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Live Coronavirus News: Full Analysis

2020-05-19 23:22:52

W.H.O. member nations reject Trump demands, but agree to study the organization’s virus response.

President Trump’s angry demands for punitive action against the World Health Organization were rebuffed on Tuesday by the organization’s other member nations, who decided instead to conduct an “impartial, independent” examination of the W.H.O.’s response to the pandemic.

In a four-page letter late Monday night, Mr. Trump had threatened to permanently cut off all United States funding of the W.H.O. unless it committed to “major, substantive improvements” within 30 days. It was a significant escalation of his repeated attempts to blame the W.H.O. and China for the spread of the virus and deflect responsibility for his own handling of a worldwide crisis that has killed more than 90,000 people in the United States.

But representatives of the organization’s member nations rallied around the W.H.O. at its annual meeting in Geneva, largely ignoring Mr. Trump’s demand for an overhaul and calling for a global show of support in the face of a deadly pandemic.

That left the United States isolated as officials from China, Russia and the European Union chided Mr. Trump’s heated rhetoric even as they acknowledged the need to review the W.H.O.’s response as the virus spread from China to the rest of the world.

Public health experts noted that Mr. Trump’s threats to withdraw from the organization and halt funding ignored the reality that any such moves would require the consent of Congress, something many analysts said was unlikely to occur.

But the president’s continued attacks on the W.H.O., experts said, threatened to hobble the organization at a critical moment and seriously damage international efforts to combat the virus, especially in poorer countries that heavily depend on the agency.

In a joint appearance on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jerome H. Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, offered a stark assessment of the fragile state of the economy, warning of more severe job losses in the months to come.

But they offered contrasting views of how best to buttress the economy: Mr. Powell suggested that more fiscal support to states and businesses might be needed to avoid permanent job losses. Mr. Mnuchin suggested that without an expeditious reopening, the economy might never fully recover. Here are key highlights from their testimony.

  • Mr. Mnuchin warned that the economy might sustain “permanent damage” if states extend their shutdowns for months.

  • Mr. Powell warned that the economy could face long-term damage if the policy response was not forceful enough and reiterated that the economy might need more help to make it through the pandemic without lasting scars. But he was careful to avoid giving Congress explicit advice and made sure to cushion his suggestions as a conditionality.

  • Mr. Powell suggested that the central bank might expand its program to buy municipal debt and agreed that state and local governments could slow the economic recovery if they laid off workers amid budget crunches.

  • Mr. Mnuchin, who previously said he expected that Treasury would return all $454 billion from Congress, changed that benchmark on Tuesday, saying the “base case” now was that the government would lose money.

    “Our intention is that we expect to take some losses on these facilities,” he said. Some lawmakers have been pressing Treasury and the Fed to deploy their capital aggressively and not worry about taking losses.

  • Mr. Powell said even after states reopened, a full recovery would not come until the health crisis was resolved.

    “The No. 1 thing, of course, is people believing that it’s safe to go back to work. And that’s about having a sensible, thoughtful reopening of the economy, something that we all want — and something that we’re in the early stages of now,” he said. “It will be a combination of getting the virus under control, development of therapeutics, development of a vaccine.”

Those comments were underscored by new economic projections released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which suggested the recovery would depend in large part on the virus’s trajectory. The budget office projected that gross domestic product would contract by 11 percent in the second quarter and the jobless rate would hit 15 percent, with industries such as travel, hospitality and retail bearing the brunt of the losses.

“The range of uncertainty about social distancing, as well as its effects on economic activity and implications for the economic recovery over the next two years, is especially large,” the report noted, adding that “future waves could be smaller, of a similar size or larger than the initial wave experienced this spring.”

Since then, judges in several states — including Tennessee and Texas — have postponed at least half a dozen executions after prisoners’ lawyers argued that they were needlessly risky or that their appeals had been delayed because of the pandemic.

But this week, a federal appeals court cleared the way for Missouri’s execution of Walter Barton, 64, who was convicted in 2006 of murdering an 81-year-old mobile home park manager in 1991 after being evicted. The Supreme Court declined to intervene on Tuesday evening.

Mr. Barton was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m. Central time, following a lethal injection at a state prison in Bonne Terre, which is called the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center.

Everyone who enters the prison, including each of the nine witnesses who were scheduled to attend the execution, is required to have their temperatures taken, said Karen Pojmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Corrections. She said before the execution that the witnesses would also be given hand sanitizer and face coverings.

Mr. Barton’s murder conviction came during his fifth trial over the murder, after two mistrials and two guilty verdicts that he successfully appealed. Mr. Barton had long maintained his innocence.

Fever checkpoints at the entrances to academic buildings. One-way paths across the grassy quad. Face masks required in classrooms and dining halls. And a dormitory-turned-quarantine building for any students exposed to the virus.

Similar discussions are taking place at almost every college and university in the United States. Administrators are fiercely debating whether they can safely reopen their campuses, even as most provide students with encouraging messages about the prospects of returning in the fall.

