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Surge in Hospitalizations Strains U.S. Health Care Facilities

Credit...Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

With the coronavirus spreading out of control in many parts of the United States and daily case counts setting records, health experts say it is only a matter of time before hospitals reach the breaking point.

In some places, it is already happening.

There are more than 41,000 Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the United States, a 40 percent rise in the past month. And unlike during the earlier months of the pandemic, more of those patients are being cared for not in metropolitan regions but in more sparsely populated parts of the country, where the medical infrastructure is less robust.

In Utah last week, hospital administrators sent a grim warning to Gov. Gary Herbert that they would soon be forced to ration access to their rapidly filling intensive-care units, and requested approval for criteria to decide which patients should get priority, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“We told him, ‘It looks like we’re going to have to request those be activated if this trend continues,’ and we see no reason why it won’t,” the paper quoted Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association, as saying.

Skeptics need only look at places like Kansas City, Mo., where this month medical centers turned away ambulances because they had no room for more patients. And in Idaho, a hospital that was 99 percent full warned last week that it may have to transfer coronavirus patients to hospitals as far away as Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Hospitals in hard-hit parts of the country are resorting to a tactic commonly used during the pandemic as it eats away at medical resources: limiting their services.

In Tennessee on Saturday, the Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia suspended all elective procedures requiring an overnight stay to make room for Covid-19 patients. Most of the facility’s 26 I.C.U. beds are already filled.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the federal government to authorize the use of a military hospital at Fort Bliss, outside El Paso, to treat civilian non-coronavirus patients, his office said in a statement on Friday.

In places like Milwaukee and Salt Lake City, field hospitals are being opened.

Credit...Andrew Spear for The New York Times

As it resurges across the United States, the coronavirus is forcing universities large and small to make deep and possibly lasting cuts to close widening budget shortfalls.

Though many colleges imposed stopgap measures such as hiring freezes and early retirements to save money in the spring, the persistence of the economic downturn is taking a devastating financial toll, pushing many to lay off or furlough employees, delay graduate admissions and even cut or consolidate core programs like liberal arts departments.

Ohio Wesleyan University is eliminating 18 majors. The University of Florida’s trustees this month took the first steps toward letting the school furlough faculty. The University of California, Berkeley, has paused admissions to its Ph.D. programs in anthropology, sociology and art history.

“We haven’t seen a budget crisis like this in a generation,” said Robert Kelchen, a Seton Hall University associate professor of higher education who has been tracking the administrative response to the pandemic. “There’s nothing off-limits at this point.”

State governments from Washington to Connecticut, tightening their own belts, have told public universities to expect steep cuts in appropriations. Students and families, facing skyrocketing unemployment, have balked at the prospect of paying full fare for largely online instruction, opting instead for gap years or less expensive schools closer to home.

Costs have also soared as colleges have spent millions on testing, tracing and quarantining students, only to grapple with outbreaks. A New York Times database has confirmed more than 214,000 cases this year at college campuses, with at least 75 deaths, mostly among adults last spring, but also including some students more recently.

In a letter to Congress this week, the American Council on Education and other higher education organizations estimated that the virus would cost institutions more than $120 billion in increased student aid, lost housing fees, forgone sports revenue, public health measures, learning technology and other adjustments.

Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times; Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Nine days before Election Day, President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. offered sharply divergent visions for the country, including the coronavirus pandemic, in wide-ranging interviews on “60 Minutes.”

In both substance and demeanor, the two presidential candidates cut strikingly different figures on Sunday during one of their last big opportunities to reach a national television audience during the campaign.

Mr. Trump was combative and testy during his prerecorded interview with the “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl, insisting, as he has done repeatedly in recent days despite surging coronavirus cases, that the country was “rounding the corner” on the pandemic.

“We’ve done a very, very good job,” he said at one point, falsely arguing that the increase in cases was because “we’re doing so much testing.”

Speaking at a time when family, business and government finances have been battered by the pandemic, the president also painted a rosy picture of the nation’s economy, which he said was “already roaring back.” Pressed to specify his biggest domestic priority, Mr. Trump responded that it was to “get back to normal” and “have the economy rage and be great with jobs and everybody be happy.”

But perhaps the biggest headline to emerge from his interview was his behavior. As he became increasingly irritated with the questioning, he cut off his interview with Ms. Stahl, which was taped at the White House on Tuesday, then taunted her on Twitter and posted a 38-minute clip of the interview on Facebook.

Mr. Biden, for his part, was more measured in his interview with Norah O’Donnell of CBS News, but he was direct in his criticism of Mr. Trump. Asked what the biggest domestic issue facing the country was, he responded “Covid.”

“The way he’s handling Covid is just absolutely, totally irresponsible,” he said about Mr. Trump.

Global Roundup

Credit...Aly Song/Reuters

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, is expected to declare victory in the next two months in a campaign to eliminate extreme poverty in the country. The Chinese economy is once again gaining strength, and the Communist Party’s achievements in reducing poverty are expected to feature prominently this week at a conclave of party leaders in Beijing.

