Coronavirus Live Updates: Testing Is Biggest Obstacle to Reopening States, Experts Say

The Four Percent


As Trump pushes to reopen the U.S., experts bemoan a lack of testing.

As President Trump pushes to reopen the economy, most of the country is not conducting nearly enough testing to track the path and penetration of the coronavirus in a way that would allow Americans to safely return to work, public health officials and political leaders say.

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.

Concerns intensified on Wednesday as Senate Democrats released a $30 billion plan for building up what they called “fast, free testing in every community,” saying they would push to include it in the next pandemic relief package. Business leaders, who participated in the first conference call of Mr. Trump’s advisory council on restarting the economy, warned that it would not rebound until people felt safe to re-emerge, which would require more screening.

In his daily briefing, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York reiterated his call for federal assistance to ramp up testing, both for the virus and for antibodies. Hours later, Mr. Trump boasted at his own briefing of having “the most expansive testing system anywhere in the world” and said that some states could even reopen before May 1, the date his task force had tentatively set.

From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, lapses by the federal government have compromised efforts to detect the pathogen in patients and communities. A diagnostic test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proved to be flawed. The F.D.A. failed to speed approval for commercial labs to make tests widely available. All of that meant that the United States has been far behind in combating the virus.

Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, offered a road map on Wednesday on which states could be the first to ease stay-at-home orders and reopen businesses — a target date that President Trump said could be before May 1.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Wednesday that he would order people statewide to don facial coverings while in public if they were unable to stay six feet away from others. The measure will take effect on Saturday.

“If you’re going to be in public and you cannot maintain social distancing, then have a mask and put the mask on,” said Mr. Cuomo, who held out the possibility of civil penalties for violations.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a statement on Wednesday that all subway riders in New York City would be required to wear face coverings when using public transit beginning Friday.

Protesters have taken to the streets in several states to urge governors to reopen businesses and relax rules that health officials have said are necessary to save lives.

In Lansing, Mich., on Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators honked from their cars and some waved flags on the State Capitol grounds at a protest called “Operation Gridlock.” In Frankfort, Ky., dozens of people shouted through a Capitol building window as Gov. Andy Beshear held a virus briefing. And in Raleigh, N.C., a woman was arrested for violating the governor’s stay-at-home order at a protest that drew at least 100 people on Tuesday, The News & Observer reported.

More protests are planned in other states, including Texas, Oregon and Washington, as the economic and health effects of the coronavirus continue to worsen, with more than 28,000 people dead and at least 16 million out of work. The demonstrations are a sign that despite the rising death toll and pleas of public health experts, some workers are growing agitated about lost wages, emergency orders and the tightening restrictions that governors have placed on their movements.

“You have to disobey,” Wayne Hoffman, the president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit group that pushes for smaller government, said after the state’s governor announced that he was extending a stay-at-home order until the end of April. He encouraged people to attend a rally on Friday at the State Capitol.

At the Michigan protest, which drew the largest crowd yet, the sound of car horns filled the air and signs proclaimed “Live Free or Die,” “Make Michigan Work Again” and “We Deem Our Governor Non-Essential.”

Tyler Miller, 39, an engineering technician in Bremerton, Wash., said he hoped to emulate the success of the Michigan rally next week, when he has planned a protest at Washington’s statehouse.

“I want people to be as safe as possible,” he said, “but I also want their liberties to be respected in the process.”

Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, an initiative created by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law to help small businesses weather the crisis, could run out as early as Wednesday night, amid a standoff in Congress over replenishing it.

“The cost of continued Democratic obstruction will be pink slips and shuttered businesses,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, the minority leader, said in a joint statement.

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 enact sweeping changes to how it allocates loans to businesses across the country.

Democrats support additional spending but have insisted on attaching new restrictions to ensure the money flows to minority-owned businesses and other companies that are traditionally disadvantaged in the lending market.

