Trump administration pushes to restart the economy, but shortages of tests complicate efforts.
President Trump is set to issue new federal guidelines on social distancing on Thursday in a bid to move the country closer to reopening for business, even as public health officials warned that it was far too early for any widespread return to public life.
Governors in many states are making their own plans, often in consultation and solidarity with their neighbors. But their actions will depend on the widespread availability of tests to track the coronavirus, an effort that is woefully lagging.
Although capacity has improved in recent weeks, supply shortages remain crippling, and many regions are still restricting tests to people who meet specific criteria. Antibody tests, which reveal whether someone has ever been infected with the coronavirus, are just starting to be rolled out, and most have not been vetted by the Food and Drug Administration.
Similar problems have plagued Britain, where the government is expected on Thursday to announce a three-week extension of stay-at-home orders.
Across the United States, officials have said that they will look to other nations to learn lessons as they move forward.
And even in countries with more comprehensive testing and tracking, the path out of the crisis can be rocky. Singapore, which was widely praised for taking early and strong measures to stop the virus, is now seeing a resurgence.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that the country’s relative success in containing the virus was “delicate” and warned that “we have to live with this until there is a medicine or vaccine.”
The country will allow small shops — those under 8,610 square feet — to reopen on April 20. Schools will slowly reopen on May 4, but only for some students, and they will have to follow strict hygiene protocols. Hair salons will also open under restrictions.
But bars, restaurants and theaters will remain closed and people will still not be allowed to gather in groups outside the home.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said governors and mayors would make the call on lifting restrictions after receiving guidance from the federal government.
But she warned that it was no time for Americans to become complacent about social distancing.
“I will remind the people again: This is a highly contagious virus,” she said.
The longer the restrictions remain, however, the deeper the economic pain.
The U.S. Department of Labor will release unemployment numbers later today, and they are expected to show staggering job losses — again.
When big convulsive economic events happen, the implications tend to take years to play out, and they spiral in unpredictable directions.
Who would have thought that a crisis that began with mortgage defaults in American suburbs in 2007 would presage a fiscal crisis in Greece in 2010? Or that a stock market crash in New York in 1929 would contribute to the rise of fascists in Europe in the 1930s?
The world economy is an infinitely complicated web of interconnections. And that, in part, is what is unnerving about the economic calamity accompanying the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In the years ahead, we will learn what happens when that web of connections is torn apart, when millions of those links are destroyed all at once. One obvious candidate to be altered forever is globalization, in which companies can move production wherever it’s most efficient, people can hop on a plane and go nearly anywhere, and money can flow to wherever it will be put to its highest use.
The idea of a world economy with the United States at its center was already falling apart. Now, the world may be facing a global economy completely different from the one that has prevailed in recent decades.
“As much as I hope we are able to get ordinary economic activity back up, that’s just the beginning of our problem,” said Adam Tooze, a historian at Columbia University. “This is a period of radical uncertainty, an order of magnitude greater than anything we’re used to.”
The call for body bags came late Saturday.
By Monday, the police in a small New Jersey township had gotten an anonymous tip about a body being stored in a shed outside one of the state’s largest nursing homes.
When the police arrived, the corpse had been removed from the shed, but they discovered 17 bodies piled inside the nursing home in a small morgue intended to hold no more than four people.
“They were just overwhelmed by the amount of people who were expiring,” said Eric C. Danielson, the police chief in the township, Andover, in Sussex County.
The 17 were among 68 recent deaths linked to the long-term care facility, Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center I and II, including two nurses, officials said. Of those who died, 26 people had tested positive for the virus.
For the others, the cause of death is unknown.
Of the patients who remain at the homes, housed in two buildings, 76 have tested positive for the virus; 41 staff members, including an administrator, are sick with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to county health records shared on Wednesday with a federal official.
Andover Subacute is not alone. The coronavirus has swept through the New York region’s nursing homes with devastating and deadly speed, killing thousands of residents at facilities struggling with staff shortages, increasingly sick patients and a lack of personal protective gear.
On Jan. 22, two days after Chinese officials first acknowledged the serious threat posed by the new virus ravaging the city of Wuhan, the chief of the World Health Organization held the first of what would be months of almost daily news briefings, sounding the alarm, telling the world to take the outbreak seriously.
