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Coronavirus Live Updates: Governors Seek to Reduce Testing Times in U.S.

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ImageA drive-through testing site in Louisiana. The state is one of six that will form the first interstate testing compact of its kind.
Credit…William Widmer for The New York Times

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

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

The agreement, 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 3 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, effectively 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.”

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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.

As Trump praises plasma, researchers struggle to finish critical studies.

Credit…Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA, via Shutterstock

American scientists are hoping Covid-19 patients in Brazil will help them answer a century-old question: Can this golden serum, loaded with antibodies against a pathogen, actually heal the sick?

The truth is that no one knows if it works.

Since April, the Trump administration has funneled $48 million into a program with the Mayo Clinic, allowing more than 53,000 Covid-19 patients to get plasma infusions. Doctors and hospitals desperate to save the sickest patients have been eager to try a therapy that is safe and might work. Tens of thousands more people are now enrolled to get the treatment that has been trumpeted by the President Trump and a number of celebrities.

But the unexpected demand for plasma has inadvertently undercut the research that could prove that it works. The only way to get convincing evidence is with a clinical trial that compares outcomes for patients who are randomly assigned to get the treatment with those who are given a placebo. Many patients and their doctors — knowing they could get the treatment under the government program — have been unwilling to join clinical trials that might provide them with a placebo.

The Food and Drug Administration is preparing an emergency authorization to use the treatment, according to scientists who have been briefed on the plans. The policy would ease the clerical burden on hospitals to get clearance for transfusions, further hampering clinical trials, researchers said. An F.D.A. spokeswoman declined to comment on whether such an authorization was in the works.

The move would mean the F.D.A. is “yielding to political pressure,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, who oversaw public health preparedness for the National Security Council under Mr. Trump and who was acting chief scientist at the F.D.A. under former President Barack Obama.

“I’m not as concerned about the political leaders having a misguided approach to science,” she said. “What I’m really concerned about is scientists having a misguided approach to science.”

Convalescent plasma, the pale yellow liquid that is left after blood is stripped of its red and white cells, has been used since the 1890s to treat infectious diseases, including the flu, SARS and Ebola. Scientists believe it may work by giving sick patients the antibodies of those who have recovered from the infection.

Coronavirus symptoms 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.”

Global roundup

The top U.S. health official will visit Taiwan, which has been praised for its coronavirus response.

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

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.

Despite the likelihood that the visit will anger China and further fray ties between Beijing and Washington, officials billed it as an opportunity to strengthen economic and public health cooperation between the United States and Taiwan, a self-ruled territory that is claimed by Beijing.

As of Tuesday, the island of 23 million people just off the coast of southern China had reported 476 coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Officials in Taiwan have tried to turn their relative success in battling the virus into a geopolitical victory. The island has sent millions of masks, emblazoned with the words “made in Taiwan,” to the United States, Italy and other countries.

No date was given for the visit. The trip by Mr. Azar, the secretary of health and human services, would be the first to Taiwan by a U.S. health secretary and the first in six years by a U.S. cabinet member, the department said in a statement on Tuesday. He is scheduled to meet with senior Taiwanese counterparts to discuss Taiwan’s role as a supplier of medical equipment and critical technology, among other issues, the health department said.

“Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the Covid-19 pandemic and long before it,” Mr. Azar said in the department’s statement. “I look forward to conveying President Trump’s support for Taiwan’s global health leadership and underscoring our shared belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health.”

In other news from around the world:

  • 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.

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 Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, Manny Fernandez, Hailey Fuchs, Sarah Mervosh, Tara Parker-Pope, Amy Qin, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear, Katie Thomas, Kenneth P. Vogel, Mary Williams Walsh and Noah Weiland.

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