Coronavirus Live Updates: With Death Toll Rising, Leaders Wrestle With How Soon to Lift Restrictions


Coronavirus Live Updates: With Death Toll Rising, Leaders Wrestle With How Soon to Lift Restrictions

Questions loom about reopening the economy, as the virus claims thousands of lives.

President Trump has said he is eager to see stay-at-home orders lifted and businesses reopened soon, and is spending the weekend weighing whether to push state governors to start doing so by May — a timeline that some experts say may be too hasty.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said on Sunday that reopening the country would not be an “all or none” proposition. Appearing on CNN, Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that restrictions must be lifted in a gradual manner to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus cases. Models show that lifting all social-distancing measures at once nationally may set the stage for a rebound sometime in July.

“If all of a sudden we decide, ‘OK, it’s May, whatever, and we just turn the switch on, that could be a real problem,” Dr. Fauci said.

He said governors will need to manage a “rolling re-entry,” guided by testing results and local risk levels. “I think it could probably start, at least in some ways, maybe next month,” he said on the network’s “State of the Union” program, though he added, “Don’t hold me to it.”

Weeks after ordering a shutdown across the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said on Saturday that the efforts were beginning to pay off and that the curve of new coronavirus cases was continuing to flatten.

But, as the focus began to turn to reopening the state and New York City, Mr. Cuomo emphasized that it would be premature to look too far ahead. While the number of hospitalizations because of the virus were down in New York, as were intubations — considered an important marker of the severity of the crisis — the daily death toll remained steady, with 783 more deaths in the state.

“Reopening is both an economic question and a public health question,” he said. “And I’m unwilling to divorce the two. You can’t ask the people of this state or this country to choose between lives lost and dollars gained.”

Throughout January, as President Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — including top White House advisers and experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action.

Dozens of interviews and a review of emails and other records by The New York Times revealed many previously unreported details of the roots and extent of his halting response:

Asked on Sunday morning whether lives would have been saved if Mr. Trump had followed recommendations on social distancing in late February, Dr. . Fauci, said on CNN, “It is what it is; we are where we are right now.” He added: “Obviously you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives, nobody’s going to deny that.”

While most churches will be like St. Patrick’s, with congregants celebrating from afar, a small number of renegade pastors are pressing on with in-person church services, defying stay-at-home orders and the guidance from health officials.

A pastor in Louisiana has boasted that his church would have a crowd of up to 2,000 worshipers. A pastor in Jackson, Miss., has organized an in-person service, but said he would disperse it if the police show up.

Restrictions on mass gatherings have frustrated a small number of religious conservatives, who see the rules as attempts to limit Christian practice. In Kentucky on Saturday, a federal judge blocked Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville from restricting drive-in church services, noting that drive-in liquor stores were still open.

The Supreme Court of Kansas ruled late Saturday night to uphold Gov. Laura Kelly’s order limiting the size of church services on Easter Sunday to 10 people. Republican legislators had argued that the order restricted their constitutional freedom.

The governors of Florida and Texas have exempted religious services from stay-at-home orders. In Kentucky, mass gatherings over Easter weekend are permitted, but anyone who participates must quarantine for 14 days. To enforce this, the state will record the license plates outside large gatherings, Gov. Andy Beshear said.

The Department of Justice may take action against state and local leaders who have specifically restricted in-person gatherings. Attorney General William P. Barr is “monitoring” government regulation of religious services, a Department of Justice spokeswoman said in a tweet on Saturday night.

“While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs,” the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said. “Expect action from DOJ next week.”

Coronavirus antibody tests have not always been accurate in other countries, and the U.S. should be careful not to approve their use too quickly, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on Sunday.

Antibody tests are not designed to detect whether someone is infected now; they tell doctors whether the person has been exposed to the virus at some point, and may have acquired some degree of immunity. So far, the F.D.A. has approved only one such test, which looks for protective antibodies in a finger-prick of blood.

“There are a number on the market that we haven’t validated,” Dr. Hahn said on the ABCm program “This Week.” “We do expect that relatively soon.”

Referring to reports from other countries of inaccurate antibody tests, he added: “I think it’s really important for the American people to know that we need tests that are accurate, reliable and reproducible. That’s what F.D.A. does in a science- and data-driven way.”

In an appearance on the NBC program “Meet the Press,” Dr. Hahn said, “What we don’t want are wildly inaccurate tests.”

He thanked Britons for adhering to social distancing measures and said that were helping to slow the spread of the virus. And he singled two nurses — Jenny, from New Zealand and Luis, from Portugal — who “stood by my bedside for 48 hours when things could have gone either way.”

Weeks before Florida ordered people to stay at home, the coronavirus was well into its insidious spread in the state, infecting residents and visitors who days earlier had danced at beach parties and reveled in theme parks. Only now, as people have gotten sick and recovered from — or succumbed to — Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has the costly toll of keeping Florida open during the spring break season started to become apparent.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has blamed travelers from New York, Europe and other places for seeding the virus in the state. But the reverse was also true: People got sick in Florida and took the infection back home.

