Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Precaution exhaustion could create dire conditions in the fall.

Jonathan Wolfe


Credit…The New York Times

Coronavirus cases in the United States are surging toward their third peak in eight months. More than 70,000 new infections were recorded on Friday, the most in a single day since July, and the country recently surpassed eight million total cases.

How did we get here — again?

If the summer surge was driven by states that quickly reopened their economies without meeting safety benchmarks, this latest wave may be attributed in part to impatience of a different kind.

The communal rituals of hope that helped people endure the initial outbreak have given way to exhaustion and frustration. And with no end to the pandemic in sight, a public weariness is sinking in, sending people flocking to bars, family parties, bowling alleys and sporting events.

The same dynamic is playing out in Europe, which had largely beaten back the virus with harsh lockdowns in the spring, but is now facing a terrifying new wave. Countries across the continent are announcing fresh restrictions at a time when researchers from the World Health Organization estimate that about half of the population is experiencing “pandemic fatigue.”

For Europe and the U.S. alike, the dangerous combination of apathy and soaring coronavirus cases may exacerbate what already threatens to be a devastating autumn. In the United States, case counts are on the rise in 41 of the 50 states, with devastating surges in the Great Lakes and Great Plains regions, along with major outbreaks in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains.

The situation couldn’t be more different in areas of the world that have managed to keep infection rates low for months. In China, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, people changed their behavior, and containment measures have been strict and effective. In many instances, people in those countries have complained that their governments haven’t gone far enough to contain the virus.

Fortunately, the fall resurgence arrives at a time when mask use is widespread, personal protective gear is more available, medical treatments are more sophisticated and deaths remain lower — for now.

A Utah high school experienced one of the worst school-based coronavirus outbreaks in the country: at least 90 cases within two weeks, and most likely many more.

The Canyons School District, in an affluent suburb of Salt Lake City, has been deeply divided about the virus. Some parents urged the district to trust public health experts, who warned that the area’s high positivity rate — most likely driven by cases at nearby universities — meant the district should not have opened for in-person classes.

Others lobbied the school board to remain open, even as cases multiplied. The principal of the Corner Canyon High School said that some parents agreed not to get their children tested for the virus even if they became ill, to avoid adding to the school’s case count.

In the absence of federal or state requirements, the district required students and staff members to mostly wear masks, but did not enact social-distancing regulations or a unified testing plan. It also changed its own guidelines about when to close schools. That patchwork approach is reflected all across the country, according to public health experts.

“We’ve forced every school district to figure out how to respond to a pandemic on its own, and it’s insane,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Once Corner Canyon shut its doors, cases among students and staff members fell sharply. After a month of being closed, the school is set to reopen today.

Separately, in New York City: Three weeks into the in-person school year, the nation’s largest school district has a surprisingly small number of positive cases. Out of 16,298 test results, there were only 28 positives: 20 staff members and eight students.

When officials put mobile testing units at schools near Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that have had new outbreaks, only four positive cases turned up out of more than 3,300 tests.

New York City was the first big district to return to classrooms, but it won’t be the last. An analysis by The Washington Post found that 24 of the largest 50 U.S. school districts have resumed in-person classes for at least some students, with 11 others planning to restart soon.

Despite the early success, public health experts are urging New York to test students and staff members more frequently, in order to catch outbreaks before they can spread.

  • Twenty-five crew members aboard a livestock ship docked at a port in Western Australia have tested positive for the coronavirus.

  • A cluster of coronavirus cases in a rural area of Switzerland may be linked to two yodeling concerts that attracted hundreds of unmasked spectators at the end of September.

  • A person living in the same residence as Pope Francis has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Vatican announced over the weekend.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

Last March, the elementary school Betta fish came home to our house, for spring break. Six months later, the school fish is still in our kitchen and our kids are still doing distance learning. We added two aqueous snails to help keep the fish bowl clean. Bettas are notoriously cranky about sharing space, but détente has been established in the fish bowl and our family has learned about siphons and operculums. We have told our boys that the fish bowl is an example of how we can all get along, even when sharing a small space, as the four of us all still Zoom from home every day.

— Jennifer Stratton, Austin, Texas

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Adam Pasick contributed to today’s newsletter.

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Jonathan Wolfe