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Why are products for older people so ugly?

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On a drizzly Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco, people are filtering into a small conference room appointed with a whiteboard and subdued black-and-white photography. As the seats fill up around the long white table, a woman dressed mostly in red, with sparkly silver nail polish, invites everyone to her upcoming ukulele performance. A man in a blue plaid shirt passes around a container of heavily iced hot cross buns. A woman in a green turtleneck chitchats about the presidential power struggles in Venezuela. They’re here to talk about technology—a scene that should be entirely unremarkable in a city filled with small white conference rooms where people are doing exactly the same.

This story is part of our September/October 2019 issue

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“Okay, everyone ready?” asks Richard Caro, the meeting’s leader, an Australian with neatly cropped silver hair, alert dark eyes, and the demeanor of a kind professor. “Let’s start with you, Lynn. You’ve got one here”—he glances down at his notes—“that says ‘hearing aids.’”

Lynn Davis, a 71-year-old retired project coordinator, says her sister-in-law recently talked about a pair of $300 hearing aids she’d bought online and loved. Excited, Davis had Googled the product, only to find a lengthy blog post that “ripped it apart.”

“Ha!” chortles the woman sitting next to her. “A piece of junk!”

The comment sparks a spirited back-and-forth about hearing aids. Caro, at 63, is one of the youngest people in the room: the average age of the 11 women and five men gathered here is somewhere in the mid-70s. A retired computer programmer says she has considered buying hearing aids that can be programmed at home. A man with an iPhone sticking out from the pocket of his flannel jacket talks about the signal-to-noise ratio. A redhead wearing a hand brace describes her stereophonic pair, which affords her surround-sound hearing.

“Wow, you’ve got the Cadillac!” one woman cracks.

“For the money,” the redhead responds, “I have the Ferrari.”

They are the Longevity Explorers, part of Caro’s experiment to improve the way technology is developed for older adults. They’ve been meeting here since 2014. Throughout most of the meeting Caro sits quietly at the head of the table, hands clasped together, and just listens. He wishes more people—especially entrepreneurs—would do the same.

Elizabeth Zelinski has a story she likes to tell. It’s about the company that made a wearable pad to prevent people from hurting their hip if they fell. “They couldn’t sell the thing,” says Zelinski, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. “Because, guess what? You know why? Nobody wants to have a big butt.”

If they had just done some user testing, she says, “they would have saved themselves from a lot of heartache.”

It’s a familiar tune to engineer Ken Smith, director of the mobility division of the Stanford Center on Longevity. He says one of the biggest mistakes designers make is to assume that around the age of 60 people lose interest in aesthetics and design. This can have dire consequences for products meant to help people with their health. No one wants to stick a golf-ball-size hearing aid the color of chewed gum in their ear, any more than they want to wear a T-shirt that reads “SENIOR CITIZEN.”

Similarly, there’s a common perception that people of a certain age simply can’t or don’t want to learn about new technologies. There is only a kind-of, sort-of, not-really kernel of scientific truth to this. Zelinski, a specialist in neuroscience and cognition, says aging causes changes to the medial temporal lobe—the part of the brain associated with new learning. And your white matter, or myelin, which helps speed the transmission of information from one brain cell to another, is going to get funky, she says. “People just need longer … they need more exposure to something to learn how to use it. It’s not that they completely lose the ability to learn.”

Experts say older adults who still work, or who spend time with younger family members who use technology, are more apt to pick it up. Also, says Zelinski, “a lot of the technology that older people are interested in has to be something that they find easy to use, that’s affordable and compelling.”

Mobility
Seismic’s body suit uses built-in sensors and robotics to give wearers extra support when sitting or lifting.

Photograph by Cody Pickens

That sounds like what anyone would want. And yet the list of lousy products for older people is long. Smith describes clunky walkers, ugly canes, and institutional-looking grab bars—although he adds that he’s recently seen some cleverly disguised to look like towel racks or other household objects.

Smith’s division has helped bring to market a number of products for the older consumer, like a line of Stanford-designed shoes for people with knee arthritis. One of the options even looks like a slick running shoe, rather than a Frankensteinian orthotic.

Engaging older people in designing for older people “is a good thing,” says Smith. “Because younger people do tend to have this picture of designing things that are functional for older people, but not really understanding what makes them happy.” Presented with products that are “brown, beige, and boring,” many older people will forgo convenience for dignity.

