Coronavirus Live Updates: As U.S. Nears 100,000 Deaths, Trump Disputes the Toll

The White House questions the coronavirus death toll and pushes to reopen churches.

As the number of United States deaths from the pandemic approaches 100,000, President Trump and members of his administration have been questioning the official coronavirus toll.

Even as most experts say that the numbers are probably an undercount, White House meetings have turned to questioning whether the toll is inflated by the inclusion of people who died while infected by the coronavirus, but of other conditions.

Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday that he accepted the current death toll but that the figures could be “lower than” the official count, which is now above 95,000. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, has said that America has taken “a very liberal approach” to what counts as a Covid-19 death.

Most statisticians and public health experts say the death toll is probably far higher than what is publicly known, because early Covid-19 deaths were probably misclassified and people are dying in their homes and in nursing homes without being tested.

The president has escalated another dispute by demanding that states “allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.” He threatened to “override” any governors who did not. Legal experts said he did not have such authority, but he could take states to court on grounds of religious freedom.

The rising number of coronavirus deaths in the United States comes as interviews show that Americans believe Washington has not been rising to meet the challenge, suggesting that the coronavirus has further eroded the public’s trust in government. It’s a stark difference from how nations like New Zealand, have handled the outbreak, shoring up the political fortunes of leaders such as Jacinda Ardern.

It also comes as China on Saturday reported no new coronavirus deaths or symptomatic cases — the first time officials there have recorded zero new cases in the country where the outbreak first emerged.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo met blowback on Friday when he eased the ban on large gatherings to allow up to 10 people to congregate “for any lawful purpose or reason” anywhere in the state — including New York City — if social distancing protocols are followed. The move was condemned by an official who said the new order had not been made by health professionals.

Mr. Cuomo’s announcement came after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit objecting to an order from the governor a day earlier to allow groups of up to 10 people at religious services or Memorial Day celebrations.

Violations of the lockdown by prominent figures are a recurring theme in Britain, and the latest involves Dominic Cummings, an enigmatic figure who helped mastermind the Brexit campaign.

Mr. Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most influential adviser, has become the focus of outrage after reports that he had driven from London to northern England in April to see relatives while he was ill with the coronavirus, in violation of the country’s lockdown rules.

“The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings,” said a spokesman for the opposition Labour Party. Leaders of two other opposition parties demanded that Mr. Cummings resign or be fired.

Mr. Cummings became ill in late March, days after Mr. Johnson and another top adviser tested positive.

Confronted by reporters outside his home on Saturday, Mr. Cummings said, “I behaved reasonably and legally.” Asked whether his decision had been “a good look,” he replied: “Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It is not about what you guys think.”

Mr. Johnson released a supportive statement on Saturday, saying that Mr. Cummings had made the trip because his sister and nieces had offered to help with child care.

He is also under pressure to reward the doctors and nurses of the country’s beloved National Health Service, with some Britons even urging that the weekly applause for health care workers end and that the government instead give them higher pay. Many have died during the outbreak, and they have cared for patients while short on protective equipment like masks, gloves and visors.

If you’re gathering for Memorial Day weekend, here’s how to do it safely.

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the United States, when beaches and backyard barbecues beckon. While dozens of states are cautiously allowing small gatherings in public spaces, restrictions and closings may still be in effect.

Many of New York City’s beaches are open, but swimming, grilling and organized sports are prohibited. Strict social-distancing guidelines are being enforced across much of New Jersey’s coastline. Many California beaches are open only for “active uses” like running, swimming and surfing, but not sunbathing or extended stays.

Away from the shores, many parks across the country are open, but some are capping the number of people allowed inside and encouraging brief visits.

As many places continue to reopen, here is guidance on lowering the coronavirus risk and managing anxiety while being out during the pandemic.

Scientists are scrambling to learn whether antibodies drawn from the blood of patients who have recovered from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, might help those who are severely ill.

The treatment has been around for more than a century, but it mostly has been given to patients without thorough testing. Now, blood banks around the world are collecting samples from people who have these antibodies, hoping they will turn out to be an effective remedy.

