Coronavirus Live Updates: Navy Recommends Reinstating Captain; Georgia Businesses Reopen

Navy leaders recommend reinstating the Roosevelt captain fired over a virus warning.

Capt. Brett E. Crozier should be restored to command of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy’s top officials recommended on Friday.

But Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who was briefed on the recommendations, has asked for more time to consider whether he will sign off on the reinstatement of the captain of the nuclear-powered carrier.

Mr. Esper received the recommendation that Captain Crozier be reinstated from the chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael M. Gilday, and the acting Navy Secretary, James McPherson, on Friday. Defense Department officials said earlier that they expected to announce the results of the Navy’s investigation into the matter on Friday afternoon.

Mr. Esper’s decision to hold up the investigation has surprised Navy officials, who believed that the defense secretary would leave the process in the hands of the military chain of command.

The coronavirus crisis aboard the carrier Theodore Roosevelt spurred another chapter in the hollowing out of the Navy’s leadership, in particular under the Trump administration.

The Roosevelt was not the Navy’s only warship to see an outbreak. Eighteen crew members aboard the USS Kidd, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer with a crew of roughly 300, have been stricken with the virus, according to Pentagon officials. At least one crew member aboard the Kidd has been medically evacuated and the ship is returning to port where it will be cleaned.

Salons and barbershops and other businesses reopened across Georgia on Friday after Gov. Brian Kemp defied opposition from the president, public health experts and some mayors in his state.

Lines started forming around 7 a.m. and snaked around some businesses. Mr. Kemp’s order generally allowed barbershops, nail salons, gyms, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday. Dine-in service at restaurants will be allowed to resume on Monday.

The move to reopen in Georgia on Friday, along with similar plans in Oklahoma and Alaska, is being closely scrutinized as other governors consider future steps for their own states.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta urged people to stay home.

“Listen to the scientists,” she said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “There is nothing essential about going to a bowling alley or getting a manicure in the middle of a pandemic.”

But at a shopping center on Auburn Avenue, the heart of Atlanta’s historic black business district, every spot in the parking lot was full. The two barbershops in the center were open and receiving a slow trickle of customers. Few employees were wearing masks.

In Buckhead, an upscale district of Atlanta, Chris Edwards opened his barbershop at 7 a.m. and expected few customers. Instead, he got a modest stream of visitors.

“I’ve been to Kroger and Home Depot a thousand times,” said Tom Clarke, 59, an Atlanta native who works in real estate and construction. He said he had been frustrated by the restrictions. Asked why he ventured out, he tugged at his mop of gray hair. “I’m coming because I need a haircut desperately,” he said.

Government statistics show the state has recorded more than 22,000 virus cases and that at least 892 people have died.

Some parts of the state are still seeing cases rising. Hall County is seeing more reported cases, according to a federal briefing obtained by The New York Times, which noted that “North Georgia Medical Center estimates that with the current trajectory of increased cases, the center will be at staffing capacity on May 4th.” The medical center’s website projects that cases there will not peak until early June.

In Thursday tweets, Mr. Kemp said the state had been “successful in our efforts to protect Georgians and our state’s health care infrastructure.”

Citing “favorable data” and expert advise, Mr. Kemp said, “I know these hardworking Georgians will prioritize the safety of their employees and customer

“You can go to the beauty salon, the barber!” a DJ declared on Hot 107.9, one of the hip-hop radio stations in Atlanta, on Friday. “You can get your nails done!”

Between songs, Erin Rae, the station’s midday host, opened up the phone lines, asking callers if they were taking advantage of the change in restrictions.

“No, ma’am!” the first woman on the line said. “I am not going out! No way, any way!”

The Congressional Budget Office said Friday that it expects the federal budget deficit to hit $3.7 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year, which would be its largest size as a share of the economy since World War II.

In a new round of forecasts that officials cautioned were highly uncertain amid the pandemic, the budget office said it expects the economy to shrink by 5.6 percent over the course of this year, ending 2020 with an unemployment rate of nearly 12 percent.