That’s why last year, as part of an annual global design challenge he runs at Stanford, Smith brought in the Longevity Explorers so that the designers could actually meet some older people. Smith said the workshop helped—his young finalists came away thinking of older consumers as less of a stereotype, and more as individuals with heterogeneous tastes and needs.

A handful of major companies are trying to set an example by doing something similar. Design heavyweight IDEO brought on Barbara Beskind, then 89, as a designer in 2013 to help it create products for older people. Hazel McCallion, former mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, was 98 when Revera, one of Canada’s largest providers of assisted living, hired her as its chief elder officer in 2015.

But progress is incremental, perhaps because aging still gives people the heebie-jeebies.

“Unfortunately, the first thing you hear when you say ‘Well, so much of the population is aging, they’re living older’—people will say, ‘Oh my God! What are we going to do about this problem?!’” says Smith. “And you know, if you back off a step, you realize this is, like, one of the great accomplishments in human history.”

Caro has an adventurous streak—he once heli-skiied the Himalayas—but he is not brash. He gathers his thoughts before he speaks, and when he does, he uses his hands judiciously for emphasis. He’s mastered Silicon Valley Neat Casual: Button-ups under top layers that suggest athletic activity, dark jeans, an Apple watch.

He arrived in California from Melbourne, with a stop to study lasers at Oxford University as part of a doctorate in experimental physics. After a job at a pioneering laser eye surgery firm in Boston, he spent the 1990s at startups and medical-device companies in Silicon Valley and ended up going solo as a management consultant and angel investor. Then, five years ago, he decided to take on the problem that had been nagging him for years. For older people, he says, “all the existing products were ugly and stigmatizing. It just seemed there was a fertile opportunity that was being missed.”

After he’d conducted about 100 interviews with people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, one thing stood out: many of the people he met missed feeling useful. “There’s this huge demographic of people who have sort of been put aside and told to go off and play bridge and bingo and not contribute to society,” he says. Zumba and lectures were fun, but not fulfilling.

An idea took shape: Why not get people together to talk about aging and use those discussions to pinpoint problems technologists should tackle? It would be a resource for product developers, as well as giving the target audience some influence over the companies gunning for their dollars.

“We weren’t sure we could make it interesting to them so they’d want to come back,” he says. “We weren’t sure anything useful would come out of it. We weren’t sure of anything.”

It turned out to be an experiment that paid off. Today there are eight Longevity Explorer “circles,” as Caro calls them: five in Northern California and one each in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. There are about 500 members, most of whom are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, although there are members in their 60s as well. He often gets emails from people who want to either join a group or start one, and he is gradually greenlighting circles throughout the US, run by volunteers. The circles are enabled by Caro’s company, Tech Enhanced Life, a public benefit corporation.

Circle meetings go like this: Members start by writing down topics they want to cover (like hearing aids) on sticky notes and passing them to Caro, who cycles through those suggestions before introducing a discussion topic. He uses the same topic at multiple circles, and it’s usually from a theme that has cropped up at more than one meeting. (The day I was there, the topic was “What do we do about the fact that the world seems to be shrinking around me? I’m not ready to just sit in my armchair and wait for the end.”)

Practical demonstrations are encouraged. At one point during my visit, a woman whipped out a tool she liked for opening packages (plastic clamshells are even more maddening when you have arthritis). Explorers recommend and review gadgets and digital tools—everything from ride-share apps to jar openers—and those conversations get turned into guides on techenhancedlife.com.

Personal care
Gillette’s Treo razor is designed for those who have to shave others. It has a different angle, a special razor guard, and a tube of shaving gel built straight into the handle.

Courtesy photo

One of the site’s most popular pages is a roundup of toenail clippers—it turns out the difficulty bridging the distance between your hands and toes is a common side effect of gaining years. Content for older adults and their caretakers is free; a small fraction of the information deemed of more interest to companies or researchers lives behind a $45-a-month paywall.

