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Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump to Sign Aid Deal; States Struggle With Soaring Jobless Claims


Congress has allocated $2.7 trillion, but as jobless claims mount, states struggle to meet needs.

President Trump is expected to sign a $484 billion relief package on Friday, providing a much-needed lifeline to small businesses, as well as funding for hospitals and testing.

In the past month, Congress has approved an astonishing $2.7 trillion in response to the pandemic. The latest measure, however, contained no money for state governments, and governors have stepped up their calls for federal assistance.

Republicans have resisted providing money to the states — what the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, called “blue state bailouts” — even as local governments have been overwhelmed by an explosion of unemployment claims, with more than 26 million people losing their jobs in just five weeks.

At least three states — California, New York and Ohio — are expected to deplete their trust funds within two weeks, with Massachusetts, Texas and Mr. McConnell’s state of Kentucky close behind. Once those funds run out, the states can borrow money from the federal government, but must repay it within two years.

Delays in delivering benefits, though, are as troubling as the sheer magnitude of the figures. Such problems not only create immediate hardships, like not being able to pay rent or buy food, but also affect the shape of the recovery when the pandemic eases.

One of every five New York City residents has tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus, according to preliminary results described by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday, 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 by the virus. Mr. Cuomo added that such an elevated infection rate would seem to show that the death rate was far lower than believed.

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.

The testing in New York is among several efforts around the country to determine how many people may have already been exposed to the virus, beyond those who have tested positive. The results appear to conform with research from Northeastern University that indicated that the coronavirus was circulating by early February in the New York area and other major cities.

In California, a pair of studies using antibody testing found rates of exposure as high as 4 percent in Santa Clara County and 5 percent in Los Angeles County — higher than those indicated by infection tests, though not nearly as high as found in New York.

In New York City, about 21 percent tested positive for coronavirus antibodies during the state survey. The rate was about 17 percent on Long Island, nearly 12 percent in Westchester and Rockland Counties and less than 4 percent in the rest of the state.

President Trump asserted, without any scientific evidence, at his daily White House briefing on Thursday that sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants could possibly kill the coronavirus inside the body.

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. 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.

The president’s theorizing came 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.”

The White House on Friday sent a corrected briefing transcript, which initially misrepresented a response from Deborah L. Birx, Mr. Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator. In the earlier version, sent Thursday night, after the president suggested treating the coronavirus with light and heat, Dr. Birx is quoted as saying, “That is a treatment.” The corrected version clarified that Dr. Birx actually said, “Not as a treatment.”

“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.

Georgia businesses prepared to reopen their doors on Friday after Gov. Brian Kemp defied public opposition from President Trump, public health experts and some mayors in his state.

Mr. Kemp’s order generally allows 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.

After initially backing the governor’s plan, Mr. Trump on Thursday renewed his public criticism of the governor he helped get elected in 2018 — “I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp,” he said — and on Friday morning, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta urged people to stay home.

“Listen to the scientists,” Ms. Bottoms said Friday 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.”

The first wave of reopening was also scheduled to begin on Friday in Oklahoma, where salons, barbers, spas and pet groomers will be allowed to reopen in parts of the state by appointment only. Other pieces of the state’s economic engine, including restaurants, gyms and places of worship, are scheduled to reopen as soon as May 1.

In Georgia, government statistics show the state has recorded more than 21,800 virus cases and that at least 881 people have died.

The pain in Georgia has not been spread evenly. In rural Dougherty County, which includes Albany, officials have reported nearly 1,500 known cases and 109 deaths.

Authorities found that a funeral for a retired janitor that brought more than 200 people into a small memorial chapel in Albany, a city of 75,000 people and the county seat, was the source of the outbreak. Chatham County, which includes Savannah, and which has more than twice as many residents as Dougherty County, has 199 known cases and six deaths.

The most overall cases are concentrated in the Atlanta area. But the highest per capita rates are in the state’s southwest. In addition to Dougherty County, the situation has been notably bleak in Sumter, Lee, Mitchell, Early and Terrell Counties. Black Georgians make up a plurality of coronavirus cases and deaths, even though they account for only about one-third of the state’s population.

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

“Now, with favorable data and approval from state health officials, we are taking another measured step forward by opening shuttered businesses for limited operations,” he continued. “I know these hardworking Georgians will prioritize the safety of their employees and customers.”

Mr. Trump’s criticism on Wednesday and Thursday has baffled Mr. Kemp and Georgia Republicans. It has also sent a confusing message to other state and local officials who are considering similar moves.

The result is that governors across the country, even those allied with Mr. Trump, are all but forced to pay close attention to the administration’s guidance on the timing of opening up their economies. And that guidance, critics say, is all over the place.

Even as some hairstylists were readying work spaces for their first customers in weeks on Friday morning in Georgia, others said they would stay home, afraid of spreading the coronavirus to clients.

In Atlanta, Lindsey Maxfield, 33, a hair stylist, said she was glad her workplace, Cameo Salon, would remain closed. “Having people come to the salon is ridiculous,” she said.

In January, a mystery illness swept through a call center in a skyscraper in Chicago. Close to 30 people in one department alone had symptoms — dry, deep coughs and fevers they could not shake. When they gradually returned to work after taking sick days, they sat in their cubicles looking wan and tired.

“I’ve started to think it was the coronavirus,” said Julie Parks, a 63-year-old employee who was among the sick. “I may have had it, but I can’t be sure.”

The revelation this week that a death in the United States in early February was the result of the coronavirus has significantly altered the understanding of how early the virus may have been circulating in the country. Researchers now believe that hidden outbreaks were creeping through cities like Boston, Chicago, New York and Seattle in January and February, weeks earlier than previously known.