The budget office said it expects a historic drop in economic activity to be recorded this spring, but that recovery will begin to set in as social distancing measures are relaxed but not eliminated at the end of June.

Still, it forecasts a slow climb back from the damage the virus caused the economy and the federal budget. It projects growth of 2.8 percent in 2021 — which would be nowhere close to the sharp rebound that some Trump administration officials have said they expect — and a budget deficit of more than $2.1 trillion for the 2021 fiscal year.

By the close of the 2020 fiscal year, which ends in September, the budget office now expects the size of the national debt to exceed the annual output of the economy.

The new projection came as Mr. Trump signed the $484 billion relief bill into law on Friday, replenishing a fund for small businesses strapped by the lockdowns across the country and providing money for hospitals and increased testing.

He said the bipartisan legislation, which passed unanimously in the Senate and with just five negative votes in the House, would be “great for small businesses, great for the workers.”

Mr. Trump was joined in the Oval Office by a half-dozen Republican lawmakers. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader who steered the bill through Congress, was not present, nor were any Democrats.

In the past month, Congress has approved an astonishing $2.7 trillion in response to the pandemic. The latest measure contained no money for state governments, despite growing pleas from governors with state budgets stretched to the breaking point. Local governments have been overwhelmed with unemployment claims with more 26 million people losing their jobs in just five weeks.

Yet Republicans have resisted sending funds to the states, which Mr. McConnell has called “blue state bailouts.” Mr. McConnell alarmed and angered state officials this week when he suggested that states should consider filing for bankruptcy.

The federal government is kicking in an extra $600 per beneficiary, but states must pay the bulk of unemployment benefits using trust funds. At least three states — California, New York and Ohio — are expected to deplete their trust funds within two weeks, with Massachusetts, Texas and Kentucky close behind. Once those funds run out, the states can borrow money from the federal government.

In Midwest City, Okla., customers sat in pickup trucks outside Joe’s Barber Shop on Friday morning, waiting to go in one at a time. After being shut down for five weeks, the owner, Joe Gann, said he was booked for appointments all day as the state let some businesses reopen.

“I‘m glad it’s starting to open up,” Mr. Gann said, speaking through a white surgical mask as he gave a customer a tight crew cut.

But in Norman, Okla., where local restrictions remain in effect until at least May 1, Missy Gubitz, a salon manager and stylist, said she would not feel comfortable returning to work.

“We are very much in each other’s personal space all day long,” said Ms. Gubitz, who said she had spent hours on the phone trying to secure protective equipment for her and her five employees. “I love what I do and love to make people feel good about themselves. But we are not essential.”

Oklahoma, where there have been at least 3,017 confirmed cases of coronavirus and at least 179 deaths, according to a New York Times database, was one of several states beginning to welcome customers back to some businesses on Friday. It was the first wider test of how the nation will inch toward a new future, where people may be able to book manicures by appointment only and newly reopened restaurants will serve only a few customers at a time.

Alaska lifted some restrictions for restaurants, retail stores and personal care services, like hair and nail salons. But some local governments and Native Alaskan tribal groups were pushing back.

Other states, including Ohio, have discussed the possibility of a phased reopening starting as soon as early May.

The different approaches means that there is no one unified strategy for reopening the nation. Some are opening up salons and barbershops first. Others started with retail stores and kept salons closed. There is even confusion within each state, with questions about whether a governor’s decision to reopen superseded local orders to stay home.

But most everywhere, officials seemed to agree that a phased-in approach was needed. In Colorado, where a stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire on Sunday, the governor described a new phase starting next week, in which doctors can begin doing elective medical procedures and retail businesses will be able to open for curbside pickup. But he said residents should still expect to maintain 60 to 65 percent physical distancing. “We still have work to do,” he said. “We are not through the woods yet.”

In Idaho, the governor outlined a detailed plan for reopening in four stages, starting with houses of worship in early May. The approach would ramp up reopening with restaurants, gyms and salons in late May, but keep large, recreational venues, like nightclubs and movie theaters, closed until at least late June.

