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Former president Barack Obama delivered an emphatic rebuke of President Trump and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic during campaign stops for Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Wednesday.

At a speech in Philadelphia, Obama said his successor has endangered the country and is “incapable of taking the job seriously.”

“Eight months into this pandemic, cases are rising again across this country,” Obama said. “Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us. He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself,”

Earlier that day, Obama spoke at a roundtable event and acknowledged that “the pandemic would have been tough for any president.” But, without mentioning Trump by name, he stressed “the degree of incompetence and misinformation, the number of people who might not have died if we’d have done the basics.”

Here are some significant developments:
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday broadened its definition of a “close contact” of someone infected with the coronavirus, a change that will most affect schools, workplaces and other locations where people congregate for extended periods of time. The new guidance says a close contact is someone who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes over 24 hours.
  • Trump accused congressional Democratic leaders of blocking a new economic relief deal, further narrowing the path for any agreement to emerge ahead of the election. His comments came at the end of a day when Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Democrats blocked a narrowly crafted GOP relief bill, which itself was much smaller than what the president wants.
  • Boston Public Schools will pause in-person learning amid a surge of coronavirus cases across the city.
  • Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and biotechnology company Moderna are expected to release data on prospective coronavirus vaccines this month or in November in one of the most closely watched human experiments in history.
  • Women make up nearly 70 percent of front-line health-care workers and have a higher risk of being infected with the coronavirus, according to a new U.N. report, which also found that women are disproportionately burdened with the emotional impacts of the pandemic.
  • As Russia reported a record number of daily coronavirus-related deaths, the Kremlin resisted calls for a new national lockdown.
October 21, 2020 at 11:40 PM EDT
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'This is not the year to come to Salem,’ city officials tell Halloween tourists

By Shannon McMahon

A new surge of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts is coinciding with a deluge of Halloween visitors to the witch-trial town of Salem, prompting officials in the historical city to barricade streets and request that visitors stay home this month. On Wednesday, Salem enacted new protocols to limit visitors, including restricting parking and alcohol sales and implementing crowd-control measures.

“Our message to those planning a trip to Salem this October at this point is to postpone your visit” Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said at a news conference introducing the measures on Friday. “This is not the year to come to Salem.”

October 21, 2020 at 11:15 PM EDT
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Scientists around the world are turning to feces to track coronavirus outbreaks

By Miriam Berger

Scientists discover many secrets in sewage systems. Fecal matter can offer clues about the drugs a community is using and the pathogens in circulation.

The novel coronavirus is no exception. Human excrement has been valuable for researchers studying the virus, the genetic material of which can be detected in stool samples and wastewater systems.

Across the United States, scientists have been analyzing sewage water to determine how intense outbreaks might be, given limits on testing, or to predict where the next one might be brewing. Sewage tests cannot identify individual cases but can help some communities, such as universities, respond to outbreaks in particular areas or buildings.

Elsewhere in the world, countries have been expanding their use of sewage sampling. Here are some of their key findings.

October 21, 2020 at 10:59 PM EDT
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Health Secretary Alex Azar appears to downplay CDC’s role in remarks at news conference

By Darren Sands

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appeared to downplay the role the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention played in response to criticism that Trump and his deputies have undercut the organization’s efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The CDC is the premier epidemiological organization on the face of the planet,” Azar said. “But CDC plays a role in what is a very unique, unprecedented pandemic. … This is bigger than H1N1. This is not SARS. This is not MERS. This is something that impacts the entire government and the entire economy, [and] the CDC plays a very important role in that, but it plays a role of public health and epidemiology.”

“I think some of the people who comment are — not having actually lived in or led this organization during this type of a crisis, [fail] to appreciate that,” Azar said.

Azar was responding to a reporter’s question about reports of comments made by Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, and James Curran, dean of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

ProPublica reported last week that in an email to colleagues, Butler expressed fear that the pressure the organization faced from the White House would have deadly consequences.

Curran, who led the agency’s task force on HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month that Trump’s politicization of the CDC was “unforgivable.”

“CDC was never prevented from saying what we thought needed to be said,” Curran said. “And we were never kept away from the press the way the CDC now is with covid. With covid, there’s interference.”

Katie McKeogh, an HHS spokesperson, told The Washington Post in an email that Azar was not referring to “any one person and their comments.”

“He clearly said: ‘I think some of the people who comment … ’ ” McKeogh wrote. “Don’t put words in his mouth.”

Butler and Curran have extensive experience responding to public health crises.

Butler has more than 30 years of experience. In his role at the CDC, he provides “leadership to the efforts of CDC’s three infectious disease national centers and helps to advance the agency’s cross-cutting infectious disease priorities,” according to the CDC website.

October 21, 2020 at 10:30 PM EDT
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Maryland’s largest county weighs more restrictions as infections tick upward

By Rebecca Tan

Montgomery County officials warned Wednesday that additional pandemic-related restrictions might be needed if a rise in infections continues across Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction.

