The doctor who led the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine said on Wednesday that he was removed from his post after he pressed for a rigorous vetting of a coronavirus treatment embraced by President Trump. The doctor said that science, not “politics and cronyism” must lead the way.
Dr. Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed this week as the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
Instead, he was given a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health. “I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in a statement to The Times’s Maggie Haberman.
“I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way,” he said.
The White House declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Alex Azar, the HHS secretary, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Dr. Bright, who noted that his entire career had been spent in vaccine development both in and outside of government, has led BARDA since 2016.
In the statement, he said: “My professional background has prepared me for a moment like this — to confront and defeat a deadly virus that threatens Americans and people around the globe. To this point, I have led the government’s efforts to invest in the best science available to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, this resulted in clashes with H.H.S. political leadership, including criticism for my proactive efforts to invest early into vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives. I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections,” he said.
Dr. Bright, who is a career official and not a political appointee, pointed specifically to the initial efforts to make chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine widely available before it was scientifically tested for efficacy with the coronavirus.
“Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit,” he said.
“While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public,” Dr. Bright said, describing what ultimately happened: “I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed Covid-19 while under the supervision of a physician.
“These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients with Covid-19.
“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Dr. Bright said.
“I will request that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit,” he said. “Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.”
The timeline of the virus’s arrival in the U.S. shifts with the revelation of an early death in California.
The revelation that a coronavirus death took place in the United States in early February shifts the understanding of its arrival in this country and changes the picture of what the nation was contending with by the time government officials began taking action.
The first Covid-19 death in the United States had previously been thought to be on Feb. 26 in Seattle, one of the worst-hit cities in the country.
Officials in Santa Clara County said Wednesday that a newly discovered coronavirus-linked death Feb. 6, the earliest known death in the United States caused by the virus, was one of more than a dozen deaths in the county that the medical examiner had suspicions about and ordered investigated.
“We do have pending cases that we are still investigating,” said Dr. Michelle Jorden, the Santa Clara County medical examiner-coroner.
None of the deaths still under investigation came before Feb. 6, she said.
The Feb. 6 death was a 57-year-old woman who died at her home in Silicon Valley, officials said Wednesday.
The announcement has reset the timeline of the spread of infection in the United States.
Dr. Sara Cody, the chief health officer of Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, said the newly diagnosed cases underlined that the virus was spreading undetected for weeks in the country.
“In January and February, we must have had the virus but we weren’t looking for it. It may have been part of our influenza numbers,” Dr. Cody said.
Dr. Cody led the effort to issue the nation’s first stay at home orders on March 16. But she said she would have issued the orders even earlier had she known about the February deaths.
“I think if we had had widespread testing earlier and if we had been able to document the level of transmission in the county, if we had understood then that people were already dying, we probably would have acted earlier than we did,” Dr. Cody said.
Officials have said that the death was believed to have been the result of community spread, not travel to another country.
“It was probably around unrecognized for quite some time,” said Dr. Jeffrey V. Smith, the Santa Clara county executive.
The virus has an incubation period of 14 days, and people who die of it are often sick for at least three weeks; the individual who died on Feb. 6 could have been infected — and transmitting the infection to others — in early January, experts said.
Santa Clara County officials also have announced that a second death, on Feb. 17, was also a result of the coronavirus. Both of the deaths occurred before what had been believed to be the first deaths from the virus in the United States in late February.
Testing at the time was limited by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria to examine individuals who had traveled abroad.
“This offers evidence of what many of us in the field had been saying,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “That restricting testing was going to miss cases that could have a chain of transmission that ended up with somebody dying.”
This shift in timing raises new questions about when the virus arrived in the United States, how it spread and how government officials approached a strategy to slow the spread. At the time of the first death, American officials were restricting travel from China and urging recent travelers to isolate themselves for two weeks.
The Education Department will prohibit colleges from granting emergency assistance to undocumented students, even those currently under federal protection, according to guidance issued to colleges and universities on Tuesday.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered higher education institutions to distribute more than $6 billion in emergency relief only to students who are eligible for federal financial aid, including U.S. citizens or legal residents. The directive effectively excluded the hundreds of thousands of students who attend college under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program, an Obama-era policy that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
Mr. Trump has moved to end the program, but that effort is awaiting Supreme Court review.
