U.S. states struggle with a shifting pandemic as federal guidance falls silent.
The federal government’s leadership in the coronavirus pandemic has so waned that state and local health officials have been left to figure out on their own how to handle rising infections and navigate conflicting signals from the White House.
Covid-19 is still taking about 800 American lives a day — a pace that, if sustained over the next few months, would yield more than 200,000 total dead by the end of September. Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas all reported their largest one-day increases in new cases this week.
On Wednesday, Oklahoma recorded 259 new cases, a single-day record for the second day in a row, and three days before President Trump is scheduled to hold an indoor campaign rally in Tulsa in defiance of his administration’s guidelines for “phased reopening.”
That rally is not the only confusing signal from Washington. The Trump re-election campaign is requiring rally-goers to sign a statement waiving their right to sue the campaign if they get sick.
In an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said the virus was “fading away.”
While the president refuses to wear a mask, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams has spent this week doing a round of television interviews to implore Americans to do so.
Vice President Mike Pence said in a Wall Street Journal opinion column this week that panic over a second wave was “overblown.” But Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top epidemiologist, said the United States was not in a second wave because it was still in the first one.
Businesses are reopening in the United States, but the layoffs aren’t stopping.
The Labor Department is expected to report on Thursday that 1.2 million additional people applied for state unemployment benefits last week. That would make it the 13th straight week that filings topped one million. Until the coronavirus pandemic, the most in a single week was 695,000, in 1982.
Claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for self-employed workers, independent contractors and others ineligible for standard benefits, will add to the total.
“It’s a sustained hemorrhaging of jobs unlike anything we’ve seen,” said Heidi Shierholz, the director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank.
Economists said recent layoffs, though smaller than the wave in March and early April, suggested that the crisis was reaching deeper into the economy.
Zhong Nanshan, an 83-year-old doctor who specializes in respiratory ailments, occupies a status in China roughly similar to that of Dr. Anthony Fauci in the United States: a widely respected medical expert whose plain-spoken views carry particular weight.
Dr. Zhong in 2003 helped uncover the coronavirus behind the SARS epidemic in China. This year, he pushed back against local officials’ reluctance to acknowledge the threat from the new coronavirus, and warned the government and the public that the virus was spreading from human to human.
On Thursday, Dr. Zhong told an online seminar organized by the University of Sydney that China needed to give its centers for disease control more power, independence, expertise and money to ensure that they serve as independent sentinels against dangerous outbreaks. The changes should not be “prolonged” or “delayed,” he said.
China’s network of centers for disease control is supposed to identify and report on potentially dangerous infectious diseases. But in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus began to spread late last year, officials slowed the collection and release of information that might have enabled the authorities to act sooner against spreading infections, evidence from doctors and official documents has shown.
“Their position should be elevated so it’s not only for research or just giving some information to the local authorities,” Dr. Zhong told the seminar. “They should, in some part, be independent.”
Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping, the head of the ruling Communist Party, have said that the country’s public health system needs to improve in the wake of the pandemic, but they have not given details. And medical experts like Dr. Zhong appear to be pressing the government to act with greater urgency on their proposals.
Other news from around the world:
In Germany, schools and day care centers in the northwestern district of Gütersloh remained closed on Thursday after more than 650 workers in a meatpacking plant tested positive for the coronavirus. Separately, a chicken processing plant in Wales was shut down for two weeks after several employees tested positive for the virus.
India had at least 366,000 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Thursday, as efforts in New Delhi and Mumbai to account for previously unrecorded virus-related deaths led to a surge in numbers.
The World Health Organization said it was halting its major trial of hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug hailed by President Trump as a possible treatment for Covid-19. It said there was no evidence that the drug was effective against Covid-19.
When Premier League soccer returned to England after a 100-day shutdown, players observed a minute of silence in memory of coronavirus victims and knelt in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Arizona did not record its first 20,000 coronavirus cases until June 1, but it took less than three weeks for the state to record 20,000 more. So on Wednesday, its governor, Doug Ducey, said he would switch gears and allow mayors to require mask wearing if they see the need.
“The trend is headed in the wrong direction,” he said at a news conference.
In Texas, which also had record case increases this week, similar tensions have arisen between local officials and the governor, whose statewide reopening orders take precedence. The mayors of nine cities sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott urging him to give them the authority to require masks.
Although Mr. Abbott has strongly urged wearing face masks, the state’s policies do not require their use, and the governor has resisted calls to do so, saying that he believes in “individual responsibility” and not “government mandates.”