Today the company is funded mainly by Caro, two other cofounders, and a handful of investors, but eventually Caro wants it to pay for itself. In 2017, after feedback from Explorers that they would like to weigh in on product development, not just the finished goods, he introduced “sponsored explorations”—a paid service for companies designing products for older adults. Each Explorer gets a fee, usually in the range of $100 to $500, for taking part in focus groups, information–gathering sessions, and other projects. They’ve done them with early-stage companies, venture-backed startups, and “humongous companies that everyone in the world has heard of,” Caro says. He’s evasive, though, about who those clients are and how many sponsored explorations have been conducted, saying only that the number is “more than 10 but less than 100.” The products have involved everything from robotics to fintech—and frequently, he says, the companies come away realizing that their assumptions were “completely wrong.”

Charles Mourani met Caro at a conference in Palo Alto when he was two months into building Mason Finance, a service targeted at older adults interested in selling their life insurance policies for cash—the kind of thing many turn to when they’re hit with large, unanticipated expenses, like medical bills.

Mourani’s team still hadn’t tested its product with users beyond their own parents and grandparents: “It’s not like you can just simply show up to a retirement home,” he says. So he hired the Longevity Explorers. Over the course of 2018 they ran three different projects, and the results, he says, were “eye-opening.”

Among the things that surprised Mourani was the Longevity Explorers’ proclivity for reading the terms of service. Younger users breeze through this step on most websites by simply checking a box, ignoring the text, and clicking “next.” But older users want to read the small print. A 30-second application quickly becomes 10 minutes when someone reads every single condition.

Lots of designers have had similar “aha!” moments after talking to their older users. Take Nick Baum, who created StoryWorth, a subscription app and website that allows family members to prompt each other to tell stories about themselves. Launched in 2013, the site has collected well over one million stories, Baum says, the vast majority of them from people over 60. During the early years, Baum handled a lot of the customer support himself and often fielded phone calls from older users. Once, an unanticipated problem popped up.

“We quickly ran into this case where couples were sharing an email address,” he says. “At first I thought, ‘Well, that’s crazy. Who would share an email address?’ Then I realized that 50 years ago people didn’t have cell phones, and they had a shared phone number, right? And so of course you get email—why not have shared email?” Rather than force people to change their behavior, he adjusted to allow more than one account under the same email address, so that people sharing a single email could get individual communications from the company in the same in-box.

Designing for older users doesn’t only benefit older users, says Caricia Catalani, a design director at IDEO. The company recently worked with Los Angeles County to revamp its voting machines, with an eye toward older people who were robust voters in their youth but had stopped showing up at the polls. It turned out that designing for them led to “good design decisions for everyone,” says Catalani.

Isolation
Social isolation is real for many older people. Virtual-reality company Rendever makes headsets that let users revisit old haunts or join in activities with their peers.

Courtesy photo

Those with weak or no vision liked having audio prompts, for instance. But so did people with low literacy and young people who had never voted before, because the audio program acted as a host and guide. They also found that larger, more legible text was “desirable from everyone’s point of view,” not just for older voters with poor vision. The new machines are currently being manufactured and will be rolled out soon.

I asked Catalani if she sees companies showing more interest in incorporating the viewpoints of older adults in their design process.

“I wish that was true,” she says. While some are starting to see older people as a demographic defined by more than age, many just see “the financial opportunity,” she adds. It’s a revenue stream they may never tap if businesses continue to see their elder customers as a monolithic pocketbook instead of as individuals.

Lynn Davis—who had debunked the $300 hearing aids at the Longevity Explorers meeting I attended—first joined the group about four years ago. She’s an Apple devotee who recently learned how to use Google Docs and describes her tech aptitude as “low to middle.” But those who have worked with the Longevity Explorers know that is not exactly true of the group as a whole.

“When I’m in a room with 85-years-olds on average who all have an iPhone in their pocket, the question remains as to how representative that actually is,” says Mourani.

Caro acknowledges this. Most members are white and middle class, and many are former professionals. He describes the consulting groups as just one tool—suited to understanding early adopters, for instance, rather than all consumers. “When we have more circles in other places, we’ll be able to do even more sorts of projects,” he says.

When Davis meets me to talk about the group, she’s wearing chic purple-framed eyeglasses and guitar-pick earrings. She says she dreams of exoskeletons that will improve mobility, and cars that come on their own when you call, but for her, Longevity Explorers isn’t just about better products—it’s about better relationships. Receiving advice from, and commiserating with, her peers is a major draw.

“It’s just nice to know there’s a room full of people who also get stuck,” she says. Often, tech talk segues naturally into what she calls the “hard work” of discussing things like hospitalization and loneliness.

