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We’re covering the growing realization that the coronavirus was spreading in the U.S. earlier than known and the ouster of a top government scientist. In non-virus news, we’re looking ahead to tonight’s N.F.L. draft.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said on Wednesday that people investigating the early origins of the virus were looking at coroner and autopsy reports going back to December in some counties.
The cold calculations of reopening
Our chief White House correspondent, Peter Baker, writes: “Until there is a vaccine or a cure for the coronavirus, the macabre truth is that any plan to begin restoring public life invariably means trading away some lives. The question is how far will leaders go to keep it to a minimum.”
After society largely shut down, the 60,000 projected virus-related deaths in the U.S. is far lower than earlier estimates. But remaining closed is not without cost: The Labor Department is expected to report today that millions of people lost their jobs for the fifth straight week. Here are the latest financial updates.
‘Instead of coronavirus, the hunger will kill us’
Lockdowns are drying up work and incomes around the globe, leaving millions to worry about having enough to eat. The World Food Program estimates that 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of the year, which would double the number of people facing acute hunger.
The crisis is caused by many factors, experts say, including the sudden loss of income for millions who were already living hand-to-mouth; the collapse in oil prices; currency shortages from the loss of tourism; and overseas workers not having earnings to send home.
“The coronavirus has been anything but a great equalizer,” said a volunteer food worker in a Kenyan slum, where a giveaway of flour and cooking oil set off a fatal stampede. “It’s been the great revealer, pulling the curtain back on the class divide and exposing how deeply unequal this country is.”
If you have 5 minutes, this is worth it
A date across closed borders
Above, Karsten Tüchsen Hansen, 89, and Inga Rasmussen, 85, at the border between Germany and Denmark. He cycles from the German side; she drives from the Danish side.
The couple have met every day since the police closed the border to contain the coronavirus, maintaining a modicum of social distance while keeping their romance alive.
Love, Mr. Tüchsen Hansen says, “is the best thing in the world.”
Here’s what else is happening
Deadly tornadoes: At least five people were killed as storms ripped through Oklahoma and Texas on Wednesday.
Snapshot: Above, two nuns at the Phoka Nunnery of St. Nino in the country of Georgia. The photojournalist Robert Presutti visited the convent, which is housed in a restored 11th-century church, and his report is the latest in our Travel section series “The World Through a Lens.”
N.F.L. draft preview: The Cincinnati Bengals are expected to select Joe Burrow, L.S.U.’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, with the first pick tonight. Here’s what to watch for when the draft begins at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Late-night comedy: Noting the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Jimmy Fallon said, “You can tell Earth Day turned 50 because earlier today, Earth changed its hairstyle and bought a Corvette.”
What we’re reading: Outside magazine’s look at a volcanic eruption in New Zealand. Elisabeth Goodridge, our deputy travel editor, calls it “a well-written, thoroughly reported and very, very gripping read, which shines a light on the risks of adventure tourism and the question of who’s responsible when disaster strikes.”
Now, a break from the news
Cook: Meatballs work with almost any ground meat, including vegetarian substitutes. Once you master the basics, you can change the seasonings for variety.
We have more ideas about what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.
And now for the Back Story on …
A rewritten virus timeline
A coronavirus-related death in California on Feb. 6 has raised questions about the timeline of the U.S. outbreak, which is by far the world’s largest. To get a scientific view of the implications, we spoke to Carl Zimmer, a science reporter, Times columnist and author of “A Planet of Viruses.”
What do we know about the timing of the virus’s arrival in the U.S.?
The virus itself jumped from bats into humans in Asia, most likely China. Then there’s the outbreak in Wuhan, picking up speed in December. Then it’s in Europe, probably in early January.
Studies of samples of virus from New York showed that the vast majority belonged to lineages introduced from Europe and probably arrived early to mid-February. You can see this from minor but telltale mutations in their genes that act like a signature. What the New York viruses are most similar to is not the viruses in Italy, but viruses in England, in France, in Belgium. It looks like a lot of viruses were moving around in Europe, and some were brought to the United States.
The evidence from California indicates it was arriving there by early or mid-January.
Could the virus have been circulating in California even earlier?
Scientists don’t believe Covid was raging in California in November. Looking at virus genes, they can see it was just getting started around then in Wuhan. They don’t see the kind of hospitalizations in California you’d see if it were taking off. We know what it’s like when Covid-19 takes off, and it was not happening in November.
What are you looking for next?
In the autopsy for the Feb. 6 case, all they needed to find to confirm that this person had Covid-19 was some fragments of the virus’s genes.
If you really want to know more, you need the whole genome — all the genetic material in the virus. Then, looking at the mutations, you can see where the virus came from, and you can start getting some guesses about how it got there.
But we’re dealing here with a deceased person. The virus in their remains is breaking down.
Still, it’s possible that scientists may be able to extract enough virus to put the genome back together. I’m hoping for that.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Melissa Clark for the recipe, and to Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the rest of the break from the news. Andrea Kannapell, the Briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Today’s episode is about the release of thousands of inmates during the coronavirus outbreak.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Soft French cheese (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Priya Parker, the host of the new Times podcast “Together Apart,” and our critic Amanda Hess will discuss virtual gatherings during a free call with readers today at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. R.S.V.P. here.