As millions more Americans lose their jobs, more aid from Washington is uncertain.
The harsh economic toll of the social distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of the pandemic was underscored Thursday when the Labor Department reported that another 6.6 million people had filed for unemployment benefits last week.
That brought the number of Americans who had lost their jobs over the past three weeks to more than 16 million, which is more job losses than the most recent recession produced over two years. The dire figures suggested that Washington’s recent $2 trillion relief package was not working quickly enough to halt the economic devastation and the hemorrhaging of jobs in nearly every type of industry.
But efforts to bolster the relief package stalled in Washington. The Trump administration asked Congress to quickly approve $250 billion in spending to replenish a new loan program for distressed small businesses, but it hit a roadblock in the Senate on Thursday morning after Republicans and Democrats clashed over what to include.
Democrats want to double the size of the new emergency relief bill by adding $100 billion for hospitals and $150 billion for state and local governments, which are facing enormous shortfalls as the outbreak drives their expenses up and their tax collections down.
But Republicans argued that the small business program had a more urgent need for funds, and that additional demands for aid could be addressed in future legislation.
With Congress in recess and lawmakers scattered around the country, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, tried to push through the small business loan funding during a procedural session, a maneuver that would have required all senators to agree. But Democrats objected.
The House, which is scheduled to convene Friday in a procedural session, is not expected to try to pass either party’s proposal. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said in a telephone news conference that “it’s about what is timely at the moment” and pushed back on the swift timeline demanded by the administration and Republicans.
“We need more data, and we need more oversight,” she said.
With help from Congress uncertain, the Federal Reserve on Thursday took action on its own round of emergency measures to help the economy. The central bank said it would use Treasury Department funds to buy municipal bonds and expand its purchases of corporate bonds. The efforts are aimed at shoring up companies as well as state and local governments, whose budgets are strained.
Across the United States, more and more people cannot pay rent. Food banks are so crowded the National Guard has been called to stuff boxes. Construction sites sit abandoned, shopping malls are ghost towns, and roughly 80 percent of hotel rooms are empty.
But with no vaccine, no reliable drug therapies and no widely available test to determine who might have been exposed to the virus, shelter-at-home orders remain the only reliable method to slow the spread. Mindful of that, public health officials warned that in most places, now was not the time to ease up on restrictions.
Even though more than 1,000 people are now dying every day in the United States, new infections have slowed in places where stringent measures have been in place for more than two weeks, offering a glimmer of hope.
New hospitalizations in New York fell for another day, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday, even as he announced that 799 more people — another bleak record — had died because of the virus.
The state’s fatality count increased to 7,067. For the second consecutive day, Mr. Cuomo compared the toll of the virus to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, calling the outbreak a “silent explosion that ripples through society with the same randomness, the same evil that we saw on 9/11.”
Although the governor said that some data, like the shrinking number of hospital admissions, suggested that New York was making headway, he warned against relaxing compliance with restrictions that governments have imposed in recent weeks.
“The moment you stop following the policies, you will go right back and see that number shoot through the roof,” Mr. Cuomo said in Albany, where state officials are acutely aware that lower hospitalization numbers could be because fewer sick people are turning up, or admissions standards are changing, or both.
At the same time, other New York officials have begun to cautiously envision an eventual return to some normalcy.
With transmission still widespread, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said Thursday that he thought the city could move as early as mid-May to the next stage: one with low-level spread of the virus, in which cases could be more easily traced.
“We can say that it’s time to start planning for the next phase very overtly,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. (Hours later, Mr. Cuomo was more reluctant to embrace a timeline: “I’m not going to guess when the data will say we should change our practices.” He said the ability to test rapidly was necessary to restart New York’s economy, and state and federal officials were working to reach that capacity.)
New York has been the hub of the epidemic in the U.S. In New York City, the virus is killing black and Latino people at twice the rate that it is killing white people, according to statistics that the authorities released this week.
