Governors move ahead with reopening, despite health worries.
Governors across the country forged ahead Monday with plans to reopen their economies, even as the nation hit a grim milestone of 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus and public health experts warned against lifting stay-at-home orders too quickly.
Texas, with its population of nearly 30 million, made one of the most expansive moves toward reopening when Gov. Greg Abbott announced that stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls would be allowed to reopen with limited capacity on Friday. Mr. Abbott had previously lifted some restrictions, but his announcement on Monday brought his state to the brink of a complete reopening.
In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled a more incremental reopening plan that would allow manufacturing work to resume and offices to reopen next week.
Mr. DeWine was the first governor to shut down schools statewide and has taken among the most aggressive approaches, but he said there was a growing risk to the economy if Ohio did not start reopening.
“I think we found the spot that is most likely to cause less damage, more likely to cause good,” Mr. DeWine said. “But it is a risk, and I fully understand the risk.”
New coronavirus infections and deaths appear to be plateauing on a national level, but they are still surging in some of the states and counties reopening this week. Health experts worry that reopening prematurely without sufficient testing, protective equipment and other safeguards could fuel another spike in cases.
Florida and Arizona have stay-at-home orders due to expire on Thursday, but the governors of both states have been vague about their plans. Gov. Ron DeSantis said that while he had discussed how to reopen with other Southern states, Florida required its own rules.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom warned on Monday that the timetable for opening up could be jeopardized by people ignoring social distancing rules after images recently circulated of packed beaches and new data showed an increase in movement across the state.
Workers say they are living in limbo as they watch other states reopen and worry about the risks of going back to work versus the bills piling up.
In Nevada, where the stay-at-home order expires on Thursday, Deidra Young, a bartender, feels torn. “If my work does call me, I honestly want to say no,” Ms. Young said. “But will I not get unemployment if I refuse?”
It was an agonizing calculation, she said: “We all want to go back to work, but we don’t want to get sick.”
President Trump, under growing pressure to expand testing as states move to reopen their economies, unveiled a new plan on Monday to ramp up the federal government’s help to states, but his proposal runs far short of what most public health experts say is necessary.
The announcement came after weeks of the president insisting, inaccurately, that the nation’s testing capability was “fully sufficient to begin opening up the country.”
An administration official said the federal government aimed to give states the ability to test at least 2 percent of their populations per month, though Mr. Trump did not use that figure at Monday’s briefing and it was not in his written plan. Instead, he said the United States would “double” the number of tests it had been doing.
The plan was met with swift criticism from Democrats, including Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who said in a statement that it said “nothing new and will accomplish nothing new.”
“It doesn’t set specific, numeric goals, offer a time frame, identify ways to fix our broken supply chain or offer any details whatsoever on expanding lab capacity or activating needed manufacturing capacity,” said Ms. Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee.
“Perhaps most pathetically, it attempts to shirk obviously federal responsibilities by assigning them solely to states instead,” she said.
In the past, the Trump administration has sometimes promised large increases in testing that it has failed to deliver. The administration has also steadfastly resisted calls to nationalize the production and distribution of coronavirus test kits, and the plan Mr. Trump unveiled reiterated that stance, making clear that the states are still primarily responsible for testing and Washington is the “supplier of last resort.”
Rather than the more comprehensive surveillance testing sought by many public health experts, the administration is focused on a more limited goal of “sentinel” testing of targeted sites that are particularly vulnerable, like nursing homes and inner-city health centers.
In the seven weeks since the president promised that anyone who needed a test could get one, the United States has conducted about 5.4 million tests, far more than any other country, but still the equivalent of about 1.6 percent of the total population. It is a small fraction of what public health experts say is necessary to ensure a safe and gradual reopening of schools, businesses and other public venues.
A group of experts convened by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics has called for five million tests a day by early June, ramping up to 20 million per day by late July.
President Trump suggested to the nation’s governors on Monday that some should move to reopen their public schools before the end of the academic year, an indication that he is growing impatient with the widespread closures to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
“Some of you might start to think about school openings,” Mr. Trump said on a conference call with the governors, according to an audio recording obtained by The New York Times. “The young children have done very well in this disaster that we’ve all gone through, so a lot of people are thinking about the school openings.”
Addressing Vice President Mike Pence, who was also on the call, Mr. Trump added, “I think it’s something, Mike, they can seriously consider and maybe get going on it.”
