Image
Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Trump acknowledged that the virus has proved more lethal than he had expected.

President Trump predicted on Sunday night that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country may reach as high as 100,000 in the United States, far higher than he had forecast just weeks ago, even as he pressed states to begin reopening the shuttered economy.

Mr. Trump, who last month forecast that 60,000 lives would be lost, acknowledged that the virus has proved more devastating than he had expected but said he believes parks and beaches should begin reopening and schools should resume classes in person by this fall.

“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people,” he said in a virtual “town hall” meeting on Fox News. “That’s a horrible thing. We shouldn’t lose one person over this.”

But he credited himself with preventing the toll from being worse. “If we didn’t do it, the minimum we would have lost was a million two, a million four, a million five, that’s the minimum. We would have lost probably higher, it’s possible higher than 2.2.

During the two-hour broadcast, he also acknowledged he was warned about the coronavirus in his regular intelligence briefing on Jan. 23 but asserted that the information was characterized as if “it was not a big deal.”

Mr. Trump confirmed reports that his intelligence briefings cited the virus even as he argued that it had not been presented in an alarming way that demanded immediate action.

“On Jan. 23 I was told that there could be a virus coming in but it was of no real import,” Mr. Trump said. “In other words, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to do something.’ It was a brief conversation and it was only on Jan. 23. Shortly thereafter, I closed the country to China. We had 23 people in the room and I was the only one in the room who wanted to close it down.”

Mr. Trump was referring to his decision on Jan. 30 to limit travel from China, where the outbreak had started, a move that in fact was recommended by some of his advisers and came only after major American airlines had already canceled flights. Some public health advisers have said the travel limits helped slow the spread to the United States but complained that the Trump administration did not use the extra time to adequately prepare by ramping up testing and medical equipment.

Mr. Trump said his travel limit was not driven by the Jan. 23 warning. “I didn’t do it because of what they said,” he said. “They said it very matter-of-factly, it was not a big deal.”

During the Fox broadcast, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democrat who is challenging Trump in this year’s presidential campaign, posted a short campaign video on social media criticizing the incumbent’s leadership during the pandemic.

“Donald Trump thought the job was about tweets and rallies and big parades,” a narrator says. “He never thought he’d have to protect nearly 330 million Americans. So he didn’t.”

Also during the town hall, Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged the criticism he faced when he did not wear a mask during a visit Tuesday to the Mayo Clinic.

“I didn’t think it was necessary, but I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic,” Mr. Pence said.

Los Angeles rolled out countywide testing. The website was quickly swamped.

A website set up by Los Angeles for residents to get tested for the coronavirus, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not, encountered some problems after a countywide testing initiative began last week.

Some Angelenos complained on social media that there were no time slots available on the website, which states that testing is available by appointment only, with priority given to front-line workers and people with symptoms of Covid-19, the illness caused by the virus. The tests are free for all residents of Los Angeles County, which is collaborating with the city on the effort.

Other people said that they were unable to access the website, which requires visitors to give their name, address, date of birth, gender and race or ethnicity on an intake form.

“If testing slots are booked when you visit the site, we encourage you to revisit the site later in the day for slots that may have reopened due to no shows,” the city said in a Twitter post on Saturday night.

The website experienced a surge in visitors in recent days after Mayor Eric Garcetti declared last week that Los Angeles would become the first major U.S. city to offer all residents tests for the virus, which health officials said on Sunday had caused 1,229 deaths in Los Angeles County.

Mr. Garcetti said on Friday that he was very confident of the ability of the website to keep up with the demand for tests.

During his daily briefing on Friday, he said that health officials were reserving time slots for front-line workers and people with symptoms. As the day goes on, he said, spaces open up because of no-shows or fewer requests for appointments.

All of the appointments for Monday are booked, but there are opening for asymptomatic people to get tested on Tuesday, according to the mayor’s office, which advised residents to keep checking for slots. The city and county have the capacity to do 18,000 tests a day across 34 sites, Los Angeles officials said.

The Justice Department supports a Virginia church that says state restrictions violated its freedom.

The Justice Department on Sunday said it was siding with a Virginia church that is challenging that state’s stay-at-home order.

The Lighthouse Fellowship Church, on Chincoteague Island, sued Gov. Ralph Northam after its pastor was fined for hosting a 16-person church service in a building that seats 225 people.

On April 5, Kevin Wilson, the church’s pastor, was issued a criminal citation and summons for allowing more than 10 congregants to worship together. The congregants were seated more than six feet apart and the church had sanitized surfaces before the service, in keeping with the same standards that Virginia set forth for offices and retailers.

The church sought a temporary restraining order, which was denied by a district court judge, contending that the state of Virginia violated the church’s religious freedom by allowing stores and other commercial businesses, but not churches, to host socially distant gatherings of more than 10 people.

That seeming double standard has “impermissibly interfered with the church’s free exercise of religion,” the Justice Department said in its filing.

This marks the second time that the Justice Department has lent its support to a church that accused a local government of abusing its powers during the pandemic.

The department said that the case should be heard by the court as it “involves important questions of how to balance the deference owed to public officials in addressing a pandemic threatening the health and safety of the public with fundamental constitutional rights.”

