Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump Administration Weighs New Guidance on Wearing Masks

ImagePeople waited in line outside of a pharmacy in New York City on Wednesday.
Credit…Andrew Seng for The New York Times

The C.D.C. is expected to advise all Americans to wear cloth masks in public. Trump says it won’t be mandatory.

The Trump administration appeared to be conflicted Thursday about whether to recommend that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public, even as federal health officials were revising guidance to reflect new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms.

Until now, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like the World Health Organization, has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks, including N95 respirator masks, for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply.

At a White House briefing Thursday evening, President Trump said his administration was “coming out with regulations” on mask wearing but stressed that the guidance would be entirely voluntary. “If people want to wear them, they can,” he said.

According to a federal official, the C.D.C. has been preparing to recommend that everyone wear face coverings in public settings, like pharmacies and grocery stores, to avoid unwittingly spreading the virus. Public health officials have continued to stress, however, that N95 masks and surgical masks should be saved for front-line doctors and nurses, who have been in dire need of protective gear.

For weeks, the administration has sent conflicting messages on masks. At first, officials clearly stated that masks should only be worn by sick people. For some time, Mr. Trump has been saying masks might be useful, but scarves would be fine as well. Chinese officials have expressed alarm at how few ordinary Americans are covering their noses and mouths.

Earlier this week, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., confirmed in a radio interview that the agency was reviewing its guidelines on who should wear masks. Citing new data that shows high rates of transmission from people who are infected but show no symptoms, he said the guidance on mask wearing was “being critically re-reviewed, to see if there’s potential additional value for individuals that are infected or individuals that may be asymptomatically infected.”

Birx says social distancing is the key to slowing the virus and pleads with Americans to follow guidelines.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the virus response, pleaded with Americans on Thursday to follow the federal guidelines on social distancing “to a tee,” emphasizing that it was still the most important step Americans could take to slow the spread. Masks, she said, weren’t enough.

Failing to follow the guidelines would keep the United States on a steep trajectory of new cases and deaths.

“We have to change that slope; we have to change the logarithmic curve that we’re on,” she said of the steep increases in cases in many parts of the country. “We see country after country having done that, what it means in the United States is not everyone is doing it.”

Under prodding by Mr. Trump, Dr. Birx noted that some communities in the United States are doing a better job lowering the steep curve of cases by keeping people inside with social distancing.

She added: “We see Spain, we see Italy, we see France, we see Germany, when we see others beginning to bend their curves. We can bend ours, but it means everybody has to take that same responsibility as Americans.”

Dr. Birx said that recommendations against gatherings of more than 10 do not mean people should be having dinner parties or cocktail parties of less than 10 people.

“We’re only as strong is every community, every county, every state, every American following the guidelines to a tee,” she said. “And I can tell by the curve, and as it is today that not every American is following it. And so this is really a call to action.”

Trump denounces new House oversight committee as “a witch hunt.”

President Trump lashed out at Democrats in Congress on Thursday for announcing the start of oversight investigations into the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, accusing them of “conducting these partisan investigations in the middle of a pandemic.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier on Thursday that she had created a special select bipartisan committee to oversee all aspects of the government response to the virus, including its distribution of more than $2 trillion in emergency aid. Without citing Ms. Pelosi’s move specifically, the president made clear he objects.

“I want to remind everyone here in our nation’s capital, especially in Congress, that this is not the time for politics, endless partisan investigations,” he said. “Here we go again.”

Mr. Trump repeated the language he often used to describe the investigations into his administration: “You see what happens. It’s a witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt. And in the end, the people doing the witch hunt they’ve been losing, and they’ve been losing by a lot.”

The White House then released a letter that Mr. Trump sent to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, pressing his attack as the nightly coronavirus task force briefing continued.

“I’ve known you for many years but I never knew how bad a Senator you are for New York until I became president,” Mr. Trump wrote, after complaining about “your ridiculous impeachment hoax.”

In just two weeks, 10 million U.S. jobs have vanished.

When the first cases of the coronavirus were reported in the United States in January, President Trump mostly dismissed the looming threat, Wall Street chugged ever upward and people set about their business with scant recognition of the calamity that lay ahead.

On Thursday, the stunning scope of the economic disaster became clearer as the Labor Department reported the loss of 10 million jobs in just two weeks. Wall Street has seemingly imploded, and the global economy has shuddered as the fallout of the pandemic reaches into every country.

