Death Toll Climbs in California; House Passes Aid Package

The Four Percent


The House on Thursday gave resounding approval to a $484 billion coronavirus relief package to restart a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing, and moved to increase oversight of the sprawling federal response to the pandemic.

President Trump said he was “grateful” for the action to refill the loan program and indicated he would sign the measure. It was the latest installment in a government aid program that is approaching $3 trillion, which passed with broad bipartisan support even as some Democrats condemned it for being too stingy. But the fight over what should be included foreshadowed a pitched partisan battle to come over the next round of federal relief, which is likely to center on aid to states and cities facing dire financial straits.

Even as they dispensed with another nearly half-trillion taxpayer dollars, Democrats were moving to scrutinize the administration’s handling of the funds. Just before the aid package passed, they pushed through a measure creating a special committee to investigate the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic and the array of federal spending measures enacted to address it, defying objections from Mr. Trump and Republicans.

The committee, which will have the power to subpoena documents and witnesses, is charged with examining how the coronavirus relief packages were rolled out, and scrutinizing “preparedness for and response to the coronavirus crisis.”

The package passed on Thursday was an interim step after enactment of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law. It emerged after a flurry of negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration after funding lapsed for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business loan program created by the stimulus plan that had been overwhelmed by demand as soon as it began.

The measure replenished that program, providing $320 billion for it, but at the insistence of Democrats who demanded additional funds and policy changes, it also included $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing — plus a mandate that the Trump administration come up with a strategy for helping states deploy and access tests across the country.

The vote took place in a House chamber transformed by the pandemic. It was an impassioned debate as lawmakers, most of whom covered their faces with blue surgical masks or homemade swaths of fabric in an array of colors, patterns and glitter, reflected on the effect of the pandemic on their individual districts. Speaker Nancy Pelosi donned purple latex gloves to cast a vote.

Multiple lawmakers who had previously had to isolate outside of Washington after testing positive or being exposed to Covid-19 returned to vote. Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, her voice cracking with emotion, said that she dedicated the bill to her sister, who was dying of the disease in a St. Louis hospital.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who has said the measure was far too small and should include aid to struggling states and cities, was the sole Democrat who opposed the bill. Four Republicans voted “no,” while Representative Justin Amash, the chamber’s lone independent, voted present.

Rather than looking for handouts, Mr. McConnell said, states should consider filing for bankruptcy. His aides threw fuel on the fire in a news release that said the Senate leader was opposed to “blue state bailouts,” suggesting it was Democratic-leaning states that were seeking the money to take care of problems caused by fiscal mismanagement.

Mr. Trump gave ambivalent signals about further aid to state governments at his White House briefing on Thursday, suggesting that he might be open to offering it but also echoing Mr. McConnell’s language, which had outraged Democratic governors like Andrew M. Cuomo of New York. “It is interesting that the states that are in trouble do happen to be blue,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Cuomo accused Mr. McConnell of hyperpartisanship, calling the “blue state bailout” label “vicious.”

“How ugly a thought,” he said. “Think of what he is saying. People died — 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats, so why should we help them?”

The National Governors Association, a bipartisan group of governors, wrote federal officials this week pleading for $500 billion to help them make up for lost tax revenues during what they called “the most dramatic contraction of the U.S. economy since World War II.”

In January, a mystery illness swept through a call center in a skyscraper in Chicago. Close to 30 people in one department alone had symptoms — dry, deep coughs and fevers they could not shake. When they gradually returned to work after taking sick days, they sat in their cubicles looking wan and tired.

“I’ve started to think it was the coronavirus,” said Julie Parks, a 63-year-old employee who was among the sick. “I may have had it, but I can’t be sure.”

The new timeline has lent credence to a question on the minds of many Americans: Did I already have the coronavirus?

The retroactive search is happening on many levels. People who had suffered dreadful bouts with flulike illnesses are now wondering if it was the coronavirus. Doctors are thinking back to unexplained cases. Medical examiners are poring over their records looking for possible misdiagnosed deaths. And local politicians are demanding investigations.

“I think it was here long before we knew it,” said Brian Gustafson, a coroner in Rock Island County, Ill. “That’s the only logical thing I can think of.”

Included in Mr. Gustafson’s suspicions of an undercount: himself.

After William N. Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, said at the briefing that the coronavirus dies rapidly when exposed to sunlight, and even faster in the face of disinfectants like bleach and alcohol, an excited Mr. Trump took the floor.

“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it?” he added, turning to Mr. Bryan, who had returned to his seat. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.”

Apparently reassured that the tests he was proposing would take place, Mr. Trump then theorized about the possible medical benefits of disinfectants in the fight against the virus.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

“Please don’t eat tide pods or inject yourself with any kind of disinfectant,” they wrote, before urging the public to rely on official medical advice about Covid-19 listed on their government website. “Just don’t make a bad situation worse.”

