Warmer weather and protests put pressure on states.
Warmer weather and fatigue over weeks of confinement lured millions of Americans outside this weekend, adding to pressure on city and state officials to enforce, or loosen, restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded with residents to resist the impulse to gather outdoors. In New Jersey, golf courses reopened and Gov. Philip D. Murphy said early anecdotal reports indicated that people were maintaining social distance.
“If we hear minimal reports of knucklehead behavior at our parks, then we know you all have taken to heart your responsibility to help us mitigate this pandemic,” Mr. Murphy wrote on Twitter.
“Frankly, knowing New Jerseyans, this is what I expect,” he said, though he warned: “If we hear reports of people not taking their health — or the health of other park-goers — seriously, I will not hesitate to close them yet again.”
Elsewhere, protesters pressing for the loosening of restrictions gathered in the capitals of Kentucky; Florida, where the governor has already announced a relaxing of restrictions; and Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown has extended a state of emergency through July 6.
In Stillwater, Okla., officials abandoned a requirement that people wear masks in shops and restaurants after workers were faced with violent threats.
As businesses continued to shed jobs, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s small business lending program said that its companies would return at least $70 million in loans. Ashford Inc. which oversees hotels and resorts, made the announcement as it became clear that it was benefiting from a program intended to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll.
The lifting of stringent rules across the nation signaled a new phase in the country’s response to the virus and came even as confirmed cases nationally continue to grow.
Extremists in the United States are trying to turn the pandemic into a recruiting tool online and on the streets of state capitals by twisting the public health crisis to bolster a white-supremacist, anti-government agenda.
Protests across the country have drawn a wide variety of people pressing to lift stay-at-home orders. But the presence of extremists cannot be missed, with anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic signs and coded messages aimed at inspiring adherents, say those who track such movements.
Embellishing Covid-19 developments to fit their agenda, extremists spread disinformation on the transmission of the coronavirus and disparage stay-at-home orders as “medical martial law” — the long-anticipated advent of a totalitarian state.
“They are being very effective in capitalizing on the pandemic,” said Devin Burghart, who runs the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a Seattle-based research center on far-right movements.
What success the groups have had in finding recruits is not clear, but new research indicates a significant jump in people consuming extremist material while under lockdown. Various violent incidents have been linked to white-supremacist or anti-government perpetrators enraged over aspects of the pandemic.
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement officials across the United States of the mobilization of violent extremists in response to stay-at-home measures, according to a senior law enforcement official and a congressional staff member.
A department memo dated April 23 noted the recent arrests of people who had threatened government officials imposing coronavirus-related regulations.
A protest in Sacramento urging California’s governor to reopen the state resembled rallies that have appeared elsewhere in the country, with crowds pressing leaders to undo restrictions on businesses and daily life.
But its organizers were not militia members, restaurant owners or prominent conservative operatives. They were some of the loudest anti-vaccination activists in the country.
The people behind the rally, held on Friday, are founders of a group called the Freedom Angels Foundation that is best known for its opposition to efforts to mandate vaccinations. And the protest was the latest example of overlapping interests that have connected a range of groups — including Tea Party activists and armed militia groups — to oppose measures that governors have taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Activists known for opposing vaccines have been involved in protests in New York, Colorado and Texas, where they have found a welcome audience for their arguments for personal freedom and their suspicion of government. And their growing presence at the protests worries public health experts who fear that such messaging could harm the United States’ ability to turn a corner after the pandemic if Americans do not accept a future vaccine.
“One of the things that we’re finding is that the rhetoric is pretty similar between the anti-vaxxers and those demanding to reopen,” said Dr. Rupali J. Limaye, who studies behavior around vaccines at Johns Hopkins University.
“What we hear a lot of is ‘individual self-management,’” she said, “this idea that they should be in control of making decisions, that they can decide what science is correct and incorrect, and that they know what’s best for their child.”
As more states take steps toward reopening businesses and reviving economies stalled by the coronavirus, governors from across the country are scheduled to appear on television on Sunday to discuss the latest in the response.
