Top Health Experts Paint Bleak Picture of Pandemic
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Health experts warn of dangers of reopening the country too soon.
Two of the federal government’s top health officials painted a grim picture of the months ahead on Tuesday, warning a Senate committee that the coronavirus pandemic was far from contained, just a day after President Trump declared that “we have met the moment and we have prevailed.”
The officials — Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — predicted dire consequences if the nation reopened its economy too soon, noting that the United States still lacked critical testing capacity and the ability to trace the contacts of those infected.
If economic interests were allowed to override public health concerns, Dr. Fauci warned, “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.” That could result not only in “some suffering and death that could be avoided,” he said, “but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery.”
Dr. Fauci’s remarks, along with those of Dr. Redfield, contradicted Mr. Trump’s growing insistence that the nation has put the coronavirus behind it.
The comments appeared to rattle the markets, driving the S&P 500 down as investors weighed the potential of a second wave of infections against Mr. Trump’s promises that the economy would bounce back once stay-at-home restrictions were lifted. Worrisome reports of spikes in infections in countries like China, South Korea and Germany, where lockdowns had been lifted, seemed to confirm the American officials’ fears.
Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, who like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield is in quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus, presided as the committee’s chairman from his home in Maryville, Tenn.
It seemed that managing risk was the order of the day. Dr. Fauci told senators that coronavirus therapeutics and a vaccine would almost certainly not be ready in time for the new school year, and that outbreaks in other parts of the world would surely reach the United States. Dr. Redfield pleaded with senators to build up the nation’s public health infrastructure.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said.
Cal State will not hold in-person classes this fall.
In the most sweeping sign yet of the effect of the pandemic on American higher education, the chancellor of California State University, the nation’s largest four-year public university system, said on Tuesday that classes at its 23 campuses would be canceled for the fall semester, with instruction taking place almost exclusively online.
Most of the nation’s colleges and universities have gone out of their way to say that they intend to reopen with in-person classes in the fall. But they are also making backup plans for online classes, and some could announce in the weeks to come that they are following Cal State’s lead.
Addressing a meeting of the system’s board of trustees, the chancellor, Timothy P. White, allowed for the possibility of exceptions. If health and safety precautions permit, clinical classes in the nursing program could be held in person, he said, as could certain science labs and other essential instruction.
But for most undergraduate students enrolled at the Cal States, as they are known, classes will continue virtually, as they have since campuses closed.
“Our university, when open without restrictions and fully in person, as is the traditional norm of the past, is a place where over 500,000 people come together in close and vibrant proximity with each other on a daily basis,” Mr. White said. “That approach, sadly, just isn’t in the cards now.”
As California has slowly started to reopen, the state has achieved relatively low infection rates and a milestone of one million tests despite previously sluggish efforts. But infections and deaths have stabilized at a steady rate. In Los Angeles County, stay-at-home orders in some form will continue for another three months, the public health director said on Tuesday.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has been keeping a tally of colleges’ plans. Only a handful have said they are leaning toward online-only classes, including Wayne State University in Detroit, a virus hot spot, and Sierra College in California.
A few say they are planning a hybrid model, and a vast majority say they are planning for in-person classes. Brown University’s president, Christina Paxson, said in a New York Times Op-Ed last month that reopening campuses this fall “should be a national priority.”
Testing, vaccines and delayed guidance: highlights from Tuesday’s Senate testimony.
The senators and witnesses who participated in Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions did so from dens, offices and a mostly empty committee room. But while their homes — and even their dogs — created an unusual backdrop for the proceedings, the hearing produced the customary array of partisan talking points, dire warnings and even the occasional flash of anger.
TESTING The committee chairman, Lamar Alexander, described a future vaccine or treatment as the “ultimate solution,” but he said “until we have them, all roads back to work and school go through testing.”
Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, who is overseeing the government’s testing response, testified that the country would have the ability to conduct 40 million to 50 million tests per month by September.
But his remarks drew skepticism from Democratic senators, including Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who said, “Thisministration has had a record of bringing us broken promises that more supplies and testing are coming, and they don’t.”
VACCINES Scientists hope to know by late fall or early winter whether they have at least one possible effective vaccine, Dr. Fauci told the senators. But he cautioned, “Even at the top speed we’re going, we don’t see a vaccine playing in the ability of individuals to get back to school this term.”
Dr. Fauci emphasized the importance of having “multiple winners,” meaning more than one vaccine available, to provide “global availability.” He repeated his cautious optimism that an effective vaccine would be developed but said there was no guarantee that would happen.
SCHOOL REOPENINGS The closing of schools and universities has represented one of the biggest upheavals in the outbreak, and Dr. Fauci and others said that the answer might be that schools would reopen differently throughout the country, depending on the state of the local outbreak.
