Coronavirus Live Updates: Clues Emerge on Virus’s Path; Trump Orders Halt on Green Cards


Neither of the victims had a travel history, meaning that in all probability they were infected in the community, indicating that the virus was already spreading at that time — a reminder of how swiftly the epidemic has transformed life in the country and around the world.

The first death in California, on Feb. 6, was only 73 days ago.

In a little over two months, the economy would grind to a halt, nearly the entire country and much of the world would be ordered to shelter at home and life would be transformed for nearly the entire planet.

Just as swiftly as the virus swept around the world, there was more evidence that the path out of the crisis would be a long, hard slog.

The list of events being canceled is stretching into the summer and fall, and public health officials are warning that in the absence of a vaccine or reliable therapy, the risk of a “second wave” of infections later in the year remains a grave threat.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Washington Post.

The country, Dr. Redfield predicted, could “have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”

The stunning collapse of the world oil market, which saw the price of crude briefly fall into negative territory this week, was a reflection of the depth of the economic crisis and an indication of the lasting damage already inflicted.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a bipartisan $484 billion coronavirus relief package that would replenish a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals, states and coronavirus testing.

But that may not be enough. The initial $349 billionwas drained in just days, with much of the money going to bigger businesses and little or none to smaller establishments. In weeks to come, Congress is considering legislation that could result in an additional $1 trillion or more in relief.

Families that have waited years to be reunited, businesses that rely on foreign workers, universities that recruit international students with the promise of high-paying American jobs — all of their plans faced uncertainty on Tuesday as the Trump administration announced new restrictions on permanent residency in the United States.

Mr. Trump said on Tuesday that he would order a temporary halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to the United States, but he backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups exploded in anger at the threat of losing access to foreign labor.

The president signaled that a 60-day ban on most green cards was intended to protect work opportunities for the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic. But if it is extended, its impact on businesses and families could be much broader. Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that he would sign the executive order on Wednesday.

The new policy would close the doors to thousands of people hoping to enter the United States or to lay down permanent roots in the country through long-term work or family connections — at least temporarily.

“It’s really worrying news,” said Elsa Ramos, whose 22-year-old son, Eder, is in Honduras, waiting for a green card that would allow him to join his parents and sister in the United States.

“Imagine the excitement that you have that your son is on his way into the country and then Trump destroys that,” Ms. Ramos said. “It’s really hard.”

Lawyers at the Justice Department were still studying whether the president had the legal authority to unilaterally suspend the issuance of green cards, an order that caught officials at the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security off guard, according to people with knowledge of the announcement.

The decision not to block guest worker programs — which provide specific visas for technology workers, farm laborers and others — is a concession to business groups, which assailed the White House on Tuesday.

Rob Larew, the president of the National Farmers Union, said that even talk of restrictions on immigrant farm workers was disruptive. “It just adds to an already stressed food system,” he said.

But Santa Clara County officials said that autopsies of two people who died at their homes on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17 showed that the individuals were infected with the virus. The presence of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was determined by tissue samples and was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, county health officials said in a statement.

“Each one of those deaths is probably the tip of an iceberg of unknown size,” Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s chief medical officer, said in an interview. “It feels quite significant.”

Scientists around the world are also racing to use small genetic changes in the virus — biological markers that act as something like fingerprints for disease detectives — to map how the pathogen swept across the country and around the world.

Mike Baker and Sheri Fink report on how the high-tech detective work of the researchers in Seattle and their partners elsewhere have opened the first clear window into how and where the virus was spreading — and how difficult it will be to contain.

Both studies were performed in California: one among residents of Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, and the other among residents of Los Angeles County. In both cases, the estimates of the number of people infected in those counties were far higher than the number of confirmed cases.

But in a reflection of how much remains unknown and how hard it is to draw sweeping conclusions, the studies, conducted by public health officials and scientists at Stanford University and the University of Southern California, have earned the ire of critics who questioned both the recruitment methods and the analyses.

Struggling to keep their businesses alive in the second month of compulsory closings, many owners of independent restaurants and bars across the country are starting to despair of getting the help they need to return.

The relief bills that have passed Congress don’t seem to be working for them, they say. Emergency loans made available in the first injection of funds into the Paycheck Protection Program, said one New York baker, went to “people who knew people, and things got pushed around.”

“It just seemed — corrupt is the word to use,” he said.

Many are doubtful that a fresh injection of aid — including a $484 billion plan expected to win approval later this week — will solve their problems, and other measures they favor seem to be going nowhere.

They are confused, they are angry and they all say they know a dozen other small-business owners just like them.

“Independent restaurants have never had a great voice in Washington,” said Andy Ricker, the chef and founder of several Thai restaurants in Portland, Ore. “The people who have a voice in Washington have the money to pay for it. I don’t have a spare $1,000 a month to pay for this stuff.”

The propaganda efforts go beyond text messages and social media posts directed at Americans. In China, top officials have issued directives to agencies to engage in a global disinformation campaign, according to American officials.

The efforts were detailed in an investigative report by The New York Times reporters Edward Wong, Matthew Rosenberg and Julian E. Barnes:

The alarming messages came fast and furious in mid-March, popping up on the cellphone screens and social media feeds of millions of Americans grappling with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spread the word, the messages said: The Trump administration was about to lock down the entire country.

