Coronavirus Live Updates: Warmer Weather and Relaxed Rules Bring New Tests for States

Coronavirus Live Updates: Warmer Weather and Relaxed Rules Bring New Tests for States


Warmer weather lures people outdoors, and protests continue over restrictions.

Warmer weekend temperatures and fatigue over weeks of confinement lured millions of Americans outside on Saturday, adding to the pressure on city and state officials to enforce, or loosen, restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

In New York City, where the temperature hovered around 70 degrees on Saturday, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded with residents to resist the impulse to gather outdoors. In New Jersey, golf courses reopened on Saturday morning, and Gov. Philip D. Murphy said that early anecdotal reports from state police and parks officials indicated people were maintaining social distance.

“If we hear minimal reports of knucklehead behavior at our parks and we see that the metrics we need to meet are being met over the next couple of days, then we know that you have all taken to heart your responsibility,” he said.

As people flocked to New Jersey’s newly opened Liberty State Park on Saturday morning, visitors appeared to be taking varying degrees of caution. At Lincoln Park in Jersey City, Hudson County Sheriff’s Department patrol cars and S.U.V.s were on site from the park’s opening around 8 a.m., but there appeared to be little policing needed.

People maintained the six feet of separation throughout the space, and almost everyone wore a mask. A father taught his daughter to fly a kite. A family of four ate lunch on a picnic blanket. A mother played catch with her son.

“We don’t have a lawn,” said Lori Mannette, who lives a half mile from the park and has walked around its perimeter each day. “You just need somewhere to throw a baseball with your kid.”

The lifting of stringent rules across the nation signaled a significant new phase in the country’s response to the virus and came even as confirmed virus cases nationally continue to grow. While the growth rate of the virus has slowed in places like New York and California, new outbreaks are intensifying in Massachusetts, Nebraska and Wisconsin, among other states.

“It’s clearly a life-or-death-sort-of-level decision,” said Dr. Larry Chang, an infectious-diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins University. “If you get this wrong, many more people will die. It’s as simple as that.”

Now, the Department of Agriculture plans to spend $300 million on surplus produce, milk and meat and ship it to food banks. States have also joined the effort: New York is giving food banks $25 million to buy products made from extra milk produced on farms in the state.

Even college students have stepped in, renting trucks to rescue unsold onions and eggs from farms. They have created a website that connects farmers and food banks around the country.

But the combined efforts are only a “drop in the bucket,” said Jackie Klippenstein, a senior vice president of the Dairy Farmers of America, the largest dairy co-op in the United States. The co-op has diverted almost a quarter of a million gallons of milk to food banks.

And more food is coming — California strawberry growers are fretting about how to sell their goods, with peak harvest season approaching in May.

“Time is not on our side,” said Mary Coppola, a vice president at the United Fresh Produce Association, a trade group of fruit and vegetable growers and processors. “In my own personal opinion, we are not coming up with the supply-chain logistical solutions as quickly as produce is growing.”

Four months after the coronavirus began its deadly march around the globe, the search for a vaccine has taken on an intensity never before seen in medical research, with huge implications for public health, the world economy and politics.

With political leaders — not least President Trump — increasingly pressing for progress, and with big potential profits at stake for the industry, drug makers and researchers have signaled that they are moving ahead at unheard-of speeds.

But the whole enterprise remains dogged by uncertainty about whether any coronavirus vaccine will prove effective, how fast it could be made available to millions or billions of people, and whether the rush — compressing a process that can take 10 years into 10 months — will sacrifice safety.

“We are going to start ramping up production with the companies involved,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the federal government’s top expert on infectious diseases, said on NBC this week. “You don’t wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing.”

Two of the leading entrants in the United States, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, have announced partnerships with manufacturing firms, with Johnson & Johnson promising a billion doses of an as-yet-undeveloped vaccine by the end of next year.

While scientists and doctors talk about finding a “global vaccine,” national leaders emphasize immunizing their own populations first. Mr. Trump said he was personally in charge of “Operation Warp Speed” to get 300 million doses into American arms by January. The most promising clinical trial in China is financed by the government. And in India, the chief executive of the Serum Institute of India — the world’s largest producer of vaccine doses — said that most of its vaccine “would have to go to our countrymen before it goes abroad.”

But George Q. Daley, the dean of Harvard Medical School, said thinking country by country rather than in global terms would be foolhardy since it “would involve squandering the early doses of vaccine on a large number of individuals at low risk, rather than covering as many high-risk individuals globally” — health care workers and older adults — “to stop the spread” around the world.

Three movie theaters in the San Antonio area became some of the first in the country to reopen, a move that worried some infectious-disease experts but was applauded by those who bought tickets and went to the show.