Balancing the decision of whether to keep schools closed for safety reasons or to reopen them to allow parents to return to work — a major factor in any economic recovery — is a difficult question.
“If we keep kids out of school for another year, what’s going to happen is the poor and underprivileged kids who don’t have a parent that’s able to teach them at home will not get to learn for a full year,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky.
Dr. Fauci pushed back, saying that the virus’s effect on children is still not well understood, and that recent cases of children who have tested positive and developed a serious inflammatory syndrome was worrisome. “We really better be very careful, particularly when it comes to children,” he said.
AUTHORITY Mr. Paul and Dr. Fauci had a tense exchange about whether children should return to school. The senator noted that the mortality rate in children was low and suggested that schools should be reopened by district. “As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end all,” Mr. Paul said. “I don’t think you’re the one person who gets to make the decision.”
Dr. Fauci gave a pointed response: “I have never made myself out to be the end all and only voice in this,” he said. “I’m a scientist, a physician and a public health official. I givevice on the best scientific evidence.”
Dr. Fauci warned that in making decisions about school openings, officials should not be “cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects” of Covid-19.
C.D.C. GUIDANCE Dr. Redfield said that an expansive new set of C.D.C. guidelines for states to reopen schools, businesses and religious institutions would be released “soon,” but he would not specify another White House effort to revise or scuttle them.
“Soon isn’t terribly helpful,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, replied in a heated exchange about whether his state, which has a stay-at-home order expiring in the next few days, would know how to properly reopen. Mr. Murphy said the guidelines that the White House released in April for opening the country were “criminally vague.”
More recently, White House and senior health officials rejected the C.D.C. recommendations over concerns that they were overly prescriptive, infringed on religious rights and risked further damaging the economy.
Even when New York reopens, workers may permanently stay home.
Manhattan has the largest business district in the country, and its office towers have long been a symbol of the city’s global dominance. With hundreds of thousands of office workers, the commercial tenants have given rise to a vast ecosystem, from public transit to restaurants to shops. They have also funneled huge amounts of taxes into state and city coffers.
But now, as the pandemic eases its grip, companies are considering not just how to safely bring back employees, but whether all of them need to come back at all. They were forced by the crisis to figure out how to function productively with workers operating from home — and realized unexpectedly that it was not all bad.
If that’s the case, they are now wondering whether it’s worth continuing to spend as much money on Manhattan’s exorbitant commercial rents. They are also mindful that public health considerations might make the packed workplaces of the recent past less viable.
“Is it really necessary?” said Diane M. Ramirez, the chief executive of Halstead, the real estate company, which has more than a thousand agents in the New York region. “I’m thinking long and hard about it. Looking forward, are people going to want to crowd into offices?”
Once the dust settles, and companies make their decisions, New York City could face a real estate reckoning.
California said her shop could reopen. Doing so on the fly wasn’t that simple.
Shutting down a business for a public health emergency seven weeks ago, it turned out, was a fairly straightforward thing. Reopening one? That has turned out to be a lot trickier.
Like thousands of other small business owners, Elizabeth Wardman had to reinvent her small California flower shop on the fly when, on the eve of Mother’s Day, the state loosened some of the restrictions that had forced her to close. She is hoping to reach enough customers to keep at least a tiny portion of her operation alive, but to do so she has had to navigate health rules that aren’t always easy to follow, and can feel more than a little arbitrary.
California may have allowed florists to reopen for Mother’s Day — but Alameda County, where Ms. Wardman’s shop is, did not. A grocery store across the street could sell flowers. Open-air garden centers, allowed by the county to reopen just days earlier, could sell flowers. But Ms. Wardman, with her tiny shop, still could not.
A flood of delivery orders came in, but by Wednesday she had to stop accepting them; the store had furloughed its employees and didn’t have enough people to do the work. For the rest of the week, the phone rang unanswered.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Ms. Wardman said. “Every time it rings, you’re missing somebody. You’re letting business go.”
Virus models are nearing a consensus, but reopening could throw them off again.
There is growing consensus among modelers estimating the number of cases and deaths from the virus in the next few weeks. But this convergence of estimates — 31,000 to 42,000ditional deaths through mid-June, for roughly 120,000 total deaths in the United States — comes as shifts in public policy are likely to create new uncertainty about the path of the pandemic after that.
Three weeks ago, predictions from five popular models were widely divergent. Now, their outputs look far more similar.
The researchers who created them say that they are getting better at understanding the dynamics of the pandemic as Americans largely shelter in place, and that improved knowledge could explain the growing consensus of the models. The near-term future of the pandemic is also a little easier to imagine, with deaths flattening instead of growing rapidly.
But politicians are starting to ease restrictions on public gatherings and business activities, which is likely to lead to changes in behavior and to increased transmission of the disease. By how much is still unclear.
Jack Dorsey tells Twitter employees they can work from home forever.
Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, told employees on Tuesday that they would not be expected to return to the company’s offices and could work from home forever if they wanted.
Twitter sent its employees home in early March to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, but Mr. Dorsey had previously said he wanted Twitter’s work force to be more diversified around the world and that he welcomed remote work.
Twitter will reopen its offices no sooner than September, said Jennifer Christie, a vice president of human resources.
“If our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen,” Ms. Christie wrote in a blog post. “If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with someditional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return.”
Maxine Waters says her sister died from Covid-19.
Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, said she recently lost a sister to Covid-19, framing it as a reminder of the lethal nature of the virus for African-Americans.
“It is one of the most painful things that I’ve ever had to experience in my life,” Ms. Waters said. “She had suffered. And so we are going through a very difficult time. It was not easy, but in many ways, I’m so glad she’s out of pain.”
Ms. Waters, who grew up in St. Louis and was the fifth of 13 children, raised largely by a single mother, did not elaborate on the name or age of her sister who died.
But in a speech last month on the House floor supporting the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, Ms. Waters said she was dedicating the legislation to her “dear sister who is dying in a hospital in St. Louis, Mo., right now infected by the coronavirus.”
Ms. Waters’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Ms. Waters, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, told theGrio that African-Americans had been acutely affected by the virus and warned that they needed to protect themselves.
People defying mask mandates have been arrested in some states.
Guidelines introduced by many states, cities and businesses mandating that store customers wear masks have led to violent confrontations across the country, with some customers who have refused to comply arrested in California, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
In Michigan, the authorities said one dispute over a mask escalated into a fatality, with three people charged in the killing of a security guard who was shot on May 1 after asking a customer to wear a mask at a Family Dollar store in Flint.
Some people say they oppose any mask order on ideological grounds as government overreach; some find the masks uncomfortable, and some just get angry.
In one of the latest episodes, two men were arrested on Monday after a melee at a Target in Van Nuys, Calif., that left one employee with a broken arm.
In some places, including Ohio and Stillwater, Okla., the level of threats and anger prompted officials to rescind their orders, even though the C.D.C. recommends wearing face coverings in many instances to help slow the spread of the virus.
Though some may bristle at the imposition of wearing a mask, confrontations driven by the concept of liberty are misguided, legal experts said, overlooking the fact that the guidelines are designed to protect the public.
“I never had a right to do something that could injure the health of my neighbors,” said Wendy Parmet, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University.
Recent flyovers by the Blue Angels to honor medical workers have drawn large crowds flouting social-distancing recommendations in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., causing the Navy to actively discourage Midwesterners from gathering to watch the spectacle over their skies on Tuesday.
The squad flew over Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis, where many residents seemed to take thatvice to heart, with social media filled with videos shot from backyards, apartments and parking lots. Still, there was some evidence of people clustering to stare at the skies.
Furloughed or laid-off immigrants could face deportation.
The lives of tens of thousands of foreign nationals on skilled-worker visas, such as H-1Bs, have been upended by the economic fallout of the pandemic. Many have been waiting in a backlog for several years to obtain permanent legal residency through their employer. Now, they face the prospect of swift deportation if they are furloughed or laid off from their jobs.
The Trumpministration is expected within the next few weeks to halt the issuance of new H-1Bs and the H-2B, the visa for seasonal employment. The new measures under review, according to two current and two former government immigration officials, would also eliminate a program that enables foreign graduates of American universities to remain in the country and work.
The tightening work rules come as unemployment in the U.S. soared last month to 14.7 percent, the highest level on record, and as calls escalated in Congress for Americans to be given priority for jobs.
“Given the extreme lack of available jobs for American job-seekers as portions of our economy begin to reopen, it defies common sense tomitditional foreign guest workers to compete for such limited employment,” a group of Republican senators said this week in a letter calling for a suspension of new visas to guest workers who have not yet entered the country.
For those already rooted in the U.S., the consequences of canceling the existing visas are “life-altering,” said Shev Dalal-Dheini, the director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “They have been thrown into limbo.”
Watch their story: 30 pastors in Georgia have united to keep their churches closed.
Albany, a city of 75,000 in southwest Georgia, emerged as a virus hot spot after a pair of funerals led to hundreds of cases. In response to a push by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, to reopen the state, pastors across Albany have united to keep their doors closed.
“We cannot go back to business as usual,” said Orson Burton, a pastor who lost members of his congregation, including his father-in-law. “These are not numbers, these are souls.”
Mr. Burton is on a mission to keep people at home, through door-to-door visits and online sermons. He has joined a coalition of about 30 pastors who have decided to keep their churches closed out of fears that they will be hit with a second wave of the virus.
Their effort is backed by the city’s elected leaders — who passed a resolution encouraging people to continue staying at home — and by doctors at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the only hospital in the Albany region.
