“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon,” Mr. Trump said.
A federal scientist filed a formal whistle-blower complaint, claiming that administration officials pressured him to steer millions of dollars in contracts to the clients of a well-connected consultant. The whistle blower, Rick Bright, who was director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until his removal in April, said he had been protesting “cronyism” and contract abuse since 2017.
On the same day, the coronavirus response effort being directed by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was accused of cronyism and amateurish bungling that delayed efforts to secure much needed protective gear and equipment, according to a complaint filed with the House Oversight Committee.
Records and emails obtained by The Times — along with interviews with current and former FEMA officials, former task force volunteers and others briefed on the agency’s work — provide the most detailed picture yet of how the Kushner-installed personnel complicated the government response to the deadly crisis.
While the Trump administration was shutting down the task force, the virus was busy finding new hosts across the country, with at least 25,000 infections detected daily. The only proven way to slow the spread of the virus is stringent social distancing, but strict lockdowns impose a harsh economic cost, and pressure has built on officials to get people back to work.
Even Wendy’s — the chain that coined the slogan “Where’s the beef?” — was forced to remove burgers from the menu in many of its restaurants.
Just off Wyoming Street in Pennsylvania’s hilly, working-class city of Hazleton, Laury Sorensen and her husband, Emil, lugged groceries from a pickup truck upstairs to her parents’ wood-frame home.
They sought to spare Ms. Sorensen’s father, Rafael Benjamin, a trip to the supermarket in a time of infectious illness. He ran enough risk working for Cargill Meat Solutions in an industrial park outside the city.
The Pennsylvania governor had issued a shutdown order but exempted Cargill, which packages meat in plastic wrap. Mr. Benjamin, a good-natured man who rarely missed a day of work, said that colleagues labored shoulder to shoulder in March without masks and gloves and that he worried it had become a petri dish for sickness.
A few days later, Mr. Benjamin could not come to the phone. “He got sick on Tuesday,” his son-in-law texted. “He’s on a respirator.”
Then another text: “He was six days from retirement.” Mr. Benjamin died in April.
The virus swept down Wyoming Street in a city of 25,000 tucked into the wooded, still-leafless foothills of the Poconos.
Michael Powell reports that five days spent along a few blocks of old, worn rowhouses and storefronts revealed the virus to be all around. All anyone spoke about was the people falling ill.
Workers along these blocks, particularly those from Hazleton’s many factories and warehouses, faced a primal calculus. They could not leave jobs, even as co-workers fell sick, and some brought the virus home with them.
As the coronavirus pandemic cuts through the country, it leaves behind large numbers of deaths that surpass those of recent history. A New York Times analysis of state data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begins to offer a picture of just how many lives have been lost, both as a result of the coronavirus and because of fears about using an overwhelmed health care system.
A handful of areas account for the bulk of the death surge across the United States, the analysis found. In New York City, for example, since mid-March there have been 23,000 more deaths than normal. Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey have also seen more than 1,000 deaths more than the usual figure between March 15 and April 11.
In a larger group of states, including California, Florida and Texas, the increases in deaths were more modest during the early phase of the pandemic, but death rates are still higher than normal.
As the federal government’s warehouses were running bare and medical workers were improvising their own safety gear, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, placed a team of volunteers with no procurement experience on the front line of the administration’s supply-chain task force. The volunteers were told to prioritize tips from political allies and associates of President Trump, tracked on a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” according to documents and emails obtained by The New York Times.
Among them were leads from Republican members of Congress, the Trump youth activist Charlie Kirk and a former “Apprentice” contestant who serves as the campaign chair of Women for Trump. Few of the leads, V.I.P. or otherwise, panned out, according to a whistle-blower memo written by one volunteer and sent to the House Oversight Committee.
Federal officials who had spent years devising emergency plans were layered over by Kushner allies, who believed their private-sector experience could solve the country’s looming supply shortage. The volunteers — who came from venture capital and private equity firms — had the know-how to quickly weed out good leads from the mountain of bad ones, administration officials said in an interview. FEMA and other agencies, they said, were not equipped for the unprecedented task.
But at least one tip the volunteers forwarded turned into an expensive debacle. In late March, according to emails obtained by The Times, two of the volunteers passed along procurement forms submitted by Yaron Oren-Pines, a Silicon Valley engineer who said he could provide more than 1,000 ventilators. Federal officials then sent the tip to senior officials in New York, who assumed Mr. Oren-Pines had been vetted and awarded him an eye-popping $69 million contract. Not a single ventilator was delivered.
“The nature and scale of the response seemed grossly inadequate,” said a volunteer, who like the others signed a nondisclosure agreement and spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “It was bureaucratic cycles of chaos.”