Some of the state’s cases have emerged from New York’s sprawling network of group homes for people with special needs.
As of Monday, 1,100 of the 140,000 developmentally disabled people monitored by the state had tested positive for the virus, officials said. One hundred five had died — a rate far higher than in the general population, echoing the toll in some nursing homes.
Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey on Thursday cited progress in the fight against the virus, even as he reported that another 198 people in the state had died.
In Pennsylvania, health officials on Thursday announced 1,989 new cases for a total of 18,228, the largest single-day jump so far. The number of cases in the state has doubled in a week, up from around 7,000 on April 2. The number of known deaths has also surged more than threefold in the same period, to 338 from 90.
At a White House briefing on Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence said Philadelphia had emerged as “an area of particular concern,” though local officials have pushed back against characterizing the city as a hot spot.
Despite a jump in cases, data provided by the Health Department showed that Pennsylvania still had hospital beds available and was using less than half of the 5,000 ventilators on hand.
California’s decision to ship hundreds of ventilators to other states this week has been met with alarm by some local officials, who expressed concern about a shortage.
Readying the supplies for heavily-hit states like New York and New Jersey, workers packed the equipment in cardboard boxes and wrote messages of support in black marker. “Prayers from the West Coast,” said one message.
“We couldn’t be more proud as a state to be sending those ventilators back east,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said a total of 500 ventilators would be split among Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Nevada, New Jersey and Washington D.C. He described the shipments as a loan.
But in places like Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, officials expressed concern about a “fragile” supply chain and said hospitals were anxiously preparing for a shortage in ventilators.
The county has been among the hardest hit in the state, with more than 1,100 cases, at least 32 deaths and an outbreak at a nursing home that forced older patients to be evacuated this week, after a beleaguered and sickened staff failed to show up two days in a row.
Officials said this week that the state had denied its request for ventilators, and that a second one was pending.
“We were denied, yet some of the state ventilators went out of the state,” said Karen Spiegel, a member of the board of supervisors.
She said counties often fall last in a hierarchy that prioritizes federal and state governments. “We are the last one down,” she said, “yet we are the first ones working.”
In Santa Clara County, where the need for hospital beds is expected to grow, the health officer issued an order asking everyone in the county to disclose inventories of supplies, including ventilators.
Even as the state gave away some supplies, Mr. Newsom announced one of the highest death tolls in California since the crisis started: 68 people died over the past 24 hours, he said on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total to more than 500.
Officials cautioned that the number of cases had not yet peaked in California, the largest state in the nation, with 40 million residents.
California hospitals collectively have as many as 11,000 ventilators on hand, and the state had separately secured about 8,000 other ventilators, some of which were being refurbished, Mr. Newsom said. “We feel we are adequately resourced for the moment,” he said.
And Mr. Newsom described a broad effort to buy gowns, masks and other equipment. That included a deal to buy 200 million masks a month from factories in Asia, and a plan to spend $1.4 billion on personal protective gear for medical personnel, supermarket workers, employees of the state’s department of motor vehicles and any other “front-line employees walking the streets.”
The scale of the purchase was possible “only in California,” he said, “where our procurement capacity is quite literally second only to the United States itself.”
California was not the only state sending resources to areas with more pressing needs. On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington announced that an Army field hospital that the federal government had built next to CenturyLink Field in Seattle would be removed. Officials indicated that concerns about hospital capacity had waned in recent days.
“These soldiers uprooted their lives to help Washingtonians when we needed them most,” Mr. Inslee said. “Since then, it’s become apparent that other states need them more than we do.”
Mr. Inslee had announced over the weekend that the state was also returning more than 400 ventilators provided by the federal government.
In the race for virus drugs, a scientist on the front lines is urging caution.
