A coalition of online retailers backed by Amazon plans to start on Wednesday a seven-figure advertising blitz opposing President Trump’s demand that the beleaguered United States Postal Service ratchet up its package delivery rates to avoid bankruptcy during the coronavirus crisis, its top lobbyist said.
The coalition intends to spend more than $2 million on the campaign in an effort to whip up Republican opposition to Mr. Trump’s idea, pressing lawmakers to support instead a multibillion-dollar rescue package proposed by Democrats that would help the Postal Service survive the sharp drop in revenue and mail volume caused by the pandemic.
The ads will begin running nationally Wednesday night on “Hannity,” one of Mr. Trump’s favorite programs on Fox News, and on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show on Thursday. They do not mention the president but label his proposal to raise delivery prices “a massive package tax” on small businesses and Americans who rely on the mail for prescription drugs and other goods.
Amazon, CVS and others involved in the campaign rely on the Postal Service for the delivery of millions of packages a year. Their businesses could be disrupted significantly if the agency increased rates or went bankrupt.
Many of the companies have been quietly lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill on the issue, but the advertising push will more visibly establish their position in a high-stakes political fight over the Postal Service’s finances and its future. Democrats have been pressing to include $25 billion in the next round of relief legislation to prop up the service, which has said it could run out of cash by September without a lifeline from Congress.
But Mr. Trump has said he will not sign any pandemic relief package that helps the Postal Service unless it quadruples its package delivery rates. His views on the Postal Service appear to be predominantly shaped by his antipathy toward Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.
“All of these companies know that in order to keep that market competitive and to keep operations most efficient, an affordable U.S.P.S. involvement is absolutely essential,” said John M. McHugh, the former Army secretary and the coalition’s chairman. He called Mr. Trump’s proposal “dangerous,” particularly when Americans sequestered at home are increasingly reliant on delivery services and postal leaders are projecting yawning deficits.
Research released Wednesday shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent. Nearly a fifth of young children are not getting enough to eat, according to surveys of their mothers by the Brookings Institution. The rate is three times higher than in 2008, at the worst of the Great Recession, reports Jason DeParle.
When food runs short, parents often skip meals to keep children fed. But a survey of households with children 12 and under by Lauren Bauer, a Brookings fellow in economic studies, found that 17.4 percent reported the children themselves were not eating enough, compared with 5.7 percent during the Great Recession.
Inadequate nutrition can leave young children with permanent developmental damage.
“This is alarming,” Ms. Bauer said. “These are households cutting back on portion sizes, having kids skip meals. The numbers are much higher than I expected.”
Ms. Bauer said disruptions in school meal programs might be part of the problem, with some families unable to reach distribution sites and older siblings at home competing for limited food.
Ms. Bauer has been collecting data for the Hamilton Project and the Future of the Middle Class Initiative Survey of Mothers with Young Children. Analyzing a separate nationally representative sample, the Covid Impact Survey, Ms. Bauer found that nearly 23 percent of households said they lacked money to get enough food, compared with about 16 percent at the worst of the Great Recession. Among households with children, the share without enough food was nearly 35 percent, up from about 21 percent in the previous downturn.
The findings come as Democrats and Republicans are at odds over proposals to raise food stamp benefits. Democrats want to increase benefits by 15 percent for the duration of the economic downturn, arguing that a similar move in 2009 reduced hunger during the Great Recession. Congress has enacted a short-term increase for about 60 percent of the caseload, but the increase omits the poorest recipients. Citing large expansions of other safety-net programs, Republicans say that is sufficient to meet rising needs.
President Trump, contradicting his comments from Tuesday, said the White House coronavirus task force would “continue on indefinitely,” though perhaps with different members.
“We will have something in a different form,” Mr. Trump told reporters later on Tuesday during a trip to Arizona.
But in a series of Wednesday morning tweets, Mr. Trump appeared to contradict that statement and emphasized his desire to reopen the economy despite a continued rise in coronavirus cases and public health warnings that more commerce will mean more deaths.