The exact number of people who returned from leisure trips to Florida with the coronavirus may never be known. Cases as far away as California and Massachusetts have been linked to the Winter Party Festival, a beachside dance party and fund-raiser for the L.G.B.T.Q. community held March 4-10. As of last week, 38 people had reported that they were symptomatic or had tested positive for the coronavirus in the weeks following the event, according to the organizer, the National L.G.B.T.Q. Task Force.

Another California man died after going to Orlando for a conference and then to a packed Disney World. Two people went to Disney and later got relatives sick in Florida and Georgia.

Slow action by Florida’s governor left local leaders scrambling to make their own closure decisions during one of the busiest and most profitable times of the year for a state with an $86 billion tourism economy. The result was that rules were often in conflict, with one city canceling a major event while a neighboring city allowed another event to continue.

The governor, who did not order people to stay home until April 1, has said the state supported local governments that ordered event cancellations and beach closures, but that it was not his role to step in first.

As the coronavirus tears through the country, scientists are studying the role of superspreaders, a loosely defined term for people who may infect a disproportionate number of others, whether as a consequence of genetics, social habits or simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Understanding how they work could help in containing outbreaks.

The virus carriers at the heart of what are being called superspreading events, can drive and have driven epidemics, researchers say, making it crucial to figure out ways to identify spreading events or to prevent situations, like crowded rooms, where superspreading can occur.

At the end of February, for example, when 175 Biogen executives gathered for a conference at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, at least one was infected with the coronavirus. Two weeks later, seventy five percent of the 108 Massachusetts residents infected with the virus were associated with or employed by Biogen.

But just as important are those at the other end of the spectrum — people who are infected but unlikely to spread the infection.

Distinguishing between those who are more infectious and those less infectious could make an enormous difference in the ease and speed with which an outbreak is contained, said Jonathan Zelner, a statistician at the University of Michigan.

Pregnant women are thought to be at a similar risk for severe illness from Covid-19 as other people. But Dr. Byer said that more research was needed, particularly in communities, like Brooklyn, where obesity, diabetes and hypertension are common among expectant mothers.

But he is grateful: So far, not one mother or baby has been lost.

Standing in line used to be an American pastime, whether it was camping outside movie theaters before a “Star Wars” premiere or shivering outside big-box stores to be the first inside on Black Friday.

The coronavirus has changed all that.

Now, millions of people across the country are risking their health to wait in tense, sometimes desperate, new lines for basic needs. The lines of carefully spaced people stretch around blocks and clog two-lane highways.

The scenes are especially jarring at a moment when freeways are empty and city centers are deserted. Public health officials are urging people to slow the transmission of the coronavirus by avoiding each other.

“It’s worrisome,” said Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington who studies pandemics. “It’s setting up unnecessary opportunities for transmission.”

In Milwaukee, Catherine Graham, who has a bad heart and asthma, left her apartment on Tuesday for the first time since early March to vote in the Wisconsin primary election.

“It was people, people, people,” Ms. Graham, 78, said. “I was afraid.”

She said she nearly turned back when she saw the line, but waited for two hours to cast a ballot. Every day since, she has been watching for symptoms of the coronavirus.

The U.S. government has historically responded to major crises by closely examining its past performance to identify any failures or weaknesses that were exposed. The coronavirus pandemic ravaging the nation and the world is likely to be no exception.

One month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, two senior senators proposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, an entirely new government department that would pull together competitive federal agencies whose lack of coordination left the nation exposed to deadly terrorism.

After a bungled response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was reorganized and elevated to cabinet-level under President Bill Clinton to give it more standing and influence. After World War II, President Harry S. Truman proposed the formation of the Defense Department to eliminate infighting, waste and duplication in military operations.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that there will be a massive effort to reorganize government in the aftermath of Covid-19,” said Tom Daschle, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota and majority leader during the Sept. 11 attacks.

House Democrats are already pushing legislation to create a commission similar to one established after Sept. 11 that would review government actions, outline lessons learned and make recommendations on any overhaul.

Rahm Emanuel, the former top White House official, congressman and Chicago mayor, is calling for a multipronged approach that includes a sophisticated early-warning system to detect possible threats, establishment of a new way to organize a ready medical force and an aggressive stockpiling of medical supplies.

Whether a new “Department of Pandemic Prevention and Response” materializes or less drastic changes are implemented, many top lawmakers agree that reviewing and rethinking is necessary.

Reporting was contributed by Knvul Sheikh, Sheri Fink, Elizabeth Dias, Nancy Coleman, Jack Healy, Tara Parker-Pope, Johnny Diaz, Patricia Mazzei, Frances Robles, Carl Hulse and Gina Kolata.


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