Insistent calls and emails pile up each day for Dr. Andre Kalil at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Patients and their doctors are clamoring for untested coronavirus treatments, encouraged by President Trump, who said that ill patients should have ready access to experimental medicines, like the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
Dr. Kalil, 54, is a principal investigator in the federal government’s clinical trial of drugs that may treat the virus. It is starting with remdesivir, an antiviral drug. The first results will be ready within weeks.
Dr. Kalil has decades of experience grappling with questions about the use — and misuse — of experimental drugs, and he has rarely been more frustrated. He has seen what happens when desperation drives treatment decisions. “Many drugs we believed were fantastic ended up killing people,” he said in an interview. “It is so hard to keep explaining that.”
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, Dr. Kalil said, have never been found to work against any viral disease, including Ebola. (Malaria is caused by a parasite, not a virus.) And the drugs have side effects, some of which could be fatal.
As patients and the president alike demand treatments, Dr. Kalil wants people to understand that testing is proceeding as quickly as possible.
Although remdesivir is not approved for treatment of any illness, Gilead, which makes the drug, provided it to Covid-19 patients under legal exceptions for “compassionate use.” But demand escalated to such an extent that the company announced last month that it would stop giving out the antiviral.
“I would never give this or any other experimental drug off-label to my patients,” Dr. Kalil said. “There is nothing compassionate about compassionate use. You are treating emotion.”
Police officers fired pepper spray and “sting balls” filled with rubber pellets to quell a protest of more than 100 inmates at a state prison in Monroe, Wash., on Wednesday evening after six prisoners tested positive for the coronavirus.
Prisoners in the minimum-security unit, where the men had tested positive, set off fire extinguishers to create the appearance of smoke and then refused to leave the recreation yard, according to a statement from the state’s Corrections Department. The protest ended without injuries, but prisoner movement at the facility, which holds about 450 inmates, was restricted.
The chaos came as the nation’s jails and prisons, where prisoners often live just feet apart, faced urgent reckonings over the virus and whether they could adequately protect inmates. Some prisoners have staged hunger strikes, and the courts have been considering lawsuits seeking the release of vulnerable inmates across the country.
As of Wednesday, The New York Times had identified at least 1,324 confirmed coronavirus cases tied to U.S. prisons and jails, including at least 32 deaths. Those numbers are most likely a vast undercount, because some state and local agencies have not released information, and others, including the federal Bureau of Prisons, are not testing everyone who falls ill.
According to Times data, the Cook County Jail in Chicago is the largest-known source of infection in the United States. As of Thursday morning, at least 401 inmates and employees had tested positive for the virus.
A sailor stricken with the virus and assigned to the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt has been admitted to an intensive care unit at a Navy hospital in Guam, a Defense Department official said, marking the first hospitalization of a crew member since an outbreak began aboard the ship last month.
At least 286 members of the crew have tested positive for the virus.
“The sailor tested positive for Covid-19 on March 30 and at the time of hospitalization was in a 14-day isolation period on Naval Base Guam,” Cmdr. Clayton Doss, a Navy spokesman, said in an email.
The outbreak aboard the Roosevelt has been, in many ways, a microcosm of the Defense Department’s handling of the virus within its ranks as military officials have weighed military preparedness with the health of its personnel.
The ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Brett E. Crozier, was relieved after he wrote a strongly worded letter to Navy officials pleading for more help aboard the carrier. The fallout from the episode led to the resignation of Thomas B. Modly, the acting Navy secretary, this week.
Oil producers try to agree on production cuts.
Oil prices were volatile on Thursday as investors awaited news on whether the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia had reached a deal to cut large volumes of production, as the pandemic has driven demand for oil down.
News of a possible deal spread as OPEC, Russia and other oil producers gathered for a teleconference to discuss an oil glut that has caused a steep fall in prices. Brent crude, the international benchmark, jumped nearly 12 percent to $36.40 a barrel as the meeting started, but it gave up those gains and fell sharply later in the day.
The volatile oil markets of recent weeks threaten to bankrupt energy companies, causing enormous job losses and threatening financial institutions that have backed the industry. In America, oil states including Texas and Oklahoma were faced with steep job losses.
