Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this important information about the coronavirus for free. For more free coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, sign up for our Coronavirus Updates newsletter where all stories are free to read.

With the world fast approaching 1 million deaths officially related to covid-19, a doubling of that number is “certainly unimaginable, but it’s not impossible,” World Health Organization expert Mike Ryan said Friday at a news briefing.

“If we look at losing 1 million people in nine months and then we just look at the realities of getting vaccines out there in the next nine months, it’s a big task for everyone involved,” Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said.

Here are some significant developments:
September 25, 2020 at 10:30 PM EDT
Link copied
link

The pandemic has devastated downtown D.C. Some fear the damage is permanent.

By Peter Jamison

It’s evening rush hour in the nation’s capital, and the McPherson Square Metro station on a September Tuesday is all but empty. Thousands once squeezed at this time onto the trains departing from the heart of downtown Washington, two blocks north of the White House. Now, the descending escalator steps only carry the shards of a broken bottle of Power Malt.

Above ground the scene is no less eerie: No honking horns or screams from sprinting commuters trying to flag down the Circulator bus. In what seven months ago would have seemed a suspension of the laws of physics and urban planning, jaywalking is possible at the corner of New York Avenue and 15th Street NW.

From Los Angeles and Chicago to Boston and New York, central business districts find themselves deserted in the seventh month of a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and left millions unemployed. And as hopes of a quick recovery sputter, fear is rising that a long-term collapse of downtown economies could soon become irreversible.

September 25, 2020 at 9:54 PM EDT
Link copied
link

University of Alabama sees dramatic drop in cases after grim start and new rules

By Hannah Knowles

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa made headlines late last month as its student coronavirus case count ballooned to more than 500 within days of classes starting. It seemed, to many, like the latest implosion of college reopening plans.

But a month later — after temporary bar closures, pleas from administrators and a host of new rules — coronavirus infections at the school are trending down.

For now, at least.

New cases have dropped “sharply” for three weeks, notes the University of Alabama’s latest news release. Forty-eight additional infections were recorded at the Tuscaloosa campus this week, down 60 percent from last week’s 119 and just a fraction of the 846 cases added from Aug. 28 to Sept. 3.

“I think we’re cautiously optimistic, but it’s amazing, the work that’s been done,” said Richard Friend, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences, in an interview with The Washington Post.

The school turned to strict new limits on campus life to stem the virus’s spread. Commons areas were closed, student gatherings halted, visitors prohibited and suspensions threatened. The mayor of Tuscaloosa closed bars, warning that the local health system could become overwhelmed.

By Sept. 11, the university’s vice president for student life announced that some rules could soften again. Dining rooms could reopen, certain approved events could resume, and students in the same residence halls could start visiting each other’s rooms again.

Bars, notoriously ripe for superspreader events, started to reopen in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 8, as school officials said the tide seemed to be turning.

“We need to ... ease the restrictions carefully and monitor as we go,” Friend said, warning that “as quickly as we saw it come down, we can see it go back up.” It can take weeks to gauge the effect of changes, he said, and the school may need to tighten rules again.

Other colleges that experienced large outbreaks have seen similar improvements. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, the rate of positive tests spiked in late August but has since dipped to 0.3 percent, after the school embraced an undergraduate “lockdown” for two weeks.

September 25, 2020 at 9:51 PM EDT
Link copied
link

Florida governor lifts all business restrictions

By Hannah Knowles and Darren Sands

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday lifted all restrictions on restaurants and other business, overriding local authorities’ efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus as experts project a potential cold-weather surge of infections this fall.

The governor, a Trump ally who has long been skeptical of business closures, also forbade fines for individuals over social distancing violations and failures to follow mask mandates. He declared Florida “probably the most open big state in the country” and expressed confidence that the reopening will be permanent.

“We’re not closing anything going forward,” he vowed at a news conference.

DeSantis left some room for what he called “reasonable regulations” at the local level. Under DeSantis’s new executive order, local governments must justify efforts to limit indoor restaurant capacity and may not cut capacity below 50 percent.

The mayor of Florida’s most populous county, Miami-Dade, emphasized in a statement Friday that local officials can still make their own rules “as approved by the state.” Broward County Mayor Dale Holness also told local news that he hopes to maintain stricter limits given the virus’s hold in South Florida, according to the Associated Press.