But with its officials divided, the W.H.O., still seeing no evidence of sustained spread of the virus outside of China, declined the next day to declare a global public health emergency. A week later, the organization reversed course and made the declaration.
Those early days of the epidemic illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of the W.H.O., an arm of the United Nations that is now under fire by President Trump, who on Tuesday ordered a cutoff of American funding to the organization.
With limited, constantly shifting information to go on, the W.H.O. showed an early, consistent determination to treat the new contagion like the threat it would become, and to persuade others to do the same. At the same time, the organization repeatedly praised China, acting and speaking with a political caution born of being an arm of the United Nations, with few resources of its own, unable to do its work without international cooperation.
Mr. Trump, deflecting criticism that his own handling of the crisis left the United States unprepared, accused the W.H.O. of mismanaging it, called the organization “very China-centric” and said it had “pushed China’s misinformation.”
But a close look at the record shows that the W.H.O. acted with greater foresight and speed than many national governments, and more than it had shown in previous epidemics. And while it made mistakes, there is little evidence that the W.H.O. is responsible for the disasters that have unfolded in Europe and then the United States.
Alexandra Cross, a newly minted state public health worker, dialed a stranger’s telephone number on Monday, her heart racing.
It was Ms. Cross’s first day as part of a fleet of contact tracers in Massachusetts, charged with tracking down people who have been exposed to the coronavirus, as soon as possible, and warning them. On her screen was the name of a woman from Lowell.
“One person who has recently been diagnosed has been in contact with you,” the script told her to say. “Do you have a few minutes to discuss what that exposure might mean for you?” Forty-five minutes later, Ms. Cross hung up the phone. They had giggled and commiserated. Her file was crammed with information.
She was taking her first steps up a Mount Everest of cases.
Massachusetts is the first state to invest in an ambitious contact-tracing program, budgeting $44 million to hire 1,000 people like Ms. Cross.
Contact tracing has long been a critical tool in combating infectious disease, including fights against illnesses such as AIDS and SARS. It has helped Asian countries like Singapore and South Korea contain the spread of the new coronavirus, but their systems rely heavily on digital surveillance, using patients’ digital footprints to automatically alert their contacts, an intrusion that many Americans would not accept.
Massachusetts is opting for an old-school, labor-intensive method: people. Lots of them.
Dr. Paul Farmer, a physician-anthropologist and founding partner of the nonprofit Partners in Health, which is helping the state train workers, said there was no substitute for the bond of trust formed by a human contact tracer.
Mr. Cuomo’s announcement on face coverings came at a briefing during which he also announced that 752 more people had died of the virus in New York. In New Jersey, officials reported 351 additional deaths, and in Connecticut, the death toll rose by 197. There, Gov. Ned Lamont attributed the sharp increase to a new batch of fatalities being officially tied to the virus.
Mr. Lamont stopped short of saying he would require face coverings in public as Mr. Cuomo had, but said that he planned to issue an order “strongly” advising Connecticut residents to wear masks in crowds and stores.
“This is the way that we are going to get this virus behind us sooner and get everyone back to work as soon as we possibly can,” he said.
A new federal program to help small businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic is running out of money and falling short in the industries and states most battered by the crisis, risking waves of bankruptcies and millions of additional unemployed workers.
Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, an initiative created by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted last month, could be exhausted this week, meaning that the Small Business Administration would have to stop approving applications. As of Wednesday evening, more than 1.4 million loans had been approved at a value of more than $315 billion, according to the Small Business Administration.
But congressional leaders and the Trump administration have failed to reach agreement on adding hundreds of billions of dollars to replenish the program, hamstrung by a dispute over whether to carry out sweeping changes to how it allocates loans to businesses across the country.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Jovita Carranza, the head of the Small Business Administration, urged Congress to approve additional funds, as the demand “underscores the need for hardworking Americans to have access to relief as soon as possible.”
The desperate situation reflects the fitful nature of the government’s efforts to put into effect the hulking stimulus plan, a measure that was hastily negotiated by Congress and the administration as both faced intense pressure to respond to an extraordinary public health and economic catastrophe. Economists warned at the time that the package allocated too little for small businesses and ran the risk of steering too much of that money away from companies that needed it the most.