Because of the task force’s “success,” he wrote, it would “continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN.”
Mr. Trump spoke with reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon about why he had changed his mind.
“I thought we could wind it down sooner,” he said. “But I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday, when I started talking about winding it down. I get calls from very respected people saying, ‘I think it would be better to keep it going. It’s done such a good job.’”
Mr. Trump said later Wednesday that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coronavirus task force coordinator, would remain on the task force in their current roles.
“I would like to see schools open, wherever possible, which I think is in much of the country, most of the country,” the president said.
Mr. Trump frequently reacts to news coverage of his decisions, and reports on Tuesday that he might wind down the task force drew sharp criticism.
Even as the worst public health crisis in a century rages on, top White House officials have spoken in self-congratulatory terms and sought to shift the debate toward a resumption of normal social and economic life.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Pence said that plans to disband the task force “really is all a reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country.”
There had been signals in recent days of the task force’s impending demise: The panel did not meet on Saturday, as it typically does, and canceled a meeting on Monday. And the president has stopped linking his news briefings to the task force’s meetings and no longer routinely arrays task force members around him in his public appearances. That change came swiftly after he mused last month about the possibility of injecting disinfectants — which is dangerous — to kill the virus.
Members of the task force, including Dr. Birx, the White House’s virus response coordinator, had to urge Americans not to take those steps. The task force has often served as a public check on Mr. Trump’s questionable or false statements, cautioning about promises of a quick vaccine or the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, a drug promoted by the president.
Arizona has asked a team of university professors producing one of the state’s most robust public modeling assessments of the coronavirus to halt its work, drawing criticism about whether the move is politically motivated.
The request by the Arizona Department of Health Services was sent on Monday to the modeling team from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, shortly after Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, announced plans to relax some social distancing measures.
Previous findings by the modeling team made it clear that the only scenario in which virus cases in the state do not sharply increase is by waiting until the end of May to reopen Arizona’s economy. The governor has said that if businesses follow safety protocols and social distancing, cosmetologists and barbershops can reopen on Friday, and that restaurants and coffee shops can do so on Monday.
“It’s puzzling that they would ask these experts to stop their work when they are producing results inconsistent with decisions made by the executive branch,” said Will Humble, a former state health services director who is now the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.
Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Mr. Ducey, said in a statement that Arizona authorities found the modeling group’s work less useful for influencing policies during the pandemic than modeling developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is not publicly available.
“We’ve been able to see which models are accurate — which match the actual facts and are most useful — and which are not,” Mr. Ptak said. He added that Dr. Cara Christ, the state’s health services director, made the decision to ask the modeling team to suspend its work.
The team, made up of about two dozen professors, was not being paid by the state. Tim Lant, a mathematical epidemiologist at Arizona State and member of the team, said it would continue to do its Covid-19 modeling work on a daily basis using publicly available data.
Sixty-four children in New York State have been hospitalized with a mysterious illness that doctors do not yet fully understand but that may be linked to Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, officials said on Wednesday.
The symptoms of the mystery ailment, state health officials noted, “overlap” with those associated with toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease, a rare illness in children that involves inflammation of the blood vessels, including coronary arteries. Fever, abdominal symptoms and rash may also be present, officials wrote.
Since the pandemic began, most infected children have not developed serious respiratory failure of the kind that has afflicted adults. But in recent weeks, the unusual new syndrome has cropped up among children in and around New York City and elsewhere in the United States, a sign that children may face a greater risk from the virus than anticipated.
The number of children in the United States showing signs of the syndrome, which was first detected last month in Europe, remains small. None are known to have died, and many have responded well to treatment.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Wednesday that another 232 people in the state had died, the third straight day that the one-day death toll had hovered around 230. And the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began shutting down the New York City subway for four hours a night for cleaning, the first regularly scheduled halt in the system’s 115-year history.
In New Jersey, the governor said on Wednesday that he was extending the state’s public health emergency order for 30 days, and that the virus had killed another 308 people.