“It could happen again in a heartbeat,” said Dr. James Black, the head of the emergency department at the hospital.
About 100 children in New York are believed to have a rare illness tied to the virus.
New York State health officials are investigating about 100 cases of a rare and dangerous inflammatory syndrome that afflicts children and appears to be connected to the virus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday.
More than half of the state’s pediatric inflammatory syndrome cases — 57 percent — involved children ages 5 to 14.
The dead included a 5-year-old boy who died last week in New York City, a 7-year-old boy and an 18-year-old girl, Mr. Cuomo said.
“This is a truly disturbing situation,” Mr. Cuomo said at his daily news briefing. “And I know parents around the state and around the country are very concerned about this, and they should be.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that 52 cases of the syndrome had been reported in New York City, with 10 potential cases also being evaluated.
The pediatric illness began to appear in the region in recent weeks, and doctors and researchers are investigating how and why it affects children. Connecticut reported its first cases on Monday. As of Tuesday, six children in the state were being treated for the ailment, officials said. As of Monday, health officials in New Jersey said they were investigating eight potential cases of the syndrome.
California’s community college system sues the Education Department over relief to undocumented students.
California’s system of community colleges has sued the Education Department, seeking to overturn guidelines issued by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that would deny virus relief to undocumented students, including those under federal protection who are known as Dreamers.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday, says that Ms. DeVos’s guidance about distributing more than $6 billion in emergency relief for students was in violation of the intent of Congress.
The guidance was issued by the department last month, after Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act to help Americans recoup financial damages caused by the pandemic.
The Education Department said that only students who were eligible for federal financial aid could share in the $6.25 billion pot — a restriction that effectively excludes more than half of the 1.5 million students enrolled in California’s 115 community colleges for the spring semester, said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the system’s chancellor.
Among them, Mr. Oakley said in a statement, are veterans, citizens who never completed a financial aid application, students who lacked high school diplomas and some 70,000 undocumented students.
House Democrats propose $3 trillion in new relief; Senate Republicans immediately reject it.
House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a $3 trillion pandemic relief measure, an ambitious package with aid for struggling states and another round of direct payments to Americans that Republicans instantly dismissed as an exorbitantly priced and overreaching response to the coronavirus crisis.
The proposal, which spanned 1,815 pages, wouldd a fifth installment to an already sweeping assistance effort from the federal government, although its cost totaled more than the four previous measures combined. And unlike those packages, which were the product of intense bipartisan negotiations among lawmakers andministration officials who agreed generally on the need for rapid and robust action, the House bill represents an opening gambit in what is likely to be a bracing fight over what is needed to counter the public health and economic tolls of the pandemic.
It included nearly $1 trillion for state, local and tribal governments and territories, an extension of unemployment benefits and another round of $1,200 direct payments to American families. The measure would also provide a $25 billion bailout for the Postal Service and $3.6 billion to bolster election security.
Senate Republicans immediately rejected the measure.
Stocks on Wall Street drift after a mixed day in global markets.
U.S. stocks were flat and global markets mixed on Tuesday as reports from China, South Korea and the United States offered sobering reminders to investors of how long and difficult the coronavirus recovery is likely to be.
The S&P 500 rose about half a percent in early trading before paring gains. European markets were broadly higher after a drop in the Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S. government also released fresh data on consumer prices that showed that the Labor Department’s index fell 0.8 percent in April, the largest monthly decline since December 2008. The index was weighed down by the collapse in oil prices as airlines canceled flights and drivers stayed home.
Oil prices rose slightly on Tuesday, after Saudi Arabia said it had instructed Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, to deepen production cuts to help with the world’s glut of crude. Brent, the international benchmark, was up about 1 percent to over $30 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. standard, was up more than 4 percent to a little over $25.60 a barrel.
How to bring a touch of the outside into your home.
There is always room for a little bit of nature indoors, no matter how small your space is. And if all else fails, opt for some fake plants. Here are some tips if you want tod a splash of green to your surroundings.
Follow updates from our international correspondents.
Officials in Wuhan, China — where the virus emerged last year — ordered that all residents be tested after six new cases were found.
Reporting was contributed by Tim Arango, Alan Blinder, Quoctrung Bui, Nicholas Casey, Catie Edmondson, Thomas Fuller, Michael Gold, Maggie Haberman, Anemona Hartocollis, Shawn Hubler, Miriam Jordan, Sheila Kaplan, Annie Karni, Josh Katz, Neil MacFarquhar, Alicia Parlapiano, Michael Paulson, Robin Pogrebin, Linda Qiu, Alan Rappeport, Margot Sanger-Katz, Marc Santora, Noam Scheiber, Michael D. Shear, Liam Stack, Matt Stevens, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Katie Thomas, Neil Vigdor, David Waldstein and Noah Weiland.