Notre Dame said it would start its fall semester early, on Aug. 10, and skip fall break so that students could go home at Thanksgiving and not return. The University of South Carolina announced a similar schedule, saying its students would finish the semester online after Thanksgiving because its “best current modeling predicts a spike in cases” at the beginning of December. Rice University in Houston also plans a shortened fall semester, with a mixture of remote and in-person classes. And Ithaca College will go in the other direction, starting its fall semester late, on Oct. 5, to provide more time to prepare for returning students.

New York University plans to hold in-person classes in the fall, the university’s provost said on Tuesday. “We’re planning to convene in person, with great care, in the fall (subject to government health directives), both in New York and at our global sites,” the provost said.

Those decisions are in contrast to an announcement last week by the California State University System, which will keep its 23 campuses largely shut and teach nearly half a million students remotely.

Meatpacking plants across the country that have been forced to close because of outbreaks among workers are not the only food facilities that have been hit hard by the virus. A large-scale bakery, a date packing house and a mushroom farm also have emerged with clusters of cases.

Officials said the virus spread through other food facilities in the same manner as in meat-processing factories: Workers must stand close together to do their jobs and crowd into locker rooms and cafeterias.

Some of the major clusters include a Tennessee mushroom farm where more than 50 cases have been identified and the Birds Eye vegetable processing facility in Darien, Wis., which has at least 100 cases. In Abilene, Texas, the AbiMar Foods bakery has at least 52 cases. The Leprino Foods dairy facility in Fort Morgan, Colo., has more than 80 cases; a second Leprino facility in Greeley, Colo., has at least 20. And the SunDate date packinghouse in Coachella, Calif., has at least 20 cases.

More than 100 people have been sickened at Louisiana crawfish farms, but officials did not name the facilities. At a news conference on Monday, Alex Billioux, the assistant secretary of health, said some of the workers were migrants and some lived in dormitory-like settings.

Some of the employees, who are in the middle of apple processing season and are gearing up for cherry harvests, said they had not been offered testing nor ample personal protection equipment, and that they had faced recriminations from employers when they complained. Officials at one company told The Seattle Times that it did not have any cases and had provided masks and gloves as equipment became available, and was surprised by the strike. Some of the fruit processing workers said they were going on a hunger strike until conditions improved.

Some churches that tried to reopen are closing again as the virus spreads.

After briefly reopening for in-person worship services, a few churches have had to close again as the virus spread in their pews.

Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston closed after five leaders tested positive last weekend, following the death of one priest, Rev. Donnell Kirchner, who had been diagnosed with pneumonia. His immediate cause of death was unknown.

The church had reopened for limited Mass on May 2, and two of the priests who tested positive had been active in celebrations. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston recommended that people who attended get tested.

In Ringgold, Ga., Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle started in-person services again in late April but stopped on May 11 after learning that members of several families had contracted the virus. Local health officials have been investigating three cases connected to the church. Services are currently closed indefinitely.

Officials remain concerned that worship gatherings could be particularly susceptible to viral spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday released a report about an outbreak in March at a rural Arkansas church. Of the 92 people who attended the church between March 6 and March 11, 35 tested positive and three died, the report said. The report said investigators found that 26 other people who were in contact with the people from the church events later tested positive. One person died.

Allison James, an author of the C.D.C. report, praised the pastor for closing the Arkansas church as soon as he heard of people getting sick.

“They were very proactive in closing the church to prevent further transmission,” Dr. James said. “At the time, they knew people were getting sick, but they didn’t know necessarily that it was Covid or flu or any other infectious disease. They just knew they had a cluster of something going on, and they wanted to prevent transmission. I really commend them for acting quickly.”

Visitors will be allowed at 16 hospitals around New York State, nine of them in New York City, as part of a pilot program, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday. They will be required to wear personal protective equipment, including masks, and will be subject to temperature checks.

In March, state officials issued guidance asking hospitals to suspend visitation as the virus appeared to be rapidly spreading.

“It is terrible to have someone in the hospital and then that person is isolated, not being able to see their family or friends,” Mr. Cuomo said. He added that the program was “to see if we can bring visitors in and do it safely.”

The governor’s announcement comes as only three regions in downstate New York will remain under the state’s shutdown orders; the Albany area can begin reopening on Wednesday, he said.

New York City, Long Island and the counties just north of the city known as the Mid-Hudson region all have yet to meet at least two of the seven health-related benchmarks that the governor set for parts of the state to start restarting their economies. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City reiterated on Monday that he ​did not ​expect​ the city ​to meet the ​state’s criteria to begin to reopen until “the first half of June.”​

Mr. Cuomo — who arrived at his daily briefing wearing a face mask — also said that the state would allow Memorial Day festivities, so long as they had no more than 10 people. The state will also allow vehicle parades, provided that they are held safely and participants adhere to social distancing.

Michigan will mail absentee ballot applications to all of its voters for its congressional primary elections in August and the general election in November.

The goal is to help mitigate the spread of the virus, which has hit the state particularly hard, and to take advantage of a new law that was passed in 2018 and allows all voters to cast absentee ballots.

“By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Michigan’s secretary of state said.