A company created six weeks ago by a pair of Republican operatives collected hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from state and local governments desperate for coronavirus supplies. That company is now facing a federal criminal investigation and a rising chorus of complaints from customers who say their orders never arrived.
The company was started by a pair of Republican political consultants, Mike Gula and John Thomas, who did not have much experience in the medical supply field. Mr. Gula’s fund-raising firm has been paid more than $36 million since 2008 by a range of top Republican politicians and political committees, while Mr. Thomas has served as a general consultant to a number of campaigns.
Orders came in from state governments, local police departments and airports in California, Florida and Maryland. But things have not gone as planned.
California quickly clawed back a $457 million payment for 100 million masks, as first reported by CalMatters. Other state and local agencies that paid Blue Flame said that the supplies never arrived or that orders were only partially filled.
The Justice Department is pursuing a criminal investigation into the company, according to people familiar with the investigation, which was first reported by The Washington Post. Some of the company’s clients are requesting refunds or threatening their own investigations.
Germany was a leader in the West in taking on the pandemic, and then a leader in the calibrated restarting of public life. On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel had a hopeful message for the nation: The experiment was working.
The infection numbers, Ms. Merkel announced, were not just stable but lower than those reported two weeks ago. “We have reached the goal of slowing the spread of the virus, of protecting our health care system from being overwhelmed,” the chancellor said at a news conference.
Germany, she said, was now in a position to reopen most aspects of its economy and society. “We can afford a little audacity,” Ms. Merkel said.
It was good news not only for Germany, but countries eager for a sign that life can continue with the virus. Germany’s progress demonstrated that a combination of cautious, science-led political leadership and a regimen of widespread testing, tracing and social distancing could allow countries to manage a controlled reopening.
But it was also a stark reminder of the differences in other Western countries, including the United States, where some states have tried reopening, but cases and deaths are still rising.
Jails and prisons are among the most challenging places to control an outbreak. Similar to cruise ships and nursing homes, detention facilities have crowded living spaces and shared dining areas, as well as communal bathrooms and a lack of space to isolate infected detainees, all of which makes physical distancing practices difficult to achieve.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study of the spread of the virus in prisons and detention centers in the United States, both public and private. Although it did not have complete figures for the approximately 2.1 million people incarcerated nationally, the study found that nearly 5,000 prisoners had contracted the virus along with over 2,000 staff members, resulting in 103 total deaths.
“This analysis provides the first documentation of the number of reported laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19 in correctional and detention facilities in the United States,” the report said.
Among the findings, the report found that slightly more than half of the affected facilities had at least one case among staff members and not detainees. Staff members move regularly between facilities and outside communities, which could be important factors in introducing the virus into prisons, it said.
The C.D.C. warned that its data was incomplete; it was therefore unable to determine the percentages of infected prisoners and staff members across the country. It received data from the health departments of 37 states and U.S. jurisdictions; 32 of them reported at least one laboratory-confirmed case among 420 facilities. There are roughly 5,000 detention centers and prisons in the U.S., both public and private.
Government figures due Friday will undoubtedly show that job losses in April were the worst ever. But they could provide key hints about the recovery.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expect the Labor Department report to show that U.S. payrolls fell by 22 million jobs last month — a decade’s worth of gains wiped out in weeks. The payroll processing company ADP said on Wednesday that the private sector lost more than 20 million jobs in April, with the cuts spread across every sector and size of employer.
It is no surprise that employers have cut millions of jobs; weekly data on filings for unemployment benefits, released every Thursday, have tracked the destruction. But the monthly numbers due on Friday are more comprehensive than the weekly ones, which almost certainly understate the damage.
The report on Friday could also help answer a question that could be crucial to the eventual recovery: How far has the damage spread?
If the losses are concentrated in sectors that have been directly affected by the virus, like retail and services that were hit by stay-at-home orders, that could bode well for the recovery, because it suggests the damage has been contained. But if it has spread to industries like finance and professional services, that could suggest a cascade effect is underway, with laid-off workers pulling back on spending, leading to lost revenues and still more layoffs. It could take much longer to climb out of that kind of hole.
