Experts worry that the coronavirus will go on spreading in a ‘slow burn’ in the U.S.
The virus is still spreading in the United States, because efforts to contain it have been incomplete at best, public health experts warned on Sunday, saying that there were signs that the country may face a steady flow of new cases and deaths for many months to come.
“While mitigation didn’t fail, I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t work as well as we expected,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, referring to stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines.
Coronavirus case counts continue to rise in 20 states, including Illinois, Texas and Maryland, even as some states are beginning to relax restrictions, Dr. Gottlieb said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
“We’re looking at the prospect that this may be a persistent spread,” he said, with a steady stream of 20,000 to 30,000 new cases daily that result in 1,000 deaths a day across the country.
“You can see this slow simmer explode into a new epidemic or large outbreaks,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “That’s the concern — that if we don’t snuff this out more, and you have this slow burn of infection, it can ignite at any time.”
The White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said she found it “devastatingly worrisome” that hundreds of protesters amassed at Michigan’s state Capitol last week to object to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan to extend many business closures through the end of May.
“If they go home and infect their grandmother or grandfather who has a co-morbid condition, and they have a serious or unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Birx said on Fox News.
Pressed by the host of the program, Chris Wallace, about whether some states were reopening too soon, Dr. Birx said it was important for individuals to keep track of coronavirus cases in their communities and keep following their own precautions through each phase of the gradual process that the task force recommends.
“You need to continue to social distance, you need to continue to practice scrupulous hand-washing,” Dr. Birx said. “If you have any pre-existing condition, through Phase 1 and Phase 2 of any reopening, we have asked you to continue to shelter in place.”
Researchers are racing to develop a vaccine, but a scientist in one of the leading teams said its protection may not last long, and it may have to be readministered every year the way flu shots are.
Sir John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, said on the NBC program “Meet the Press” that while the coronavirus “doesn’t mutate at the pace of flu as far as we can see, it’s also quite a tricky virus in terms of generating longstanding immune responses to it.”
Dr. Bell is involved in the development at Oxford of a potential vaccine that could begin to be available by September — several months ahead of other announced efforts. “We are pretty sure we’ll get a signal by June about whether this works or not,” he said.
Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s top economic adviser, said the administration was in no rush to push forward with another financial aid package, saying the government was “in a pause period right now.”
Mr. Kudlow, speaking on the CNN program “State of the Union,” said the administration wants to see how the trillions of dollars already allocated are working before the government pushes anything more out the door.
“It’s a huge, huge package — let’s see how it’s doing as we gradually reopen the economy,” he said. The funds are already being depleted. More than $175 billion in loans allocated to a small business support program in the last aid package have been issued, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the head of the Small Business Administration, Jovita Carranza, said in a statement on Sunday. It is the second round of the lending program, and more than $310 billion was set aside this time. The loans can be forgiven if a significant portion of the funds are used to cover payroll costs.
The program has come under fire for providing money to large publicly-traded firms while Main Street businesses struggle to gain access. A number of those companies — like Ashford Inc., which oversees a tightly interwoven group of hotel and resorts that includes Ritz Carltons — have pledged to return their loans amid growing scrutiny.
Mr. Mnuchin and Ms. Carranza said Sunday that the average loan size in the second round of funding was $79,000, far below the $206,000 average in the first round.
So far, businesses in California, New York and Texas have received more funds than any other states through two rounds of the program, according to the S.B.A. The agency did not provide an up-to-date accounting on which industries had been the biggest beneficiaries of the new round, despite having disclosed breakdowns for the first round.
With scores of businesses struggling to stay afloat, and millions of workers losing their jobs every week, Congressional leaders are hotly contesting what should be included in the next economic aid bill. Democrats have said it must include help for hard-pressed states and municipalities but Republicans have resisted, especially in the Senate. Proposals to shield employers from liability if their workers contract the virus as the economy reopens have also proven controversial.
The Republican-led Senate is scheduled to reconvene on Monday, but the Democratic-led House, which opposes such a shield, scrapped similar plans to return to Washington after consulting with Congress’s attending physician.
On Sunday, Mr. Kudlow reiterated Mr. Trump’s prior comments that any future aid package could include restrictions on financing for states that allow “sanctuary cities” — areas that prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with immigration authorities.
And Mr. Kudlow said the White House would push for additional tax breaks for workers and businesses, including “some significant” breaks for entertainment and sports events.
“We’re looking at people being able to write off new expenses in any area,” he said, adding that the write-offs could include expenses associated with investing in vaccines or retrofitting office space to ensure that it complies with “best practices” around the virus.
In a joint virtual news conference, the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware said on Sunday that their states would jointly purchase masks, gowns, gloves, ventilators and other medical and protective equipment needed to fight the coronavirus.
Two more states, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, will also take part, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said.
