Texas Hospitalizations Halve; NYC Museums Reopen: Virus Update
Shoppers wearing protective face masks shop at a fresh fruit and vegetable stall in the San Antonio market in Barcelona, Spain. (Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg)

Texas Hospitalizations Halve; NYC Museums Reopen: Virus Update

New York City’s museums are coming back to life, if with almost no tourists. The city’s commercial-property sales slid 54% compared with last year, a signal of the difficult recovery. The outbreaks in California and Florida continued to show signs of easing, while hospitalizations in Texas fell by more than half in August.

The pace of infections rose further in key European countries and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that more sacrifices lie ahead after the summer. French President Emmanuel Macron remained opposed to another national lockdown as new cases hit a five-month peak.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration parted ways with its chief spokeswoman after the head of the agency exaggerated the benefits of an experimental therapy.

Key Developments:

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Texas Hospitalizations Halve; NYC Museums Reopen: Virus Update

Texas Hospitalizations Drop by Half (5:21 p.m. NY)

After rapidly climbing during June and July to more than 10,000, the number of people hospitalized for Covid-19 in Texas dropped by more than half in August, to 4,422 Friday.

The state health department confirmed an additional 4,025 virus cases, including some backlogged data, to bring the total to 601,762 since the outbreak began. Deaths climbed by 192, for a total of 12,266 people in the state who have lost their lives from the disease.

NYC Museums Begin to Reopen (5:05 p.m. NY)

After more than five months in hibernation, the museums of New York are slowly starting to reopen, reawakening part of the cultural life of the city.

On Saturday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will greet the general public after members were allowed back on Thursday. The Museum of Modern Art just opened this week, the Whitney Museum of American Art will reopen next week and the Guggenheim plans to return in October.

“When there’s turmoil, that’s the time when you want to go to a museum, to have that moment of connection with a work of art,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s former cultural affairs commissioner. With practically no tourists, who usually make up the lion’s share of visitors, and government restrictions on capacity, the impact of museum reopenings will be more symbolic than economic, Finkelpearl said.

California Retools Reopening After Surge (4:05 p.m. NY)

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced new guidance for reopening the world’s fifth-largest economy, creating a statewide tier system rather than a county-by-county structure that has led to disparate approaches in restarting businesses.

The new framework creates four different categories as opposed to 58 separate metrics for each county to measure progress in the fight against the coronavirus. It also allows some sectors to be partially open as opposed to strictly being open or closed. Focus will shift from a broad set of metrics to just two -- case rates per 100,000 residents and test positivity rates -- to determine how a county is faring.

“We believe this is much more simple, much more transparent,” Newsom said at a press briefing Friday.

U.S. Cases Rise 0.9% (4 p.m. NY)

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. increased 0.9% as compared with the same time Thursday to 5.9 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. The increase was higher than the average daily gain of 0.7% over the past week. Deaths rose by 0.6% to 181,409.

  • Florida reported 615,806 cases, up 0.6% from a day earlier, in line with the average increase in the previous seven days. Deaths reached 10,957, an increase of 89, or 0.8%.
  • Iowa experienced a 4.4% increase in the number of cases from the same time yesterday, bringing the total to 62,334, according to the data from Johns Hopkins and Bloomberg News.

Illinois Widens Virus Spread Warning (3:40 p.m. NY)

Illinois increased the number of countries considered to be a a “warning level” to 30 from 20 a week ago, according the state’s health department. A warning level is triggered when two or more Covid-19 risk indicators increase.

“Cases connected to schools are beginning to be reported,” the department said in a statement on its website. “General transmission of the virus in the community is also increasing.”

Cases and hospitalizations have climbed over the last two months in Illinois, which reported 2,149 new coronavirus cases on Friday compared with 1,707 a day earlier. Deaths declined to 20 from 24.

Arizona Cases Remain Steady (2:35 p.m. NY)

Arizona on Friday reported 519 new virus cases, a 0.3% increase to 200,658 that matched the prior seven-day rise. Deaths rose by 49 to 4,978, while the test-positivity rate dropped to 5.7% from 8.5% the day before.

California Reports Below-Average New Cases (2:25 p.m. NY)

California reported 5,329 new virus cases, a 0.8% increase and less than the 14-day average of 6,270. There were 140 new deaths, greater than the two-week daily average of 121, bringing total virus fatalities to 12,690.

The state continued to show improvement in hospitalizations, which fell 2% to 4,205, a two-month low. The rate of positive tests over the past 14 days dropped to 6% from 6.1%. The trends show stark improvement compared with the beginning of the month, when the test positivity rate topped 7% and average daily cases exceeded 9,000.

FDA Ousts Spokeswoman (1:46 p.m. NY)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has parted ways with its chief spokeswoman, according to a person with knowledge of the move, after the head of the agency exaggerated the benefits of an experimental therapy, and others in the Trump administration promoted the erroneous statements.