Hopes for a dramatic but brief downturn followed by a quick recovery have faded, and in their place are fears that the world may be on the cusp of an economic shock unseen since the Great Depression.

The speed and scale of the job losses is without precedent. Until last month, the worst week for unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982.

At his evening coronavirus briefing, President Trump again said he would not reopen the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance exchange to allow the newly unemployed or the already uninsured to buy deeply subsidized health insurance. But Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday that the administration will unveil a plan to directly pay hospitals to treat uninsured coronavirus patients.

Despite the news that 6.6 million people had filed for unemployment benefits last week, the S&P 500 rose more than 2 percent after Mr. Trump said he expected Russia and Saudi Arabia to announce oil production cuts. Oil prices had been hammered as the pandemic all but eliminated travel and demand for energy, and a price war between Saudi and Russia had intensified the decline.

Mr. Trump’s statement led crude oil futures, which had already been climbing on Thursday, to surge, and shares of oil and gas companies also rallied. But by Thursday afternoon the agreement Mr. Trump said he expected had yet to materialize, and analysts said it was unclear whether Moscow and Riyadh were close to such a deal.

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, rose about 25 percent, and Occidental Petroleum was the best performing stock in the S&P 500, with a gain of about 19 percent. Apache rose 15 percent, and Halliburton gained more than 13 percent.

Hospitals report some critical medicines are beginning to run low.

Across the country, as hospitals confront a harrowing surge in coronavirus cases, they are also beginning to report shortages of critical medications — especially those desperately needed to ease the disease’s assault on patients’ respiratory systems.

The most commonly reported shortages include drugs that are used to keep patients’ airways open, antibiotics, antivirals and sedatives. They are all part of a standard cocktail of medications that help patients on mechanical ventilators, control secondary lung infections, reduce fevers, manage pain and resuscitate those who go into cardiac arrest.

Demand for these drugs significantly increased in March as the pandemic took hold. Orders for antibiotics like azithromycin and antiviral medicines like ribavirin nearly tripled. Requests for medicines used for sedation and pain management, including fentanyl, midazolam and propofol, increased by 100 percent, 70 percent and 60 percent respectively.

Demand for albuterol, a common asthma inhaler medication, also has risen significantly, given its importance in easing the breathing of patients with severe infection.

“Just like we’re seeing shortages of other materials, like masks and ventilators, medications are right there in the mix of things that we don’t always have enough of on hand,” said Erin Fox, a drug shortage expert at the University of Utah. “So we were not prepared for this kind of surge.”

Russia sends a planeload of coronavirus aid to the U.S., turning the tables.

In the early 1990s, amid the poverty-ridden collapse of the Soviet Union, American food aid in the form of a flood of cheap chicken thighs — Russians called them “Bush legs” — symbolized the humiliating downfall of a superpower.

Three decades later, Moscow got a chance to turn the tables. A giant An-124 Russian military transport plane landed at Kennedy International Airport in New York on Wednesday, bearing cartons of masks and ventilators from Russia for a pandemic-stricken metropolis.

“If someone had said even just a week ago that the United States would be thanking Russia for humanitarian aid,” an anchor on Russian state television marveled Thursday, “people would have said you’re crazy.”

But with the pandemic increasingly bearing down on Russia, the Kremlin’s propaganda machine appeared to avoid trumpeting the aid shipment lest Russians think that the government was ignoring their own plight.

After plans for the shipment stirred criticism on both sides of the Atlantic, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on Thursday that the two countries had in fact evenly split the cost of the medical goods and that Russia could depend on future aid from the United States in fighting the coronavirus.

The Navy has removed the captain of an aircraft carrier stricken by the virus.

The Navy removed the captain of the stricken aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt on Thursday, only days after he implored his superior officers for more help as a coronavirus outbreak spread aboard the ship, Defense Department officials said.

About 100 sailors have been infected so far.

In a letter that leaked to the news media on Tuesday, Capt. Brett E. Crozier laid out the dire situation unfolding aboard the warship, with almost 5,000 crew members, and described what he said were the Navy’s failures to provide him with the proper resources to combat the virus by moving sailors off the vessel and disinfecting areas on board.

Senior Defense Department officials were angry that the letter found its way first to The San Francisco Chronicle, and then to other news outlets, where it was widely reported.

The decision to remove Captain Crozier came on Thursday, officials said.

The carrier is currently docked in Guam.

China is undercounting its coronavirus toll, the C.I.A. has found.