By combining their orders, the governors said, they expected to be able to purchase at lower prices, better stabilize the supply chain, and avoid bidding against one another for scarce items.
“We will buy as a consortium, P.P.E., medical equipment, ventilators, whatever we need to buy,” Governor Cuomo said.
The seven states, which agreed in April to coordinate their reopenings, will work together on policies to ensure that adequate amounts of personal protective equipment are stockpiled and that other preparations are made for a possible second wave of infections. Governor Cuomo said on Sunday that New York hospitals would be required to build up a 90-day supply of personal protective equipment.
They are also discussing how to take advantage of alternate methods of production, like 3-D printers. In New York City, for example, a 3-D printing company is now producing tens of thousands of nasal swabs daily for coronavirus tests.
Warmer weather and fatigue over weeks of confinement lured millions of Americans outside this weekend, adding to pressure on city and state officials to enforce, or loosen, restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded with residents to resist the impulse to gather outdoors. In New Jersey, golf courses reopened and Gov. Philip D. Murphy said early anecdotal reports indicated that people were maintaining social distance.
“If we hear minimal reports of knucklehead behavior at our parks, then we know you all have taken to heart your responsibility to help us mitigate this pandemic,” Mr. Murphy wrote on Twitter.
Many states have started easing stay-at-home orders and allowing businesses to reopen, as unemployment has soared and economic fears have intensified. But there has been an increasingly diverse patchwork of orders.
Elsewhere, protesters pressing for the loosening of restrictions gathered in the capitals of Kentucky; Florida, where the governor has already announced a relaxing of restrictions; Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown has extended a state of emergency through July 6; and Michigan, where protesters pressed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to reopen the state completely. She has not relented, however, saying in an interview on “State of the Union” on CNN that she would continue to steer her policy based on the advice of public health experts.
In Stillwater, Okla., officials abandoned a requirement that people wear masks in shops and restaurants after workers were faced with violent threats.
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, said on CNN that the resistance to restrictions in his state did not overshadow the gravity of the pandemic. “We had far more people die yesterday in Maryland than we had protesters,” he said.
In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves had already relaxed his stay-at-home order in favor of a less stringent “safer-at-home” order, and had planned to ease restrictions even further on Friday. But he held off after nearly 400 new cases were reported that morning.
Mr. Reeves, a Republican, noted on “Fox News Sunday” how the balance has shifted between trying to act aggressively to curb the virus and attempting to stanch the severe economic fallout those measures have created. “We have a public health crisis in this country, there’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Reeves said. “But we also have an economic crisis.”
He noted the surge in unemployment, and the protesters that had gathered outside the governor’s mansion in Jackson. “I know they were protesting for the 200,000 Mississippians who have lost their jobs in the last six weeks,” he said. “I understand and I feel their pain. And we’re doing everything in our power to get our state back open as soon as possible.”
Across the country, high school teachers and administrators are going out of their way to recognize their seniors as the pandemic has closed schools and forced the cancellation of proms and graduation ceremonies.
In Texas, Virdie Montgomery, the principal of Wylie High School in suburban Dallas set out on April 17 with his wife, a bag of Snickers bars and a mission: visiting each of the 612 seniors at their homes.
Wearing a mask covered in skulls and crossbones — a tribute to the school’s pirate mascot — Mr. Montgomery, 66, took a selfie with each student. He told them the school was a much less happy place in their absence, but that one day they would “look back on this and snicker.”
Then he handed them a candy bar.
“I delivered the same lame joke more than 600 times,” Mr. Montgomery said. “I wanted to see them and make sure they were doing all right.”
Extremists in the United States are trying to turn the pandemic into a recruiting tool online and on the streets of state capitals by twisting the public health crisis to bolster a white-supremacist, anti-government agenda.
Protests across the country have drawn a wide variety of people pressing to lift stay-at-home orders. But the presence of extremists cannot be missed, with anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic signs and coded messages aimed at inspiring adherents, say those who track such movements.
Embellishing Covid-19 developments to fit their agenda, extremists spread disinformation on the transmission of the coronavirus and disparage stay-at-home orders as “medical martial law” — the long-anticipated advent of a totalitarian state.
“They are being very effective in capitalizing on the pandemic,” said Devin Burghart, who runs the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a Seattle-based research center on far-right movements.
What success the groups have had in finding recruits is not clear, but new research indicates a significant jump in people consuming extremist material while under lockdown. Various violent incidents have been linked to white-supremacist or anti-government perpetrators enraged over aspects of the pandemic.
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement officials across the United States of the mobilization of violent extremists in response to stay-at-home measures, according to a senior law enforcement official and a congressional staff member.
A department memo dated April 23 noted the recent arrests of people who had threatened government officials imposing coronavirus-related regulations.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed President Trump’s assertion that the coronavirus originated in a research laboratory in Wuhan, China, though the nation’s intelligence agencies say they have reached no conclusion on the issue.
