A whistle-blower tells a House panel to expect the ‘darkest winter in modern history’ if changes are not made.
The whistle-blower who was ousted as head of a federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine charged on Thursday that top Trump administration officials ignored his “dire predictions” about the pandemic, and warned Congress that the Covid-19 outbreak will “get worse and be prolonged” if the United States does not step up its response.
The official, Dr. Rick Bright, who was abruptly removed last month from his position as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, is testifying in person before a House subcommittee. But even before he began, President Trump called for his ouster, dismissing him as a “disgruntled employee.”
“I don’t know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him,” Mr. Trump wrote, “but to me he is a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!”
In his testimony before the health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Dr. Bright warned that “the window is closing to address this pandemic” and said that this year could bring “the darkest winter in modern history” if the administration does not act.
He called on the administration to develop a national testing strategy and create a plan for “equitable distribution of essential equipment and supplies” to eliminate what governors have described as a Wild West free-for-all competition between states.
“Our nation was not as prepared as we should have been, as we could have been,” Dr. Bright testified on Thursday morning.
Dr. Bright has said he was removed from BARDA and reassigned to a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health, after he objected to the wide distribution of a malaria drug that Mr. Trump has promoted as a treatment for Covid-19.
On Thursday, he told lawmakers that he had pressed federal officials early on to stockpile remdesivir, a drug that has proved helpful to virus patients, and was ignored.
Instead, “directed” to create an “expanded access” program for chloroquine and hydroxycholoroquine, two versions of a malaria drug that Mr. Trump was championing as a possible treatment, even in the absence of data about the drugs’ effectiveness. He preferred a clinical trial, he said.
Dr. Bright was not testifying under oath because he said he had come in his personal capacity and as a scientist, which became a point of contention early in the hearing as Republicans complained that he should be sworn in as a government official. Representative Greg Walden, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the arrangement was “pretty confusing and unusual to say the least.”
In his whistle-blower complaint, he accused his superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services of letting “politics” and “cronyism” dictate contracting decisions, and said he was pressured to steer millions of dollars in taxpayer money to the clients of a well-connected consultant. The complaint exposed deep tensions between Dr. Bright and his boss, Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for health and preparedness.
H.H.S. officials have strongly disagreed with Dr. Bright’s characterizations. But the Office of Special Counsel, which is investigating the complaint, has found “reasonable grounds” that Dr. Bright was retaliated against, and has asked for his reinstatement for 45 days while its inquiry proceeds.
A spokeswoman for Dr. Bright’s lawyers said Mr. Azar has not told them whether he would comply with the reinstatement request.
Shortly before the hearing was to begin, Dr. Bright forwarded a letter to the panel from the Office of Special Counsel, saying it had also made a preliminary determination of “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” on the part of H.H.S. officials. The letter, dated May 12, which has not previously been released, said the office had requested that H.H.S. conduct an investigation within the next 60 days, beginning with an interview of Dr. Bright.
While the weekly tally of new claims has been declining since late March, the latest report pushed the eight-week total to more than 36 million, a number that would have been unthinkable before the crisis shut down much of the American economy.
The report comes a day after the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, warned that the United States was experiencing an economic hit “without modern precedent” and risked long-term damage if lawmakers don’t do more to prevent long-term joblessness.
State unemployment insurance and emergency federal relief were supposed to tide households over during the shutdown. But several states have a backlog of claims, and applicants continue to complain of being unable to reach overloaded state agencies.
More than half of those applying for unemployment benefits in recent weeks have been unsuccessful, according to a poll for The New York Times in early May by the online research firm SurveyMonkey.
And 13 states have yet to fully put in place the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that Congress passed in March to help freelancers, self-employed individuals and other workers not normally eligible for state jobless benefits.
Mr. Trump plans to visit 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.
Mr. Trump waded into the fight on Twitter, where he wrote: “The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the U.S.A., for political purposes.”
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 is headed for 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.
The cautions came from all corners but pointed in one direction: The struggle against the virus would be long and the economic consequences lasting.
“It is important to put this on the table: This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” said Mike Ryan, the head of the W.H.O. emergency response team.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci told a Senate panel this week that a vaccine for the virus would almost certainly not be ready in time for the new school year and urged caution in the face of a pathogen that continued to surprise and baffle the world’s leading scientists.
