social gatherings.

Addresses to the nation from the prime minister are a rare occurrence in Canada, reserved largely for times of war or political and constitutional crises. Trudeau also took advantage of the moment to provide a summary of the legislative agenda unveiled hours earlier in a “speech from the throne,” the ceremony launching a new session of Parliament.

The ceremony was significantly pared back, with lawmakers encouraged to watch it remotely. Two of the main opposition leaders, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole and Bloc Québécois chief Yves-François Blanchet, were in self-isolation at home after testing positive for the coronavirus last week.

September 23, 2020 at 8:00 PM EDT
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Israel has record high increase in cases as government considers further restrictions

By Miriam Berger

Israel reported a record high increase in confirmed coronavirus cases Wednesday, less than one week after the country returned to a lockdown to stem rising infection rates.

Israel’s Health Ministry said Wednesday it had recorded 6,923 new cases in the previous 24 hours, surpassing the record for most cases in a single day, 5,533, set in the past week.

Israel’s population of around 9 million is now facing one of the world’s highest per capita infection rates. The government’s coronavirus cabinet met Wednesday to discuss the possibility of imposing additional virus-related restrictions. The country had initially won international praise for its swift efforts to contain the virus. But after quickly reopening much of the economy, infections began to climb.

Some Israelis have blamed the country’s embattled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for politicizing coronavirus containment efforts and not more effectively managing the economic fallout. The virus has spread fast through ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, whose political parties are a core base for Netanyahu but some of whom have also resisted measures limiting the number of people allowed at prayers, study groups, weddings and funerals.

Last week, ahead of the Jewish new year and a month of Jewish holidays, Netanyahu’s government announced a three-week closure of schools, stores, malls and hotels. People are additionally barred from traveling more than a half-mile from their homes.

The rules, however, come with a long list of exemptions such as permitting people to travel to work, buy essentials and care for the elderly. The government also issued further limits and loopholes around how to organize communal prayers.

September 23, 2020 at 7:32 PM EDT
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Missouri’s governor and first lady test positive for covid-19, his office says

By Darren Sands

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who has refused to mandate masks, and his wife have tested positive for the coronavirus, the governor’s office said in a statement Wednesday.

First lady Teresa Parson was experiencing minor symptoms and was tested out of an “abundance of caution,” the governor’s office said. Gov. Parson, meanwhile, has no symptoms.

“During this time, Governor Parson continues to conduct and fulfill all roles of businesses of the state of Missouri from the Governor’s Mansion without interruption,” the statement said, adding that the governor’s staff members have also been tested as a precaution.

The state, as it closes in on 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths, has had almost 120,000 known cases of infection, with a majority concentrated in populous St. Louis County.

September 23, 2020 at 7:15 PM EDT
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Milan Fashion Week kicks off with mix of in-person and online shows

By Miriam Berger

Milan, only months ago an epicenter of Italy’s outbreak, kicked off the city’s famed Fashion Week on Wednesday, with 23 live runway shows and about 40 virtual events planned over five days in a mix of in-person and digital showcases.

Designers Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana and Blumarine set the stage Wednesday with live runway shows that offered previews of their upcoming spring and summer collections, the Associated Press reported.

Other designers, such as Giorgio Armani, Versace and Prada, will be showcasing their work on models walking virtually displayed runways because of coronavirus travel and attendance concerns. As part of the hybrid approach, Milan Fashion Week organizers have put in place strict rules for in-person participants. Models, for example, must wear masks while rehearsing and when waiting in lines before reaching the runway.

Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian National Fashion Chamber, said Tuesday that hundreds of people were expected to attend, rather than the thousands drawn in past years, the AP reported. Italy’s fashion council has estimated a 29 percent drop in this year’s revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nicola Brognano, creative director for Blumarine, told the AP that “he felt we needed to do a runway show. … We wanted to give a sign of positivity. We need a little normalcy. I don’t think there has emerged a means of expression stronger than a runway show. It has everything.”

September 23, 2020 at 6:30 PM EDT
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U.N. labor agency warns of ‘fiscal stimulus gap’ amid massive global declines in labor incomes

By Miriam Berger

A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) warns of a growing “fiscal stimulus gap” fueled by the coronavirus pandemic that could exacerbate already enormous declines in labor income for workers around the world.

The ILO estimated that in the first three quarters of 2020, global labor income fell by 10.7 percent, or $3.5 trillion, compared with the same period in 2019. The Americas were hit hardest, with a decline of 12.1 percent. (These figures do not include income from government measures.)

The ILO also assessed that global working time fell by 17.3 percent in the second quarter of 2020, the equivalent of the loss of 495 million full-time positions based on a 48-hour workweek. The United Nations’ labor agency expects working-hour losses to reach 12.1 percent globally in the third quarter of 2020. The ILO concluded that “workers in developing and emerging economies, especially those in informal employment, have been much more affected than by past crises.”

Overall, 94 percent of the world’s workers live in countries were covid-19 workplace restrictions are still in place. Thirty-two percent are in countries where only workplaces deemed essential have reopened, the ILO reported.

Compounding these problems, the ILO found a “clear correlation … showing that the larger the fiscal stimulus (as a percentage of gross domestic product), the lower the working-hour losses.”