Four decades of fast economic growth lifted most people in China out of poverty. Mr. Xi’s antipoverty drive is focused on about five million people who earn less than 92 cents a day, down from nearly 56 million five years ago.

Vowing to “leave no one behind,” Mr. Xi has traveled to hard-hit areas like Wangjiaba to reiterate his commitment.

But the pandemic has exposed the party’s shortcomings in providing its most vulnerable citizens with more than the barest of social safeguards, especially in rural areas. And some experts warn that the government’s response to the crisis — favoring infrastructure spending and tax breaks for companies instead of direct aid for families — may widen China’s gap between rich and poor.

China has for decades treated rural people as second-class citizens, limiting their access to high-quality health care, education and other benefits under the strict Mao-era household registration system by keeping them from moving to the cities.

China’s early efforts to fight the spread of the virus, including lengthy lockdowns, left rural residents stranded hundreds of miles from the factories where they work. Many were unemployed for months. Their children also fell behind, lacking the internet connections or hardware to take part in online classes.

A recent study by Stanford University’s Rural Education Action Program found that incomes fell severely among rural workers during the peak of China’s outbreak in February and March.

The central government has done little to address the pressures facing rural workers during the pandemic, the Stanford study found. The government has directed much of its aid to businesses in urban areas.

In other developments around the world:

  • Melbourne, Australia, will end a strict lockdown of more than three months, officials announced on Monday, after the city recorded no new coronavirus cases for the first time since June. Starting Wednesday, restaurants, cafes and bars will be able to reopen, with some social-distancing restrictions, for the first time since July 9, and all retail will be able to reopen for the first time since August. Asked whether the easing of restrictions meant residents “can finally get back on the beers,” the premier of Victoria State, Daniel Andrews, said: “I might go a little higher up the shelf.”

Credit...Jonathan Drake/Reuters

After officials acknowledged over the weekend that another coronavirus outbreak had struck the White House, infecting Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and four other top aides, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, essentially offering a verbal shrug on CNN on Sunday: “We’re not going to control the pandemic.”

“We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations, because it is a contagious virus — just like the flu,” Mr. Meadows said.

President Trump made no reference to the new cases during campaign rallies in New Hampshire and Maine on Sunday. But for voters, the new wave of infections at the White House just over a week before Election Day was a visceral reminder of the president’s dismissive and erratic handling of the virus, even in one of the most secure spaces in the country. And it comes just as the United States suffers its third surge in infections, with a record number of daily new cases on Friday and a death toll that has passed 225,000.

The past week has been the worst seven-day stretch of the pandemic so far in the United States, with a daily average of 69,804 new cases reported. Alaska set a single-day record for new cases for the third day in a row, and 19 states announced more cases in the past seven days than any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic.

Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, said Sunday that the statement by Mr. Meadows was “an acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

Mr. Pence tested negative for the virus on Sunday, and said he would not quarantine after his exposure to infected aides, who include Marc Short, his chief of staff, and Marty Obst, a senior adviser. His spokesman would not say whether Mr. Pence was receiving some of the drugs Mr. Trump was given, including an experimental cocktail of antibodies by the pharmaceutical company Regeneron, as a preventive measure.

In a statement, the White House deemed the vice president “essential” and said he would stick to his campaign schedule. That included an address on Sunday evening to supporters in Kinston, N.C., where Mr. Pence made no reference to the cases that had infiltrated his staff and instead defended the administration’s coronavirus response as the “greatest national mobilization since World War II.”

Credit...Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

The president of Fox News and several of the network’s top anchors have been advised to quarantine after being exposed to someone on a private flight who later tested positive for the coronavirus, two people with direct knowledge of the situation said on Sunday.

The infected person was on a charter flight to New York from Nashville with a group of network executives, personalities and other staff members who attended the presidential debate on Thursday, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal network matters.

Everyone on board the plane has been told to get tested and quarantine. It was unclear whether more than one person had tested positive.

Those who were exposed include Jay Wallace, the president of Fox News Media; Bret Baier, the chief political anchor; Martha MacCallum, the anchor of Fox’s 7 p.m. show, “The Story”; and Dana Perino and Juan Williams, two hosts of “The Five.”

A network representative would not confirm any details of the exposure, citing the need to keep private health information confidential.

Fox has been faster than other cable news and broadcast networks to resume in-studio programming. And it has had one of the largest in-person footprints of the news organizations that covered the presidential and vice-presidential debates. Several Fox shows are now regularly broadcast from its Midtown Manhattan headquarters, while others are done remotely, as is more common among competitors like CNN and MSNBC.

The anchors who were affected are expected to host their shows from home for the time being.

Network personnel have been serious about taking precautionary measures like wearing masks and avoiding proximity to one another, both in the studios and on the road for major events like the debates, network employees said. And Fox staff members on the ground in Nashville were regularly tested by the network and the Commission on Presidential Debates.

But on the air, Fox has not always treated the coronavirus like the serious and potentially fatal illness that it is.

In February and March, as the virus took hold in the United States, anchors and commentators like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham repeatedly echoed Mr. Trump’s claims that the mainstream news media and Democrats were exaggerating the issue to harm him politically.

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