It’s no secret that older adults like Davis can be a boon for companies—but people I spoke to for this story told me that although businesses are eager to sell them things, they’re slow to include them in the design process.

Caro is betting this will change. He is in talks to start about 10 more circles nationwide—the beginning of what he calls a “movement”: groups all over the world where older consumers are telling developers what they want, and not the other way around. But ultimately, like the Explorer meetings, it’s not really about physical things.

“It’s about being in control of your own destiny,” he says.

 

Andy Wright is a writer and editor based in San Francisco.

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Interactive science at East End

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WILMINGTON — At East End’s recent Science Night, activities gave students opportunities to deepen their learning of science concepts through problem solving, questioning and engagement.

Families were invited to come to East End after school to enjoy a meal and then to rotate through different science stations that were set up in the gym.

The stations were led by high school science students and fifth-grade teachers.

This opportunity was possible because of a grant that East End received from the Wilmington Schools Foundation.







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MSU researchers invent significant advancement in Hopkinson bar technology

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Mississippi State and REL personnel hold the MSU-developed serpentine bar technology, a significant advancement in Hopkinson bar systems. Pictured, from left, is MSU Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Associate Director Hongjoo Rhee, REL Co-owner Adam Loukus, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Haitham El Kadiri, REL Engineer Luke Luskin, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Wilburn Whittington, REL President Josh Loukus, mechanical engineering doctoral student Trey Leonard of Madison, Alabama, and mechanical engineering undergraduate student Billy Zhang of Starkville. (Submitted photo)

Contact: James Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University researchers have patented and licensed a major advancement in split Hopkinson pressure bar technology, significantly reducing the amount of space needed for intermediate and high-strain rate testing.

While conducting research on infant head trauma, researchers at MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems needed a way to conduct impact testing with biological materials. While a traditional Hopkinson bar system, an apparatus commonly used for testing impact and strain on materials, would have worked, it would have taken up hundreds of feet in length—space that was not available at the bustling research center. However, CAVS engineer Wilburn Whittington, with the support of colleagues Haitham El Kadiri and Hongjoo Rhee, was able to prototype a serpentine bar that can accomplish the same task in only 20 feet of space.

Whittington is an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. El Kadiri is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and holds the Coleman-Whiteside Professorship. Rhee is an associate professor at the same department and is an associate director at CAVS.

“We’ve already used this product in our work for the military, national labs, and automotive companies,” said Whittington. “This has tremendous potential for universities and laboratories, as well as any company making materials or looking at crash testing and other tests like that.”

After the research team patented the new technology, it gained interest from the scientific community and REL, a Michigan-based manufacturer that makes and sells Hopkinson bar systems. Working with MSU’s Office of Technology Management, El Kadiri, Rhee and Whittington were able to license the serpentine bar technology to REL, which began marketing the product this week at The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society annual conference in San Diego, California.

Whittington said the serpentine bar can be used as a new product and also used to enhance old products, making shorter Hopkinson bar systems capable of conducting tests that previously required significantly more space. He noted that in labs that conduct high-speed tests with radioactive materials, these materials must be handled in specialized rooms, which puts space at a premium.

“People test things like explosives and armor on these systems,” Whittington said. “Like with biological materials, these labs have to be specialized, so a serpentine bar gives them more testing abilities.”

El Kadiri, Rhee, and Whittington were able to commercialize their invention through a Mississippi University Research Agreement, which allowed them to form a private company to market the technology, Standard Dynamics, LLC. In addition to showcasing the technology in San Diego this week, MSU and REL personnel will highlight the serpentine bar at the Society of Experimental Mechanics annual conference this summer in Orlando, Florida.

For more on CAVS, visit www.cavs.msstate.edu.

For more on the Office of Technology Management, visit www.otm.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.



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Coronavirus Live Updates: Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Tests Positive

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Iran’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, who has spearheaded the country’s efforts to contain the coronavirus, has contracted the illness, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday, renewing concerns about the spread of the virus in the country.

In an interview with the state-run news outlet IRNA, a spokesman for the ministry said that Mr. Harirchi had been experiencing weakness and flulike symptoms on Monday before holding a news briefing, and tested positive for the virus later in the day. It is unclear how he contracted the virus, but health officials said he had been dealing with some patients suspected of having the coronavirus.