The downturn has rippled through the world. The European Union’s economy is set to shrink by 7.4 percent this year, investment is expected to collapse, and unemployment rates, debts and deficits will balloon in the aftermath of the pandemic, the European Commission said on Wednesday.
To put those figures in perspective, the European Union’s economy had been predicted to grow by 1.2 percent this year. In its worst recession, during the financial crisis in 2009, the economy shrank by 4.5 percent.
A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday delivered a scathing criticism of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his assertion over the weekend that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory.
“The huge drama of blame-shifting in the United States has already been heavily spoiled, and continuing the drama is meaningless,” she said. “I advise those people in the United States absolutely not to become enthralled by their own act.”
Labs at both the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology are said to have been conducting research into bat coronaviruses. Both institutions are based in Wuhan, China, where the virus first emerged.
Researchers in China and elsewhere have suggested that the virus probably started in bats. It may have then adapted to another species before becoming capable of infecting humans.
In Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo became angry when pressed by reporters on his assertions about “enormous” and “significant” evidence that pointed to a laboratory accident in Wuhan as the source of the outbreak.
The top American diplomat said Wednesday that there were “different levels of certainty” assessed by different people or organizations. Western officials from the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance say those agencies are coalescing around the idea that an outbreak that began in a lab was unlikely.
Mr. Pompeo opened his news conference on Wednesday with his own heated criticism of China, noting that early in the outbreak, Chinese officials had reprimanded two doctors in Wuhan for trying to warn colleagues of the potential for a new SARS-like epidemic.
“China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide,” he said. “They had a choice. But instead China covered up the outbreak in Wuhan.”
Chinese officials have not given international experts full access to health facilities in Wuhan, including to the hospitals that treated the first cases during the outbreak. Officials in Wuhan tried to cover up the severity of the virus in January. And officials in the United States and other nations have cast doubts on the Chinese government’s estimates of total infected citizens and its announced death toll.
The Communist Party is resistant to transparency, especially on matters deemed politically sensitive, as the pandemic is.
Trump administration officials said Wednesday that meat shortages at grocery stores and fast food chains would be short-lived, despite outbreaks that have shuttered meatpacking plants around the country and sickened thousands of workers.
In an Oval Office meeting with President Trump and Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, a Republican, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said meat shortages should end within 10 days as plants come online.
“I think we’ve turned the corner,” he said. “I’d say probably a week to 10 days, we’ll be back up.”
The crowded conditions at America’s largest meatpacking plants have turned them into hot spots and led to the deaths of dozens of workers.
Factories across the Midwest have been temporarily shuttered, cutting down on America’s supply of ground meat, pork loins and chicken. Hundreds of Wendy’s restaurants have run out of hamburgers, while Costco and Kroger have put limits on the number of meat items customers can purchase.
When asked about shortages at Wendy’s, Mr. Trump said he would call the company’s chairman and that he was confident the problem would go away.
Ms. Reynolds said only one meatpacking plant in Iowa was shut: a Tyson pork processing facility in Waterloo that accounts for nearly 4 percent of the country’s pork processing capacity. More than 400 of the plant’s 2,800 employees have already tested positive for the coronavirus, and several have died.
Meatpacking plants have installed new safety features including barriers between workers and new requirements for protective gear. But many workers stay they are still nervous to return to facilities that had become hotbeds of infection.
On Wednesday, Ms. Reynolds vowed to get the facilities up and running to help ensure the food supply.
After being closed for nearly two months, many churches across the country are cautiously planning how to reopen for public services.
Episcopal bishops in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., said they would work together to coordinate a reopening. They plan to start to allow limited indoor worship once cases and hospitalizations have declined for two weeks.
In some places the issue of religious reopening remains a political controversy. In California, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Gov. Gavin Newsom was allowed to ban church assembly to protect the public health. A small evangelical church in San Joaquin Valley, Cross Culture Christian Center, had sued Mr. Newsom last month, arguing that his stay-at-home order restricted its religious liberties.
