Georgia, Alaska and Oklahoma are beginning the reopening process. But even under the most optimistic estimates, it will be months, and possibly years, before Americans again crowd into bars and squeeze onto subway cars as they once did.
Because the restart will be gradual, with certain places and industries opening earlier than others, it will by definition be complicated. The American economy is a complex web of supply chains whose dynamics do not necessarily align neatly with epidemiologists’ recommendations.
“It’s going to take much longer to thaw the economy than it took to freeze it,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton.
The relaxed rules, coming as the nation nears a sobering 50,000 deaths from the virus, varied. Alaska allowed limited in-store shopping at retail stores. Oklahoma reopened its state parks. South Carolina, which was in front of the rest of the country in its effort to draw residents out of their homes, once again allowed access to public beaches. And Georgia officials recommended that salon owners perform temperature checks at their entrances.
Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa said that she would allow farmers’ markets to reopen and let doctors perform nonessential surgeries beginning on Monday.
In Kennesaw, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, a sprawling bowling alley and arcade have reopened — but only with special hours.
As things got back under way, all the games were lit up and the prize counter was staffed, but no one was playing. Only a couple of the lanes were being used.
Still, a crowd assembled outside, drawn by their curiosity. “I’m just out here being nosy, basically,” said Corrine Smith, a paraprofessional who works with students with special needs. She sat in her car in the parking lot, watching as a few people trickled in.
She had little patience with the people who were flouting the rules because they were weary of being cooped up. “You have the doctors, the researchers that are out there trying to put out the right information to make the right decisions,” she said, but she said others were motivated less by public safety than by economic concerns. “It’s a lot of red tape they have to jump through and go around to make this money, but is it really worth it?”
Nori Wittenzellner and Hollie Shepard posed for selfies in front of the bowling alley, wearing their masks. “Because it’s so ridiculous!” Ms. Wittenzellner said. “You cough on your hand, you stick your hand in the finger holes on the ball and you touch your face,” she said.
Ms. Shepard said she understood the urge to reopen businesses. “The economy is taking a dive,” she said. Still, she added, “I think it’s too early.”
“There are some things I don’t need to do,” she, “and this is one of them.”
They said they had stopped by the bowling alley to see what was happening, while out running other errands. “We went to the liquor store,” Ms. Wittenzellner said, laughing. “That is essential.”
In Maryland, so many callers flooded a health hotline with questions that the state’s Emergency Management Agency had to issue a warning that “under no circumstances” should any disinfectant be taken to treat the coronavirus. In Washington State, officials urged people not to consume laundry detergent capsules. Across the country on Friday, health professionals sounded the alarm.
Even the makers of Clorox and Lysol pleaded with Americans not to inject or ingest their products.
The frantic reaction was prompted by President Trump’s suggestion on Thursday that an “injection inside” the human body with a disinfectant like bleach or isopropyl alcohol could help combat the virus.
Last month, the president used the White House telecast to promote two antimalarial drugs — chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — in the fight against the coronavirus, which Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, would days later say were not proven as effective against the virus. First-time prescriptions soared to more than 46 times the rate of the average weekday after that briefing, according to an analysis of prescription data by The New York Times.
While medical experts have since stepped up warnings about the drugs’ possibly dangerous side effects, they were still being prescribed at more than six times the normal rate during the second week of April, the analysis shows. All the while, Mr. Trump continued to extol their use. “It’s having some very good results, I’ll tell you,” he said at a White House briefing on April 13.
As American fatalities from the virus stand at more than 45,000 and global deaths were climbing toward 200,000, the response to Mr. Trump’s remarks reflects, at least in part, the outsize reach of the Trump megaphone, even when his pronouncements distort scientific evidence or run counter to the recommendations of experts in his own administration. It also offers the clearest evidence yet of the perils of a president willing to push unproven and potentially dangerous remedies to a public desperate for relief from the pandemic.
