A whistle-blower tells a House panel that lives were lost because the administration did not heed warnings about the virus.
The whistle-blower who was ousted as the director of a federal medical research agency charged on Thursday that top Trump administration officials ignored his “dire predictions” about the coronavirus and then failed to be fully truthful with the public about its severity, Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported. Americans died unnecessarily as a result, he said.
“Lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost,” Dr. Rick Bright, who was ousted in April as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency, told a House subcommittee.
“I believe by not telling America the truth or being totally transparent regardless of where the information was coming from, people were not as prepared as they could have been,” Dr. Bright later added.
In nearly four hours of testimony, Dr. Bright also warned that the outbreak would “get worse and be prolonged” if the United States did not swiftly develop a national testing strategy and devise a plan for distributing a vaccine to prevent shortages.
“The window is closing to address this pandemic,” he said.
Dr. Bright has said he was removed from BARDA and reassigned to a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health in retaliation for his objections to the wide distribution of a malaria drug that President Trump has promoted as a treatment for Covid-19. In a whistle-blower complaint, he accused his superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services of letting “politics” and “cronyism” dictate contracting decisions. He said he had been pressured to steer millions of dollars in taxpayer money to the clients of a well-connected consultant.
Mr. Trump lashed out at Dr. Bright on Thursday, saying on Twitter that he “should no longer be working for our government” and describing him to reporters as “nothing more than a really unhappy, disgruntled person.”
“We were given very little when we came into this administration,” Mr. Trump said, “and they’ve done a fantastic job.”
But Dr. Bright painted a picture of a deeply dysfunctional department, where his warnings about supply shortages were not heeded, his exhortations to procure potentially helpful drugs were ignored, and superiors pressed him to pursue a favored treatment of Mr. Trump’s whose effectiveness and risks were largely untested.
He told lawmakers that he had pressed federal officials early on to stockpile remdesivir, a drug that has proved helpful to virus patients, but was ignored. Instead, Dr. Bright said, he was directed to create an “expanded access” program for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two versions of a malaria drug that Mr. Trump was championing as a possible treatment, even in the absence of data about their effectiveness. He preferred a clinical trial, Dr. Bright said, adding that ongoing studies of hydroxychloroquine “haven’t shown an overwhelming use or benefit.”
Health and Human Services officials have strongly disagreed with Dr. Bright’s characterizations. But the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates whistle-blower complaints, found “reasonable grounds” that Dr. Bright was retaliated against and has asked for his reinstatement for 45 days while its inquiry proceeds. Shortly before the hearing began on Thursday, Dr. Bright gave the panel a letter in which the office said it had also made a preliminary determination of “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” on the part of the H.H.S. officials who reassigned him.
As unmasked revelers went out to bars and customers returned to hair salons, the leaders of Wisconsin’s six largest cities said it was still too soon to ease restrictions.
A ruling by the State Supreme Court on Wednesday striking down the governor’s stay-at-home order ushered in a new period of uncertainty and partisan rancor during the pandemic.
“We are in a new, chaotic time,” Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, said in an interview after the court sided with Republican lawmakers who had opposed his order instructing many businesses to remain closed until May 26. Their case was part of a growing nationwide effort to use the courts to overturn restrictions put in place to curb the outbreak.
Asked what residents of the state should now do, Mr. Evers said, “My advice is this: Be safer at home. Keep on doing what you have been doing.”
The six largest cities in the state will continue to follow stay-at-home orders. Several mayors and local health officers issued their own directives, with many keeping bars and other businesses closed and banning large gatherings. In Madison, the capital and the seat of Dane County, officials said the court ruling would not affect daily life.
“As far as the guidelines, when you wake up tomorrow it’s going to be the same as when you woke up this morning,” Joe Parisi, the Dane County executive, said at a news conference Wednesday night.
In Kenosha County, south of Milwaukee along Lake Michigan, and where confirmed cases have continued to grow, residents were told the same: It is too early to lift restrictions and go back to normal life.
Jen Freiheit, the county health officer, said the court’s decision “did not come down in favor of public health,” The Kenosha News reported.
