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Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today


  • American retail sales fell 8.7 percent in March, the largest drop on record.

  • Leaders around the world criticized the Trump administration’s decision to halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization.

  • Relief payments under the $2 trillion stimulus package have started showing up in Americans’ bank accounts.

  • Read the latest updates: World | U.S. | New York | Business

Have we slowed the spread of the coronavirus? Are we past the peak? When can we safely ease restrictions? How can we head off a second wave of infections?

The answers all depend on swift, accurate, widespread and readily available testing, both for active infections and for the antibodies they leave behind. Without it, officials trying to grapple with the pandemic are flying blind.

But a severe lack of testing capacity has emerged as a signature failure of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, and now threatens to hamper efforts to tamp down the outbreak and to reopen the economy.

Senate Democrats proposed on Wednesday that $30 billion be included in the next stimulus package for a national program to greatly expand testing and tracing of Covid-19 infections. “Each state can’t have its own separate plan,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said. “We need a national plan.”

Right now the main bottleneck for diagnostic testing isn’t lab capacity; it’s shortages of swabs and chemicals. Testing volume in the U.S. has been down significantly in recent days because of supply shortages, commercial labs say.

The F.D.A. has authorized a new type of test that uses saliva instead of a nasal swab, and may reduce risk of infection for those who administer it. The test is being rolled out in New Jersey with help from Rutgers University, where it was developed.

Antibody testing, which reveals whether you may be immune to an infection, is only beginning to ramp up, and is still hard to come by in most places. But the rich, exclusive oceanfront community of Fisher Island, Fla., arranged to get every resident a test. And researchers studying the virus’s prevalence across the country are testing 10,000 employees of Major League Baseball this week.

Worried about liability: Business executives told President Trump on a conference call that much wider testing is needed before reopening the economy. They said they were worried about huge lawsuits if workers were called back too soon and became infected on the job.

The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage, and our Coronavirus Briefing newsletter — like all of our newsletters — is free. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.

U.S. retail sales took a historic plunge in March, falling 8.7 percent — another grim marker of the economic devastation caused by the virus.

It was the steepest one-month decline since the federal government started tracking total retail sales, which includes online sales as well as money spent in stores, restaurants, bars and the like. (The previous record came during the 2008 financial crisis, when sales fell nearly 4 percent for two straight months.)

April’s figure is likely to be worse: Most states did not shutter nonessential businesses until a few weeks ago.

With the retail decline, sales tax receipts, the biggest revenue stream for most states, have fallen drastically. Officials are scrambling for ways to keep public services running.

Though President Trump has predicted a post-crisis economic boom, a survey by the Federal Reserve has found that few U.S. businesses expect to bounce back quickly.

All kinds of industries have been hurt, from automobiles to Hollywood. Some producers are considering a pivot: With clothing sales falling sharply, some cotton growers may plant food crops this year instead.

Shutting down campuses for the spring has cost colleges and universities millions of dollars, as they canceled lucrative sports seasons and refunded room and board. The schools are bracing for an even bigger hit this fall.

As colleges confront the possibility that online-only classes will continue into the next school year, they anticipate that many students will decide not to return, or will choose a less expensive option in a time of widespread unemployment. Many international students will stay home because of travel restrictions or fear of studying abroad. A trade group predicts a 15 percent drop in enrollment in the U.S.

Schools like Harvard and Stanford can fall back on large endowments, but many others worry that they may not weather the storm, and are freezing faculty salaries and pausing construction.

Changing admissions tests: Many universities have said they will temporarily stop requiring SAT or ACT test scores for admission because of the pandemic. In response, the College Board, which administers the SAT, said on Wednesday that it would offer online versions of the test for students to take at home if secondary schools remained closed in the fall.

Some critics said the move could put low-income students at an even greater disadvantage than they already face. “It’s different if you’re taking the test in a one-room apartment with 17 relatives in the background,” said Akil Bello, a senior director at FairTest, an organization that opposes the use of standardized tests in college admissions.

The Aya family shared with The Times the heartbreaking final text messages between a teenage daughter and her mother, who worked in the emergency room at a Brooklyn hospital until she was infected with the coronavirus.

Read Madhvi Aya’s story here.

  • Belgium now has the second-highest death rate in Europe, after Spain. At least 4,440 people there have died — around 383 per million residents.

  • The virus has spread rapidly in Detroit, where a large working-class population cannot afford to self-isolate and many people are still commuting shoulder-to-shoulder on public buses.

  • In Moscow, where there is more than 14,500 confirmed cases, a new digital pass system meant to control movement instead led to chaotic crowds, setting back weeks of social-distancing efforts.

  • Romania, with around 7,200 confirmed cases and around 360 deaths, banned exports of agricultural goods to countries outside the European Union. The country is the first member nation to do so.

Rekindle romance. Quarantined with a partner? Here’s how couples can reignite romantic love and grow together, rather than apart.

Manage panic attacks. A sudden, short-lived feeling of anxiety, shortness of breath and disabling fear can be confused with symptoms of coronavirus.

Help those in need. Donating cash isn’t the only way. You can help people sign up for relief programs, drop off goods at a food bank or set up an online funding campaign for a struggling business.

Armchair travel. See the Northern Lights over Greenland, explore the great pyramids of Egypt and spot bald eagles in Hawaii as we take you on virtual visits to all 52 of our places to visit in 2020.

  • Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said that he would require people to wear face coverings in places where they could not keep six feet away from others.

  • Thousands of protesters in cars surrounded the State Capitol in Michigan, accusing the governor of going too far with stay-at-home orders.

  • Money for the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses hurt by the pandemic could run out as soon as Wednesday night.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci speculated that sporting events could resume this year — without fans — if players were tested weekly and isolated in hotels.

  • One place you can still find a full sports calendar: Nicaragua. Only nine coronavirus cases have been reported in the country, though many people doubt the low toll.

  • A zoo in Berlin has drawn up a grim contingency plan: If food sources run out, it will feed some of its animals to others. (The zoo said its prized polar bear, Vitus, would be the last to go.)

  • A 99-year-old World War II veteran set out to raise around $1,250 for Britain’s National Health Service by walking in his garden. As of Wednesday evening, he had raised more than $12 million.

  • What day is it? Stripped of life’s usual rhythms by the pandemic, people are losing track of time. (It’s Wednesday, by the way.)

  • Eighteen of our veteran journalists shared “one bright thing” from these bleak times: learning to cook, folding paper cranes, reconnecting with friends.

While I usually send our emptied Amazon boxes straight out to the sidewalk for recycling as quickly as possible, I now save the flattened cardboard in my garage so that my 5-year-old has a treasure trove to reach into for daily art projects. He has created a pirate’s chest, a knight’s shield and a robot.

— Tesalia de Saram, Queens

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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Lara Takenaga and Jonathan Wolfe helped write today’s newsletter.


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