Coronavirus Live Updates: Staggering Unemployment Hits States as House Votes on Aid Package


As states face a downturn worse than the Great Recession, McConnell suggests they consider bankruptcy.

During the Great Recession, tax collections fell so steeply that state and local governments furloughed and laid off police officers and cut aid to key services like health care, transportation and schools. Some cities turned off streetlights to save on electricity, and Hawaii cut its school aid so much that it closed them down altogether on many Fridays.

The current downturn is shaping up to be worse, and bipartisan groups of governors and mayors from around the country have been pleading with Washington for aid to help them keep workers on their payrolls as they grapple with a growing public health and economic crisis.

But Congress did not provide money for state governments in the new $484 billion aid package that the House was expected to pass on Thursday, after Democrats failed to persuade Republicans to do so, setting up the next political battle over pandemic relief.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, made it clear that he was reluctant to give them federal aid, suggesting that some should consider bankruptcy.

“I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”

It is true that some states, including Illinois, were struggling with enormous pension fund shortfalls before the pandemic sent the markets plummeting, eroding the values of their funds and adding to their current budget woes. But many states and cities that were doing well before the virus hit are now seeing their tax collections fall off a cliff, which could force them to furlough and lay off workers and cut services as the crisis has driven needs higher than usual.

States now do not have the ability to declare bankruptcy to reduce their financial obligations, but Mr. McConnell raised the possibility of letting them do so.

“I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route,” he said.

The National Governors Association, a bipartisan group of governors from around the country, wrote federal officials this week pleading for $500 billion to help them make up for lost tax revenues during what they called “the most dramatic contraction of the U.S. economy since World War II.”

“These continuing losses will force states and territories not only to make drastic cuts to the programs we depend on to provide economic security, educational opportunities and public safety, but the national economic recovery will be dramatically hampered,” the group’s chairman, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, wrote with its vice chairman, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat.

Mr. Hogan said in an interview with Politico on Thursday that he thought Mr. McConnell would come to “regret” his remarks. “The last thing we need in the middle of an economic crisis is to have the states all filing bankruptcy all across America and not able to provide services to people who desperately need them,” he said. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat, was blunter, calling Mr. McConnell’s comments “nuts” in an appearance Thursday on ABC’s “The View.”

In New York State, where officials were forecasting a shortfall of between $10 billion and $15 billion, Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state comptroller, wrote in a report this week that the crisis had left “greater uncertainty this year than ever before as to the level of funding the state will be able to provide for school districts, health care providers, local governments and others.”

Mr. McConnell’s staff issued his statement under the heading “Stopping Blue State Bailouts,” which suggested that the top Senate Republican was singling out heavily Democratic states such as California, Illinois and New York, which have been hit hard in the pandemic.

Mr. Cuomo accused Mr. McConnell of hyperpartisanship, calling the “blue-state bailout” label “vicious.”

“How ugly a thought,” Mr. Cuomo said Thursday. “Think of what he is saying. People died — 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominately Democrats, so why should we help them?”

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said Thursday that the state had experienced its “deadliest day” since the start of the pandemic, with 115 Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday.

That brings the total number of those lost — each one representing an individual and a family “torn asunder,” as Mr. Newsom has repeated in his daily news briefings — to 1,469.

According to The Times’s tracking, there have been 37,866 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state.

Nonetheless, the White House remains resolutely upbeat. Vice President Mike Pence predicted on Thursday that epidemic will be “largely … behind us” by Memorial Day, on May 25: “Honestly, if you look at the trends today, I think by Memorial Day weekend we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us,” he said on Geraldo Rivera’s Cleveland radio show.

The California governor was more somber than that. While Mr. Newsom noted that hospitalizations and patients in intensive care had decreased slightly from the day before, he said the number of deaths should serve as a warning that even as the weather warms and Californians may be tempted to flock to beaches or gather outdoors, the virus was still an insidious force.

“Let’s not dream of regretting,” he said. “Stay home to the extent possible.”

He also urged patience for local leaders and other Californians who had asked when the state would ease orders to stay at home. “It’s not a date, it’s an indicator,” Mr. Newsom said, referring to the list of six broad measures his office laid out last week that would determine when it would be safe to loosen some restrictions.

