Trump, Facing Criticism, Says He Will Increase Swab Production


President Trump on Sunday said the administration was preparing to use the Defense Production Act to compel an unspecified U.S. facility to increase production of test swabs by over 20 million per month.

The announcement came during his Sunday evening news conference, after he defended his response to the pandemic amid criticism from governors across the country claiming that there has been an insufficient amount of testing to justify reopening the economy any time soon.

“We are calling in the Defense Production Act,” Mr. Trump said. He added, “You’ll have so many swabs you won’t know what to do with them.”

He provided no details about what company he was referring to, or when the administration would invoke the act. And his aides did not immediately respond when asked to provide more details.

“We already have millions coming in,” he said. “He added, “In all fairness, governors could get them themselves. But we are going to do it. We’ll work with the governors and if they can’t do it we’ll do it.”

Public health experts have said testing would need to at least double or even triple to justify even a partial reopening of the country’s economy, and business leaders reiterated that message in a conference call with Mr. Trump last week.

Seema Verma, the Medicaid and Medicare administrator, also announced on Sunday night that the administration was set to release guidelines for reopening the health care system to allow for elective procedures and surgeries.

“Not everything can be addressed by telehealth,” she said. “Maybe a woman who needs surgery for breast cancer. Somebody who has cataracts in their eyes, and sometimes the doctor needs to be able to listen to their patient’s heart.”

She cautioned that every state and local official would have to assess the situation on the ground before reopening.

Those state and local officials have been struggling to balance restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus against economic damage.

In Maryland and Virginia, governors said stay-at-home orders would remain in effect until they see decreases in the number of Covid-19 cases. And elsewhere in the nation, state officials said they were seeking far more testing before easing restrictions, but continue to face shortages of supplies and testing kits.

“We are fighting a biological war,” Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia said on the “State of the Union” program on CNN. He added that governors have been forced “to fight that war without the supplies we need.”

Mr. Northam, a Democrat, said that Virginia lacked enough swabs for the amount of testing needed.

Gov. Gretchen ​Whitmer of Michigan, another Democrat, said her state would like to “double or triple” the current number of tests “if we had the swabs or reagents.” ​

And Gov. Larry Hogan, a Maryland Republican, said “It’s not accurate to say there’s plenty of testing out there and the governors should just get it done.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, pushed back against criticism that not enough people were being tested, saying Sunday morning that not every community required high levels of testing. She said on the CBS program “Face the Nation​” that the government was trying “to predict community by community the testing that is needed.”

There are currently about 150,000 diagnostic tests conducted each day, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Researchers at Harvard estimated last week that in order to ease restrictions, the nation needed to at least triple that pace of testing.

More than 2,000 people gathered at the State Capitol to challenge Washington State’s stay-at-home mandates. Organizers touted that the gathering was on the anniversary of the “shot heard round the world” that triggered the Revolutionary War.

The event drew some far-right groups, including the Three Percenters militia, named after the supposed fraction of colonists who took up arms during the war. With signs and speeches, the attendees called on the governor to lift the mandates.

“We will not tolerate this as the new normal,” said Tyler Miller, who led the gathering. He likened the group to the minutemen.

The Washington State Patrol estimated that 2,500 people attended the gathering. Few attendees wore masks, and many gathered tightly around speakers against the guidance of public health officials who recommend a six-foot distance to limit the spread of the virus.

At least three Republican state lawmakers participated in the events, including Representative Robert Sutherland, who called for “revolution” if the governor didn’t lift mandates. He later said that a violent revolution was not the intention Sunday but that the people have a moral obligation to fight back against abusive government.

Gov. Jay Inslee said that while these have been difficult and frustrating times, now was not the time to stop progress in combating the virus.

“I support free speech, but crowd counts or speeches won’t determine our course,” Mr. Inslee said. “This isn’t about politics. It can only be about doing what is best for the health of all Washingtonians.”

The Washington protest is one of several rallies by people opposed to mandatory social distancing. In Denver on Sunday, two health care workers blocked the cars of protesters who had converged on the State Capitol to challenge stay-at-home orders, according to the photojournalist Alyson McClaran, who posted images of the exchange on social media. The workers wore scrubs and N95 masks.

“They were blocking the roads until the police force stepped in,” Ms. McClaran said. “People were putting their cars right up against them.”

President Trump on Sunday night again defended protesters in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, who have been protesting stay-at-home orders, even as the Democratic governors of those states have been receiving death threats.

Peter Navarro, the hawkish White House trade adviser, accused China on Sunday of profiting off the coronavirus pandemic by hoarding global supplies of personal protective equipment and selling them at exorbitant prices around the world.

