The timeline of the virus’s arrival in the U.S. shifts with the revelation of an early death in California.
The revelation that a coronavirus death took place in the United States in early February shifts the understanding of its arrival in this country and changes the picture of what the nation was contending with by the time government officials began taking action.
The first Covid-19 death in the United States had previously been thought to be on Feb. 26 in Seattle, one of the worst-hit cities in the country.
Santa Clara County was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to urge its residents to remain in their homes to slow the spread. On March 16, President Trump issued national guidelines recommending that Americans stop unnecessary travel and avoid bars, restaurants and groups of more than 10 people.
Officials have said that the death — which occurred nearly three weeks before a death in Washington State that was previously considered the first Covid-19 death in the United States — was believed to have been the result of community spread, not travel to another country.
“It was probably around unrecognized for quite some time,” said Dr. Jeffrey V. Smith, the Santa Clara county executive and a medical doctor.
The virus has an incubation period of 14 days and people who die of it are often sick for at least three weeks, so the individual who died on Feb. 6 could have been infected — and transmitting the infection to others — in early January, experts said.
Santa Clara County officials also have announced that a second death, which took place on Feb. 17, was also a result of the coronavirus. Both of the deaths in Santa Clara County took place before what had been believed to be the first deaths from the virus in the United States in late February.
Testing at the time was limited by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria to individuals who had traveled abroad.
“This offers evidence of what many of us in the field had been saying” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “That restricting testing was going to miss cases that could have a chain of transmission that ended up with somebody dying.’’
This shift in timing raises new questions about when the virus arrived in this country, how it spread and how government officials approached a strategy to slow the spread. At the time of the first death, American officials were restricting travel from China and urging recent travelers from there to isolate themselves for two weeks.
The list of events being canceled is stretching into the summer and fall, and public health officials are warning that in the absence of a vaccine or reliable therapy, the risk of a “second wave” of infections later in the year remains a grave threat.
“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., told The Washington Post.
The country, Dr. Redfield predicted, could “have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”
The Education Department will prohibit colleges from granting emergency assistance to undocumented students, even those currently under federal protection, according to guidance issued to colleges and universities on Tuesday.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered higher education institutions to distribute more than $6 billion in emergency relief only to students who are eligible for federal financial aid, including U.S. citizens or legal residents. The directive effectively excluded the hundreds of thousands of students who attend college under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program, an Obama-era policy that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
Mr. Trump has moved to end the program, but that effort is awaiting Supreme Court review.
The funding is part of about $12 billion allocated for colleges and universities under a $2 trillion coronavirus stabilization law that Congress passed last month to help them recoup financial damages caused by pandemic. Half of those funds are supposed to go directly to students impacted by campus closures. In the coming weeks, schools are expected to award emergency relief grants to students to pay for expenses like food, housing, child care and technology.
The stimulus law, titled the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, did not explicitly define which students qualified for the funds. The Education Department defended its choice to do so. “The CARES Act makes clear that this taxpayer funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law,” a spokeswoman said in statements to reporters.
The department’s guidance alarmed higher education advocates and policy experts, who said it ran counter to what Ms. DeVos told them when she announced the funding was coming.
Families that have waited years to be reunited, businesses that rely on foreign workers, universities that recruit international students with the promise of high-paying American jobs — all of their plans faced uncertainty on Tuesday as the Trump administration announced new restrictions on permanent residency in the United States.
Mr. Trump said on Tuesday that he would order a temporary halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to the United States, but he backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups exploded in anger at the threat of losing access to foreign labor.
The president signaled that a 60-day ban on most green cards was intended to protect work opportunities for the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in the pandemic. But if it is extended, its impact on businesses and families could be much broader. Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that he would sign the executive order on Wednesday.
“It’s really worrying news,” said Elsa Ramos, whose 22-year-old son, Eder, is in Honduras, waiting for a green card that would allow him to join his parents and sister in the United States.