The vice president will meet with faith leaders in Des Moines on Friday to discuss reopening religious services. Last week Ms. Reynolds, the governor of Iowa, announced that she would lift restrictions on public religious gatherings, as long as they followed sanitation and social distancing guidelines.
Some scientists hope that they may have found an important, if perhaps unlikely, figure in the fight against the virus: Winter, a 4-year-old chocolate-colored llama with spindly legs, ever-so-slightly askew ears and envy-inducing eyelashes.
Winter was chosen several years ago by researchers in Belgium, where she lives, to participate in a series of virus studies involving both SARS and MERS. Finding that her antibodies staved off those infections, the scientists posited that those same antibodies could also neutralize the new virus that causes Covid-19. They were right, and published their results Tuesday in the journal Cell.
Scientists have long turned to llamas for antibody research. In the last decade, for example, scientists have used llamas’ antibodies in H.I.V. and influenza research, finding promising therapies for both viruses.
Llamas produce two types of antibodies. One of those antibodies is similar in size and constitution to human antibodies. But the other is much smaller; it’s only about 25 percent the size of human antibodies.
This more diminutive antibody can access tinier pockets and crevices on spike proteins — the proteins that allow viruses like the novel coronavirus to break into host cells and infect us — that human antibodies cannot. That can make it more effective in neutralizing viruses.
The researchers are hopeful the antibody can eventually be used as a prophylactic treatment, and are moving toward clinical trials. Additional studies may also be needed to verify the safety of injecting a llama’s antibodies into human patients.
“There is still a lot of work to do to try to bring this into the clinic,” said Dr. Xavier Saelens, a molecular virologist at Ghent University in Belgium and an author of the new study. “If it works, llama Winter deserves a statue.”
The top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday singled out United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue for their decisions to cut employee hours. United reversed one such plan on Wednesday that would have made thousands of full-time workers into part-time employees.
“Mandatory or forced reductions in payroll hours is not” what was intended by the recent law that authorized $50 billion to help airlines continue operating during the pandemic, the lawmaker, Maria Cantwell of Washington State, said during the Senate hearing. Half of that funding was intended to pay employees through September, provided that airlines refrained from pay or staff cuts.
A union representing thousands of United employees sued the airline over the plan on Tuesday. The company called the lawsuit “meritless.”
Executives from United and other airlines did not participate in the hearing, and were represented by the chief executive of their trade group Airlines for America, Nicholas E. Calio. He said airlines were doing what they could to survive.
“The duration and breadth of the impacts directly on our industry compounded by the larger economy leave no doubt that the U.S. airline industry will emerge a shadow of what it was on March 1st of this year,” Mr. Calio said.
That did not satisfy Democrats like Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut who said the industry’s practices around refunds were misleading or deceptive. Many airlines have been encouraging travelers to take vouchers for future travel instead of cash.
And Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota criticized the low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines for saying that it would charge customers $39 to $89 to keep the middle seat next to them empty. Many larger airlines are not putting any passengers in middle seats by default.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for some passengers who can’t afford to pay an additional charge for a seat to be less safe than other travelers,” she said.
Here are some points to consider before you call your babysitter.
Restrictions were eased in Hong Kong after more than two weeks without new local cases.
Reporting was contributed by Reed Abelson, Katie Benner, Katrin Bennhold, Alan Blinder, Keith Bradsher, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Ben Casselman, Niraj Chokshi, Michael Cooper, Michael Crowley, Elizabeth Dias, Melissa Eddy, Nicholas Fandos, Christina Goldbaum, Maggie Haberman, Andrew Jacobs, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Jodi Kantor, Josh Katz, Jillian Kramer, Adam Liptak, Denise Lu, Neil MacFarquhar, Apoorva Mandavilli, Sarah Mervosh, Andy Newman, Michael Powell, Simon Romero, David E. Sanger, Margot Sanger-Katz, Marc Santora, Ed Shanahan, Ana Swanson, Kenneth P. Vogel, David Waldstein, Noah Weiland, Edward Wong and Carl Zimmer.
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