As of Friday evening, the Sunshine State had recorded more than 695,000 known cases of the coronavirus and more than 14,000 deaths related to covid-19, the disease it causes, according to Washington Post tracking.

Elsewhere on Friday, Democratic leaders more supportive of strict coronavirus restrictions also eased their rules or sought to help struggling businesses.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced that movie theaters, bowling alleys and more could reopen starting Oct. 9, and raised size limits on indoor gatherings and events.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) made permanent a program that has helped thousands of restaurants pivot to outdoor dining on streets and sidewalks.

September 25, 2020 at 9:15 PM EDT
Link copied
link

French Open officials had hoped for thousands of fans. Then the coronavirus roared back.

By Matt Bonesteel and Ava Wallace

Last month, French Open officials announced plans to allow 11,500 fans to enter Roland Garros daily for the Grand Slam tournament, which had moved from its traditional spot on the calendar to October because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The news raised a few eyebrows, considering that most sporting events around the world were being played without fans and that coronavirus cases in France were on the rise again.

Last week, however, the French Tennis Federation announced that the number of fans allowed into the 30-acre tournament grounds had been slashed to 5,000 per day because of Paris city regulations. And on Friday, that number was cut again: Because of new crowd-size limits handed down by France Prime Minister Jean Castex for Paris and other cities, only 1,000 spectators will be allowed each day at the tournament, which begins Sunday.

Tournament director Guy Forget, in a French radio interview, called the news “a bit of a tough blow” and said entry into the tournament will be determined by a daily lottery that will select 750 ticket holders. The rest of the daily crowd will comprise sponsors’ guests or VIPs. Anyone who can’t get in will have their tickets refunded.

September 25, 2020 at 9:03 PM EDT
Link copied
link

Trump, White House demand FDA justify tough standards for coronavirus vaccine, raising concerns of political interference

By Laurie McGinley, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey

On the same day President Trump blasted the Food and Drug Administration’s plan for tougher standards for a coronavirus vaccine as a “political move,” a top White House aide demanded detailed justifications from the agency in what some fear is an attempt to thwart or block the standards designed to boost public trust in a vaccine.

The White House’s involvement appears to go beyond the perfunctory review that agency officials had expected, and is likely to reinforce public concerns that a vaccine may be rushed to benefit the president’s reelection campaign. Polls show that the number of people who say they’re willing to take a coronavirus vaccine if it were available today has nosedived from 72 percent in May to 50 percent as of early this month, according to Pew Research Center, largely because of concerns that politics, rather than science, is driving the process.

Trump has repeatedly said a vaccine would be available by Election Day, or possibly sooner, worrying scientists that he might attempt to intervene in the review process. Companies will begin reporting safety and effectiveness data in coming weeks and months. And in conversations with some advisers, the president has directly tied the vaccine to his reelection chances, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

September 25, 2020 at 8:30 PM EDT
Link copied
link

USPS close to settlement with 19 states on election mail, service delays, sources say

By Jacob Bogage

The U.S. Postal Service is nearing a settlement with 19 states and the District of Columbia to govern how the agency handles mailed ballots as well as table key pieces of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s controversial cost-cutting agenda, which has been linked to mail backlogs across the country, according to three people with knowledge of negotiations.

State officials hope that an agreement, which could come as early as next week, will act a firewall against challenges from President Trump on the legitimacy of mail-in votes, the people say, by recognizing the states’ authority to preside over elections and how ballots are processed.

The settlement would resolve federal court cases in Washington state, New York and Pennsylvania. Judges in Washington state and New York have already issued temporary injunctions prohibiting the Postal Service from implementing a number of DeJoy’s operational changes, some of which caused postal workers to leave mail behind. The changes included adhering to stricter transportation schedules that attempted to eliminate late and extra trips, key methods of ensuring on-time mail delivery.

September 25, 2020 at 7:15 PM EDT
Link copied
link

Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans show signs of past coronavirus infection, large national study finds

By Ben Guarino

Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans showed signs of past infection with the novel coronavirus as of late July, suggesting that most of the country may still be vulnerable to infection, according to one of the largest studies of its kind published Friday in the journal The Lancet.

That proportion is an estimate based on the percentage of dialysis patients whose immune systems produced coronavirus antibodies. It does not indicate exactly how many Americans may be immune to the virus, because not every infected individual develops antibodies. It is also unclear how strong a defense antibodies might confer or for how long. But, combined with similar results from studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other institutions, it’s evident a large majority may not be protected against a disease that has already killed 200,000 Americans.

