Texans plan to join nationwide protests even as their governor lifts restrictions.
Rejecting social distancing restrictions and embracing the tacit approval of President Trump, protesters in Texas are preparing to converge on the steps of the Capitol building in Austin on Saturday and call for the reopening of the state and the country.
The gathering would be a public act of defiance of orders imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus and the latest in a wave of similar protests this week from Michigan to North Carolina and Kentucky to California.
By merely assembling, the conservative activists and supporters of Mr. Trump who are expected to participate in the “You Can’t Close America” rally in Austin would be in violation of state and local stay-at-home orders, just as protesters in Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota were when they took their complaints to their governors this week.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, which secures the Capitol grounds, said in a statement that it asks the public to comply with the social distancing guidelines found in the orders signed by Gov. Greg Abbott and in recommendations issued by federal health officials. “Our officers will take appropriate enforcement action — as with any other protest — should the situation warrant such action,” the statement read.
The urgency of the rally was dampened somewhat on Friday by Mr. Abbott, who announced that he would do precisely what the protesters demanded: reopen Texas.
A Republican, Mr. Abbott said he was starting a “phased-in” approach to reopen the state economy, including lifting some restrictions in the coming days on non-virus medical procedures, retail shopping and public access to state parks.
The rally on the Capitol steps was organized by Owen Shroyer, the host of a show on Infowars, the website headquartered in Austin that was founded by Alex Jones and traffics in conspiracy theories. Mr. Shroyer told his Infowars audience this week that the coronavirus was part of a scheme by the Chinese Communist Party and the “Deep State” to undermine Mr. Trump, and that reports of overwhelmed hospitals like those in New York were “propaganda.”
President Trump on Friday openly encouraged right-wing protests like the planned event in Texas, posting a series of all-caps tweets in which he declared, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” — two states whose Democratic governors have imposed strict social distancing restrictions. Mr. Trump also lashed out at Virginia, where the state’s Democratic governor and legislature have pushed for strict gun control measures.
The tweets alarmed some governors. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said that the tweets “encourage illegal and dangerous acts” and risked putting Mr. Trump’s supporters — and others — at risk of contracting the virus.
“His unhinged rantings and calls for people to ‘liberate’ states could also lead to violence,” Mr. Inslee said.
As some governors consider easing social distancing restrictions, new estimates by researchers at Harvard University suggest that the United States cannot safely reopen unless it conducts more than three times the number of coronavirus tests it is currently administering over the next month.
An average of 146,000 people per day have been tested for the coronavirus nationally so far this month, according to the COVID Tracking Project, which on Friday reported 3.6 million total tests across the country. To reopen the United States by mid-May, the number of daily tests performed between now and then should be 500,000 to 700,000, according to the Harvard estimates.
That level of testing is necessary to identify the majority of people who are infected and isolate them from people who are healthy, according to the researchers. About 20 percent of those tested so far were positive for the virus, a rate that the researchers say is too high.
“If you have a very high positive rate, it means that there are probably a good number of people out there who have the disease who you haven’t tested,” said Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “You want to drive the positive rate down, because the fundamental element of keeping our economy open is making sure you’re identifying as many infected people as possible and isolating them.”
From the cashier to the emergency room nurse to the drugstore pharmacist to the home health aide taking the bus to check on her older client, the soldier on the front lines of the current national emergency is most likely a woman.
One in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, according to a New York Times analysis of census data crossed with the federal government’s essential worker guidelines. Nonwhite women are more likely to be doing essential jobs than anyone else.
The work they do has often been underpaid and undervalued — an unseen labor force that keeps the country running and takes care of those most in need, whether or not there is a pandemic.
Women make up nearly nine out of 10 nurses and nursing assistants, most respiratory therapists, the majority of pharmacists and the overwhelming majority of pharmacy aides and technicians. More than two-thirds of the workers at grocery store checkouts and fast food counters are women.
As the coronavirus has swept across the country, it has stolen millions of jobs and thrust people everywhere into acute financial insecurity. It has also forced the majority of the population to shelter in place. But in one industry where rejection is a normal part of a day’s work, telephone polling, the people making the calls are finding that many people are suddenly willing, even grateful, to talk.
Many, in fact, wanted to keep talking — about their loneliness, about their sadness, about their fears for the future — even after the questions had stopped.
“People are dealing with anxiety, and they haven’t seen their family and friends,” said Ayala Mitchell, an interviewers for the Siena College Research Institute. “They just want to talk to someone.”
Executives at a number of firms across the country said in interviews that not only are more people willing to answer the phone to unknown callers these days, but that those who do agree to be interviewed are more likely to stay through the end of the conversation. This has led to an increase in productivity rates of roughly 25 percent, they said, and it also means that — in a moment of crisis and in the midst of a presidential election — a wider variety of people are willing to tell pollsters what they think. And that means it’s more likely that a poll’s respondents will come closer to reflecting the makeup of the general population.
At his daily briefing one afternoon this week, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi reported that the death toll in the state from the coronavirus had climbed. He reiterated just how eager he was to reopen businesses. He answered reporters’ questions about extending the shelter-in-place order and ramping up testing.
And then he wished dozens of state residents a very happy birthday.
There was Alex, Brianna, Asher and Billy. There was more than one sweet 16, and others who ranged in age from preschoolers to an 83-year-old. Mr. Reeves pointed out that one boy was a green belt in karate. “Keep working hard,” the governor said. “You’ll be a black belt before you know it.”
It was certainly an abrupt turn, swerving from delivering grim news about a pandemic and spreading economic pain to making birthday shout-outs like a drive-time D.J. But the announcements — and televised briefings from government officials, from the White House on down — have grown into a defining element of the pandemic.
Regular briefings have helped transform Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a veteran civil servant and infectious disease expert, into a household name. The graphics appearing beside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York during his briefings have spawned instant Twitter memes.
In Mississippi, the addition of birthday greetings has resonated as so many have found comfort from even the tiniest of gestures, anything that could be held up as evidence of a sense of togetherness while legally mandated to stay apart.
The decision to include birthdays in the briefings was made about a week ago, as some started asking on social media whether Mr. Reeves could mention their children. A first-term governor, Mr. Reeves also wanted to add some bright moments and buoy people’s spirits, including his own: he noted in a recent briefing that he had just marked his 90th day in office, a period that has already included deadly tornadoes; the Pearl River’s swelling and flooding Jackson, the state capital; and a crisis in state prisons sparked by violence and decrepit conditions.
“It brightens my day,” Mr. Reeves said of the birthday wishes in a quick phone call after a recent briefing. So far, more than 3,200 people have submitted requests for birthday shout-outs.
The how, when, what and why on masks.
Starting at 8 p.m. on Friday, people in New York must wear masks or other coverings when social distancing is not possible, including on mass transit, to prevent the spread of the virus. But everyone should be wearing masks when out in public, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here’s everything you need to know.
Reporting was contributed by Manny Fernandez, Karen Barrow, Michael D. Shear, Robert Gebeloff, Sarah Lyall, Rick Rojas, Campbell Robertson and Giovanni Russonello.