Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

After erupting on the East and West Coasts, the coronavirus outbreak has made its way inland, threatening to overwhelm parts of the United States where medical equipment is in short supply and official guidance is sometimes contradictory.

In Louisiana, which may have the fastest-growing outbreak in the world, New Orleans is the epicenter. The city’s case count topped 1,100 on Friday, as speculation mounted among medical experts that last month’s Mardi Gras festivities had helped fuel the rapid growth.

Across the country, many cities and states with zero cases last month now face looming explosions: Chicago and its suburbs have nearly 2,000 cases; Detroit has identified over 1,000; and Milwaukee County, Wis., has reported 468.

Counties and cities outside of major urban centers have also seen striking numbers, as in Albany, Ga., whose population of 73,000 has been hit with more than 160 confirmed cases and 16 deaths.

Clashes between state and local leaders over how to respond, and mixed signals from the federal government, have complicated the situation. In states without formal restrictions, one mayor’s order to keep residents at home can be undermined by surrounding cities and counties without such measures.

The chaos of the responses could exacerbate another pressing issue: a severe, widespread shortage of medical supplies. In one survey, nearly 200 American cities, large and small, reported lacking face masks, testing kits, ventilators and other equipment needed to handle the crisis.

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By now, you may be used to reading a constant stream of bad news. But here’s a reason to be cautiously optimistic: There are signs that strong isolation and intervention measures have slowed the spread of the virus in an early U.S. hot spot.

After cases started to grow in New Rochelle, N.Y., earlier this month, a one-mile-radius containment zone was put in place, the National Guard was called in, and widespread testing was adopted. Health investigators tracked down people potentially infected by a lawyer thought to have been the source of the spread.

Over the last four days, New Rochelle reported just 38 new cases to the county. State and local health officials cautioned that it was too early to declare victory, but it’s a significant drop — early on, the city saw more than 20 new cases a day.

“In the beginning, it felt like house arrest,” said one resident whose family was placed into quarantine. “But the punishment turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This is really a case of perspective.”

Looking for more good news? Craft distilleries are making hand sanitizer, for free. Doctors are finding creative ways to cope with shortages. Research on a vaccine is moving at breakneck speed. We rounded up bright spots amid the coronavirus crisis.

Bergamo, Italy, is the bleak heart of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak.

Once known as a quiet and wealthy province, Bergamo is now a place where Red Cross workers go door to door to carry away the afflicted, where the coffins are so numerous the army has been called to take them away.

Our correspondent Jason Horowitz and the photographer Fabio Bucciarelli have been reporting on the tragedy unfolding there. This photo essay is a look at the human toll the virus has taken.

Around the world, the pandemic is radically altering approaches to love, dating and sex. A meme circulating on social media sums it up: “Can I see myself quarantined with him? Does he come with toilet paper?”

Lockdowns mean new togetherness for some but increased friction and conflict for others. Stuck indoors, millions of singles are turning to the internet for virtual yoga dates, digital drag queen karaoke nights and WhatsApp birthday parties.

The crisis has spawned a new lexicon, too. In nine months, we may see the first coronababies born. In a little more than a decade, they’ll be known as the quaranteens. Sadly, couples who can’t cope with the pressure of isolation could end up in covidivorce.

  • A Navy hospital ship is scheduled to arrive in New York City on Monday, and the Javits Center, a mammoth convention hall in Manhattan, has been converted into an emergency hospital. There are more than 25,000 cases in the city.

  • Japan, with 2,083 confirmed cases, seemed to do the impossible — contain the virus without imposing draconian measures. But evidence is now emerging of rampant infection.

  • France has extended its lockdown by two weeks. The country reported 29,155 cases and 1,696 deaths on Thursday, and its health care system, which ranks among the best in the world, is creaking and straining.

  • South Africa began a three-week lockdown on Friday after the number of cases soared to more than 1,000, placing the country at the center of Africa’s pandemic.

Take care of your lungs: If you are breathing polluted air, you may be at greater risk of catching the coronavirus and of having a severe infection. Here are some tips on improving indoor air quality.

Reinvent holidays: Many people are finding creative ways to celebrate — cooking Easter brunch for two, staging virtual seders, breaking Ramadan fasts at home and enjoying Nowruz feasts at a six-foot distance.

Have better video meetings: Testing your tech setup and establishing a clear agenda can make your virtual calls with colleagues more productive — and less awkward. And follow these tips for looking your best on a webcam.

Try a new game: Our crossword columnist suggests five tried and true classics that will entertain both kids and adults.

  • President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, a power dating back to the Korean War, to compel General Motors to manufacture ventilators. Shortly after, the company announced that the machines would be “scheduled to ship as soon as next month.”

  • The virus can afflict rich and poor alike, but in the U.S., the response to the outbreak is laying bare class divides, with the rich holed up in vacation properties, the middle class marooned at home with restless children and the working class on the front lines.

  • Millions of Americans will soon get a direct payment from the federal government as part of the stimulus package. If you don’t need the money, here are some ideas to help you give it to someone who does.

  • The Supreme Court was urged in a filing to preserve DACA, the program protecting young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers. About 27,000 of them work in health care, many on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic.

  • The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the oldest and largest nonprofit U.S. theaters, is laying off 80 percent of its employees, canceling half of this year’s productions and postponing live performances until after Labor Day.

  • When they gave birth at the same New York hospital, two mothers didn’t know they had the coronavirus. Both deteriorated soon after and wound up in intensive care.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, an adviser to Mr. Trump on the coronavirus, has a new claim to fame: Doughnuts adorned with his image have become a top seller at a shop in Rochester, N.Y., the Democrat & Chronicle reports.

I’ve been cleaning out drawers and finding emails and addresses of friends I haven’t contacted for years. I’ve sent notes in the hopes of reconnecting with friends from the past. I also sent my grown children notes letting them know how much I care about them. I’m in the process of setting up a time to chat online with a former colleague and friend I haven’t seen for nine years!

— Jill Davis, Brookfield, Wis.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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Tom Wright-Piersanti contributed to today’s newsletter.

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