With the independence of public health agencies under scrutiny, U.S. virus experts will testify in the Senate.
Four of the top doctors leading the government’s coronavirus response are scheduled to testify in the Senate on Wednesday amid growing questions about the Trump administration’s efforts to bend scientific decision-making to the president’s advantage.
With the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States having surpassed 200,000 on Tuesday, the Senate will get a report on the state of the government’s response from Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert; Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the testing czar.
Looming over the hearing will be the threat of a public scolding by President Trump if he hears testimony he doesn’t like. Last week the president rebuked Dr. Redfield after he told a Senate committee that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year and that masks were so vital in fighting the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, that they may be even more important than a vaccine.
The Wednesday hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee follows upheaval within the federal Department of Heath and Human Services, whose top spokesman, Michael R. Caputo, took medical leave last week after delivering an outlandish rant on Facebook Live in which he accused C.D.C. scientists of sedition, promoted conspiracy theories and warned of armed revolt.
The Facebook appearance came after the revelation that Mr. Caputo’s science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, had tried to pressure the agency to revise or delay its weekly scientific reports. Dr. Alexander has since left the department. Democrats will almost certainly use the hearing to question Dr. Redfield about those events.
Dr. Redfield will likely also face questions about guidelines for testing issued last month that suggested certain people exposed to the virus did not need to be screened. Internal documents show the guidance had been posted on the C.D.C.’s website despite serious objections from agency scientists, and the agency reversed it last week.
Lawmakers are likely to question Dr. Hahn about the F.D.A.’s plan to issue stricter guidelines for the emergency authorization of any new coronavirus vaccine, which would add a new layer of caution to the vetting process as Mr. Trump has insisted a vaccine will be ready as early as next month. The guidelines may be formally released as early as this week if approved by the White House, and would recommend that clinical trial data be vetted by a committee of independent experts before the F.D.A. takes action, according to several people familiar with the draft.
On Tuesday, Dr. Fauci said he worried about the country entering the cooler months without having a handle on the virus. The United States is seeing an average of about 40,000 new cases a day based on a seven-day average, according to a New York Times database.
“Those are the things that I get concerned about as we get into October and November and December,” Dr. Fauci said Tuesday on CNN. “I’d like to see us go into that at such a low level that when you have the inevitable cases you can handle them.”
Plastic face shields do little to contain the spread of microscopic airborne particles created by such activities as talking, singing or sneezing, according to recent research from Japan that modeled the diffusion of respiratory aerosols on the world’s fastest supercomputer.
The shields, which have been marketed as an alternative to face masks to guard against the coronavirus, do almost nothing to stop the spread of microscopic airborne droplets that are increasingly understood to be a major vector for spreading the disease, according to a recent study by researchers at the Riken Center for Computational Science, a research institute based in Kobe, Japan.
Face shields may be useful for protecting the wearer from the droplets generated by others, but are almost completely ineffective at protecting others from the wearer’s own droplets, according to Makoto Tsubokura, a professor at Kobe University and the lead researcher on a team that is using Japan’s world-beating supercomputer to better understand how to defend against the coronavirus.
While the face shields can block the spread of some large droplets, they are essentially incapable of capturing droplets five microns or smaller, according to simulations run by researchers on Fugaku, the Japanese supercomputer currently considered the world’s fastest.
Japan was one of the first countries to understand that tiny airborne particles were one of the most likely methods of transmission for the virus, which has killed nearly one million people worldwide, according to a New York Times database. The country promoted face masks as the first line of defense against the virus.
Since the pandemic’s early days, health experts in Japan have cautioned people to avoid conditions known as the three C’s — closed spaces, crowded places and close contact — thought to increase the risk of exposure to an airborne dose of the disease.
The simulation conducted by researchers at Riken demonstrated that face masks — whether manufactured or handmade — are far more effective at blocking the diffusion of airborne droplets than face shields.
In other news around the world:
President Trump criticized China as the coronavirus villain on Tuesday in a strongly worded United Nations speech, extolling his own actions in the pandemic and demanding that the global organization hold accountable “the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world.” China’s leader, Xi Jinping, clearly anticipating Mr. Trump’s attacks, portrayed the virus as everyone’s challenge and described China’s response as scientific, generous and responsible. “Any attempt at politicizing or stigmatizing this issue must be rejected,” Mr. Xi said.
In March, New York City became the epicenter of the virus in the United States. Months of hardship and numbness followed: Nearly 24,000 people in the city have died as the pandemic preyed on its vulnerabilities.
But six months later, as the infection rate has dropped to only 1 percent, small transformations and vibrant signs of renewal have revealed the grit and gifts of those who stayed as others scurried to second homes.
The prospect of a second wave is frightening. And already, attempts at returning to offices, schools and sports have been problematic. Signs of real progress have been slow. And yes, many have left.
But in Central Park, weddings and birthday parties, once tucked away in rented halls, have spilled out into the open — the celebrations jubilant though everyone is wearing masks. A struggling Greek restaurateur in Queens has added ambience to curbside tables with lanterns and bouquets. Top designers like Christian Siriano and Naeem Khan have included mask-making in their repertoire.
In Brooklyn, a trio of D.J.s throw digital parties to raise money for the owners of dance lounges, while a coffee shop in Bedford-Stuyvesant stocks four community refrigerators with fresh fruits and vegetables for the hungry. And industrious entrepreneurs and street vendors have redesigned business plans to stay afloat.
“There are still these beautiful moments that you don’t have in any other place in the world, like walking in Prospect Park and stumbling upon a jazz concert or a brass band,” said Dominique Nisperos, 37, a comedian and sociologist from Bedford-Stuyvesant who spent two months recovering from Covid-19. “The lows of the pandemic have been really low, but what’s been my saving grace has been the people of New York.”
The sense of renewal comes as New York City’s Health Department warned on Tuesday that Covid-19 was spreading at increasing levels in several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, a worrisome indicator after a couple of months of declining or flat transmission.
City health officials said that they were especially concerned about a clear uptick in transmission among some of the city’s Hasidic communities, which were devastated by Covid-19 in the spring but had seen few cases in the summer.
In other news from around the United States:
Students in Miami-Dade County, the fourth-largest school district in the country and the largest in Florida, will be able to choose to return to their classrooms next month under a plan approved by the school board after a marathon two-day meeting.
New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that traditional trick-or-treating this Halloween would carry more risk than other ways of celebrating the holiday. The guidelines were somewhat unexpected, given that scientists generally consider it safe to gather outdoors with masks on.
Reporting was contributed by Ben Dooley, Rick Gladstone, Joseph Goldstein, Mike Ives, Corina Knoll, Sharon LaFraniere, Patricia Mazzei, Campbell Robertson, Aimee Ortiz, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Noah Weiland and Elaine Yu.