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Coronavirus Live News and Updates


Even as stores reopen, some are not expected to survive the pandemic.

The shutdowns across the United States devastated retailers in April, as retail sales plunged a record 16.4 percent, according to government data reported Friday.

That followed an 8.3 percent drop in March, producing by far the largest two-month decline on record. Total sales for April, which include retail purchases in stores and online as well as money spent at bars and restaurants, were the lowest since 2012, even without accounting for inflation.

Many economists expect spending to rise in May because most states have begun to lift barriers to commerce and movement.

But any recovery is likely to be slow and uneven. There is no guarantee that customers will return in numbers previously seen — and even if Americans feel comfortable going out to shop, they may not have as much money to spend, because millions have lost their jobs.

Both companies were facing a host of issues before the virus forced them to close their stores and eventually file for bankruptcy. Those troubles had included adjusting to the rise of e-commerce and a lack of connection with a new generation of shoppers.

But they also shared one increasingly common problem for retailers in dire straits: an enormous debt burden — roughly $1.7 billion for J. Crew and almost $5 billion for Neiman Marcus — from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms.

The week is set to end with the opening salvos in what is expected to be a bitter fight in Congress over a $3 trillion dollar relief package, including billions for states drowning in debt.

In the days between, it was clear that the struggle against the virus was still raging and that the “moment” was unlikely to pass anytime soon.

Dr. Rick Bright, a whistle blower who was removed in April as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, told Congress that lives had been lost because of the failure of the Trump administration to treat the prospect of a pandemic with the necessary urgency.

He said Americans would face “the darkest winter in modern history” if the administration did not quickly formulate a coherent national strategy.

Dr. Bright’s testimony came two days after Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, warned of “needless suffering and death” if states reopened too quickly.

The slowdown has rippled beyond the retail and hospitality industries to professional business services, manufacturing and health care.

The White House, threatening to veto the relief package Congress is considering, said the legislation proposed by House Democrats was more concerned with “delivering on longstanding partisan and ideological wish lists than with enhancing the ability of our nation to deal with the public health and economic challenges we face.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using the $2 trillion economic stabilization law to throw a lifeline to education sectors she has long championed, directing millions of federal dollars intended primarily for public schools and colleges to private and religious schools.

Of $30 billion in the law for educational institutions turned upside down by the pandemic shutdowns, Ms. DeVos has used $180 million to encourage states to create “microgrants” that parents of elementary and secondary school students can use to pay for educational services, including private school tuition. She has directed school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private schools.

And she has nearly depleted the funding set aside for struggling colleges to bolster small colleges — many of them private, religious or on the margins of higher education — regardless of need. The Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential, a private college that has a website debunking claims that it is a cult, received about $495,000.

House Democrats included language in a bill set for a vote on Friday that would limit Ms. DeVos’s ability to use about $58 billion in additional education relief for K-12 school districts for private schools. Congress has largely rejected Ms. DeVos’s proposals to create programs that resemble private school vouchers, and critics say Ms. DeVos is abusing discretion granted to her under emergency legislation to achieve a long-held agenda.

In a statement, the Education Department said that every student and teacher had been affected by the pandemic. “The current disruption to our education system has reaffirmed what Secretary DeVos has been saying for years: We need to rethink education for all students, of every age, no matter the type of school setting,” it said.

More of the country is open for business as governors ease restrictions.

In Oregon, retail stores will flip their window signs to “open.” A stay-at-home order will expire in Arizona. And restaurants and bars in much of Virginia will be able to seat customers for happy hour again — but only outside.

A number of states are lifting restrictions on businesses and public life on Friday, in a significant milestone for the country’s attempt to re-emerge from coronavirus-related shutdowns. More than two-thirds of states have now relaxed restrictions in some significant way, including some that had previously been the most locked down.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, testified before Congress this week that reopening too soon could trigger another uncontrollable outbreak. He warned against “some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery.”

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who has called for an aggressive response to the virus, will allow stores, salons and houses of worship to open up with social distancing requirements starting Friday night.

Gyms, barbershops, movie theaters and bars with food permits will be allowed to open back up in Louisiana, which at one point was experiencing the fastest growth in new cases in the world and most recently has seen a decline in new cases.

Even New York, which leads the nation in cases and deaths, is taking its first, tentative step toward a return. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, announced that certain upstate regions had successfully met benchmarks for reopening starting Friday. The limited reopening includes only certain industries and curbside pickup at retail stores.