County leaders said they are monitoring a slight increase in cases that began earlier this month. While caseloads across the county have generally held steady for four months, Montgomery’s seven-day rolling average of new infections in recent days has hit 113 — the highest level since July 31.

If numbers continue to increase, the county could reinstate restrictions that were lifted in recent months. The seven-day average in new cases recently has exceeded 10 new infections per 100,000 residents.

“It’s not a good place to be,” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said during a news conference Wednesday.

October 21, 2020 at 9:00 PM EDT
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After a college town’s coronavirus outbreak, deaths at nursing homes mount

By Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney

Mayor Tim Kabat was already on edge as thousands of students returned to La Crosse, Wis., to resume classes this fall at the city’s three colleges. When he saw young people packing downtown bars and restaurants in September, crowded closely and often unmasked, the longtime mayor’s worry turned to dread.

Now, more than a month later, La Crosse has endured a devastating spike in coronavirus cases — a wildfire of infection that first appeared predominantly in the student-age population, spread throughout the community and ultimately ravaged elderly residents who had previously managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic.

For most of 2020, La Crosse’s nursing homes had lost no one to covid-19. In recent weeks, the county has recorded 19 deaths, most of them in long-term care facilities. Everyone who died was over 60. Fifteen of the victims were 80 or older. The spike offers a vivid illustration of the perils of pushing a herd-immunity strategy, as infections among younger people can fuel broader community outbreaks that ultimately kill some of the most vulnerable residents.

October 21, 2020 at 8:15 PM EDT
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CDC expands definition of who is a ‘close contact’ of an individual with covid-19

By Lena H. Sun

Federal health officials issued new guidance on Wednesday that greatly expands the pool of people considered at risk for covid-19 by changing the definition of who is a “close contact” of an infected individual.

The change by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is likely to have its biggest impact in schools, workplaces and other group settings where people are in contact with others for long periods of time. It also underscores the importance of mask-wearing to prevent spread of the virus.

The CDC had previously defined a “close contact” as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed covid-19 case. The updated guidance, which health departments rely on to conduct contact tracing, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to a CDC statement Wednesday.

October 21, 2020 at 7:30 PM EDT
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Volunteer in Oxford coronavirus vaccine trial dies, reportedly did not receive experimental vaccine

By Terrence McCoy, Heloísa Traiano and Carolyn Y. Johnson

RIO DE JANEIRO — A Brazilian who participated in the clinical trial of an experimental coronavirus vaccine has died, officials here said Wednesday.

Brazil’s National Health Surveillance Agency, which is overseeing multiple vaccine trials in a country suffering one of the world’s worst outbreaks, said the individual volunteered to receive the vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University and produced by AstraZeneca.

The Brazilian newspaper O Globo, citing unnamed sources, reported that the volunteer was in a control group that did not receive the experimental vaccine and died of covid-19. The news service G1 identified the volunteer as a 28-year-old physician who treated coronavirus patients in Rio de Janeiro.

The National Health Surveillance Agency said it was informed of the volunteer’s death on Monday. The agency said AstraZeneca’s international safety committee had recommended the trial continue.

October 21, 2020 at 6:45 PM EDT
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Trump slams Democratic leaders as hopes for pre-election stimulus deal fizzle

By Erica Werner and Seung Min Kim

President Trump accused congressional Democratic leaders Wednesday evening of blocking a new economic relief deal, further narrowing the path for any agreement to emerge ahead of the election.

“Just don’t see any way Nancy Pelosi and Cryin’ Chuck Schumer will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on Stimulus. Their primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states ... Should take care of our people,” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening.

His comments — which were inaccurate in some respects — came at the end of a day when Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Democrats blocked a narrowly crafted GOP relief bill, which itself was much smaller than what the president wants.

At the same time, House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) reported progress in her ongoing but laborious negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a much bigger package, while acknowledging that it might not be possible for Congress to finalize a bill ahead of the election less than two weeks away. Trump’s Twitter post came 84 minutes after Pelosi’s spokesman said the Democratic leader and Mnuchin were close to putting “pen to paper” on legislation.

October 21, 2020 at 6:08 PM EDT
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Obama criticizes successor’s handling of the coronavirus

By Colby Itkowitz

Former president Barack Obama took a swing at his successor’s handling of the coronavirus on Wednesday.

At a roundtable conversation with Black male elected officials in Philadelphia, Obama acknowledged that “the pandemic would have been tough for any president,” but also stressed, without mentioning President Trump by name, “the degree of incompetence and misinformation, the number of people who might not have died if we’d have done the basics.”

He also explained why he has maintained hope over the past four years.

“Hope is not blind optimism, it’s not ignoring problems. Hope is believing in the face of difficulty that we can overcome and get a better world,” Obama said. “And so, I’ve never lost hope over these last four years. I’ve been mad. I’ve been frustrated, but I haven’t lost hope, and the reason is because I never expected progress to move directly in a straight line.”