The retroactive search is happening on many levels. People who had suffered dreadful bouts with flulike illnesses are now wondering if it was the coronavirus. Doctors are thinking back to unexplained cases. Medical examiners are poring over their records looking for possible misdiagnosed deaths. And local politicians are demanding investigations.

“I think it was here long before we knew it,” said Brian Gustafson, a coroner in Rock Island County, Ill. “That’s the only logical thing I can think of.”

Included in Mr. Gustafson’s suspicions of an undercount: himself.

Thousands of inmates have been freed across the country in an effort to slow the virus’s spread behind bars, and advocates have filed lawsuits seeking the release many more incarcerated people as outbreaks in the nation’s jails continue to grow.

But as more inmates have walked free, the releases have prompted a growing backlash.

“It’s a slap in the face,” said Tracy Fehrenbacher, who recently learned of the release of the man charged in connection with her daughter’s death in a hit-and-run.

The debate over who should be let out has become fierce in some places. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring the release of some inmates, arguing that it “would not only gravely threaten public safety, but would also hinder efforts to cope with the Covid-19 disaster.”

Many opponents have pointed to Florida, where a Tampa man was accused of shooting and killing someone the day after he and more than 160 other inmates were freed from Hillsborough County jails last month.

Releasing inmates carries risks, acknowledged Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a national network of progressive prosecutors. But leaving things the way they are would cause even more harm, she said. More inmates and employees would be infected in crowded facilities, and because of the high turnover rate in local jails, would then carry the disease into the community.

“Doing nothing is going to ensure that there will be tens of thousands of additional deaths,” she said.

Anxious governors have been clamoring for more federal help, saying that their budgets are being stretched to the breaking point and that their revenues are collapsing as they pour resources into health care while their economies are shut down. But the latest measure contained no new state aid, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, alarmed and angered state officials this week when he said he wanted to approach the next round of pandemic legislation more deliberately.

Rather than looking for handouts, Mr. McConnell said, the states should consider filing for bankruptcy. His aides threw fuel on the fire in a news release that said the Senate leader was opposed to “blue state bailouts,” suggesting it was Democratic-leaning states that were seeking the money to take care of problems caused by fiscal mismanagement.

“That’s how you’re going to bring this national economy back?” asked an incredulous Mr. Cuomo, who called Mr. McConnell irresponsible and reckless. “You want to see that market fall through the cellar? Let New York State declare bankruptcy.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill say they believe that Mr. McConnell, who opposed new state aid in talks that produced the most recent measure, was trying to reassure restive conservatives that he would not give in easily on more funding in coming talks after Congress had already allocated about $2.7 trillion in deficit spending in response to the emergency. But Mr. McConnell faces significant obstacles if he intends to block the aid, given the extent of bipartisan support for more state relief.

Stocks on Wall Street ended virtually unchanged on Thursday as an early rally, fueled by a surge in oil prices, faded.

The S&P 500, which rose as much as 1.6 percent earlier in the day, was flat by the close of trading. The ups and downs came as investors absorbed more grim economic news: Millions more workers claimed unemployment benefits in the United States, and data from Europe highlighted the heavy toll of shutdowns to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Investors have been shrugging off such data in recent weeks as the shock of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic fades and they begin to expect an eventual recovery.

Governments have started discussing measures to return to normal. Businesses in Europe and the United States have begun detailing plans to reopen businesses. Major airlines have aggressively advertised the precautions they are taking to lure back passengers, including fogging cabins with disinfectant, restricting food service and blocking out middle seats.

Our lives have been forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have died. Millions in the United States alone have lost their jobs.

Though the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic just over a month ago, many of us are already feeling nostalgic for our lives before the virus went global. We asked you to send us photographs and videos that captured those moments of normalcy. We received nearly 700 submissions from all over the world — including from Milan; Mumbai, India; Paris; Wuhan, China; and places across the United States.

Nearly every submission expressed a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the time before the pandemic. Many also conveyed worry and a longing to feel a sense of safety and normalcy again.

Even as the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control announced that the first wave of coronavirus transmission had “passed its peak” in 20 members of the European Union, Britain was still struggling to get ahead of the virus.

The nation was behind many others in Europe in putting in place restrictive social distancing measures, with the British government frequently saying it was “guided by the science.” With the country approaching 20,000 deaths, the Times correspondents Mark Landler and Stephen Castle took a look at the secretive scientific group advising the government.

As the British government comes under mounting criticism for its response to the coronavirus — one that has left Britain vying with Italy and Spain as the worst hit countries in Europe — Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his aides have defended themselves by saying they are “guided by the science.”

The trouble is, nobody knows what the science is.

The government’s influential Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies — known by its soothing acronym, SAGE — operates as a virtual black box. Its list of members is secret, its meetings are closed, its recommendations are private and the minutes of its deliberations are published much later, if at all.

Yet officials invoke SAGE’s name endlessly without ever explaining how it comes up with its advice — or even who these scientists are.

That lack of transparency has become a point of contention, as officials struggle to explain why they waited until late March to shift from a laissez-faire approach to the virus to the stricter measures adopted by other European countries. Critics say the delay may have worsened a death toll now surging past 20,000, and they fault the government for leaving people in the dark about why it first chose this riskier path.

What else is happening around the world.

Keep up with developments in the coronavirus pandemic with our team of international correspondents.

Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Eileen Sullivan, William J. Broad, Sarah Mervosh, John Eligon, Dan Levin, J. David Goodman, Michael Rothfeld, Julie Bosman, Patricia Cohen, Richard Fausset, Amy Harmon, Carl Hulse, Rick Rojas, Thomas Fuller and Marc Santora.

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