“Imagine the excitement that you have that your son is on his way into the country and then Trump destroys that,” Ms. Ramos said. “It’s really hard.”
Lawyers at the Justice Department were still studying whether the president had the legal authority to unilaterally suspend the issuance of green cards, an order that caught officials at the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security off guard, according to people with knowledge of the announcement.
The decision not to block guest worker programs — which provide specific visas for technology workers, farm laborers and others — is a concession to business groups, which assailed the White House on Tuesday.
Rob Larew, the president of the National Farmers Union, said that even talk of restrictions on immigrant farm workers was disruptive. “It just adds to an already stressed food system,” he said.
From South Dakota’s raceways to Atlanta’s barbershops, states grapple with reopening businesses.
Two South Dakota dirt tracks plan to hold auto races this weekend, opening their gates to hundreds of spectators despite the state’s governor, Kristi Noem, urging people to stay away.
In South Carolina, where Gov. Henry McMaster allowed many stores to reopen Tuesday, consumers were slow to return. And Georgia prepared to go ahead with its plans to let a wide variety of businesses reopen in the coming days despite the objections of the mayors of its biggest cities, and of health experts who warn that the virus is still spreading there.
States around the nation have been trying to balance the need to combat a public health crisis with the need to ameliorate a growing economic crisis. At the White House, Mr. Trump has made it clear that he is impatient for businesses to reopen, and in some states small protests, with the support of some conservative groups, have urged governors to ease restrictions. But polls have found Americans are more fearful of easing restrictions too early than too late, and some business leaders have cautioned against moving too quickly to reopen businesses.
The tensions are playing out across the nation in different ways.
In South Dakota, the organizers of the races at the two tracks near Jefferson said that they would limit the number of fans to avoid crowding: The Park Jefferson International Speedway will allow a maximum of 700 people in its 4,000-seat venue on Saturday night, while Raceway Park will let 500 fans in for its Sunday races.
“We intend to go overboard on following C.D.C. guidelines,” the Speedway’s owner, Adam Adamson, told the Argus Leader newspaper. “We’re just a small race track in rural South Dakota trying to give some entertainment and a little bit of a break from some of this madness that’s going on right now. We think we can do so in a safe environment.”
Raceway Park officials said they would be checking spectators’ temperatures at the gates and that face masks would be required.
While there is no stay-at-home order in South Dakota, Governor Noem said she did not agree with the decision to carry out the races.
“I can encourage people not to go. I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to attend,” she said during a news conference on Tuesday. “I still recommend that we follow the plans that I have laid out for South Dakota where we don’t gather in sizes of over 10 and that folks continue to social distance if they’re not feeling well to stay home and to wash their hands.”
South Dakota is one of the few states, including Iowa and North Dakota, without a stay-at-home order; nor does it have enforceable restrictions against large gatherings. The state has recorded 1,755 cases of the virus and eight COVID-related deaths
Union County, where the two venues are, has had seven positive tests for the virus, according to data collected by The New York Times.
In South Carolina, where some stores resumed business for the first time on Tuesday, people largely stayed away: the streets were mostly empty in downtown Charleston, bereft of the residents, tourists, students who typically crowd into its picturesque galleries and shops.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp’s call to let gyms and hair salons reopen Friday, and restaurants and theaters reopen Monday, drew rebukes from mayors, public health experts and some business owners, who worry about another wave of infections. The state is continuing to see new infections and deaths: the Georgia Department of Public Health reported Wednesday that the state had seen 20,740 known cases and 836 deaths.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at a briefing Tuesday evening that she did not know how people could operate hair salons and tattoo parlors in Georgia while maintaining the social distancing needed to curb the spread of the virus.
“So if there’s a way that people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things,” she said. “ I don’t know how. But people are very creative.”
Scammers are tapping stimulus money meant for the needy.
The federal government’s stimulus checks were meant to help people exactly like Krystle Phelps of Owasso, Okla.