The C.I.A. has told White House officials since at least February that China is understating its coronavirus numbers — an obfuscation that could have profound impact on health experts’ ability to predict how the virus will spread.

American officials have long viewed many figures and reports out of China with suspicion. But the intelligence about China’s undercount of its coronavirus death toll played a role in President Trump’s negotiation last week of an apparent détente with President Xi Jinping of China after weeks of rising tensions over the virus.

The C.I.A. has its own health experts and epidemiologists who work on classified models of the pandemic’s spread, and intelligence officers seek new information to contribute to those models and improve them. But American intelligence agencies have not obtained better numbers about the death toll in China in large measure because the Chinese government itself does not know how damaging the virus has been.

Midlevel bureaucrats in the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated, and elsewhere in China have been lying about infection rates, testing and death counts, fearful that if they report numbers that are too high they will be punished, lose their position or worse, current and former intelligence officials said.

White House officials believe that China is a month or so ahead of the United States in how the pandemic will play out. And obtaining a more accurate view of the coronavirus toll in China could be critical to heading off a second wave of the pandemic.

But as intelligence officials harbored their own worries about China, Beijing and Washington recently agreed to hold fire on public sniping over the virus and to look for ways to cooperate to slow the contagion.

National security officials and China hawks in the State Department are skeptical the détente will last, but several top advisers to Mr. Trump have encouraged restraint.

They argue that the two superpowers need to work together to suppress the virus and resuscitate the global economy, and that Mr. Trump should not jeopardize a trade deal that the two nations reached last December.

New York could deplete its ventilator stockpile in 6 days.

New York State, whose 2,468 coronavirus deaths have made it the center of America’s outbreak, is in danger of depleting its stockpile of critically needed ventilators in just six days, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.

“If a person comes in and needs a ventilator and you don’t have a ventilator, the person dies,” Mr. Cuomo said. “That’s the blunt equation here.”

The lack of ventilators, which are needed for patients who are incapable of breathing on their own, is emerging as one of the biggest looming dangers of the pandemic. Mr. Cuomo said that the state had sent 400 ventilators from its stockpile on Wednesday night to hard-hit hospitals in New York City and another 200 to hospitals in Long Island and Westchester.

That left just 2,200 ventilators in the state’s stockpile, he said — leading state officials to fear that if their projections hold, they will run through them in six days.

Mr. Cuomo said that buying more ventilators was proving difficult with so much competition from around the nation and the world. So he said that hospitals were taking extraordinary measures to get the most out of their existing ventilators, including splitting ventilators by connecting two patients to machines that are intended for one.

The U.S. government has nearly emptied its emergency stockpile of protective medical supplies like masks, gowns and gloves, a senior official said. Some states receiving desperately needed ventilators from the federal government discovered that the machines did not work.

Mr. Cuomo made a plea, and an offer, to businesses. He said that the state would pay to help manufacturers switch over to the production of needed hospital gowns, gloves and other equipment.

“If you have the capacity to make these products, we will purchase them, and we will pay a premium,” he said. “But we need it, like, now.”

Mr. Trump, under fire for his administration’s failure to respond quickly to the pandemic, lashed out at New York again on Thursday, saying the state’s doctors and hospitals are “never satisfied” with the medical supplies provided by the federal government because of politics.

Mr. Trump said he had ordered his health secretary to use the Defense Production Act to help a half-dozen American companies secure the materials they need to produce more ventilators. The companies listed in the order include General Electric, Hill-Rom, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical.

It was not immediately clear how the new order would affect the production of ventilators or how quickly the companies would be able to provide the devices to hospitals in hot spots like New York City or New Orleans.

A test that may help detect coronavirus immunity is approved.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the first test for coronavirus antibodies for use in the United States.

Currently available tests are designed to find fragments of viral DNA indicating an ongoing infection. An antibody test, on the other hand, tells doctors whether a patient has ever been exposed to the virus — and, having recovered, now may have at least some immunity.

That is important for several reasons. People with immunity might be able to venture safely from their homes and help shore up the work force. It may be particularly important for doctors and nurses to know whether they have antibodies.

Antibody testing eventually should give scientists a better sense of how widespread the infection is in the population and help researchers calculate more precisely the fatality rate and the frequency of asymptomatic infections.

Separately, an unproven stem cell therapy derived from human placentas will begin testing in patients with coronavirus, the New Jersey biotech company Celularity said Thursday.

