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Education roundup

After parents and teachers opposed a hybrid model, Chicago schools will reopen online only.

Public school students in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest district, will begin the academic year remotely in September, leaving New York City as the only major school system in the country that will try to offer in-person classes when schools start this fall.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Dr. Janice Jackson, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, made the announcement Wednesday morning, as the Chicago Teachers Union was in the midst of tentative preparations for a strike over school safety.

“We have to be guided by the science, period,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “When we announced the potential for a hybrid model some weeks ago, we were in a very different place in the arc of the pandemic.” She added, “This was not an easy decision to make.”

The school district had originally planned to open using a hybrid model, with students divided into pods of 15 children each and attending in-person classes two days a week.

But many parents and teachers were opposed to that plan, arguing that it would spread coronavirus in schools and neighborhoods. In Chicago, the number of new coronavirus cases has steadily increased in recent weeks, with more than 250 new cases confirmed each day over the last several days.

Of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, only five now plan to open the school year with any form of in-person learning. Six of the seven largest will be online.

New York City schools, the nation’s largest district, are scheduled to reopen in about a month, with students having the option of attending in-person classes one to three days a week. But the city is confronting a torrent of logistical issues and political problems that could upend Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to bring students back to classrooms.

Among them: There are not yet enough nurses to staff all city school buildings, and ventilation systems in aging buildings are in urgent need of upgrades. There may not even be enough teachers available to offer in-person instruction. Some teachers are threatening to stage a sickout, and their union has indicated it might sue over reopening.

Chicago faced the same resistance from its union, but city leaders said their decision to start remotely was based on health concerns and parent feedback.

In other parts of the country where schools have already opened, they have quickly encountered positive cases, with some having to quarantine students and staff members and even close down schools temporarily to contain possible outbreaks. On Tuesday, the second day of its school year, Cherokee County in Georgia closed a second-grade classroom after a student tested positive for the virus.

In other school news:

N.Y.C. will set up checkpoints to promote compliance with the state’s quarantine rules for many travelers.

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New York City will set up checkpoints at major bridge and tunnel crossings to inform those entering the city about a state requirement that travelers from dozens of other states quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, the mayor and other officials said on Wednesday.

The state’s restrictions have been in place since late June, and the enforcement efforts have so far focused mostly on airports. But as cases surged across the country, officials have grown worried about another widespread outbreak in New York.

“If we’re going to hold at this level of health and safety in the city and get better, we have to deal with the fact that the quarantine must be applied consistently to anyone who has traveled,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.

As of Tuesday, travelers from 34 states and Puerto Rico, where virus cases have risen, are subject to the quarantine. Since July 14, airplane passengers have been required to fill out a form with their personal information and whereabouts or face a $2,000 fine.

Though the state’s quarantine rules have applied to those who enter New York through highways, train stations and buses, those travelers have not been subject to the same level of scrutiny as air travelers. The state says all travelers should fill out the travel form, but in all cases, compliance with the order has largely depended on the whims of visitors and of residents returning to the state.

As of this week, a fifth of all new cases in the city were coming from out-of-state travelers, said Ted Long, the executive director of the city’s contact tracing program.

At the bridge and tunnel checkpoints, which will be run by the city’s Sheriff’s Office, officers will stop a random sampling of vehicles, the city’s sheriff, Joseph Fucito, said. The stops will not be based solely on whether a car has out-of-state license plates.

Officers will then ask travelers coming from designated states to fill out forms with their personal information and provide them with details about the state’s quarantine rules, officials said.

In addition to the checkpoints at bridges and tunnels, the city will set up similar efforts at Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The city also said it would work with tourism businesses and transportation companies to educate travelers about the quarantine order and to urge them to fill out the travel forms.

America is testing more. But the results are too slow, a survey finds.

Credit…Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Frustrated by a nationwide testing backlog, the governors of six states are taking the unusual step of banding together to reduce the turnaround time for coronavirus test results to minutes from days.

The agreement, announced Tuesday, by three Republicans and three Democrats, was called the first interstate testing compact of its kind. The six states — Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia — agreed to work with the Rockefeller Foundation and two U.S. manufacturers of rapid tests to buy three million tests.

More than six months into the pandemic, the bipartisan plan highlights the depth of the testing problems in the United States as well as how the lack of a federal testing program has left municipalities and states to fend for themselves. The Trump administration has offered new support to hard-hit regions by providing free testing in cities through a “surge testing” program, but the bulk of government-sponsored testing has been provided by cities, counties and states that hire third-party contractors. As a result, the length of the delay varies between states, and within them.

