China mourns its dead, as doubts emerge over its virus toll.
The Chinese government held a nationwide day of mourning on Saturday, the day of the annual Tomb Sweeping Festival, a traditional time for honoring ancestors. Flags flew at half-staff, and alarms and horns sounded for three minutes starting at 10 a.m. Xi Jinping and other leaders of the ruling Communist Party attended a ceremony in Beijing.
It will probably not be enough to soothe many families in the city of Wuhan, who have chafed against the state’s efforts to assert control over the grieving process.
Officials are pushing relatives to bury their dead quickly and quietly, and they are suppressing online discussion of fatalities as doubts emerge about the true size of China’s toll from the virus.
The police in Wuhan, where the pandemic began, have been dispatched to break up groups on WeChat, a popular messaging app, set up by relatives of coronavirus victims. Government censors have scrubbed social media of images that showed relatives lining up at Wuhan funeral homes to collect ashes. Officials have assigned minders to relatives to follow them as they pick burial plots, claim their loved ones’ remains and bury them, grieving family members say.
Liu Pei’en, whose father died after contracting the coronavirus in a Wuhan hospital, said officials had insisted on accompanying him to a funeral home to pick up his father’s remains. Later, they followed him to the cemetery where they watched him bury his father, he said. Mr. Liu saw one of his minders take photos of the funeral, which was over in 20 minutes.
“My father devoted his whole life to serving the country and the party,” Mr. Liu, 44, who works in finance, said by phone. “Only to be surveilled after his death.”
President Trump said on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was urging all Americans to wear a mask when they leave their homes, but he undercut the message by repeatedly calling the recommendation voluntary and saying he would not wear one himself.
“With the masks, it is going to be a voluntary thing,” the president said at the beginning of the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House. “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it. It may be good. It is only a recommendation, voluntary.”
“Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I don’t know,” he added, though he stopped receiving foreign dignitaries weeks ago. “Somehow, I just don’t see it for myself.”
Mr. Trump’s announcement, followed by his quick dismissal, was a remarkable public display of the intense debate that has played out inside the West Wing over the past several days as a divided administration argued about whether to request such a drastic change in Americans’ social behavior. Senior officials at the C.D.C. have been pushing the president for days to advise everyone — even people who appear to be healthy — to wear a mask or a scarf that covers their mouth and nose when shopping at the grocery store or while in other public places.
The president’s briefing was particularly contentious: He insulted reporters, jousted with his own administration and generally returned to pugilistic form.
At one point, he would not say, in response to a question, whether he was taking steps to ensure that the 2020 presidential election would take place as scheduled, should the coronavirus still be present in November. But he insisted the election would not be postponed.
Mr. Trump added that he did not approve of voting by mail, an idea gaining currency amid concerns that in-person voting would expose people to the coronavirus.
“I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in in voting,” he said. “It should be, you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the office leading the U.S. government’s coronavirus response nationwide, is running short of employees who are trained in some of its most important front-line jobs, according to interviews with current and former officials.
At the same time, the agency has been forced to halt a major hiring initiative and has closed training facilities to avoid spreading the infection.
The number of available personnel qualified to lead field operations has fallen to 19 from 44 in less than six weeks, as many of those leaders have been assigned to run operations in states with virus-related disaster declarations. Additional staff members are also being pulled from responding to other disasters.
Training centers in Maryland and Alabama have been shuttered until mid-May, and an effort to recruit new employees is on hold, according to a senior administration official with direct knowledge of FEMA’s operations.
With wildfire season looming and hurricane season starting in less than two months, the shortfalls could complicate federal response to disasters nationwide.
Attorney General William P. Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons on Friday to expand the group of federal inmates eligible for early release and to prioritize those at three facilities where known coronavirus cases have grown precipitously, as the virus threatens to overwhelm prison medical facilities and nearby hospitals.
Mr. Barr wrote in a memo to Michael Carvajal, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, that he was intensifying the push to release prisoners to home confinement because “emergency conditions” created by the coronavirus have affected the ability of the bureau to function.
He directed the bureau to prioritize the release of prisoners from federal correctional institutions in Louisiana, Connecticut and Ohio, which comprise the bulk of the system’s 91 inmates and 50 staff members who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
At least five inmates have died at the federal prison in Oakdale, La., and two have died at the federal prison near Elkton, Ohio. Officials with unions that represent prison workers have said that the reported numbers are likely undercounting the number of infected staff, given the paucity of testing.
President Trump said on Friday night that he planned to nominate a member of the White House counsel’s office to be the special inspector general to oversee the Treasury Department’s $500 billion bailout fund.