The worsening economy and a cascade of ominous public and private polling have Republicans increasingly nervous that they are at risk of losing the presidency and the Senate, and some in the party fear that Mr. Trump’s single best advantage as an incumbent — his access to the bully pulpit — has effectively become a platform for self-sabotage.
The new White House press secretary said in a statement that the news media had acted “irresponsibly” in its coverage of the president’s most recent remarks about disinfectant and bleach. But by then even some of the president’s usual allies in conservative media were sounding the alarm, and Mr. Trump later undermined his press secretary’s argument by insisting that his question had been an elaborate prank that he had engineered to trick reporters.
“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Mr. Trump said on Friday to journalists gathered in the Oval Office.
There is a growing list of detailed plans for how the federal government can bring the United States economy safely out of lockdown and back on a path to normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Congress is not following any of them.
Danielle Allen, the director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, said Congress had fallen well short of the $50 billion to $300 billion that her group said would be needed to fund 20 million tests a day — the amount her organization said would be required to “fully remobilize the economy” by August.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer envisions an even higher number: He wants the country to be able to test every American for the virus once every two weeks, which works out to 25 million tests per day. He has called for $100 billion to begin building that capacity, four times what was in the latest aid package that President Trump signed on Friday.
“No one is talking about the number I’m talking about,” Mr. Romer said. “This is a case of, the more the better. We should take anything we can get, in terms of tests.”
If the government is unable to scale up testing to the degree that experts are calling for, economists warn there is a good chance unemployment will remain high and thousands of businesses stay at risk of failing.
Yet as the Congressional Budget Office on Friday released a set of dire economic forecasts, Republicans and Democrats who have previously agreed on a series of ever-larger taxpayer-financed spending packages were already clashing over the scope and timing of the next aid package — particularly whether it should contain relief for state and local governments. No action was expected until May.
“There are no laws of physics that have to be overcome to do what we need to do,” Ms. Allen said. “There are laws of politics that have to be overcome.”
When college campuses shut down around the country, many students moved back in with their parents, bemoaning the loss of independence, social connections and academic networking that are so much a part of the college experience.
But for many of the estimated one million international students attending college in the United States, the situation was much more drastic.
A lot of them came from well-off families who could secure temporary accommodations for them, or fly them home.
But others got here after their families saved, borrowed and sacrificed to pay their tuition and board, which typically is set at top-dollar rates and is an important cash-earner for colleges. For those students, continuing their college careers has become a big “if.”
The few temporary dorms set up by universities can cost more than what they were paying before. Many are couch surfing with friends, and hitting up food banks to eat. Some flew home, though their ability to return, amid visa restrictions and flight bans, is open to question.
One student started getting up at 3 a.m. to continue her linear algebra class online from Tanzania, with a seven-hour time difference.
“My world is shattering,” said Elina Mariutsa, a Russian student studying international affairs and political science at Northeastern University.
Americans abroad have their own dilemma.
Those who had assumed they could stay overseas, and wait for the pandemic to ebb, now face an unnerving choice: Either stick it out, and prepare for the possibility they will be infected with the virus and treated in foreign hospitals, or chance catching it on the way back home.
There are still at least 17,000 American citizens or legal residents abroad who have indicated they need help and, at this point, the State Department is urging them to take any available flights out.
“You can come back to the United States where you are a citizen and you have access to health care and you have access to an infrastructure that is still intact,” said Dr. William Walters, the State Department’s deputy chief medical officer.
But by hunkering down, in developing countries in particular, where the virus has yet to peak, “you will be an American citizen in a foreign country that didn’t have great infrastructure to begin with,” he said. “And now you have less rights and less access to less infrastructure.”
Scientists in the United States and abroad are cautioning leaders against overreliance on coronavirus antibody tests, even as the tests have come to be seen as an essential tool for getting workers back to their jobs.
The World Health Organization warned against using antibody tests as a basis for issuing “immunity passports” to allow people to travel or return to work. Countries like Italy and Chile have proposed the permits as a way to clear people who have recovered from the virus to return to work.