The spokeswoman, Emily Miller, joined the agency earlier this month. She came to the job with communications experience in past government positions, a stint at conservative media outlets, and work advocating for gun rights. But she had little to no health-care experience. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

Miller’s ousting comes after a press conference Sunday at which FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said that convalescent blood plasma -- an experimental treatment that uses plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients to treat those currently infected -- could save 35 out of 100 people who would otherwise have died.

That was incorrect. The FDA only had data showing that a higher concentration of the treatment was better than a lower one.

NYC Commercial-Property Sales Slide 54% (1:05 p.m. NY)

Commercial real estate deals in New York City have taken a major hit as the pandemic continues to roil the local economy.

Investment sales totaled $10.5 billion in the first half of 2020, down 54% from a year earlier and a record low since the Real Estate Board of New York begin reporting the data in 2015.

“We continue to see the devastating and long-lasting impacts the pandemic has had on the health and stability of the New York economy,” James Whelan, the trade group’s president, said in a statement. “Real estate is a fundamental driver of the city’s economy.”

Macron Sticks to No Lockdown (12:57 p.m. NY)

President Emmanuel Macron said the economic upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to speed up France’s modernization. He also reiterated his opposition to another national lockdown even as France reported a five-month peak in cases.

The country reported 7,379 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, the most since March 31.

“Lockdowns have been the most unsophisticated measure, used since the Middle Ages,” Macron said.

Avoiding restrictive measures similar to last spring’s is “feasible” thanks to discipline and social distancing, Macron told a group of reporters in a Paris briefing. Even so, “there can be another nationwide or regional lockdown,” he said, “if the virus continues to surprise us.”

Argentina Virus Strategy Loses Support as Cases Surge (12:20 p.m. NY)

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez’s approval rating for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic has reached its lowest point since he ordered a strict lockdown in March as cases surge to new highs.

Approval for Fernandez’s coronavirus strategy fell to 54% in the third week of August, down from a high of 84% in mid-April, according to Buenos Aires-based polling firm Poliarquia. His disapproval rating climbed to 38% from 9% over the same period. The numbers reflect growing unrest with a strict quarantine in the Buenos Aires metro area, where most of the country’s population resides.

On Friday Argentina reported its second straight day of new cases surpassing 10,000, while the test positivity rate - the percentage of people who test positive - averaged 41% for the past seven days, according to government data and Bloomberg News calculations.

Spain Hits Another High Since Spring (12:16 p.m. NY)

Spain’s daily coronavirus infections rose to a new four-month high Friday, as the country struggles to control new outbreaks. The health ministry recorded 3,829 new infections in the past 24 hours, compared to 3,781 reported Thursday. That is the most since April 23.

Outbreaks in Spain have climbed since mid-July, fueled by summer-time social gatherings and by lax social distancing among certain groups, such as teenagers and young adults, in line with what is happening in other European nations, including Italy and France.

Earlier in the week, the government announced that it would make 2,000 soldiers available for contact tracing if requested by regional authorities, who oversee health policy, while it also dismissed the possibility of ordering a national lockdown.

U.K. Lifts Restrictions (12:12 p.m. NY)

U.K. authorities have lifted restrictions in parts of of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire starting Sept. 2, according to a statement from the Department of Health and Social Care. People will be able to mix with others outside their household and businesses will be permitted to re-open.

Four People Tested Positive at RNC (11:40 a.m. NY)

Four people -- two attendees and two support staff members -- tested positive for coronavirus ahead of the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, Mecklenburg County Public Health officials said Friday.

The agency said that approximately 792 COVID-19 tests were conducted at the start of Monday’s meeting. The four individuals who were positive were immediately advised to quarantine and their contacts were also issued “isolation instructions.”

Greece Extends Virus-Control Measures (11:40 a.m. NY)

Greece is extending for another two weeks all measures currently in place to avoid spread of the virus, Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Haradalias said Friday. Measures include the mandatory wearing of masks in enclosed spaces, social distancing on beaches and limits on customer numbers in stores depending on size. Greece is also suspending flights to and from the Catalonia region of Spain and is ending the requirement for all travelers arriving from the Netherlands to have tested negative for the coronavirus at least 72 hours before arrival.

Vacation Travelers Lead to Italy Spike (11:15 a.m. NY)

Italy reported 1,462 cases Friday after 1,411 Thursday. That is the largest increase since May 2 and comes as Italians, especially younger ones, return from holidays at home and abroad. A record 97,065 tests were carried out, with the positivity rate broadly stable at 1.5%.

While the government has tried to stem the outbreaks by widening mask-use requirements and closing nightclubs, it has ruled out imposing a new nationwide lockdown. The main challenge for Premier Giuseppe Conte’s cabinet now is to ensure that schools reopen as planned on Sept. 14. That is crucial for the economic recovery to continue as the country struggles with the fallout of the recession.