Mr. Trump’s selection, Brian D. Miller, is a former federal prosecutor who spent nine years as the inspector general of the General Services Administration. Mr. Miller was nominated for that post in 2004 by President George W. Bush.
The special inspector general is one of several oversight mechanisms created as part of the $2 trillion economic relief package that Congress passed last week. The position will be closely scrutinized, as lawmakers from both parties have been calling for Mr. Trump to fill the role expeditiously to ensure that stimulus money is doled out with transparency and that fraud and favoritism are avoided.
The president raised alarms last week when, after signing the legislation, he released a statement that suggested he had the power to decide what information the new inspector general could share with Congress.
Some corporate leaders are bristling at the potential terms of the grants and loans authorized by the stimulus legislation President Trump signed last week. Boeing’s chief executive, David Calhoun, for one has suggested that the aerospace company could raise money elsewhere if it found the government’s terms too onerous.
Separately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday called for another sweeping aid package to build on the more than $2 trillion in stimulus measures enacted last week, indicating that Democrats would wait to pursue an infrastructure plan and instead focus on urgent action to help Americans weather the economic shocks brought on by the pandemic.
New York, the increasingly battered epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, on Friday reported its highest number of deaths from the virus in a single day, prompting state officials to beg the rest of the country for assistance and to enact an emergency order designed to stave off medical catastrophe.
In the 24 hours through 12 a.m. on Friday, 562 people — or one almost every two-and-a-half minutes — died from the virus in New York State, bringing the total death toll to nearly 3,000, double what it was only three days before. In the same period, 1,427 newly sickened patients poured into hospitals — another one-day high — although the rate of increase in hospitalizations seemed to stabilize, suggesting that the extreme social-distancing measures put in place last month may have started working.
Despite the glimmer of hope, the new statistics were a stark reminder of the gale-force strength of the crisis threatening New York, where more than 102,000 people — nearly as many as in Italy and Spain, the hardest-hit European countries with about 120,000 cases each — have now tested positive for the virus. The situation was particularly dire in New York City, where some hospitals have reported running out of body bags and others have begun to plan for the unthinkable prospect of rationing care.
“It is hard to put fully into words what we are all grappling with as we navigate our way through this pandemic,” Vicki L. LoPachin, the chief medical officer of the Mount Sinai Health System, wrote in an email to the staff on Friday. “We are healing so many and comforting those we can’t save — one precious life at a time.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Friday that the government would “move supplies creatively around the country to meet the needs of both the front-line health care providers but also every American who needs our support right now.”
The Pentagon is considering letting two Navy hospital ships dispatched to New York and California take patients who test positive for the novel coronavirus, Defense Department officials said Friday. A decision could come in the next few days.
Local officials in Germany and France have accused American buyers of outbidding them for protective masks that had been lined up for medical workers fighting the coronavirus in Europe. The masks, they claim, were already at Asian airports, about to be shipped.
A Berlin city legislator said unidentified Americans somehow acquired 200,000 protective masks that had been meant for first-responders and hospital workers in the German capital.
“We consider it an act of modern piracy,” German legislator Andreas Geisel was quoted as saying Friday by the Der Tagesspiegel newspaper. “That’s no way to deal with trans-Atlantic partners.”
German media reported that the masks had been at the airport in Bangkok, where they were supposed to have been loaded onto a Germany-bound plane, but instead were diverted to a plane bound for the United States.
Another shipment of protective masks was in China and bound for the Paris region when, French officials say, it was purchased by unidentified American buyers offering more money.
“It’s true — on the tarmac, the Americans arrive, show the cash, and pay three or four times more for the orders we made,” one official, Jean Rottner of the Grand Est region, told a French radio station. “So we really have to fight.”
In a statement released on Friday, the U.S. Embassy in France said that “the United States government has not purchased any masks intended for delivery from China to France,” adding that “reports to the contrary are completely false.”
Holdout states resist calls for stay-at-home orders.
Around the country, the total number of coronavirus cases spiked sharply as of Friday afternoon, exceeding 275,000 — more than a quarter of a million people worldwide who have been infected.
But even though the U.S. already has more than 7,000 of the world’s nearly 60,000 confirmed deaths, a small number of U.S. governors are resisting increasingly urgent calls to shut down their states.
The pressure on the holdouts in the Midwest and the South has mounted in recent days as fellow governors, public-health experts and even their own citizens urge them to adopt the sort of tougher measures that have been put in place across 41 states and in Washington, D.C.
Health experts warn that the coronavirus can easily exploit any gaps in a state-by-state patchwork of social distancing across the country.
