Four Months After First Case, U.S. Death Toll Passes 100,000


Just over four months after the government confirmed the first known case, more than 100,000 people who had the coronavirus have died in the United States, according to a New York Times tally.

The pandemic is on track to be the country’s deadliest public health disaster since the 1918 flu pandemic, in which about 675,000 Americans died.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, released a video on Wednesday in which he expressed grief and charged that “this is a fateful milestone we should have never reached.” He faulted the administration for not enacting social-distancing measures sooner, which researchers said would have saved thousands of lives.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump had taken aim on Twitter at those who would question his response. “The Radical Left Lamestream Media, together with their partner, the Do Nothing Democrats, are trying to spread a new narrative that President Trump was slow in reacting to Covid 19,” he wrote, referring to himself in the third person. “Wrong, I was very fast, even doing the Ban on China long before anybody thought necessary!”

Though the numbers of new cases and deaths have begun trending downward, health experts warn of a possible resurgence as lockdowns are lifted.

More than 1.6 million people in the country have been infected. Hard-hit northeastern states have reported decreases in new cases in recent days, and the pace of deaths nationwide has fallen.

But persistently high numbers of cases remain in a number of cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. Cases have been rising in Arkansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Most statisticians and public health experts, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, say the death toll is probably far higher than official counts. People who haven’t been tested are dying at home and at nursing homes, and early this year some coronavirus deaths were probably misidentified.

The Times counted cases and deaths that have been identified by officials as probable coronavirus patients. Many states and counties only count cases and deaths in which an infection was confirmed through testing.

Because confirmed cases are widely considered to be an undercount of the true toll, some state and local governments have started identifying probable cases and deaths.

The milestone comes amid debate over the timeliness of the nation’s response to the pandemic, with one Columbia University model showing that about 36,000 fewer people would have died if the United States had acted earlier.

The first confirmed infections in Europe and the United States, discovered in January, did not ignite the epidemics that followed, according to a close analysis of hundreds of viral genomes.

Those outbreaks began weeks later, the study concluded. The revised timeline may clarify nagging ambiguities about the arrival of the pandemic, Carl Zimmer reports.

For example, while President Trump has frequently claimed that a ban on travelers from China prevented the outbreak from becoming much worse, the new data suggest that the virus that started Washington State’s epidemic arrived about two weeks after the ban was imposed on Feb. 2.

And the authors argue that the relatively late emergence of the outbreak means that more lives could have been saved by early action, such as testing and contact tracing.

The new analysis is not the last word. Scientific understanding of the virus is evolving almost daily, and this type of research yields a range of possible results, not complete certainty.

Many infections in Washington State seem to have occurred earlier in February, and other models suggested that the epidemic there began before the middle of the month.

But a number of virus experts said that the new report convincingly ruled out a connection between the first confirmed cases and the later outbreaks.

“This paper clearly shows this didn’t happen,” said Kristian Andersen, a computational biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, who was not involved in the research.

In California, which has become the fourth state with at least 100,000 known infections, Gov. Gavin Newsom seems to be moving closer to handing the reins of reopening to county public health officials.

The state joins Illinois, New Jersey and New York with the highest case counts.

At least 47 of California’s 58 counties have filed their so-called county variance attestations to prove that they meet the criteria to reopen more quickly than the rest of the state, the governor said. And he has been in talks with leaders in Los Angeles County, by most measures the hardest-hit part of the state, about the possibility of allowing some areas there to reopen more quickly than others.

For now, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles announced on Tuesday evening that “lower risk” in-store shopping could resume, many pools could open, and houses of worship could avail themselves of the new state guidelines.

The growing emphasis on local influence — state officials announced on Monday that places of worship could reopen at lower capacity only with the approval of county public health departments — could help Mr. Newsom mute his critics, some of whom have gone to court to challenge California’s restrictions.

The gradual changes in California reflect a national shift as states that had previously been among the most locked down begin loosening restrictions, often on a regional basis.

The rising case counts in parts of California come as other sections of the country — including the Minneapolis area, Wisconsin and parts of the South — have reported more infections. Those increasing numbers are certain to intensify debates over when and how the country should ease restrictions that were imposed to try to slow the spread of the virus.

After months of lockdown, Illinois plans to lift restrictions on Friday on retail stores, gyms and personal care services in some areas, though the Chicago area will reopen on its own timeline. Washington, D.C., which has also been locked down, is also tentatively planning to open certain businesses on Friday.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta announced on Wednesday that the city would move to the second phase of its reopening plan and allow private gatherings of no more than 10 people, as long as they followed social-distancing guidelines.

