Coronavirus Live Updates: As Economic Pain Grows, So Does Pressure to Ease Lockdowns

Lockdowns slow the virus’s spread but lead to deepening economic pain.

Across the United States, more and more people cannot pay the rent. Food banks are so crowded the National Guard has been called out to stuff boxes. Construction sites sit abandoned, shopping malls are ghost towns and roughly 80 percent of the nation’s hotel rooms stand empty.

The collapse of commercial commerce has already forced 10 million people to seek unemployment benefits, and those numbers were set to swell again on Thursday when the Labor Department releases its latest report.

The bleak domestic picture was matched by the struggles in other countries.

France warned that it was headed toward its sharpest economic downturn since World War II. Germany is sliding toward its deepest recession on record, with growth expected to plunge almost 10 percent from April through June. Demand for oil has dropped by a quarter in recent weeks and supply chains are faltering as factories remain closed and borders sealed.

The deepening economic crisis added pressure to governments to speed up efforts to navigate the precarious path out of lockdown, and some smaller nations across Europe are inching in that direction.

But with no vaccine, no reliable drug therapies and no widely available test to tell who might have been exposed to the virus and in that way have built up immunity, “shelter at home” orders remain the only reliable tool in slowing the spread. Mindful of that, public health officials warned that, in most places, now was not the time to ease up.

Even though more than 1,000 people are now dying every day in the United States, new infections have slowed in places where stringent restrictions have been in place for more than two weeks.

In New York City, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, the burden on hospitals has eased for the moment. In Washington State, the governor said that a hastily erected military hospital was not needed and the resources would be sent to where they were in demand.

And there is still a frenzied demand in the United States and other wealthy countries for supplies, which are often scooped up at the expense of poorer countries.

The virus has officially reached more than two-thirds of the rural counties in the United States, with one in 10 reporting at least one death. Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, suffered 192 deaths this week. State officials in Illinois reported 82 additional deaths, many in the Chicago area.

As one community after another has learned, there is virtually no escape from the coronavirus, which can be spread by people who exhibit no symptoms. Two new studies showed that it began to circulate in the New York area by mid-February, weeks before the first confirmed case, and that it was brought to the region mainly by travelers from Europe, not from Asia.

Now, with nearly a half million confirmed infections — one-third of the worldwide total — America is the epicenter of the global crisis. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, pointed to revised models showing the estimated deaths dropping to 61,000 deaths from 86,000, but warned “there is still a significant amount of disease.”

And, ultimately, there can be no global victory without success in the United States.

Makeshift morgues and empty streets: New York in pictures.

Across the five boroughs, surgical masks and gloves lay discarded on the sidewalks and pavement. White tents have popped up along the city’s streets, covering coronavirus testing centers, hospital entrances and those who perform the solemn duties of transporting the dead.

As the virus ravages the city, claiming hundreds of lives every day and killing black and Latino people at twice the rate that it is killing white people, The New York Times set out to chronicle a shuttered city.

President Trump left little room for doubt. “We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the W.H.O.,” he said, referring to the World Health Organization. “We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it.”

But when he was asked later whether it was the right time to delay money for the health agency in the middle of a pandemic, he denied that he said he would. “I’m not saying that I’m going to do it,” he said during his news briefing on Tuesday. “But we’re going to look at it.”

“You did say you were going to do it,” a reporter pointed out.

“No, I didn’t,” he said. “I said we’re going to look at it.”

Mr. Trump does not need adversaries to dispute his statements — he does that all by himself. In the course of his daily briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, the president has routinely contradicted himself without ever acknowledging that he does so. In the process, he sends confusing signals that other politicians, public health officials and the rest of the country are left to sort out.

Mr. Trump has always been a president of contradictions: a New York mogul fond of ostentatious shows of wealth who appeals to rural working-class voters. A populist whose main recreation is golfing at one of his exclusive clubs. A self-avowed deal maker who ends up mired in gridlock. A publicity hound who cannot get enough of the news media even as he denounces it as the “enemy of the people.”

That did not start when he arrived in the White House three years ago, of course.