The United States is testing about 755,000 people a day, up from about 640,000 per day a month ago, and far more than in April and May, according to the Covid Tracking Project. But numbers alone do not tell the whole story. With testing chemicals in short supply, and an increase in cases nationwide leading to skyrocketing demands, many people still have to wait many days for results, in effect rendering those tests useless.

Most who are tested for the virus do not receive results within the 24 to 48 hours recommended by public health experts to effectively stall the virus’s spread and quickly conduct contact tracing, according to a new national survey by researchers from Harvard University, Northeastern University, Northwestern University and Rutgers University.

The survey — representing 19,000 people from 50 states and Washington, D.C., who responded to an online questionnaire last month — found lengthy wait times among those who had been tested for the virus, about 18 percent of all respondents. Respondents in a vast majority of states reported a median turnaround time of at least three days, including residents of California, Florida, Texas and other hot spots. The survey also found disparities across racial groups, an indication that people who are hit hardest by the pandemic are also having to wait longer for test results.

“Testing is just not quick enough,” said Matthew A. Baum, a professor of public policy at Harvard University and one of the researchers in the group, which found that wait times were “strikingly similar” across the country. “This is an enormously widespread problem.”

United States › On Aug. 4 14-day
New cases 53,440 -11%
New deaths 1,358 +33%

Where cases are rising fastest

Democrats and Republicans have agreed to work toward a deal on a relief package by the end of the week.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Negotiators on Wednesday will reconvene on Capitol Hill to continue hammering out the details of a coronavirus relief package, having agreed to work toward an agreement by the end of the week and have legislative text prepared for the following week.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is expected to again host Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary; and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, in her Capitol Hill suite. The four are also expected to meet with Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, to “explain to us why there’s so many delays and how that might affect the election,” Mr. Schumer said on Tuesday.

The meeting with Mr. DeJoy, a Trump campaign megadonor, comes as mail delays fuel concerns over the politicization of the Postal Service and the administration’s moves to undermine mail-in voting ahead of the general election in November. Democrats are fighting for the inclusion of aid for the Postal Service and election security in an overall coronavirus relief package, while Republicans did not include any such funding in their $1 trillion proposal.

White House officials and Democratic leaders acknowledged some progress in talks on Tuesday. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, signaled he may be open to accepting a compromise measure, even if it contained provisions that he — and members of his conference — disagreed with, such as the extension of $600-per-week jobless-aid payments.

But it remains unclear whether negotiators would be able to adhere to the timeline they had agreed to, given the number of remaining policy divisions. Several Senate Republicans, particularly moderates facing tough re-election campaigns, have urged Republican leadership to keep lawmakers in Washington until a deal is reached, instead of departing for a scheduled monthlong recess at the end of this week.

Global roundup

The number of virus-related deaths worldwide has passed 700,000.

Credit…Jose Cabezas/Reuters

The number of coronavirus deaths around the world passed 700,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database. The virus has sickened more than 18.5 million people.

Almost twice as many countries have reported a significant rise in new cases over the past two weeks as have reported significant declines, according to the database.

Among those are some countries that thought they had a handle on the virus, including Australia and Spain.

Numbers are also going up in Latin America. Brazil, which has been particularly hard hit, is still seeing cases rise, as are Colombia and Peru.

In other news from around the world:

  • The United States’ top health official, Alex M. Azar II, will lead a delegation on a trip to Taiwan, a rare high-level visit by an American official to the island that has won praise for its success in battling the coronavirus.

  • The state of Victoria in Australia reported 725 new cases and 15 deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, its highest numbers since the pandemic began. New curfews and restrictions in the state mean essential workers must now carry a permit before leaving home.

  • Sri Lanka is holding a general election on Wednesday after twice delaying it because of the pandemic. Voters were required to wear masks and were encouraged to bring their own pens to the voting booths, which will be outfitted with hand sanitizer. Sri Lanka has reported 2,834 coronavirus cases, 299 of which are currently active.

  • Switzerland announced on Wednesday that it would impose a quarantine on all travelers from Spain, except for travelers arriving from Spain’s two archipelagoes — the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands. The 10-day quarantine will come into effect at midnight on Friday. Switzerland joins a few other European countries, including Britain, that have imposed restrictions on Spain because of an uptick in the number of cases there.