“Covid-19 is rapidly becoming one of the leading causes of death among L.A. County residents,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of public health, said in a statement.

“We’re getting there, America,” Mr. Pence said at the nightly White House news conference.

The California governor was more somber. While Mr. Newsom noted that hospitalizations and patients in intensive care had decreased slightly from the day before, he said the number of deaths should serve as a warning that even as the weather warms — tempting Californians to flock to beaches or gather outdoors — the virus remains an insidious force.

“Let’s not dream of regretting,” he said. “Stay home to the extent possible.”

Still, Mr. Newsom on Wednesday announced a first modest step in that direction: Hospitals would again be scheduling what are called elective procedures, which can include medically necessary procedures like tumor removals.

Nearly a month after Washington rushed through an emergency package to aid jobless Americans, millions of laid-off workers have still not been able to apply for those benefits — let alone receive them — because of overwhelmed state unemployment systems.

Nearly one in six American workers has lost a job in recent weeks.

“At all levels, it’s eye-watering numbers,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. Laid-off workers need money quickly so that they can continue to pay rent and credit card bills and buy groceries, he noted.

Yet according to the Labor Department, only 10 states have started making payments under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which extends coverage to freelancers, self-employed workers and part-timers. Most states have not even completed the system needed to start the process.

States manage their own unemployment insurance programs and set the level of benefits and eligibility rules. Now they are responsible for administering federal emergency benefits that provide payments for an additional 13 weeks, cover previously ineligible workers and add $600 to the regular weekly check.

In Florida, hundreds of thousands of unemployed people have been waiting for weeks for a check. It has taken some as long as that to file.

“Florida is a terrible state to be an unemployed person,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert at the National Employment Law Project in Washington. “It’s hard to get in. Once you do it’s easy to get disqualified. The benefit level is way below average. And that was before the crisis.”

Flight attendants on United Airlines flights will be required to cover their faces while on duty starting Friday, the airline said.

“We have added masks on all flights to ensure flight attendants have one mask each per duty day,” United said in a letter to flight attendants on Thursday. “We will replenish as needed and as supplies permit, and, while we worked hard to make sure we have enough supply to provide each of you, you also may wear your own cloth mask.”

Major carriers including United, Delta, American and Southwest Airlines have aggressively advertised the precautions they are taking to lure back passengers, from restricting food service to blocking out middle seats.

While United said masks would be required for flight attendants, they were merely recommended for other employees, like pilots and airport crews.

United said it was the first major carrier in the United States to require masks for all flight attendants. Frontier Airlines has had a policy requiring masks for all crew members in place for more than a week, and major carriers including Delta, American and Southwest Airlines said they have made masks available to their flight attendants.

The results come from a state program that randomly tested 3,000 supermarket customers across New York State this week. Nearly 14 percent of those tests came back positive, he said.

If those numbers translate to the true incidence of the virus, they would mean that more than 1.7 million people in New York City, and more than 2.4 million people statewide, have already been infected. These numbers are far greater than the 250,000 confirmed cases of the virus that the state has recorded.

Georgia’s Republican governor on Thursday appeared undeterred by a torrent of resistance, led by President Trump, to his plan to allow many businesses to reopen this week.

He gave no indication that he intended to reverse his decision, announced on Monday, for what he described as a measured process meant to bolster the economy. The governor’s plan gives permission to gyms, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday. Then, on Monday, restaurants are allowed to resume dine-in service, and movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen.

Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Kemp even more strongly on Thursday evening.

“I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp,” he said at the White House briefing, adding that while he had told Mr. Kemp to do what he thought was necessary, he believed that the governor’s plan to reopen Georgia’s businesses did not follow the federal guidelines that his administration detailed last week.

“I don’t want this thing to flare up because you are deciding to do something that is not in the guidelines,” Mr. Trump said.

The Navy said Thursday that it had completed virus testing on all 4,938 crew members of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, with 840 people, or 17 percent, testing positive.

Of the total cases, 88 sailors have recovered and 4,234 have moved ashore, the Navy said. Four sailors are in the hospital with the virus. The ship is docked in Guam.

“I know that life is difficult for members to travel, but we can’t let that get in the way, and I’m sure that other members would want to be a part of a hearing as well,” Ms. Eshoo, Democrat of California, told Maggie Haberman of The Times. She helped create the agency that Dr. Bright oversaw, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Dr. Bright was abruptly pushed from his post this week, leading him to issue a remarkable public statement accusing the Trump administration of putting cronyism over science, especially in the promotion of two malaria drugs that the president has touted as “game changers” in the treatment of the virus.

