Live Coronavirus Updates: Testing Demand in U.S. Soars

Months into the pandemic, many U.S. cities still lack testing capacity.

In the early months of the outbreak in the United States, testing posed a significant problem, as supplies fell far short and officials raced to understand how to best handle the virus. Since then, the country has vastly ramped up its testing capability, conducting nearly 15 million tests in June, about three times as many as it had in April.

But in recent weeks, as cases have surged in many states, the demand for testing has soared, surpassing capacity and creating a new testing crisis.

In many cities, officials said a combination of factors was now fueling the problem: a shortage of certain supplies, backlogs at laboratories that process the tests, and skyrocketing growth of the virus as cases climb in almost 40 states.

Fast, widely available testing is crucial to controlling the virus over the long term, experts say, particularly as the country reopens. With a virus that can spread through asymptomatic people, screening large numbers of people is seen as essential to identifying those who are carrying the virus.

Testing in the United States has not kept pace with other countries, notably in Asia, which have been more aggressive. When there was an outbreak in Wuhan in May, for instance, Chinese officials tested 6.5 million people in a matter of days.

In Arizona, where reported cases have grown to more than 100,000, a shortage of testing has alarmed local officials, who say they feel ill equipped to help residents on their own.

“The United States of America needs a more robust national testing strategy,” Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix said in an interview.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned on Monday that the country was still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic, as the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States passed 130,000 and cases neared three million. Texas and Idaho set daily records for new cases, according to a New York Times database.

Brazil’s president, a noted virus skeptic, says he will be tested after developing symptoms.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, who has repeatedly dismissed the danger posed by the coronavirus, said Monday night that he had gone to the hospital for a lung scan and would take a new test for the virus.

Mr. Bolsonaro took those steps after developing symptoms of Covid-19, including a fever and abnormal blood oxygen level, according to a report from CNN Brasil.

Even as several of his aides tested positive for the virus in recent months, the president often rejected precautions like wearing a mask and social distancing, most recently at a lunch on Saturday hosted by the American ambassador to Brazil to celebrate the Fourth of July.

A photo taken during the lunch and posted on Twitter by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo shows the president sitting next to the American ambassador, Todd Chapman, giving a thumbs-up sign at a table decorated with an American flag design.

The president’s office said Mr. Bolsonaro’s test results were expected on Tuesday. “The president, at this time, is in good health and remains at his residence,” the statement said.

Also on Monday night, the U.S. embassy signaled concern that the ambassador might have been exposed to the virus, saying that Mr. Chapman does not have any symptoms but intends to get tested and “is taking the proper precautions.”

While he awaits the test results, Mr. Bolsonaro, 65, cleared his schedule on Tuesday, according to several Brazilian press reports.

Mr. Bolsonaro has come under criticism for his cavalier handling of the pandemic, even as Brazil’s caseload and death toll ballooned in recent months. Brazil’s 1.6 million diagnosed cases and more than 65,000 deaths make it the second hardest-hit country, trailing only the United States.

Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, will be locked down for six weeks after a record number of daily coronavirus cases, officials said on Tuesday.

The state of Victoria reported 191 new cases on Tuesday, an “unsustainably” high number, said Daniel Andrews, the state’s premier. Most of the cases were in Melbourne, a city of 4.9 million people and the capital of Victoria.

“Ultimately we have to take this as seriously as we take bushfire,” Mr. Andrews said. “This is binary. It is life and death.”

Starting late Wednesday night, residents will be allowed to leave their homes only for essential work, shopping and exercise. Another regional area, Mitchell Shire, will also be locked down.

Australia has had a comparatively small outbreak, with fewer than 8,600 reported cases and only 106 deaths. But emerging hot spots in Melbourne in recent weeks have alarmed officials, who locked down 300,000 people in suburban neighborhoods last week. They also immediately quarantined 3,000 residents of public housing towers on Saturday after coronavirus infections were found in 12 households.

Other states have also reacted to the flare-up. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, will close its border with Victoria on Wednesday and send police and military officers to patrol crossings. South Australia, which shares a border with Victoria, said it would bar Victorian travelers at midnight Wednesday.