Some business leaders had no idea they were included in President Trump’s “Opening Our Country Council” until they heard that their names had been read in the Rose Garden on Tuesday night. Some of those who had agreed to help said they received little information on what, exactly, they were signing up for. And others who were willing to connect with the White House could not participate in hastily organized conference calls on Wednesday because of scheduling conflicts and technical difficulties.
In short, the rollout of the council was as confusing as the process of getting there. Instead of a formal panel, what Mr. Trump announced on Tuesday was a watered-down version that included 17 separate industry groups, including hospitality, banking, energy and “thought leaders.” And on Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers received emails inviting them to join yet another task force.
The president participated in four calls with those groups during the day at the same time that White House officials were playing down their significance. They said the goal was simply to begin a dialogue about the economy after the pandemic recedes, but the confusion was the latest example of the difficulty the administration has encountered in its attempts to enlist support from the private sector to bolster the president’s claim that he has the power to reopen the economy, even as governors have made it clear that they will make those decisions themselves.
After the first positive coronavirus test at a Virginia nursing home in mid-March, its administrator said, the staff restricted visitors, conducted temperature checks at the end of every worker’s shift and isolated residents who had tested positive into separate areas.
Even so, there suddenly was another case. Within two weeks, dozens of others inside were falling ill. Now, about a month after the first case, at least 46 residents are dead — more than a quarter of the facility’s population and one of the highest known death tolls in the United States.
The facility’s medical director, Dr. Jim Wright, said he had asked the state health department how to test a suspected case before the outbreak began. But even as the situation grew dire, it took almost two weeks for all the facility’s residents to be tested for the coronavirus. Virginia had only about 300 test kits available in mid-March.
“You can’t fight what you can’t see,” Dr. Wright said.
Virginia had only about 300 test kits available in mid-March, said Dr. Danny Avula, the Richmond health director, and to get one at the time, residents of long-term care facilities first needed to test negative for the flu and other respiratory viruses.
“We could have limited the spread in Canterbury had we been able to test more,” he said.
The lack of widespread testing and the difficulty in retaining staff members were additional challenges for the nursing home, where residents, who are older and therefore more vulnerable to the coronavirus, live in close quarters.
The New York Times has tracked hundreds of clusters of coronavirus cases across the country, and the 10 deadliest have been in nursing homes and long-term care centers. More than 21,000 residents and staff members at nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities have contracted the virus, and more than 3,800 have died.
Breaking leases, paying rent and other housing questions answered.
Whether you’ve moved back with your parents, or simply to a different space to ride out the pandemic, do you have any options if you want to break your lease? Or are you looking for your next house and considering a life-changing purchase during these strange times? We have the answers you need.
Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s eldest daughter and a senior White House adviser, has positioned herself as one of the leaders of the administration’s economic relief efforts and one of its most vocal advocates of social distancing.
“Those lucky enough to be in a position to stay at home, please, please do so,” Ms. Trump said in a video she posted online, encouraging Americans to follow federal guidelines about social distancing, which advise people stay at least six feet apart. “Each and every one of us plays a role in slowing the spread,” she noted.
But Ms. Trump herself has not followed the federal guidelines advising against discretionary travel, leaving Washington for another of her family’s homes, even as she has publicly thanked people for quarantining themselves. And effective April 1, the city of Washington issued a stay-at-home order for all residents not performing essential activities.
Ms. Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also a senior White House adviser, traveled with their three children to the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey to celebrate the first night of Passover this month, according to two people with knowledge of their travel plans, even as Seders across the country were canceled and families gathered remotely over apps like Zoom.
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Reporting was contributed by Donald G. McNeil Jr., Richard Pérez-Peña, Ellen Barry, Marc Santora, Jim Tankersley, Emily Cochrane, Emily Flitter, Matt Stevens, Karen Barrow, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Caitlin Dickerson, David Gelles, Abby Goodnough, Neil Irwin, Danielle Ivory, Miriam Jordan, Sheila Kaplan, Annie Karni, Kate Kelly, Simon Romero and Katie Thomas.