Mnuchin warns Congress of a risk of ‘permanent damage’ to the economy if states extend restrictions for months.
In a joint appearance on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jerome H. Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, offered a stark assessment of the fragile state of the economy, warning of more severe job losses in the months to come.
But they offered contrasting views of how best to buttress the economy: Mr. Powell suggested that more fiscal support to states and businesses might be needed to avoid permanent job losses. Mr. Mnuchin suggested that without an expeditious reopening, the economy might never fully recover. Here are key highlights from their testimony.
Mr. Mnuchin warned that the economy might never fully recover if states extend their shutdowns for months. He cited a risk of “permanent damage” — comments that reflected a change in focus by the Trump administration, which has tried to shift the economic discussion away from more financial support to allowing states to reopen.
Mr. Powell warned that the economy could face long-term damage if the policy response was not forceful enough and reiterated that the economy might need more help to make it through the pandemic without lasting scars. But he was careful to avoid giving Congress explicit advice and made sure to cushion his suggestions as a conditionality.
“There is clear evidence that when you have a situation where people are unemployed for long periods of time, that can permanently weigh on their careers and their ability to go back to work,” he said, and that can weigh on the economy for years. “Equally so with small and medium-sized businesses, which are the jobs machine of our great economy.”
Mr. Powell suggested that the central bank might expand its program to buy municipal debt and agreed that state and local governments could slow the economic recovery if they laid off workers amid budget crunches.
“I try to stay at a fairly high level on this. I will just echo though, that I think something like 13 percent of the work force is in state and local government,” Mr. Powell said, pointing out that balanced budget requirements could result in job and service cuts “when revenue goes down sharply.”
Mr. Mnuchin, who previously said he expected that Treasury would return all $454 billion from Congress, changed that benchmark on Tuesday, saying the “base case” now was that the government would lose money.
“Our intention is that we expect to take some losses on these facilities,” he said. Some lawmakers have been pressing Treasury and the Fed to deploy their capital aggressively and not worry about taking losses.
Mr. Powell sounded a more cautious tone, explaining that a full recovery would not come until the health crisis was resolved.
“The No. 1 thing, of course, is people believing that it’s safe to go back to work. And that’s about having a sensible, thoughtful reopening of the economy, something that we all want — and something that we’re in the early stages of now,” he said. “It will be a combination of getting the virus under control, development of therapeutics, development of a vaccine.”
Those comments were underscored by new economic projections released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which suggested the recovery would depend in large part on the virus’s trajectory. The budget office projected that gross domestic product would contract by 11 percent in the second quarter and the jobless rate would hit 15 percent, with industries such as travel, hospitality and retail bearing the brunt of the losses.
“The range of uncertainty about social distancing, as well as its effects on economic activity and implications for the economic recovery over the next two years, is especially large,” the report noted, adding that “future waves could be smaller, of a similar size or larger than the initial wave experienced this spring.”
That dashboard was created in part by Rebekah D. Jones, a geographic information systems manager in the Florida Department of Health’s division of disease control and health protection.
Ms. Jones informed colleagues in an email on Friday that she had been removed from her position on May 5. She suggested that her ouster was retribution because she did not want to suppress data from the public, according to the email, which was obtained by The New York Times and first reported by Florida Today.
“As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months,” Ms. Jones wrote. “After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”
In her email on Friday, Ms. Jones noted that the dashboard had experienced problems in the days since her removal, including a period during which “the functionality essentially crashed.” Ms. Jones declined to be interviewed on Tuesday. A Health Department spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Terrie Rizzo, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, demanded an independent investigation.
President Trump threatened on Monday night to permanently cut off all funds to the World Health Organization Monday, a significant escalation of his repeated attempts to deflect blame for his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 90,000 people in the United States during the last several months.
In a late-night, four-page letter to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., Mr. Trump accused the global health group of failing to act quickly and aggressively against the virus in its early days. In effect, he denounced the organization for the very missteps and failures that have been leveled at him and his administration.
Public health experts have said that the president’s public denials of the dangers of the virus slowed the U.S. response, which included delayed testing and a failure to stockpile protective gear.
In the letter, the president said that the W.H.O. “belatedly declared the outbreak of a public health emergency of international concern on Jan. 30,” more than a month after the virus was first detected. But Mr. Trump did not declare a national emergency until weeks later, despite being aware of the virus.
Mr. Trump’s letter also contained falsehoods and misleading statements. He wrote that the W.H.O. “consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from The Lancet medical journal.”
But in a statement Tuesday morning, The Lancet pointed out that the journal “published no report in December 2019 referring to a virus or outbreak in Wuhan or anywhere else in China.” The journal said its first reports about the virus were published on Jan. 24, four days before the W.H.O. declared an international emergency.