One major issue is that the state will need to significantly ramp up testing capacity, which Mr. Newsom’s office and a state task force have been working on. Legions of contact tracers are also being trained to help track and halt any outbreaks.

Still, Mr. Newsom on Wednesday announced a first modest step in that direction: Hospitals would again be scheduling what are called elective procedures, a term that can include medically necessary procedures like tumor removals.

The House on Thursday established a special committee to investigate the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the multi-trillion-dollar government rescue effort, defying President Trump’s objections and opposition from Republicans.

The party-line vote, 212-182, to create the oversight panel came shortly before the House was to give final approval to the latest round of government relief, a $484 billion package to revive a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and support hospitals and coronavirus testing.

The committee, which will have the power to subpoena documents and witnesses, is charged with examining the implementation of the coronavirus relief packages enacted over the last two months, and scrutinizing “preparedness for and response to the coronavirus crisis.” That includes the administration’s handling of testing and containment, the distribution of equipment and medical supplies and the development of a treatment.

“We are talking about how this money is spent as we go forward,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Thursday. “This isn’t about assigning blame. This is about taking responsibility.”

Last month when Ms. Pelosi announced she would form the panel, Mr. Trump dismissed it as a partisan “witch hunt.” Republicans fought the committee’s creation, with leaders actively encouraging rank-and-file lawmakers to vote against it on Thursday, and it was unclear whether they would participate.

The panel was to be led by Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat, and will have up to six other Democrats, as well as up to five Republicans.

“I don’t see the use,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader. “We have an oversight committee. Every single committee has oversight. I want them all working, and the committees coming back together.”

The aid measure was expected to draw bipartisan support.

The House is voting on a $484 billion aid plan and the formation of a special oversight committee.

The House is voting Thursday to give final approval to a $484 billion package to revive a depleted loan program for small businesses and provide additional funding for testing and hospitals.

The legislation, the latest round of government aid to address the pandemic and its economic effects, is expected to pass through the chamber on a broad bipartisan margin. The Senate on Tuesday approved it on a voice vote.

As Carl Hulse notes in his news analysis, Democrats have now blocked two consecutive rescue packages and withstood withering criticism from Republicans to win concessions — and hundreds of billions of additional dollars — they said were vital.

The latest measure ended up being almost twice the size and much broader in scope than the original bill Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, had tried to push through two weeks earlier without negotiations.

It was a potentially dangerous strategy for Democrats, particularly in an election year, but their willingness to take on those risks reflected their confidence that the terrain of the current debate — a public health crisis and economic disaster that will require the broadest government relief effort since the post-World War II era — played to their core strengths as a party. But it may affect their leverage in the next fight over a much larger stimulus measure that is likely to top $1 trillion.

Stocks on Wall Street ended unchanged as an early rally, fueled by a spike in oil prices, faded. It’s not the first time in recent weeks that investors have shrugged off bad economic news, as the shock of the devastation caused by the pandemic has eased.

The relentless increase in the jobless has intensified the debate over when to lift restrictions that have helped halt the virus’s rapid spread but placed the economy in a stranglehold.

State agencies have scrambled to handle the overwhelming flood of filings as well as a set of federal eligibility rules instituted to deal with the crisis.

With government phones and websites clogged and drop-in centers closed, legal aid lawyers are fielding complaints from people who say they don’t know where else to turn.

“Our office has received thousands of calls,” said John Tirpak, a lawyer with the Unemployment Law Project, a nonprofit group in Washington.

Pain is everywhere, but it is widespread among the most vulnerable.

In a survey that the Pew Research Center released on Tuesday, 52 percent of low-income households — below $37,500 a year for a family of three — said someone in the household had lost a job because of the virus, compared with 32 percent of upper-income families (with earnings over $112,600). Forty-two percent of families in the middle have been affected as well.

Those without a college education have taken a disproportionate hit, as have Hispanics and African-Americans, the survey also found.

Many states are scrambling to process an avalanche of jobless claims from the crisis, struggling with overloaded websites and phones that don’t answer. But Florida has emerged as one of the slowest in the nation.

Hundreds of thousands of workers have been waiting for weeks for a check. It has taken some as long as that to file. As Florida’s unemployment website became unusable under the weight of the traffic, the state agreed this month to accept paper applications, a tacit acknowledgment that the system was all but broken. Florida’s breakdown became a national symbol of distress, when footage of a snaking line for those applications outside the public library in Hialeah, a blue-collar city outside Miami, went viral online.