The theaters were showing older releases for $5, and at the Palladium, in an upscale shopping center called the Rim, business was steady — low for a Saturday in May, but higher than what might be expected in a state still grappling with a coronavirus outbreak that has killed nearly 900 people, 48 of them in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio.

Texas took a big step out of its coronavirus lockdown on Friday, allowing restaurants, malls, retail stores and some other businesses to resume operations, with strict limits on the number of patrons allowed inside.

To sit in a theater with dozens of strangers was a walk on the wild side of public health. But as the movies played and the plots thickened amid the crunch-crunch of patrons chewing popcorn, Hollywood was doing what it has done for decades: providing an escape, albeit masked and at a distance.

Masks were recommended, but not required, for customers. In the lobby of the Palladium, in an upscale shopping center called the Rim, a masked worker asked customers as they entered whether they or anyone they had been in contact with had experienced fever, chills or other symptoms in the past 14 days. Signs warned that if the answer was yes, they would not be allowed to enter and the cost of their tickets would be refunded.

Tim Handren, the chief executive of Santikos Entertainment, which opened the theaters, said that the company would probably not make money off the low-capacity showings but that it recognized that people needed to get out of their houses and “just go somewhere else.”

All but a few states have suspended in-person classes for the rest of the academic year, and some are preparing for the possibility of shutdowns or part-time schedules in the fall.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo confirmed Friday that schools throughout the state would remain closed through the end of the school year. “We don’t think it’s possible” to reopen, he said, “in a way that would keep our children and students and educators safe.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California raised the idea on Tuesday that the next academic year could start as soon as July, to make up for the abbreviated spring term. And in Illinois, officials have gone further, warning that remote learning could continue indefinitely. “This may be the new normal even in the fall,” said Janice Jackson, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools.

Whenever students do come back, classes are unlikely to look the same. There may be staggered half-day classes or one-day-on, one-day-off schedules so desks can be spread out and buses can run at lowered capacities.

The researchers, Dr. Mette Kalager and Dr. Michael Bretthauer, a husband-and-wife team at the University of Oslo, have proposed a test in which similar school districts in adjacent towns are compared when one stays shut and the other is carefully reopened, with students and teachers in both districts tested at the start and end of a 10- to 14-day cycle. If virus transmissions do not increase in the reopened school, the restrictions would be scaled back further. The study’s design could be similar to studies asking, for example, if cancer screening lowered death rates.

When Eliana Marcela Rendón was finally able to visit her grandmother, a coronavirus patient who had spent four weeks at a Long Island hospital, a staff member met her in the lobby to ask whether the 74-year-old had a favorite song.

Ms. Rendón, after calling family members, requested several religious selections in Spanish. Then she and her husband were guided to a coronavirus intensive care unit.

“Give us a miracle, Lord,” she prayed as the couple waited for an elevator. “Don’t take my grandma, please.”

Her grandmother, Carmen Evelia Toro, who lived with the couple in Queens, had fallen ill after returning from a family reunion in Colombia. Since then, her relatives there and in the United States had joined online nightly prayer sessions, each with a different theme: faith, gratitude, patience, mercy, obedience, love, fidelity. The night before Ms. Rendón visited the hospital, the topic was miracles.

Their story mirrors what many families have experienced in recent weeks, facing excruciating decisions about loved ones whose lives the virus has put in peril. And with rare exceptions, those choices have been all the more wrenching because they have had to be made from afar.

“We feel powerless,” Ms. Rendón said during her grandmother’s illness, “because we want to be with her at this time.”

Maryland cancels a big order of supplies.

Maryland officials said on Saturday that they were moving to cancel a $12.5 million order of masks and other personal protective equipment from a politically connected firm and had asked the state attorney general’s office to investigate whether the company misrepresented its ability to deliver the badly needed supplies.

The state signed a purchase order on April 1 to buy the supplies from Blue Flame Medical, a recently launched firm led by John Thomas, a Republican political strategist, and Mike Gula, a Republican fund-raiser, according to a state official. Maryland paid the firm a 50 percent down payment of $6,271,000, the official said.

The shipping date for the order was April 14, and Maryland’s Department of General Services issued a warning letter to the company on Thursday, when there was no indication that the supplies were on their way, the official said. State officials then moved to cancel the order.

“We have determined that since it has been one month since the order was placed with no confirmation of shipment, we are in the process of canceling the order and have referred this matter to the attorney general,” said Nick Cavey, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of General Services.

Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, confirmed that the office had received the request but declined to comment further.

The state’s action was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Blue Flame Medical said in a statement that it had hoped to deliver the equipment in April, but its supplier in China told it that the Chinese government had “interfered with its ability to fulfill the shipment.”