The F.D.A. issued a warning against using anti-malaria drugs that Trump has touted.

The drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in coronavirus patients, and should be used only in clinical trials or hospitals where patients can be closely monitored for heart problems, the Food and Drug Administration warned in a safety communication issued on Friday.

“The F.D.A. is aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with Covid-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin” and other drugs that can disrupt heart rhythm, the agency said. The statement also noted that many people were getting outpatient prescriptions for the drugs in the hopes of preventing the infection or treating it themselves.

The warning is based on a review of adverse events reported from multiple sources, the agency said, adding: “These adverse events were reported from the hospital and outpatient settings for treating or preventing COVID-19, and included QT interval prolongation, ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation, and in some cases death.”

There is no proof that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can help coronavirus patients. They are approved to treat malaria and the autoimmune diseases lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. But reports from France and China suggesting a benefit sparked interest in the drugs, even though the reports lacked the scientific controls needed to determine whether the drugs actually worked.

Mr. Trump has advocated their use repeatedly, sometimes combination with azithromycin, an antibiotic that is used to treat bacterial infections, not viral diseases. His repeated promotion of the use of the anti-malaria drugs is at odds with many of his top public health officials.

The U.S. official who led the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine said he was removed from his post after he pressed for rigorous vetting of hydroxychloroquine, and that the administration had put “politics and cronyism ahead of science.”

With no proven treatments for the coronavirus, many hospitals have been using hydroxychloroquine, sometimes with azithromycin, in the hope that they might help.

Scientists have urged that the drugs be tested in controlled clinical trials to find out definitively whether they can fight the virus or quell overreactions by the immune system that can become life-threatening. Studies are underway.

Another report on Friday, from doctors in New York, adds to concerns about combining hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. In 84 patients receiving the drugs, electrocardiograms found a rhythm disruption called a prolonged QT interval a few days after the treatment began.

In nine cases the disorder was severe, reaching levels known to increase the risk of sudden death. None of the patients died from heart problems.

Patients given the combination should be carefully monitored, especially if they have other chronic conditions and if they are also receiving other drugs known to affect heart rhythm, the doctors, from NYU Langone Health, said in a letter to the journal Nature Medicine.

As the outcry grew, the president tried to suggest Friday that he had only been kidding.

“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Mr. Trump told journalists in the Oval Office as he signed the latest virus relief bill into law.

His explanation, which came after his comments were widely assailed and mocked, contrasted with his own press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who had made no claim that the president was actually not being serious. Instead, in a statement earlier in the day, she said that the president had repeatedly made clear that Americans should consult with doctors, and blamed reporters for mischaracterizing Mr. Trump’s remarks, without saying how.

“Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines,” Ms. McEnany said.

The president made the initial remarks Thursday evening at the White House after a scientist, William N. Bryan, the head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters at the briefing that the government had tested how sunlight and disinfectants — including bleach and alcohol — could kill the coronavirus on surfaces in as little as 30 seconds.

“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think you said that hasn’t been checked, but we’re going to test it?” he added, turning to Mr. Bryan, who had returned to his seat. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, either through the skin or some other way.”

Apparently reassured that the tests he was proposing would take place, Mr. Trump then theorized about the possible medical benefits of disinfectants in the fight against the virus.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning?” he asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

Bleach and other disinfectants may kill microbes, but they also can kill humans if swallowed or if fumes are too powerful. That is why bottles of bleach and other disinfectants carry sharp warnings of ingestion dangers. And experts have long warned that ultraviolet lamps can harm humans if used improperly — when the exposure is outside the body, much less inside. The link between ultraviolet light and skin cancer is well established.

The president’s comments were alarming enough that his own public health appointees felt the need to warn Americans not to take them seriously.

“A reminder to all Americans- PLEASE always talk to your health provider first before administering any treatment/ medication to yourself or a loved one,” Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, wrote on Twitter. “Your safety is paramount, and doctors and nurses are have years of training to recommend what’s safe and effective.

