May 6, 2020

Live Coronavirus News and Updates


Nearly 1 in 5 young children in the United States are not getting enough to eat, new research found.

Research released Wednesday shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent. Nearly a fifth of young children are not getting enough to eat, according to surveys of their mothers by the Brookings Institution. The rate is three times higher than in 2008, at the worst of the Great Recession, reports Jason DeParle.

When food runs short, parents often skip meals to keep children fed. But a survey of households with children 12 and under by Lauren Bauer, a Brookings fellow in economic studies, found that 17.4 percent reported the children themselves were not eating enough, compared with 5.7 percent during the Great Recession.

Inadequate nutrition can leave young children with permanent developmental damage.

“This is alarming,” Ms. Bauer said. “These are households cutting back on portion sizes, having kids skip meals. The numbers are much higher than I expected.”

Ms. Bauer said disruptions in school meal programs might be part of the problem, with some families unable to reach distribution sites and older siblings at home competing for limited food.

Ms. Bauer has been collecting data for the Hamilton Project and the Future of the Middle Class Initiative Survey of Mothers with Young Children. Analyzing a separate nationally representative sample, the Covid Impact Survey, Ms. Bauer found that nearly 23 percent of households said they lacked money to get enough food, compared with about 16 percent at the worst of the Great Recession. Among households with children, the share without enough food was nearly 35 percent, up from about 21 percent in the previous downturn.

The findings come as Democrats and Republicans are at odds over proposals to raise food stamp benefits. Democrats want to increase benefits by 15 percent for the duration of the economic downturn, arguing that a similar move in 2009 reduced hunger during the Great Recession. Congress has enacted a short-term increase for about 60 percent of the caseload, but the increase omits the poorest recipients. Citing large expansions of other safety-net programs, Republicans say that is sufficient to meet rising needs.

President Trump, contradicting his comments from Tuesday, said the White House coronavirus task force would “continue on indefinitely,” though perhaps with different members.

His announcement, made on Twitter, came a day after Vice President Mike Pence, who has led the group for two months, said it would probably wrap up its work around the end of May.

“We will have something in a different form,” Mr. Trump told reporters later on Tuesday during a trip to Arizona.

But in a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Mr. Trump appeared to contradict that statement and emphasized his desire to reopen the economy despite a continued rise in coronavirus cases and public health warnings that more commerce will mean more deaths.

Because of the task force’s “success,” he wrote, it would “continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”

Mr. Trump spoke with reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon about why he had changed his mind.

“I thought we could wind it down sooner,” he said. “But I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday, when I started talking about winding it down. I get calls from very respected people saying, ‘I think it would be better to keep it going. It’s done such a good job.’”

Mr. Trump said later Wednesday that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coronavirus task force coordinator, would remain on the task force in their current roles.

“I would like to see schools open, wherever possible, which I think is in much of the country, most of the country,” the president said.

Mr. Trump frequently reacts to news coverage of his decisions, and reports on Tuesday that he might wind down the task force drew sharp criticism.

Even as the worst public health crisis in a century rages on, top White House officials have spoken in self-congratulatory terms and sought to shift the debate toward a resumption of normal social and economic life.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Pence said that plans to disband the task force “really is all a reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.”

There had been signals in recent days of the task force’s impending demise: The panel did not meet on Saturday, as it typically does, and canceled a meeting on Monday. And the president has stopped linking his news briefings to the task force’s meetings and no longer routinely arrays task force members around him in his public appearances. That change came swiftly after he mused last month about the possibility of injecting disinfectantswhich is dangerous — to kill the virus.

Members of the task force, including Dr. Birx, the White House’s virus response coordinator, had to urge Americans not to take those steps. The task force has often served as a public check on Mr. Trump’s questionable or false statements, cautioning about promises of a quick vaccine or the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, a drug promoted by the president.

A company created six weeks ago by a pair of Republican operatives collected hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from state and local governments desperate for coronavirus supplies. That company is now facing a federal criminal investigation and a rising chorus of complaints from customers who say their orders never arrived.

As Kenneth P. Vogel reported, the company, Blue Flame Medical, had boasted that it could quickly obtain coveted test kits, N95 masks and other personal protective equipment through a Chinese government-owned company with which it had partnered, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

The company was started by a pair of Republican political consultants, Mike Gula and John Thomas, who did not have much experience in the medical supply field. Mr. Gula’s fund-raising firm has been paid more than $36 million since 2008 by a range of top Republican politicians and political committees, while Mr. Thomas has served as a general consultant to a number of campaigns.

