Trump wants to keep open meat plants, many of which are virus hot spots.
President Trump on Tuesday declared meat processing plants “critical infrastructure,” in an effort to ensure that facilities around the country remained open as the government tried to prevent looming shortages of pork, chicken and other products as a result of the coronavirus.
The action comes as meat plants around the country have turned into coronavirus hot spots, sickening thousands of workers, and after the head of Tyson Foods, one of the country’s largest processors, warned that millions of pounds of meat would simply disappear from the supply chain.
In an executive order issued late Tuesday, Mr. Trump said recent closures of meat processing facilities “threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”
The president said his administration would “take all appropriate action” to ensure that meat and poultry processors “continue operations” consistent with federal health and workplace safety guidance.
While Mr. Trump said the step would ensure an ample supply of “protein for Americans,” the announcement provoked swift backlash from unions and labor advocates, who said the administration needed to do more to protect workers who often stand shoulder to shoulder in refrigerated assembly lines. At least 20 workers have already died of coronavirus, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said.
On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued guidelines calling for physical distancing and other measures to keep workers safe. But the guidelines are voluntary, and food safety and labor advocates said they feared that meat companies would not follow them.
“Using executive power to force people back on the job without proper protections is wrong and dangerous,” Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., wrote on Twitter, saying he echoed calls by the food workers union to “to put worker safety first.”
Processing plants around the country have shut down amid outbreaks, putting a strain on the nation’s slaughtering capacity and prompting food companies to warn of coming shortages at supermarkets. Farmers have begun killing pigs and chickens they can no longer sell to companies for processing.
As of Thursday, 13 meatpacking and food processing plants had closed at some point in the past two months, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in the nation’s pork slaughter capacity and a 10 percent reduction in beef slaughter capacity, according to the food workers union.
The United States on Tuesday surpassed one million known coronavirus cases, showing how an outbreak that began with a small trickle of cases in January has exploded into a national crisis.
At the White House, Mr. Trump was asked Tuesday about his remark in February that the number of cases in the United States would go down to “close to zero.” He responded, “It will go down to zero, ultimately,” and described the high number of confirmed cases as a result of increased testing.
The true number of infections is much higher. The one million figure does not include untold thousands of Americans who contracted the virus but were not tested, either because they did not show symptoms or because of a persistent national testing shortage.
Some disease researchers have estimated that the true number of infections may be about 10 times the known number, and preliminary testing of how many people have antibodies to the virus seems to support that view.
But as the country’s death toll, now more than 50,000, continues to grow and as the economic fallout continues to mount, the benchmark of one million cases helped show the human suffering.
Roughly one in every 330 people in the United States has now tested positive for the virus. And even as the virus showed signs of retreating in some hard-hit places, including Seattle and New Orleans, other parts of the country, including Chicago and Los Angeles, continued to report persistently high numbers of new infections. More than 1,300 new cases were announced on Monday in Cook County, Illinois, along with nearly 1,000 in Los Angeles County.
Though the country’s urban centers were hit worst early in the pandemic, parts of rural America are now experiencing the most alarming rates of growth. Many of those outbreaks have been tied to outbreaks at meatpacking plants or other workplaces.
In Cass County, Ind., the number of known cases has surged from 52 to 1,025 over 10 days. In Dakota County, Neb., where there were no known cases until April 12, there are now more than 600. And in the county that includes Green Bay, Wis., where there are outbreaks at three meatpacking facilities, cases more than octupled in a two-week stretch, to 853.
Simon Property Group, the biggest operator of malls in the United States, has come up with a game plan for reopening 49 shopping centers across 10 states starting on Friday.
Security officers and employees will “actively remind and encourage shoppers” to maintain a proper distance from others and to refrain from shopping in groups. Food court seating will be spaced to encourage social distancing, and reusable trays will be banished. Play areas and drinking fountains will be temporarily closed, mall-provided strollers will not be available and, in restrooms, every other sink and urinal will be taped off. Regular audio announcements will be made “to remind shoppers of their part in maintaining a safe environment for everyone.”