Laboratory tests that detect antibodies to the coronavirus “need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability,” the global agency said in a statement on Friday. Inaccurate tests may falsely label people who have been infected as negative, or may falsely label people who have not been infected as positive, it noted.
More than 50 scientists studying the 14 coronavirus antibody tests currently on the market also uncovered troubling shortcomings. Only three of the 14 tests they researched delivered consistently reliable results. And even the best had flaws.
Only one of the tests delivered no false positives — and just two others did well 99 percent of the time. But even those three fell short in detecting antibodies in infected people.
The false-positive metric is particularly crucial, because people who are told they have antibodies may believe themselves immune to the virus when they are not. Four of the tests produced false-positive rates ranging from 11 to 16 percent, and many of the rest hovered around 5 percent.
“Those numbers are just unacceptable,” said Scott Hensley, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
“If your kit has 14 percent false positive,” he added, “it’s useless.”
Lower-income households were hit hard and many unemployed people will not receive benefits, Pew finds.
The move in some states to reopen the economy has intensified the dilemma faced by many low-income Americans as they weigh the financial needs of their families against the dangers of contracting the virus on the job, according to civil rights activists and survey data released this week.
A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on minorities and lower-income families: More than half of lower-income adults have had someone in their household lose their job, or seen their pay cut. Among Hispanic adults surveyed, that figure climbs to over 60 percent. More than half of lower-income respondents also said they would struggle to pay their bills this month, the survey found.
The rules vary widely by state, according to the analysis. In March, just over 65 percent of unemployed residents of Massachusetts received benefit payments; in Florida, which has been struggling with an unemployment website that Gov. Ron DeSantis calls “a jalopy,” about 8 percent of jobless residents received the aid. (That number has since gone up slightly.)
But as some states start to reopen businesses and revive their economies, researchers have found that many of the jobs that are restored are lower-income positions. That raises a set of challenges for workers: Heightened odds of coming in contact with the virus, while also having limited access to health care compared with other economic groups.
“We know people rely on these jobs,” said Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, who is part of the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative. She notes that, in many places, “folks are subject to lose these jobs at the drop of a hat.”
“One of the things that concerns us greatly,” she added, “is this rush for going back to work is built on a premise that our workers and our people are replaceable.”
Experts said it was critical for more widespread testing to be conducted in order to help protect these workers. “Otherwise, we are sending our people into a roaring furnace to get burned up,” said Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, a professor of community health and preventive medicine at the Morehouse School of Medicine. “Our people are not disposable.”
Americans confront obstacles, and surprises, in claiming stimulus payments.
The introduction of economic stimulus payments over the past several weeks has brought mixed results and some confusion as the government has struggled to get cash into the hands of some 150 million eligible recipients.
While tens of millions of Americans received payments quickly through direct deposit last week, many others have been offered little information about when their payments might arrive, or have battled identity theft or seizures of their payments by their banks.
The payments have also become a political device, as President Trump has sought to associate the payments with his leadership.
Several people whose payments were approved for direct deposit this month have reported receiving letters from the Treasury Department with a signed statement from the president about the White House’s efforts to address the coronavirus crisis.
“As we wage total war on this invisible enemy, we are also working around the clock to protect hardworking Americans like you from the consequences of the economic shutdown,” one letter said.
Regardless of how their payments arrive, more Americans may experience additional delays in the weeks ahead because of systemic disconnects between the Internal Revenue Service and the sprawling tax preparation industry, according to a report in ProPublica.
The disease caused by the coronavirus has killed more than 10,500 residents and staff members at nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide, according to a New York Times analysis. That is nearly a quarter of deaths in the United States from the pandemic.
But states including California, New Jersey and New York are increasingly turning to nursing homes to relieve the burden on hospitals and take in Covid-19 patients considered stable enough to be released.