“They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters,” warned one of the messages, which cited a source in the Department of Homeland Security. “He said he got the call last night and was told to pack and be prepared for the call today with his dispatch orders.”

The messages became so widespread over 48 hours that the White House’s National Security Council issued an announcement via Twitter that they were “FAKE.”

Since that wave of panic, United States intelligence agencies have assessed that Chinese operatives helped push the messages across platforms, according to six American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to publicly discuss intelligence matters. The amplification techniques are alarming to officials because the disinformation showed up as texts on many Americans’ cellphones, a tactic that several of the officials said they had not seen before.

That has spurred agencies to look at new ways in which China, Russia and other nations are using a range of platforms to spread disinformation during the pandemic, they said.

The origin of the messages remains murky. American officials declined to reveal details of the intelligence linking Chinese agents to the dissemination of the disinformation, citing the need to protect their sources and methods for monitoring Beijing’s activities.

An informal coalition of influential conservative leaders and groups, some with close connections to the White House, has been quietly working to nurture protests and apply political and legal pressure to overturn state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Among those fighting the orders are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, which played pivotal roles in the beginning of Tea Party protests starting more than a decade ago, and a law firm led partly by former Trump White House officials. The effort picked up some influential support on Tuesday, when Attorney General William P. Barr expressed concerns about state-level restrictions potentially infringing on constitutional rights.

While polls show a majority of Americans are more concerned about reopening the country too quickly, those helping orchestrate the fight against restrictions predict the effort could energize the right and potentially help President Trump as he campaigns for re-election.

Noah Wall, the advocacy director for FreedomWorks, described the current efforts as appealing to a “much broader” group. “This is about people who want to get back to work and leave their homes,” he said.

Jay Timmons, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, one of America’s largest business lobbying groups, had another word for the protesters: idiots.

“These people are standing so close together without any protection — with children, for God’s sakes,” Mr. Timmons said in an interview. “And they have no concern, and it’s all about them, and it’s all about what they want.”

New York State has registered more than 14,800 deaths because of the coronavirus since the outbreak began in earnest in March, about 70 percent of them in New York City. Sandwiched between overflowing hospitals and backed up cemeteries, the city’s funeral homes have been functioning at maximum capacity. And the cases keep pouring in.

Of the 50 crematories across the state, only four are in the city, and they have struggled to keep up with demand. Slots are now booked weeks in advance.

Joe Neufeld Sr., a New York funeral home owner, did not know the professor, David Penepent, when he received his call, but he had heard of SUNY’s mortuary science program. Still, Mr. Neufeld said, he was initially “leery and unsure how this was going to work.”

Now, he says, he cannot imagine how he would have managed without him.

On Easter weekend, Mr. Penepent, 57, and his students moved about 70 bodies. Last week, using two vans, Mr. Penepent transported 150. This week they expected to take 300.

“It’s a godsend,” said Mr. Neufeld, the owner of the Gerard J. Neufeld Funeral Home in Queens, which is just blocks from Elmhurst Hospital Center in one of the hardest hit areas in the country. “He came out of nowhere to save us.”

President Trump on Tuesday criticized Harvard University for accepting $8.6 million in coronavirus relief aid, and joined the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, in implying that the university had unfairly taken advantage of money meant to support small businesses.

“Harvard’s going to pay back the money,” Mr. Trump said at his daily news briefing. “And they shouldn’t be taking it.”

But Harvard said that the president appeared to misunderstand the source of the money it had received as part of the $2 trillion relief package signed by Mr. Trump on March 27.

“Harvard did not apply for, nor has it received any funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses,” said Jason Newton, a university spokesman. “Reports saying otherwise are inaccurate. President Trump is right that it would not have been appropriate for our institution to receive funds that were designated for struggling small businesses.”

Mr. Trump made his statement about Harvard’s returning the money in response to a reporter’s question about Shake Shack and other large national chains that received money from a different stimulus program meant to help small businesses. Shake Shack said this week that it would return $10 million it received from that program.

Harvard instead was one of hundreds of American universities to receive stimulus money through a $14 billion allocation distributed by the Education Department to help offset the financial hit of the coronavirus and support low-income students. Harvard’s share was calculated according to a formula that depends heavily on a college’s number of students and share of poor students.

“It was purely mechanical,” Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, a trade group, said Tuesday. “Harvard got that money because that’s the way the formula allocated it.”

Eating in a pandemic: Here’s some advice.

Whether you are cooking meals from scratch every single day, turning to your childhood comfort foods, or don’t have much of an appetite, the coronavirus lockdown has probably changed your eating habits. Maybe for the better, or possibly for the worse. Here’s some tips to ensure your diet is healthy and that you remember moderation is key.

What else is happening in the world.

Track the progress of the pandemic and stay abreast of the latest developments with our team of international correspondents.

Reporting was contributed by Anemona Hartocollis, Marc Santora, Mike Baker, Sheri Fink, Gina Kolata, Thomas Fuller, Karen Barrow, Caitlin Dickerson, Miriam Jordan, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lisa Lerer, Alexandra E. Petri, Michael D. Shear, Natasha Singer, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Kenneth P. Vogel, Pete Wells.





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