The small-business loan program — which enjoys broad bipartisan support — was among the first to be unveiled, but its introduction has been plagued with problems even as businesses have inundated banks with requests for a piece of the money.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and aides to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Speaker Nancy Pelosi conferred later in the day and were expected to continue discussions on Thursday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said on Wednesday that the state would extend aid to undocumented workers, many of whom harvest the fruits and vegetables Americans eat, care for the sick and build homes, but who have been unable to get federal relief during the pandemic.

“Ten percent of California’s work force is undocumented,” he said. “And many mixed-status families are having a hard time taking care of their own children.”

Undocumented workers, the governor noted, paid more than $2.5 billion in local and state taxes last year and are “quite literally putting themselves on the line” in the pandemic, since they are overrepresented in industries that have been deemed essential, such as food service, health care, construction, agriculture and logistics.

Mr. Newsom said that $75 million would come from the state’s disaster relief fund, and that a network of philanthropic organizations had committed to raise another $50 million.

In a news release, Mr. Newsom’s office said about 150,000 undocumented Californians would receive a one-time cash benefit of $500 per adult, with a household cap of $1,000, to address any needs related to the pandemic.

Trump loyalist joins the Department of Health and Human Services.

Michael R. Caputo, an adviser to President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign who made a brief appearance in the report by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, has joined the senior ranks of the Department of Health and Human Services as officials grapple with the response to the coronavirus.

Mr. Caputo put his new position on his Twitter bio late Wednesday. “Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Public Affairs and blessed to be here,” it read. White House officials confirmed that Mr. Caputo has taken the role, which was first reported by Politico.

Mr. Caputo, a Trump loyalist, is being brought in at a time when White House officials are exasperated about recent coverage of the administration’s failures in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Mr. Trump has in recent months lost confidence in the health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, and had been among those in the White House who viewed Mr. Azar as an “alarmist” for his warnings about the coronavirus.

White House officials also have blamed Mr. Azar for the early failures of the coronavirus task force, which was riven by infighting and did not include the head of the Food and Drug Administration or the head of Medicaid and Medicare services, Seema Verma, with whom Mr. Trump has a strong relationship but with whom Mr. Azar has been in a yearlong power struggle.

Known in his native New York as an able communications adviser, Mr. Caputo is also a rhetorical knife-fighter who often enters into battle for his boss of the moment.

Trump threatens to adjourn Congress to install nominees. McConnell says it won’t happen.

President Trump, furious over government vacancies he said were hindering his administration’s coronavirus response, threatened on Wednesday to invoke a never-before-used presidential power to adjourn Congress so he could fill the positions temporarily himself.

The top Senate Republican quickly let it be known that would not happen.

Days after insisting he had “total” authority to supersede governors’ decisions about whether to reopen their states, Mr. Trump floated the unprecedented step during a White House news conference as he lashed out at Democrats for opposing his nominees. He demanded that Republican leaders immediately call the Senate back into session to confirm them, or take a recess for an extended period of time so he could install stopgap appointees without a vote, a practice known as a recess appointment.

The House and Senate have both taken extended recesses amid the pandemic, convening at least every few days for so-called pro forma sessions — brief meetings that last mere minutes and require the presence of only one lawmaker — to keep their chambers technically in session even though they are not doing business. The maneuver is routine in the Senate to prevent presidents from making recess appointments, which they can do if the Senate is in recess for 10 days or more.

“The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro forma sessions is a dereliction of duty the American people can’t afford during this crisis,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday. “They have been warned.”

Even if successful, Mr. Trump’s actions would likely prompt a challenge in the courts. “There’s a reason why this power has *never* been exercised before,” Stephen I. Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas, wrote on Twitter.

A South Dakota pork plant is now the biggest new, single-source coronavirus hot spot in the country. At least 640 cases have been linked to the Smithfield Foods facility in Sioux Falls, making up some 44 percent of diagnoses in the entire state. One worker has died.