During the briefing, Mr. Harirchi could be seen repeatedly wiping sweat from his brow and shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. On Tuesday, he posted a video from home detailing his diagnosis and self-quarantine.

The number of coronavirus cases and deaths continued to rise in Iran on Tuesday, according to health officials, days after the country emerged as another focal point of the outbreak.

Health officials quoted in Iranian state news media confirmed three more deaths in the country, bringing the total to 15. At least 95 people nationwide have tested positive for the coronavirus, most of them in the northern city of Qom, health officials said.

With an economy choked by economic sanctions, a restive population that distrusts its government and a secretive leadership, Iran is something of a wild card in the region.

While the numbers of the infected do not look too daunting so far, experts fear that the government may be concealing the true scale of the problem, and may not have the capacity to respond effectively if things begin to spiral out of control.

A hotel on the Spanish resort island of Tenerife was placed under a police cordon on Tuesday after an Italian guest tested positive for the new coronavirus, the authorities said.

According to local news reports, around 1,000 guests are booked at the hotel, the H10 Costa Adeje Palace, at a resort that is popular with British tourists. It remained unclear whether an official quarantine was in place.

Officials at the Canary Emergency Services Department are working to determine the severity of the outbreak in the building. In recent cases, including the quarantine of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the authorities demanded quarantine periods of at least 14 days.

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off the coast of West Africa.

The Italian patient is being kept in isolation at a hospital on the island, pending the results of a second test to be conducted in Madrid by Spain’s National Center of Microbiology.

The hotel guests have been told to remain in their rooms, according to Antena 3, a Spanish television channel, while health inspectors are checking people inside who could have come into contact with the Italian.

Guests were given a note by the hotel management asking them to stay in their rooms and telling them that for health reasons, the hotel had been temporarily closed.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Police enlarged the security cordon around the hotel to block access to nearby streets and a parking lot on Tuesday morning.

According to the local news media, the man who tested positive is a doctor who was visiting from Lombardy, a region of Italy that has been hit particularly hard by the virus. He reportedly took himself to a hospital with a fever about a week after arriving in Tenerife.

Spain previously confirmed two cases of the virus, both foreigners who were hospitalized on Spanish islands: a German citizen on La Gomera and a Briton on Majorca.

The authorities in Italy, the center of the worst outbreak of the coronavirus outside Asia, reported new infections on Tuesday, with a total of 283 cases, up from 229 a day earlier, and reports of new cases in Tuscany and Sicily.

Calling the coronavirus “a plague,” an Iraqi lawmaker demanded on Tuesday that the government seal its borders with Iran “until the disease is completely controlled,” the same day that Iraq’s Health Ministry announced four more cases of the virus.

The demand, by Qutayba al-Jubori, chairman of the Iraqi Parliament’s Health and Environment Committee, came as governments across the region sought to limit the entry of Iranian travelers following an outbreak in that country that has killed at least 15 people.

The Iraqi government said it would suspend all flights from Iran beginning Monday afternoon, but by Tuesday morning, flights were still scheduled to and from Najaf, a central Iraqi city that is home to Shiite shrines popular with Iranian pilgrims.

Iraq reported its first case of the virus on Monday, a 22-year old religion student in Najaf, who has been quarantined at a location outside the city. On Tuesday, the Health Ministry confirmed that a family of four from Kirkuk who had just returned from Iran had contracted the coronavirus and were being quarantined.

The government told citizens to avoid crowded places including shrines, universities and schools, shopping malls and stores, sports activities and entertainment parks. They also recommended avoiding kissing or shaking hands with others and urged people to use disposable napkins.

The firebrand cleric Moktada al-Sadr said he would suspend vast protests against his political opponents.

“I had called for million man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement.

Other nations in the region issued travel restrictions on Tuesday. The United Arab Emirates, home to Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, has suspended all flights to Iran.

Bahrain, which confirmed two cases in travelers who had flown from Iran via Dubai, said that it had suspended all its flights from Dubai International Airport and from Sharjah International Airport, also in the United Arab Emirates, for two days.

Global stocks stabilized on Tuesday, a day after fears of the spread of the new coronavirus outside China spooked investors into a worldwide sell-off.

Shares fell in most markets in Asia, led by Japan, which had closed for a holiday on Monday and missed that day’s drop. The Nikkei 225 index dropped more than 3.3 percent. Most other Asian markets fell at a much slower pace.