“I think we better be careful, if we are not cavalier, in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects,” Dr. Fauci said. “Children in general do much, much better than adults and the elderly and particularly those with underlying conditions. But I am very careful and hopefully humble in knowing that I don’t know everything about this disease. And that’s why I’m very reserved in making broad predictions.”
The warnings, like so many aspects of the response to the crisis in America, were quickly swept up in dysfunctional political discourse and variously disputed, distorted or dismissed — including by Mr. Trump himself.
The president, whose administration is forecasting a rapid economic rebound as it pushes states to ease restrictions on public life, pressed to reopen the country’s schools and criticized Dr. Fauci’s testimony.
“I totally disagree with him on schools,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on Fox Business on Thursday morning. “And we will have, I call them embers. I call them spikes. And he called — I noticed he used the word spike. Well, you might have that, and we’ll put it out.”
Mr. Trump also said he expected a vaccine to be available by the end of the year, a timeline health experts have advised is unlikely. He also said the military would help with the distribution.
“Our military is now being mobilized, so at the end of the year, we’re going to be able to give it to a lot of people very, very rapidly,” Mr. Trump said without providing specifics.
Just as in a natural disaster like a hurricane, in a public health emergency, the military can be authorized to provide assistance in areas such as distributing supplies and logistics.
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 schools. Mr. Trump takes the advice of several medical experts before making his own decisions, she said. “He makes the best decision based on the data presented to him,” Ms. McEnany said.
One of the most progressive lawmakers in the House and one of the most conservative in the Senate, staring down a pandemic-driven unemployment rate at Great Depression levels, have come to the same conclusion: It’s time for the federal government to cover workers’ salaries.
The progressive, Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, and the conservative, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, are both making the case to their party’s leaders that guaranteed income programs should be part of the federal relief effort.
“We have a situation where people and families in every part of the country are facing this unprecedented crisis, and they are looking for relief,” Ms. Jayapal said in an interview.
“This is a proposal with broad support that should be taken seriously,” she added. “What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for unemployment to reach 50 percent?”
By Wednesday, progressive groups including Indivisible and MoveOn had signaled their support for the legislation even without the paycheck measure. It was on track to pass the House on Friday.
But the revolt reflected the divide among Democrats about how far to go in building a government backstop for workers’ livelihoods.
Mr. Hawley, the Missouri Republican, has introduced a proposal that would cover 80 percent of employers’ payroll costs up to the median wage, about $49,000 a year. A companion bill that Mr. Hawley introduced goes further, providing families and single parents making less than $100,000 with a monthly check for the duration of the crisis.
“Let’s not overthink this,” Mr. Hawley said in unveiling his bill. “These families need relief — now — to pay bills that are coming due, make those emergency grocery runs and get ready for potential medical bills. Let’s get it to them.”
The moves have received a chilly reception from Republican leaders. But support for such ideas on both ends of the ideological spectrum signals how far the political debate has shifted in just a few months.
Wisconsinites woke up to uncertainty and confusion on Thursday about what they should do to limit the spread of the virus. A day earlier, the State Supreme Court overturned a statewide stay-at-home order, prompting some local counties and municipalities to issue their own directives telling residents that they should continue to stay at home.
More than 10,000 cases have been identified in Wisconsin, a Times database shows, and at least 421 people have died.
In an interview, Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, expressed frustration and deep concern about the safety of Wisconsin residents in the days ahead.
“We are in a new chaotic time,” he said.
Mr. Evers had previously issued an order instructing bars, hair salons and other businesses to remain closed until May 26. But the state’s conservative-dominated state Supreme Court rejected his extension of restrictions and sided with Republican legislators who are part of a growing nationwide effort to use the courts to overturn restrictions imposed as part of the effort to slow the spread of the virus.
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.”
Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican majority leader in the State Senate, said that the legislature had been cut out of the process of deciding how the state should react to the virus. He said that lawmakers were more than willing to meet with the governor and work with him on next steps.
But he acknowledged that given the ruling, the state has moved beyond talk of phasing in reopening. “We’re there,” he said.
The fishing frenzy begins 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 fishing crews.
The city has embarked on an all-stops-out 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 city, 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 hold back 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.”
In the chaotic days of late March, as it became clear that New York was facing a catastrophic outbreak, aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo quietly inserted a provision on Page 347 of New York’s final, voluminous budget bill.