October 21, 2020 at 5:30 PM EDT
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Ireland is first European country to reimpose a lockdown amid a coronavirus resurgence

By Karla Adam

LONDON — Ireland will become the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown because of coronavirus concerns, with its government urging everyone who can to “stay at home.”

From 12:01 Thursday morning, Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown that will include a raft of new restrictions. Schools, however, will remain open.

A number of European countries have experienced a resurgence in coronavirus cases and hospital admissions. On Wednesday alone, at least 10 European nations announced record numbers of daily cases. Ireland, which has a population of about 5 million, has recorded more than 53,400 confirmed cases and 1,868 deaths.

October 21, 2020 at 4:08 PM EDT
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Spain passes 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases

By Ruby Mellen

Spain on Wednesday announced it had confirmed more than 1 million cases of the novel coronavirus, becoming the first Western European country to pass that grim milestone as the continent sees another spike in cases.

It’s a disheartening development for a country that was hit hard by the virus earlier in the year. Spain imposed one of Europe’s most stringent lockdowns in March as infections rose and hospitals became overburdened.

Restrictions lifted in June as the infection rate lowered, and tourism poured back in. But beginning in August, numbers were on the rise again.

On Wednesday, the government announced 16,973 new infections, bringing the total case count to 1,005,295. And while the death rate is much lower than it was in the spring, hospitalizations are increasing nationwide, Reuters reported.

In the past few weeks, regional governments have imposed some restrictions to stem the virus’s spread, and the national government is contemplating imposing curfews on hard-hit areas such as Madrid, but lawmakers remain in disagreement about whether the country should impose economically punishing lockdowns.

Across Europe, cases are surging, and governments are facing the same dilemmas. Ireland on Wednesday became the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown. Other countries have embraced more targeted restrictions.

October 21, 2020 at 3:15 PM EDT
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N.J. governor and first lady to quarantine after senior staffer tests positive

By Hamza Shaban

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and his wife, Tammy Murphy, will self-quarantine after a member of the governor’s senior staff recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Murphys tested negative this afternoon, according to a statement Wednesday from communications director Mahen Gunaratna. But “out of an abundance of caution and in line with the highest levels of commitment to protecting public health,” the Murphys will cancel their in-person events and self-quarantine through the end of the weekend, Gunaratna said.

The governor first disclosed his exposure in the middle of a live-streamed press event on workforce development earlier in the day.

“I was just informed by my colleagues that I was in close proximity to someone on Saturday who had just tested positive,” he said. “I will now unfortunately have to take myself off the field.”

Gunaratna said officials have begun contact tracing to notify people who may have been exposed to the staffer who tested positive. The governor said he also tested negative Monday, as part of regularly scheduled screening.

“From the beginning, the Governor’s Office has taken every precaution to limit the spread of covid-19. Today’s exceedingly cautious steps are part of that ongoing commitment,” Gunaratna said.

The impromptu announcement highlighted the rapidly evolving nature of the virus’s potential to spread and the sensitivity of public officials to isolate themselves after learning of possible exposure.

Last month, President Trump and other Republican officials were widely criticized for holding what Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease specialist, described as “a superspreader event” at the White House, where many of the guests tested positive for the coronavirus after attending the largely mask-free Rose Garden gathering.

October 21, 2020 at 2:27 PM EDT
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Boston schools to return to remote learning as city’s infection rate rises

By Lateshia Beachum

Boston Public Schools will suspend in-person learning beginning Thursday because of the city’s rising coronavirus infection rate, the district announced Wednesday.

The seven-day positive test rate increased from 4.5 percent last week to 5.7 percent this week, prompting education officials to halt classes until infection rates fall for two weeks straight.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh (D) said in a statement that his administration approved of in-person learning as long as it met public health metrics but that the new data does not support keeping schools open.

Boston’s positivity rate must remain at or below 5 percent for two straight weeks before parents of special-needs students will have the option to return their children to school buildings. The positivity rate must be at or below 4 percent for other students to begin returning in phases, with younger children receiving priority, according to the district.

The public school district started its school year remotely last month and later gave parents the choice to stick with all-remote learning or switch to a hybrid model.

Boston’s return to virtual learning stands in contrast with a tide of large school districts across the country returning to in-person learning as fears of students struggling academically increase and early evidence shows that schools have not spread the virus as much as expected.

Suffolk County, where Boston is located, has reported more than 27,300 coronavirus cases and over 1,100 deaths since early March, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. The county logged 117 new cases Tuesday.

October 21, 2020 at 1:35 PM EDT
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Texas woman died of covid-19 on a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas

By Ian Duncan

A Texas woman died of covid-19 while she was on a Spirit Airlines flight heading home to Dallas from Las Vegas in late July, officials said this week.

The Spirit flight left Las Vegas on the evening of July 24, bound for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and was diverted to Albuquerque en route because the woman was unresponsive, according to Stephanie Kitts, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque International Sunport. The woman was dead by the time she arrived, Kitts said.

The woman has not been identified, but the Dallas County judge’s office, which first disclosed her death, said she was in her 30s and had an underlying medical condition.