But across Wisconsin, a state with nearly six million residents and more than 10,000 confirmed infections, towns and cities declared themselves open for business again.
Melissa Maas, who owns floral shops in two Milwaukee suburbs, said she planned to reopen both on Monday morning.
“Obviously, we could have done it yesterday, but we wanted to put new systems in place,” Ms. Maas said. She plans to limit customers to five at a time and have them process their credit cards themselves instead of handing them to staff members.
But she does not plan to require customers or her employees to wear masks, and she said she would not wear a mask herself unless she was ordered to.
The weekly count of new claims has been declining since late March, but that hopeful flicker barely stands out in an otherwise grim economic landscape.
A new survey by the Federal Reserve found that in households making less than $40,000 a year, nearly 40 percent of those who were working in February lost their jobs in March or the beginning of April.
And despite attempts by states to keep up with the onslaught of claims, many workers remain supremely frustrated, either by their inability to submit applications or by payment delays.
In places where the fitful process of reopening has started, workers who have been called back to their jobs often face reduced hours and paychecks as well as heightened risk of infection. Declining to return, however — whether because of health concerns or the need to care for children while schools are closed — is likely to put an end to any jobless benefits.
“It’s a very tough choice for those in the service industry and those at the lower end of the pay scale,” said Rubeela Farooqi, the chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “Do you go back and risk getting sick, or have no money coming in?”
As job losses mounted, two ideologically opposed lawmakers came to the same conclusion: It is time for the federal government to cover workers’ salaries.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, a progressive Democrat from Washington, and Senator Josh Hawley, a conservative Republican from Missouri, are making the case to their party’s leaders that guaranteed income programs should be part of the federal relief effort.
Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, temporarily stepped down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, a day after F.B.I. agents seized his cellphone as part of an investigation into whether he sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stocks using nonpublic information about the virus.
Mr. Burr sold the stock in mid-February, before the market cratered and while Mr. Trump and some supporters were playing down the threat of the virus. At the same time, Mr. Burr was receiving briefings and involved in conversations suggesting that the country faced a growing health crisis that could hurt the economy.
The seizure and an accompanying search for his electronic storage accounts, which were confirmed by an investigator briefed on the case, represented a significant escalation of the inquiry by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission and suggests Mr. Burr, one of the most influential members of Congress, may be in serious legal jeopardy.
Given the sensitivity surrounding the decision to obtain a search warrant on a sitting senator, the move was approved at the highest levels of the department, a senior Justice Department official said, meaning that Attorney General William P. Barr signed off on it. The warrant to obtain Mr. Burr’s phone was served to his lawyer, and investigators took Mr. Burr’s phone from him at his home, according to the official who, like the investigator, was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The Justice Department declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Burr declined to comment, and his lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The senator has denied he did anything wrong, insisting that he based his trading decisions exclusively on publicly reported information that he read in financial news media accounts out of Asia.
The Los Angeles Times first reported the existence of the search warrant.
Federal investigators have also scrutinized stock trades made by other senators around the same time, including those of Senators James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma; Kelly Loeffler, Republican of Georgia; and Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, according to a person briefed on those cases. All three have said they did nothing wrong.
Mr. Trump visited Pennsylvania on Thursday afternoon, the latest state where the debate over reopening nonessential businesses and easing stay-at-home orders has become fiercely partisan, in part stirred by the president himself.
On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, issued an extraordinary rebuke of Republicans who said they would defy his shutdown orders.
“These folks are choosing to desert in the face of the enemy,” Mr. Wolf said.
Republican officials in half a dozen counties have said they would ignore a stay-home order recently extended to June 4 and allow some businesses to reopen on Friday. Mr. Wolf threatened those counties with the loss of federal relief funds, and businesses with the loss of liquor licenses and other permits.
“We have to get your governor of Pennsylvania to start opening up a little bit,” Mr. Trump said after a tour of a distribution center for masks and other medical supplies. “You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected and they want to keep them closed. Can’t do that.”
Pennsylvania, a state Mr. Trump narrowly won, will again be an electoral battleground this year, and some analysts see a strategy by the president and his supporters to use gut-level anger over shutdowns to drive turnout in November. With most visits and presidential rallies on hold, the Trump campaign has been pouring resources into Pennsylvania, harnessing anger over the shutdown to digitally recruit and train more volunteers.