Transit officials have presented the closing as an unfortunate but necessary measure forced by the deadly pandemic. Since March, the coronavirus outbreak has sent ridership plummeting more than 90 percent, starved the authority of its usual revenue streams and prompted an influx of homeless people seeking refuge on mostly empty trains.
Still, the nightly closure leaves an indelible mark on a city long defined by its round-the-clock hustle and unending energy.
The constant movement of people shaped how the growing metropolis matured — the steady pulse of the city’s underground arteries empowered New York to become the country’s iconically busy city, the place where no one’s friends, family or colleagues were ever all asleep at the same time.
Across the system, the complicated task of actually shutting down the system played out in nearly every station: Regular early-morning riders had to find alternative ways of getting to work, police officers and social workers tried to coax homeless people who may be mentally unstable off the subway, and cleaners tried to work quickly and thoroughly to disinfect the rolling stock in four short hours.
Unlike police officers or firefighters, most transit workers, though essential to the city’s functioning, never expected to confront life-threatening danger on the job. Now, like reluctant soldiers whose draft numbers were called, many feel as if they have been thrust onto the front lines of a deadly war they were not prepared for and do not want to fight.
“It’s a nerve-racking thing to go to work every day and not know what’s going to happen,” said Keith Medina, a bus operator who opted to burn through 20 of his personal days in March and April rather than risk exposure to the virus. “We didn’t sign up for that.”
Even as they have substantially reduced service, the largest U.S. airlines are averaging only 17 passengers on domestic flights and 29 on international flights, according to a copy of congressional testimony from the head of Airlines for America, an industry group.
At the same time, airlines are collectively burning through about $10 billion a month as they cut costs and await the return of passengers, Nicholas Calio, the industry group’s chief executive, said in the testimony, prepared for a Senate hearing about aviation on Wednesday.
“While the industry will do everything it can to mitigate and address the multitude of challenges, no factual doubt exists that the U.S. airline industry will emerge from this crisis a mere shadow of what it was just three short months ago,” Mr. Calio said in the prepared remarks.
The pandemic has virtually wiped out air travel with traffic volumes down 95 percent and more than 3,000 aircraft grounded. More than 100,000 airline employees are working reduced hours or have accepted pay cuts or early retirement, Mr. Calio said.
Mr. Calio addressed complaints from some consumers that airlines were strongly encouraging them to take vouchers instead of refunds for canceled flights, saying that if the carriers refunded all canceled tickets at once they might have to seek bankruptcy protection.
Across the country, only half of primary care doctor practices say they have enough cash to stay open for the next four weeks, according to one study, and many are already laying off or furloughing employees.
Congress has rushed to send tens of billions of dollars to the nation’s hospitals, who are reporting large losses, and has passed legislation to send even more. But small physician practices in medicine’s least profitable fields like primary care and pediatrics are struggling to stay afloat.
People are putting off doctor’s visits and delaying everything from hip replacements to colonoscopies during the pandemic. “Our waiting rooms are like ghost towns,” said Dr. Susan Sirota, a pediatrician in Chicago who leads a network of a dozen pediatric practices.
“The situation facing front-line physicians is dire,” three physician associations representing more than 260,000 doctors wrote to the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, at the end of April. “Obstetrician-gynecologists, pediatricians, and family physicians are facing dramatic financial challenges leading to substantial layoffs and even practice closures.”
When can we start up child care again?
Children in your work space, interrupting meetings and causing chaos to your workday, has surely made you consider inviting the grandparents over for an afternoon’s respite. But it may not be time to ease the limitations on child care. Here are some points to consider before you call your babysitter.
Dr. Ferguson, 51, said in a statement to the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which first reported the story, “I accept I made an error of judgment and took the wrong course of action.” The paper said he had allowed “his married lover” to visit him at home during the lockdown.
“I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing,” said Dr. Ferguson, who has become a household name in Britain over the last two months through his preaching of the virtues of staying apart.
Leading a respected team of scientists at Imperial College London, Dr. Ferguson has long been an influential voice on infectious diseases. But he achieved a new level of prominence in mid-March, with a report warning that without steps to control it, the virus could kill 250,000 to 510,000 Britons.
That prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose a lockdown, putting Britain in line with other European countries.
In his statement to The Telegraph, Dr. Ferguson said, “I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.”
Follow the latest on the pandemic from our team of international correspondents.
Restrictions were eased in Hong Kong after more than two weeks without new local cases.
Reporting was contributed by Michael Powell, Marc Santora, Reed Abelson, Nicholas Confessore, Michael Crowley, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Christina Goldbaum, Maggie Haberman, Andrew Jacobs, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Jodi Kantor, Josh Katz, Denise Lu, David E. Sanger, Margot Sanger-Katz, Noah Weiland.