The president’s nudge on school openings runs counter to the advice of medical experts and came unbidden during a conversation about testing and respirator use.
Mr. Trump reiterated his desire to see schools open Monday evening at the White House, saying, “I think you’ll see a lot of schools open up, even for a short period of time.”
At least one state was already moving forward with the possibility of reopening schools this year. Montana, which has among the fewest cases and deaths, will give schools the option to reopen starting May 7.
Earlier Monday, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said on CNBC that there was “a chance” schools in New Jersey might reopen in some fashion before the end of June.
In the portion of the recording obtained by The Times, no governor chimed in to agree or disagree with the president.
The attorney general tells prosecutors to look for unconstitutional virus orders.
Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday asked federal prosecutors around the country to look out for emergency state or local orders issued to contain the pandemic that could also violate “constitutional rights and civil liberties,” and to fight them in court if needed.
“If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of Covid-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court,” Mr. Barr wrote in a memo.
Matthew Schneider, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, will work with Eric Dreiband, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division, to oversee and coordinate the effort.
Mr. Barr has signaled for weeks that he will combat shutdown orders that violate the Constitution. The Justice Department filed a motion this month in support of a Baptist church in Greenville, Miss., that sued the city and its mayor for outlawing the congregation’s drive-in church services even as the city allowed drive-in restaurants to serve customers. The city fined churchgoers but later withdrew the fines, and Greenville has since changed its order. Lawyers for the church said that the legal matter would most likely be dropped.
Many business owners in states that are easing restrictions and allowing some businesses to reopen said they were uncertain about all the new rules, and were trying to make sense of a cacophony of messages from President Trump, governors, county commissioners and mayors.
“I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so confused,” Jose Oregel, who owns a barbershop in Greeley, Colo., said on Monday morning, an hour before he was expecting his first customers, who will get haircuts from barbers wearing masks and gloves. He was referring to the rapidly changing directives from state and national leaders.
In Colorado, real estate showings were allowed to restart on Monday as the governor’s stay-at-home order expired, and pet owners were able to take their dogs and cats to the vet for nonemergency operations. At the same time, Denver and many surrounding suburbs extended their closure orders.
In Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to let restaurants reopen to eat-in diners on Monday despite an uptick in deaths drew criticism from Mr. Trump, many Atlanta establishments decided not to do so. One restaurant that tried was Rocky Mountain Pizza Company, near the Georgia Institute of Technology. It opened its doors Monday morning, but as of 12:30 p.m., no one had come to sit down for lunch.
“I cannot imagine myself going to a pub or a restaurant right now,” said Filippos Tagklis, 30, a graduate student at Georgia Tech, as he walked his dog by the restaurant.
Reopening the economy could put black and Latino workers at greater risk.
Black and Latino Americans entered the coronavirus crisis with lower incomes and less wealth than whites. In the early months of the outbreak and its recession, they suffered disproportionately high rates of infection and job loss.
It is a pick-your-poison fact of a crisis that has exacerbated racial and socioeconomic inequality in the United States: The pandemic has knocked millions of the most economically vulnerable Americans out of work. Rushing to reopen their employers could offer them a financial lifeline, but at a potentially steep cost to their health.
Americans who earn $50,000 a year or less are more than twice as likely to say they or a family member have lost jobs amid the crisis as those who earn more than $150,000. Higher earners and whites are far more likely to say they can work from home during the pandemic than lower earners and black and Latino Americans, according to an April poll for The New York Times by the online research firm SurveyMonkey.
Simon Mongey and Alex Weinberg, economists at the University of Chicago, released a study last month that found those workers were disproportionately nonwhite, low income, born outside the United States and not college graduates.
“There could be immense and devastating income effects that could be involved with this evolving depression,” said William A. Darity Jr., a leading scholar of economic discrimination in the United States. Inequality, he said, “has been horrendous in recent years, and I can only imagine those disparities would get worse.”
More than 50,000 people have died from the virus in the United States, which has seen more confirmed cases and deaths than any other nation in the world, according to a tally by The New York Times.
And as the outbreak spread, the nation’s total number of confirmed cases continued to climb toward one million, reaching more than 987,000.
The tally does not include more than 5,200 people in New York City and smaller numbers in other states and U.S. territories who died and are believed to have had the virus. Many of those patients were not tested, a consequence of a strained medical system and a persistent lack of testing capacity.