The president has railed against the W.H.O. for weeks as his own political and public health crisis at home has intensified, saying the group is in the thrall of China, where the virus originated. In the letter, he said the group was responsible for many deaths because it failed to challenge the version of events from President Xi Jinping of China regarding the origin of the virus and its initial spread.
But that criticism from Mr. Trump was particularly ironic given his own similar comments about China early in the pandemic, when he was trying to complete negotiations on a trade deal with the country. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Jan. 24. “It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
Member states agreed on Tuesday to start an inquiry into the global response to the pandemic. The resolution, which was sponsored by the European Union and supported by more than 100 countries, was adopted without objections.
The resolution calls for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” into the international response to virus, including by the W.H.O. Mr. Trump had been insisting that the health agency investigate the origins of the virus and whether it was created in a Chinese lab.
Scientists who have studied the genetics of the virus say that the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a nonlaboratory setting, as was the case with H.I.V., Ebola and SARS.
China did not object to the resolution, but Mr. Xi said on Monday that any such inquiry should wait until the health crisis was brought under control. In a statement, the United States praised the resolution and claimed that it included a mandate to investigate the origins of the virus, though the resolution language contained no such mention.
Addressing the assembly as the meeting neared its close, Dr. Tedros said: “I will initiate an evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment. We welcome any initiative to strengthen global health security and to strengthen W.H.O. W.H.O. remains fully committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement.”
At the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Trump said that the W.H.O. would “have to clean up their act, they have to do a better job. They have to be much more fair to other countries, including the United States, or we’re not going to be involved with them, and we’ll do it in a separate way.”
Fever checkpoints at the entrances to academic buildings. One-way paths across the grassy quad. Face masks required in classrooms and dining halls. And a dormitory-turned-quarantine building for any students exposed to the virus.
Similar discussions are taking place at almost every college and university in the United States. Administrators are fiercely debating whether they can safely reopen their campuses, even as most provide students with encouraging messages about the prospects of returning in the fall.
On Monday, Notre Dame became one of the first major universities in the country to announce detailed plans for bringing back students, saying it would establish a regimen of testing and contact tracing, put quarantine and isolation protocols in place, and require students to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public.
Notre Dame said it would start its fall semester early, on Aug. 10, and skip fall break so that students could go home at Thanksgiving and not return. The University of South Carolina announced a similar schedule, saying its students would finish the semester online after Thanksgiving because its “best current modeling predicts a spike in cases” at the beginning of December. Rice University in Houston also plans a shortened fall semester, with a mixture of remote and in-person classes. And Ithaca College will go in the other direction, starting its fall semester late, on Oct. 5, to provide more time to prepare for returning students.
New York University plans to hold in-person classes in the fall, the university’s provost said on Tuesday. “We’re planning to convene in person, with great care, in the fall (subject to government health directives), both in New York and at our global sites,” the provost said.
Those decisions are in contrast to an announcement last week by the California State University System, which will keep its 23 campuses largely shut and teach nearly half a million students remotely.
Bakeries, farms and packing houses have emerged as new hot spots.
Meatpacking plants across the country that have been forced to close because of outbreaks among workers are not the only food facilities that have been hit hard by the virus. A large-scale bakery, a date packing house and a mushroom farm also have emerged with clusters of cases.
Officials said the virus spread through other food facilities in the same manner as in meat-processing factories: Workers must stand close together to do their jobs and crowd into locker rooms and cafeterias.
Some of the major clusters include a Tennessee mushroom farm where more than 50 cases have been identified and the Birds Eye vegetable processing facility in Darien, Wis., which has at least 100 cases. In Abilene, Texas, the AbiMar Foods bakery has at least 52 cases. The Leprino Foods dairy facility in Fort Morgan, Colo., has more than 80 cases; a second Leprino facility in Greeley, Colo., has at least 20. And the SunDate date packinghouse in Coachella, Calif., has at least 20 cases.
More than 100 people have been sickened at Louisiana crawfish farms, but officials did not name the facilities. At a news conference on Monday, Alex Billioux, the assistant secretary of health, said some of the workers were migrants and some lived in dormitory-like settings.
Some of the employees, who are in the middle of apple processing season and are gearing up for cherry harvests, said they had not been offered testing nor ample personal protection equipment, and that they had faced recriminations from employers when they complained. Officials at one company told The Seattle Times that it did not have any cases and had provided masks and gloves as equipment became available, and was surprised by the strike. Some of the fruit processing workers said they were going on a hunger strike until conditions improved.
Some churches that tried to reopen are closing again as the virus spreads.
After briefly reopening for in-person worship services, a few churches have had to close again after the spread of the virus in their pews.
Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston closed after five leaders tested positive last weekend, after the death of one priest, Rev. Donnell Kirchner, who had been diagnosed with pneumonia. His immediate cause of death was unknown.
