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


Lockdowns slow the 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.

After a powerful rally in the United States, global stocks faltered on Thursday as countries around the world sounded more alarms about the bleak landscape.

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 often scooped up at the expense of poor 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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