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” the company said. The words “under no circumstance” were highlighted in bold.

And the Clorox Company said on Friday that disinfecting surfaces with bleach was one way to help slow the spread of the virus, but added: “Bleach and other disinfectants are not suitable for consumption or injection under any circumstances.”

Mr. Trump has long touted various ideas against the virus despite a lack of scientific evidence, from sunlight and warmer temperatures to an array of drugs, including the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. But some of his recommendations, however, have had disastrous effects. Last month, an Arizona man died and his wife was hospitalized after the couple ingested a chemical found in hydroxychloroquine.

Social media companies have been struggling to address the spread of misinformation about the virus, including junk science and supposed cures. Last month, Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, specifically mentioned a bleach “cure” as an example of “misinformation that has imminent risk of danger.”

“Things like, ‘you can cure this by drinking bleach,’” he said. “I mean, that’s just in a different class.”

Mr. Trump said on Friday that he would not authorize any financial assistance for the struggling United States Postal Service if it does not agree to enact dramatic price increases for shipping packages.

It is the latest threat in a long-running saga between Mr. Trump and the Postal Service that stems from his belief that Amazon and other online retailers have been profiting from low prices that have left it asking for a government bailout. The Postal Service has experienced a surge of demand with more Americans increasingly relying on delivery amid the pandemic but is facing a $54 billion shortfall over the next decade.

“The Postal Service is a joke because they’re handing out packages for Amazon and other internet companies, and every time they put out a package, they lose money on it,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

But later on Friday afternoon, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he “will never let our Post Office fail.”

Mr. Trump continued that the Postal Service “has been mismanaged for years,” but said, “The people that work there are great, and we’re going to keep them happy, healthy, and well!”

The Postal Service had appealed to lawmakers this month for an $89 billion lifeline and warned that it could run out of money by the end of September without help.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin scuttled a bipartisan effort to provide aid to the Postal Service in the economic relief package that passed last month. He insisted instead that his department be given new authority to lend up to $10 billion to the Postal Service on terms it helps set.

Mr. Mnuchin said on Friday that Treasury is working on a plan to put certain criteria for a Postal Service reform program as a condition for offering the loan. He also noted that a search is underway for a new postmaster general who will implement changes.

The Postal Service is projecting a $13 billion revenue shortfall this fiscal year because of the pandemic. In fact, it makes money from its business with Amazon, which would likely shift to alternatives such as UPS or FedEx if the Postal Service raised prices dramatically.

Deaths from the virus continued their gradual descent, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Friday, with the state recording 422 more deaths, the smallest number since April 1. The official state death toll now stands at 16,162.

The number of virus patients in hospitals has fallen sharply, too, by more than 3,000 people since last Friday, according to statistics he cited. While polling places would remain open, he announced that he would direct the state Board of Election to send every voter a postage-paid application for an absentee ballot for the upcoming June 23 primary.

On Thursday, he described preliminary results showing that one of every five New York City residents has tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus, suggesting that the virus had spread far more widely than known.

If the pattern holds, the results from random testing of 3,000 people raised the prospect that many New Yorkers — as many as 2.7 million, the governor said — had been unwittingly infected. He added that such an elevated infection rate would seem to show that the death rate was far lower than believed. The results appear to conform with research from Northeastern University that indicated that the virus was circulating by early February in the New York area and other major cities. Thousands of people across the county have emailed The Times with accounts of their own experiences in January and February with illnesses that they think may have been the virus.

While the reliability of some early antibody tests has been questioned, researchers in New York have worked in recent weeks to develop and validate their own antibody tests, with federal approval. State officials believe that accurate antibody testing is a critical tool to help determine when and how to begin restarting the economy and sending people back to work.

Wall Street climbs even as global stocks fall.

Stocks on Wall Street rose in early trading on Friday, even as shares in global markets slipped, as a week of dramatic turns in the financial markets came to a close.

The S&P 500 rose about half a percent in early trading. Shares in Europe were slightly lower, and Asian markets also had a down day.