“Blue Flame Medical has kept the state of Maryland closely apprised as to all of these developments,” the statement said. “Pursuant to the agreed upon contract with the state of Maryland, Blue Flame Medical has until June 30, 2020 to fulfill the purchase order. Blue Flame Medical intends to meet that obligation.”

The company advertises itself on its website as the “largest global network of Covid-19 medical suppliers providing health care logistics and hard-to-find medical supplies to beat the outbreak.”

Asked by Politico in March how he planned to acquire hard-to-find supplies to fight the coronavirus, Mr. Gula said, “I have relationships with a lot of people.”

Mr. Gula, who is Blue Flame’s chief executive, is a founder of Gula Graham, a fund-raising firm that has raised more than $318 million for members of Congress since 2009, according to Blue Flame’s website.

Mr. Thomas, Blue Flame’s president, has been a strategist for Republican candidates across the country and is a well-known Southern California radio personality, according to the website for Thomas Partners Strategies, his communications firm.

Maryland’s action is the latest indication that huge demand for personal protective equipment has led to a global-supply chain frenzy, in which states, hospitals and federal officials are competing for equipment. Middlemen — including entrepreneurs and profiteers — have rushed to fill the void.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said in a joint statement on Saturday that Congress would decline the White House’s offer to provide lawmakers with rapid-result testing machines, contending that the resources should be deployed to those in greater need.

“Congress is grateful for the administration’s generous offer to deploy rapid Covid-19 testing capabilities to Capitol Hill, but we respectfully decline the offer at this time,” the statement said. “Our country’s testing capacities are continuing to scale up nationwide and Congress wants to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities where they can do the most good the most quickly.”

Mr. Trump responded unhappily on Saturday evening, recirculating an unrelated tweet sent earlier in the day by Mr. McConnell’s office and commenting, “No reason to turn it down, except politics.”

“We have plenty of testing,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Maybe you need a new Doctor over there. Crazy Nancy will use it as an excuse not to show up to work!”

Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, had offered late Friday night to send three rapid-result testing machines and 1,000 tests — the same kind currently used by the White House — to the Capitol ahead of the Senate’s return to Washington on Monday.

His offer came after the top physician in Congress warned Republican aides that with his current equipment, he would only be able to test those who were ill, and that it would take at least two days to get test results.

The House on Tuesday abandoned plans to return next week after the physician, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, warned that it might be risky for lawmakers to do so, citing the continued increase of cases of the virus in the capital and its surrounding suburban counties.

Common blood pressure medicines don’t increase risk for coronavirus infections.

Nearly half the adults in the United States have high blood pressure, and since the pandemic began, many have been worried by speculative reports that their medications could make them extra vulnerable to infection and severe illness from the coronavirus.

They can stop worrying, according to several new studies that found no connection between coronavirus risks and two widely used classes of blood pressure drugs, ACE inhibitors and ARBs.

ACE inhibitors include lisinopril, captopril and other drugs with generic names ending in -pril, and brand names such as Zestril and Prinivil. ARBs include losartan, valsartan and other generic drugs ending in -sartan, and brand names such as Cozaar and Atacand.

Three studies published on Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine, based on the records of more than 20,000 patients in Asia, Europe and North America, came to the same conclusion: The blood pressure drugs had no effect on susceptibility to infection or the course of the disease. Similar findings from China were published last week in JAMA Cardiology.

One of the new studies also found no risk linked to three other classes of commonly used blood pressure drugs — beta blockers, calcium-channel blockers and thiazide diuretics.

An editorial accompanying the New England Journal articles said it was “reassuring that three studies in different populations and with different designs” found the drugs “unlikely to be harmful in patients with Covid-19.”

But the editorial also said more research was needed to verify the results, because the studies were based on reviewing patients’ records, which does not provide evidence as strong as the results of controlled clinical trials.

Immigrants in ICE detention clash with officials over virus tests.

A group of immigrants at the Bristol County House of Corrections in Massachusetts clashed with officers late Friday over coronavirus testing, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local officials.

The detainees showed symptoms consistent with the virus but refused mandatory testing, the officials said, leading to an altercation with corrections officers that resulted in three injured detainees and $25,000 worth of damage to the facility in Dartmouth, Mass.

The episode is the latest example of a growing backlash against the agency among immigrants in government custody as it grapples with the health concerns of detainees and employees alike. Detainees began a labor strike at the facility last month to call attention to the conditions they faced early on during the pandemic’s spread.

The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office said a group that included 10 detainees who had showed symptoms for the virus and 15 others “rushed violently” at the sheriff and corrections officers, “barricaded themselves inside the facility, ripped washing machines and pipes off the wall, broke windows and trashed the entire unit.”

