President Trump on Wednesday rejected the professional scientific conclusions of his own government about the prospects for a widely available coronavirus vaccine and the effectiveness of masks in curbing the spread of the virus as the death toll in the United States from the disease neared 200,000.

In a remarkable display even for him, Mr. Trump publicly slapped down Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the president promised that a vaccine could be available in weeks and go “immediately” to the general public while diminishing the usefulness of wearing masks despite evidence to the contrary.

The president’s comments put him at odds with the C.D.C., the world’s premier public health agency, over the course of a pandemic that he keeps insisting is “rounding the corner” to an end. Mr. Trump lashed out just hours after Dr. Redfield told a Senate committee that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year.

“I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “It’s just incorrect information.” A vaccine would go “to the general public immediately,” the president insisted, and “under no circumstance will it be as late as the doctor said.”

Mr. Trump also said Dr. Redfield “made a mistake” when he told senators that masks were so vital in fighting the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, that they might be even more important than a vaccine. “The mask is not as important as the vaccine,” Mr. Trump said.

The president has repeatedly claimed that a vaccine could be available before Election Day on Nov. 3, a timeline that most health experts say is unrealistic, prompting concerns that the Food and Drug Administration might give emergency authorization to a vaccine before it has been fully vetted for safety and effectiveness. Nine pharmaceutical companies have pledged to “stand with science” and to not push through any product that didn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Earlier on Wednesday, Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, accused the president of trying to rush out a vaccine for electoral gain.

“Let me be clear: I trust vaccines,” Mr. Biden said. “I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump, and at this moment, the American people can’t either.”

Michael R. Caputo, the embattled top spokesman of the cabinet department overseeing the U.S. coronavirus response, will take a leave of absence “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family,” the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

Mr. Caputo’s science adviser, Dr. Paul Alexander, will be leaving the department.

The announcement came after a bizarre and inflammatory outburst on Facebook on Sept. 13 and disclosures that Mr. Caputo and his team had tried to water down official reports of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the pandemic.

Mr. Caputo, a longtime Trump loyalist and the health department’s assistant secretary of public affairs, apologized for his Facebook presentation to his staff and to Alex M. Azar II, the department’s leader, after his comments became public.

Since he was installed at the department in April by the White House, Mr. Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide, has aggressively worked to develop a media strategy for dealing with the pandemic. But critics, including some in the administration, complained that he was promoting the president’s political interests over public health.

His Facebook talk, which was shared with The New York Times, was filled with ominous predictions of left-wing “hit squads” plotting armed insurrection after the election and attacks on C.D.C. scientists, who he said had formed a “resistance unit” determined to undercut Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election. He accused the scientists of “rotten science” and said they “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants” except to plot against the president at coffee shops.

In his appearance in front of a Senate health panel on Wednesday, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., said Mr. Caputo’s remarks about government scientists committing “sedition” were “false accusations” offensive to career officials at his agency.

“C.D.C. is made up of thousands of dedicated men and women, highly competent,” Dr. Redfield said. “It is the premier public health agency in the world.”

Mr. Caputo and a colleague pushed the C.D.C. to delay and edit apolitical . health bulletins, called Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, in an effort to paint the administration’s pandemic response in a more positive light.

South Africa will also drop to its lowest alert level starting at midnight this Sunday, allowing for indoor gatherings of up to 250 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 500, with gyms, theaters and other venues limited to 50 percent of their capacity. The nightly curfew will also be reduced to between midnight and 4 a.m. Restrictions on sporting events will remain in place, and masks will still be required in public.

“By any measure, we are still in the midst of a deadly epidemic,” Mr. Ramaphosa said. “Our greatest challenge now — and our most important task — is to ensure that we do not experience a new surge in infections.”

South Africa, the epicenter of the outbreak in Africa and a major tourist destination, went into a strict nationwide lockdown in March that included an unpopular ban on cigarette and alcohol sales. In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Ramaphosa noted the “scourge” of violence against women and children during lockdown as well as widespread allegations of corruption related to pandemic relief efforts.

South Africa has had more than 653,000 cases and 15,705 deaths, according to a New York Times database. But the country’s health minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, estimated this week that more than a fifth of the population, or 12 million people, had “probably” been infected.

In other developments around the world:

  • India reported 97,894 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, its highest one-day increase. The country has the world’s second-highest number of cases after the United States, according to a New York Times database.