But the focus among traders in the U.S. this week has been oil prices after the American benchmark for crude crashed into negative territory on Monday — an unprecedented move that broke through the relative calm that had settled over financial markets. On Tuesday, stocks suffered their sharpest drop in three weeks after the dive in oil prices, and even after rebounding slightly the S&P 500 is still on track to end the week with a drop.

Still, stocks are subject to sudden changes in sentiment or reversals in efforts to reopen economies. Economic and corporate data continues to outline the toll the virus has taken on the global economy, and American officials emphasized that recovery would be difficult. On Friday, new data showed that the near-shutdown of the economy has pushed U.S. manufacturing into free-fall.

And even as some companies begin to consider reopening factories, they face opposition in some quarters. For example, the United Automobile Workers union said on Thursday that it was opposed to companies restarting auto production next month, saying it was not yet safe for its members to return to work.

Oil prices continued to find a footing, climbing slightly. Still, they remain near historical lows amid concerns about oversupply.

When should businesses reopen? What should be done about residents who ignore stay-at-home orders? Is it possible to balance the restlessness of those stuck inside with the dire predictions of public health experts?

These questions and others are keeping public officials up at night across America. It’s joblessness versus sickness. It’s cabin fever versus the risk of a real fever.

That debate is particularly contentious in the Kansas City, Mo., metropolitan area. The philosophies of various leaders collide across two states — Missouri and Kansas — as well as multiple counties and cities. Some want to reopen businesses May 3; others said May 15 at the earliest.

Their differences played out with candor on Thursday during a conference call of elected officials and public health experts in the Kansas City region. The New York Times was invited by a participant to listen to the call, which provided a behind-the-scenes look at how these discussions are unfolding nationwide.

“I do think we’re going to have to show some kind of movement off the May 15 date,” said Stephen Arbo, the city manager of Lee’s Summit, Mo., arguing that a restless public may not obey stay-home orders for that long.

Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, Mo., urged against a premature reopening that he felt could put lives at risk.

“What I cannot simply say is, ‘Well, good luck to everybody over 60 or overweight in Kansas City, Mo., with some higher likelihood of infection,’” he said, “because that’s a heck of a lot of us.”

New Mexico averts the worst of the virus for now despite challenges.

New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the country, has averted a soaring death toll despite heading into the crisis with a severe shortage of hospital beds, a rapidly aging population and high rates of underlying conditions like chronic liver disease.

Infectious disease specialists say New Mexico seems to have staved off disaster — for the moment, at least — with a death rate that is lower than neighboring states like Colorado and Oklahoma.

As state and local authorities grasp for strategies, New Mexico’s series of decisive moves early in the crisis reflect how even states with a dearth of resources can mount a dynamic response.

New Mexico’s measures included shutting down schools before most states, aggressively expanding social distancing, ramping up testing beyond levels achieved in richer states and using a pioneering telemedicine initiative to quickly train rural health workers for care.

“Hundreds of lives were saved because of what the state did early on, and that’s using conservative estimates,” said Helen Wearing, a mathematician specializing in disease ecology at the University of New Mexico.

Still, infectious disease specialists say it is far too early to declare victory. New Mexico is among states grappling with the outbreak on the Navajo Nation, which spreads over New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Epidemiologists also warn that the easing of distancing measures in neighboring states could provide a boost for the virus.

But after reporting a crucial slowing in the spread of the infection this week, New Mexico has some breathing space — something specialists couldn’t imagine even just a few weeks ago.

Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Eileen Sullivan, Michael Cooper, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, William J. Broad, Sarah Mervosh, John Eligon, Dan Levin, J. David Goodman, Michael Rothfeld, Jim Tankersley, Ben Fenwich, Emily Cochrane, Miriam Jordan, Peter Baker, Denise Grady, Christine Hauser, Andy Newman, Patricia Cohen, Richard Fausset, Amy Harmon, Carl Hulse, Rick Rojas, Simon Romero, Alan Rappeport, Thomas Fuller and Marc Santora.

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