As parts of upstate New York prepared for a gradual reopening, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order late Thursday night extending stay-at-home orders for regions, including New York City, that do not meet the state’s criteria.

Under the new order, the five parts of the state that have not met key requirements — which including declines in new positive virus cases and deaths, and increases in testing, hospital capacity and contact tracing — will remain shut down through May 28. (An earlier version of this briefing misstated the length of the stay-at-home order’s extension.)

Mr. Cuomo, in a tweet announcing the new order, said Thursday that those remaining regions, which include New York City’s suburbs and the Buffalo area, could reopen “the moment they hit their benchmarks.”

Mr. Cuomo had earlier said that Central New York, which includes Syracuse, had joined four other upstate regions where some nonessential businesses — including construction, manufacturing and curbside retail — could restart on Friday after meeting seven benchmarks set by the state.

For New York City to reopen safely and ensure the virus is not spreading out of control, testing and contact tracing are paramount. But contact tracing has emerged as a point of contention in recent days after Mayor Bill de Blasio shifted control over that effort from the city’s health department to the city’s public hospital system.

A New York Times investigation into that decision revealed that as Mr. de Blasio was resisting calls in March to cancel large gatherings and slow the spread of the coronavirus in New York City, he found behind-the-scenes support from a trusted voice: the head of that public hospital system, Dr. Mitchell Katz.

There was “no proof that closures will help stop the spread,” Dr. Katz wrote in an email to the mayor’s closest aides on March 10. Dr. Katz said he believed that banning large events would hurt the economy and sow fear. “If it is not safe to go to a conference, why is it safe to go to the hospital or ride in the subway?” he wrote. And, he added, many New Yorkers were going to get infected anyway.

For Mr. de Blasio, the arguments in Dr. Katz’s email appeared to win out over the calls for greater restrictions on daily life from other top officials, who were alarmed by public health surveillance data pointing toward a looming outbreak.

In an unusual public notice, the agency said that early data suggested the Abbott ID Now test, hailed as a rapid means of diagnosing infection with the virus, may return false negatives in patients who actually are infected.

“This test can still be used and can correctly identify many positive cases in minutes,” said Dr. Tim Stenzel, director of the F.D.A.’s Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health.

But negative results should be confirmed with another high-sensitivity test, he said.

The product, which was given emergency authorization by the F.D.A. in late March, has been enthusiastically promoted by President Trump — it was even used as a prop during at least one news conference. Mr. Trump has said the tests are “highly accurate.”

The agency’s warning follows a study by researchers at N.Y.U. Langone Health that found the test could miss infections up to 48 percent of the time.

The F.D.A. also said it had received 15 so-called “adverse event reports” about Abbott’s device, suggesting some users were receiving false negatives. The agency said it was continuing to evaluate the test.

In a statement to investors, Abbott defended the ID Now test, calling it reliable when used as intended. “Negative test results should be considered in the context of a patient’s recent exposures, history and the presence of clinical signs and symptoms consistent with Covid-19,” the statement said.

If the negative results are inconsistent with signs and symptoms, Abbott said, patients should be given an alternative test.

Coughs or sneezes may not be the only way people transmit infectious pathogens like the coronavirus to one another. Talking can also propel thousands of droplets so small they can remain suspended in the air for eight to 14 minutes, according to a new study.

The research, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help explain how people with mild or no symptoms may infect others in close quarters such as offices, nursing homes, cruise ships and other confined spaces.

The study’s experimental conditions would need to be replicated in more real-world circumstances, and researchers still do not know how much virus has to be transmitted from one person to another to cause infection. But its findings strengthen the case for wearing masks and taking other precautions to reduce the spread of the virus.

Many people, cooped up inside to slow the spread of the virus, are living in small spaces and reeling from financial worries. Children are home from school in every state.

That has led to another spiraling crisis: Doctors and advocates for victims are seeing signs of an increase in violence at home. They are hearing accounts of people lashing out, particularly at women and children.

“No one can leave,” said Kim Foxx, the chief prosecutor in Chicago. “You’re literally mandating that people who probably should not be together in the same space stay.”

In Chicago, the number of people seeking help has increased significantly in recent weeks. During the first week of March, 383 people called a domestic violence hotline in the city. By the end of April, the weekly number had soared to 549.

“The pandemic has put the pressure on,” said Amanda Pyron, the executive director of the Network, an advocacy organization in Chicago. “No one can go stay somewhere for a few days, have family come over, have the kids go stay with grandparents. Those safety supports aren’t accessible in a meaningful way.”