But shares in Europe opened higher, suggesting investors’ nerves had steadied. Futures trading indicated that American markets would rise when they opened on Tuesday.

The signs of stabilization followed a difficult Monday, when investors began to more fully comprehend the extent of the outbreak. On Wall Street, the S&P 500 index fell 3.4 percent on Monday, its worst single-day performance since February 2018. European markets recorded their worst session since 2016.

In China, the Shanghai stock market fell 0.6 percent, while the market in the city of Shenzhen rose by about half a percent. The Hong Kong market was little changed.

In South Korea, shaken by the world’s second-largest outbreak of the virus outside China, share prices rebounded on Tuesday morning after enduring one of the sharpest drops of any large market around the world the day before. They ended up 1.2 percent.

In Europe, London’s FTSE 100 was up 0.3 percent early, while German’s DAX rose 0.1 percent.

China appears to be getting the new coronavirus under control, but infections are spreading rapidly in South Korea, Iran and Italy. And the world is not prepared for a major outbreak, World Health Organization officials said on Monday.

A W.H.O. mission to China has said that the daily tally of new cases there peaked and then plateaued between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2, and has steadily declined since.

Chinese officials reported 508 new cases and 71 deaths as of Monday, a slower pace than in previous days.

By Tuesday, South Korea had reported a total of 893 cases, the second most in the world. Of the 60 new cases reported by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49 came from Daegu, the center of the outbreak in that country.

In Iran, a spike in coronavirus infections has prompted fears of a contagion throughout the Middle East. In Italy, one of Europe’s largest economies, officials are struggling to prevent the epidemic from paralyzing the commercial center of Milan. And in New York, London, and Tokyo, financial markets plummeted on fears that the virus will cripple the global economy.

The emergence of Italy, Iran, and South Korea as new hubs of the outbreak underscored the lack of a coordinated global strategy to combat the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 80,000 people in 37 countries, causing at least 2,600 deaths.

The judge said she would reconsider the issue after state and federal authorities provide more details about how they plan to protect the health of the community, as well as the people with coronavirus. “The state has shown great empathy for the patients,” Judge Josephine L. Staton said in a ruling that drew applause, adding that she wanted to see “the same empathy for the residents of Costa Mesa.”

Costa Mesa had asked the judge to prevent California from moving people infected with the new coronavirus into a former residential home for developmentally disabled people, where the patients would remain in isolation while recovering. The area, which is in Orange County, is too heavily populated to host people infected with such a dangerous virus, the local officials argued.

Federal officials had planned to move the patients to a facility in Alabama operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, court documents said, but officials in California thought that moving the group out of the state would be detrimental to their health and well-being.

The standoff over where to send the patients underscored the unwieldy, decentralized nature of the U.S. health system, even as federal authorities were warning of serious risks from the coronavirus outbreak.

Beijing officials announced on Tuesday that they had ordered local governments to streamline the many new requirements they have imposed before companies can reopen after weeks of stalled production as a result of the outbreak

Worried that further infections might be blamed on them, local officials all over China have been demanding that companies pass extensive reviews and even on-site inspections before they can restart production. Rules include making sure that companies provide employees with face masks, keep track of employees’ temperatures and set up hand-washing stations.

Manufacturers of medical protection equipment can bypass the new rules almost entirely, so as to produce more face masks and other gear as quickly as possible.

But while Beijing is trying to restart the private sector, it does not want companies to mark up prices steeply for scarce products. Tang Jun, the deputy director of the State Administration of Market Regulation, said at a news briefing on Tuesday morning in Beijing that the Chinese government had investigated 4,500 companies for price gouging and was filing more than 11,000 legal cases.

The cases involved, “medical protective supplies and important commodities related to the people’s livelihood,” he said. More than 36,000 online vendors have already been identified as trying to overcharge specifically for face masks, he added, and electronic commerce companies have removed their overpriced listings.

Reporting and research was contributed by Raphael Minder, Matt Phillips, Russell Goldman, Megan Specia, Keith Bradsher, Gerry Mullany, Aimee Ortiz, Alissa Rubin, Elaine Yu, Mark Landler, Steven Lee Myers, Sui-Lee Wee, Farah Stockman, Louis Keene, Noah Weiland, Emily Cochrane and Maggie Haberman.





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