The treatment has not yet been used on any patients with symptoms of Covid-19, but it has caught the attention of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer. Mr. Giuliani recently featured an interview with the company founder on his website and said on Twitter that the product has “real potential,” while also criticizing the Food and Drug Administration for not moving more quickly to approve potential remedies.

There is no proven treatment for the respiratory disease, but several experimental approaches, including old malaria drugs and H.I.V. antivirals, are being tested in patients around the world.

Amid the pandemic, the United States is now facing a drastic drop in the national blood supply. On Thursday, the F.D.A. that it was reducing the amount of time men who have had sex with men should wait before they give blood from one year to three months.

France is converting part of a food market into a morgue.

In a grim sign of the epidemic’s growing toll in France, the police said on Thursday that a hall at the world’s largest wholesale food market, near Paris, would be turned into a temporary morgue.

Nearly 5,400 people have died because of the epidemic in France. Nearly 60,000 people in France have tested positive for the virus, and over 26,000 of them are hospitalized. Over 6,000 of those are in intensive care, and hospitals in areas that are hardest hit, especially the Paris region, are nearing their maximum capacity.

The police cited “persistent tensions” between hospitals and funeral homes as deaths accelerated. They said coffins would be placed temporarily in the refrigerated hall, which is “offset and isolated” from the rest of the food market, a sprawling 573-acre complex in Rungis.

“This location will make it possible to preserve, in conditions that are the most dignified and acceptable from a sanitary standpoint, the caskets of the deceased awaiting burial or cremation, in France or abroad,” the police said.

The morgue is expected to start operating on Friday.

It was not the first time that the French authorities have used Rungis for a dire health crisis. In 2003, when a brutal heat wave killed thousands of elderly people, 700 bodies were kept in a refrigerated warehouse at the same site.

Trump’s company spoke with a bank and a Florida county about delaying payments on loans, and other obligations.

All over the United States, businesses large and small are seeking breathing room from their lenders, landlords and business partners as they face the financial fallout from the coronavirus crisis.

The president’s family company is among those looking for help.

With some of its golf courses and hotels closed amid the economic lockdown, the Trump Organization has been exploring whether it can delay payments on some of its loans and other financial obligations, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

Representatives of Mr. Trump’s company have recently spoken with Deutsche Bank, the president’s largest creditor, about the possibility of postponing payments on at least some of its loans from the bank.

And in Florida, the Trump Organization sought guidance last week from Palm Beach County about whether it expected the company to continue making monthly payments on county land that it leases for a 27-hole golf club.

The discussions with Deutsche Bank and Palm Beach County are preliminary, and it isn’t clear whether Mr. Trump’s company will be able to delay or reduce its payments, according to people briefed on the discussions.

“These days everybody is working together,” said Eric Trump, the president’s son, who helps manage the family business. “Tenants are working with landlords, landlords are working with banks. The whole world is working together as we fight through this pandemic.”

The Trump Organization’s requests put lenders and landlords in the awkward position of having to accede or risk alienating the president.

Prepare now, because the virus will resurge, Fauci warns on “The Daily.”

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, said on the Times podcast “The Daily” on Thursday that the threat of the virus resurging will continue until a vaccine is approved.

“I believe that in a few months, hopefully, that we’ll get it under control enough that it won’t be as frightening as it is now, but it will not be an absent threat,” he said. “And the threat of resurgence will be something that we need to make sure that we are prepared for.”

Addressing the delays in testing for the virus across the United States, which left Americans largely blind to the scale of the looming catastrophe until early March, Dr. Fauci said that the government was working to increase capacity.

The government “is right now, today, ramping up to essentially make the private sector the major driving force of the testing,” he said. “Early on, that was not in place. And that’s unfortunate.”

Dr. Fauci, who has advised presidents from both parties on pandemic responses, has become the explainer-in-chief of the pandemic. Since joining the White House coronavirus task force in late January, he has taken on a public role translating the science behind the crisis for the general public — and clarifying President Trump’s false or misleading claims in press briefings.

“The president has his own style,” Dr. Fauci said. “That’s obvious to the American public.” He added, “I don’t think it would be possible for me to influence another person’s style. I mean, that just doesn’t happen.”

Dr. Fauci also looked ahead, to how he believes the crisis will be seen years from now.

“I think it will be remembered as really showing what a great country we are. We have been through, as I’ve said, if you look at the history of our country, some extraordinary ordeals. I mean, world wars and diseases and depressions,” he said. “And we’ve gotten through it. I have a great deal of faith in the spirit of the American people. We’re resilient. We’re going to get over this. And this is going to end.”

