Federal social-distancing guidelines set to expire as dismal economic news increases pressure to reopen.
The federal guidelines put in place to slow the spread of the virus by encouraging people to curtail nearly all public life are set to expire today and President Trump has indicated he has no intention of extending the measures as states across the country move ahead with a variety of plans to gradually reopen their economies.
“They’ll be fading out, because now the governors are doing it,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the restrictions.
The devastating cascade of dismal financial news has increased pressure on all levels of government to restart commercial activity.
The weekly Labor Department jobs report is expected to show that 3.5 to 4 million people have joined the unemployment rolls, bringing the six-week total to the cusp of 30 million.
But that number only captures a fraction of the economic pain. The widespread layoffs and business closings didn’t hit until late March in most of the country. Economists expect figures from the current quarter, which will capture the shutdown’s impact more fully, to show that G.D.P. contracted at an annual rate of 30 percent or more, a scale not seen since the Great Depression.
Still, stocks rallied on Wednesday, bolstered by indications that a drug being tested as a possible treatment for Covid-19 could be showing progress, and as investors pinned their hopes on the gradual reopening of the world’s major economies.
The White House was trying to project optimism despite the country surging past 60,000 deaths and still recording well over 1,000 fatalities a day.
He predicted that after a “transition” period in May, things would rapidly improve.
“I think by June, a lot of the country should be back to normal, and the hope is that by July the country is really rocking again.”
Senior Trump administration officials have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a government laboratory in Wuhan, China, was the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, according to current and former American officials. The effort comes as President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic.
Most intelligence agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found, and scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus 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.
Reporting for The New York Times, Mark Mazzetti, Julian E. Barnes, Edward Wong and Adam Goldman investigate how scientists, spies and government officials have wrestled for months with varying theories about how the outbreak began. Many agree on the importance of determining the genesis of the pandemic. In government and academia, however, experts have ruled out the notion that it was concocted as a bioweapon. And they agree that the new pathogen began as a bat virus that evolved naturally, probably in another mammal, to become adept at infecting and killing humans.
A few veteran national security experts have pointed to a history of lab accidents infecting researchers to suggest it might have happened in this case, but many scientists have dismissed such theories.
The call came in at shortly after 11 a.m. on Wednesday: A terrible stench was coming from a pair of trucks parked outside a funeral home on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn.
When the police arrived, they made a gruesome discovery. Inside the trucks — a U-Haul rental and what seemed to be a tractor-trailer — were several dozen decomposing bodies.
It was unclear how many of the people found stacked in body bags inside the trucks at the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home had died in the coronavirus pandemic, the authorities said.
But New York City’s death care system — its hospital mortuaries, cemeteries, crematories and city-run morgues — has been under extraordinary strain in recent weeks as beleaguered workers have tried to grapple with the single worst mass casualty event to hit New York since the Spanish flu pandemic of a century ago. At least 14,000 people in the city have perished from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
No one has felt the pressure more than funeral directors who have been caught in the vise between the rising tide of bodies pouring out of hospitals and of nursing homes and the backlogs that make them unable to cremate or bury people quickly. Some funeral homes have had to use refrigerated trailers, and others have converted chapels into temporary morgues, using high-powered air-conditioners to chill the rooms.
Still, the notion that dead New Yorkers could be left to decay in broad daylight in rental trucks on a crowded street in Brooklyn underscored the challenges facing the city as it tries to absorb a disaster that has already killed nearly five times as many as died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Since March 23, when the Federal Reserve announced plans to make unlimited purchases of financial assets to prop up Wall Street, the S&P 500 has soared by more than 31 percent. The unlikely rally created more than $5 trillion of stock market wealth, allowing investors to reclaim more than half of their losses from a steep sell-off in the early days of the pandemic.
Why are stocks climbing when news about the economy isn’t getting much better, and while the severity of the public health crisis has barely abated? There are two main reasons: First, trillions of dollars of stimulus money from the Fed and Congress come with an implicit guarantee that the government will limit investors’ risk no matter how bad it gets. Second, the periodic glimmer of positive news fuels investors’ optimism that things can only get better.
The White House was under growing pressure to take more significant steps to slow the spreading coronavirus when on March 16 the federal government introduced national guidelines advising Americans to stop unnecessary travel and avoid bars, restaurants and groups of more than 10 people.
The guidelines, which also advised home schooling and the curtailing of visits to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, were the most robust response from the Trump administration as the crisis unfolded.
But the guidelines came only after an intense internal debate and a costly delay, part of what critics say has been a halting and confused federal effort.