“We are still in the middle of the fight,” said Eli Rosenberg, a State University of New York at Albany epidemiologist who was not part of the study. “We’re all tired, and we’re all hoping for a vaccine. This shows us how it’s not over here, not even by a long shot.”

September 25, 2020 at 6:30 PM EDT
Link copied
link

Costco sales boosted by shopping model of buying in bulk during pandemic

By Hannah Denham

Sales for Costco Wholesale Corp., the multinational, membership-only warehouse store with a market cap of nearly $152 billion, beat analysts’ expectations for its fourth quarter.

In its 16-week quarter ending Aug. 30, the Washington-based company’s net sales reached nearly $52.3 billion, up 12.5 percent from the same quarter a year ago, according to its earnings release filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday. The company posted its fourth quarter earnings per diluted share of $3.13, up from $2.47 per diluted share a year ago.

Amid a struggling retail industry, store chains like Costco that sell groceries, hygiene products and other necessities have been buoyed by customer shopping trends during the coronavirus pandemic. Shopping at Costco means buying in bulk, with fewer trips to the store as shoppers stay home and observe social distancing precautions.

But Costco’s gains this quarter were still offset by virus-related expenses: $281 million in hazard pay for employees and sanitation costs. Costco operates 795 warehouses and more e-commerce sites internationally — the majority of them in the United States. The company’s U.S. sales were up 13.6 percent this quarter, compared to a year ago, while Canada stores had a 12.6 percent uptick and other international store sales were up 18.8 percent, according to the report. E-commerce sales worldwide were up 91.3 percent.

September 25, 2020 at 5:45 PM EDT
Link copied
link

New York City public school students of color or more likely to stay home

By Moriah Balingit

NEW YORK — Not long after her daughter Eva’s school shuttered in March because of the pandemic, Angela Torres’s 82-year-old mother fell ill with covid-19. Torres was told her mother’s case was mild, but the disease spread to her kidneys.

She died April 1, forcing Torres to juggle home-schooling duties with organizing a virtual funeral, all while grieving the sudden loss of the family matriarch. Later, the coronavirus would sicken friends, neighbors and members of her church.

“Everywhere you turned,” Torres said, “there was someone else to give condolences to.”

So when the New York City schools system asked her if she would send Eva back to the classroom in the fall, Torres, who works remotely, did not have to think twice. She could not fathom sending Eva to school, with the grief of losing her mother still so fresh.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed hard to reopen school buildings, to ease the burden on working parents. And yet the families of 46 percent of students in the nation’s largest school district, made up overwhelmingly of children of color who come from low-income households, have chosen to keep their children home. Even some families in precarious financial situations are forgoing work to care for their children, because they are so fearful of the virus.

September 25, 2020 at 5:00 PM EDT
Link copied
link

Tens of thousands quarantined in Myanmar as outbreak threatens fragile health system

By Miriam Berger

The novel coronavirus overlooked Myanmar for much of the first six months of the worldwide pandemic. Not so anymore.

Cases have been mounting since August in the Southeast Asian country of about 54 million people. As part of the government’s containment strategy, the state has ordered any coronavirus patients and their contacts to be quarantined. That proved feasible when caseloads were low, but now the government is housing more than 45,000 people, Reuters reported Thursday.

That heavy burden is pushing some health care and quarantine centers close to collapse, public health experts are warning.

Myanmar reported its highest one-day increase in cases Thursday, recording more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases. In total, the country has confirmed more than 8,300 infections. Neighboring Thailand, in comparison, has nearly 70 million people and less than half the number of cases.

After weeks of no local transmission, infections began to climb in Myanmar in mid-August, after an outbreak in the restive western Rakhine state spread around the country. Tensions were already high in Rakhine, home to Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim community. While nearly 1 million Rohingya have fled to crowded camps in neighboring Bangladesh to escape decades of violence, around 128,000 live in camps for displaced people in Rakhine. Human rights groups have warned that this puts people at greater risk of contracting the virus.

