Coronavirus Live Updates: Trump Claims ‘Total’ Authority as States Make Pacts for Reopening
Rift between White House and states threatens a cohesive response.
Even as the sense of crisis in New York was easing, it was deepening in neighboring New Jersey, where new infections were surging and shortages of tests were forcing thousands of residents to wait for hours simply to get swabbed, and then days to receive results.
In Bergen County, adjacent to New York City and the hardest hit of New Jersey’s 21 counties, more than 10,000 infections have been detected.
Across the state, nearly 2,500 people have died.
“To put that in perspective, that is more than the number of New Jersey people who gave their lives in the Korean and Vietnam wars,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at his daily briefing on Monday. “These numbers hit us right square in the gut. Our hearts are with every family.”
The state’s tracking website showed that 118,097 tests had been reported, with more than 64,000 positive results — a rate that suggested much wider infection.
Mr. Murphy said that while his state’s curve was “flattening,” it had yet to reach a plateau in infections and hospitalizations, and as officials talked about the epidemic moving across the country in a wave, the struggle in New Jersey was a reminder that no state can succeed on its own.
With their fates tied together, the governors of seven northeastern states announced a coalition to fight the virus and to start early planning to reopen businesses.
The East Coast alliance between the leaders of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island was matched by a similar pact among the three West Coast states: California, Oregon and Washington.
Those moves apparently enraged President Trump, who, in an extended diatribe, claimed his authority to decide when it would be safe to ease restrictions and reopen the economy was “total.”
“The president of the United States calls the shots,” Mr. Trump said. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”
In response, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York questioned how Mr. Trump could claim the authority to open the economy when he had earlier said that he lacked the authority to close it down.
Later, in an interview with CNN, the governor added: “You don’t become king because of a national emergency.”
Vice President Mike Pence later softened the White House’s stance, saying the federal government would work with the states to reopen for business.
The president’s reversal raised profound constitutional questions about the real extent of his powers and set him once again on a potential collision course with the states. For weeks, he sought to shift blame to the governors for any failures in handling the virus, presenting himself as merely a supporting player. Now as the tide begins to turn, he is claiming the lead role.
“The president of the United States calls the shots,” he said at his evening news briefing. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.”
Asked what provisions of the Constitution gave him the power to override the states if they wanted to remain closed, he said, “Numerous provisions,” without naming any. “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total.”
The schism threatens widespread confusion if the president and governors end up at loggerheads over how and when to begin resuming some semblance of normal life in the country once the risk of the virus starts to fade sufficiently. Conflicting orders by Washington and state capitals would leave businesses and workers in the untenable position of trying to decide which level of government to listen to when it comes to reopening doors and returning to work.
The shift was just the latest of many conflicting messages sent by Mr. Trump during the course of the pandemic. At various points, he has played down the seriousness of the coronavirus, then called it the most serious situation the nation has ever confronted. He has defended China for its handling of the original outbreak, and assailed China for its handling of the original outbreak. He has called for strict social distancing, then called for reopening by Easter, then called off the plan to reopen.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the economy into a slowdown of unknown severity. Many experts have been predicting a long, drawn-out recession. Others, including President Trump, project a sharp dip followed by a swift recovery.
The stock market, which has soared 23 percent from its low, is signaling that many investors expect a quick rebound. But that optimism will be tested over the coming weeks when large companies report their quarterly financial results for the first three months of the year and predict the pandemic’s effect on their business.
“Earnings season,” as it’s known on Wall Street, usually fascinates only professional investors. And corporate executives, always reluctant to discuss problems, may be even less forthcoming about them now. But with millions of jobs on the line and businesses shuttering every day, this deluge of company information, and any light it sheds, will take on a new importance.
What should you watch for? The willingness of banks to continue offering loans; the list of companies that apply for government aid, and the ones who don’t; and if the bullishness of investors reflects reality in the stock market.
For weeks, the Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has hewed closely to the message coming from President Trump. This week, that message was all about planning to get the economy moving and returning to some semblance of normalcy.
So when Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Scott A. Rivkees, suggested on Monday that there would be no real return to normal until there was a vaccine — something experts think is at least a year away — he was most definitely not on message.
Dr. Rivkees had no sooner told reporters that Floridians would have to get used to wearing face masks and practicing social distancing measures than he was pulled away from the news conference by the governor’s spokeswoman.
“As long as we’re going to have Covid in the environment, and this is a tough virus, we’re going to have to practice these measures so that we are all protected,” Dr. Rivkees said. “Until we get a vaccine, which is a while off, this is going to be our new normal and we need to adapt and protect ourselves.”
In a video that was being widely circulated on social media, the governor’s communications director, Helen Aguirre Ferré, rushed over to whisper in Dr. Rivkees’s ear before the two left the room.
In an email to the Miami Herald, a spokesman for Dr. Rivkees did not say how the surgeon general had reached his conclusion on social distancing or whether the governor had agreed with it.
“Social distancing and improved hygiene have proven to be effective in impeding the spread of Covid-19,” the spokesman, Alberto Moscoso, wrote. “Until a vaccine is available, precautions will need to be taken to ensure public health.”
In an effort to ease the stress facing students who are having difficulty attending school remotely, the Los Angeles Unified School District said on Monday that no student would receive a failing grade in the spring semester. Students, it said, could only improve their grades with any work done since the district switched to remote learning last month.