The church had reopened for limited Mass on May 2, and two of the priests who tested positive had been active in celebrations. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston recommended that people who attended get tested.
In Ringgold, Ga., Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle started in-person services again in late April but stopped on May 11 after learning that members of several families had contracted the virus. Local health officials have been investigating three cases connected to the church. Services are currently closed indefinitely.
Officials remain concerned that worship gatherings could be particularly susceptible to viral spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday released a report about an outbreak in March at a rural Arkansas church. Of the 92 people who attended the church between March 6 and March 11, 35 tested positive and three died, the report said. The report said investigators found that 26 other people who were in contact with the people from the church events later tested positive. One person died.
Allison James, an author of the C.D.C. report, praised the pastor for closing the Arkansas church as soon as he heard of people getting sick.
“They were very proactive in closing the church to prevent further transmission,” Dr. James said. “At the time, they knew people were getting sick, but they didn’t know necessarily that it was Covid or flu or any other infectious disease. They just knew they had a cluster of something going on, and they wanted to prevent transmission. I really commend them for acting quickly.”
Visitors will be allowed at 16 hospitals around New York State, nine of them in New York City, as part of a pilot program, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday. They will be required to wear personal protective equipment, including masks, and will be subject to temperature checks.
In March, state officials issued guidance asking hospitals to suspend visitation as the virus appeared to be rapidly spreading.
“It is terrible to have someone in the hospital and then that person is isolated, not being able to see their family or friends,” Mr. Cuomo said. He added that the program was “to see if we can bring visitors in and do it safely.”
The governor’s announcement comes as only three regions in downstate New York will remain under the state’s shutdown orders; the Albany area can begin reopening on Wednesday, he said.
New York City, Long Island and the counties just north of the city known as the Mid-Hudson region all have yet to meet at least two of the seven health-related benchmarks that the governor set for parts of the state to start restarting their economies. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City reiterated on Monday that he did not expect the city to meet the state’s criteria to begin to reopen until “the first half of June.”
Mr. Cuomo — who arrived at his daily briefing wearing a face mask — also said that the state would allow Memorial Day festivities, so long as they had no more than 10 people. The state will also allow vehicle parades, provided that they are held safely and participants adhere to social distancing.
Mr. de Blasio said on Tuesday that nearly 16 percent of the city’s 1.1 million students would be asked to attend online summer school for about six weeks after the academic year ends on June 26 — about four times as many as were asked to attend summer school last year.
On Monday, police officers answering a complaint found about 60 students studying at a Hasidic yeshiva in Brooklyn, the latest of several episodes that have ignited tensions between the authorities and Hasidic Jews over enforcement of social-distancing rules. The school was closed.
Statewide, another 105 people had died, Mr. Cuomo said Tuesday. Data was released on Monday that offered the most granular picture yet of the pandemic’s rampage through New York City, reinforcing earlier signs that the virus had disproportionately affected immigrant, black and Hispanic residents.
Michigan will mail absentee ballot applications to all of its voters for its congressional primary elections in August and the general election in November.
The goal is to help mitigate the spread of the virus, which has hit the state particularly hard, and to take advantage of a new law that was passed in 2018 and allows all voters to cast absentee ballots.
“By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Michigan’s secretary of state said.
The state’s March 10 presidential primary saw half of the 2.3 million people who cast ballots use the absentee option. By May 5, when local elections were held, officials reported that 99 percent of the people who voted used absentee ballots and turnout had doubled, going from an average of 12 percent in the last nine years to 25 percent.
Local clerks in Michigan already send absentee ballot applications to 1.3 million voters, but the state will now mail applications to the rest of the 7.7 million registered voters, using $4.5 million in federal funds.
The pandemic has led many states to consider increasing absentee and mail-in voting. Mr. Trump and Republicans have been trying to limit absentee voting and voting by mail.
Increased turnout could be particularly troubling for Republicans in key battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Mr. Trump won in 2016 by tiny margins, delivering the electoral votes he needed to win the White House.
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania both allow anyone to cast absentee or mail-in ballots. The Wisconsin Election Commission is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday and will decide whether to send absentee ballot applications to all of the state’s 3.3 million registered voters.
A top Democrat will oppose Trump’s nominee to be coronavirus watchdog.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on Tuesday that he would vote against Mr. Trump’s nominee to serve as special inspector general scrutinizing the pandemic recovery efforts, citing concerns about his independence from the president.
The nominee, Brian D. Miller, is currently a White House lawyer. Mr. Schumer said that in a private conversation, Mr. Miller would not share details about his current work responsibilities and refused to comment on Mr. Trump’s abrupt dismissal of a handful of inspectors general in recent weeks, apparently for political purposes.
