As large parts of the U.S. ease their lockdowns against the coronavirus, public health officials in some states are being accused of bungling infection statistics or even deliberately using a little sleight of hand to make things look better than they are.
The result is that politicians, business owners and ordinary Americans who are making decisions about reopenings and other day-to-day matters risk being left with the impression that the virus is under more control than it actually is.
In Virginia, Texas and Vermont, for example, officials said they have been combining the results of viral tests, which show an active infection, with antibody tests, which show a past infection. Public health experts say that can make for impressive-looking testing totals but does not give a true picture of how the virus is spreading.
In Florida, the data scientist who developed the state’s coronavirus dashboard, Rebekah Jones, said this week that she was fired for refusing to manipulate data “to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” Calls to health officials for comment were not immediately returned Tuesday.
In other developments:
- Canada and the U.S. have agreed to keep their border closed for another 30 days, until June 21, as Canadian leaders sought to reassure residents who fear a reopening. The U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world, though its per capita numbers are well below many other nations.
- More than 11 million people have been tested in the U.S. for COVID-19, all with the assurance that their private medical information would remain protected and undisclosed. Yet public officials in at least two-thirds of states are sharing the addresses of people who tested positive with first responders — from police officers to firefighters to EMTs.
- Facing the gravest U.S. economic crisis in decades, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell offered Congress contrasting views Tuesday of what the government's most urgent priority should be. Mnuchin warned that prolonged business shutdowns would pose long-term threats to the economy. Powell, by contrast, stressed that the nation is gripped by an economic shock “without modern precedent” and that Congress must consider providing further financial aid soon.
- Coronavirus cases have been spiking in several populous nations, a clear indication that the pandemic is far from over. New cases are sprouting up from India to South Africa to Mexico, while Russia and Brazil now sit behind only the United States in the number of reported infections. Russia saw a steady rise of new infections Tuesday and new hot spots have emerged.
- Health experts say the increasing attacks from U.S. President Donald Trump on the World Health Organization for its handling of the coronavirus could weaken global health. In a letter to the WHO on Monday, Trump threatened to permanently cut U.S. funding to the agency unless it commits to “substantive improvements” in the next 30 days. Critics say it shows a profound misunderstanding of the agency's role.
- U.S. officials say the USS Theodore Roosevelt will make a shorthanded return to sea later this week, nearly two months after the ship was sidelined in Guam with a rapidly growing COVID-19 outbreak. Navy Capt. Carlos Sardiello tells The Associated Press the mission will include a scaled-back crew of about 3,000, leaving about 1,800 sailors on shore who are still in quarantine.
- There is no universal playbook for coronavirus testing in professional sports. Protocols and procedures, guidelines and handbooks — they could be as different as rulebooks. There’s plenty of common ground, though, which explains why executives and doctors from various leagues have consulted with each other while moving closer to at least a partial return to competition amid a pandemic.
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