  • New Zealand has entered its first recession in a decade, economic data showed Thursday. Officials said the economy shrank 12.2 percent in the second quarter, the country’s biggest fall on record, amid a nationwide lockdown this spring. On Thursday, the country reported zero community cases for the third consecutive day.

  • A small group of wealthy nations has bought more than half of the expected supply of the most promising coronavirus vaccines, the British charity group Oxfam said Thursday. Supply deals have been announced for 5.3 billion doses of five vaccines in the last stage of clinical trials. More than 2.7 billion doses, or 51 percent, have been bought by countries including Australia, Britain, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and the United States as well as the European Union, which together represent about 13 percent of the world’s population. Even if all five vaccines are approved, their combined production capacity of six billion doses is enough for only about three billion people since each person is likely to need two doses. That means that nearly two-thirds of the world’s population would not have a vaccine until at least 2022, Oxfam said.

  • A health official from Madrid’s regional government warned that the capital was preparing to impose “selective lockdowns” in districts where the number of cases has recently risen significantly. The minister, Antonio Zapatero, said that the region urgently needed “to flatten the curve,” before the arrival of colder weather that could help spread the virus faster.

  • Gen. Eduardo Pazuello on Wednesday became the third health minister in Brazil during the pandemic, The Associated Press reported, after nearly four months holding the position on an interim basis and almost 120,000 deaths from the virus there during that time. General Pazuello, a logistics expert with no prior health experience before taking a deputy position in May, follows two predecessors who departed after disagreements with President Jair Bolsonaro regarding ways to combat the virus.

  • Six months after locking down the country to curb the spread of the virus, Nepal is starting to welcome back trekkers and mountaineers. The decision is aimed at reviving the country’s ailing economy, which is heavily dependent on mountain tourism. Trekkers visiting Nepal will be required to produce documentation showing that they tested negative before flying in, and to quarantine before traveling to tourist destinations.

Israeli reporters quarantine after a White House event.

A day after covering a large White House event during which many attendees did not wear masks, Israeli reporters returning home on Wednesday were sent into quarantine.

In a statement, a spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Health said the journalists who were flying with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel were directed to go into quarantine and would be the subjects of an epidemiological investigation.

The reporters, who attended Tuesday’s signing ceremony on the South Lawn for agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, followed strict health protocols. An Israeli government official said the decision to quarantine them did not result from any specific notice of cases at the White House.

But Health Ministry officials watching the ceremony back in Israel — which featured hundreds of attendees, many of them maskless, sitting and mingling in close quarters — believed it to be obviously unsafe and were “pissed,” according to an Israeli government official.

One Israeli reporter who attended the event posted a video on Twitter showing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking just inches away from Israel’s Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen. Neither man wore a mask.

A day after the ceremony, a Trump administration official tested at the White House was confirmed positive for the coronavirus. The official, who was not publicly identified, was not present for the ceremony, and the authorities began tracing the person’s contacts to try to stop any further spread.

The number of cases in Israel, when adjusted for population, has risen to among the highest in the world. The government has mandated a second, nationwide lockdown to begin Friday afternoon, hours before the eve of the Jewish New Year holiday, and to last at least three weeks, extending to the last day of Yom Kippur and the festival Sukkot. The Jerusalem Great Synagogue, the venerable institution where Israeli prime ministers and presidents have prayed, announced on its website on Wednesday that it would remain closed over the Jewish high holidays for the first time in its more than half-century of history.

Connecticut shuts down a nursing home after an outbreak.

Connecticut officials on Wednesday took what they called the “extraordinary step” of closing a nursing home and moving its residents elsewhere after an outbreak that resulted in around 30 cases and four deaths and might have spread to a hospital.

The shutdown came just after the state made the rare move of installing an outside manager at the home, the Three Rivers Nursing Home in Norwich, to address various deficiencies.

The manager recommended the closing after quickly concluding that the problems could not be fixed by Sept. 30 as required by the state, said Deidre S. Gifford, Connecticut’s acting health commissioner.

In a statement, the home’s operator, JACC Healthcare Center of Norwich, said it supported the move.

Of the home’s 53 remaining residents, 17 who have tested positive will be transferred to a home in East Hartford to isolate, officials said; 29 will be moved to other homes near Norwich. The rest are waiting for their test results and under observation for possible infection.