“I’ve sensed a very, very strong backlash in, quote, the hinterlands,” said Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist in Pennsylvania.
The hitch, however, is that as of now, polls show Mr. Wolf’s handling of the outbreak is far more popular than Mr. Trump’s among Pennsylvanians.
Mr. Trump visited a distribution center for masks and other protective equipment outside Allentown, his 18th visit to Pennsylvania since taking office. He is sure to be back often.
At the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., on Thursday morning, about 200 protesters — some carrying handguns and semiautomatic rifles — gathered to try to keep up pressure on the governor to reopen. The demonstration was smaller and less dramatic than an earlier protest there, when several hundred people gathered at the State House and some entered the building, carrying guns. This time, lawmakers adjourned their sessions before the protest began.
The protesters on Thursday showed their allegiances on signs and flags, bumper stickers and hats — a mix of anti-vaccine and anti-abortion activists, gun rights proponents and Trump supporters.
In New Jersey, beaches, a major tourist draw and economic engine, will open in a limited way by Memorial Day weekend, the governor said on Thursday, adding that local officials would be required to put social-distancing regulations in place, including limiting capacity and ensure six-foot distances. The state reported an additional 244 virus-related deaths, the first time in a week that the number rose above 200. (The state’s daily death tolls can fluctuate because they often include deaths from weeks ago that were only recently confirmed.)
In New York, a five-county, central area has met the criteria to begin reopening some businesses this weekend, the governor said. Another 157 deaths were reported, the fourth straight day the figure was below 200.
In Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the state’s last remaining holdouts still shut down, will begin reopening on Monday, the governor and mayors from both counties announced on Thursday. (Beaches will remain closed.)
Ravi Sharma was doubled over on his bed when his father found him. He’d had a bad cough for a week and had self-quarantined in his bedroom. As an emergency medical technician, he knew he was at risk of infection with the virus.
Now, Mr. Sharma, 27, could not move the right side of his body, and he could only grunt in his father’s direction. His sister, Bina Yamin, on the phone with her father, could hear the sounds Mr. Sharma was making.
“Call 911,” she told her father. “I think Ravi’s having a stroke.” She was right.
Over the next few hours, doctors at a Queens hospital worked frantically to break up a blood clot blocking a main artery to Mr. Sharma’s brain. But the doctors were puzzled. Mr. Sharma was far too young for a stroke. He worked out every day and didn’t have diabetes, high blood pressure or the kinds of medical conditions that can set the stage for strokes in young people.
Neurologists in New York City, Detroit, New Jersey and in other parts of the country have reported a flurry of such cases. Many are now convinced that unexplained strokes are yet another insidious manifestation of Covid-19.
Though the strokes may be rare, they can have catastrophic consequences, including cognitive impairment, physical disability and even death.
“We’re seeing a startling number of young people who had a minor cough or no recollection of viral symptoms at all, and they’re self-isolating at home like they’re supposed to — and they have a sudden stroke,” said Dr. Adam Dmytriw, a University of Toronto radiologist who is one of the authors of a paper describing a series of patients who had strokes related to Covid-19.
For some of these patients, a stroke was the first symptom of a viral infection. They put off going to the emergency room because they didn’t want to be exposed to the virus.
“If you don’t get help, you risk being permanently disabled and needing long-term care,” said Dr. Johanna Fifi, a neurologist at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. “It’s not going to go away on its own.”
California public universities and health care providers face steep budget cuts, the governor says.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California proposed steep cuts to public schools and universities and health care among other programs as part of a revised state budget announced Thursday that reflected the sudden loss of income brought on by the pandemic.
The budget slashes spending by nine percent overall from the initial proposal the governor made in January.
“Our state is in an unprecedented emergency, facing massive job losses and shortfalls in record time,” Mr. Newsom said in a letter to legislators. “This budget reflects that emergency.”
To cushion the blow of a projected 22 percent decline in revenue, the governor proposed drawing down the state’s so-called rainy day reserves of $16 billion over the next three years.