The district also said that the rest of the school year and summer school would be conducted remotely.
The switch to remote learning by districts around the country has led to high levels of absenteeism, particularly among low-income students, many of whom don’t have access to computers or internet at home. Los Angeles said at the end of March that about a third of its high school students were not logging in for classes.
The district’s superintendent, Austin Beutner, said in a video message on Monday that his own family was facing challenges while working from home together, but that it was fortunate to have “a nice roof over our heads and to know where the next meal is coming from.” Those circumstances, he noted, are not the case for many of the students the district serves.
The weight of students’ anxieties “was made very real for me late one evening last week,” he said, “when I received a message from a student having suicidal thoughts because of the pressure she was feeling about school and all of the chaos around her.”
For close to 70 years, Georgia has had a broad ban on people donning face masks in public — a policy, a court once noted, written to combat racist violence and “to safeguard the people of Georgia from terrorization by masked vigilantes.”
But with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging people to wear cloth facial coverings in public, the law is now on hold. Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed an executive order on Monday to suspend the law for people wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus, said he wanted to ensure “people can follow the guidance of public health officials without fear of prosecution.”
The law, which the State Supreme Court upheld in 1990 after a challenge by a member of the Ku Klux Klan, ordinarily makes it a misdemeanor in many instances if someone wears “a mask, hood or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer.” The measure has a list of exceptions, including permitting masks for theatrical or Halloween costumes, but there is no public health exemption.
Alarmed by an episode elsewhere that led to two men being ejected from a store for wearing masks because of the pandemic, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta had already ordered police officers in Georgia’s capital not to arrest or cite people who wore facial coverings for health reasons.
State Senator Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of Georgia’s Democratic Party, had also warned Mr. Kemp that keeping the law on the books as usual could lead to greater racial profiling of black people by the authorities.
Just about a month ago, people stricken with the new coronavirus started to arrive in unending ranks at hospitals in the New York metropolitan area, forming the white-hot center of the pandemic in the United States.
Now, doctors in the region have started sharing on medical grapevines what it has been like to re-engineer, on the fly, their health care systems, their practice of medicine, their personal lives.
Medicine routinely remakes itself, generation by generation. For the disease that drives this pandemic, certain ironclad emergency medical practices have dissolved almost overnight.
The biggest change: Instead of quickly sedating people who had shockingly low levels of oxygen and then putting them on mechanical ventilators, many doctors are now keeping patients conscious, having them roll over in bed, recline in chairs and continue to breathe on their own — with additional oxygen — for as long as possible.
The idea is to get them off their backs and in that way make more lung available. A number of doctors are even trying patients on a special massage mattress designed for pregnant women because it has cutouts that ease the load on the belly and chest.
A group of church leaders in Southern California filed a lawsuit on Monday against Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials, arguing that social distancing orders violated the constitutional right to assemble and freedom of religion.
California instituted a sweeping stay at home order on March 19, and many public health officials have pointed to the early actions as critical in keeping the outbreak in the state in check.
The stay at home orders, accompanied by strict limitations on how many people can gather in public, have impacted religious services of all faiths.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, argued that since the state considers “coffee baristas, burger flippers, and laundromat technicians to be so necessary for society,” religious services should be granted exemptions.
Religious gatherings have been at the center of disputes across the country and the Justice Department has signaled that it may take action.
Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the department, wrote on Twitter recently that Attorney General William P. Barr was monitoring the regulations being put in place across the country.
“While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly,” she wrote on Saturday. “Expect action from DOJ next week!”
Before Easter, Mr. Newsom said that those planning to worship could continue to do so in a safe manner.
“As you pray, move your feet at least six feet apart from someone else,” he said. “Practice your faith, but do so in a way that allows you to keep yourself healthy, keep others healthy.”
Feeling a sense of panic? Some tools can help cope.
In the middle of a pandemic, it’s natural to have moments of fear and anxiety. Sometimes, just knowing what’s happening can help, whether it’s learning about how to manage emotions on a personal level or understanding how to put the virus into context on a broader scale.
The spread of the virus through the food and grocery industry is expected to disrupt the production and distribution of products like pork, industry executives, labor unions and analysts have warned in recent days. The issues follow nearly a month of stockpiling of food and other essentials by panicked shoppers that have tested supply networks to the limits.
Industry leaders and observers acknowledge that the shortages could increase, but they insist it is more of an inconvenience than a major problem. People will have enough to eat; they just may not have the usual variety. The food supply remains robust, they say, with hundreds of millions of pounds of meat in cold storage. There is no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food or its packaging, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Still, the illnesses have the potential to cause shortages lasting weeks for a few products, creating further anxiety for Americans already shaken by how difficult it can be to find high-demand staples like flour and eggs.
In one of the most significant signs of pressure since the pandemic began, Smithfield Foods became the latest company to announce a shutdown, announcing Sunday that it would close its processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D., after 230 workers became ill with the virus. The plant produces more than 5 percent of the nation’s pork.
“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” Smithfield’s chief executive, Kenneth M. Sullivan, said in a statement.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Jim Dwyer, Marc Santora, Annie Correal, Michael Corkery, Peter Eavis, Jan Hoffman, Miriam Jordan, Matt Phillips, Kate Taylor, Davie Yaffe-Bellany and Alan Blinder.
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