Even as case numbers have stabilized in some hard-hit cities, including New Orleans and Seattle, other places have seen sustained growth.
The counties that include Los Angeles and Chicago added more than 1,000 new cases on several recent days. In Massachusetts, numbers surpassed 54,000 on Sunday, up from 38,000 a week earlier. And across the Midwest and Great Plains, production at meatpacking plants had slowed or stopped because of large outbreaks, including one that sickened more than 1,000 people in South Dakota.
In New York, hundreds of deaths are announced each day, though those numbers are far below their peak earlier this month. Now, 60 percent of voters in New York City say they personally know someone who tested positive, and 46 percent know someone who died of the virus, according to a poll by the Siena College Research Institute.
Although the United States has the highest number of deaths on a global scale, deaths per capita remain lower than those in many European countries, notably Italy and Spain. The global toll has surpassed 200,000, though at least 36,000 more people have died in the past month than the official counts report, according to a review of mortality data in 12 countries.
Congress plans to return to session next week despite stay-at-home orders.
Congressional leaders announced on Monday that the House and Senate would both return to session in Washington next week despite an ongoing stay-at-home order from the city’s mayor and similar restrictions around the country.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said that his chamber would “modify routines in ways that are smart and safe,” but that Americans expected senators to be working just like other essential workers.
House leaders said they would also convene on Monday but told lawmakers to anticipate a scaled-back voting schedule and more emphasis on restarting work by committees that will conduct oversight of the Trump administration’s virus response and other routine business.
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, said the House would vote next week with or without Republican support to change its rules to allow proxy voting and virtual committee meetings — abilities that could allow the chamber to operate more fully on a remote basis in the weeks ahead.
Still, some Democratic lawmakers were uneasy about packing back into the Capitol at a time when health experts have repeatedly warned against travel and group gatherings. On a Democratic conference call Monday evening, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, called the plan to return dangerous, according to two people on the call who described the private discussion on the condition of anonymity.
Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, said she had heard similar concerns from fellow freshmen in districts where the spread of the virus was near its peak, according to another person on the call.
Less than an hour after the Small Business Administration on Monday morning resumed taking requests for another $310 billion in emergency aid for small businesses, its computer system for processing the loan applications crashed.
“It’s obvious the system is simply flooded right now,” said Craig Street, the chief lending officer at United Midwest Savings Bank in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s been very stop and start, with no real way to know whether it is working other than to keep hitting the submit button.”
It was a rocky resumption for the Paycheck Protection Program, a stimulus initiative that offers small companies forgivable loans to cover their payrolls. The program began early this month, but its initial round of funding — $342 billion — was depleted in 13 days and the agency stopped accepting requests, leaving hundreds of thousands of borrowers frozen out until Congress provided a new funding round last week. The government began accepting applications for it at 10:30 a.m. on Monday.
Officials at the Small Business Administration, which is managing the program, did not immediately respond to questions about the technical problems that lenders were reporting with E-Tran, the agency’s computer system for processing loans.
“Our member banks across the country are deeply frustrated at their inability to access @SBAGov’s E-Tran system,” Rob Nichols, the chief executive of the American Bankers Association, a trade group representing banks of all sizes, said in a tweet on Monday. Until the problems were fixed, he added, “#AmericasBanks will not be able to help more struggling small businesses.”
A New York Times investigation found that dozens of large but lower-profile companies with financial or legal problems had received large payouts under the program, according to an analysis of the more than 200 publicly traded companies that have disclosed receiving a total of more than $750 million in bailout loans. Some companies, including Potbelly Sandwich Shops, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Shake Shack said they would return their loans.
The changes in behavior, tracked using cellphone location data, have been measured in the past two weeks and can be seen in all but three states.
Lei Zhang, director of the Maryland Transportation Institute at the University of Maryland, College Park, which is leading the research, said that the data suggested that people were growing increasingly restless and that they were increasing the chances that they would interact with others and possibly spread the virus.
Dr. Zhang called the phenomenon “quarantine fatigue.”
In New York on Saturday, warmer, sunnier weather drew crowds on Long Island beaches and to the city’s parks.
New data showed an increase in movement across the state, he said.
“This virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts,” Mr. Newsom said.
He said he would present more details on reopening the economy on Tuesday but stressed that any relaxation of the state’s shutdown would be contingent on definitive evidence of a decline in hospitalizations and a ramped up ability to test for the virus, among other conditions.
