Earlier this week, the country surpassed the case totals in China and Italy. The number of known cases has risen rapidly in recent days, as testing ramped up after weeks of widespread shortages and delays.
On Friday, President Trump signed into law a $2 trillion measure designed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Under the law, which creates the largest economic stimulus package in modern American history, the government will deliver direct payments and jobless benefits for individuals, money for states and a huge bailout fund for businesses battered by the crisis.
Mr. Trump signed the measure in the Oval Office hours after the House approved it by voice vote, and less than two days after the Senate unanimously passed it. Mr. Trump thanked “Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first.”
The legislation will send direct payments of $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, and an additional $500 per child. It will substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, and for the first time will extend the payments to freelancers and gig workers.
The measure will also offer $377 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and establish a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies reeling from the crisis, including allowing the administration the ability to take equity stakes in airlines that received aid to help compensate taxpayers. It will also send $100 billion to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic.
Hours after signing the bill, Mr. Trump undermined a key safeguard that Democrats had insisted upon: the ability of Congress to monitor the corporate bailout fund. The president suggested he had the power to decide what information a newly established inspector general could share with Congress, a measure intended to thwart any abuse of the fund.
Under fire, Trump says the government will buy more ventilators.
Faced with a torrent of criticism from cities and states that have been pleading for help, President Trump announced on Friday that the federal government would buy thousands of ventilators from a variety of makers, though it appeared doubtful they could be produced in time to help American hospitals that are now overwhelmed.
His announcement came shortly after he authorized the government to “use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act,” a Korean War-era authority allowing the federal government to commandeer factories and supply chains, to produce ventilators.
It was the latest example of Mr. Trump’s mixed messages about how to ramp up production to meet the crisis. Just 24 hours before, he had dismissed the complaints of mayors and governors who said they were getting little of the equipment they needed for an expected onslaught of serious cases. And this week he praised companies that — General Motors included — were rallying to help provide necessary equipment.
But he turned on G.M. on Friday, accusing it of “wasting time” and seeking to “rip off” the government. “Our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” the president said.
It was unclear whether Mr. Trump’s use of the law would make much difference. He was essentially ordering the company to do something it had already arranged to do: G.M. announced earlier on Friday that it was moving forward with an emergency joint venture with a small manufacturer, even in the absence of a federal contract. Company executives seemed stunned by the president’s effort to command them to carry through with an effort they had initiated.
As deaths surge, Spain and Italy look for signs of a turning point.
Spain and Italy, the two countries with the world’s largest coronavirus death tolls, have each recorded a grim new daily record: 769 dead in the past 24 hours in Spain, bringing the total to 5,138 by early Saturday; 969 in Italy, for a total of 9,134.
As of early Saturday, 9,357 people were reported to have recovered from the virus in Spain, which is now about double the number of victims.
“A lot remains to be done, but the figures bit by bit indicate that we are reaching this peak,” said Fernando Simón, the director of Spain’s national health emergency center.
The spike in deaths was particularly shocking in Italy, where deaths appeared to have been slowing over the past few days.
Both countries, however, continued to record a fall in the number of confirmed new infections, and Dr. Simón told a news conference that it was good news that the pace of recovery was accelerating significantly.
Hopes were more muted in Italy, where the head of the national health institute, Silvio Brusaferro, suggested the outbreak “could peak in the next few days.”
Even so, he said, “We can’t delude ourselves that a slowing down of the diffusion will allow us to slow down social distancing.”
Franco Locatelli, the president of Italy’s Higher Health Council, a government advisory board, said that while there were “clear signs” that the restrictive measures enacted three weeks ago were working, it was important that they be maintained. Should they be loosened, “all the work we’ve done until now will have been for nothing,” he said.
Downplaying shortages, a White House official comes under criticism.
Comments from Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, in which she dismissed ventilator shortages and lavished praise on President Trump have raised questions about her independence in her role as one of the nation’s top communicators on the virus.
Dr. Birx built up much bipartisan good will in her career as a health official. But more recently, she has accommodated herself to the political winds with the kind of presidential flattery that Mr. Trump demands from aides. Some public health professionals have expressed sympathy for her position, saying she was accumulating the necessary political will to ensure that her suggestions were implemented.
But others see downplaying the need for ventilators and more hospital beds as dangerous, in light of what many experts believe will soon be a crush of patients.
“No matter what assumption you use, even on the lower end, the ventilator capacity is just not going to be there,” said Dr. Mahshid Abir, an emergency physician at the University of Michigan and an expert on hospital preparedness.
More experts say Americans should probably start wearing masks.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, experts have started to question official guidance about whether ordinary, healthy people should protect themselves with a regular surgical mask, or even a scarf.
The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to state that masks don’t necessarily protect healthy individuals from getting infected as they go about their daily lives.
The official guidance continues to recommend that masks be reserved for people who are already sick, as well as for the health workers and caregivers who must interact with infected individuals on a regular basis. Everyone else, they say, should stick to frequent hand-washing and maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other people to protect themselves.
