This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Wednesday August 26th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens and bowling alleys. A look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

Here's the latest:

3:45 p.m. New Jersey gyms can finally reopen their doors next week at reduced capacities after more than five months of mostly being closed to the public.

"Hopefully we'll begin to relieve a burden off of literally hundreds of gym owners who have been crushed by this virus and the overwhelming amount of whom behaved incredibly responsibly," Governor Phil Murphy said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Murphy announced his decision earlier in a tweet that gyms can open at 25% capacity starting on September 1st. Masks will be required and equipment must be six feet apart. Gyms will also be required to limit group activities to one person for every 200 square feet of space, and keep a log of clients in case there is an outbreak.

Murphy previously allowed gyms to open for private appointments only or training sessions for members of the same family. But gym owners had complained for months about their continued closure as Murphy loosened restrictions around other indoor exercise facilities like yoga, pilates and martial arts studios. He allowed those spaces to open at 25% capacity last month.

One South Jersey gym owner had his business license revoked after fighting to stay open through the state lockdown and defying Murphy’s continued orders to shut down. The Atilis Gym in Bellmawr challenged the state in court but a federal judge ruled against them.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said gyms could reopen at 33% capacity as early as this week, although they are likely to remain closed in New York City as the health officials prioritize inspecting schools and childcare centers.

New Jersey's COVID-19 transmission rate remains below 1.0, meaning every new infected person leads to less than one new case.

Cuomo Accuses CDC Of Carrying Out Trump's Political Agenda

2:30 p.m. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday lashed out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over its revised testing recommendation that now says that people exposed to the virus but who show no symptoms do not need to get tested.

Calling the latest recommendation "political propaganda," Cuomo said the state would not follow the CDC's guidance and cautioned private companies against following it.

The change, made to the CDC's website on Monday, alarmed experts who said the country needs to do more testing, not less. There was speculation that the revision, which the agency refused to comment on, was in response to testing shortages and directed by President Donald Trump, who has remarked that the U.S. should do less testing.

"The only plausible rationale is they want fewer people taking tests because, as the President has said, if we don't take tests you won't know that people are COVID-positive and the number of COVID-positive people will come down," Cuomo said during a telephone conference with reporters. "That is his policy of 'deny the problem.'"

He later added: "Shame on the people in the CDC. These will be indefensible actions in the light of history."

Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner who joined the Cuomo on the call, said, "I've spoken to the scientists at the CDC and they say it's political."

CNN also reported that a federal official close to the process said the agency was pressured to make the change.

"It's coming from the top down," the official reportedly told the outlet.

The CDC has referred questions on the new policy to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A spokesman for HHS said the reversal on testing was made “to reflect current evidence and best public health practices.”

CDC Now Advises Those Exposed To Virus But Without Symptoms To Forgo Test

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unexpectedly revised its coronavirus testing guidelines this week to say that those without symptoms, even if they have been in close contact with an infected individual, do not need to get tested.

"Not everyone needs to be tested," the agency's website now states. "If you do get tested, you should self-quarantine/isolate at home pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional."

Previously, the CDC had recommended that all close contacts of those infected get tested regardless of symptoms. The agency has estimated that 40% of people with COVID-19 do not show any symptoms.

The sudden shift in testing recommendations alarmed experts and spurred speculation that the agency is trying to reduce testing.

"Now what the hell kind of CDC recommendation is this? We need to be doing MORE testing, not less," tweeted Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University.

The CDC did not issue an explanation on why the guidance was changed.

In response to an inquiry from Gothamist, a CDC spokesperson referred any questions to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A spokesperson for HHS on Wednesday denied that the revision was in response to prolonged testing shortages, according to the New York Times.

“Testing capacity has massively expanded, and we are not utilizing the full capacity that we have developed,” the spokesperson said. “We revised the guidance to reflect current evidence and the best public health interventions.”

In New York City, the de Blasio administration has been actively urging all residents to get tested. A top health official even suggested that New Yorkers get tested once a month, a frequency that would be infeasible given the city's population and testing capacity.

Under the city's Department of Health criteria, individuals should get tested if they

  • are concerned about possible exposure
  • have spent time in a large crowd
  • have had exposure to someone with confirmed or possible COVID-19
  • have symptoms
  • work in a congregate setting like a nursing home or shelter are planning to visit someone at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness

The city has also been hampered by national shortages in testing materials. From August 4th to August 11th, 50% of test results were coming back within a median of 3 days.

Nonetheless, New York City recently launched a "Get Tested Tuesday" initiative. On Tuesday, as an added enticement, the first 1,000 people tested at one of the NYC Health + Hospitals sites were given Yankees merchandise.

"We have leaned on science, leaned on data, leaned on research; we believe those things matter here in NYC," Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.