Mr. Thomas had asserted in an interview in March that the connections the pair made through their work in politics helped them find suppliers and connect to customers, such as large medical systems and law enforcement agencies around the world.

Orders came in from state governments, local police departments and airports in California, Florida and Maryland. But things have not gone as planned.

California quickly clawed back a $457 million payment for 100 million masks, as first reported by CalMatters. Other state and local agencies that paid Blue Flame said that the supplies never arrived or that orders were only partially filled.

The Justice Department is pursuing a criminal investigation into the company, according to people familiar with the investigation, which was first reported by The Washington Post. Some of the company’s clients are requesting refunds or threatening their own investigations.

What will this week’s jobs data show?

Government figures due Friday will undoubtedly show that job losses in April were the worst ever. But they could provide key hints about the recovery.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expect the Labor Department report to show that U.S. payrolls fell by 22 million jobs last month — a decade’s worth of gains wiped out in weeks. The payroll processing company ADP said on Wednesday that the private sector lost more than 20 million jobs in April, with the cuts spread across every sector and size of employer.

It is no surprise that employers have cut millions of jobs; weekly data on filings for unemployment benefits, released every Thursday, have tracked the destruction. But the monthly numbers due on Friday are more comprehensive than the weekly ones, which almost certainly understate the damage.

The report on Friday could also help answer a question that could be crucial to the eventual recovery: How far has the damage spread?

If the losses are concentrated in sectors that have been directly affected by the virus, like retail and services that were hit by stay-at-home orders, that could bode well for the recovery, because it suggests the damage has been contained. But if it has spread to industries like finance and professional services, that could suggest a cascade effect is underway, with laid-off workers pulling back on spending, leading to lost revenues and still more layoffs. It could take much longer to climb out of that kind of hole.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a request from a political committee and several businesses in Pennsylvania to suspend Gov. Tom Wolf’s order shutting down much of the state’s economy to address the virus.

The court’s ruling was one sentence long, gave no reasons and included no dissents.

The governor’s order, entered March 19, called for the closing of the physical operations of “non-life-sustaining” businesses.

Among the challengers were a committee supporting Danny DeVito, a candidate for the State Legislature (not the actor); a real estate agent; a laundry; and a golf course. They argued, among other things, that the governor’s order violated their constitutional right to due process and amounted to government taking of property without just compensation.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to block the governor’s order. In the U.S. Supreme Court, the challengers argued that “the executive order and similar orders by governors across the country is doing substantial, unprecedented damage to the economy.”

Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, responded in a brief that judgments about public safety were committed to the governor.

“Applicants’ argument is nothing more than a public policy disagreement with the governor’s determination as to which physical locations would remain open and which would be temporarily closed,” Mr. Shapiro wrote. “Applicants essentially argue that if they had been empowered by law to make these life and death decisions, they would have responded to this global crisis differently.”

The European Union’s economy is set to shrink by 7.4 percent this year, investment is expected to collapse, and unemployment rates, debts and deficits will balloon in the aftermath of the pandemic, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

To put those figures in perspective, the European Union’s economy had been predicted to grow by 1.2 percent this year. In its worst recession, during the financial crisis in 2009, the economy shrank by 4.5 percent.

Predicting the breadth of a recession can be a moving target, acknowledged the commission, the bloc’s executive arm. And things could end up being much worse.

“The danger of a deeper and more protracted recession is very real,” Maarten Verwey, the head of the commission’s economic unit, wrote.

Italy and Spain, the European Union countries that were hit the hardest, will see their economies shrink by more than 9 percent each. Greece, which had started turning a corner after a decade of economic calamity, will suffer the most of the union’s 27 nations. Unemployment is expected to be rampant, averaging 9 percent across the bloc and reaching 19.9 percent in Greece, the European Commission said.

The grim predictions foretell a deeply uneven but still across-the-board disastrous effect.

A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday delivered a scathing criticism of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his assertion over the weekend that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory.

The spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, pointed to a recently leaked memo for Republican candidates that urged attacking China and its labs as a campaign issue. She said the memo had discredited the Trump administration’s allegations.

“The huge drama of blame-shifting in the United States has already been heavily spoiled, and continuing the drama is meaningless,” she said. “I advise those people in the United States absolutely not to become enthralled by their own act.”