Many lawmakers were unaware of the language when they approved the budget a few days later. But it provided unusual legal protections for an influential industry that has been devastated by the crisis: nursing home operators.
The measure, lobbied for by industry representatives, shielded nursing homes from many lawsuits over their failure to protect residents from death or sickness caused by the coronavirus.
Now, weeks later, more than 5,300 residents of nursing homes in New York are believed to have died from the outbreak, and their relatives are finding that because of the provision, they may not be able to pursue legal action against the homes’ operators over allegations of neglect. New York is one of at least 15 states that have granted some form of legal protection to nursing homes and other health care facilities since the beginning of the pandemic.
“They can’t just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘It’s a pandemic,’” said Vivian Rivera-Zayas, who plans to sue the Long Island nursing home that, she said, waited until her mother, who had tested positive for Covid-19, was gasping for breath with a collapsed lung before transferring her to a hospital next door. “There has to be accountability.”
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 coronavirus.
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 coronavirus 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 coronavirus 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 coronavirus 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.
Fall will be quiet this year at San Diego State University. No big lecture classes. No parking lots packed with commuting students. No campus hubbub around Greek life.
But 20 minutes up the freeway at the University of California, San Diego, things could look very different, with tens of thousands of students streaming back to campus, if only to single dorm rooms and socially distanced classrooms.
Across the country this fall, college life is likely to vary from campus to campus — a patchwork that mirrors what is happening in states and communities, as some move toward widespread reopening and others keep their economies mostly closed.
Like the rest of the country, colleges face formidable risks, both human and economic. Students and faculty members must be kept safe and healthy, but so must a segment of the economy that employs nearly four million people and operates as the nation’s predominant social mobility engine.
Higher education experts said the decision on whether to hold in-person classes in the fall would most likely depend on a number of factors, including the type of institution, location, the size of the student body and funding.
“I think we are going to see a lot of variation,” said Laura W. Perna, a professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
When Jamie Williams decided to reopen her East Texas tattoo studio last week in defiance of the state’s coronavirus restrictions, she asked Philip Archibald for help. He showed up with his dog Zeus, his friends and his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
Mr. Archibald established an armed perimeter in the parking lot outside Crash-N-Burn Tattoo, secured by five men with military-style rifles, tactical shotguns, camouflage vests and walkie-talkies. One of them already had a large tattoo of his own. “We the People,” it said.
“I think it should be a business’s right if they want to close or open,” said Mr. Archibald, 29, an online fitness trainer from the Dallas area who lately has made it his personal mission to help Texas business owners challenge government orders to keep their doors shut. “What is coming to arrest a person who is opening their business according to their constitutional rights? That’s confrontation.”
While Gov. Greg Abbott this month allowed a wide range of malls, restaurants and other businesses to reopen after a coronavirus lockdown, bars, salons, tattoo parlors and other enterprises where social distancing is more difficult were ordered to remain closed for a longer period.
The showy displays of local firepower are creating a dilemma for the authorities, who face public demands for enforcement of social-distancing guidelines, but also strong pushback from conservatives in some parts of the state who are convinced that the restrictions go too far.
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.
‘I have given up.’ Readers share their stories of parenting in quarantine.
What does parenting burnout look like during a pandemic? After a column by Farhad Manjoo on the subject, thousands of readers told us about their “new normal.” For many, excessive screen time was the least of their worries.
“Our goal is to survive,” one reader from California said. “No divorce, no getting fired and no children running away from home. If we can do that, I’ll consider us a success story.”
“My house is in shambles,” wrote another. “When I have to do work meetings I point the camera to the highest point possible to hide the chaos on the floor.”
“The threat of the virus,” said a third, “seems minuscule compared to our mental and physical exhaustion.”
Global updates from 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 Patricia Cohen, Tiffany Hsu, Pam Belluck, Marc Santora, Katie Rogers, Catie Edmondson, Julie Bosman, Trip Gabriel, Katie Rogers, Eileen Sullivan, Alan Blinder, Manny Fernandez, David Montgomery, Kim Barker, Karen Barrow, Mike Baker, Amy Julia Harris, Rachel L. Harris, Shawn Hubler, Jesse McKinley, Lisa Tarchak, Neil Vigdor and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.