Corrections officers pepper-sprayed the detainees. Medical staff members evaluated them, and three were hospitalized. No facility staff members were injured.

The statements’ descriptions of the episode conflict with reports from detainees. Annie Gonzalez Milliken, an activist with the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network, told ABC News that the immigrants wanted to be tested.

“What they said was that they were willing to be tested, in fact they wanted to be,” she said, “but they did not want to be moved. They didn’t want to deal with cross contamination in the medical unit.”

In a bid to restore some access to Guantánamo’s isolated detainees, prosecutors in the trial over the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are proposing weekly video meetings between the five defendants and their lawyers, which would require both sides to work around social distancing protocols mandated by the coronavirus.

Lawyers for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the lead defendant in the death penalty case, had asked the trial judge to let him speak with his lead lawyer, Gary D. Sowards, who is in self-quarantine in Manhattan. In making the request, they agreed that the conversation could be monitored.

In response, prosecutors proposed hourlong video conferences, a more complicated endeavor, Carol Rosenberg reports in an article produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The court has been closed since Feb. 25, and judges in the two capital cases have canceled hearings because the prison, in an effort to limit the virus’s spread, has imposed strict restrictions on access to the detainees.

Puerto Rico, which has been under a strict lockdown since mid-March, awoke to a jolt on Saturday from a magnitude 5.4 quake.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez urged Puerto Ricans who evacuated any damaged structures to grab their emergency backpacks — and to wear masks. “Stay safe,” she wrote on Twitter.

The earthquake’s epicenter was in the island’s southwest, according to the United States Geological Survey. No casualties were immediately reported.

The power went out in parts of the island, and Mayor María E. Meléndez of Ponce, on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, reported some structural damage in the city’s historic center. She asked residents to continue to stay at home.

Puerto Rico experienced a flurry of temblors in January that left some people effectively homeless for months. But that was before the coronavirus pandemic.

The island has extended its lockdown until May 25 to prevent the virus’s spread, but some businesses will be allowed to reopen starting on Monday.

The testing rate in Puerto Rico remains low, and it has recently faced scrutiny for its response to the virus. Last month, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, submitted an inquiry scrutinizing misuse of disaster aid by Puerto Rican officials.

The letter also raised concerns that some $40 million worth of contracts to buy coronavirus test kits had gone to companies with close ties to Puerto Rican politicians, or that had little experience providing medical supplies.

Even as states and cities across the United States have deemed conditions safe enough to gradually reopen some businesses and public spaces, thousands of foreign residents are unable to return home as their countries have extended lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Thousands of Indian citizens in the United States were left stranded for two more weeks on Saturday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended a national lockdown until May 18, suspending domestic and international air travel. The lockdown was originally set to expire after May 3.

Worrisome data released this week added to fears that India could remain closed for some time. The country reported 2,293 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, its biggest single-day increase yet.

While the true count of stranded visitors is unknown, leaving for home has become an increasingly dicey proposition as the United States has emerged as the primary hot spot for the virus, accounting for about a third of cases globally.

Travelers seeking to return to African countries have also faced uncertainty, as 34 of the continent’s 57 international airports remained closed or had significantly scaled back operations, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Travel restrictions have also become increasingly burdensome for the more than a million international students studying at American universities, many of whom often return home for the summer. As universities have closed dorms and suspended summer stipends for graduate students, many face financial instability, with no clear indication of when they can leave.

Restaurants received patrons into dining rooms partly cordoned off for social distancing, friends sought safe conversation in the sunshine, and some tried to continue a productive path forward in isolation.

As the patchwork of rules aimed at slowing the pandemic continued to evolve this week, photographers across the country documented how people were navigating social gatherings, working to preserve their businesses, fitting in outdoor pursuits like surfing and maintaining religious practices.

How to get some crucial sleep.

Getting proper sleep is vital for physical and mental health, particularly during the pandemic. Here are recommendations.

Reporting was contributed by Kevin Armstrong, Julie Bosman, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Emily Cochrane, Michael Corkery, Jo Corona, Joe Drape, Michael J. de la Merced, Catie Edmondson, Nicholas Fandos, Manny Fernandez, Sheri Fink, Jacey Fortin, Michael Gold, Denise Grady, Jack Healy, Javier C. Hernández, David D. Kirkpatrick, Su-Hyun Lee, Michael Levenson, Ron Lieber, Grace Maalouf, Neil MacFarquhar, Patricia Mazzei, Sarah Mervosh, Zach Montague, Kwame Opam, Katie Rogers, Carol Rosenberg, Katherine Rosman, Rebecca R. Ruiz, David E. Sanger, Jeanna Smialek, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sabrina Tavernise, Katie Thomas, Sui-Lee Wee, David Yaffe-Bellany and Carl Zimmer.





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