Labs at both the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology are said to have been conducting research into bat coronaviruses. Both institutions are based in Wuhan, China, where the virus first emerged.

Researchers in China and elsewhere have suggested that the virus probably started in bats. It may have then adapted to another species before becoming capable of infecting humans.

In Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo became angry when pressed by reporters on his assertions about “enormous” and “significant” evidence that pointed to a laboratory accident in Wuhan as the source of the outbreak.

The top American diplomat said Wednesday that there were “different levels of certainty” assessed by different people or organizations. Western officials from the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance say those agencies are coalescing around the idea that an outbreak that began in a lab was unlikely.

Mr. Pompeo opened his news conference on Wednesday with his own heated criticism of China, noting that early in the outbreak, Chinese officials had reprimanded two doctors in Wuhan for trying to warn colleagues of the potential for a new SARS-like epidemic.

“China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide,” Mr. Pompeo said. “They had a choice. But instead China covered up the outbreak in Wuhan.”

Chinese officials have not given international experts full access to health facilities in Wuhan, including to the hospitals that treated the first cases during the outbreak. Officials in Wuhan tried to cover up the severity of the virus in January. And officials in the United States and other nations have cast doubts on the Chinese government’s estimates of total infected citizens and its announced death toll.

The Communist Party is resistant to transparency, especially on matters deemed politically sensitive, as the pandemic is.

There is no compelling evidence that the virus is becoming more contagious or deadly.

All viruses mutate, and the coronavirus is no exception. But there is no compelling evidence yet that it is evolving in a way that has made it more contagious or more deadly.

A preprint study — posted online, but not published in a scientific journal and not yet peer-reviewed — has attracted significant online interest by suggesting otherwise.

On April 30, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico claimed to have found a mutation in the coronavirus that arose in Europe in February and then rapidly spread, becoming dominant as the virus was introduced in new countries.

The mutation, they wrote, “is of urgent concern” because it made the virus more transmissible. But experts in viral evolution are not persuaded.

Mutations are tiny changes to genetic material that occur as it is copied. Human cells have many so-called proofreading proteins that keep mutations rare.

Viruses are far sloppier, producing many mutants every time they infect a cell. Natural selection can favor viruses carrying a beneficial mutation, leading them to spread more widely.

But it is also possible for a neutral mutation to become more common simply by chance, a process known as genetic drift.

“I don’t think they provide evidence to claim transmissibility enhancement,” Sergei Pond, an evolutionary biologist at Temple University, said of the new report in an email.

In fact, Dr. Pond said, the mutation, known as D614G, has arisen not just once but several times independently. On some of those occasions, viruses carrying the mutation didn’t take off in the population.

Instead, the gene reverted to its original form, suggesting that D614G did not give the virus any special advantage.

No one has ruled out the possibility that a mutation could arise that would make the virus more transmissible. And it is possible that D614G has provided some sort of edge.

But it will take much more evidence to rule out other explanations.

There is still one part of the U.S. without a single confirmed case: American Samoa.

The virus death toll in the United States is climbing past 70,000, with thousands of new cases every day. But there is still one part of the country without a single confirmed case, much less a fatality: American Samoa, a palm-fringed Polynesian archipelago that has sealed itself off from the outside world for nearly two months.

Other U.S. islands lost their early battles to keep the infection out. But American Samoa’s success so far has been no accident, public health officials say. The territory swiftly halted nearly all incoming flights, rapidly increased testing capability and took advantage of social distancing strategies that had already been adopted in response to a measles outbreak at the end of last year.

“Life in our bubble is somewhat unique compared to the rest of the world,” said Bishop Peter Brown, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in American Samoa. Church services were quickly shut down when the virus began to spread across the United States, he said.

President Trump is meeting in the Oval Office on Wednesday with Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, and Vice President Mike Pence plans to visit the state this week, as the White House increasingly turns its attention to a state that never fully shut down and has recently had a persistent uptick in cases.

Ms. Reynolds, a Republican, was among a handful of governors who declined to issue stay-at-home orders as the rest of the country locked down this spring, a decision that was criticized by health officials, mayors in the state and Democratic lawmakers. The governor relied instead on the shutdown of schools and businesses and messages to the public urging personal responsibility.

