Trump contradicts his administration’s plans to shut down the coronavirus task force.
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 one 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 the May. “We will have something in a different form,” Mr. Trump later told reporters on Tuesday during a trip to Arizona.
But in a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Mr. Trump appeared to contradict that, 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.
Mr. Trump wrote that, because of the task force’s “success,” it would “continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”
“We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate” he said.
The president also hinted at a shift in mission for the task force, saying that it would be “very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics.”
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. The White House was on the defensive within hours: White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted on Tuesday that reporting on the plan was “being misconstrued” and that the administration’s response would continue to involve experts and be “data-driven.”
Even as the worst public health crisis in a century raged 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 of plans to disband the task force, “It really is all a reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.”
Asked why now was the right time to wind down the task force, he replied, “Because we can’t keep our country closed for the next five years.” No prominent health officials or experts have proposed such a timeline.
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 one day about the possibility of injecting disinfectants — which would be dangerous — to kill the virus.
Members of the task force, including Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s virus response coordinator, had to urge Americans not to take those steps. And they 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.
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 brutal 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, and in its worst recession, in 2009 during the financial crisis, its 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,” wrote Maarten Verwey, the head of the commission’s economic unit, in a foreword to the forecast.
Italy and Spain, the two European Union countries worst hit, 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, according to the predictions, losing 9.7 of its economic output this year.
And unemployment is expected to be rampant, averaging 9 percent across the bloc and reaching 19.9 percent in Greece, the European Commission said.
The bloc’s biggest economy, Germany, will also be hammered, and its economy is projected to shrink by 6.5 percent for the year. France, the bloc’s second-largest economy, is expected to contract by 8.5 percent this year.
The grim set of predictions foretell a deeply uneven, but still across-the-board disastrous impact. The European Union is home to more than 400 million people and a major trading partner with the United States, China and the rest of the world.
China assails United States over Wuhan lab leak allegations.
A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry delivered a scathing criticism on Wednesday of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his assertion last weekend that the coronavirus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world originated in a Chinese laboratory.
The spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, pointed to a recently leaked memo by Republicans in the Senate urging attacking China and its labs as a campaign issue, and said that the memo had discredited the 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.”
Ms. Hua pointed out that the United States shut down research last August at its military germ lab at Fort Detrick, Md., after biosecurity issues were discovered. And she assailed the United States for its past use of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant that has been linked to a wide range of potential health problems in people.
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, the city where the coronavirus first emerged.
Researchers in China and elsewhere have suggested that the coronavirus that has spread around the world probably started in bats. It may have then adapted to another species before becoming capable of infecting humans.
“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon,” Mr. Trump said.
A federal scientist filed a formal whistle-blower complaint, claiming that administration officials pressured him to steer millions of dollars in contracts to the clients of a well-connected consultant.
The whistle blower, Rick Bright, who was director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until his removal in April, said he had been protesting “cronyism” and contract abuse since 2017.
On the same day, the response effort being directed by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was accused of cronyism and amateurish bungling that delayed efforts to secure much needed protective gear and equipment, according to a complaint filed with the House Oversight Committee.
Two men in New England were arrested on charges of attempting to defraud the government’s small-business lending program, marking the first federal fraud charges related to the $660 billion program that was aimed at helping businesses hurt by the pandemic.
And two new studies offered compelling evidence that children can transmit the virus. Neither proved it, but the evidence was strong enough to suggest that schools should be kept closed for now, many epidemiologists who were not involved in the research said.
As the pandemic cuts through the country, it leaves behind large numbers of deaths that surpass those of recent history. A New York Times analysis of state data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begins to offer a picture of just how many lives have been lost, both as a result of the virus and because of fears about using an overwhelmed health care system.
A handful of areas account for the bulk of the death surge across the United States, the analysis found. In New York City, for example, since mid-March there have been 23,000 more deaths than normal. Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey have also seen more than 1,000 deaths more than the usual figure between March 15 and April 11.
In a larger group of states, including California, Florida and Texas, the increases in deaths were more modest during the early phase of the pandemic, but death rates are still higher than normal.
Trump to meet with Iowa governor as state reopens and faces outbreaks at meatpacking plants.
President Trump will meet in the Oval Office on Wednesday with Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, and Vice President Mike Pence plans to visit the state later in the week, as the White House increasingly turns its attention to a state that never fully shut down and has recently seen 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 U.S. 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 Wednesday that she planned to discuss with the president “Iowa’s plans to reopen safely.”
Iowa has more than 10,000 confirmed coronavirus 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 coronavirus 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.
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, Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa announced that she would lift restrictions on public religious gatherings, as long as they followed sanitation and social distancing guidelines.
Stocks on Wall Street were directionless on Wednesday, rising and then falling after back-to-back gains this week.
The S & P 500 was flat and shares in Europe were mixed. Oil prices, which had been on an upswing recently, also pared early gains.
Stocks had been buoyed this week by signs that the countries hardest hit are slowly emerging from economically devastating lockdowns.