The debacle has become an embarrassment for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who has had to spend more and more time addressing the shortcomings. He called the system “cumbersome” last week and acknowledged that only 4 percent of 850,000 pending claims had been paid. He appointed an unemployment czar and signed executive orders waiving some requirements to ease the traffic on the website. The number of paid claims has slowly inched up.

But the fixes follow what experts say has been an intentional weakening of the unemployment system over a decade, aimed at reducing taxes on employers, that has left Florida particularly ill-equipped to handle the crisis. The state’s unemployment benefits are among the lowest in the nation: The maximum is just $275 a week. (A new federal relief law will augment that; it pays $600 per week on top of state benefits.)

“Florida is a terrible state to be an unemployed person,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert at the National Employment Law Project in Washington. “It’s hard to get in. Once you do it’s easy to get disqualified. The benefit level is way below average. And that was before the crisis.”

Mr. DeSantis said that easing the benefits gridlock is his top priority, and blamed the unprecedented number of claims for the breakdown. “Not nearly enough” applications have been processed, he said.

An abstract published in error on the W.H.O. website suggested that an experimental drug, remdesivir, was not helping coronavirus patients in a trial conducted in China.

The abstract was quickly removed by W.H.O. officials, but not before Stat, a medical news site, reported the findings.

In fact, the trial was terminated because not enough patients could be enrolled and before any real conclusions could be drawn, Gilead said on Thursday.

“Because this study was terminated early due to low enrollment, it was underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions,” said Chris Ridley, a company spokesman. “As such, the study results are inconclusive.”

The data had not been peer-reviewed and would undergo further revision, he added.

Remdesivir is under investigation in several trials as a treatment for Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The study in China was supposed to enroll 453 patients, but just 158 were treated with remdesivir and 78 got a placebo.

When clinical trials are planned, investigators establish the number of participants required to see an intended effect. In this trial, outcomes were to include a number of measures, including hospital discharge and death.

The terminated study said there were no “clinical or virological benefits,” Stat reported. More than 11 percent of those taking remdesivir had to stop because of adverse events, compared with 5.1 percent of those taking the placebo.

As the pandemic emerged, many placed their hopes in remdesivir, which was designed as a broad-spectrum antiviral and was tested in the Ebola epidemic five years ago, with disappointing results.

Hundreds of patients have gotten the drug from Gilead outside of clinical trials, under legal exceptions for compassionate use. Two optimistic case reports have been published in the influential New England Journal of Medicine.

Other randomized trials are underway in the United States and China, including one by the National Institutes of Health. Early results are expected soon.

A lawmaker says she wants to hold hearings on the ouster of a key health official.

Representative Anna G. Eshoo, the chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, said on Thursday that she planned to hold hearings into the forced departure of Dr. Rick Bright as the director of a key agency involved in developing a vaccine to combat the virus.

“I know that life is difficult for members to travel, but we can’t let that get in the way, and I’m sure that other members would want to be a part of a hearing as well,” Ms. Eshoo, Democrat of California, told Maggie Haberman of The Times. She helped create the agency that Dr. Bright oversaw, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Dr. Bright was abruptly pushed from his post this week, leading him to issue a remarkable public statement accusing the Trump administration of putting cronyism over science, especially in the promotion of two malaria drugs that the president has touted as “game changers” in the treatment of the virus.

Ms. Eshoo said she would like to hear from were the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, and an assistant secretary, Dr. Robert P. Kadlec, who supervised Dr. Bright, among other witnesses.

“I think the American people deserve to know what happened here, because all of our collective fate rested on” the development of a vaccine, she said.

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, formally requested that the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general also look into Dr. Bright’s removal and abrupt transfer to the National Institutes of Health.

“Removing Dr. Bright in the midst of a pandemic would raise serious concerns under any circumstances, but his allegations that political considerations influenced this decision heighten those concerns and demand full accountability,” Mr. Pallone wrote.

In his statement, Dr. Bright said, “Contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit. While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public.”

Officials at H.H.S. have disputed Dr. Bright’s account and insisted there were problems with his management style. But they have so far refused to say so on the record.