Analysts at Rystad Energy, a consulting firm, said that cuts of 10 million barrels a day — the scale being discussed by the two sides at one point — would be a “good first step, but it would still not be enough” given that an oversupply of more than 20 million barrels a day is expected in the second quarter.
The meeting on Thursday was called by Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, after Mr. Trump spoke to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, by telephone.
The Saudis have been engaged in a price war with Russia after Moscow refused to go along with a Saudi proposal in early March to trim output to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The spat threatens to swamp oil markets with vast oversupplies of crude.
OPEC’s secretary general, Mohammad Barkindo, acknowledged in his introductory remarks that the glut of oil on world markets had put his organization in a weak position. “It is imperative we take urgent action,” he said, in a text of his remarks posted on the OPEC website.
The virus is sickening and killing low-wage workers in meat plants.
The virus has reached the processing plants where thousands of workers typically stand elbow-to-elbow to do the low-wage work of cutting, deboning and packing the chicken and beef that Americans savor.
Some plants have offered financial incentives to keep workers on the job, but the virus’s swift spread is causing illness and forcing plants to close.
Smithfield Foods’ pork plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., announced Thursday that it would close temporarily, after more than 80 workers tested positive. Workers have come down with the disease in several poultry plants in the South, including in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, confirmed the death of one worker at a Colorado facility and shuttered a Pennsylvania plant for two weeks. Cargill this week closed a Pennsylvania facility that produces steaks, ground beef and ground pork. Tyson Foods halted operations at an Iowa pork plant after more than two dozen workers tested positive.
“How many more have to fight for their life, how many more families got to suffer before they realize we are more important than their production,” asked Tanisha Isom, 36, a deboner at a Tyson poultry plant in Camilla, Ga., where three workers have died in recent days. She was recently diagnosed with bronchitis and missed two weeks of work.
Industry analysts said the plant closures were unlikely to result in serious disruptions to the food supply. But if the pandemic keeps plants shuttered for an extended period, some products could become harder to find in stores, said Christine McCracken, a meat industry analyst at Rabobank in New York.
At some plants, workers have staged walkouts over concerns that they are not being properly protected. But an untold number remain on the job across the country, most of them African Americans, Latinos and immigrants.
The virus is infecting and killing black people in the United States at disproportionately high rates, according to data released by several states and big cities, highlighting what public health researchers say are entrenched inequalities in resources, health and access to care.
The White House will give virus tests to reporters, and Melania Trump promotes the face coverings her husband eschews.
The White House for the first time planned to conduct rapid coronavirus tests Thursday on all journalists planning to attend the daily briefing led by President Trump after a reporter who was in the building earlier this week fell ill.
Journalists will be tested one by one in a vacant office with results to be delivered before the briefing, which is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
Last week White House doctors began administering rapid tests to others who came into “close proximity” to Mr. Trump or Vice President Mike Pence, but this will be the first time that journalists have been tested.
Until now, reporters have had their temperature taken before being allowed onto the White House grounds, but the advent of the rapid tests makes it possible to go further.
An unidentified news organization employee who was at the White House as recently as Tuesday has reported experiencing symptoms consistent with the coronavirus and is expected to have test results back later on Thursday.
Melania Trump, the first lady, posted a video on Twitter on Thursday advising Americans to wear face coverings in public, echoing public health recommendations that Mr. Trump has personally eschewed.
Mr. Trump, for his part, has told reporters that he would not be interested in wearing a mask unless he deemed it important.
“I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said Friday. “Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just — I just don’t. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but this will pass and hopefully it’ll pass very quickly.”
Mrs. Trump, who was criticized at the beginning of the outbreak for focusing on building a White House tennis pavilion instead of warning Americans about the spread of the coronavirus, waited until official guidance was released by the administration to begin filming public service announcements and issuing warnings on Twitter.