President Trump has put Mr. Navarro, the author of “Death by China,” in charge of streamlining America’s medical supply chain as the federal government works to distribute masks, medicines and ventilators across the country. The comments, made on the Fox Business Network, represent the latest escalation in the Trump administration’s efforts to publicly blame China for the health crisis that has caused thousands of deaths and is crippling the world economy.

“China is sitting on that hoard of P.P.E., where it cornered the market, and it’s profiteering,” Mr. Navarro said. “I have cases coming across my desk where 50-cent masks made in China are being sold to hospitals here in America for as much as $8.”

Mr. Navarro also attempted to stir allegations that China lied about the origins of the coronavirus, which was discovered in Wuhan in December. Health experts have said the virus likely jumped from an animal to a human in a market, but he stoked speculation on Sunday that the virus actually originated in a laboratory.

“What we know is that the ground zero for this virus was within a few miles of that lab,” Mr. Navarro said of a research lab in Wuhan that studies infectious diseases. “If you simply do an Occam’s razor approach that the simplest explanation is probably the most likely, I think it’s incumbent on China to prove that it wasn’t that lab.”

Mr. Trump has also raised the possibility that the origins of the virus in China were not mere happenstance. He suggested that if an investigation found that China has not been forthright with the world, it could face punishment.

“A mistake is a mistake,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference on Saturday. “But if it were knowingly responsible, yeah, then there should be consequences.”

Asked on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday about the possibility that the virus was the result of a lab accident, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, was much more cautious.

“I don’t have any evidence that it was a laboratory accident,” she said. “I also don’t know precisely where it originated.”

The United States has seen a rollout of blood tests for coronavirus antibodies in recent weeks. The tests, which are meant to detect past exposure and possible immunity, not current cases of Covid-19, have been widely heralded as crucial tools in assessing the reach of the pandemic in the United States.

But for all their promise, the tests are already raising alarms. Officials fear the effort may prove as problematic as the deployment of earlier diagnostic tests.

Criticized for a tragically slow and rigid oversight of those tests months ago, the federal government is now faulted by public health officials and scientists for greenlighting the antibody tests too quickly and without adequate scrutiny.

Tests of “frankly dubious quality” have flooded the American market, said Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Twenty-five youths who are being held at a juvenile detention center in Virginia have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials at the facility recently confirmed.

The outbreak at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Richmond is the largest at a youth detention facility in the country, according to criminal justice watchdogs, who have called on the Virginia governor, Ralph S. Northam, to release people from the center to further prevent the spread of the virus.

Dr. Christopher Moon, the chief physician for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, said in a statement on Friday that 21 of the 25 youths who tested positive for the virus did not show any symptoms. He said that the other four people had symptoms no more severe than a cold or flu.

“Any resident who tested positive was immediately placed in medical isolation,” Dr. Moon said, adding that 13 of the residents were no longer in isolation.

He said that the correctional center, which serves male offenders usually between the ages of 14 to 20 and has a capacity for 284 people, was following the guidelines of the state health department.

Liz Ryan, the chief executive of the Youth First Initiative, a group opposed to juvenile incarceration, called on Mr. Northam on Thursday in a phone message to release the residents at the center. She posted a video on Twitter of her leaving the voice mail for Mr. Northam.

“It is really urgent,” Ms. Ryan said. “Young people are at heightened risk of getting Covid-19 or being exposed to it. Our young people can be safely served in their communities.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Northam said the governor had called on the Department of Juvenile Justice to look at release options for certain offenders.

“Many of these children have determinate sentences that cannot be altered by the Department of Juvenile Justice,” Alena Yarmosky, Mr. Northam’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email on Sunday. But she said that Mr. Northam “has directed the department to continue to carefully review all cases and release individuals who are eligible, have safe home plans and do not pose a threat to public safety.”

Medical officials with the juvenile justice system said that Bon Air residents are screened for the virus twice each day and that anyone who tests positive is placed in isolation in the central infirmary or an alternate medical unit on campus.

All residents must wear masks when outside their rooms and staff members must also wear masks inside the living units or when interacting with residents, officials said.

A month after the Trump administration recommended that all elective medical care be put on hold nationwide because of the coronavirus, it issued guidance Sunday for how hospitals and doctors’ offices could start offering such care again as part of a phased reopening of the country.

The new guidance, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, applies only to medical providers in communities that have relatively low and stable numbers of coronavirus cases and otherwise meet the conditions for entering Phase One of a national reopening plan. It says that before resuming nonessential care, medical providers should make sure ​that ​they can still address surges​ of coronavirus patients​​, screen patients and health​ ​care workers for ​the virus, ​have appropriate cleaning in place and observe social distancing inside the​ir​ facilities.