A performance review dated last September and signed by Dr. Kadlec concluded, “Dr. Bright continues to lead change in BARDA with deftness and enthusiasm.”

Ms. Eshoo said that she had worked with Dr. Bright and that he is “a thoroughbred professional.”

“This is a terrible, swift sword that has come at science, and Dr. Bright,” she said.

Georgia’s Republican governor on Thursday appeared undeterred by a torrent of resistance, led by Mr. Trump, to his plan to allow many businesses to reopen this week.

Less than 24 hours after Mr. Trump said he opposed Gov. Brian Kemp’s strategy, Mr. Kemp used his Twitter account to publicize a list of frequently asked questions about how Georgia intended to relax its rules.

He gave no indication that he intended to reverse his decision, announced on Monday, for what he described as a measured process meant to bolster the economy. The governor’s plan gives permission to gyms, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday. Then, on Monday, restaurants are allowed to resume dine-in service, and movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen.

The decision was immediately assailed, as public health experts, the mayors of Georgia’s largest cities and others warned that it stood to have perilous consequences. Business owners who were otherwise eager to revive their livelihoods said they would hold off. Then on Wednesday evening, Mr. Trump, said the plan appeared premature given the number of virus cases in the state.

“I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he is doing,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “I think it’s too soon.”The death toll in Georgia stood at 872 on Thursday, having risen by more than 100 since Mr. Kemp announced his reopening plans on Monday. And the state has now confirmed 21,512 cases, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported, up from 18,947 on Monday.

Mr. Trump’s head-spinning criticism of Mr. Kemp’s plan has sown confusion among Georgia Republicans, who saw Mr. Kemp, a full-throated Trump fan, win the governorship in 2018 on the strength of a presidential endorsement. It has also sent a confusing message to other Republican governors who are confronting politically fraught decisions over whether they should loosen their own restrictions in the coming days.

On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, which borders Georgia, said he would extend his state’s stay-at-home order until May 8, saying on Twitter, “we need to slow the virus before we can ease restrictions.”

Mr. Kemp acknowledged speaking with Mr. Trump in a series of Twitter posts after the president’s briefing. And while he praised Mr. Trump for his “bold leadership and insight,” he gave no indication he was reconsidering his decision.

“Our next measured step is driven by data and guided by state public health officials,” he wrote.

States around the nation have been trying to balance combating a public health crisis with the need to ameliorate a growing economic crisis. In some states, small protests — with the support of some conservative groups — have urged governors to ease restrictions. But polls have found that Americans are more fearful of easing restrictions too early than too late, and some business leaders have cautioned against moving too quickly to reopen.

On Wednesday, Mayor Carolyn Goodman of Las Vegas called for the city’s casinos, restaurants and other businesses to immediately reopen but declined to provide any guidance on social distancing measures that might protect employees and customers.

“They better figure it out,” she said in an interview on CNN, during which she said she had offered the city “to be a control group” for relaxing restrictions.

The mayor, an independent, does not have the power to reopen the city’s economy, but Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada, a Democrat, and the largest union representing Las Vegas casino workers swiftly condemned her comments. “I will not allow the citizens of Nevada, our Nevadans, to be used as a control group,” Mr. Sisolak said.

The Trump administration is moving migrant teenagers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers as they turn 18, putting them at greater danger of exposure to the virus. The health risks with the spread of the virus are a new concern for the policy — that some question if it is even legal.

As of Wednesday night, ICE had confirmed 287 cases among detainees and 35 cases among staff members.

Migrants under 18 have been held in relatively benign shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Immigrations lawyers have said that the safest option for these teenagers would be that they are released to a sponsor, but short of that, the young migrants should be held in shelters and group homes where there is more space and better care than at the detention facilities. The administration’s system of deciding where to place such “age outs” exemplifies the extent of the president’s hard-line immigration policies.

“Our clients are terrified of the prospect of being transferred to a secured detention facility with large numbers of people in close, confined settings, which is in direct contravention with C.D.C.’s advice on how to save oneself from this pandemic,” said Anthony Enriquez, the director of the unaccompanied minors program at Catholic Charities.

The Trump administration has moved to clamp down on immigration as the virus spread, arguing that the efforts would limit additional exposure to Americans and reserve the job market for United States citizens, a theory that past studies have rebuked.