“Data shows that we are in a position to move forward,” the mayor said in a statement. “We encourage Atlantans citywide to continue to follow all precautionary guidelines as community transmission of Covid-19 still poses a threat to our city.”

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said on Wednesday that religious organizations could host up to 100 people on their properties for outdoor services, including weddings, funerals and religious holiday celebrations. People must wear face coverings and social distance. Choirs are not allowed, although people can sing with face coverings, because the louder that voices are projected, the farther germs travel, he said.

Any counties that have entered the second phase of reopening can host indoor services of up to 25 percent of their capacity or 50 people, whatever is less. Seattle, in King County, is still in the first phase.

The mayor of Washington, D.C., said on Wednesday that the city would begin to loosen stay-at-home restrictions on Friday, even though the chief White House official overseeing the virus response said this week that the suburban region around the nation’s capital remained among the most worrisome metropolitan areas in the country.

“The bottom line we do want to emphasize is this virus is still in our city and our region and our country,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said as she announced that restaurants would be able to allow outdoor seating for groups of six or fewer, hairstyling salons could provide services by appointment only and stores could open for curbside pickup. Gatherings of more than 10 people will remain prohibited.

On Tuesday, the city had 72 new cases, bringing the total to 8,406, and five new deaths for a total of 445. Although Ms. Bowser said that the city had maintained 14 days of sustained decline in community transmission, there was a one-day increase this weekend.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the lead coordinator of the White House virus task force, told the nation’s governors on Tuesday that Washington and its suburbs, as well as Baltimore, were among a handful of metropolitan areas that had expanded testing but failed to break 10 percent positive results. Northern Virginia is also expected to begin a first phase of reopening, even as cases there continue to rise. The Maryland suburbs near Washington — where cases have been highest — have moved more cautiously.

“I want to make sure we all understand that moving into Phase 1 means that more people can get infected,” Ms. Bowser said, emphasizing that residents were expected to use masks and maintain social distancing and aggressive hand-washing. “We know that without a vaccine or a cure that we will see new infections.”

She added that City Hall would continue to encourage remote work for businesses and the federal government. “It cannot be said enough every single one of us has a role to play,” she said.

Despite a Republican lawsuit seeking to block the practice, more than 70 Democrats took advantage of the procedures, which allow any absent lawmaker to designate another member who is physically present to record a vote on his or her behalf during periods when the speaker, the clerk and the sergeant-at-arms agree there is a state of emergency because of the virus.

Representative Brendan Boyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania, cast the first proxy vote in the chamber, on behalf of Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California.

“I inform the House that Ms. Lofgren would vote yes,” Mr. Boyle said, reading from a designated script.

Behind him, Democrats lined up to cast votes on behalf of their colleagues, as staff members frantically wiped down the microphone between votes.

Republicans have protested the historic change to House rules, adopted this month over their unanimous opposition, and filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to block it.

In a heated debate on the House floor, Republican leaders laid out their case anew on Wednesday, arguing that there would be a cloud of suspicion over anything passed under the arrangement and the Senate might simply refuse to take it up.

“Whatever the Democrats move forward probably will never become law,” the lead plaintiff, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, told reporters before the vote. No Republican voted by proxy.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction for an exceptionally illustrious class, including the former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, will be postponed from August to next spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the Hall of Fame’s board of governors, said on Wednesday.

No announcement will be official until the board of governors convenes on June 10, Colangelo said.

“But that’s what I expect will be the outcome,” he said in an interview.

Bryant, who died at 41 in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, was voted into the Hall in April, as were his N.B.A. contemporaries Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett and the 10-time W.N.B.A. All-Star Tamika Catchings.

The enshrinement weekend was originally scheduled for Aug. 28-30, and Colangelo had proposed Oct. 10-12 as an alternative in case fears over the pandemic lingered. But Colangelo said it had become clear to him that neither weekend would be feasible.

At least five of the nine workers airlifted off a Shell-operated offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The confirmed cases are the first involving Shell workers, according to Cindy Babski, a company spokeswoman. The workers were transported to onshore medical facilities for testing and treatment, where two people tested negative and two results are pending. “All remaining personnel on this platform will be tested on the platform,” Ms. Babski said.

Shell said it would now test all personnel at medical clinics in Louisiana and Texas before they are flown to the nine offshore platforms the company operates in the Gulf of Mexico. The number of workers on each platform will be reduced to “minimum staffing levels,” the company said.