The funding is part of about $12 billion allocated for colleges and universities under a $2 trillion coronavirus stabilization law that Congress passed last month to help them recoup financial damages caused by pandemic. Half of those funds are supposed to go directly to students impacted by campus closures. In the coming weeks, schools are expected to award emergency relief grants to students to pay for expenses like food, housing, child care and technology.
The stimulus law, titled the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, did not explicitly define which students qualified for the funds. The Education Department defended its choice to do so. “The CARES Act makes clear that this taxpayer funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law,” a spokeswoman said in statements to reporters.
The department’s guidance alarmed higher education advocates and policy experts, who said it ran counter to what Ms. DeVos told them when she announced the funding was coming.
The announcement came as Mr. Trump, whose administration has faced intense criticism in recent months for his handling of the crisis, sought to change the subject this week by resuming his assault on immigration, which animated his 2016 campaign and became one of the defining issues of his presidency.
Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that he would sign the executive order on Wednesday mandating a 60-day halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to the United States. He backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups complained of losing access to foreign labor.
The president’s new policy would close the doors to thousands of people hoping to enter the United States or to lay down permanent roots in the country through long-term work or family connections — at least temporarily.
From South Dakota’s raceways to Atlanta’s barbershops, states grapple with reopening businesses.
Two South Dakota dirt tracks plan to hold auto races this weekend, opening their gates to hundreds of spectators despite the state’s governor, Kristi Noem, urging people to stay away.
In South Carolina, where Gov. Henry McMaster allowed many stores to reopen Tuesday, consumers were slow to return. And Georgia prepared to go ahead with its plans to let a wide variety of businesses reopen in the coming days despite the objections of the mayors of its biggest cities, and of health experts who warn that the virus is still spreading there.
States around the nation have been trying to balance the need to combat a public health crisis with the need to ameliorate a growing economic crisis. At the White House, Mr. Trump has made it clear that he is impatient for businesses to reopen, and in some states small protests, with the support of some conservative groups, have urged governors to ease restrictions. But polls have found Americans are more fearful of easing restrictions too early than too late, and some business leaders have cautioned against moving too quickly to reopen businesses.
The tensions are playing out across the nation in different ways.
In South Dakota, the organizers of the races at the two tracks near Jefferson said that they would limit the number of fans to avoid crowding: The Park Jefferson International Speedway will allow a maximum of 700 people in its 4,000-seat venue on Saturday night, while Raceway Park will let 500 fans in for its Sunday races.
“We intend to go overboard on following C.D.C. guidelines,” the Speedway’s owner, Adam Adamson, told the Argus Leader newspaper. “We’re just a small racetrack in rural South Dakota trying to give some entertainment and a little bit of a break from some of this madness that’s going on right now. We think we can do so in a safe environment.”
Raceway Park officials said they would be checking spectators’ temperatures at the gates and that face masks would be required.
While there is no stay-at-home order in South Dakota, Governor Noem said she did not agree with the decision to carry out the races.
“I can encourage people not to go. I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to attend,” she said during a news conference on Tuesday. “I still recommend that we follow the plans that I have laid out for South Dakota where we don’t gather in sizes of over 10 and that folks continue to social distance if they’re not feeling well to stay home and to wash their hands.”
South Dakota is one of the few states, including Iowa and North Dakota, without a stay-at-home order; nor does it have enforceable restrictions against large gatherings. The state has recorded 1,755 cases of the virus and eight Covid-related deaths
Union County, where the two venues are, has had seven positive tests for the virus, according to data collected by The New York Times.
In South Carolina, where some stores resumed business for the first time on Tuesday, people largely stayed away: the streets were mostly empty in downtown Charleston, bereft of the residents, tourists, students who typically crowd into its picturesque galleries and shops.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp’s call to let gyms and hair salons reopen Friday, and restaurants and theaters reopen Monday, drew rebukes from mayors, public health experts and some business owners, who worry about another wave of infections. The state is continuing to see new infections and deaths: the Georgia Department of Public Health reported Wednesday that the state had seen 20,740 known cases and 836 deaths.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at a briefing Tuesday evening that she did not know how people could operate hair salons and tattoo parlors in Georgia while maintaining the social distancing needed to curb the spread of the virus.