A study released on Friday night has yielded disappointing results. The research has not yet been peer-reviewed nor published in a scientific journal, but it is said to be the largest examination of the use of so-called convalescent plasma in severely ill Covid-19 patients.

Thirty-nine hospitalized patients were given intravenous infusions of antibodies. The course of illness in patients who received the convalescent plasma was compared to that of similar patients identified through electronic health records who did not receive the treatment.

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York reported that 18 percent of those who got the plasma of convalescent serum became sicker, compared with 24.3 percent of the patients who did not receive the treatment.

The death rates were 12.8 percent among those who got the antibodies, compared with 24.4 percent among the patients who did not get the treatment.

Still, convalescent plasma did not appear to be the silver bullet that scientists have been hoping for. At the moment, only the antiviral drug remdesivir has been shown to be modestly effective in treating patients severely ill with Covid-19.

Even without evidence, however, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of convalescent plasma in very sick Covid-19 patients.

“That train has left the station,” said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, an immunologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

A hair stylist may have exposed 91 people to the virus by working while sick.

A hair stylist in Missouri worked for eight days at a salon while sick with the coronavirus, health officials said, potentially exposing 84 clients and seven co-workers.

The possible spread was an extreme example of what health officials warn is likely to be the cost of reopening businesses. Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, a Republican, allowed many businesses, including salons, to reopen on May 4.

While symptomatic, the stylist showed up for eight shifts at the Great Clips hair salon in Springfield between May 12 and Wednesday, after getting sick following travel within the state, health officials said.

“I’ll be honest — I’m very frustrated to be up here today, and maybe more so I’m disappointed,” Clay Goddard, who leads the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said at a news conference on Friday.

Mr. Goddard said that the 91 clients and co-workers who were potentially exposed would all be tested, and that health officials would begin contact tracing.

He said that while the stylist had not exercised enough personal responsibility, he hoped the salon’s strict enforcement of health policies had prevented many possible infections. The stylist and all of the clients had worn masks, he said, and Great Clips kept detailed records that allowed health officials to contact the clients who might have been exposed.

Mr. Goddard said that the stylist had also visited a fitness center, a Dairy Queen and a Walmart in the last 10 days.

“I’m going to be honest with you: We can’t have many more of these,” he said. “We can’t make this a regular habit, or our capability as a community will be strained, and we will have to re-evaluate what things look like going forward.”

Last Monday, when the Massachusetts biotech company Moderna announced positive results from a small, preliminary trial of its coronavirus vaccine, the company’s chief medical officer described the news as a “triumphant day for us.”

But the episode has become a case study in how the coronavirus pandemic and the desperate hunt for treatments and vaccines are shaking up the financial markets and the way that researchers, regulators, drug companies, biotech investors and journalists do their jobs.

The vaccine, the first to be tested in humans, appeared safe and stimulated antibody production in 45 study participants. Eight people had in further testing produced so-called neutralizing antibodies, which should prevent illness.

But there were no details — no charts, no graphs, no numbers, nothing published in a journal.

Still, Moderna’s stock price jumped as much as 30 percent, and the widely covered announcement helped lift the stock market.

Nine hours after the initial news release, Moderna announced a stock offering with the aim of raising more than $1 billion to help bankroll vaccine development. The company’s chairman, Noubar Afeyan, later said it had been decided only that afternoon.

By Tuesday, a backlash was underway. With no further data, scientists could not evaluate Moderna’s claim. The government agency leading the trial, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — led by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci — had made no comment. And there were concerns that the company might have timed things to jack up the price of its stock.

“You have these wild swings, based on incomplete information,” said David Maris, managing director of Phalanx Investment Partners and a longtime analyst covering the pharmaceutical industry. “It’s a crazy, speculative environment, because the pandemic has caused people to want to believe that there’s going to be a miracle cure in a miracle time frame.”

President Trump spent Saturday at his members-only golf club in Virginia, his first outing there since the coronavirus pandemic led to government restrictions on business and social activity across the country.

