Trump continues to push reopenings, even as his task force cautions states.
President Trump insisted on Tuesday that large portions of the country were “corona-free” and said that governors should proceed with reopening, despite a new federal report warning 21 states that they were in a “red zone” and needed to take aggressive steps to slow the spread of the virus.
The report, shared with state officials by the White House coronavirus task force, was issued on Sunday.
The states in the “red zone” — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin — each had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week.
When the president restarted his daily coronavirus briefings last week after shutting them down in April, he largely hewed to a script, urging Americans to wear masks and practice distancing.
But on Tuesday, he resumed his freelancing and wandering into politically and medically problematic areas. When reporters pressed him on a viral video he had retweeted Monday night that included doctors falsely claiming that hydroxychloroquine was a “cure” for the virus and that masks were unnecessary, Mr. Trump responded: “They’re very respected doctors. There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it, and she’s had tremendous success with it.”
When a reporter noted that the physician who spoke of “a cure,” Dr. Stella Immanuel of Houston, also “made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens,” Mr. Trump responded, “I know nothing about her,” and abruptly ended the briefing moments later.
Noting that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, his administration’s top coronavirus coordinator, have high approval ratings even as his own have sagged, Mr. Trump added: “And yet, they’re highly thought of — but nobody likes me.”
“It can only be my personality,” he concluded.
Big retailers have made strong statements recently about their new rules requiring customers to wear face masks when shopping, saying that the health of their workers and customers is paramount. But the companies are taking a decidedly hands-off approach to enforcing those mandates.
Walmart has told employees that they should not prevent customers from entering the store if they refuse to wear a mask. Walgreens said that “for the safety of our team members,” the company would not bar customers without masks from its stores. Lowes also said it would “not ask our associates to put their safety at risk by confronting customers about wearing masks.”
Many shoppers and workers say the retailers’ reluctance to police mask wearing ultimately renders their rules toothless, and will perpetuate the spread of the coronavirus. And workers find themselves thrust onto the front line of a cultural and political war over masks that can lead to ugly confrontations and sometimes violence.
Last weekend, two episodes stood out. In one, a video of an altercation involving two shoppers in Walmart wearing masks with a Nazi swastika went viral. In the other, a man was arrested after he pulled a gun on another shopper who had asked him to put on his mask in a Walmart in Palm Beach County, Fla.
Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, representing workers at Macy’s and Bloomingdales in New York, said retailers needed to invest in more security guards or empower management to confront shoppers, not leave it up to rank-and-file workers. But not enforcing the rules, when they are challenged, was not effective, he said.
“A rule that isn’t enforced,” Mr. Appelbaum said, “is not a rule.”
Once again, the coronavirus is ascendant. As infections mount across the country, it is dawning on Americans that the epidemic is now unstoppable, and that no corner of the nation will be left untouched.
As of Tuesday, the pathogen had infected at least 4.3 million Americans, killing almost 150,000. Many experts fear the virus could kill 200,000 or even 300,000 by year’s end. Even President Trump has donned a mask, after resisting for months, and has canceled the Republican National Convention celebrations in Florida.
Each state, each city has its own crisis driven by its own risk factors: vacation crowds in one, bars reopened too soon in another, a revolt against masks in a third.
“We are in a worse place than we were in March,” when the virus coursed through New York, said Dr. Leana S. Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner. “Back then we had one epicenter. Now we have lots.”
To assess where the country is heading now, The New York Times interviewed 20 public health experts — clinicians and epidemiologists, historians and sociologists, because the spread of the virus is now influenced as much by human behavior as it is by the pathogen.
Over all, the scientists conveyed a pervasive sense of sadness and exhaustion. Where once there was defiance, and then a growing sense of dread, now there seems to be sorrow and frustration, a feeling that so many funerals never had to happen and that nothing was going well.
“We’re all incredibly depressed and in shock at how out of control the virus is in the U.S.,” said Dr. Michele Barry, the director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University.
A union representing FedEx pilots called on the delivery company on Tuesday to suspend operations in Hong Kong after its members were subject to quarantine facilities under “extremely difficult conditions.”
Hong Kong began testing all airline workers who were previously exempt from mandatory coronavirus tests this month, prompting United Airlines and American Airlines to suspend flights to the city. A FedEx pilot who had arrived from the United States and visited a popular restaurant tested positive on July 11.
The Air Line Pilots Association International said on Tuesday that three FedEx pilots who had tested positive for the coronavirus but were asymptomatic were “forced into mandated hospital facilities.” Those who tested negative but had been in close contact with an infected person “were put into government camps under extremely difficult conditions.”
“Pilots who test positive for Covid-19 face compulsory admission and treatment in government-selected public hospitals, with as many as five patients to a room with one shared bathroom,” the union said in a statement.
“Not only do these situations pose unacceptable risks to our pilots’ safety and well-being, but they also create added stress and distraction for flight operations,” it added.
Hong Kong has had the same quarantining and hospitalization requirements for residents.
The semiautonomous Chinese territory is fighting its biggest surge in coronavirus infections yet, reporting more than 100 new cases in each of the past seven days. Health officials believe the spike was caused by people who had been exempted from quarantine rules to help boost the economy, including airline workers, seafarers and business executives.
Hong Kong planned to tighten testing and quarantine arrangements for air and sea crew members starting on Wednesday.
Reports about Hong Kong’s quarantine facilities have varied. Some camps have been compared to a “cozy university dorm” with new Ikea furniture, but people in others have complained about unsanitary and moldy environments.
On Wednesday, Carrie Lam, the city’s top leader, warned that the sharp rise in infections could lead to a “collapse” of the hospital system. Health officials reported 118 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total tally past 3,000.
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Reporting was contributed by Michael Corkery, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Neil Vigdor, and Elaine Yu.