The $203.3 billion proposed budget, if approved by the Legislature, would bring spending back to around 2018 levels. But it would still be well above the levels seen during the Great Recession a decade ago.
Mr. Newsom said he would begin negotiating with unions to reduce the salaries of state employees by 10 percent. The pay cuts would include the governor and his staff. “We recognize these cuts are devastating to so many people,” he said.
Many of the proposed cuts could be canceled if the federal government agreed to additional assistance, the governor said. “The federal government, we need you,” Mr. Newsom said.
The revised budget also scratched more than $80 million that Mr. Newsom had allotted in January to expand the state’s version of Medicaid to undocumented people age 65 and over. The expansion, promised last year to progressives and the Legislature’s Latino caucus, had been a priority in the Legislature this year.
Mr. Newsom’s administration is projecting a nine percent drop in overall economic activity because of the crisis, according to Ana J. Matosantos, the governor’s cabinet secretary. The state is also projecting that unemployment will peak at 25 percent this quarter, she said.
The leaders of the nation’s largest teacher’s union and parent volunteer organization pushed back on Mr. Trump’s efforts to reopen the nation’s schools, saying only one official could reassure them that it was safe to welcome millions of students back.
“I’m waiting for Dr. Fauci,” Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said on a call with reporters on Thursday. “I’m waiting not for a politician, I’m waiting for a medical, infectious disease professional to say, ‘Now we can do it, under these circumstances.’”
Ms. Eskelsen García joined educators and members of the National PTA a day after Mr. Trump had rebuked Dr. Fauci for expressing caution about reopening the schools. Dr. Fauci told a Senate panel on Tuesday that a vaccine for the virus would almost certainly not be ready in time for the new school year and warned that “we better be careful, if we are not cavalier, in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”
His testimony irritated Mr. Trump, who believes that reopening schools is critical to reopening the economy and to his re-election campaign. “I totally disagree with him on schools,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on Fox Business on Thursday morning.
Health officials in New York are investigating more than 100 cases of a rare and dangerous inflammatory syndrome that afflicts children and appears to be connected to the virus. But Mr. Trump has repeatedly minimized the danger the virus poses to children, saying Wednesday: “Now when you have an incident, one out of a million, one out of 500,000, will something happen? Perhaps. But you can be driving to school and some bad things can happen, too.”
School leaders are bracing for severe budget cuts, as they anticipate large new expenses for additional staff members and protective equipment to help mitigate the spread of the virus.
The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said Thursday on “CBS This Morning” that the president still had confidence in Dr. Fauci but that they were “on opposite sides of the equation” when it came to the reopening of schools.
A Texas appeals court ruled against the state’s attorney general on Thursday and allowed voters who fear getting infected by the virus to cast mail-in ballots instead of showing up at the polls.
The ruling is likely only another step in a complex legal process, as other lawsuits on the state’s efforts to limit access to mail-in voting during the pandemic proceed in federal and state courts.
At issue are rules for casting mail-in ballots and whether healthy voters who fear contracting the virus at the polls qualify for such ballots as disabled voters. The Texas Democratic Party, voting rights groups and others who sued the state say they do. But the Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, has said that the election code “does not permit an otherwise healthy person to vote by mail merely because going to the polls carries some risk to public health.”
In a separate legal move on Wednesday, Mr. Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court to order officials in five counties to stop encouraging voters to apply to vote by mail if they feared contracting the virus.
In the latest ruling on Thursday, the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals upheld a lower court order issued last month. In that order, a judge found that voting in person during the pandemic presented a likelihood of injuring a voter’s health, and that “any voters without established immunity meet the plain language definition of disability” and were entitled to mail in their ballots.
The appellate panel ruled that the lower court order remains in effect while further appeals are underway.
The people of Cordova, Alaska, had weathered the pandemic with no cases and the comfort of isolation as a coastal town unreachable by road in a state with some of the fewest infections per capita in the country.
The fishing frenzy began on Thursday, with the season opening for the famed Copper River salmon. But the town of about 2,000 people has been consumed by debates over whether to even allow a fishing season and how to handle an influx of crews.