“So if there’s a way that people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things,” she said. “ I don’t know how. But people are very creative.”
Testing positive does not mean the cats have the same illness that people have, nor does it mean that the cats can pass the illness to people. And tests for pets are not the same as those for people, so no humans missed out on testing because of the cats.
Veterinarians tested both cats because they showed symptoms of a respiratory infection. One owner had tested positive for the virus. No human in the other cat’s household tested positive.
The Agriculture Department and the C.D.C. emphasized that there was “no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States.” For now, the C.D.C. recommends keeping cats indoors to prevent them from contact with other animals or people.
And for people who become sick, they recommend, as they have in the past, isolating from pets as much as possible, treating them as you would a human being in your family.
Dogs are less susceptible to infection with the virus, according to the same research paper on cats. Although there is some evidence that they may have low-level infections, they have not shown any symptoms. Nonetheless, the C.D.C. recommends keeping dogs on a six-foot leash when walking them (and to keep them away from other animals) and avoiding contact as much as possible if you are sick.
Scammers are tapping stimulus money meant for the needy.
The federal government’s stimulus checks were meant to help people exactly like Krystle Phelps of Owasso, Okla.
She and her husband, Christopher, who have two children, recently lost their incomes after Oklahoma shut down the bars near Tulsa that she cleaned and that he supplied with vending machines. But when Ms. Phelps, 33, went to the I.R.S. website to check on the status of her family’s stimulus funds, she learned someone else had filed taxes on her husband’s behalf and used his identity to obtain their $3,400 payment.
“I cried all day,” said Ms. Phelps, who is about a month away from being unable to pay her mortgage and has cut out everything but the basics, canceling cable and eliminating snacks for the kids. “It is a little relief, and then you find out it isn’t happening.”
In recent weeks, criminals have used people’s Social Security numbers, home addresses and other personal information — much of which was available online from past data breaches — to assume their identities and bilk them out of their stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. As a result, calls to Ms. Velasquez’s organization were 850 percent higher in March than a year earlier, she said, and are still soaring.
The scale of the fraud has been enormous, fueled by the economic crisis and the confusion surrounding the $2 trillion stabilization plan that President Trump unveiled last month. That has been compounded by the government’s own lack of security measures for people claiming stimulus payments, with those going through the I.R.S. website to get their checks needing to input just a few pieces of information that scammers can readily obtain.
Stocks on Wall Street and in major European markets rallied on Wednesday, and oil prices climbed more than 10 percent, reversing some of the tremendous losses that had unnerved investors for several days.
The S & P 500 rose about 2 percent by early afternoon, after a nearly 5 percent drop on Monday and Tuesday.
The selling earlier in the week had been triggered by a collapse in oil prices, as the price of one oil benchmark dipped below zero for the first time, meaning some holders were ready to pay people to take a barrel off their hands.
But on Wednesday, some stability returned to the energy market, with the price of both West Texas Intermediate crude, the American benchmark, and Brent crude, the international benchmark, sharply higher. Shares of companies in the energy industry, like Halliburton and Marathon Oil, were among the best performing stocks in the S & P 500.
Bond prices on Wednesday also signaled some returning investor optimism. U.S. Treasury bond prices fell, a signal that the markets were favoring putting money in places considered less conservative.
Delta Air Lines, though, reported a loss of $607 million between January and March, its first quarterly loss in five years.
The airline said it ended March with about $6 billion in cash on hand, but added that it was also burning through $100 million in cash per day by the end of that month. After cutting costs and expenses, Delta expects to slow that rate to $50 million per day by the end of June.
Under the stimulus passed last month, Delta received $5.4 billion in grants and loans to pay its employees. It said it is also eligible for a $4.6 billion loan under the law, should it decide to take it. The airline also said it plans to cut schedules by 85 percent in the second quarter, in line with competitors like United Airlines, which reported a $2.1 billion quarterly loss on Monday.
Tyson Foods said on Wednesday that it would close its largest pork processing facility, the latest in a string of plant closings that has put a strain on the nation’s meat supply.
The plant in Waterloo, Iowa, had been running at reduced levels in recent days because workers were staying home, the company said.
Over the last few weeks, meat plants have become major “hot spots” for the coronavirus pandemic, with some reporting widespread illnesses among workers, posing a serious challenge to meat production. Other major meatpackers like Smithfield, JBS and Hormel have also closed plants in recent days.