The state began investigating the home last month after 13 residents and two staff members tested positive. By Wednesday, at least 21 residents and six staff members had tested positive.

Investigators found, among other things, inadequate staffing; a failure to keep residents who had tested positive for the virus away from those who had not; and a lack of personal protective equipment.

Investigators also determined that workers at the nursing home had sent several virus patients to Backus Hospital in Norwich for emergency care without telling the hospital in writing that there was an outbreak at Three Rivers. Several hospital employees have tested positive for the virus, and the state is now investigating the outbreak there.

As in many states, the virus has ravaged Connecticut’s long-term care homes. Nearly three out of every four of the 3,280 virus-related deaths that the state had recorded as of Wednesday were linked to such homes, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

In neighboring New York, officials this week eased restrictions on visitation guidelines previously set at nursing homes. Under the new rules, homes that have been virus-free for 14 days can allow visitors, half of the previous 28-day requirement.

The Big Ten Conference said Wednesday that it would try to play football as soon as the weekend of Oct. 23, potentially salvaging the seasons of some of the most renowned and lucrative teams in college sports and reversing a decision from just over a month ago not to compete because of the pandemic.

The move will probably appease some prominent coaches, parents, players, fans and even President Trump, but it is also likely to provoke new accusations that the league is prioritizing profits and entertainment over health and safety.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, the league said players, coaches, trainers and others on the field would undergo daily testing for the virus, and that any player who tested positive would be barred from games for at least 21 days.

Leagues that have already returned to play, like the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12, have been forced to postpone a handful of games or bench players because of positive tests or exposure to the virus. Stadiums are operating with fewer spectators in the stands or none at all.

Complicating matters is the association between football and social gatherings like tailgate parties. Health officials near some Big Ten campuses, including Michigan State and Wisconsin, have begun cracking down on students for partying, threatening harsh penalties and putting fraternities and sororities under quarantine. In Ingham County, home to Michigan State University, local health officials ordered residents of nearly two dozen Greek houses, as well as several other group houses, to quarantine for 14 days after the university reported 160 new cases.

“While we know many students are doing the right thing, we are still seeing far too many social gatherings in the off-campus community, where individuals are in close contact without face coverings,” Mayor Aaron Stephens of East Lansing said on Saturday of the order.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is also part of the Big Ten and had a sharp uptick in cases last week, local health officials ordered all Greek organizations with one or more cases among their live-in members to quarantine. Several states, including Kansas, Colorado and Michigan, have tracked coronavirus clusters to fraternities and sororities.

And at SUNY Oswego in New York State, which has recorded 70 new cases since Saturday, officials warned students that any parties hosted by fraternity or sorority members, even if not technically sponsored by their Greek organizations, would still lead to “severe individual and organizational penalties.”

In recent days, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have canceled spring break, when students often travel to places like Florida and spend a week partying.

In other education news:

  • The University of Georgia said on Wednesday that it would not be able to host on-campus voting at a student center this fall over concerns about long lines and “insufficient indoor air space” for social distancing. It said it would provide a shuttle to other voting sites, and that other sites could be made available for in-person voting with the state’s approval. Critics noted that the university’s football team has not canceled its Oct. 3 season opener, but the university said the game would be held in an outdoor stadium with “substantially reduced capacity.” In its weekly coronavirus report on Wednesday, the university said a total of 421 positive tests had been reported from Sept. 7 to 13, most of them students, a decline of more than 70 percent from the previous week.

  • The University of Michigan is seeking a court order to end a strike by graduate students demanding more protection from the virus. In its court filings, the university accused the union, which went on strike Sept. 8, of “interfering in the university’s mission to educate students by unlawfully withholding their labor.”

  • All students at the University of Colorado Boulder, which has an enrollment of about 35,000, were advised to quarantine for two weeks by the county’s health department on Tuesday after a surge of cases tied to the university. The county health director said that mandatory restrictions would be imposed if the positivity rate remained high.

  • The University of Arizona, with about 45,000 students, also asked students living on or near campus to quarantine this week and next, with the exception of attending classes, after a major spike in cases. And Grand Valley State University’s 21,000 students in Allendale, Mich., were also ordered to “stay in place” for two weeks by the county health department.