But at least one Texas county got permission to proceed with a limited mask requirement.
Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, is ordering businesses to require employees and customers to wear face masks when they are unable to observe social distancing. County Judge Nelson Wolff issued the order on Wednesday, a day after the county confirmed 436 new cases, its biggest single-day increase.
Other news from around the United States:
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said on Wednesday that she would extend her state-of-emergency order, joining at least five other governors — in Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina and Vermont — who took the same step during the past week.
The New York City panel that sets rents for the roughly 2.3 million residents of rent-regulated apartments froze those rents for a year, delivering a slight reprieve to tenants struggling in the worst economy in decades. Separately, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York City, once the center of the U.S. outbreak, was “on track” to enter its next phase of reopening as soon as Monday if there is no resurgence of cases.
Four college football games involving historically black colleges and universities have been canceled because of the pandemic, the first cancellations of major college football leading up to a season that appears tenuous just over two months before its scheduled kickoff.
Small businesses face special challenges in reopening.
The percentage of American small businesses that were open in early June was nearly 16 points higher than it was in mid-April, according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker developed by researchers at Harvard using anonymized data from credit card processors, payroll firms and others.
But with a patchwork of rules and guidelines being issued at the city, county, state and federal levels, many smaller employers find themselves wondering when it will be safe to open and how to make that choice.
Slow rollouts are happening even in places that have not been Covid-19 hot spots. In Montana, which has the fewest cases in the nation, some owners are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Gov. Steve Bullock allowed bars and restaurants to reopen in early May with 50 percent capacity limits and layout restrictions, but Brett Evje held out until the end of the month before bringing customers back into Plonk, the restaurant he co-owns. It has locations in Bozeman and Missoula.
He used the downtime to refresh the Bozeman location, doing all of the projects he said could never complete with a restaurant open 365 days a year.
“Everybody wants to return back to normal, but from my standpoint you’re already closed, so you might as well wait and see what the reaction is going to be,” Mr. Evje said. “There’s nothing as hard as remobilizing and bringing everyone back and then having to close down again.”
Australia’s international borders could see their first major reopening next month, as two universities make plans to fly in some international students who have nearly completed their degrees.
The proposal is one of several plans being presented to Australia’s government by universities and states seeking travel exemptions that aim to be a model for others.
Under the plan, two Canberra universities would ask around 350 students to fly to a hub destination like Singapore and then connect to a charter flight. Upon arrival in Australia, the students would be quarantined for 14 days and would be tested for Covid-19 at the beginning and end of their stay.
Students with practical requirements or ongoing research projects would initially be given priority, and university officials said the goal was to create a process that could be broadened over time.
“We need a trial for Australia to build that confidence,” Paddy Nixon, the vice chancellor at the University of Canberra, told Australia’s main public broadcaster.
The state of South Australia also plans to bring up to 800 international students to Adelaide’s universities.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has emphasized that state borders will have to fully reopen before international students can return, and that has yet to happen.
China’s government has advised students to reconsider studying in Australia, citing “racist incidents targeting Asians,” but university officials say their students will not be deterred.
“Our students in China want to get back to campus as much as any of our students do,” said Brian Schmidt, the vice chancellor of Australian National University.
An audience in Madrid isn’t completely human.
When one of Madrid’s main public theaters reopened on Wednesday, the audience was limited to a third of the theater’s capacity because of virus-related restrictions.
The rest of the auditorium was filled with dummies.
Madrid is Spain’s last major city to be kept under a stricter version of a nationwide lockdown, ahead of the June 21 lifting of a state of emergency that was declared in mid-March.
Before the show, spectators lined up outside the Canal theater complex under the supervision of theater workers, in order to maintain social distancing and have their temperatures checked at the entrance.
A dance performance by Israel Galván, one of Spain’s most famous flamenco choreographers, lasted less than an hour. What took longer than usual, however, was leaving, as an employee used the sound system to tell each section of the auditorium exactly when to stand up.
Tips for wearing a mask while exercising.
Gyms are slowly reopening, outdoor fitness classes are starting up, and many people are hoping to get back to their typical workout routines. But wearing a mask while working out can be challenging.
Here are some ways to make it more tolerable.
Reporting was contributed by Jane Bradley, Chris Buckley, Ben Casselman, Damien Cave, Matthew Haag, Amy Haimerl, Tiffany Hsu, Sarah Mervosh, Raphael Minder, Benjamin Mueller, Elian Peltier, David E. Sanger, Matt Stevens, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Noah Weiland, Billy Witz and Will Wright.