Tyson said it would invite the Waterloo plant’s 2,800 workers to be tested for the coronavirus at the facility later this week.
“The closure has significant ramifications beyond our company, since the plant is part of a larger supply chain that includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors and customers, including grocers,” the head of Tyson’s fresh meats division, Steve Stouffer, said in a statement.
The company had closed another meat plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, but it reopened the facility on Tuesday.
Public health officials in California are expanding testing to include some people who are asymptomatic, going beyond federal guidelines that have so far focused on testing people who were most at risk and showing symptoms.
The new guidelines in California prioritize screening and testing people who are living in communal living facilities, such as prisons and homeless shelters, as well as asymptomatic health care employees working in hospitals or nursing homes.
The expanded testing — which has already begun at a homeless shelter in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Skid Row — could offer an early glimpse of how widely the virus has infiltrated society, even among people who otherwise appear healthy. As many as 25 percent of people infected may not show symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 200 people have been tested so far at the homeless shelter, Union Rescue Mission, and at least 43 people had tested positive as of Tuesday afternoon, said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the public health director in Los Angeles County. Of the 43 who tested positive, she said more than half had not been showing symptoms.
The results mirror findings of asymptomatic cases that have begun to emerge at other facilities in the United States, as officials ramp up aggressive testing.
In Ohio, where an outbreak at a prison has become the country’s largest-known source of infections, officials said that many of the people who tested positive did not appear sick. In Boston, where universal testing was conducted at a homeless shelter earlier this month, officials found that nearly everyone who tested positive had not been showing symptoms.
Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, said he was “baffled” by how many people without symptoms had tested positive at the shelter.
“The lesson for this is there is so much we don’t know, and in this particular very poor and vulnerable population,” Mr. O’Connell said. “We suspect all around the country, this is probably going to be duplicated.”
He said on Wednesday that the former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, had volunteered to help with the state’s effort to test and trace the virus.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that public housing residents would be a priority at six testing sites set to open in the coming days, and that three sites opening next week would be based in public housing.
Lawmakers are making their way back to Washington ahead of an expected vote on Thursday to give final approval to a $484 billion package that would revive a loan program for distressed small businesses and provide additional aid for hospitals and testing.
The Senate approved the measure on Tuesday on a voice vote — a necessity since the chamber is on an extended recess amid the pandemic and most senators are outside of Washington. But that will not be possible in the House, where there is enough dissatisfaction in both parties about the bill that leaders have summoned lawmakers back to the Capitol for a vote. House Republicans have signaled that they would force a roll-call vote on the measure, while some of the most liberal Democrats are deeply opposed to a bill they argue provides far too little for the most urgent needs, omitting funding for struggling cities and localities.
“It is insulting to think that we can pass such a small amount of money — in the context of not knowing when Congress is even going to reconvene — pass such a small amount of money, pat ourselves on the back and leave town again,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said on Monday. “I need legislation that is going to save people’s lives.”
The measure was the product of an intense round of negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration that unfolded as the small-business loan program — created by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law — quickly ran out of funding, collapsing under a glut of applications from desperate companies struggling to stay afloat.
The measure would provide $320 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, $75 billion for hospitals, $25 billion for testing and a mandate that the Trump administration establish a national strategy to help states and localities, which are required to outline their own plans, deploy testing widely.
While in Washington to pass it, House Democratic leaders are also planning to push through a measure to create a select committee to scrutinize the Trump administration’s coronavirus response and the management of the $2.2 trillion stimulus programs. Mr. Trump has dismissed the idea as a partisan “witch hunt” and Republicans are likely to oppose the move.
Democratic leaders on Wednesday backed away from a planned move to change the rules of the House of Representatives to allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely for the first time in history during the pandemic, scrapping a vote on the plan after Republicans registered sharp opposition.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Wednesday that his agency plans to pump another $40.4 billion into the health care economy to help hospitals and health care providers struggling to stay afloat amid a crush of uninsured coronavirus patients.
The money — $20 billion for health care providers; $10 billion for hospitals hard hit by the virus; $10 billion for rural hospitals and $400,000 for the Indian Health Service — comes from $100 billion that Congress already allocated to the agency and is in addition of $30 billion that has already been spent. Mr. Azar said his agency expects to receive an additional $75 billion when the next stimulus package, passed by the Senate on Tuesday, is approved by the House and signed into law by President Trump.