But the gains have been small, and the rest of the week will bring more concrete evidence of the severity of the damage caused by the shutdown, with a monthly report on unemployment Friday to provide a comprehensive look at the number of Americans out of work.
Already, reports on jobless claims have shown that more than 30 million workers in the United States sought unemployment benefits over the six weeks through April. Another weekly update is due on Thursday.
And on Wednesday, the ADP National Employment Report, showed the private sector work force had plunged by an unprecedented 20 million jobs in April. Separately, new data from the European Commission predicted a deep recession on the continent this year.
Still, the S & P 500 has continued to climb in the face of this data and warnings from major companies that they cannot predict what the rest of the year will bring for their businesses; the index is up about 30 percent over the past six weeks.
Oil prices, which had rebounded over the past two days, fell on Wednesday. The price of benchmark crude in the United States retreated to a little over $23 a barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell below $30 a barrel.
Transit officials have presented the closing as an unfortunate but necessary measure forced by the deadly pandemic. Since March, the outbreak has sent ridership plummeting more than 90 percent, starved the authority of its usual revenue streams and prompted an influx of homeless people seeking refuge on mostly empty trains.
Still, the nightly closure leaves an indelible mark on a city long defined by its round-the-clock hustle and unending energy.
The constant movement of people shaped how the growing metropolis matured — the steady pulse of the city’s underground arteries empowered New York to become the country’s iconically busy city, the place where no one’s friends, family or colleagues were ever all asleep at the same time.
Across the system, the complicated task of actually shutting down the system played out in nearly every station: Regular early-morning riders had to find alternative ways of getting to work, police officers and social workers tried to coax homeless people who may be mentally unstable off the subway, and cleaners tried to work quickly and thoroughly to disinfect the rolling stock in four short hours.
Unlike police officers or firefighters, most transit workers, though essential to the city’s functioning, never expected to confront life-threatening danger on the job. Now, like reluctant soldiers whose draft numbers were called, many feel as if they have been thrust onto the front lines of a deadly war they were not prepared for and do not want to fight.
“It’s a nerve-racking thing to go to work every day and not know what’s going to happen,” said Keith Medina, a bus operator who opted to burn through 20 of his personal days in March and April rather than risk exposure to the virus. “We didn’t sign up for that.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reported that another 232 people in the state had died, a number that has been relatively flat for the last three days.
As he toured a Honeywell factory that is producing respirator masks in Arizona on Tuesday, the president did not wear one, despite signs near the factory floor announcing safety guidelines that included the admonition, “Please wear your mask at all times.”
Mr. Trump delivered heavily political remarks after his tour of the plant, which has 500 employees and previously manufactured aerospace equipment. But it was the strange soundtrack that played in the background that left many mystified.
While he looked over the protective equipment, the Guns N’ Roses rendition of “Live and Let Die” blared over loudspeakers.
Searches for the song exploded on social media and critics were quick to take note.
“I can think of no better metaphor for this presidency than Donald Trump not wearing a face mask to a face mask factory while the song ‘Live and Let Die’ blares in the background,” the late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel wrote on Twitter.
Just off Wyoming Street in Pennsylvania’s hilly, working-class city of Hazleton, Laury Sorensen and her husband, Emil, lugged groceries from a pickup truck upstairs to her parents’ wood-frame home.
They sought to spare Ms. Sorensen’s father, Rafael Benjamin, a trip to the supermarket in a time of infectious illness. He ran enough risk working for Cargill Meat Solutions in an industrial park outside the city.
The Pennsylvania governor had issued a shutdown order but exempted Cargill, which packages meat in plastic wrap. Mr. Benjamin, a good-natured man who rarely missed a day of work, said that colleagues labored shoulder to shoulder in March without masks and gloves and that he worried it had become a petri dish for sickness.
A few days later, Mr. Benjamin could not come to the phone. “He got sick on Tuesday,” his son-in-law texted. “He’s on a respirator.”
Then another text: “He was six days from retirement.” Mr. Benjamin died in April.
The virus swept down Wyoming Street in a city of 25,000 tucked into the wooded, still-leafless foothills of the Poconos.
Michael Powell reports that five days spent along a few blocks of old, worn rowhouses and storefronts revealed the virus to be all around. All anyone spoke about was the people falling ill.
Workers along these blocks, particularly those from Hazleton’s many factories and warehouses, faced a primal calculus. They could not leave jobs, even as co-workers fell sick, and some brought the virus home with them.
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 a dry cough, a 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 Alan Blinder, Michael Powell, Elizabeth Dias, Sarah Mervosh, Marc Santora, Reed Abelson, Nicholas Confessore, Michael Crowley, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Christina Goldbaum, Maggie Haberman, Andrew Jacobs, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Jodi Kantor, Keith Bradsher, Josh Katz, Denise Lu, David E. Sanger, Margot Sanger-Katz, Apoorva Mandavilli, Katie Benner, and Noah Weiland.