The trip comes as the administration has encouraged reopening, and a day after Mr. Trump announced that he was ordering states to allow churches and other places of worship to reopen, threatening to overrule any governor who defied the order. Some of his health experts also appeared to give him the green light to carry on with his normal weekend activity, which has been suspended for weeks.

“You can play golf. You can play tennis with marked balls,” Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said at a news conference on Friday. “You can go to the beaches” if you maintain distance from other beachgoers, she told Americans heading into a holiday weekend.

The White House did not provide any details about what Mr. Trump was doing at his golf club, or who he was playing with. Reporters spotted him leaving the White House residence dressed in a white polo shirt and a white baseball cap.

Long before the coronavirus crisis, another one was brewing: a drop in how many Americans trust the federal government.

It has been declining for decades, through Democratic and Republican administrations. And last year it reached one of the lowest points since the measure began: Just 17 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing “just about always” or “most of the time,” according to the Pew Research Center.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people want no government at all. Polls consistently show much more faith in local government, and some governors are getting high marks for their handling of the pandemic.

But in a week of more than 20 interviews, Americans said that the government in Washington was not rising to meet the challenge.

Many noted that corporations seemed to be getting the lion’s share of federal relief money while small businesses suffered. They expressed bafflement that people had been asked to stay home but were not given enough financial support to do so. Some said it made no sense for entire states to be locked down when some places within were affected far more than others.

“I don’t trust these people, I don’t believe them,” said Curtis Devlin, 42, an Iraq War veteran who lives in California, referring to national political leaders of both parties. “The people whose interests they represent are donors, power brokers, the parties.

As Muslims around the world this weekend prepare to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, a church in Berlin has opened its doors to let Muslims hold Friday Prayer while observing strict social distancing because of the pandemic.

The Dar Assalam mosque in Berlin has been able to welcome only a fraction of Muslim worshipers during Ramadan because of national rules on social distancing. So the Martha Lutheran church in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, the German capital, stepped in to help.

Because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, many Muslim and Christian services have moved online. Communal prayers, feasts and parties that usually mark Eid have been being restricted or scrapped.

In Indonesia, where the number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply in recent days, Islamic leaders have encouraged Muslims to celebrate the holiday without gathering for traditional iftar dinners to break their fast on Saturday evening. And the country’s largest mosque, Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, plans to offer televised prayers on Sunday.

In Bangladesh, the government has banned the huge communal Eid prayers that normally take place in open fields, saying worshipers must gather in mosques. It also asked people not to shake hands or hug after praying, and advised children, older people and anyone who was ill to stay away from communal prayers.

As for mosques, the government has said that they must be disinfected before and after each Eid gathering, and that all worshipers must carry hand sanitizer and wear masks while praying.

Antigovernment protesters drove along the main avenues of Madrid and other Spanish cities on Saturday, hooting and calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez over his handling of the coronavirus.

The rally — organized by Vox, Spain’s far-right party — was the loudest protest against the Socialist-led coalition government since it declared a state of emergency in March to stem the virus’s spread.

Major politicians from Vox led the Madrid rally from an open-top bus. Other drivers draped their cars and motorbikes with the Spanish flag, and some blared the national anthem from their sound systems as they headed toward Puerta de Alcalá, a gateway in central Madrid.

Some taped slogans onto their cars, accusing lawmakers of enriching themselves while imposing a strict lockdown that protesters say will spell financial ruin for the general public. Several protesters also carried antigovernment signs that made no mention of Covid-19.

“It’s time to throw out a government that wants to transform Spain into a Communist state,” said Pedro Fuentes, who wore a mask embroidered with the Spanish flag.

Saturday’s rally followed smaller protests this month, particularly in Madrid’s wealthier neighborhoods where residents vote mostly for right-wing parties. The conservative politicians that run Madrid’s City Hall and its region have been at loggerheads with the central government over how quickly Madrid should exit the lockdown.

The city has been the center of Spain’s outbreak, accounting for almost a third of the nationwide death toll.