And Mr. Trump made no secret of his discomfort with social-distancing measures that ground commerce to a halt.
“During this period, it’s very important that everyone strongly follow the guidelines. Have to follow the guidelines,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the time. “Therefore, we will be extending our guidelines to April 30 to slow the spread.”
The guidelines were never mandatory and states and cities have largely set their own rules and restrictions.
Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles said on Wednesday evening that any city and county resident who wanted a virus test can get one, whether or not they are showing symptoms.
Priority will still be given to health care employees, other workers who interact with the public and people with symptoms, but asymptomatic residents will also be able to get a test.
Mr. Garcetti said that in doing so, Los Angeles would be the “first major city in America” to offer free coronavirus testing to all residents. He said residents of Los Angeles County were included in the move.
“So, if you think you might have Covid-19, want the reassurance that you don’t or you’ve been around people that you have seen with symptoms, get a test,” the mayor said. “We can do it.”
On Wednesday night, the website to which Mr. Garcetti directed Angelenos to schedule a test said there were “no appointments available” for people who were not experiencing flulike symptoms.
“We’re sorry, but testing appointments are full at this time,” the website said when a user indicated that he or she had no symptoms. “Please check back for updates.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California had outlined this week how the state might gradually reopen, and Mr. Garcetti said the availability of testing was a “really important step to prepare for other steps forward.”
It is unclear how many people will sign up to be tested or how long they will have to wait. Just over six million people have been tested in the United States, including about 603,000 in California, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 10 million people live in Los Angeles County, according to the Census Bureau.
In response to a reporter’s question about how the city would manage to test so many people, Mr. Garcetti said the city had tests left over each day and was confident in its ability to test any resident who wanted it, including those who want to get tested multiple times over the course of several weeks or months.
Mr. Garcetti said the testing would be carried out at 34 sites in the city that have the capacity to test at least 18,000 people each day. At least 140,000 people have been tested at those sites in the past month, he said.
School districts across the country have adapted in myriad ways as the very model of teaching and learning has been transformed by the coronavirus. Now another fundamental part of American education is being transformed: the report card.
In many cities and towns, new grading systems for this semester have been created, driven by concern for students who face hardship from the virus and its economic fallout. Some districts have dropped letter grades altogether, while others are guaranteeing A’s in most cases, or ensuring that students’ performance during the pandemic will not count against them.
But there are places where administrators have encountered stiff resistance to the idea of dropping grades, even temporarily. Some parents and students are concerned about the ability of high achievers to compete in selective college admissions, while others worry that eschewing grades means students will have less incentive to participate in remote learning.
The debate been more particularly passionate in the San Mateo Union High School District, south of San Francisco. It is a place that epitomizes the socioeconomic divides that have always characterized American education, with the children of tech executives attending class alongside the children of undocumented gardeners and office cleaners.
An April 16 school board meeting to address grading drew more than 500 people. In public comments delivered via Zoom, many parents and students argued that grades were crucial during the college admissions process. One student said grades provide “compensation and incentive for people to work hard.”
Without letter grades, asked another student, “What motivation do we have to continue working for the end of the school year?”
But experts cautioned that the drop should not be seen as good news for efforts to tackle climate change. When the pandemic subsides and nations take steps to restart their economies, emissions could easily soar again unless governments make concerted efforts to shift to cleaner energy as part of their recovery efforts.
“This historic decline in emissions is happening for all the wrong reasons,” said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director. “People are dying and countries are suffering enormous economic trauma right now. The only way to sustainably reduce emissions is not through painful lockdowns, but by putting the right energy and climate policies in place.”
This week, leaders from Britain, Germany, Japan and elsewhere held a video conference urging nations to invest in technology to reduce emissions, such as solar power or electric vehicles, as they chart their economic recovery efforts.
“There will be a difficult debate about the allocation of funds,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said. “But it is important that recovery programs always keep an eye on the climate.”
Figuring out the balance between your screens and your life.
Phones and computers are keeping us tethered to the outside world during the pandemic. But being thoughtful about your use of screens can help you emerge from this crisis empowered and in control, and with more self-awareness.
Follow updates on the pandemic from our team of international correspondents.
With 125,000 cards and a flyover from the Royal Air Force, Britain celebrated the 100th birthday of Tom Moore, the World War II veteran who raised millions to fight the coronavirus.
Reporting was contributed by Karen Barrow, Dana Goldstein, Tariro Mzezewa, Matt Phillips, Brad Plumer, Alan Feuer, Ashley Southall, Michael Gold, Marc Santora.