Although there is no evidence so far that the practice has allowed infections to spread in nursing homes, many residents and advocates fear that it is only a matter of time. One lawsuit in New Jersey alleges that a worker was likely to have been sickened by a Covid-19 patient readmitted from a hospital.
In New York, the epicenter of the outbreak, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo described nursing homes on Saturday as a “feeding frenzy for this virus.” But the state issued a strict new rule last month: Nursing homes must readmit residents sent to hospitals with the coronavirus and accept new patients as long as they are deemed “medically stable.”
Homes can turn patients away if they claim they can’t care for them safely — but administrators say they worry that could provoke regulatory scrutiny.
In contrast to these states, Connecticut and Massachusetts designated certain facilities for Covid-19 patients alone — considered the safest way to free up hospital beds. The Washington Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities in Washington State, has asked officials to adopt a similar policy. So far, they have not.
“It’s got to happen,” said Robin Dale, the association’s president. “Then we would not have this hodgepodge of every nursing home in the state having one or two positives and crossing your fingers that it works out.”
With the coronavirus outbreak freezing public life, the prospective Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., has been forced to adapt to a cloistered mode of campaigning never before seen in modern American politics.
For the most part, Mr. Biden is seeking to run a campaign based on something like digital-age fireside chats, offering himself as a calmly authoritative figure rather than a brawler like his opponent.
He does not make a habit of watching the president’s briefings in full; he is said to be fixated mainly on the eventual challenge — if he wins — of governing amid a pandemic.
But he has lamented being deprived of human contact, and he has expressed exasperation with media coverage critiquing his limited visibility compared with President Trump’s daily performances in the White House briefing room.
In normal times, Hussam Ghazzi would usually celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan with friends in New York City. But this year, he is observing the holiday alone in his Manhattan apartment, where he has been holed up for the past five weeks during the coronavirus pandemic.
The isolation has taken an emotional toll on Mr. Ghazzi, 35, but he found some solace on Friday night when he logged on to a friend’s virtual Iftar, the breaking of the fast at sunset, not long after city residents clapped en masse to thank health care workers.
“Even though we were in different time zones, it gave us an opportunity to all be together,” he said.
Like so many other facets of everyday life, the coronavirus pandemic has upended the rituals and traditions of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. With mosques closed, imams reading the Quran online, and families practicing social distancing at home, the holiday, which began on Thursday night, is looking profoundly different across the globe.
Across the United States, Ramadan has been met with innovation and generosity at a time when many are struggling with loneliness, economic hardship and the loss of loved ones. Some Muslim organizations and mosques are organizing drive-through fast-breaking meal delivery programs. Many members of the faith who work as front-line health care workers are fasting while tending to the sick and dying.
Even during outbreaks that have taken a steep toll on municipal life, cities with large Muslim populations are stepping up to help the faithful observe the holiday during lockdowns. The mayor of Minneapolis issued a noise permit to allow the call to prayer to be publicly broadcast five times a day, a historic first for an American city.
New York City, home to 22 percent of the American Muslim population, will distribute more than 500,000 halal meals during the holy month. “One of Ramadan’s most noble callings is to feed the hungry,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a news conference on Thursday. “It’s a crucial part of how the holiday is celebrated, to remember to be there for those in need, and that is now harder than ever.”
Pass the time this weekend in a different way.
If you are in need of inspiration for some games to play with your friends or family this weekend, here are some tried-and-true classics, a few new video game finds, and several tips on analog favorites.
Reporting was contributed by Vikas Bajaj, Karen Barrow, Alexander Burns, Ben Casselman, Emily Cochrane, Caitlin Dickerson, Richard Fausset, Ellen Gabler, Shane Goldmacher, Katie Glueck, Michael M. Grynbaum, Maggie Haberman, Christine Hauser, Lara Jakes, Dan Levin, Apoorva Mandavilli, Jonathan Martin, Zach Montague, Kwame Opam, Katie Rogers, Rick Rojas, Katharine Q. Seelye, Jim Tankersley and Alan Yuhas.