After Trump’s criticism, Harvard says it didn’t ask for relief money — and might not take it.
Mr. Trump on Tuesday criticized Harvard for receiving $8.6 million in federal relief funds despite its large endowment, saying “Harvard’s going to pay back the money” in response to a question about large companies like Shake Shack that received loans meant for small businesses.
But the money allocated for Harvard would come from a completely different source: a $14 billion federal aid package for some 5,000 American colleges, universities and trade schools that have seen huge revenue losses after shutting down their campuses as the pandemic spread across America.
The money for schools was automatically divided based on a formula set by Congress, based on the size and income level of a university’s student body. That formula was part of the $2 trillion aid package signed by Mr. Trump on March 27.
“Harvard has not applied for or received any funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund,” a Harvard spokesman, Jason Newton, said Wednesday. “We continue to review the additional guidance from the Department of Education related to the fund and will make a determination as to whether we will seek to access the allocation that was made to Harvard by statute.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he had spoken to Harvard’s president, Larry Bacow, who was considering Mr. Trump’s request.
“I actually spoke to the president of Harvard already this morning,” Mr. Mnuchin told the Fox Business Network. “And I think Harvard is thinking seriously about whether it’s appropriate for them to keep the money or give it to other institutions that need it.”
That would be a shift for the university, which said on Monday that it would use all of the relief money to support students affected by the pandemic, and not for institutional costs. But Harvard continued to face criticism because of its massive endowment, valued at $41 billion before the pandemic struck.
The formula for disbursing funds to universities did not take a school’s endowment into account. The University of Texas system, which had a $31 billion endowment in 2018, the second-largest in the country, will get $172.5 million from the stimulus package, including $31 million for its flagship institution, the University of Texas at Austin.
Mr. Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, had a $14 billion endowment as of 2018 and is set to receive $10 million in stimulus money.
The roots of social distancing go back to a request from former President George W. Bush some 14 years ago in the wake of the terror attacks in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a heightened need to prepare for future disasters, found Eric Lipton and Jennifer Steinhauer.
Inspired by a book he read about the spread of germs, Mr. Bush asked two federal government doctors to come up with a plan for the United States to respond to the next pandemic. The doctors, Richard Hatchett, a White House biodefense adviser, and Carter Mecher, a Veterans Affairs medical officer based in Georgia, took a deep dive into historical responses to contagious diseases dating back to the Middle Ages when there was not advanced medicine to treat such viruses. They were also inspired by a high school student’s research project. (The student was the daughter of a scientist at one of the country’s national laboratories).
When the doctors who presented their plan to other federal officials, they were laughed at and ridiculed. Much like today, social distancing was not a popular option because of the disruption it would cause to everyday life, especially the economy. But without a guarantee that a drug to treat the particular illness spreading around the globe would be available, keeping a safe distance from other people would have to work.
And in February of 2007, social distancing became the plan if a drug was not available. It was reaffirmed in a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide to local communities. And it went live across the country in mid-March when the coronavirus was spreading faster than medical response could handle.
Eating in a pandemic: Here’s some advice.
Whether you are cooking meals from scratch every single day, turning to your childhood comfort foods, or don’t have much of an appetite, the lockdown has probably changed your eating habits. Maybe for the better, or possibly for the worse. Here are some tips to ensure your diet is healthy and help you remember that moderation is key.
What else is happening in the world? Check it out.
Track the progress of the pandemic and stay abreast of the latest developments with our team of international correspondents.
Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Karen Barrow, Alan Blinder, Michael Cooper, Monica Davey, Caitlin Dickerson, Catie Edmonson, Richard Fausset, Sheri Fink, Thomas Fuller, Erica L. Green, Maggie Haberman, Amy Harmon, Anemona Hartocollis, Tiffany Hsu, Miriam Jordan, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Gina Kolata, Lisa Lerer, Sarah Mervosh, Alexandra E. Petri, Nathaniel Popper, Alan Rappeport, Rick Rojas, Marc Santora, Michael D. Shear, Natasha Singer, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Kenneth P. Vogel and Pete Wells.