Over his decades in the public spotlight, Mr. Trump has been a little of everything, whatever he felt he needed to be depending on the moment. He has switched political parties at least five times, proclaimed himself “very pro-choice” before becoming an ardent opponent of abortion rights, supported an assault rifle ban before casting himself as a vocal champion of the Second Amendment, proposed increasing taxes on the rich before cutting taxes on the rich and boasted of raunchy exploits with women before courting the evangelical vote.

But the advent of these daily briefings over the past month — sessions that stretch for an hour, 90 minutes or even two hours — have put the conflicts on display in a particularly stark way. The longer a briefing goes, it seems, the more likely the president is to waver from one message to the next. And then at the next briefing, the message may be different all over again, but always captured on camera and therefore difficult to deny or explain away.

New research indicates that the coronavirus began to circulate in the New York area by mid-February, weeks before the first confirmed case, and that it was brought to the region mainly by travelers from Europe, not from Asia.

“The majority is clearly European,” said Harm van Bakel, a geneticist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who co-wrote a study awaiting peer review.

A separate team at N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine came to strikingly similar conclusions, despite studying a different group of cases. Both teams analyzed genomes from coronavirus samples taken from New Yorkers starting in mid-March.

The research revealed a previously hidden spread of the virus that might have been detected if aggressive testing programs had been put in place. On Jan. 31, President Trump barred foreign nationals from entering the country if they had been in China — the site of the virus’s first known outbreak — during the previous two weeks.

Viruses invade a cell and take over its molecular machinery, causing it to make new viruses. An international guild of viral historians ferrets out the history of outbreaks by poring over clues embedded in the genetic material of viruses taken from thousands of patients.

In January, a team of Chinese and Australian researchers published the first genome of the new virus. Since then, researchers around the world have sequenced over 3,000 more. Some are genetically identical to each other, while others carry distinctive mutations.

The executive order issued by the governor of Kansas was hardly extraordinary in the age of social distancing, where funerals have been put on hold, weddings canceled and most gatherings around the country nonstarters

But after Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, signed an executive order to ban all gatherings of 10 or more people, including at religious gatherings, Republicans in control of the state’s legislature rescinded the order.

Even as the number of cases in the state continued to rise, the senate president, Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said most people were aware that the virus was highly contagious and wanted to limit its spread.

“But don’t tell us we can’t practice our religious freedoms,” she said, according to The Wichita Eagle.

Governor Kelly said on Wednesday that Kansas had 1,046 cases of coronavirus and 38 deaths. At a news conference, she denounced lawmakers for reversing the order, calling it a “shockingly irresponsible decision that will put every Kansan’s life at risk.”

Kansas is one of several states that have resisted calls to issue stay-at-home orders, contributing to the uneven and seemingly haphazard approach to the crisis from state to state.

President Trump and his Republican allies have mounted an aggressive strategy to fight what many of the administration’s own health officials view as one of the most effective ways to make voting safer amid the spread of the coronavirus: the expanded use of mail-in ballots.

The sight on Tuesday of Wisconsinites in masks and gloves gathering in long lines to vote after Republicans sued to defeat extended, mail-in ballot deadlines, did not deter the president and top officials in his party. Republican leaders said they were pushing ahead to fight state-level statutes that could expand absentee balloting in Arizona, Michigan and elsewhere. In New Mexico, Republicans were battling an effort to go to a mail-in-only primary, and they vowed on Wednesday to fight a move to expand postal balloting in Minnesota.

The new political effort seems clearly aimed at helping the president’s re-election prospects, as well as bolstering Republicans running further down the ballot. While the president’s advisers tend to see the issue in more nuanced terms, Mr. Trump has acknowledged a starker, more partisan view: He has complained that under Democratic plans for national expansion of early voting and voting by mail, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

As the coronavirus pandemic accelerates a national trend toward voting by mail, experts say elections can be conducted safely that way, despite Republican claims that corruption would increase.

At his daily news briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he believed that voting by mail had been abused to hurt Republicans, adding, “I will not stand for it.” He did allow, however, that postal ballots could help some older voters — an important part of his base. It was a slight modulation that came at the urging of his advisers.

He expanded on the idea on Twitter on Wednesday evening, calling absentee ballots “a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others who can’t get to the polls on Election Day.” But he added that universal mail-in voting “shouldn’t be allowed!”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidelines on Wednesday detailing how essential employees could go back to work even if they had been exposed to people infected by the coronavirus, provided they did not feel sick and followed certain precautions.

