Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today



Schools across New York can reopen for in-person instruction this fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday, making it one of the few states in America to forge ahead with reopening plans.

The approval is subject to change if cases spike again, but New York’s overall test positivity rate of about 1 percent is now among the lowest in the nation — far below states like Florida where rates reached as high as 20 percent last month.

New York City teachers and parents have expressed alarm about returning to school buildings, even with social distancing protocols, masks and a hybrid approach that will mandate remote learning several days a week. Though Cuomo’s decision makes school reopenings in the state more likely, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said a final decision for New York City may not be made until early next month, ahead of a planned Sept. 10 first day of school.

“This makes in-person instruction more likely, but I don’t think it changes much for parents and teachers,” said Eliza Shapiro, who covers the New York City schools for The Times. “And it’s really tough to know whether schools have been given enough time and resources to make this work.”

Beyond New York City, many educators spent their summers planning how to safely reopen classes. But with the pandemic surging across much of the country, those plans are shelved. Now educators are spending the little time they have left to improve online instruction, which failed to reach and engage many children in the spring.

Seven months into the outbreak, there are still many unanswered questions about how the coronavirus spreads. But two new studies have shed light on this enduring mystery.

Asymptomatic spread. A new report from South Korea provides more evidence that people without symptoms can unwittingly spread the virus. Researchers found that people with no symptoms had just as much virus in their nose, throat and lungs as those with symptoms, and for almost as long. Roughly 30 percent of those infected never develop symptoms, the study says, but are probably still capable of spreading the virus.

Airborne transmission. A leaked report from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment provides one of the clearest examples yet that the coronavirus can be transmitted through the air. The study examined a retirement home where almost an entire ward of patients was infected. Health authorities found large quantities of the virus in the air-ventilation system.

New thinking on testing. Many experts are promoting faster, less accurate tests to alleviate U.S. testing shortfalls. This quantity-over-quality approach has its downsides — a rapid antigen test gave Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio a positive result this week that was later contradicted — but with the virus on a rampage in the U.S., rapid tests could resolve some supply shortages and enable faster contact tracing and medical intervention.

The psychological effects of the pandemic are coming into sharper focus as the months drag on. More than half of American adults believe the crisis is taking a toll on their mental health, a recent poll found. One of them is Michelle Obama, who this week said she was experiencing “low-grade depression” connected to the effects of quarantine and the current political climate.

To help people hit the reset button on stress and anxiety, Jenny Taitz, an assistant clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, has offered five quick coping strategies:

  • Lower your body temperature to help regulate intense emotions and slow your heart rate. Try dipping your face into a bowl of ice water for 15 to 30 seconds.

  • Pace your breathing by consciously inhaling and exhaling, slowing your breaths to six a minute. This can help lower blood pressure, among other physiological benefits.

  • Listen to relaxing music, such as Marconi Union’s “Weightless.”

  • Practice “anchoring” by digging your heels into the floor and observing what you’re thinking and feeling. Evaluate whether those thoughts are helpful.

  • Improve your tolerance of stressful physical sensations by replicating them in quieter moments. For example, you can try hyperventilating by breathing through a coffee straw for one minute.

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

Once a week, our family of four sits around the dinner table and streams an episode of Bob Ross while painting together. My 5- and 8-year-old are mesmerized by Bob’s magic, and we laugh out loud at each other’s “happy mistakes.”

— Julie Williams-Swiggett, Durham, N.C.

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