  • Portugal’s Azores Islands breached the constitution by forcing air passengers to the popular tourist destination to quarantine for 14 days, the country’s Constitutional Court has ruled. According to Reuters, the court said authorities on the islands had treated people as if they were serving a short prison sentence by confining them in hotels, regardless of whether they had symptoms. The regional government of the Azores, more than 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, had decided in March that all arriving air passengers had to stay in confinement for two weeks.

Johnson & Johnson to receive $1 billion from Operation Warp Speed for its experimental vaccine.

Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

The federal government has committed just over $1 billion to Johnson & Johnson for up to 100 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine, the company announced Wednesday.

It’s the latest deal from Operation Warp Speed, the government’s multiagency effort to bring coronavirus vaccines and treatments to market as quickly as possible. The government has offered these large grants to several companies so that they can begin manufacturing their vaccines even before rigorous clinical trials have proved that they work.

The administration’s investment in coronavirus vaccine projects now totals more than $9 billion.

“With the portfolio of vaccines being assembled for Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration is increasing the likelihood that the United States will have at least one safe, effective vaccine by 2021,” Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, said in a statement.

Johnson & Johnson recently began a so-called Phase 1 clinical trial of its vaccine to test if it is safe to use on people. Last week, the company published a study in Nature showing that the vaccine protected monkeys from infection in just one dose, unlike some of its competitors that require two doses.

Biden will accept his party’s nomination virtually.

Democrats are once again dialing back plans for their party convention, announcing on Wednesday that the event will effectively be entirely virtual.

On the advice of health officials working for the party, no national Democratic officials — not even former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — will travel to the event from out of state to participate in events. Mr. Biden will accept the party’s presidential nomination from his home state, Delaware.

Wisconsin officials are still expected to give speeches from Milwaukee’s downtown convention center, but leading Democrats, including former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, plan to deliver their addresses from elsewhere. Delegates had already been instructed not to attend.

Health officials working for the convention advised against having anyone travel to Milwaukee, citing the fear of spreading the virus from other parts of the country to Wisconsin.

Also bowing to the health threats posed by the virus, Mr. Trump last month canceled the portion of the Republican National Convention to be held in Jacksonville, Fla. His decision came just weeks after he moved the event from North Carolina because state officials wanted the party to take health precautions there.

Here’s what to know about volunteering for a coronavirus vaccine trial.

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Maybe you are an altruist looking for a way to help fight the virus. Maybe you are hoping to be among the first to try an experimental vaccine. Or maybe you are just bored or could use a few hundred dollars.

Whatever your reasons, scientists, bioethicists and current volunteers say participating in a vaccine trial can be meaningful. And without hundreds of thousands of volunteers, there will be no vaccine for anyone.

But you may be surprised by the commitment and risks that a trial entails.

A number of sites maintain lists of coronavirus vaccine trials, and there are three primary phases of a vaccine trial. There is no guarantee that you will actually be protected from the virus at any phase of a vaccine trial, no matter how hyped the product has been. Organizers try to avoid creating a financial incentive, so even if they could pay much more, they do not.

How do you sign up? Will you get paid? Who will cover the costs if you get sick? Here is a look at the basics.

The F.D.A. adds to its list of hand sanitizers to avoid.

Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration expanded its list of hand sanitizers that consumers should avoid to include products with inadequate levels of alcohol in addition to those containing methanol.

The agency said its tests had found four hand sanitizers, NeoNatural, Medicare Alcohol Antiseptic Topical Solution, Datsen Hand Sanitizer and Alcohol Antiseptic 62 Percent Hand Sanitizer, with “concerningly low levels of ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol” — active ingredients in hand sanitizers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if soap and water are not available, consumers should use alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent ethanol.

Other hand sanitizers were flagged because they were found to have microbial contamination or inadequate levels of benzalkonium chloride, a chemical with antimicrobial properties. And some were listed for being purportedly made in facilities that also produced weaker benzalkonium chloride products, or in facilities that also produced methanol-contaminated products.

During the coronavirus pandemic, sales of hand sanitizers have soared as consumers tried to observe health officials’ recommendations to frequently and thoroughly wash or sanitize their hands to keep from contracting the virus.

Insurers are not covering businesses’ pandemic interruption costs, so companies are suing.

Credit…Rachel Elise Thomas for The New York Times

Thousands of business owners in the United States have discovered that the business interruption policies they bought, and have been paying thousands of dollars in annual premiums to sustain, will not pay them a thing — just as they are struggling through the biggest business interruption in modern memory. (Business interruption insurance is a type of coverage that replaces a portion of a firm’s lost revenue when a disaster forces it to suspend operations.)