She and her husband, Christopher, who have two children, recently lost their incomes after Oklahoma shut down the bars near Tulsa that she cleaned and that he supplied with vending machines. But when Ms. Phelps, 33, went to the I.R.S. website to check on the status of her family’s stimulus funds, she learned someone else had filed taxes on her husband’s behalf and used his identity to obtain their $3,400 payment.
“I cried all day,” said Ms. Phelps, who is about a month away from being unable to pay her mortgage and has cut out everything but the basics, canceling cable and eliminating snacks for the kids. “It is a little relief, and then you find out it isn’t happening.”
In recent weeks, criminals have used people’s Social Security numbers, home addresses and other personal information — much of which was available online from past data breaches — to assume their identities and bilk them out of their stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. As a result, calls to Ms. Velasquez’s organization were 850 percent higher in March than a year earlier, she said, and are still soaring.
The scale of the fraud has been enormous, fueled by the economic crisis and the confusion surrounding the $2 trillion stabilization plan that President Trump unveiled last month. That has been compounded by the government’s own lack of security measures for people claiming stimulus payments, with those going through the I.R.S. website to get their checks needing to input just a few pieces of information that scammers can readily obtain.
Stocks on Wall Street and in major European markets rallied on Wednesday, and oil prices climbed more than 10 percent, reversing some of the tremendous losses that had unnerved investors for several days.
The S&P 500 rose about 2 percent by early afternoon, after a nearly 5 percent drop on Monday and Tuesday.
The selling earlier in the week had been triggered by a collapse in oil prices, as the price of one oil benchmark dipped below zero for the first time, meaning some holders were ready to pay people to take a barrel off their hands.
But on Wednesday, some stability returned to the energy market, with the price of both West Texas Intermediate crude, the American benchmark, and Brent crude, the international benchmark, sharply higher. Shares of companies in the energy industry, like Halliburton and Marathon Oil, were among the best performing stocks in the S&P 500.
Bond prices on Wednesday also signaled some returning investor optimism. U.S. Treasury bond prices fell, a signal that the markets were favoring putting money in places considered less conservative.
Delta Air Lines, though, reported a loss of $607 million between January and March, its first quarterly loss in five years.
The airline said it ended March with about $6 billion in cash on hand, but added that it was also burning through $100 million in cash per day by the end of that month. After cutting costs and expenses, Delta expects to slow that rate to $50 million per day by the end of June.
Under the stimulus passed last month, Delta received $5.4 billion in grants and loans to pay its employees. It said it is also eligible for a $4.6 billion loan under the law, should it decide to take it. The airline also said it plans to cut schedules by 85 percent in the second quarter, in line with competitors like United Airlines, which reported a $2.1 billion quarterly loss on Monday.
Tyson Foods said on Wednesday that it would close its largest pork processing facility, the latest in a string of plant closings that has put a strain on the nation’s meat supply.
The plant in Waterloo, Iowa, had been running at reduced levels in recent days because workers were staying home, the company said.
Tyson said it would invite the Waterloo plant’s 2,800 workers to be tested for the coronavirus at the facility later this week.
“The closure has significant ramifications beyond our company, since the plant is part of a larger supply chain that includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors and customers, including grocers,” the head of Tyson’s fresh meats division, Steve Stouffer, said in a statement.
The company had closed another meat plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, but it reopened the facility on Tuesday.
Public health officials in California are expanding testing to include some people who are asymptomatic, going beyond federal guidelines that have so far focused on testing people who were most at risk and showing symptoms.
The new guidelines in California prioritize screening and testing people who are living in communal living facilities, such as prisons and homeless shelters, as well as asymptomatic health care employees working in hospitals or nursing homes.
The expanded testing — which has already begun at a homeless shelter in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Skid Row — could offer an early glimpse of how widely the virus has infiltrated society, even among people who otherwise appear healthy. As many as 25 percent of people infected may not show symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 200 people have been tested so far at the homeless shelter, Union Rescue Mission, and at least 43 people had tested positive as of Tuesday afternoon, said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the public health director in Los Angeles County. Of the 43 who tested positive, she said more than half had not been showing symptoms.