Two governors who have been fixtures of the Sunday morning talk show circuit in recent weeks, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Larry Hogan of Maryland, will appear on “State of the Union” on CNN. In Michigan, protesters, some of them armed, have swarmed the State Capitol to denounce the restriction on commerce and movement imposed by Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat. In Maryland, Mr. Hogan, a Republican who has raised concerns about testing capacity, is expected to discuss testing in his state and the tests obtained from South Korea that he put under the watch of the Maryland National Guard.
“It was like Fort Knox to us,” he said of the tests in a recent interview with The Washington Post, “because it’s going to save the lives of thousands of our citizens.”
Gov. Tate Reeves, the Mississippi Republican who has been pushing to reopen his state and has been in a showdown with state lawmakers over the authority to spend million in federal emergency funds, will appear on “Fox News Sunday.” Also on the program will be Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey as his state has started reopening parks and golf courses in what he described as a “huge test” and “an important sign for how we move forward.”
Gov. Mike DeWine, the Ohio Republican who has sketched out plans for reopening his state as he eased his statewide stay-at-home order, will appear on ABC’s “This Week,” which is also scheduled to include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coordinator for the coronavirus task force, is due to appear on “Fox News Sunday.”
Larry Kudlow, the White House economic adviser, will appear on “State of the Union,” as will Representative Justin Amash, a Republican-turned-Libertarian congressman who backed impeachment charges against President Trump.
“Face the Nation” on CBS will have Daniel O’Day, the chairman and chief executive of Gilead Sciences, the maker of remdesivir, the antiviral drug that received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for patients severely ill with Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
In chaotic emergency rooms and intensive care units, coronavirus patients struggle to survive in isolation, with masked doctors and nurses keeping their distance and family visits barred. Alarms, monitors and overhead announcements blare incessantly.
But at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Manhattan, the music of Bach, Brahms and even the Beatles has begun wafting through patient rooms, played by accomplished performers — recently out-of-work chamber music players, winners of international competitions and prizes, teachers at prestigious music schools.
They perform from California, Kentucky, Maine, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York, where they are sheltered in place. The music plays through an iPhone or iPad placed at the bedside of patients who indicated that they wanted to hear a performance.
“I’m hoping to offer a brief moment of comfort or distraction or beauty,” said Michelle Ross, a violinist in Manhattan who has performed for the patients.
At times, the 200-bed hospital has had as many as 170 coronavirus patients, and Dr. Rachel Easterwood, who works the night shift in the I.C.U., had despaired at how little could be done for some patients.
A former professional clarinetist, Dr. Easterwood ended up arranging several performances. And she said last week that she hoped to continue them for patients and the staff.
“We go into this profession to help people,” she said. “And this music had the ability to at least help a little bit.”
Scott Connell, a Missouri weatherman, was trying to record a tease last month, but Maple, his Cavalier King Charles spaniel, had other plans.
“Three, two, one: More cold air ——” Mr. Connell, the chief meteorologist for KSDK in St. Louis, manages to say on the video before the dog’s barks interrupt him.
“Cold air continues across the area tonight; potential for some frost and freeze for some of us,” he starts again, and Maple barks again. Mr. Connell claps his hands and calls the dog over. He is finally able complete the tease, but not before Maple gets a few more barks in.
Like many people working from home because of the pandemic, television reporters and meteorologists have had to adapt to a new normal, including unfamiliar professional settings. So have their pets, who sometimes join them, crashing their reports and mugging for the cameras.
Also among them is Kim Powell, a reporter for the Phoenix broadcaster Arizona’s Family, who was delivering a news report about coronavirus testing in March when Zipper, her cat, strolled in front of the camera.
“Hi, this is my cat,” she said with a laugh during the segment. “That is the perks of working from home.”
Former President George W. Bush is calling on Americans to put aside partisan differences, heed the guidance of medical professionals and show empathy for those affected by the coronavirus and the resulting economic impact.
In a three-minute video message, Mr. Bush, who rarely speaks out on current events, struck a tone of unity that contrasted with the more combative approach taken at times by President Trump, and recalled the sense of national solidarity that Mr. Bush sought to summon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat,” Mr. Bush said in the video, which was set against music and photographs of medical workers helping coronavirus patients and of Americans wearing masks.
“In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants,” he said. “We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.”