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Listen to ‘The Daily’: A Conversation With Dr. Anthony Fauci

“We are in a war. I mean, I actually think this is exactly what generals or leaders in real, you know, violent combat wars feel.”

Deaths spike in Ecuador, and officials fear a dramatic undercount of virus cases.

Corpses are strewn in the streets of Ecuador or spend days waiting to be picked up from private homes as the number of coronavirus deaths surges. There is no more wood for coffins, leading one cardboard manufacturer to begin producing cardboard caskets.

“We are so beaten down,” a city councilman, Andrés Guschmer, said on Thursday.

He described a collective grief in the normally lively city of fewer than three million people.

Latin America has started to see a rapid rise in cases, and many leaders are preparing for an explosion.

Officially, Ecuador has had 98 deaths because of coronavirus, most of them in Guayaquil, a city where many families have members who work or study in Spain and Italy. But that number is a dramatic undercount, Guayaquil was seeing three or four times the number of deaths it typically sees in a day, he said, adding that the day before they had about 320 deaths.

In Guayaquil, part of the reason for the backlog is that federal regulation requires each death to be assessed by criminal investigators before the body’s removal, but there are not enough investigators, said Mr. Guschmer, who is in charge of coordinating corpse removal with federal officials.

He has urged the national government to change the protocol.

Jorge Wated, an official working on the national government’s response to the crisis, said on Wednesday that deaths in the city could reach 3,500 in coming months.

Among the dead in Guayaquil are four journalists, several of whom were covering the crisis before they died, said César Ricaurte, the director of a media defense group called Fundamedios.

Cellphone data shows where social distancing measures worked, and what happened without them.

There are still a dozen states where governors have resisted issuing stay-at-home orders to try to slow the spread of the virus, though localities in some of them have put their own bans in place. An analysis of cellphone location data by The New York Times found that people in the Southeast and other places that waited to enact such orders have continued to travel widely, potentially exposing more people as the outbreak accelerates.

A half-dozen of the most populous counties where residents were still traveling widely last week are in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis did not call for a statewide lockdown until Wednesday. See where America did not stay at home:

A stranded cruise ship is let into port.

More than 1,200 cruise ship passengers who were stranded at sea for weeks while trying to find a port to take them docked in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday afternoon, after local officials debated for days whether the ships would strain local resources.

Four people died aboard the ship, Holland America’s Zaandam, and dozens more were sick, with nine in the hospital on board the vessel. The ship was supposed to disembark two weeks ago in Chile, but Chile closed its borders. The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, did not want the passengers either.

Healthy passengers were transferred to a sister ship, the Rotterdam, and both vessels made their way to Florida together. The ships arrived several miles off the Florida coast early Thursday morning, but did not get cleared to enter the port until about 4:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, President Trump said he intervened by calling the governor and imploring him to have compassion for people dying at sea.

“We are able to help the people on board in a humanitarian way and ensure they are able to go home with their families,” Dale Holness, the Broward County mayor, said in announcing the deal. “We are grateful that we were able to find a solution that benefits everyone.”

Passengers who live in Florida will be driven home by private car paid for by the Carnival Corporation, which owns Holland America. Others will be taken by shuttle to a tarmac, where a chartered plane awaits.

The company said that 45 people are showing symptoms and will stay on board. The crew will remain on the ship.

Here’s how to tweak your home to serve you better now.

Your home is currently serving as a work space, living space and possibly a school and playground. It wasn’t designed for all these disparate tasks, but there are things you can do to make your home more comfortable for you and your family in these times.

Reporting was contributed by Abboy Goodnough, Margot Sanger-Katz, Knvul Sheikh, Michael Cooper, Alan Blinder, Karen Zraick, Reid J. Epstein, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Emily Cochrane, Andy Newman, Mike Baker, Elian Peltier, Aurelien Breeden, Julie Turkewitz, David Enrich, Ben Protess, Eric Lipton, Megan Specia, Marc Santora, Damien Cave, Austin Ramzy, Michael Wilson, Edward Wong, Ana Swanson, Katie Thomas, Helene Cooper, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt, Jan Hoffman, Keith Collins, David Yaffe-Bellany, Neil Vigdor, Andrew Das, Maya Salam, Mihir Zaveri, Julian E. Barnes, Ana Swenson, Raphael Minder, Iliana Magra, Kevin Armstrong, Ben Casselman, Ben Shpigel, Isabel Kershner, Anton Troianovski and Niki Kitsantonis.


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