Those employees can return if they take their temperature before heading to their workplaces, wear a face mask at all times and practice social distancing while on the job, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director, said at the White House briefing. They should not share headsets or other objects that touch their faces, and they should not congregate in break rooms or crowded areas, he said.

Dr. Redfield said that employers should send workers home immediately if they developed any symptoms. He also said that they should increase air exchange in their buildings and clean common surfaces more often. The goal, he said, was to “get these workers back into the critical work force so that we don’t have worker shortages.”

The new guidance appears to blend earlier advice. Last week, the C.D.C. recommended that even healthy Americans wear masks in public after data showed as many as 25 percent of people infected with the virus were asymptomatic, at the urging of the White House, businesses, workers and others to kick-start the idled economy.

How to preserve special days in the time of coronavirus.

Stay-at-home orders don’t have to put a damper on things. Here are some ways to celebrate birthdays, weddings and the coming spring holidays.

First it was the waitress whose restaurant closed. Then the waiter, the bartender, the substitute teacher, the hairdresser, the tattoo artist and the Walgreens manager.

One after the other, the tenants called and emailed their landlord, Bruce Brunner, to say they were out of work and the rent was going to be late. A week after the bill was due, some two dozen of Mr. Brunner’s 130 tenants had lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. He’s working out payment plans and using security deposits as a stopgap while directing tenants to the emerging patchwork of local, state and federal assistance programs.

“Six weeks ago, you could name your price and you’d have multiple people applying,” said Mr. Brunner, who lives in Minneapolis, where he owns and manages 20 duplexes and triplexes across the city. “Now you’re deferring and working out payment plans, and it’s only going to get worse.”

One week after the first of the month, tenants nationwide are already struggling with rents. In interviews with two dozen landlords — including companies with tens of thousands of units, nonprofit developers who house the working poor, and mom-and-pop operators living next door to their tenants — property owners say their collections have plunged as much of the economy has shut down.

“The whole market just changed,” said Gustavo Lopez, a property manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The growing number of coronavirus cases has raised interest in state guidelines outlining who should be prioritized for lifesaving medical treatments in an emergency. But certain standards that Alabama had on the books are discriminatory, the federal health department’s Office of Civil Rights said on Wednesday.

Alabama’s criteria, contained in a 2010 document that set out the state’s guidance for rationing ventilators in an emergency, suggested that doctors consider withholding advanced treatment based on patients’ intellectual disabilities, with “profound mental retardation” and “moderate to severe dementia” weighing against them. The guidelines also referred to age as a potential category for exclusion, which raised questions of age discrimination, according to the review.

The state has agreed to remove all links to the document on its website and not include the contested guidance in its plan for responding to the coronavirus outbreak, the civil rights office said.

The quick resolution to a complaint meant that the state would not be subjected to a lengthy investigation that might result in a potential loss of federal funds.

A San Antonio man who became upset that so many people were crowding into grocery stores took his frustration to a criminal extreme and made an untrue claim on Facebook that he had paid someone to spread the illness, the authorities have said.

The man, Christopher Charles Perez, 39, made the false claim in the hope that it would deter shoppers from visiting the stores, and in that way keep them from spreading the contagion, according to a federal complaint.

San Antonio has been contending with a surge of infections and deaths.

An outbreak at the Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has claimed at least 10 lives. Four San Antonio police officers have tested positive. And as hotel-occupancy tax revenues decline, officials said on Wednesday that about 270 city employees would be furloughed on April 23.

An anonymous tipster sent a screenshot of Mr. Perez’s Facebook post on Sunday to law enforcement, officials said in a statement on Wednesday. In the post, Mr. Perez warned a grocery store chain that his “homeboys cousin has Covid-19 and has licked every thing for past 2 days cause we paid him too,” according to court documents. Mr. Perez was arrested on Tuesday.

“To be clear, the alleged threat was false,” the office of John F. Bash, the United States attorney for the Western District of Texas, said. “No one spread coronavirus at grocery stores, according to investigators.”

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Marc Santora, Brooks Barnes, Dan Barry, Conor Dougherty, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Manny Fernandez, Sheri Fink, Michael Levenson, and Carl Zimmer.

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