“Mrs. Trump understands and recognizes the people of this country feel uncertain right now, and wants to do all she can to educate families and children about the importance of social distancing and proper hygiene,” Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “The East Wing is still operational, but most staff is working remotely per CDC and White House guidelines and recommendations.”
Nurses and doctors who speak out about the risks they face also risk their jobs.
Workers as varied as grocery store cashiers, customer service representatives and flight attendants have clashed with their employers, whom they accuse of failing to protect and properly value them. Amazon drew widespread attention when it fired a worker who had led a protest over health concerns at a Staten Island warehouse.
But perhaps the most curious and persistent management-labor tension has arisen among health care providers like doctors and nurses, who are at the forefront of the virus battle, and their administrators.
In New York City, the center of the crisis in the United States, every major private hospital system and some public hospitals in recent weeks sent memos ordering workers not to speak to the news media.
One system, NYU Langone Medical Center, sent an email on March 27 warning that staff members speaking to the media without permission “will be subject to disciplinary action, including termination.” The email was reported earlier by Bloomberg.
Similar lines are being drawn nationwide. A doctor in Washington State was removed from his hospital position after speaking publicly about a shortage of protective equipment and testing; the staffing firm that employs him said he was being reassigned. Nurses in Detroit recently walked off the job to protest critically low staffing after a colleague who had spoken up on the issue was fired.
In the midst of confronting the pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services is also examining the nation’s emotional health. In a series of slides dated Monday and obtained by The New York Times, the department’s assistant secretary for preparedness and response presented a “public sentiment analysis” that summarizes how Americans on social media were reacting emotionally to major news about the coronavirus over the past month.
Bottom line: Not well.
“The public continued to express sadness and fear as more people talked about being infected or having a loved one infected with or die from the virus,” the analysis by the technology company, Brandwatch, found.
The document is remarkably granular, examining fluctuations in emotions based on news events large and small: California’s mandatory stay-at-home order, the president signing the $2 trillion economic stabilization package, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting the public wear masks, Queen Elizabeth II addressing Britain.
It was not immediately clear how widely the public sentiments analysis was shared across the federal government or whether this or similar reports factored into making decisions.
Gretchen B. Michael, a spokeswoman for the department’s preparedness office, said, “It is typical for HHS to look at public sentiment during a public health response to help guide us in the development of public health messaging to ensure that impacted communities have the right information to protect themselves and their families.”
Not surprisingly, disgust, one of six emotions the company used in its analysis, soared on March 12 when the stock market hit its lowest point since 1987. And there was a similar reaction when President Trump announced guidelines about avoiding large crowds in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
In the stay-at-home era, an old form of communications is revived: the telephone call.
Verizon said it was now handling an average of 800 million wireless calls a day during the week, more than double the number made on Mother’s Day, which is historically one of the busiest call days of the year.
The rise is stunning given how voice calls have long been on the decline. Some 90 million households in the United States have ceased using landline phones since 2000, according to USTelecom. Wireless calls replaced much of that calling activity, but the volume of minutes spent on phone calls hasn’t changed much over the past decade as people turned to texting and to apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp, according to wireless carriers and analysts.
But new needs are emerging in the crisis. “We’ve become a nation that calls like never before,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, the agency that oversees phone, television and internet providers. “We are craving human voice.”
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Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Michael Cooper, Eileen Sullivan, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Andy Newman, Matthew Haag, Simon Romero, Peter Baker, Jim Rutenberg, David Waldstein, Emily Cochrane, Caitlin Dickerson, Miriam Jordan, Patricia Cohen, Jeanna Smialek, Sarah Mervosh, Caitlin Dickerson, Maggie Haberman, Nick Corasaniti, Marc Santora, Brooks Barnes, Dan Barry, Conor Dougherty, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Scott Dodd, Manny Fernandez, Sheri Fink, Mark Landler, Michael Levenson and Carl Zimmer.