President Trump urged Republicans on Wednesday to “go for the much higher numbers” in stalled negotiations over another economic recovery package, undercutting his party’s push for a bare-bones plan that omits another round of stimulus checks for Americans struggling to weather the pandemic-induced recession.

The coronavirus is out of control and is the “No. 1 global security threat in our world today,” the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said Wednesday at a news conference outlining his messages for this year’s General Assembly session. The session, which began this week, will largely be held via virtual meetings because of the pandemic.

Mr. Guterres called for greater cooperation to develop and distribute an affordable vaccine and criticized what he called “deadly misinformation” that could dissuade people from getting vaccinated.

Mr. Guterres also said he would press the organization’s 193 member states to help ensure that nations heed his plea for a worldwide cease-fire in all armed conflicts, which he called for six months ago to help combat the pandemic.

The United Nations has been unable to orchestrate a coordinated global response to the scourge and its pleas for billions of dollars in emergency aid for the neediest countries have so far only engendered what Mark Lowcock, the organization’s top relief official, has called a “tepid” response.

On Tuesday, the new president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, a veteran Turkish diplomat, announced he would convene a special session of the body during the first week of November devoted to addressing the pandemic.


The U.S. says it plans to start distributing a vaccine within 24 hours of approval.

Just hours before New York City’s 1.1 million students logged on for virtual school orientation on Wednesday morning, the Department of Education announced a last-minute change to how children will learn when classes officially start on Monday.

The city announced earlier in the summer that all schools would be required to provide at least some live instruction to all students on every day they were learning at home. Principals and teachers have been warning for weeks that there were simply not enough teachers to educate students in-person and online; different teachers have to instruct each cohort. The city finally acknowledged the enormous staffing crunch, which the principals’ union estimated could be as large as 10,000 educators, with Tuesday night’s announcement.

For students in the hybrid education model, which involves physically attending school one to three days per week and learning remotely the rest of the time, the new rule will no longer require schools to provide daily live instruction when those students are remote. The roughly 40 percent of students who have chosen to learn remotely full time will still get live instruction each day. Students can switch to full remote learning at any time.

When the students in the hybrid model do not receive live instruction, they might instead watch a prerecorded video of a lesson, or complete assignments on their own time. The city also said that if schools have enough staff to provide daily live instruction on days when hybrid students are at home, they should do so.

The city’s mayor has argued that reopening schools for in-person instruction is crucial for the city’s hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children who were largely failed by remote learning. But the scarcity of both in-person instruction and live teaching has frustrated many parents.

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city would add more teachers throughout the fall to provide live instruction.

Elsewhere in the New York area:

  • After months of complaints about testing delays, New York City officials are set to announce on Thursday that they have opened a lab in Manhattan that should significantly cut down on wait times as the city prepares for its most ambitious period of reopenings, with public school classes and indoor dining scheduled to begin this month. The new facility will prioritize New York City residents, meaning turnaround times within 24-48 hours, officials said.

  • Mr. de Blasio on Wednesday announced that he is furloughing his own staff at City Hall, himself included. The policy will affect 495 mayoral staff members, who will have to take an unpaid, weeklong furlough at some point between October and March 2021. The mayor intends to work during his furlough without pay, his spokesman said. The furloughs would yield $860,000 in anticipated savings.

  • Mr. de Blasio also said on Wednesday that New York City would close off additional streets to vehicle traffic to allow restaurants to serve customers outdoors and would also extend the street closings from weekends to weekdays. The move is meant to try to help restaurant owners offset some of their huge losses during the pandemic. Indoor dining is set to resume in the city on Sept. 30, but restaurants will be allowed to serve at only 25 percent capacity.

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Alan Blinder, Luke Broadwater, Emily Cochrane, Michael Corkery, Michael Crowley, Melissa Eddy, Rick Gladstone, David Halbfinger, Anemona Hartocollis, Mike Ives, Isabel Kershner, Andrew E. Kramer, Gina Kolata, Sapna Maheshwari, Patricia Mazzei, Raphael Minder, Benjamin Mueller, Richard C. Paddock, Linda Qiu, Gretchen Reynolds, Dana Rubinstein, Ed Shanahan, Eliza Shapiro, Bhadra Shrama, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Glenn Thrush, Marc Tracy, Noah Weiland and Sameer Yasir.

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