The town has embarked on an effort to test, trace and isolate every virus case. Tests have been stockpiled to check anyone who develops symptoms. People found to have infections will be quarantined or removed from the town, and their contacts tracked down and tested.
While fishing is at the core of her family and community, Sylvia Lange, a hotel proprietor in Cordova, said she also had concerns about the ability of the city and the industry to control an outbreak as virulent as the coronavirus.
“It’s not easy to be critical of an industry we all love and are dependent on,” Ms. Lange said. “People have said they’ll never set foot again in our business.”
As concerns mount over children afflicted with a potentially deadly inflammatory condition, a new study shed light on the condition’s distinctive characteristics and provided the strongest evidence yet that the syndrome is linked to the virus.
The condition, called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, has been reported in 110 cases in New York State, including in three children who died. New York City has confirmed 100 cases alone, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday, 18 more since the day before. Cases have been reported in other states, including California, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as in Europe.
“This is something where we need to put supreme focus,” Mr. de Blasio said during his daily news briefing. “We have to understand it better. We have to get ahead of it.”
In the new study, published on Wednesday in the journal Lancet, doctors in Italy compared a series of 10 cases of the illness with cases of a similar rare condition in children called Kawasaki disease.
The authors found that over the five years before the pandemic — January 2015 to mid-February 2020 — 19 children with Kawasaki disease were treated at Hospital Papa Giovanni XXIII in the province of Bergamo, which has an advanced pediatric department.
But during the two months from Feb. 18 to April 20 alone, the hospital, located at the center of Italy’s outbreak, treated 10 children with similar hyper-inflammatory symptoms. Eight of them tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
Ten cases in two months — a much higher rate of incidence than Kawasaki disease cases, which occurred at a pace of about one every three months — suggests a cluster that was driven by the pandemic, especially since overall hospital admissions during this time were much lower than usual, the authors said.
None of the 10 children died, but their symptoms were more severe than those experienced by the children with Kawasaki disease. They were much more likely to have heart complications, and five of them exhibited shock, which did not occur in any of the Kawasaki cases. They had lower counts of platelets and a type of white blood cell, typical of Covid-19 patients defending against the infection. And more of the children with the new syndrome needed treatment with steroids in addition to the immunoglobulin treatment that both they and the Kawasaki patients received.
Children who do not have the inflammatory syndrome can also become seriously ill, with respiratory problems.
Another new study paints the most detailed picture yet of American children who were treated in intensive care units throughout the United States as the pandemic was taking hold.
None of the children in the study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, were stricken by the new mysterious inflammatory syndrome. They suffered from the virus’s primary line of attack: the severe respiratory problems that have afflicted tens of thousands of American adults.
The study looked at 48 cases from 14 hospitals, in patients up to age 21, during late March and early April. Two of them died. Eighteen were placed on ventilators and two of them remain on the breathing machines more than a month later, said Dr. Lara S. Shekerdemian, chief of critical care at Texas Children’s Hospital and an author of the study.
Over all, the study both reinforces the evidence that only a small percentage of children will be severely affected by the virus and confirms that some can become devastatingly ill.
When is it safe to go back to the gym?
After a forced period of inactivity, many are wondering whether it is wise to return to shared exercise bikes, weights and treadmills. By their very nature, public athletic facilities tend to be breeding grounds for germs. But there are things you can do to mitigate the risk of infection if you want to get a workout in.
Keep up with Times correspondents around the world.
A commercial extolling Chinese youth, showed online and on state-run television, provoked an immediate nationwide backlash.
Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Kim Barker, Karen Barrow, Pam Belluck, Katie Benner, Alan Blinder, Julie Bosman, Patricia Cohen, Michael Cooper, Catie Edmondson, Nicholas Fandos, Manny Fernandez, Thomas Fuller, Trip Gabriel, Michael Gold, Kathleen Gray, Erica L. Green, Amy Julia Harris, Rachel L. Harris, Tiffany Hsu, Shawn Hubler, Patricia Mazzei, Jesse McKinley, David Montgomery, Kay Nolan, Azi Paybarah, Roni Caryn Rabin, Katie Rogers, Marc Santora, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Lisa Tarchak and Neil Vigdor.