The results mirror findings of asymptomatic cases that have begun to emerge at other facilities in the United States, as officials ramp up aggressive testing.
In Ohio, where an outbreak at a prison has become the country’s largest-known source of infections, officials said that many of the people who tested positive did not appear sick. In Boston, where universal testing was conducted at a homeless shelter earlier this month, officials found that nearly everyone who tested positive had not been showing symptoms.
Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, said he was “baffled” by how many people without symptoms had tested positive at the shelter.
“The lesson for this is there is so much we don’t know, and in this particular very poor and vulnerable population,” Mr. O’Connell said. “We suspect all around the country, this is probably going to be duplicated.”
He said on Wednesday that the former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, had volunteered to help with the state’s effort to test and trace the virus.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that public housing residents would be a priority at six testing sites set to open in the coming days, and that three sites opening next week would be based in public housing.
Lawmakers are making their way back to Washington ahead of an expected vote on Thursday to give final approval to a $484 billion package that would revive a loan program for distressed small businesses and provide additional aid for hospitals and testing.
The Senate approved the measure on Tuesday on a voice vote — a necessity since the chamber is on an extended recess amid the pandemic and most senators are outside of Washington. But that will not be possible in the House, where there is enough dissatisfaction in both parties about the bill that leaders have summoned lawmakers back to the Capitol for a vote. House Republicans have signaled that they would force a roll-call vote on the measure, while some of the most liberal Democrats are deeply opposed to a bill they argue provides far too little for the most urgent needs, omitting funding for struggling cities and localities.
“It is insulting to think that we can pass such a small amount of money — in the context of not knowing when Congress is even going to reconvene — pass such a small amount of money, pat ourselves on the back and leave town again,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said on Monday. “I need legislation that is going to save people’s lives.”
The measure was the product of an intense round of negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration that unfolded as the small-business loan program — created by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law — quickly ran out of funding, collapsing under a glut of applications from desperate companies struggling to stay afloat.
The measure would provide $320 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, $75 billion for hospitals, $25 billion for testing and a mandate that the Trump administration establish a national strategy to help states and localities, which are required to outline their own plans, deploy testing widely.
While in Washington to pass it, House Democratic leaders are also planning to push through a measure to create a select committee to scrutinize the Trump administration’s coronavirus response and the management of the $2.2 trillion stimulus programs. Mr. Trump has dismissed the idea as a partisan “witch hunt” and Republicans are likely to oppose the move.
After Trump’s criticism, Harvard says it didn’t ask for relief money — and might not take it.
Mr. Trump on Tuesday criticized Harvard for receiving $8.6 million in federal relief funds despite its large endowment, saying “Harvard’s going to pay back the money” in response to a question about large companies like Shake Shack that received loans meant for small businesses.
But the money allocated for Harvard would come from a completely different source: a $14 billion federal aid package for some 5,000 American colleges, universities and trade schools that have seen huge revenue losses after shutting down their campuses as the pandemic spread across America.
The money for schools was automatically divided based on a formula set by Congress, based on the size and income level of a university’s student body. That formula was part of the $2 trillion aid package signed by Mr. Trump on March 27.
“Harvard has not applied for or received any funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund,” a Harvard spokesman, Jason Newton, said Wednesday. “We continue to review the additional guidance from the Department of Education related to the fund and will make a determination as to whether we will seek to access the allocation that was made to Harvard by statute.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he had spoken to Harvard’s president, Larry Bacow, who was considering Mr. Trump’s request.
“I actually spoke to the president of Harvard already this morning,” Mr. Mnuchin told the Fox Business Network. “And I think Harvard is thinking seriously about whether it’s appropriate for them to keep the money or give it to other institutions that need it.”