The report continued, “However, while fiscal stimulus packages have played a significant role in supporting economic activity and reducing the fall in working hours, they have been concentrated in high-income countries, as emerging and developing economies have limited capacity to finance such measures.”

The ILO estimated that for every additional 1 percent of annual GDP that a government provides in fiscal stimulus, losses in working hours are reduced by 0.8 percent. Consequently, low-income countries would need to inject $45 billion more and lower-middle-income countries $937 billion “to reach the same ratio of stimulus to working hours lost as in high-income countries,” the ILO concluded.

September 23, 2020 at 6:30 PM EDT
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Mayor Bill de Blasio furloughs 9,000 New York City employees

By Hannah Denham

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday he’s furloughing 9,000 of the city’s employees in another round of budget cuts wrought by the pandemic’s impact on local and state economies.

The new furloughs come just one week after de Blasio furloughed himself and the rest of the mayor’s office staff. Like the initial furlough, the period will last five work days and be unpaid, scheduled between Oct. 1 and March 2021.

According to a news release, Wednesday’s furlough of managerial and non-represented city employees is expected to save $21 million — another step in addressing the $9 billion shortfall in the city’s revenue over the next two years, brought on by the pandemic’s impact on the economy. Since February, the mayor’s office has made moves to cut nearly $8 billion from the budget, before Wednesday’s announcement.

“I know this is difficult news for the dedicated public servants of our City,” de Blasio said in the release. “But we are forced to make these difficult decisions as we face a massive budget shortfall with no help in sight. We need Washington and Albany to step up. We need a federal stimulus and we need long term borrowing.”

The city of New York is working with labor advocates to find ways to prevent full layoffs, the release said.

September 23, 2020 at 5:45 PM EDT
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The Metropolitan Opera cancels its entire 2020-2021 season

By Paulina Firozi

The Metropolitan Opera announced that it would cancel all of its performances for the 2020-2021 season, pointing to concerns about operating during the ongoing pandemic.

In a statement, the New York City company cited “advice of health officials who advise the Met and Lincoln Center” and said it would not be safe for performances to resume “until a vaccine is widely in use, herd immunity is established, and the wearing of masks and social distancing is no longer a medical requirement.”

The company announced plans for a 2021-2022 season, set to open Sept. 27, 2021.

“We want nothing more than to get back to creating operatic magic as only the Met can, but the safety of our company and the audience we serve must come first,” the company said, noting that its many hundreds of performers normally rehearse and perform in close quarters and do so in front of large audiences.

It’s the first time the company will skip an entire season in its nearly 140-year history, according to the Associated Press.

The company had previously announced plans to cancel its fall schedule and resume Dec. 31. The cancellation of the entire season is the latest blow to the major performing arts organization, and signals the pandemic’s lasting impact on the arts.

“The inability to perform is taking a tremendous toll on our company,” Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb said in a statement. “Our future relies on making strong artistic strides, while collectively reducing our costs until the audience has fully returned."

September 23, 2020 at 5:00 PM EDT
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Megachurch pastor who held no-mask services misses hearing after refusing to wear mask in court

By Jaclyn Peiser

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Tony Spell, a pastor of a Pentecostal megachurch in Baton Rouge, has preached to hundreds of parishioners to not wear masks while holding indoor, in-person church services and defying an emergency order from the governor prohibiting large gatherings.

“We are God’s anointed,” Spell said in an Aug. 5 video on his YouTube channel. “We are standing up for our religious and civil liberties and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will never stop doing that.”

So when Spell arrived at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse on Tuesday to answer for misdemeanor charges for repeatedly violating an emergency order from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), he still refused to wear a mask, which is required for entry. Instead, his lawyer entered a not guilty plea on Spell’s behalf as the pastor waited outside the courthouse surrounded by unmasked supporters.

September 23, 2020 at 4:53 PM EDT
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New York City announces changes to New Year’s Eve celebration to bring in 2021

By Darren Sands

Times Square New Year’s Eve festivities will be dramatically scaled down because of safety restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus, New York City officials and producers of the event said Tuesday.

The event, which annually draws hundreds of thousands of revelers to Times Square in midtown Manhattan, will be produced to bring viewers at home a deeply enhanced experience. Confirming the changes, Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, which co-produces the event, told The Washington Post that the difficult circumstances of 2020 meant there was never any discussion about canceling, citing the difficult year New York has had as one of the world’s epicenters of the virus.

“Part of what people do every year with this event is take stock of where we’ve been and celebrate the people that have helped to carry us,” Tompkins said. “I think a lot of people are looking forward to doing that with hope for a better year 2021. But of course in this context it has to be done safely.”

Even without any live events, Tompkins estimated that 25,000 would still show up to simply be around the energies; a large percentage of the revelers come from all over globe in regular years. To that end, police barriers will keep crowds from flooding into Times Square. Instead, Tompkins said the slate of live events will integrate safety measures for smaller curated crowds designed to give the enhanced virtual experience a livelier feel. “We realized we might as well still have some of the live elements down on the ground to provide a show for people,” he said.

Tompkins said the format of the MTV Video Music Awards, filmed recently in New York, provided a template.

In a statement, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “I commend the Times Square Alliance, Jamestown, and Countdown Entertainment on finding a safe, creative and innovative way for all of us to continue to celebrate this century-old tradition.”