Florida Cases Continue to Slow (10:51 a.m. NY)

Florida reported 615,806 Covid-19 cases on Friday, up 0.6% from a day earlier, in line with the average increase in the previous seven days. The seven-day rolling case total was 22,520, the lowest since June 21, according to the health department report, which includes data through Thursday.

The new daily rate of people testing positive for the first time fell to 5.7% for Thursday, from 6.3% on Wednesday. It was the 16th day in the single digits, the longest such streak since mid-June

Deaths among Florida residents reached 10,957, an increase of 89, or 0.8%, and the seven-day rolling total was 789, the lowest since July 19. By that measure, it has now been under 1,000 for the past seven days, after peaking this month at nearly 1,300. Deaths often trail infections by weeks, and generally take even longer to be reflected in the data.

Netherlands Seeks End to Mink Farming (10:50 a.m. NY)

The Dutch government announced that mink farms will be forced to cease operations in March of next year, news agency ANP reported on Friday. The decision comes after infected minks were found on 42 farms, triggering mass cullings of the semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammals that are bred for their soft pelts. Before the outbreak, the mink industry in the Netherlands had been scheduled to close in 2024 on animal welfare grounds.

Hungary Bans Most Foreigners (10:45 a.m. NY)

Hungary will ban the entry of most foreigners from September and apply stricter quarantine rules for citizens returning from abroad, Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas told reporters. The regulation marks a return to policies implemented during the first wave of the crisis. Hungary recorded 132 new infections on Friday, the most since April.

Malaysia Extends Virus Measures (8:26 a.m. NY)

Malaysia will extend measures aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus infections until the end of the year. The government will continue to require the use of face masks in public spaces, while places where social distancing is difficult to uphold, including nightclubs and theme parks, will remain shut, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Friday. Foreign tourists are still barred from entry.

Amsterdam Mask-Wearing Requirement to End (8:10 a.m. NY)

A rule requiring face masks in crowded areas of Amsterdam and Rotterdam will expire on Aug. 31, after it met with mixed results. Many people ignored the regulation, including in Amsterdam’s red light district, a tourist hot spot, even though the city handed out dozens of fines. Authorities are reviewing the results and may decide to re-implement a mask-wearing requirement.

Berlin Court Lifts Ban on Coronavirus Demonstration (8 a.m. NY)

A Berlin court ruled that a demonstration against coronavirus-related restrictions can go ahead on Saturday, reversing a ban announced by city authorities. A court spokesman said protesters -- 22,500 are expected to turn out -- will have to obey distancing rules and will be instructed to do so by police.

Moderna in Talks With Japan (6:45 a.m. NY)

Moderna confirmed talks with Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to potentially supply the country with 40 million or more doses of mRNA-1273, its vaccine candidate against Covid-19. Under terms of this arrangement, the vaccine would be supplied by Moderna and distributed in Japan by Takeda Pharmaceutical beginning in the first half of 2021, subject to regulatory approval.

Rio de Janeiro Governor Removed From Office (6:42 a.m. NY)

Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel was removed from his post by a court amid calls for his impeachment by local legislators. Police are carrying out another round of search, seizure and arrest warrants in the state as part of the probe, according to prosecutors.

In May, police searched Witzel’s official residence, seizing mobile phones and computers as part of an investigation into the misuse of funds earmarked to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The probe looked at the purchase of respirators and equipment for field hospitals at inflated costs.

Merkel Warns of Difficult Times Ahead (6:30 a.m. NY)

Chancellor Angela Merkel started her annual summer address with a personal appeal to Germans, warning them that the situation will get tougher as the summer draws to a close. “There are indications that things will become more difficult in coming months,” she said in Berlin. “It’s serious, unchanged serious. Continue to take it seriously.”

While Merkel has been praised for her handling of the pandemic, cracks have started to appear. She struggled to get state leaders aligned on response measures as infection rates surge. On Thursday, the chancellor urged Germans to avoid travel to virus-hit areas such as the U.S.

Germany needs to work hard to “maintain our economy as much as possible or bring it back in gear again,” she said, adding that the country needed also to keep its eye on issues such as climate change and digitalization that will impact its competitiveness in the future.

Janssen to Conduct Vaccine Phase 2 Trials in Spain (6:05 a.m. NY)

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit will conduct phase 2 clinical trials for its Covid-19 vaccine in Spain, Germany and Belgium, Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said at a press conference in Madrid. The tests will be first clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccines authorized by the Spanish government in the country.

Spain has been grappling with a resurgence in infections and reported 3,781 new cases on Thursday, the most since April 23. Yet only 5% of patients are hospitalized, compared with 55% at the peak of the pandemic in Spain, Fernando Simon, the government’s chief epidemiologist, said at a news briefing.

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