“Shell’s priority remains the safety and health of our people and the safe operations of all our businesses,” the company said in a statement. “We have been and will continue to take steps to protect all employees following guidance from the C.D.C. and local public health officials.”

The safeguards are particularly important for Louisiana, a state dominated by the oil and gas industry. The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association has predicted that about half the state’s 33,714 oil and gas wells could be shut down in the coming months.

The United States, already wrestling with an economic collapse not seen in a generation, is on the precipice of a compounding crisis of evictions, as protections and payments extended to millions of people out of work begin to run out.

The fallout is predicted to be devastating for the nation’s renters, who entered the pandemic with lower incomes, significantly less in savings and housing costs that ate up more of their paychecks. They also were more likely to work in industries where job losses have been particularly severe.

Many have been scraping by because of temporary government assistance and emergency orders that put many evictions on hold. But evictions will soon be allowed in about half of the states, according to Emily A. Benfer, a housing expert and associate professor at Columbia Law School who is tracking eviction policies.

“I think we will enter into a severe renter crisis, and very quickly,” Professor Benfer said. Without a new round of government intervention, she added, “we will have an avalanche of evictions across the country.”

That means more and more families may soon face displacement at a time when people are still being urged to stay at home.

In many places, that has already begun. The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled that evictions could begin again. In the Oklahoma City area, sheriffs apologetically announced that they planned to start enforcing eviction notices this week. And a handful of states had few statewide protections in place to begin with, leaving residents particularly vulnerable as eviction cases stacked up.

“The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers and families,” Ms. DeVos wrote in a letter Friday, referring to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. “There is nothing in the act suggesting Congress intended to discriminate between children based on public or nonpublic school attendance, as you seem to do. The virus affects everyone.”

A range of education officials said the guidance would divert millions of dollars from disadvantaged students and force districts to support even the wealthiest private schools.

The association representing the nation’s school superintendents told districts to ignore the guidance, and at least two states, Indiana and Maine, said they would.

Private school leaders say they are also in crisis. Many of those schools serve low-income students whose parents have fled failing public schools. About 5.7 million students attend private schools, 30 percent of them from families with incomes below $75,000 a year. Private school groups say those families are most at risk without federal aid.

Under federal education law, school districts are required to use funding they receive for their poorest students to provide “equitable services,” such as tutoring and transportation for low-income students attending private schools in their districts. But Ms. DeVos’s guidance would award private schools more services than the law would normally require.

Democratic leaders called on Ms. DeVos to revise her guidance.

Yet another medical study, this one by doctors at a large hospital system based in New Orleans, has called attention to the disproportionate burden the pandemic is taking on communities of color.

Though the hospital system, Ochsner Health, serves a predominantly white population, most patients hospitalized with Covid-19 over a recent six-week period were black, according to research published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Ochsner Health operates hospitals and outpatient facilities throughout Louisiana. About 30 percent of the patient population is black. Among the 1,382 patients with Covid-19 who were hospitalized from March 1 to April 11, however, 77 percent were black.

Black patients made up 80 percent of patients transferred to the intensive care unit and nearly 82 percent of those put on ventilators to help with breathing.

Black patients accounted for 70.6 percent of the 326 hospital patients who died.

The authors of the new study reported that compared with white patients who were hospitalized, black patients had higher rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease, all of which have been linked to worse outcomes in patients with Covid-19.

When hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Minneapolis on Tuesday night to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody, the large crowd was both a powerful call for action in the case and a precarious act as the virus was still flaring in the region.

The number of newly reported virus cases continues to climb in Minnesota, and the counties that make up the Minneapolis-St. Paul area lead the state in both total and new cases. The Twin Cities metro area also accounted for a surge in patients requiring hospitalization in intensive care.

Still, demonstrators gathered for a rare large protest since the pandemic began.

Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis said he understood and supported the rights of people who protested the episode, but he asked that they wear masks and respect social distancing procedures.

“I encourage people to voice their opinions and anger, their heartbreak and their sadness, because undoubtedly it will be there,” he said.

Many protesters wore face coverings, and some brought hand sanitizer. But the group as a whole seemed to send a message that their desire for justice had outweighed safety concerns as they gathered at the intersection where Mr. Floyd, 46, had been pinned down by the police a day earlier and captured on video saying, “I can’t breathe.”