The company shared its ideas for what its pandemic-era malls will look like in documents attached to an April 27 memo, which were given to retailers and obtained by The New York Times. It provides a glimpse of how the broader American shopping experience is likely to look as the country begins to slowly reopen. But the success of such an approach depends largely on whether retailers will also decide to quickly reopen stores and whether the public will feel comfortable going to malls when tests for the virus remain difficult to get.
Simon Property, which has seen the future of brick-and-mortar retail seriously threatened by the pandemic, plans to open the shopping centers between Friday and Monday. The majority are in Texas, Indiana, Georgia and Missouri. Properties in Tennessee, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alaska and Mississippi will also be reopened.
It is not clear how many retailers with stores in those malls will open their doors. Gap Inc., which owns its namesake brand as well as Athleta, Banana Republic and Old Navy and is a tenant in some of the properties being reopened, said on Tuesday that it was not opening any stores this weekend. Macy’s, also a Simon Property tenant, currently has all of its stores closed. On Tuesday, it said it had no update on when they would reopen.
Simon Property, which is based in Indianapolis and at the end of last year owned more than 200 properties in 37 states and Puerto Rico, did not respond to requests for comment.
A key variable, he said in an interview with The New York Times, would be the availability of access to tests for the virus that are plentiful and provide results immediately.
“Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything,” he said. “If you can’t guarantee safety, then unfortunately you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘We may have to go without this sport for this season.’”
He said that NASCAR and raceway officials had presented social distancing plans to state health officials, who made some recommendations of their own, but were otherwise poised to accept them.
“We believe that unless health conditions go down that we can have the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend,” Mr. Cooper said.
But the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which had been expected to be headlined by Derek Jeter in July, appears to be in serious jeopardy of being postponed.
Don’t expect a virtual enshrinement of Jeter, the retired Yankees captain, or Larry Walker, writes Tyler Kepner of The Times, who reported that Hall of Fame officials have ruled out a made-for-television event.
“Our staff came up with a lot of different options, a lot of what-if scenarios, and we’ve eliminated several,” said Tim Mead, president of the Hall of Fame. “We would not have a made-for-television or a virtual program. That induction ceremony is a special moment for the baseball community.”
Back in the U.S., Mr. Trump has urged sports commissioners to return to play as soon as possible, while governors of California, New York and other hard-hit states have reacted cautiously.
“If we let our desire to prematurely get back to normal, we can only get ourselves right back in the same hole we were in a few weeks ago,” Dr. Fauci said.
He said any resumption of play should be done gradually and carefully, and when cases begin to increase again, that “we have the capability of identifying, isolating and contact tracing.”
Dr. Fauci, a fan of the Yankees and the Washington Nationals, said he would feel comfortable returning to the stadium when the level of infection was far lower than it is now.
“I would love to be able to have all sports back,” Dr. Fauci said. “But as a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we’re not ready for that yet.”
After weeks without classes, a growing impatience to send children back to school has taken hold among many parents, students and President Trump, who suggested to governors on Monday that some might consider reopening districts before the end of the academic year.
But only a few states are considering that possibility, while others have said that remote learning could continue into the fall.
A smattering of students could return to the classroom this spring in more rural Western states that have relatively few confirmed cases. They include Montana, where the governor gave schools the option to reopen starting May 7 — which some have already declined to do — and Idaho, where a handful of rural districts are considering it.
“We’re in the category of ‘we don’t know,’” said Rob Waite, the superintendent of the Shoshone School District, a small, rural district in Lincoln County, Idaho. Given the small class sizes there — the largest has 22 students — he said students could easily sit six feet apart.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said on Tuesday that the state was studying the possibility of restarting the next school term in July, about a month earlier than usual.
Most schools in the state have canceled the remaining weeks of their spring term, which Mr. Newsom said had resulted in a “learning loss.” A decision on the early resumption of school, the governor said, would come in “weeks not months.”
In New Jersey, a hot spot for the virus, Gov. Philip D. Murphy has said there was “a chance” that schools could reopen in some fashion before the end of June. But in New York City, home to the nation’s largest district, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that the city’s 1.1 million students would not return until September. And in Illinois, some state and local officials have warned that remote learning could continue in the fall.
“Our original working knowledge was that this was a temporary thing,” Janice Jackson, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, said at a Board of Education meeting last week. “It’s now been extended through the end of the year, and some of the models have us even planning — not planning, but realizing — the possibility that this may be the new normal even in the fall.”
