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Accuracy still unknown for many coronavirus tests rushed out

WASHINGTON — How accurate are the coronavirus tests used in the United States?

Months into the outbreak, no one really knows how well many of the screening tests work, and specialists at top medical centers say it is time to do the studies to find out.

When the new virus began spreading, the Food and Drug Administration used its emergency powers to OK scores of quickly devised tests, based mainly on a small number of lab studies showing they could successfully detect the virus.

That’s very different from the large patient studies that can take weeks or months, which specialists say are needed to provide a true sense of testing accuracy.

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The FDA’s speedy response came after it was initially criticized for delaying the launch of new tests during a crisis and after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stumbled in getting its own test out to states.

But with the US outbreak nearly certain to stretch on for months or even years, some specialists want the FDA to demand better evidence of the tests’ accuracy so doctors know how many infections might be missed.

There have been more than 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States and more than 115,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Cases in nearly half of US states are rising.

In recent weeks, preliminary findings have flagged potential problems with some COVID-19 tests, including one used daily at the White House. Faulty tests could leave many thousands of Americans with the incorrect assumption that they are virus-free, contributing to new flare-ups of the disease as communities reopen.

“In the beginning, the FDA was under a lot of pressure to get these tests onto the marketplace,” said Dr. Steven Woloshin of Dartmouth College, who wrote about the issue in the New England Journal of Medicine last week. “But now that there are plenty of tests out there, it’s time for them to raise the bar.”

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The FDA said in a statement that it has already asked multiple test makers to do follow-up accuracy studies, although it didn’t say for how many of the more than 110 authorized screening tests. The agency also said it is tracking reports of problems. Accuracy has also been an issue with blood tests that look for signs of past infections.

Associated Press

Amid violations, Cuomo may reverse local reopenings

ALBANY, N.Y. — Upset by “rampant” violations of New York’s pandemic-fighting restrictions, Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened Sunday to reinstate closings in areas where local governments fail to enforce the rules.

Manhattan and Long Island’s tony Hamptons were singled out as problem areas by Cuomo, who cited 25,000 complaints statewide of reopening violations. The large gatherings, social-distancing violations, and lax face-covering enforcement endanger the state’s fragile progress in the fight against the coronavirus, Cuomo said, adding that many complaints involve bars and restaurants.

“We are not kidding around with this. You’re talking about jeopardizing people’s lives,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing.

The warning comes a day after the Democratic governor reacted sternly to a short Twitter video from New York City of young people enjoying a warm day packed tightly on a city street, many without masks.

New York officials are trying to avoid the fate of states seeing a surge in new cases after reopening. New York’s coronavirus-related hospitalizations are declining and the state recorded 23 deaths Saturday, the lowest one-day coronavirus death toll since the early days of the crisis.

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New York is loosening restrictions slowly, often phased in by region. In the latest move, Cuomo said Sunday that “low-risk” youth sports like baseball, softball, field hockey, and gymnastics can begin on July 6 in regions in Phase 3 of reopening. There can be two spectators per child.

But Cuomo warned the ongoing reopenings could be “rolled back” in areas where police fail to enforce social distancing and other pandemic-related rules.

Associated Press

Some tribes reopen casinos despite state opposition

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Drivers heading down state roads leading to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut are greeted by flashing warnings: “Avoid Large Crowds” and “Don’t Gamble With COVID.”

Despite having authority to shutter thousands of businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has been constrained when dealing with the sovereign tribal nations that own two of the world’s largest casinos. After pleading with tribal leaders to not reopen and even raising the possibility of pulling their state-issued liquor licenses, he ultimately settled for ordering state transportation workers to put up signs.

Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe are not alone in reopening doors early as the nation reemerges from the shutdown — though both say they are being careful about reopening. Facing pressure to bring back employees and generate revenue, tribes in Washington, Oregon, California, Florida, North Carolina, New York, and elsewhere have decided to welcome back gamblers even though states haven’t allowed large gatherings.

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Other businesses have bristled at shutdown orders and restrictions, and some have pushed the limits. But the tribes that run the casinos are different because the US government recognizes them as sovereign nations with full authority within their reservations — so state and local leaders have no say in reopening their casinos.

Associated Press

Carefree days at theme parks give way to safeguards

TOLEDO, Ohio — Hugs from Mickey Mouse are out at Walt Disney World. So is bunching up at Six Flags to snag a front-seat roller coaster ride. But the season won’t be completely lost for thrill-seekers.

Carefree days of sharing cotton candy on crowded midways will give way this year to temperature scans at the gates, mandatory masks at many parks, hand-sanitizing stations at ride entrances, and constant reminders to stay 6 feet apart.

Amusement parks of all sizes are adjusting everything from selling tickets to serving meals while trying to reassure the public and government leaders that they’re safe to visit amid the coronavirus crisis.

While a handful of small US amusement parks have been open since Memorial Day weekend, most are looking to restart their seasons either later this month or by mid-July. Universal Orlando became the first of Florida’s major theme park resorts to reopen in early June. Disney’s nearby parks will wait until next month, but there won’t be any parades, firework shows, or character greetings.

Disneyland in California said this past week it will welcome back visitors on July 17 if it gets government approval. Theme parks in many states have been among the last businesses allowed to reopen because of worries over crowds. Ohio’s two biggest amusement parks filed a lawsuit last week challenging the government’s authority to shut them down.

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Park operators insist they’re better suited to handle crowds — albeit smaller ones — than ballparks and museums because they have more space to spread out and can better control the movements of their customers. But there is also a lot more to consider in order to reopen safely.

Associated Press