While the government has allowed about half of the country to move into a more advanced phase of easing the lockdown, Madrid and Barcelona were the exception. Only on Friday did the central government recommend that the two cities ease some of their restrictions starting Monday.

Mr. Sánchez said on Saturday that the country would open to foreign tourists beginning in July, and that its globally popular soccer league La Liga would restart on June 8, part of the “de-escalation process” from its harshest pandemic restrictions.

With the World Health Organization warning that South America is becoming the “new epicenter” of the pandemic, Brazil has overtaken Russia in its number of coronavirus cases, registering 330,890 infected people — a figure second only to that of the United States.

Brazil registered 1,001 daily coronavirus deaths on Friday, raising the country’s total to 21,048, according to the Health Ministry. And the true toll is probably higher as Brazil, Latin America’s top economy, has been slow to ramp up testing.

The coronavirus toll has been rising sharply in Brazil, where the country’s health minister resigned this month just four weeks into the job, having replaced a predecessor who was dismissed by President Jair Bolsonaro.

Despite having robust public health care system, the country’s response to the pandemic has been chaotic and contradictory, and it is not the only Latin American nation facing a surge in coronavirus cases.

Data from Ecuador indicate that the country is suffering one of the worst outbreaks in the world. And in Argentina, the pandemic threatens to push the country into even further financial difficulty.

On Friday, Argentina missed a bond payment and inched closer to another crushing default that would plunge it into a new period of economic isolation and deepen a recession that has been made worse by the pandemic.

China reported no new coronavirus deaths or symptomatic cases on Saturday, the first time that both tallies were zero on a given day since the country’s outbreak began.

The authorities reported 28 asymptomatic cases, two of which were imported.

The announcements came as the authorities in Wuhan, where the global outbreak began, are aiming to test all of the city’s 11 million residents. In what is knows as a “10-day battle,” begun on May 14, the government initiative aims to obtain a truer picture of the epidemic in the city — most crucially of people who have the virus but show no symptoms.

Some public health experts are watching the campaign to see whether it can serve as a model for other governments that want to return their societies to some level of normalcy.

And while China’s Hong Kong security laws are attracting wide attention outside the country, its domestic news media outlets are keeping the focus on President Xi Jinping. He is using China’s biggest political event of the year, the annual session of the National People’s Congress, to project strength at a time when external criticism of his government’s handling of the pandemic is growing.

Not long ago, the main public health threat facing people living in an area of Queens in New York was one that had taken too many young lives: gangs armed with guns.

“We are losing the matriarchs and patriarchs in our neighborhood,” said Erica Ford, who founded LIFE Camp, a nonprofit that tries to stem street violence. “We had just managed to bring shootings down. Then the virus made its way here.”

During the peak of the crisis in early April, nearly 70 percent of residents in the ZIP code who were tested for the coronavirus were found to be positive, according to city Health Department data.

At least 144 people from the ZIP code have died in the pandemic.

The authorities in South Korea’s major cities have shuttered thousands of bars, nightclubs and karaoke parlors after identifying them as new sources of infection.

The measures are a response to a new coronavirus cluster — 215 cases as of Friday — traced to nightlife facilities this month. The outbreak is believed to have started in Itaewon, a popular nightclub district in Seoul.

Anyone who visits the venues, as well as the owners who accept them, can face fines, and the government can also sue them for damages amid an outbreak. And unlike other patients, those who contract the virus in these facilities while they are barred must pay their own coronavirus-related medical bills.

South Korea is not the only the place in the region to crack down on nightlife in the pandemic.

Hong Kong closed its night clubs and karaoke establishments in April after a “bar and band” cluster was identified in a popular nightlife district. They are scheduled to reopen next week.

And in Japan, an association representing entertainment workers issued guidelines on Friday that cover nightclubs and hostess bars. The guidelines suggest that hostesses tie up their hair and avoid sitting directly in front of customers.

The association, Nihon Mizushobai Kyokai, also said that microphones in karaoke parlors should be disinfected regularly and that customers should keep their masks on while singing.