As protesters yelled about Mr. Floyd’s death, some pulled their masks aside to be fully heard. One woman said, “anyone worried about social distancing should have just stayed home.”

Walt Disney World in Florida, one of the world’s largest tourist sites that draws 93 million people a year, will reopen to the public on a limited basis in mid-July.

Disney presented its reopening plan on Wednesday to the Orange County Recovery Task Force in Orlando. Two of Disney World’s four main theme parks, the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom, will reopen on July 11 with reduced capacity and numerous safety precautions, including mandatory face masks for all visitors and employees. The remaining major parks, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, will reopen on July 15. The resort has been closed since March 15.

Disney said its approach to reopening would include increased use of plexiglass barriers and contactless payment systems. All visitors will need a reservation. Temperature checks will be conducted at entrances. Disney also said its parades, fireworks displays and character meet-and-greets would be suspended because of crowd control concerns.

The S&P 500 rose 1.5 percent — after swinging between gains and losses earlier in the day as weakness in large technology stocks offset gains in other parts of the market. The S&P 500 had climbed 1.2 percent on Tuesday.

The trading on Wednesday reflected optimism about a return to normal as states and national governments lifted stay-at-home restrictions. Companies that will benefit as shoppers are allowed back in stores and people begin to travel again were among the best performers in the S&P 500. Nordstrom, Gap and Kohl’s each rose more than 14 percent.

Though stocks have been rising lately, trading has been unsteady with the S&P 500 alternating between gains and losses on a near-daily basis, as expectations for an eventual recovery have squared off against the reality that the damage is still severe and likely to continue.

Boeing said Wednesday that it was laying off more than 6,700 employees in the United States, all of whom will be notified this week. Another 5,500 workers have been approved for voluntary buyouts and will leave in weeks.

“The Covid-19 pandemic’s devastating impact on the airline industry means a deep cut in the number of commercial jets and services our customers will need over the next few years,” the chief executive, David L. Calhoun, said in a note to employees.

A group of Democratic lawmakers from the Washington area told the Trump administration this week that they believed it would be “impossible” to safely stage a major celebration around Independence Day in the nation’s capital this summer.

“We believe such an event would needlessly risk the health and safety of thousands of Americans,” the lawmakers — two senators, seven representatives and the District of Columbia’s nonvoting House delegate — wrote in a letter to the defense and interior secretaries.

President Trump, a vocal proponent of patriotic displays that critics have sometimes condemned as extravagant or politically motivated, suggested in April that Fourth of July festivities in Washington would have more limited attendance.

“This year, most likely, we’ll be standing six feet apart,” he said. “We’ll have to do that in a very, very interesting way. And we’ll even do it greater, so we’ll leave a little extra distance.”

This week, though, the lawmakers asked the administration to shelve any plans entirely. The Washington area has struggled to contain the virus, and the lawmakers warned that holding a mass gathering along the National Mall would be perilous.

Thousands of people attended a “Salute to America” event last year, which Mr. Trump had pledged would be a “show of a lifetime.” The president was flanked by Bradley armored vehicles and M1A2 tanks at the event, held at the Lincoln Memorial.

“The administration, including your agencies, should be focusing on helping American families, not on a vanity project for the president,” the lawmakers wrote.

France revoked the authorization allowing the use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid-19 patients on Wednesday, a day after halting its use in clinical trials.

The drug, which has been heavily promoted by President Trump despite the lack of evidence that it is effective against the virus, was temporarily removed from global safety trials earlier this week by the World Health Organization, which called for a review of new safety concerns.

All this time with your family may have led to greater feelings of connectedness. Or maybe you are experiencing the opposite: more bickering, fighting and frustrations. Here is some advice for getting through those rough patches.

Reporting was contributed by Maggie Astor, Brookes Barnes, Karen Barrow, Alan Blinder, Emily Cochrane, Lindsey Rogers Cook, Michael Cooper, Jill Cowan, Andrew Das, Nicholas Fandos, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, Matt Furber, Michael Gold, Erica L. Green, Jenny Gross, Chris Hamby, Maggie Haberman, Mohammed Hadi, Amy Harmon, Anemona Hartocollis, Winnie Hu, Julia Jacobs, Michael Levenson, Sarah Mervosh, Claire Cain Miller, Matt Phillips, Roni Caryn Rabin, Michael S. Schmidt, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Jennifer Steinhauer, Matt Stevens, Eileen Sullivan, Neil Vigdor, David Waldstein, Billy Witz and Carl Zimmer.





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