The American health care system for years has supplied many hospitals with a clear playbook for turning a profit: Provide surgeries, scans and other well-reimbursed services to privately insured patients, whose plans pay higher prices than public programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

“Health care has always been viewed as recession-proof, but it’s not pandemic-proof,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a health research organization. “The level of economic impact, plus the fear of coronavirus, will have a more dramatic impact than any event we’ve seen the health care system weather in my lifetime.”

The disruption stretches from large, top-ranked hospitals like the Mayo Clinic to small, rural facilities, which all report losing between 40 to 70 percent of their patient volume.

It may ultimately leave Americans with less access to medical care, according to financial analysts, health economists and policy experts. “There is a huge threat to our capability to provide basic services,” Dr. Blumenthal said.

As high school and college come to a close for the Class of 2020, the coronavirus has upended the traditional celebrations that accompany those milestones.

Instead of walking across a stage to cheers, the nation’s nearly 3.7 million high school seniors and some 3 million college graduates will receive their diplomas in the mail or on their phones. And commencement speakers will offer life advice through a webcam, instead of looking across a sea of smiling graduates.

Oprah Winfrey will offer a commencement speech in a live-streamed celebration hosted by Facebook at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Friday that will feature photographs and videos of graduates around the country. She will be joined — virtually — by more than 75 other celebrities, and Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak, former co-stars of “The Office,” will serve as hosts to the Facebook celebration. Next month, Ms. Winfrey will also headline a virtual graduation ceremony for high school seniors in Chicago, where she filmed her top-rated talk show for more than two decades.

On Saturday, former President Barack Obama is scheduled to give two commencement speeches, the first at 2 p.m. Eastern for graduates of historically black colleges and universities, and another during a prime time special for high school graduates, airing at 8 p.m. Eastern on all the major television networks..

Mr. Obama is also scheduled to speak at a YouTube-hosted commencement on June 6, along with Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and the K-pop group BTS.

For more than 50 years, Cornelia Vertenstein, 92, has taught piano lessons from her home in Denver. Every week, through all those years, a parade of children came to her door, books in hand.

They practiced for an hour at the Chickering & Sons piano that Ms. Vertenstein and her former husband, both Holocaust survivors from Romania, bought for $600 in 1965, two years after landing in the United States.

And when the children left, at least the little ones, Ms. Vertenstein gave them a sticker for encouragement. They gave her a hug.

The coronavirus has put an end to those visits. But Ms. Vertenstein would not let it put an end to the lessons. And she certainly would not let it cancel spring recitals.

“I believe strongly in continuity,” Ms. Vertenstein said. “My students learn to be persistent in what they are doing. I try to teach them not only how to learn, but how to work.”

She insisted that the lessons would continue. She called the students on their cellphones, using FaceTime on her iPad, at the exact time when their lessons were scheduled.

“They know that when she calls, they need to be at the piano, books prepared, with a pencil and already warmed up,” said Yvette Frampton, a mother of three of Ms. Vertenstein’s students.

In summer resort towns across the United States, livelihoods for the year are built in the 15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

It is during those weeks that tourists from around the country and the world arrive to bask on the beach and gather for festivals and weddings, and tour operators, hoteliers, innkeepers, restaurant employees and others earn the bulk of their annual income.

But this year, with Memorial Day — the kickoff for summer — approaching, there will be fewer guests to welcome and likely no sizable weddings or festivals to host. Business owners in resort areas as disparate as Cape Cod, Mass., and Lake Chelan, Wash., say that as the start of summer approaches, they are having to face the difficult reality that little money will be made this year.

“I was all booked for next weekend and Memorial Day weekend, which is when things really kick off, but now everything has been canceled and we have zero income,” said Barb Rishel, the owner of the Wellington Inn, a 10-room bed-and-breakfast in Traverse City, Mich. “It’s devastating. It’s bleak.”

Tips for finding the right therapist.

Considering starting therapy? Even if you’re meeting online, an interview can help you determine whether or not the therapy, or the therapist, is a good fit.

Follow global updates from Times correspondents.

Industrial production surged last month in China, according to data released on Friday.

Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Eileen Sullivan, Mary Williams Walsh, Erica L. Green, Katie Thomas, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Knvul Sheikh, Marc Santora, Ben Casselman, Sapna Maheshwari, Sarah Mervosh, William K. Rashbaum, J. David Goodman, Jeffrey C. Mays, Joseph Goldstein, Karen Barrow, John Branch, Julie Bosman, Kay Nolan, Campbell Robertson, Sheila Kaplan, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sarah Kliff and Tariro Mzezewa.





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