The coronavirus has upended the best-laid plans and priorities of many, including the European Union. And one of the biggest casualties may be European efforts to build a more credible and independent European military.

For several years — especially since President Trump came to office with his skepticism about NATO, European alliances and multilateral obligations — leaders like President Emmanuel Macron of France have pushed for the continent’s ability to defend itself and act militarily in its neighborhood without so much reliance on the United States.

But even before the virus hit, and despite loud calls that the bloc was in greater peril from new technologies and a more aggressive Russia and China, the European Commission was slashing projected European military spending in the next seven-year budget.

Now, with the pandemic having cratered the economy, there will be an even fiercer budgetary battle. Recovery and jobs will be the priority, and Brussels continues to emphasize investment in a European “Green Deal” to manage the climate crisis.

“We Europeans truly need to take our fate in our own hands,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany after Mr. Trump’s election. In February, Mr. Macron called again for “a much stronger Europe in defense.”

The celebrated Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is taking to the airwaves to “blow away some of the corona-related blues.”

Mr. Murakami, 71, who for several years ran a jazz cafe, is known for his passion for jazz and has also featured music in his literary works.

His “Murakami Radio” show typically airs every two months, and his program on Friday was recorded not in a flagship studio in Tokyo but from his home, in a nod to the stay-at-home requests issued by the authorities in Japan’s major cities.

“I wish music or novels could comfort you even a little bit,” he told listeners, saying that he understood the struggle to meet high rents and pay employees when his cafe had to close for months.

He opened the “Stay Home Special” with the song “Look for the Silver Lining” by the Modern Folk Quartet, and over two hours treated listeners to the likes of Bruce Springsteen’s “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” and “Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Mr. Murakami, whose critically acclaimed novels include “Norwegian Wood,” “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and “1Q84,” also challenged the warlike language used by some politicians to describe efforts to end the pandemic.

“Hostility and hatred are not needed there,” he said. “I don’t want them to refer it to a war. Don’t you think?”

Pandemics are often described as crises of communication, when leaders must persuade people to suspend their lives because of an invisible threat. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand excels at that — by brightening epidemiology with empathy, and leavening legal matters with mom jokes.

It’s been strikingly effective.

Ms. Ardern helped coax New Zealanders — “our team of five million,” she says — to buy into a lockdown so severe that even retrieving a lost cricket ball from a neighbor’s yard was banned. Now the country, despite some early struggles with contact tracing, has nearly stamped out the virus.

Still, at a time when Ms. Ardern, a 39-year-old global progressive icon, is being widely celebrated, some epidemiologists say that New Zealand’s lockdown went too far and that other countries suppressed the virus with less harm to small businesses.

But behind Ms. Ardern’s success are two powerful forces: her own hard work at making connections with constituents, and the political culture of New Zealand, which in the 1990s overhauled how it votes, forging a system that forces political parties to work together.

“You need the whole context, the way the political system has evolved,” said Helen Clark, a former prime minister who hired Ms. Ardern as an adviser more than a decade ago. “It’s not easily transferable.”

Reporting was contributed by Julfikar Ali Manik, Ian Austen, Peter Baker, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, José María León Cabrera, Stephen Castle, Damien Cave, Michael Cooper, Steven Erlanger, Tess Felder, Jacey Fortin, Jeffrey Gettleman, Abby Goodnough, Denise Grady, Maggie Haberman, Mike Ives, Jennifer Jett, Yonette Joseph, Sheila Kaplan, Gina Kolata, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Mark Landler, Ernesto Londoño, Louis Lucero, Sarah Mervosh, Raphael Minder, Zach Montague, Tariq Panja, Richard C. Paddock, Elian Peltier, Daniel Politi, Suhasini Raj, Stanley Reed, Edgar Sandoval, Choe Sang-Hun, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sabrina Tavernise, Katie Thomas, Anton Troianovski, Hisako Ueno, Shalini Venugopal, Sui-Lee Wee, Noah Weiland, Elaine Yu and Jin Wu.



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