Nearly half of all states in the United States have recently reported increases in new cases, including Iowa, which has seen outbreaks at several meatpacking plants. As cases were increasing, Ms. Reynolds last week lifted restrictions on certain businesses in 77 of the state’s 99 counties. The changes do not apply to the state’s most populous areas and counties that have been hot spots for the virus.

Ms. Reynolds said in a tweet earlier Wednesday that she had planned to discuss with the president “Iowa’s plans to reopen safely.”

Iowa has more than 10,000 confirmed cases and more than 200 deaths. On Tuesday, state health officials reported 19 deaths, the most in a single day, and announced that more than 1,600 people had been infected at meatpacking plants in the state.

Mr. Pence, who leads the White House’s virus task force, is scheduled to visit Des Moines on Friday. He plans to meet with religious leaders about restarting services, and will visit the headquarters of Hy-Vee, a grocery chain, to talk about food supply.

Other states continued to take steps to ease some restrictions.

In Maryland, which has had a recent growth in cases, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that he would allow more elective medical procedures to resume, and that the state would allow what he described as “lower-risk outdoor activities” including golf, tennis, boating, fishing and camping.

But he urged patience as the state develops a plan to safely ease more restrictions, saying that “I realize that these are only small steps, and that they may be of little comfort to those who are out of work and who are struggling financially,” but adding that the state was making progress against the virus.

Read this Times investigation: Jared Kushner’s volunteer force prioritized medical supplies from Trump allies.

As the federal government’s warehouses were running bare and medical workers were improvising their own safety gear, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, placed a team of volunteers with no procurement experience on the front line of the administration’s supply-chain task force. The volunteers were told to prioritize tips from political allies and associates of Mr. Trump, tracked on a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” according to documents and emails obtained by The New York Times.

Among them were leads from Republican members of Congress, the Trump youth activist Charlie Kirk and a former “Apprentice” contestant who serves as the campaign chair of Women for Trump. Few of the leads, V.I.P. or otherwise, panned out, according to a whistle-blower memo written by one volunteer and sent to the House Oversight Committee.

Federal officials who had spent years devising emergency plans were layered over by Kushner allies, who believed their private-sector experience could solve the country’s looming supply shortage. The volunteers — who came from venture capital and private equity firms — had the know-how to quickly weed out good leads from the mountain of bad ones, administration officials said in an interview. FEMA and other agencies, they said, were not equipped for the unprecedented task.

But at least one tip the volunteers forwarded turned into an expensive debacle. In late March, according to emails obtained by The Times, two of the volunteers passed along procurement forms submitted by Yaron Oren-Pines, a Silicon Valley engineer who said he could provide more than 1,000 ventilators. Federal officials then sent the tip to senior officials in New York, who assumed Mr. Oren-Pines had been vetted and awarded him an eye-popping $69 million contract. Not a single ventilator was delivered.

“The nature and scale of the response seemed grossly inadequate,” said a volunteer, who like the others signed a nondisclosure agreement and spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “It was bureaucratic cycles of chaos.”

After being closed for nearly two months, many churches across the country are cautiously planning how to reopen for public services.

Episcopal bishops in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., said they would work together to coordinate a reopening. They plan to start to allow limited indoor worship once cases and hospitalizations have declined for two weeks.

In South Carolina, Catholic parishes are planning to reopen for public mass in the next couple weeks. Some priests are organizing plans for members to attend on a rotating basis, by last name and year of birth, to limit exposure.

In some places the issue of religious reopening remains a political controversy. In California, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Gov. Gavin Newsom was allowed to ban church assembly to protect the public health. A small evangelical church in San Joaquin Valley, Cross Culture Christian Center, had sued Mr. Newsom last month, arguing that his stay-at-home order restricted its religious liberties.

The vice president will meet with faith leaders in Des Moines on Friday to discuss reopening religious services. Last week Ms. Reynolds, the governor of Iowa, announced that she would lift restrictions on public religious gatherings, as long as they followed sanitation and social distancing guidelines.

More than 20,000 people a week are still testing positive for the virus in New York State. In the last week, more than 5,000 virus patients entered hospitals. As state health officials try to get a better sense of who is still getting hospitalized weeks into the statewide shutdown, the governor released preliminary findings on Wednesday of a recent three-day survey of 113 hospitals in the state, covering nearly 1,300 patients. Among the results:

“That says they’re not working, they’re not traveling, they’re predominantly downstate, predominantly minority, predominantly older,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

“We were thinking that maybe we were going to find a higher percentage of essential employees who were getting sick because they were going to work,” he said. “That these may be nurses, doctors, transit workers — that’s not the case.”