Now, many of them — including proprietors of gyms, dental practices, high-profile restaurateurs and even a National Basketball Association team — are taking their insurers to court, hoping to force them to cover some of the financial carnage. So far, more than 400 business interruption lawsuits have been filed, according to insurance lawyers.

“I think business interruption claims should be paid when business is interrupted,” said Nick Gavrilides, who closed his cafe when Michigan went into lockdown and sued after none of his losses were covered under his business interruption insurance plan.

Insurance companies do not see it that way. Most business interruption policies include highly specific language stating that for a claim to be paid out, there has to be “direct physical damage” — say, a flood that washes away a building or a fire that burns down inventory, forcing a business closure.

On top of that, after SARS swept through Asia nearly two decades ago and caused widespread economic damage, many insurers began to write in language that excluded business interruption caused by viral epidemics.

Insurers say they are not being stingy but that they simply do not have enough capital to cover all coronavirus-related claims and would suffer enormous losses if they had to pay out.

Symptoms of coronavirus are unpredictable. How do you know if you have it?

Credit…Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

With more than 18 million cases of coronavirus worldwide, one thing is clear: The symptoms are varied and strange, they can be mild or debilitating, and the disease can progress, from head to toe, in unpredictable ways.

Despite hundreds of published studies on Covid-19 symptoms, just how common any given symptom is depends on the patient group studied. Patients in hospitals typically have more severe symptoms. Older patients are more likely to have cognitive problems. Younger patients are more likely to have mild disease and odd rashes.

“This is a very tricky and confounding virus and disease, and we are finding out surprising things about it every day,” said Dr. Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Anosmia, the loss of sense of smell that is also often accompanied by a loss of taste, is viewed as one defining symptom, but it is not foolproof. Even a symptom as common as fever can be tricky; in a European study of 2,000 Covid-19 patients with mild to moderate illness, 60 percent never had a fever.

“The problem is that it depends on who you are and how healthy you are,” said Dr. Mark Perazella, a kidney specialist and professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “If you’re healthy, most likely you’ll get fever, achiness, nasal symptoms, dry cough and you’ll feel crappy. But there are going to be the oddballs that are challenging and come in with some symptoms and nothing else, and you don’t suspect Covid.”

One-third of Afghanistan’s population has been infected, according to a survey.

Credit…Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

About one-third of Afghanistan’s population, or roughly 10 million people, have likely been infected by the coronavirus and recovered, Afghanistan’s health ministry said on Wednesday, based on a survey that deployed rapid tests for antibodies.

Ahmad Jawad Osmani, Afghanistan’s acting health minister, said the infection rate varied across the country according to the “cross-sectional survey,” conducted with the help of the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University. Crowded urban centers showed higher rates than the rural areas. The ministry said about 9,500 people were tested for the survey.

“The survey showed that 31.5 percent of the population of Afghanistan has been infected by coronavirus according to rapid tests which show antibodies in the blood, and that they have recovered,” Mr. Osmani said.

Kabul, the capital city of more than five million people, has been worst hit, with about 53 percent of the residents infected. The rate of infection in the east of the country was nearly 43 percent, the west 34 percent, and the northeast 32.4 percent.

“In Kabul, 46 percent of children were infected by the virus, but they don’t have symptoms. And 57 percent of adults were also infected in Kabul,” Mr. Osmani said. “The infection rates were lowest in central parts of the country with 25 percent of adults and 14 percent of children infected.”

The country’s nascent health system has been overwhelmed by the virus at a time when the war continues to bring large numbers of casualties to the hospitals as well. Testing has been extremely limited, casting doubt on official numbers.

There have been 36,782 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Afghanistan and 1,288 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

Job hunting tips for today.

It is no longer about a firm handshake and confident eye contact, but some of the usual job interview tips do still apply when you take your job hunt online.

Reporting was contributed by Fahim Abed, Alan Blinder, Julie Bosman, Emily Cochrane, Reid J. Epstein, Nicholas Fandos, Manny Fernandez, Hailey Fuchs, Katie Glueck, Michael Gold, Virginia Hughes, Juliana Kim, Lisa Leher, Mujib Mashal, Sarah Mervosh, Raphael Minder, Tara Parker-Pope, Amy Qin, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear, Kaly Soto, Eileen Sullivan, Katie Thomas, Kenneth P. Vogel, Mary Williams Walsh, Noah Weiland and Billy Witz.