Attorney General William P. Barr has said that state and local stay-at-home orders issued to fight against the spread of the coronavirus could violate civil liberties. Last week he asked federal prosecutors to monitor state and local policies and to correct any that “could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”

He has also overseen the department’s support of religious organizations and schools, and said in public remarks that liberals and secularists have worked for the “organized destruction” of religion.

A previous pandemic-related religious freedom lawsuit that the department supported objected that a church was not allowed to host drive in services, while a nearby restaurant was allowed to host drive in diners. That suit was dropped after the local government changed its laws to allow for drive in worship services.

The pandemic appears to be claiming its first big retail casualty: J. Crew

J. Crew, the mass-market clothing company whose preppy-with-a-twist products were worn by Michelle Obama and appeared at New York Fashion Week, is expected to file for bankruptcy protection as soon as Monday. It would be the first major retailer to do so during the coronavirus pandemic, though other big industry names including Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney are likewise struggling with the devastating toll of mass shutdowns.

J. Crew has been in negotiations with lenders on how to handle its debts for weeks, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because discussions were confidential. The retailer’s board was expected to confer on Sunday evening and J. Crew could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as soon as Monday, the people said. The company on Sunday did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pandemic has been disastrous for the already weakened retail industry. In March, sales of clothing and accessories fell by more than half. The numbers for April are expected to only be worse, because many stores were open for at least some of March (e-commerce, a relatively small contributor to total sales for most store chains, is not enough to make up for the closures).

The White House wants to wait and see before considering more economic aid.

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.

Seven Eastern states will join together to buy vital virus-fighting supplies and equipment.

Video

transcript

bars
0:00/1:55
1:55

transcript

Seven Eastern States Will Band Together to Buy P.P.E., Cuomo Says

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York would join in a consortium of seven neighboring states to purchase and share personal protective equipment needed to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

“New York State alone buys about $2 billion of medical supplies this year — $2 billion this year. And that’s one state. And that’s us purchasing from China and around the world. We’re going to form a consortium with our seven Northeast partner states, which buy about $5 billion worth of equipment and supplies. That will then increase our market power when we’re buying. And we will buy as a consortium, price as a consortium for P.P.E. equipment, ventilators, medical equipment, whatever we need to buy. When you put all those hospitals together, all that public health capacity together, which will make us more competitive in the international marketplace. And I believe it will save taxpayers money. I also believe it’ll help us actually get the equipment. Because we have trouble still getting the equipment and just buying the equipment. Because these vendors, on the other side, they’re dealing with countries, they’re dealing with the federal government. Why should they do business with one state, right, when they can do business with an entire country? So, this consortium I think will help us get the equipment and get it at a better price.” “You know, we are in this same boat. We’re begging, borrowing and bartering for equipment, P.P.E., ventilators, etc. We’re still doing it. And someone said to me a couple of days ago that gowns could become the new ventilators. And so we’re still out there. And so the notion of coordinating together as a region makes enormous amount of sense. So sign me up, and sign New Jersey up.”

Video player loading
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York would join in a consortium of seven neighboring states to purchase and share personal protective equipment needed to fight the spread of the coronavirus.CreditCredit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

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.

Commencement is canceled. But these school administrators are still celebrating seniors.

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.

The staff at Chesterton High School in Chesterton, Ind., delivered “Class of 2020” yard signs. Dozens of teachers at West High School in Salt Lake City placed personalized yard signs outside the homes of graduating seniors. And the principal, teachers and administrators at Wellington High School in Wellington, Fla., donned masks and gloves to surprise the school’s 626 seniors with yard signs.

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.”

Warmer weather and protests put pressure on states.

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.

In Texas, three movie theaters in the San Antonio area became some of the first in the country to reopen, a move that worried infectious disease experts but was applauded by those who went to the screening.

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.”

Mike Pompeo says there is ‘enormous evidence’ tying the outbreak to a lab in China.

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.”

Mr. Pompeo is among the officials believed to be pushing American spy agencies to find evidence to support the theory that the government laboratory in Wuhan was the origin of the outbreak. The Chinese government has vigorously denied that the virus leaked from the laboratory, and at one point suggested the American military created it.

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.

How to get your money back into balance.

Now is an ideal time to ask for refunds from canceled travel plans, for rent reductions and for more help with college payments. Here’s how.

Global roundup: Why are some places affected more than others?

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.

The question of why the virus has overwhelmed some places and left others relatively untouched is a puzzle that has spawned numerous theories and speculations but no definitive answers. That knowledge could have profound implications for how countries respond to the virus, for determining who is at risk and for knowing when it’s safe to go out again.

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, Katie Benner, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Michael Corkery, Michael J. de la Merced, Johnny Diaz, Catie Edmondson, Tess Felder, Manny Fernandez, Vanessa Friedman, Joseph Goldstein, Abby Goodnough, Jenny Gross, Rebecca Halleck, Shawn Hubler, Michael Levenson, Neil MacFarquhar, Sapna Maheshwari, Mariel Padilla, Rick Rojas, David Sanger, Jeanna Smialek, Deborah Solomon, Neil Vigdor, Benjamin Weiser and David Yaffe-Bellany.