The state’s March 10 presidential primary saw half of the 2.3 million people who cast ballots use the absentee option. By May 5, when local elections were held, officials reported that 99 percent of the people who voted used absentee ballots and turnout had doubled, going from an average of 12 percent in the last nine years to 25 percent.

Local clerks in Michigan already send absentee ballot applications to 1.3 million voters, but the state will now mail applications to the rest of the 7.7 million registered voters, using $4.5 million in federal funds.

The pandemic has led many states to consider increasing absentee and mail-in voting. Mr. Trump and Republicans have been trying to limit absentee voting and voting by mail.

Increased turnout could be particularly troubling for Republicans in key battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Mr. Trump won in 2016 by tiny margins, delivering the electoral votes he needed to win the White House.

Wisconsin and Pennsylvania both allow anyone to cast absentee or mail-in ballots. The Wisconsin Election Commission is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday and will decide whether to send absentee ballot applications to all of the state’s 3.3 million registered voters.

A top Democrat will oppose Trump’s nominee to be coronavirus watchdog.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on Tuesday that he would vote against Mr. Trump’s nominee to serve as special inspector general scrutinizing the pandemic recovery efforts, citing concerns about his independence from the president.

“Mr. Miller’s inability to demonstrate independence from his current employer, and speak out when he sees actions from administration officials that are clearly out of bounds, is deeply troubling given that this president seems to demand blind loyalty from federal inspectors general,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “For those reasons, I will oppose Mr. Miller’s nomination.”

Republicans are likely to have the votes to confirm him anyway, but the nomination is still winding through the Senate’s committee process.

The drug should only be used in clinical trials, the F.D.A. said, or in hospitals where patients could be closely monitored for heart problems.

Then Mr. Trump made the announcement this week that he was taking the drug himself, to try to ward off infection.

“The system we have here in the United States is that, once a drug is approved and on the market, a doctor in consultation with a patient may use it for what we call off-label purposes, which are indications that are not yet proven and not yet on the label,” he said.

The study had found that hydroxychloroquine, with or without azithromycin, did not help patients avoid the need for ventilators. And it found that hydroxychloroquine alone was associated with an increased risk of death.

But the study was not a controlled trial, and patients who received the drugs were sicker to begin with. “These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs,” the authors wrote.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Trump seemed to take aim at that study, saying, “If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape.” He went on to say, without clarifying, that it was “a Trump enemy statement.”

At the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, spoke about the study.

“That was not a V.A. study,” Mr. Wilkie said. “Researchers took V.A. numbers, and they did not clinically review them. They were not peer reviewed.”

Mr. Trump’s announcement that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine drew criticism from a range of medical experts.

“My concern would be that the public not hear comments about the use of hydroxychloroquine and believe that taking this drug to prevent Covid-19 infection is without hazards,” said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, the chief academic officer of the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “In fact, there are serious hazards.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said on Tuesday that the border between his country and the United States, where the outbreak is more severe, would remain closed for at least another month. The two nations reached an agreement to extend the closing, which was introduced in March and set to expire on Thursday.

Most cases in Israel are linked genetically to the United States, a new study found.

People arriving in Israel from the United States played a significant role in spreading the virus, an Israeli nationwide genomic study of cases has found.

The analysis, led by biologists at Tel Aviv University, sequenced the genomes of virus samples from a randomly chosen representative group of more than 200 patients at six hospitals across Israel and then compared those to samples sequenced worldwide.

The findings, which have not yet been peer reviewed, called into question the Israeli government’s decision to admit travelers from the United States until March 9, though visitors from some European countries were barred as early as Feb. 26.

While only 27 percent of all travelers who tested positive for the virus had arrived in Israel from the United States, more than 70 percent of virus samples sequenced had originated in the U.S. Israel has reported 16,650 cases and 277 deaths linked to the virus.

Therese Kelly arrived for her shift at an Amazon warehouse in Hazle Township, Pa., on March 27 to find her co-workers clustered in the cavernous space. Over a loudspeaker, a manager told them what they had feared: For the first time, an employee had tested positive.

Local lawmakers believe that more than 100 workers have contracted the disease, but the exact number is unknown. At first, Amazon told workers about each new case. But when the total reached about 60, the announcements stopped giving specific numbers.

The best estimate is that more than 900 of the company’s 400,000 blue-collar workers have had the disease. But that number, crowdsourced by Jana Jumpp, an Amazon worker, almost certainly understates the spread.

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Parents are learning how to navigate difficult conversations about death, job loss and sickness, all while trying to answer questions they barely understand. Hopefully, we can help.

Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Benedict Carey, Michael Cooper, Michael Crowley, Elizabeth Dias, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Gold, Kathleen Gray, David M. Halbfinger, Anemona Hartocollis, Andrew Jacobs, Annie Karni, Dan Levin, Patricia Mazzei, Eduardo Porter, Alan Rappeport, Dagny Salas, Dionne Searcey, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear, Natasha Singer, Jeanna Smialek, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Robin Stein, Matt Stevens, Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Karen Weise, Edward Wong and David Yaffe-Bellany.


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