In New Jersey, the governor said on Wednesday that he was extending the state’s public health emergency order for 30 days, into early next month, and that the virus had killed another 308 people. State health officials have said that the number of deaths reported on any given day may include some that are weeks old and have only recently been linked to the virus.

Some scientists hope that they may have found an important, if perhaps unlikely, figure in the fight against the virus: Winter, a 4-year-old chocolate-colored llama with spindly legs, ever-so-slightly askew ears and envy-inducing eyelashes.

Winter was chosen several years ago by researchers in Belgium, where she lives, to participate in a series of virus studies involving both SARS and MERS. Finding that her antibodies staved off those infections, the scientists posited that those same antibodies could also neutralize the new virus that causes Covid-19. They were right, and published their results Tuesday in the journal Cell.

Scientists have long turned to llamas for antibody research. In the last decade, for example, scientists have used llamas’ antibodies in H.I.V. and influenza research, finding promising therapies for both viruses.

Llamas produce two types of antibodies. One of those antibodies is similar in size and constitution to human antibodies. But the other is much smaller; it’s only about 25 percent the size of human antibodies.

This more diminutive antibody can access tinier pockets and crevices on spike proteins — the proteins that allow viruses like the novel coronavirus to break into host cells and infect us — that human antibodies cannot. That can make it more effective in neutralizing viruses.

The researchers are hopeful the antibody can eventually be used as a prophylactic treatment, and are moving toward clinical trials. Additional studies may also be needed to verify the safety of injecting a llama’s antibodies into human patients.

“There is still a lot of work to do to try to bring this into the clinic,” said Dr. Xavier Saelens, a molecular virologist at Ghent University in Belgium and an author of the new study. “If it works, llama Winter deserves a statue.”

Even as they have substantially reduced service, the largest U.S. airlines are averaging only 17 passengers on domestic flights and 29 on international flights, according to a copy of congressional testimony from the head of Airlines for America, an industry group.

At the same time, airlines are collectively burning through about $10 billion a month as they cut costs and await the return of passengers, Nicholas Calio, the industry group’s chief executive, said in the testimony, prepared for a Senate hearing about aviation on Wednesday.

“While the industry will do everything it can to mitigate and address the multitude of challenges, no factual doubt exists that the U.S. airline industry will emerge from this crisis a mere shadow of what it was just three short months ago,” Mr. Calio said in the prepared remarks.

The pandemic has virtually wiped out air travel with traffic volumes down 95 percent and more than 3,000 aircraft grounded. More than 100,000 airline employees are working reduced hours or have accepted pay cuts or early retirement, Mr. Calio said.

Mr. Calio addressed complaints from some consumers that airlines were strongly encouraging them to take vouchers instead of refunds for canceled flights, saying that if the carriers refunded all canceled tickets at once they might have to seek bankruptcy protection.

How does it feel to have Covid-19? ‘Like someone inside my head was trying to push my eyes out.’

There is a clinical list of symptoms that includes dry cough, fever and shortness of breath. And then there is how the disease actually feels. Like a lengthy hangover. Like an alien takeover. Like being in a fight with Mike Tyson.

More than a million people in the United States have contracted the virus. The Times spoke with some who were sickened by it — in many cases severely — and have since recovered. In vivid terms, they described what it was like to endure this scary and disorienting illness.

When can we start up child care again?

Here are some points to consider before you call your babysitter.

Follow the latest on the pandemic from our team of international correspondents.

Restrictions were eased in Hong Kong after more than two weeks without new local cases.

Reporting was contributed by Reed Abelson, Katie Benner, Alan Blinder, Keith Bradsher, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Ben Casselman, Michael Cooper, Nicholas Confessore, Michael Crowley, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Elizabeth Dias, Christina Goldbaum, Maggie Haberman, Andrew Jacobs, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Jodi Kantor, Josh Katz, Adam Liptak, Denise Lu, Neil MacFarquhar, Apoorva Mandavilli, Sarah Mervosh, Andy Newman, Michael Powell, David E. Sanger, Margot Sanger-Katz, Marc Santora, Kenneth P. Vogel, Noah Weiland, Edward Wong and Carl Zimmer.




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