Mr. Newsom’s comments came as six counties in the Bay Area that put in place the nation’s first shelter-in-place orders in March announced that the orders would be extended through the end of May. At the same time, the governor has come under pressure to ease restrictions in areas of the state less affected by the pandemic.
Oil prices plunged on Monday, with the American benchmark hurtling toward the $10 a barrel mark, as fears about a global glut in crude continued to weigh on energy markets.
But the S&P 500 rose more than 1 percent, and European benchmarks rose 1 to 3 percent after a broadly higher day in Asia.
Since last week, investors have been panicked about oil storage facilities running out of capacity as producers continued to pump oil even as demand collapsed. That concern is most acute in the United States, where storage facilities in Cushing, Okla., are expected to reach capacity in May.
It is one reason the collapse in futures of American crude has been so much sharper than the global benchmark. On Monday, West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, was down about 27 percent at a little more than $12 a barrel. At the same time, Brent crude, the global benchmark, was down about 9 percent to just above $19 a barrel.
One factor behind the difference in price is that the Cushing facilities are landlocked, reachable only by pipeline, whereas Brent supplies can be reached by boat and either stored there or placed at facilities around the globe. Investors betting on an eventual rebound in oil prices are filling oil tankers up — with as much as two million barrels per vessel — and parking them out at sea, The Times’s Stanley Reed reported.
“I can send a boat to the Brent field; I can’t send a boat to Cushing,” said Stuart Joyner, an analyst at Redburn, a market research firm.
Analysts say the unprecedented collapse of American crude prices into negative territory on April 20 spooked investors.
Global cuts in oil production are set to start on Friday, after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, along with Russia and other producers, agreed to reduce daily output by 9.7 million barrels a day, which is close to 10 percent of global output, to address a glut as demand for crude crashed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added six possible symptoms of coronavirus to its list, a step that reflects the broad variation and unpredictability of the effects of the illness.
Echoing the observations of doctors treating thousands of patients, the federal health agency this month changed its website to cite chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell as possible indicators of Covid-19.
The C.D.C. had listed just three symptoms: fever, cough and shortness of breath. The agency made no public announcement when it added the six new symptoms to its website on April 18, and it did not immediately respond to questions about the revised list.
The revised C.D.C. list differs somewhat from the symptoms described by the World Health Organization on its website: fever, dry cough and tiredness. “Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, sore throat or diarrhea,” the W.H.O. says. “These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually.”
Preliminary results for an arthritis drug as a treatment for Covid-19 are disappointing.
Doctors around the world, trying to save patients who are seriously ill with the virus, have been giving them arthritis drugs that can squelch immune responses. The theory was that many were dying because their immune systems went into overdrive, creating a fatal storm that attacked their lungs.
But now, preliminary results on treatments with one of these drugs, sarilumab, which is made by Sanofi-Regeneron, indicate that it does not help patients who are hospitalized but not using ventilators.
Sanofi-Regeneron immediately started a clinical trial that randomly assigned 457 hospitalized patients to receive 400 milligrams of sarilumab, 200 milligrams or a placebo. The patients fell into two groups — “severe,” meaning they required oxygen but did not need a ventilator or so-called high-flow oxygen, and “critical,” who needed a ventilator or high-flow oxygen or were in intensive care.
Although the drug reduced c-reactive protein, which rises in severe inflammation, it did not help the severely ill patients, the companies reported on Monday. Many of those patients recovered on their own. Eighty percent were discharged from the hospital, regardless of whether they got the drug. Ten percent remained hospitalized, and 10 percent died.
The results for the critically ill patients are not conclusive, but there is a hint that they might be helped. The study will continue with only critically ill patients; more than 600 have been enrolled, and results are expected in early June.
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Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Pam Belluck, Katie Benner, Alan Blinder, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Michael Cooper, Stacy Cowley, Jesse Drucker, David Enrich, Nicholas Fandos, Manny Fernandez, Thomas Fuller, David Gelles, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Jack Healy, Shawn Hubler, Kate Kelly, Gina Kolata, Jonathan Martin, Patricia Mazzei, Sarah Mervosh, David Montgomery, Mariel Padilla, Roni Caryn Rabin, Katie Rogers, Rick Rojas, Jonathan Rothwell, Marc Santora, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley, Neil Vigdor, David Yaffe-Bellany and Mihir Zaveri.