By Friday, nine states had yet to issue formal statewide stay-at-home orders — the most direct and stringent measure available, instructing all residents to stay at home, except for necessities. In some of those states, cities and counties had stepped in to issue their own orders, leaving a patchwork of restrictions.
The contrast is starkest in five states — Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — where there are no such orders in place, either in major cities or statewide. Another four had partial restrictions issued locally in certain cities or counties.
We know, based on data collected in China, Italy, South Korea, Spain and other countries, that men are more likely to die from the coronavirus than women. But the United States — which is collecting data on the ages of confirmed cases and of those who die — is not breaking down its data by sex.
These figures would be informative to vaccine production efforts, in large part because viruses affect women and men differently, health experts say. Men and women are also likely to have different reactions to vaccines and drugs.
Multiple viruses in the past — including for SARS, influenza, H.I.V. and Ebola — were found to have different effects on men and women.
A recent study from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, found that women infected with the coronavirus had a higher level of antibodies than men.
“That, in and of itself, should be evidence for why every country should be disaggregating their data,” said Sabra Klein, a scientist who studies sex difference in viral infections at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Yet, the latest update on cases and deaths in the United States from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contained no mention of male and female patients. When asked why, a spokesperson for the C.D.C. said the agency simply did “not have that information to share at this time” and that “additional investigation is needed.”
Landlords across the city have started to panic. But one of them, Mario Salerno, has told tenants at all 18 of his residential buildings in Brooklyn that they needn’t pay the rent this month.
“STAY SAFE, HELP YOUR NEIGHBORS & WASH YOUR HANDS!!!” Mr. Salerno wrote on signs that he posted at the buildings.
Mr. Salerno, a larger-than-life character in his part of Williamsburg, runs the Salerno Auto Body Shop and gasoline station, which his father opened in 1959. He said in an interview that he did not care about the lost income, which is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
His only interest, he said, was in alleviating stress for his renters, even those who were still employed and working from home.
A day after the Navy removed the captain of the stricken aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt for what it said was poor judgment under pressure, the officer’s crew gave him a rousing send-off as he departed the vessel in Guam.
Capt. Brett E. Crozier had implored his superior officers for more help as an outbreak spread aboard the ship, with almost 5,000 crew members aboard, and described what he said were the Navy’s failures to provide the proper resources to combat the crisis.
Navy officials, angry that the captain’s complaints contained in a letter were leaked to the news media earlier this week, accused him of going outside his chain of command and said he was no longer fit to lead the fast-moving effort to treat the crew and clean the ship.
But the resounding show of support for the captain — captured in several videos posted on social media on Friday — provided a gripping scene: the rank-and-file clapping and cheering their support for a boss who they saw as putting their safety ahead of his career.
More than 130 sailors have been infected so far, a number that is expected to rise by hundreds as the vessel remains docked at Guam.
A leading researcher who fought a different virus; a prodigious songwriter still in his prime; the first black president of the Marseille soccer club; a jazz patriarch.
They are among those who died this week from Covid-19, and were profiled in our series about people lost to the pandemic.
Gita Ramjee: In South Africa, Dr. Gita Ramjee led AIDS studies and drug trials, hoping to overcome not only H.I.V. but also cultural barriers to stopping its spread. On Tuesday, another epidemic claimed her: She died of Covid-19 at a Durban hospital. She had fallen ill shortly after returning from a visit to her sons in London, local news accounts said. She was 63.
Adam Schlesinger: He made suburban characters shine for the band Fountains of Wayne and brought pop-rock perfection to the film “That Thing You Do!” Adam Schlesinger, an acclaimed performer who had an award-winning second career writing songs for film, theater and television, died on Wednesday at 52.
Pape Diouf: Mababa “Pape” Diouf, who became the only black president of a top-tier European soccer club when he was appointed to lead France’s Olympique de Marseille, died at 68 on Tuesday. He was a gifted orator and a defender of the club’s passionate fan base.
Ellis Marsalis: His sons Wynton and Branford gained national fame embodying a fresh-faced revival of traditional jazz. But Ellis Marsalis had been an influential musician and teacher in New Orleans long before that. He died on Wednesday at 85.
Reporting was contributed by Alisha Haridasani Gupta, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt, Matthew Haag, Peter Eavis, Niraj Chokshi, David Gelles, Christopher Flavelle, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Alan Feuer, Helene Cooper, Katie Benner, Alan Rappeport, Michael D. Shear, Sheila Kaplan, Sarah Mervosh, Jack Healy, Amy Qin, Cao Li, Yiwei Wang, Albee Zhang and Alexandra Stevenson.