Returning citizens have also brought cases to New Zealand in recent weeks, and the country’s airline, Air New Zealand, temporarily froze ticket sales for three weeks on Tuesday. The move, requested by the government, will ensure the country has space to quarantine all travelers, the airline said in a statement. Like Australia, New Zealand has had a relatively small outbreak, with 1,536 reported cases and 22 deaths.

A million jobs lost: A ‘heart attack’ for New York City’s economy.

The city is staggering toward reopening with some workers back at their desks or behind cash registers, and on Monday it began a new phase of reopening, allowing personal-care services like nail salons and some outdoor recreation to resume. Even so, the city’s unemployment rate is hovering near 20 percent — a figure not seen since the Great Depression.

What was intended as a “pause” has dragged on so long that for many workers, furloughs are turning into permanent job losses.

The layoffs continued in June as some employers gave up hope of a quick recovery or ran out of the federal aid they were using to maintain their payrolls.

The pandemic set off an immediate and sweeping reversal of fortune that the city has never endured, economists said. Most past financial crises were “like a prolonged illness,” said Frank Braconi, a former chief economist for the city comptroller’s office.

“This was like a heart attack,” he said.

Many businesses, including restaurants and hotels, are expected to close for good. The picture has grown even grimmer after officials delayed indefinitely the reopening of indoor dining.

While the national unemployment rate fell to 11.1 percent in June, New York City’s rate reached 18.3 percent in May, the highest level in the 44 years that such data has been collected. (In the Depression, unemployment is estimated to have reached 25 percent.) The numbers for June will be released next Thursday.

The losses have been particularly significant among people of color: About one in four of the city’s Asian, Black and Hispanic workers were unemployed last month, compared with about one of every nine white workers, the city comptroller’s office said.

“New York City is experiencing deep and enduring unemployment, mostly by low-income workers of color, and the city is facing a sluggish recovery with double-digit unemployment,” said James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policies at the Center for New York City Affairs.

Mr. Parrott estimated that the city’s total job loss since February — counting all the undocumented and gig workers — could be as high as 1.25 million.

The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, growing scientific evidence suggests.

This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain superspreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants.

Here are answers to a few questions raised by the latest research:

What does it mean for a virus to be airborne?

For a virus to be airborne means that it can be carried through the air in a viable form. For most pathogens, this is a yes-no scenario. H.I.V., too delicate to survive outside the body, is not airborne. Measles is airborne, and dangerously so: It can survive in the air for up to two hours.

For the coronavirus, the definition has been more complicated. Experts agree that the virus does not travel long distances or remain viable outdoors. But evidence suggests it can traverse the length of a room and, in one set of experimental conditions, remain viable for perhaps three hours.

How are aerosols different from droplets?

Aerosols are droplets, droplets are aerosols — they do not differ except in size. Scientists sometimes refer to droplets fewer than five microns in diameter as aerosols. (By comparison, a red blood cell is about five microns in diameter; a human hair is about 50 microns wide.)

From the start of the pandemic, the World Health Organization and other public health agencies have focused on the virus’s ability to spread through large droplets that are expelled when a symptomatic person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets are heavy, relatively speaking, and fall quickly to the floor or onto a surface that others may touch. This is why public health officials have recommended maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others, and frequent hand washing.

Should I begin wearing a hospital-grade mask indoors? And how long is too long to stay indoors?

Health care workers may all need to wear N95 masks, which filter out most aerosols. For the rest of us, cloth face masks will still greatly reduce risk, as long as most people wear them.

As for how long is safe, a lot depends on whether the room is too crowded to allow for a safe distance from others and whether there is fresh air circulating through the room.

Is a safe cookout possible?

With the virus raging in many parts of the United States, new restrictions have left many wondering about the safety of a backyard barbecue or picnic. Here are some tips to help.

Reporting was contributed by Manuela Andreoni, Letícia Casado, Manny Fernandez, Michael Gold, Isabella Kwai, Ernesto Londoño, Apoorva Mandavilli, Patrick McGeehan and Sarah Mervosh.

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