But the recent surge in infections in the United States, which has put the country at the center of the epidemic, means that more Americans are now at risk of getting sick. And healthy individuals, especially those with essential jobs who cannot avoid public transportation or close interaction with others, may need to start wearing masks more regularly.
While wearing a mask may not necessarily prevent healthy people from getting sick, and certainly doesn’t replace important measures such as hand-washing or social distancing, it may be better than nothing, said Dr. Robert Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine.
But studies of influenza pandemics have shown that when high-grade N95 masks are not available, surgical masks do protect people a bit more than not wearing masks at all. And when masks are combined with hand hygiene, they help reduce the transmission of infections.
Hong Kong and Singapore impose new restrictions as case numbers climb.
Singapore and Hong Kong, which kept their infection numbers low in the first weeks of the outbreak, have stepped up measures to enforce social distancing in public, as imported cases continue to drive the spread in both places.
Through the end of April, anyone in Singapore who fails to maintain a one-meter distance from others while standing in line, or while sitting in a chair that isn’t attached to the floor, can be jailed for up to six months, fined up to $7,000 or both, the Ministry of Health said. Proprietors of cinemas and other places with fixed seating are required to ensure that people don’t sit next to each other.
In Hong Kong, public gatherings of more than four people will be banned for two weeks starting Sunday, with some exceptions, including funerals. Wedding ceremonies will be limited to 20 people. Restaurants must be no more than half-full, and cinemas, fitness centers and other recreations sites will be temporarily closed.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, who announced the new restrictions on Friday, backed off from an earlier plan to ban the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants, after the industry pushed back against it. Like Singapore’s new restrictions, Hong Kong’s are punishable by fines and jail terms of up to six months.
Hong Kong reported 65 new coronavirus cases on Friday, its largest single-day total yet, bringing its total past 500. Singapore reported 49 new cases. Many of the new cases in both cities involved people who had recently returned from abroad.
The pope confronts the virus: ‘We find ourselves afraid.’
“For weeks now it has been evening,” Pope Francis said Friday on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives.”
The pope spoke alone, before a vast and empty square, its rain-slicked cobblestones reflecting the blue lights of the police locking down Rome. “We find ourselves afraid,” he said. “And lost.”
A new anxiety has seized Vatican City, which has about 600 citizens and a population of about 246 people behind the Vatican walls. About 100 of the residents are young Swiss Guards, but the others include the pope, a handful of older cardinals, the people who work in their households, and some laymen, making it in some ways as vulnerable as a nursing home to a virus that can be devastating to the old.
This week, the Vatican confirmed cases of the coronavirus inside its walls, and on Wednesday reports emerged that an official who lives in the pope’s residence had tested positive and required hospitalization. Now the Vatican, which has also essentially canceled all public participation in Easter ceremonies, is testing scores of people and considering isolating measures for the 83-year-old pope, who had part of a lung removed during an illness in his youth.
Top Vatican officials said Francis has had negative results to two separate tests and has said privately he doesn’t have the virus.
‘This is a white-collar quarantine’: Who can and can’t stay home.
In some respects, a pandemic is an equalizer: It can afflict princes and paupers alike, and no one who hopes to stay healthy is exempt from the strictures of social distancing. But the American response to the virus is laying bare class divides that are often camouflaged — in access to health care, child care, education, living space, even internet bandwidth.
In New York, well-off city dwellers have abandoned cramped apartments for spacious second homes. In Texas, the rich are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to build safe rooms and bunkers.
And across the country, there is a creeping consciousness that despite talk of national unity, not everyone is equal in times of emergency.
“This is a white-collar quarantine,” said Howard Barbanel, a Miami-based entrepreneur who owns a wine company. “Average working people are bagging and delivering goods, driving trucks, working for local government.”
Some of those catering to the well-off stress that they are trying to be good citizens. Mr. Michelson emphasized that he had obtained coronavirus tests only for patients who met guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rather than the so-called worried well.
Still, a kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.
‘We have lost it all’: Millions of unemployed Americans are reeling.
For the millions of Americans who found themselves without a job in recent weeks, the sharp and painful change brought a profound sense of disorientation. They were going about their lives, bartending, cleaning, managing events, waiting tables, loading luggage and teaching yoga. And then suddenly they were in free fall, grabbing at any financial help they could find, which in many states this week remained locked away behind crashing websites and overloaded phone lines.
In 17 interviews with people in eight states, Americans who lost their jobs said they were in shock and struggling to grasp the magnitude of the economy’s shutdown, an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Unlike the last economic earthquake, the financial crisis of 2008, this time there was no getting back out there to look for work, not when people were being told to stay inside. What is more, the layoffs affected not just them, but their spouses, their parents, their siblings and their roommates — even their bosses.