September 25, 2020 at 4:24 PM EDT
Link copied
link

Stock market recovers by Friday’s closing bell

By Hannah Denham

U.S. stocks closed Friday with gains across all three indexes, ending a lousy week of losses with a hopeful bounce-back.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up nearly 359 points, or 1.3 percent. The S&P 500 index closed up almost 52 points, or 1.6 percent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite closed up 241 points, a nearly 2.3 percent increase.

Tech shares made the biggest gains Friday. Tesla was trading up 5 percent by market close, countering the company’s earlier losses this week. Amazon was up about 2.5 percent, both Facebook and Netflix were up about 2.1 percent, and Alphabet was up about 1 percent. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Friday’s closing bell marked a hopeful end to an otherwise volatile week of sustained losses that have plagued the three indexes, particularly the Nasdaq, since the start of September. But investors are still grappling with coronavirus infections and deaths, mixed messaging about the timelines of vaccines and treatments, and the lack of additional federal stimulus aid that economic leaders and chief executives are calling for.

September 25, 2020 at 4:06 PM EDT
Link copied
link

A woman’s pandemic-era LinkedIn photo spurs debate about work and social norms

By Paulina Villegas

Featuring frizzy hair, virtually no makeup, slight under-eye dark circles and a gray sweatshirt, Lauren Griffiths’s new LinkedIn headshot posted in the past week went viral as it prompted debate about work norms and beauty standards for women during quarantine.

A mother of three young children, Griffiths wrote a post explaining her decision to replace her older picture — showing perfectly straightened blonde hair, full makeup and a pressed blazer — with a truer, more current portrait of herself.

“Today’s remote world has blurred the lines between my professional and personal selves, so I’ve chosen to represent that in my photo,” wrote Griffiths, who works in human resources.

“I’ve witnessed and read enough on authentic leadership to know that being genuine and vulnerable will get you a lot farther in your career than a glossy headshot,” she wrote.

Griffiths’s post resonated widely, garnering more than 500,000 likes and 20,000 comments. It prompted praise and discussion of shifting social norms and biases women face at work. It was a symbol to women around the world juggling full-time jobs and motherhood — and a testament to the way the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine have altered all corners of life, including beauty routines.

“This topic unpacks so many different topics around gender differences in the workplace and how there’s different expectations and what it’s like to be a parent or a caretaker in this environment right now,” Griffiths told “Good Morning America.”

“We are breaking patterns that have been established for centuries in our society,” one person, Danhela Hendges, commented on the LinkedIn post.

September 25, 2020 at 3:28 PM EDT
Link copied
link

Criminal charges brought in coronavirus outbreak that killed dozens at Massachusetts veterans home

By Dan Lamothe

Two former leaders of a state-run veterans home in Massachusetts where dozens of residents died in a coronavirus outbreak were indicted on criminal charges and face possible jail time, the state’s top law enforcement official said Friday.

The charges against Bennett Walsh, a former superintendent of the home, and David Clinton, a former medical director, stem from their alleged roles in abuse and mistreatment of elderly and disabled residents at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. At least 76 veterans in the home died of covid-19 as the novel coronavirus swept through the institution, and an additional 84 residents and 80 staff members tested positive.

“We believe this is the first criminal case in the country brought against those involved in nursing homes during the covid-19 pandemic,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said. “We are alleging that Walsh and Clinton were ultimately responsible for a decision on March 27th that led to tragic and deadly results.”

September 25, 2020 at 3:22 PM EDT
Link copied
link

WHO warns 2 million deaths ‘not impossible’ as global fatalities approach 1 million

By Miriam Berger

With the world fast approaching 1 million deaths officially related to covid-19, a doubling of that number is “certainly unimaginable, but it’s not impossible,” World Health Organization expert Mike Ryan said Friday at a news briefing.

“If we look at losing 1 million people in nine months and then we just look at the realities of getting vaccines out there in the next nine months, it’s a big task for everyone involved,” Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said.

“The real question is: Are we prepared, collectively, to do what it takes to avoid that number?” he added.

Over 32 million people worldwide have been infected with the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, which has killed more than 985,000 people since January, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Public health experts have cautioned that while a vaccine may stem the spread, the novel coronavirus is likely to remain a permanent threat.

“The time for action is now on every single aspect of this strategic approach,” Ryan said Friday. “Not just test and trace, not just clinical care, not just social distancing, not just hygiene, not just masks, not just vaccines. Do it all, and unless we do it all, [2 million deaths] are not only imaginable but unfortunately and sadly very likely."