As global infections soar, guidance on masks is reversed.

For months, health officials have been walking an awkward line on masks, saying they offered little or no protection to the public and should be reserved for health care workers.

That contradiction seems close to resolution now.

The White House, while stopping short of declaring an official policy, joined the mayors of Los Angeles and New York, several European nations and much of Asia in recommending that people wear cloth face masks in public, even if they have no symptoms.

That may help stop people from transmitting the coronavirus, but social distancing remains the best way to slow the spread, health officials say. Nearly four billion people on the planet — half of humanity — found themselves on Friday under some sort of order to stay in their homes.

But some U.S. states were still resisting such measures.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said that he believed that a nationwide lockdown order made sense.

“You know, the tension between federally mandated versus states’ rights to do what they want is something I don’t want to get into,” he told CNN on Thursday. “But if you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that.”

The lockdowns have led to a collapse of the global economy, vaporizing 10 million jobs in the United States in just two weeks. Global stocks, which had surged on Thursday after a wishful tweet from President Trump about the oil markets, dipped again on Friday amid growing fears that the pain will be profound and prolonged, while U.S. equity futures pointed lower.

Governments have promised trillions of dollars in a desperate effort to limit the damage.

None of that has stopped the virus’s ferocious global assault. At least one million infections have been detected worldwide, but experts suspect the true number is far larger because of asymptomatic cases and delays in widespread testing. The Australian medical chief estimated that there are between five million and 10 million cases.

President Trump took aim on Thursday at the manufacturing giant 3M, which has been increasing production of N95 respirator masks that filter small particles and droplets from the air.

“We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks,” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post. “Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing — will have a big price to pay!”

At a White House briefing earlier in the day, Mr. Trump announced he was invoking the Defense Production Act, a 1950s law, to help shore up dwindling supplies of medical supplies. The move came after desperate pleas from governors and health care officials who are trying to handle the spike in coronavirus patients.

As the virus swept across the United States, 3M said that it was speeding up production of N95 masks and that it planned to increase output in the United States by 30 percent over the next year.

The company usually makes about 400 million masks a year.

It is unclear what set off Mr. Trump, but his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, made an oblique reference to 3M at the briefing, mentioning that “we’ve had some issues making sure that all of the production that 3M does around the world” ends up being sent “to the right places.”

Even as the United States grapples with a mask shortage, 3M has continued to sell the critical safety equipment abroad, according to someone with direct knowledge of the matter.

The Minnesota-based company did not respond to requests for comment.

Germany has been held up as a model across Europe as its laboratories work around the clock to process coronavirus tests, a key measure that has resulted in its relatively low number of casualties.

The widespread testing and other measures intended to slow the spread of the virus have not stopped it outright, however. The country’s death count passed 1,000 on Friday. But with 80,000 detected cases, the death rate remains only slightly higher than that of the flu — 0.23 percent, compared to more than 8 percent in Italy.

At the end of seven hours in mask, gown and gloves at Bellevue Hospital Center on Monday, Dr. Richard Levitan finally had a chance to look at his phone.

Dr. Levitan, an emergency physician who lives in northern New Hampshire, had volunteered to work for 10 days at Bellevue, in Manhattan, as coronavirus patients besieged New York City hospitals. Monday was his first shift there.

A text had arrived from his older brother, who was letting him use an apartment on the Upper West Side. It read: “Hey Richard — We are so proud of you and your heroism. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but looks like our apartment building doesn’t want you staying in our apt.”

The building’s board of directors wanted him out.

That took a minute to sink in.

On the one hand, Dr. Levitan was answering the state’s urgent plea for help in the worst public health crisis in decades.

On the other, his brother was dealing with the idiosyncratic creature known as a New York City co-op, run by a board of apartment owners. Within their four walls, co-ops are tiny nation-states.

So, while Dr. Levitan was working to save the lives of strangers, his brother was pleading with his neighbors to let his sibling rest in the apartment. He got nowhere. The board had heard what he was doing and did not want him around.

That kind of thing is rampant and emerges in many shapes, if rarely so outrageously as the shunning of a medical volunteer. Governors were talking about pulling over cars with New York plates, and people in rural areas were mad about city residents who had fled to their second homes. In the city, people want to know if anyone in their building has tested positive, though with the virus so widespread, the only safe course is to assume that some neighbor has it or had it, and to take precautions.

“They have been threatening this for a long time,” he said. “It looks like he took advantage of a politically opportune time to deal with this.”

Mr. el-Sisi responded to the outcry over the quarantine instructions by announcing that a government fund would cover the cost of the 14-day hotel stays. But the coronavirus threatens to upend his plans in other ways.

On March 22 and 23, the army announced that two senior generals with its Engineering Authority, which oversees major construction projects, had died from the virus.

This week, Arab Contractors, one of Egypt’s largest construction companies, dismissed opposition claims that work on the new capital had stopped because of infections among workers. Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Wednesday urged the construction projects to continue “at full capacity,” while taking precautions to protect the health of workers.

The Media One anchorman Vinesh Kunhiraman went on air as usual on March 6, ready to tell the station’s five million viewers in India’s Kerala State about the death anniversary of a beloved comedian and the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic.

Just a few minutes into the broadcast, he saw the managing editor rush to the studio floor, gesturing wildly. “I realized something was not right,” Mr. Kunhiraman recalled.

“Either they don’t need money, which means they shouldn’t get the money,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said in an interview. “Or maybe they really do need it, in which case they should agree to some restrictions on how the money is spent.”

Taking a tougher line with companies could bolster the overall economic impact of the aid. Demanding that companies maintain hiring levels, for example, might mean that more people have money coming into their bank accounts, allowing them to spend on necessities and pay the rent or mortgage, said Phil Angelides, a former treasurer of California and chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which was created by Congress in 2009.

Of course, with revenues falling off a cliff and losses piling up, some companies may be so desperate that their chief executives happily accept terms like a temporary ban on companies buying their own shares, a condition that airline executives have said they are willing to accept. Others may accept aid simply because the public wants them to.

One big difference between the economic problems of today and the 2008 financial crisis is that most of the companies in need of relief are not suffering from self-inflicted wounds. “That’s obvious to most people, and a C.E.O. will have this defense at his or her disposal,” said Tony Fratto, a former assistant secretary of the Treasury and a former deputy press secretary for President George W. Bush.

Right now, policymakers are keenly watching how airlines and Boeing might respond.

Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder, Ben Hubbard, Declan Walsh, Joanna Berendt, Nada Rashwan, Melissa Eddy, Jim Dwyer, Stephen Castle, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Denise Lu and Gabriel J.X. Dance, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Vindu Goel, Jeffrey Gettleman, Richard Pérez-Peña, Peter Eavis, Niraj Chokshi, David Gelles, Michael Corkery, Julia Jacobs and Maya Salam.

source: nytimes.com

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