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.
European officials agree to spend more than half a trillion euros to blunt the economic effects from the virus.
European Union finance ministers on Thursday agreed to the outlines of a loan package worth more than half a trillion euros to help the bloc’s nations relieve the severe economic blow from the pandemic.
The measures, which must be approved by the bloc’s leaders, could total up to €540 billion, or $590 million, a show of solidarity as the economic and health crisis brought on by the virus strains bonds among the member countries.
The agreement includes 100 billion euros to fund unemployment benefits, €200 billion for loans to smaller businesses, and up to €240 billion lent by the Eurozone’s bailout fund to member states, to cover potentially crippling health care-related costs.
Some details, most notably on the terms and conditions of loans to countries from the bailout fund, were still unclear and could prove contentious. Countries like Italy that are likely to tap those loans want to ensure they don’t come with austerity conditions attached.
The ministers did not agree to issue bonds backed by the entire bloc, which had come to be known as “coronabonds,” in a defeat for Italy and Spain, the two worst-hit countries. Germany, the Netherlands and other richer northern European countries had staunchly opposed joint debt issuance.
European Union leaders are set to meet next week to approve the package and flesh out any remaining details, as well as to decide if some kind of joint bonds can be agreed on, or if the idea will be shelved.
OPEC and Russia reach a deal to cut oil production, as the pandemic drives down demand.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and others including Russia on Thursday reached an agreement to temporarily cut large volumes of production, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
OPEC and the other oil-producing countries agreed to cut about 10 million barrels a day, or about 10 percent from normal production levels, in May and June, said this person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made official.
Possible further trims could come from a meeting of the Group of 20 nations on Friday.
OPEC, Russia and other oil producers gathered for a teleconference on Thursday. The meeting was called by Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, after President 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 pandemic. The spat threatened to swamp oil mark
ets with vast oversupplies of crude.
Still, crude oil prices fell sharply on Thursday afternoon, in part because the production cuts were not expected to offset the fact that slowing economies and virus-related shutdowns have dampened demand for oil.
Stocks rose on Thursday after the Federal Reserve announced an expansion of its emergency lending powers in another bid to backstop the U.S. economy, but the gains faded in the afternoon after oil prices fell and shares of energy companies followed.
Still, the S&P 500 rose about 1.5 percent, bringing its gains this week to 12 percent. Markets in the U.S. are closed on Friday, ahead of Easter.
The number of patients hospitalized with the virus in New York State on Wednesday rose by only 200 from the previous day, the governor said Thursday, the smallest increase since before the statewide lockdown, even as he announced that 799 more people — another bleak record — had died.
The state’s fatality count increased to 7,067. For the second consecutive day, Gov. Andrew M. 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. Phil 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.
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.
Earlier this week, workers packed the equipment for heavily hit states like New York and New Jersey and wrote messages of support on the boxes. “Prayers from the West Coast,” one read.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California 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. Hospitals there were anxiously preparing for a shortage in ventilators, they said.
Riverside County has been among the hardest hit in California, with more than 1,100 cases, at least 32 deaths and an outbreak at a nursing home that forced evacuations this week after a beleaguered and sickened staff failed to show up two days in a row.
County 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 Riverside County board of supervisors.
An his daily news briefing on Thursday, Mr. Newsom sought to allay those concerns and pushed back against the idea that the state was neglecting its own needs, although he did not name Riverside or Santa Clara Counties.
“It was the right thing to do, and it was the responsible thing to do as Americans,” he said. “We can’t just sit on assets when we could save lives in other states.”
Over the past month, California’s hospital system had increased the number of ventilators in its hospitals to more than 11,700 from 7,587, Mr. Newsom said. The hospital system was currently using 31.89 percent of the available ventilators, which meant more than 8,000 ventilators were currently unused, not including the state-owned ventilators that had been sent across the
Mr. Newsom added that he was “not naïve,” and that the state was helping run a mutual aid system, with daily check-ins, to ensure that each county had twice as many ventilators as they needed at any given time. He emphasized that the state was working to continue to refurbish and find more ventilators in the meantime. “It’s all part and parcel of a broader strategy,” he said.
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.”
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 virus 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.”
With the virus spreading quickly across the South and expected to peak there in the next few weeks, public health experts said they were especially concerned about the toll it might take on an already vulnerable and at-risk population.
In the South, particularly in rural areas, dozens of hospitals have shuttered over the last decade. There are fewer insurance options for the poor, and the region has entrenched poverty and health issues, including high rates of diabetes and other ailments that worsen the effects of Covid-19.
Six of the nation’s poorest states are in the South, and the region is home to seven of the 10 unhealthiest states, according to the latest annual ranking by the United Health Foundation, which takes into account a mix of public health policy, environmental conditions and behaviors.
“I really don’t think we can say strongly enough that we are a uniquely vulnerable population here,” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, said in a recent briefing. Dr. Marrazzo referred to the “abundance” of underlying health problems in Alabama and across the Deep South that could exacerbate effects of the virus.
Critics said governors who delayed issuing orders to keep residents at home created a disadvantage in confronting the pandemic. All but one of the southern states has since announced shelter-in-place orders, with Arkansas the lone holdout.
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 recently learned she had 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 inequa
lities 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 C.D.C. and White House guidelines and recommendations.”
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 who spoke to the news media without permission would 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 employed 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.
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Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Michael Cooper, Eileen Sullivan, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Andy Newman, Matthew Haag, Simon Romero, Peter Baker, Jim Rutenberg, David Waldstein, Emily Cochrane, Caitlin Dickerson, Miriam Jordan, Patricia Cohen, Stanley Reed, Jeanna Smialek, Sarah Mervosh, 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.