The results come from a state program that randomly tested 3,000 supermarket customers across New York State this week. Nearly 14 percent of those tests came back positive, he said.

If those numbers translate to the true incidence of the virus, they would mean that more than 1.7 million people in New York City, and more than 2.4 million people statewide, have already been infected. These numbers are far greater than the 250,000 confirmed cases of the virus itself that the state has recorded.

Mr. Cuomo declined to speculate further on what the preliminary data might mean. He said its main use would to provide a baseline for tracking changes in the infection rate. (Supermarket customers do not constitute a random sample of the population.)

By the time New York City confirmed its first case on March 1, thousands of infections were already silently spreading through the city, according to a model of the disease by researchers at Northeastern University.

On Thursday, the governor said 438 more people had died, according to official state figures, a number that remained troublingly high as the state’s death toll hit 15,740. The number of virus patients entering hospitals has stayed around 1,350 per day for the last three days. That is down from around 2,000 per day last week.

He also announced that nursing homes in the state would be investigated to ensure that they were following strict rules put in place during the outbreak; facilities found to be in violation of those rules could be subject to fines, or lose their licenses entirely. More than 3,500 people have died in nursing homes, according to state data — roughly 20 percent of all the state’s deaths.

The findings are from a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association describing the characteristics of thousands of Covid-19 patients admitted between March 1 and April 4 to a dozen hospitals in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County that are part of Northwell Health. The paper was written by scientists at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, the research arm of Northwelll; the senior author cautioned that the study was observational in nature, and there was no comparison group with which to contrast frailties or outcomes.

Researchers found dozens of children and teenagers were hospitalized with the virus, but survived. Women showed a clear survival edge — fewer of them were hospitalized to begin with, and they were more likely to survive. One in five of hospital stays ended in death. The mortality rate for those placed on ventilators, 88 percent, was higher than some other early case reports, which found death rates of 50 percent to almost 70 percent, have shown.

But given that the length of hospital stay for the Northwell cases was relatively short, four days on average, it’s possible that those who died were mainly patients who were so ill that they were unlikely to be helped by any treatment.

Like several other reports on smaller patient groups from area hospitals, it indicated that obesity, as well as high blood pressure and diabetes, were common risk factors for severe Covid-19 disease requiring hospitalization. One of the most striking findings was that a mere 6 percent of the hospitalized patients had no underlying health conditions at all.

Wisconsin had barely finished its fight over whether to hold an election in the middle of the pandemic before the state, a key battleground in national elections, began another political brawl over the pandemic itself.

The planned protests have focused attention on the thorny issues governors face as they grapple with the decision over when to ease restrictions, with Mr. Trump alternately encouraging protests calling for states to reopen and warning about the health risks of doing so. And in Wisconsin, a state critical to both Mr. Trump and the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the politics of the virus may serve as a preview of the general election battle to come.

Brian Westrate, the treasurer of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, posted to a private Facebook group for organizers and some attendees of the Madison rally, asking people not to bring emblems of other causes.

“OK folks, I implore you, please leave Confederate flags and/or AR-15s, AK-47s, or any other long guns at home,” Mr. Westrate wrote. “I well understand that the Confederacy was more about states’ rights than slavery. But that does not change the truth of how we should try to control the optics during the event.”

In an interview, Mr. Westrate acknowledged writing the post and said it may be futile to ask the rally participants to limit the variety of their political motivations, saying “you can’t hold a rally in favor of the First Amendment and then become over-draconian in terms of telling people how to dress.”

Here are tips on tending to your budget.

You may be wondering how to cut some expenses right now. One way is to figure out who owes you money from the many services you pay for but aren’t in business right now. Think day camps, gyms and airlines. But when is it fair to ask for your money back? Here are some guidelines to help.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Peter Baker, Karen Barrow, Pam Belluck, Alan Blinder, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Patricia Cohen, Michael Cooper, Jill Cowan, Sheri Fink, Jacey Fortin, Thomas Fuller, Maggie Haberman, Jan Hoffman, Shawn Hubler, Carl Hulse, Lara Jakes, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Gina Kolata, Patricia Mazzei, Andy Newman, Roni Caryn Rabin, Katie Rogers, Rick Rojas, Marc Santora, Dionne Searcey, Eileen Sullivan, Sabrina Tavernise and Neil Vigdor.





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