Some parents may not want to risk sending their children back to school anytime soon.
When the British government ordered students to stop going to school, it made two big exceptions: Children of essential workers and children classified as “vulnerable” can still attend, so thousands of schools have remained open for them. But with virus fears running high, only about 5 percent of eligible students are showing up.
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday flouted the Mayo Clinic’s policy that all visitors wear protective face masks when he toured the facility in Minnesota without covering his face.
During the tour, Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, and other administration officials wore masks; all employees around Mr. Pence were wearing face masks, and a patient wore a mask. Mr. Pence stood out as the only person with his face uncovered as he toured the virology laboratory’s labeling area, thanking employees and then participating in a round table with local officials and Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota.
After the visit, the Mayo Clinic tweeted that it had “informed @VP of the masking policy prior to his arrival today.” The clinic then deleted the tweet.
Mr. Pence defended his own behavior. “As vice president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” he told reporters.
He said he was following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that indicated that masks were good for preventing the spread of the virus by those who had it.
He also wanted to look workers and researchers “in the eye and say thank you,” he said, although surgical masks do not cover eyes.
Public health experts said his argument for not wearing a mask in public settings was faulty.
Even for Covid-19 patients who are showing symptoms, diagnostic tests may detect the virus only 75 percent of the time, said Dr. Mark Loeb, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at McMaster University. It is unclear how sensitive the tests are in asymptomatic cases.
The vice president was also not modeling behavior that politicians have been recommending to their constituents.
Mr. Pence has not worn a face mask during any of his recent travels. Earlier this month, for instance, he was greeted by Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, who was wearing a face mask emblazoned with images from his state flag when he landed in Colorado Springs. Mr. Pence tapped elbows but kept his face bare.
After the Mayo Clinic visit, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, expressed her disapproval: “Pence thumbed his nose at Mayo Clinic policy requiring everyone to mask. They should have denied him entrance, and not kowtowed to his arrogance,” she wrote on Twitter.
At his daily briefing, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York faulted a raft of other forces, including the World Health Organization, various federal agencies and the news media, for not doing their part to caution the world of the pandemic threat.
He targeted the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — “the N.I.H, the C.D.C., that whole alphabet soup of agencies,” he called them — and the nation’s intelligence community for not issuing more urgent advisories late last year, before health officials in China had even publicly identified the virus.
“Where was everyone?” he said, suggesting that intelligence agents had not recognized that “this is in China, and they have something called an airplane, and you can get on an airplane and you can come to the United States.”
Mr. Cuomo’s remarks, which also included critiques of news organizations, bore a passing resemblance to critiques leveled by Mr. Trump at federal agencies and institutions and came as the number of virus patients newly admitted to hospitals in New York State has fallen more than 70 percent since the outbreak’s peak this month, according to state statistics on Tuesday.
The latest number was below 1,000 for the first time in over a month, down from more than 3,000 on April 7, providing further evidence that the outbreak is waning.
Deaths from the virus remained flat — 335 more people died, Mr. Cuomo said, down by more than 50 percent from the peak, when nearly 800 people per day were dying of the virus.
He also outlined the methods through which the state would re-evaluate its progress in reopening. If hospitals reached 70 percent of their capacity or the rate of transmission hit 1.1, he said, those would be signals to halt any easing of restrictions. That comes after he has suggested that some businesses in what he called low-risk industries like construction or manufacturing might restart in parts of the state after May 15. Much of the state, including New York City and its suburbs, would stay shut longer, he has said.
As some states moved forward with plans to let some businesses reopen, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, announced Tuesday that he would extend the limit on gatherings and the closures of nonessential businesses in his state until May 18.
“We’re all incredibly eager to move on from this phase of our lives, but if we act too soon, we could risk a spike in infections that could force our state to revert to serious restrictions again,” Mr. Baker said at a news conference. “And this scenario would be far worse for our economy, and for our communities, and for our people.”
He spoke as more than a dozen states moved ahead with tentative plans to gradually reopen their economies, despite a lack of widespread testing that public health experts say will be needed to identify, track and contain new outbreaks. Even as they pressed ahead, there was no agreed-upon strategy for the best way to safely navigate from lockdowns to some form of new normal.