That would be a shift for the university, which said on Monday that it would use all of the relief money to support students affected by the pandemic, and not for institutional costs. But Harvard continued to face criticism because of its massive endowment, valued at $41 billion before the pandemic struck.
The formula for disbursing funds to universities did not take a school’s endowment into account. The University of Texas system, which had a $31 billion endowment in 2018, the second-largest in the country, will get $172.5 million from the stimulus package, including $31 million for its flagship institution, the University of Texas at Austin.
Mr. Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, had a $14 billion endowment as of 2018 and is set to receive $10 million in stimulus money.
Democratic leaders on Wednesday backed away from a planned move to change the rules of the House of Representatives to allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely for the first time in history during the pandemic, scrapping a vote on the plan after Republicans registered sharp opposition.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats during a conference call that the House would no longer vote on Thursday as planned on a proposal to allow members to designate another lawmaker to cast votes for them by proxy, according to two officials familiar with the private discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity. Instead, she said she and Represe
ntative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the majority leader, will task a bipartisan group of lawmakers to consider remote voting and reopening Congress.
The debate over whether the House should resume business as usual or allow lawmakers to register their votes remotely has become bitterly partisan, mirroring those taking place in cities and states across the nation as elected officials struggle to balance the economic pain and disruption of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders with the public health imperative of slowing and mitigating the spread of the virus. House Republican leaders have opposed the plan to vote by proxy, and some Republicans argued lawmakers should return to Washington and get back to work.
Democrats, who hold the majority in the House, had planned to muscle through the change in the rules over Republican objections.
“Republicans were not included,” said Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the Administration Committee. “We are against this proposal because it hasn’t been put together in a bipartisan way.”
“It would throw out over 200 years of precedent,” he added, “without so much as a discussion with Republicans.”
The roots of social distancing go back to a request from former President George W. Bush some 14 years ago in the wake of the terror attacks in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a heightened need to prepare for future disasters, found Eric Lipton and Jennifer Steinhauer.
Inspired by a book he read about the spread of germs, Mr. Bush asked two federal government doctors to come up with a plan for the United States to respond to the next pandemic. The doctors, Richard Hatchett, a White House biodefense adviser, and Carter Mecher, a Veterans Affairs medical officer based in Georgia, took a deep dive into historical responses to contagious diseases dating back to the Middle Ages when there was not advanced medicine to treat such viruses. They were also inspired by a high school student’s research project. (The student was the daughter of a scientist at one of the country’s national laboratories).
When the doctors who presented their plan to other federal officials, they were laughed at and ridiculed. Much like today, social distancing was not a popular option because of the disruption it would cause to everyday life, especially the economy. But without a guarantee that a drug to treat the particular illness spreading around the globe would be available, keeping a safe distance from other people would have to work.
And in February of 2007, social distancing became the plan if a drug was not available. It was reaffirmed in a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide to local communities. And it went live across the country in mid-March when the coronavirus was spreading faster than medical response could handle.
Eating in a pandemic: Here’s some advice.
Whether you are cooking meals from scratch every single day, turning to your childhood comfort foods, or don’t have much of an appetite, the lockdown has probably changed your eating habits. Maybe for the better, or possibly for the worse. Here are some tips to ensure your diet is healthy and help you remember that moderation is key.
What else is happening in the world? Check it out.
Track the progress of the pandemic and stay abreast of the latest developments with our team of international correspondents.
Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Karen Barrow, Alan Blinder, Michael Cooper, Monica Davey, Caitlin Dickerson, Catie Edmonson, Richard Fausset, Sheri Fink, Thomas Fuller, Erica L. Green, Amy Harmon, Anemona Hartocollis, Tiffany Hsu, Miriam Jordan, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Gina Kolata, Lisa Lerer, Sarah Mervosh, Alexandra E. Petri, Nathaniel Popper, Alan Rappeport, Rick Rojas, Marc Santora, Michael D. Shear, Natasha Singer, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Kenneth P. Vogel and Pete Wells.