Ms. Eshoo said she would like to hear from were the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, and an assistant secretary, Dr. Robert P. Kadlec, who supervised Dr. Bright, among other witnesses.

“I think the American people deserve to know what happened here, because all of our collective fate rested on” the development of a vaccine, she said.

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, formally requested that the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general also look into Dr. Bright’s removal and abrupt transfer to the National Institutes of Health.

In his statement, Dr. Bright said, “Contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit. While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public.”

Officials at H.H.S. have disputed Dr. Bright’s account and insisted there were problems with his management style. But they have so far refused to say so on the record.

Ms. Eshoo said that she had worked with Dr. Bright and that he is “a thoroughbred professional.”

“This is a terrible, swift sword that has come at science, and Dr. Bright,” she said.

You may be wondering how to cut some expenses right now. One way is to figure out who owes you money from the many services you pay for but aren’t in business right now. Think day camps, gyms and airlines. But when is it fair to ask for your money back? Here are some guidelines to help.

An abstract published in error on the W.H.O. website suggested that an experimental drug, remdesivir, was not helping coronavirus patients in a trial conducted in China.

In fact, the trial was terminated because not enough patients could be enrolled and before any real conclusions could be drawn, Gilead said on Thursday.

“Because this study was terminated early due to low enrollment, it was underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions,” said Chris Ridley, a company spokesman. “As such, the study results are inconclusive.”

The data had not been peer-reviewed and would undergo further revision, he added.

Remdesivir is under investigation in several trials as a treatment for Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The study in China was supposed to enroll 453 patients, but just 158 were treated with remdesivir and 78 got a placebo.

When clinical trials are planned, investigators establish the number of participants required to see an intended effect. In this trial, outcomes were to include a number of measures, including hospital discharge and death.

The terminated study said there were no “clinical or virological benefits,” Stat reported. More than 11 percent of those taking remdesivir had to stop because of adverse events, compared with 5.1 percent of those taking the placebo.

As the pandemic emerged, many placed their hopes in remdesivir, which was designed as a broad-spectrum antiviral and was tested in the Ebola epidemic five years ago, with disappointing results.

Hundreds of patients have gotten the drug from Gilead outside of clinical trials, under legal exceptions for compassionate use. Two optimistic case reports have been published in the influential New England Journal of Medicine.

Other randomized trials are underway in the United States and China, including one by the National Institutes of Health. Early results are expected soon.

Islam’s call to prayer will play throughout a Minneapolis neighborhood during Ramadan as the authorities urge people to stay apart during the holy month.

The call, known as Adhan, will be played over a loudspeaker in the Cedar-Riverside area of the city five times a day until Ramadan’s conclusion next month.

“At a time when physical distancing requires we pray apart, it’s incumbent on leaders to create a sense of togetherness where we can,” Mayor Jacob Frey, who helped arrange a noise permit, said in a statement.

“Adhan provides solidarity and comfort — both of which are essential during a time of crisis,” he said. “As our Muslim community prepares for Ramadan, we hope the broadcast will offer a measure of stability and reassure our entire city that we are all very much in this together.”

The call will come from a loudspeaker positioned outside the Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque, near downtown and the University of Minnesota, and will be played “at volumes consistent with city regulations.”

Local officials said they expected thousands of people would be able to hear it.

Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the playing of the call would be “welcomed by the Muslim community and all those who value diversity and mutual understanding.”

Ramadan, which begins Thursday and concludes May 23, is among the holiest periods for Muslims, who fast during the day throughout the month.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump said the virus may not come back at all, a theory his own infectious disease advisers have rejected.

“The last thing we want as the collateral damage of Covid-19 are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which we will almost certainly see if there continues to be a drop in vaccine uptake,” said Dr. Sean T. O’Leary, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases.

“We strongly believe that the Chinese Communist Party did not report the outbreak of the new coronavirus in a timely fashion to the World Health Organization,” he told reporters at a briefing in Washington.

“Instead, it covered up how dangerous the disease is. It didn’t report sustained human-to-human transmission for a month until it was in every province inside of China. It censored those who tried to warn the world, it ordered a halt to testing of new samples, and it destroyed existing samples.”

He said that the Chinese government “still has not shared the virus sample from inside of China with the outside world, making it impossible to track the disease’s evolution.”

The two countries have clashed over the emergence of the disease, part of a broader struggle to control the narrative surrounding a pandemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives around the world.

In a statement, Mr. Pompeo also called on China to close the wet markets where wildlife is sold for food.

“Given the strong link between illegal wildlife sold in wet markets and zoonotic diseases, the United States has called on the People’s Republic of China to permanently close its wildlife wet markets and all markets that sell illegal wildlife,” he said in a statement.

Beijing has banned the sale of wild animals but has yet to put it into law.


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