There have been at least 58,302 confirmed cases of the virus in Massachusetts, according to a New York Times database. As of Tuesday evening, at least 3,153 people had died. Mr. Baker said that extending the limit of gatherings, and the closures of business, were essential to continuing to slow the spread of the virus and to help the state’s hospitals keep up with the crush of cases.
But he sounded an almost apologetic tone.
“I know pushing these dates back a couple of weeks is probably not what many people want to hear,” said Mr. Baker, who announced an advisory board to help plan the ultimate reopening.
“I know we’ll get there soon,” he said, “but we have to be smart about how we do it, and recognize and understand that there are risks associated with going back too soon.”
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, announced Tuesday that when the state’s stay-at-home order expires April 30, it will be replaced by a “safer-at-home” order that will allow many businesses to reopen, but will not go as far as some other states in the South.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, whose stay-at-home order expires on Friday, plans to announce on Wednesday his plan for what he calls a gradual reopening.
During a meeting in the Oval Office Tuesday with Mr. Trump, Mr. DeSantis struck a very different note from other governors who have said that more testing capacity will be needed before they can ease restrictions. Mr. DeSantis said that “our ability to test exceeds the current demand,” which Mr. Trump called “a fantastic thing.”
Data show that Florida’s testing rate over the past week was slightly below the national average. As of Monday, the state was conducting an average of 60 tests per 100,000 residents, according to The Covid Tracking Project. The national average was 68 tests, with some states performing many more: Rhode Island was averaging 254 tests per 100,000 people.
Florida has more than 32,800 cases, and reported 83 new deaths between Monday and Tuesday, the highest single-day number in the state.
Many other states are considering when and how to reopen.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls would be allowed to reopen with limited capacity on Friday.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp allowed hair salons and tattoo parlors to reopen, and let restaurants welcome eat-in diners, over the objections of health experts, mayors and Mr. Trump.
In California, barber shops, nail salons and similar workplaces “where the proximity is very close” will be among the last to open, Dr. Sonia Angell, the director of the state’s Department of Public Health, said Tuesday.
In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled a more incremental plan that would allow manufacturing work to resume and offices to reopen next week.
Arizona has a stay-at-home order that is set to expire on Thursday, but the governor has been vague about plans.
In North Carolina, protesters in downtown Raleigh who were calling on Gov. Ray Cooper to lift his stay-at-home order were met by a small group of health care workers urging him to keep nonessential businesses closed. Some, in masks and scrubs, carried signs reading “Stay Home For Me.”
A provision in the legislation that created the stimulus fund, which received little attention while it was under debate, prohibits payments to people who file taxes jointly with someone who uses an individual taxpayer identification number, a common substitute for a Social Security number used mostly by immigrants without legal status.
The result is that American citizens who are married to undocumented immigrants will not receive financial support from the federal government, including $1,200 for adults and $500 bonus payments for each dependent child under 16 living in their home.
Such is the case for Luz María Ortíz de Pulido, whose husband, four children and grandchild are all United States citizens. Were it not for Ms. Pulido’s lack of legal status, the family would have received money from the I.R.S. to help cover their bills, which would have helped to make up for the income she has lost as a house cleaner.
Money has always been tight in their home in Del Valle, Texas, but now the situation is dire.
“We needed that money,” Ms. Pulido said. “It’s seven people in my house, and just me who doesn’t have papers, and we are all punished. It’s hard.”
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Reporting was contributed by Pam Belluck, Ken Belson, Alan Blinder, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Emily Cochrane, Michael Cooper, Michael Corkery, Maria Cramer, Caitlin Dickerson, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Gold, Elizabeth A. Harris, Jack Healy, Shawn Hubler, Andrew Jacobs, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Annie Karni, Tyler Kepner, Neil MacFarquhar, Sapna Maheshwari, Jonathan Martin, Victor Mather, Patricia Mazzei, Jesse McKinley, Sarah Mervosh, Anahad O’Connor, Michael Powell, Roni Carn Rabin, William K. Rashbaum, Brian M. Rosenthal, Michael Rothfeld, David Sanger, Marc Santora, Dionne Searcey, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Ana Swanson, Neil Vigdor, James Wagner, Ali Watkins, Karen Weise and David Yaffe-Bellany.