“I don’t think anyone expected it to be like this,” said Mark Kasanic, 48, a server at a brasserie in Cleveland who was one of roughly 300 workers that a locally owned restaurant company laid off last week. Now he is home schooling his children, ages 5 and 7, one with special needs.
Julian Bruell was one of those who had to deliver the bad news to hourly employees like Mr. Kasanic. Mr. Bruell, 30, who helps run the company with his father, said that only about 30 employees were left running takeout and delivery at two of its five restaurants. He has not been earning a salary, his goal being to keep the business afloat through the crisis.
On Thursday, he was planning to file for unemployment himself.
Trump’s falsehoods about the coronavirus, analyzed.
For months, President Trump has downplayed the severity of the pandemic, overstated the impact of his policies and potential treatments, blamed others and tried to rewrite the history of his response.
Hours after the United States became the nation with the most reported coronavirus cases on Thursday, Mr. Trump appeared on Fox News and expressed doubt about shortages of medical supplies, boasted about the country’s testing capacity, and criticized his predecessor’s response to an earlier outbreak of a different disease.
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” he said, alluding to a request by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. The president made the statement in spite of government reports predicting shortages in a severe pandemic — and he reversed course on Friday morning, calling for urgent steps to produce more ventilators.
Speaking on Fox on Thursday, Mr. Trump suggested wrongly that because of his early travel restrictions on China, “a lot of the people decided to go to Italy instead” — though Italy had issued a more wide-ranging ban on travel from China, and had done so earlier than the United States. And at a White House briefing on Friday, he wrongly said he was the “first one” to impose restrictions on China. North Korea, for one, imposed restrictions 10 days before the United States did.
He misleadingly claimed again on Friday that “we’ve tested now more than anybody.” In terms of raw numbers, the United States has tested more people for the coronavirus than Italy and South Korea, but it still lags behind in tests per capita.
And he continued to falsely claim that the Obama administration “acted very, very late” during the H1N1 epidemic in 2009 and 2010.
Don’t overlook the good news (yes, there is some).
To stay resilient in frightening times, it’s critical to remember that gleams of hope do exist. “Whenever I’ve asked people what thing they’re most proud of in their lives, it’s always connected to times of pain or strife or struggle and how they got through it,” said Jeremy Ortman, a mental health counselor in New York.
So what bright spots are there to keep in mind during this pandemic?
Kindness is in the news. Maybe people are being better to each other, or maybe we’re just noticing it more. People are serenading each other across windowsills. Animal shelters are reporting upticks in foster applications. Volunteers are buying groceries for their neighbors.
Research is moving at breakneck speed. Doctors are scrambling to improve testing and find anti-viral treatments. The mobilization in the medical field recalls organizing efforts during World War II, said Robert Citino, executive director of the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
“I don’t think there has ever been more human ingenuity devoted to a single scientific problem than the one we’re facing right now,” he said.
We could be learning crucial lessons. Years from now, if a deadlier virus emerges, we may find that today’s innovations and procedures have prepared us for it. “What we’re facing is unprecedented, and I don’t want to downplay its seriousness, but it’s not the worst-case scenario,” said Malia Jones, a researcher who studies infectious diseases at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
“I hope the takeaway here is that we’ll be better prepared to deal with the next pandemic,” Dr. Jones said. “This is a good practice run for a novel influenza pandemic. That’s the real scary scenario.”
Australia says goodbye to the world’s longest boom.
The economic havoc inflicted by the pandemic is delivering a special psychological blow in Australia, a country less familiar with declining fortunes and dim prospects than almost any other.
Until very recently, it was the land of a forever boom, with 29 years of uninterrupted growth. Its last recession took place before the web browser was invented. Immigration, rising trade with Asia — especially exports to China — and careful monetary policy kept the country growing even through the most challenging moments of the global financial crisis.
But the coronavirus is ripping away any pretense of economic exceptionalism, shouting to Australia that its days of exuberance are over.
“It always felt like if you work hard and put in the hours, you can get whatever you want,” said Milena Molina, 45, the manager of a law firm, who was laid off last week for the first time in her career. “Now it’s just uncertainty. It gets worse every day.”
Like much of the world, Australia has come to a virtual halt, shuttering its borders and restricting domestic travel. Even though it still has a relatively low infection count, with around 3,000 confirmed cases, its two largest states, New South Wales and Victoria, are under lockdown orders for all but essential services. And each day brings another round of huge layoffs.
How the relief bill will help Americans.
On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion economic rescue plan that will offer assistance to tens of millions of American households affected by the coronavirus. But how will it help you? We’ve answered all your most common questions.
Reporting was contributed by David E. Sanger, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni, Raphael Minder, Elisabetta Povoledo, Knvul Sheikh, Noam Scheiber, Nelson D. Schwartz, Tiffany Hsu, Sabrina Tavernise, Audra D. S. Burch, Sarah Mervosh, Campbell Robertson, Linda Qiu, Damien Cave, Maria Cramer, Jason Horowitz, Elaine Yu, Daniel Victor, Peter Robins and David Moll.