Millions of high school students across the country will be able to take at-home, digital versions of the SAT and ACT, the widely used standardized tests for college admissions, if the pandemic forces schools to remain closed in the fall.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, gave few details in an announcement on Wednesday about what the at-home test would look like or how it would differ from the traditional test, which is normally taken on paper in a highly secure setting under the watchful eyes of proctors.

The College Board has already announced that it will administer Advanced Placement tests at home in May because of the virus, which forced the cancellation of SAT testing dates this spring, including into June. The A.P. tests — a kind of dress rehearsal for the fall — will be open book and truncated to 45 minutes from about three hours. The College Board’s counterpart, the ACT, said Wednesday that it also would offer an at-home option.

The proposal for at-home testing is an implicit admission that the pandemic is threatening the industry’s test delivery and business model. Over the last month, a growing number of colleges have announced that they will suspend the requirement for applicants to submit standardized test results because of the disruption caused by the virus, accelerating a trend that was already taking place.

Standardized tests have been widely criticized for exacerbating economic inequality. Critics say they penalize children from poor families who have less access to practice tests, preparation materials and tutors to help raise their scores — and that at-home options would make accessibility worse.

Mr. Trump’s decision to attack the W.H.O., a unit of the United Nations, comes as he is under intense fire at home for his administration’s failure to respond aggressively to the virus, which as of Wednesday had claimed more than 25,000 lives in the United States and infected at least 600,000 people. There are cases in all 50 states.

The director general of the organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday expressed dismay that Mr. Trump was calling to halt funding as the W.H.O. fights the pandemic.

“W.H.O. is not only fighting Covid-19,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said. “We’re also working to address polio, measles, malaria, Ebola, H.I.V., tuberculosis, malnutrition, cancer, diabetes, mental health and many other diseases and conditions.”

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, praised the organization on Wednesday in tones at odds with the president’s harsh criticism. He told “CBS This Morning” that questions about the W.H.O.’s pandemic response should be left until “after we get through this.”

The president’s decision came amid concerns about the W.H.O.’s approach to China. Inside the West Wing, officials said, there was near-unanimous agreement among the president’s advisers that the W.H.O. was heavily influenced by the Chinese government and too slow to sound the alarm because it trusted China’s assurances that the virus was under control and did not pose a global threat.

That belief has been amplified by some of the president’s top allies in Congress and the right-wing news media.

What happens to retail matters to the broader economy. The sector accounts for more than one in 10 U.S. jobs; only health care employs more. Its stores generate billions of dollars in rent for commercial landlords, ad sales for local media outlets, and sales-tax receipts for state and local governments.

If retailers survive and can quickly reopen and rehire workers, then the eventual economic recovery could be relatively swift. But the failure of a large share of businesses would lead to prolonged unemployment and a much slower rebound.

Facing the news about the plunge in retail and a slump in factory output, stocks tumbled on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 closing down more than 2 percent. Stocks in Europe were also lower, and Asia had a downbeat day.

If your family is breaking down, we can help.

There’s only so much togetherness anyone needs, and after a month of living together, your family most likely has had its share of rocky moments. We have some advice for problems such as navigating your stuck-together relationship and handling cooped-up children.

Reporting was contributed by Tim Arango, Mike Baker, Karen Barrow, Alan Blinder, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Ben Casselman, Kenneth Chang, Emily Cochrane, Helene Cooper, Michael Cooper, Jill Cowan, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Jesse Drucker, Catie Edmondson, John Eligon, Nicholas Fandos, Manny Fernandez, Sheri Fink, Emily Flitter, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Abby Goodnough, James Gorman, Maggie Haberman, Anemona Hartocollis, Adeel Hassan, Sheila Kaplan, Annie Karni, Kate Kelly, Sapna Maheshwari, Aimee Ortiz, Roni Rabin, Alan Rappeport, William K. Rashbaum, Michael Rothfeld, Marc Santora, Eric Schmitt, Michael D. Shear, Knvul Sheikh, Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley, Sabrina Tavernise, Katie Thomas and Neil Vigdor.


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