Mr. Bush’s message was part of a series of videos aired as part of a 24-hour livestreamed project, “The Call to Unite,” that also featured Oprah Winfrey, Tim Shriver, Julia Roberts, Martin Luther King III, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Quincy Jones, Naomi Judd, Andrew Yang and others.
Former President Bill Clinton also delivered a message, speaking into a camera in what appeared to be a video chat from his home.
“We need each other, and we do better when we work together,” he said. “That’s never been more clear to me as I have seen the courage and dignity of the first responders, the health care workers, all the people who are helping them to provide our food, our transportation, our basic services to the other essential workers.”
Now, the Department of Agriculture plans to spend $300 million per month on surplus produce, milk and meat and ship it to food banks over the next few weeks. States have also joined the effort: New York is giving food banks $25 million to buy products made from extra milk produced on farms in the state.
Even college students have stepped in, renting trucks to rescue unsold onions and eggs from farms. They have created a website that connects farmers and food banks around the country.
But the combined efforts are only a “drop in the bucket,” said Jackie Klippenstein, a senior vice president of the Dairy Farmers of America, the largest dairy co-op in the United States. The co-op has diverted almost a quarter of a million gallons of milk to food banks.
And more food is coming — California strawberry growers are fretting about how to sell their goods, with peak harvest season approaching this month.
“Time is not on our side,” said Mary Coppola, a vice president at the United Fresh Produce Association, a trade group of fruit and vegetable growers and processors. “In my own personal opinion, we are not coming up with the supply-chain logistical solutions as quickly as produce is growing.”
Three movie theaters in the San Antonio area became some of the first in the country to reopen, a move that worried some infectious-disease experts but was applauded by those who bought tickets and attended.
The theaters showed older releases for $5. And at the Palladium, in an upscale shopping center, business was steady — low for a Saturday in May, but higher than what might be expected in a state grappling with a coronavirus outbreak that has killed nearly 900 people, 48 of them in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio.
To sit in a theater with dozens of strangers was a possible health risk. But as the movies played and the plots thickened amid the crunch-crunch of patrons chewing popcorn, Hollywood was doing what it has done for decades: providing an escape, albeit masked and at a distance.
Masks were recommended, but not required, for customers. In the lobby of the Palladium, a masked worker asked customers as they entered whether they or anyone they had been in contact with had experienced fever, chills or other symptoms in the past 14 days. Signs warned that anyone who answered yes would not be allowed to enter.
Tim Handren, the chief executive of Santikos Entertainment, which opened the theaters, said that the company did not expect make money off the low-capacity showings but that it recognized that people felt a need to get out of their homes and “just go somewhere else.”
The coronavirus has touched almost every country, but its impact has seemed capricious. Global metropolises like New York, Paris and London have been devastated, while teeming cities like Bangkok, Baghdad, New Delhi and Lagos have, so far, largely been spared.
And time may still prove the greatest equalizer: The Spanish flu that broke out in the United States in 1918 seemed to die down during the summer only to come roaring back with a deadlier strain in the fall, and a third wave the following year. It eventually reached far-flung places like islands in Alaska and the South Pacific and infected a third of the world’s population.
“We are really early in this disease,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Research Institute. “If this were a baseball game, it would be the second inning, and there’s no reason to think that by the ninth inning the rest of the world that looks now like it hasn’t been affected won’t become like other places.”
How to get your money back into balance.
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One of the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s small business lending program said on Saturday that its companies would return at least $70 million in loans received through the Paycheck Protection Program.
The company — Ashford Inc., which oversees a tightly interwoven group of hotels and resorts — had applied for $126 million in loans, and had previously said it planned to keep the money it received.
On Saturday, citing new guidelines from the Small Business Administration that restrict who can receive funding, the company said it would return the loans.
Those rules were instituted as it became clear that larger companies were benefiting from a program that Congress had intended to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll.
Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said companies had until May 7 to voluntarily return the funds and that firms would be held “criminally liable” if they did not meet the program’s criteria.
Reporting was contributed by Michael Corkery, Manny Fernandez, Jenny Gross, Jeanna Smialek, Benjamin Weiser, Joseph Goldstein, Johnny Diaz, Michael Levenson, Neil MacFarquhar, Peter Baker, Rick Rojas, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, David Yaffe-Bellany, Tess Felder and Hannah Beech.