Speaking on the ABC program “This Week,” Mr. Pompeo, the former C.I.A. chief and one of the senior administration officials who is most hawkish on dealing with China, said, “there’s enormous evidence” that the coronavirus came from the lab, though he agreed with the intelligence assessment that there was no evidence the virus was man-made or genetically modified.
The theories are not mutually exclusive: Some officials who have examined the intelligence reports, which remain classified, say that it is possible an animal that was infected with the coronavirus was destroyed, and in the process a lab worker was accidentally infected.
Mr. Pompeo repeatedly accused China’s Communist Party, headed by President Xi Jinping, of covering up evidence and denying American experts access to the research lab, the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“We’ve seen the fact that they kicked the journalists out,” he said, referring to orders that American correspondents from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal leave the country. “We saw the fact that those who were trying to report on this, medical professionals inside of China, were silenced. They shut down reporting — all the kind of things that authoritarian regimes do, the way Communist parties operate.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement on Thursday saying it was continuing to “rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence” to determine whether the outbreak began with infected animals, or whether “it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”
On Thursday, the same day that the intelligence director’s statement came out, President Trump said he had a high degree of confidence that the laboratory was the source of the outbreak, but when pressed for evidence said: “I’m no allowed to tell you that.” Mr. Trump is the final authority on declassifying evidence, and he has done so when it suited his purposes, including making public a classified satellite photograph of an Iranian rocket launch site last summer.
In chaotic emergency rooms and intensive care units, coronavirus patients struggle to survive in isolation, with masked doctors and nurses keeping their distance and family visits barred. Alarms, monitors and overhead announcements blare incessantly.
But at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Manhattan, the music of Bach, Brahms and even the Beatles has begun wafting through patient rooms, played by accomplished performers — recently out-of-work chamber music players, winners of international competitions and prizes, teachers at prestigious music schools.
They perform from California, Kentucky, Maine, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York, where they are sheltered in place. The music plays through an iPhone or iPad placed at the bedside of patients who indicated that they wanted to hear a performance.
“I’m hoping to offer a brief moment of comfort or distraction or beauty,” said Michelle Ross, a violinist in Manhattan who has performed for the patients.
At times, the 200-bed hospital has had as many as 170 coronavirus patients, and Dr. Rachel Easterwood, who works the night shift in the I.C.U., had despaired at how little could be done for some patients.
A former professional clarinetist, Dr. Easterwood ended up arranging several performances. And she said last week that she hoped to continue them for patients and the staff.
“We go into this profession to help people,” she said. “And this music had the ability to at least help a little bit.”
Scott Connell, a Missouri weatherman, was trying to record a tease last month, but Maple, his Cavalier King Charles spaniel, had other plans.
“Three, two, one: More cold air ——” Mr. Connell, the chief meteorologist for KSDK in St. Louis, manages to say on the video before the dog’s barks interrupt him.
“Cold air continues across the area tonight; potential for some frost and freeze for some of us,” he starts again, and Maple barks again. Mr. Connell claps his hands and calls the dog over. He is finally able complete the tease, but not before Maple gets a few more barks in.
Like many people working from home because of the pandemic, television reporters and meteorologists have had to adapt to a new normal, including unfamiliar professional settings. So have their pets, who sometimes join them, crashing their reports and mugging for the cameras.
Also among them is Kim Powell, a reporter for the Phoenix broadcaster Arizona’s Family, who was delivering a news report about coronavirus testing in March when Zipper, her cat, strolled in front of the camera.
“Hi, this is my cat,” she said with a laugh during the segment. “That is the perks of working from home.”
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The coronavirus has touched almost every country, but its impact has seemed capricious. Global metropolises like New York, Paris and London have been devastated, while teeming cities like Bangkok, Baghdad, New Delhi and Lagos have, so far, largely been spared.
And time may still prove the greatest equalizer: The Spanish flu that broke out in the United States in 1918 seemed to die down during the summer only to come roaring back with a deadlier strain in the fall, and a third wave the following year. It eventually reached far-flung places like islands in Alaska and the South Pacific and infected a third of the world’s population.
“We are really early in this disease,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Research Institute. “If this were a baseball game, it would be the second inning, and there’s no reason to think that by the ninth inning the rest of the world that looks now like it hasn’t been affected won’t become like other places.”
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Hannah Beech, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Michael Corkery, Johnny Diaz, Catie Edmondson, Tess Felder, Manny Fernandez, Joseph Goldstein, Abby Goodnough, Jenny Gross, Rebecca Halleck, Shawn Hubler, Michael Levenson, Neil MacFarquhar, Mariel Padilla, Rick Rojas, David Sanger, Jeanna Smialek, Deborah Solomon, Benjamin Weiser and David Yaffe-Bellany.