“Mr. Miller’s inability to demonstrate independence from his current employer, and speak out when he sees actions from administration officials that are clearly out of bounds, is deeply troubling given that this president seems to demand blind loyalty from federal inspectors general,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “For those reasons, I will oppose Mr. Miller’s nomination.”
Mr. Schumer’s criticism is a strong indication that Senate Democrats will oppose Mr. Miller en masse when they vote on his nomination in the weeks to come. Mr. Miller had tried to win over Democrats in a confirmation hearing earlier this month, pledging to resist any undue influence.
Republicans are likely to have the votes to confirm him anyway, but the nomination is still winding through the Senate’s committee process.
The drug should only be used in clinical trials, the F.D.A. said, or in hospitals where patients could be closely monitored for heart problems.
Then Mr. Trump made the announcement this week that he was taking the drug himself, to try to ward off infection.
When the subject came up on Tuesday at a cabinet meeting, Mr. Trump turned to Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of Health and Human Services, which oversees the F.D.A. Mr. Azar did not dwell on the risks the F.D.A. had highlighted, noting instead that hydroxychloroquine had long been F.D.A. approved to prevent or treat lupus, malaria and rheumatoid arthritis.
“The system we have here in the United States is that, once a drug is approved and on the market, a doctor in consultation with a patient may use it for what we call off-label purposes, which are indications that are not yet proven and not yet on the label,” he said.
The study had found that hydroxychloroquine, with or without azithromycin, did not help patients avoid the need for ventilators. And it found that hydroxychloroquine alone was associated with an increased risk of death.
But the study was not a controlled trial, and patients who received the drugs were sicker to begin with. “These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs,” the authors wrote.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Trump seemed to take aim at that study, saying, “If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape.” He went on to say, without clarifying, that it was “a Trump enemy statement.”
At the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, spoke about the study.
“That was not a V.A. study,” Mr. Wilkie said. “Researchers took V.A. numbers, and they did not clinically review them. They were not peer reviewed.”
Mr. Trump’s announcement that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine drew criticism from a range of medical experts.
“My concern would be that the public not hear comments about the use of hydroxychloroquine and believe that taking this drug to prevent Covid-19 infection is without hazards,” said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, the chief academic officer of the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “In fact, there are serious hazards.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said on Tuesday that the border between his country and the United States, where the outbreak is more severe, would remain closed for at least another month. The two nations reached an agreement to extend the closing, which was introduced in March and set to expire on Thursday.
Recently, several Canadian provincial leaders have said that they oppose a rapid reopening of the border. The United States has reported about 463 virus cases per 100,000 people, more than double Canada’s rate.
People arriving in Israel from the United States played a significant role in spreading the virus, an Israeli nationwide genomic study of cases has found.
The analysis, led by biologists at Tel Aviv University, sequenced the genomes of virus samples from a randomly chosen representative group of more than 200 patients at six hospitals across Israel and then compared those to samples sequenced worldwide.
The findings, which have not yet been peer reviewed, called into question the Israeli government’s decision to admit travelers from the United States until March 9, though visitors from some European countries were barred as early as Feb. 26.
While only 27 percent of all travelers who tested positive for the virus had arrived in Israel from the United States, more than 70 percent of virus samples sequenced had originated in the U.S. Israel has reported 16,650 cases and 277 deaths linked to the virus.
Therese Kelly arrived for her shift at an Amazon warehouse in Hazle Township, Pa., on March 27 to find her co-workers clustered in the cavernous space. Over a loudspeaker, a manager told them what they had feared: For the first time, an employee had tested positive.
Some of the workers cut short their shifts and went home. Ms. Kelly, 63, got to work.
In the months since then, the warehouse in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania has become Amazon’s biggest hot spot.
Local lawmakers believe that more than 100 workers have contracted the disease, but the exact number is unknown. At first, Amazon told workers about each new case. But when the total reached about 60, the announcements stopped giving specific numbers.
The best estimate is that more than 900 of the company’s 400,000 blue-collar workers have had the disease. But that number, crowdsourced by Jana Jumpp, an Amazon worker, almost certainly understates the spread.
The company has been hit by the biggest surge of orders it has ever experienced and has paid workers extra to stay on the job.
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Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Benedict Carey, Michael Cooper, Michael Crowley, Elizabeth Dias, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Gold, Kathleen Gray, David M. Halbfinger, Anemona Hartocollis, Andrew Jacobs, Annie Karni, Dan Levin, Patricia Mazzei, Eduardo Porter, Alan Rappeport, Dagny Salas, Dionne Searcey, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear, Natasha Singer, Jeanna Smialek, Mitch Smith, Kaly Soto, Robin Stein, Matt Stevens, Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Karen Weise, Edward Wong and David Yaffe-Bellany.