“E​very state and local official has to assess the situation on the ground​,” said Seema Verma, the C.M.S. administrator. “This won’t be like a light switch. It will be like a sunrise, where it will be a gradual process. Health care systems need to decide what services should be made available.”

The recommendations to delay all nonessential medical, surgical, and dental procedures, issued on March 18, effectively froze all but the most urgent care as the pandemic took hold. The financial toll on physician practices and many hospitals has been significant, although some have continued conducting appointments by phone or videoconference.

A coalition of physician groups on Friday announced that it, too, was releasing a “roadmap” for how to resume elective procedures, noting in a statement that “patients’ pent-up demand to resume their elective surgeries will be immense.”

Ms. Verma also announced a new requirement that nursing homes inform patients and their families if there are cases of Covid-19 inside their facility, and that they report any such cases directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said on Sunday they were nearing agreement with the White House to break a political logjam and provide more emergency aid for small businesses and hospitals, as well as to expand testing.

Omitted from the bill is any direct aid for states or cities that are struggling to cope with the pandemic, an issue that drew pointed remarks from Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York.

The $349 billion small-business emergency fund ran out of money last week, and Republicans and Democrats have been negotiating over the weekend about the terms for replenishing it. On the ABC program “This Week,” Ms. Pelosi said the two sides were “very close to agreement.”

Mr. Schumer said a deal could come as soon as Sunday night. “We’ve made very good progress, and I’m very hopeful we could come to an agreement tonight or early tomorrow morning,” Mr. Schumer said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” He added that many of the Democrats’ requests, including money for testing and hospitals, “they’re going along with, so we feel pretty good.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNN Sunday that he was hopeful that the Senate could pass legislation as soon as Monday and that the House would take it up for a vote on Tuesday.

The bill would include $300 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, $50 billion for the Small Business Administration’s disaster relief fund, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing. Democrats wanted the plan to also include money for states and municipalities, but Mr. Mnuchin said that would be included in a future relief package.

Mr. de Blasio derided President Trump on Sunday for failing to speak out about federal aid to municipalities.

“What’s going on? Cat got your tongue?” Mr. de Blasio said during his daily briefing. “You’re usually really talkative. You usually have an opinion on everything. How on earth do you not have an opinion on aid to American cities and states?”

The mayor, who said earlier in the week that New York City would have to slash more than $2 billion in municipal services over the next year, compared President Trump’s silence with President Gerald Ford’s dismissal of New York City’s plight during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.

“There was that famous Daily News cover that said ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead,’” Mr. de Blasio said. “So my question is, Mr. Trump, Mr. President, are you going to save New York City or are you telling New York City to drop dead? Which one is it?”

“You are failing to protect the very people you grew up around,” Mr. de Blasio added.

As with much of life around the world, film and television production has ground to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving actors, stylists, directors, studio chiefs, grips, writers, set builders, trailer cutters, agents and scores of other specialized Hollywood workers at home and confronting the same question: Now what?

Across the industry, shooting is not expected to resume until August at the soonest, in part because of the time it will take to reassemble casts and crews once the coronavirus threat subsides.

That leaves a vast number of people without work. Hollywood supports 2.5 million jobs, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, and many of the workers are freelancers, getting paid project to project.

“I keep telling myself, ‘Panicking is not going to help,’” said Muffett Brinkman, an associate casting director who has been unemployed for more than a month. “Hopefully things restart before I’m completely financially ruined.”

The pandemic has hit America’s biggest cities hard, with the coronavirus finding fertile ground in their density, just as major urban centers were already losing their appeal for many Americans. Skyrocketing rents and changes in the labor market have been pushing the country’s youngest adults toward suburbs and smaller cities. Will that current turn into a flood?

The country’s three largest metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — have all lost population in the past few years, according to an analysis by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. And over all, growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas fell by nearly half over the past decade, Mr. Frey found.

Now, as local leaders contemplate how to reopen, the future of life in America’s biggest, most dense cities is unclear.

Mayors warn of precipitous drops in tax revenue because so many people are now unemployed and so many businesses are closed. Public spaces like parks and mass transit systems, the central arteries of urban life, have become danger zones. And with vast numbers of professionals working remotely, some may reconsider whether they need to live and work in the middle of a big city.

“This pandemic has stretched the fabric that was already tearing,” said Aaron Bolzle, the executive director of Tulsa Remote, a program that offers $10,000 to remote workers who relocate to Tulsa, Okla.

Of course, the same financial uncertainty that would encourage a move may also make it more difficult. And in general, recessions — recent ones, at least — have tended to be good for cities. But a pandemic makes the equation different, and hard to predict.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit African-Americans and Hispanics especially hard, including in New York, where the virus is twice as deadly for those populations. So in the midst of a national quarantine, civil rights activists are organizing campaigns at home from their laptops and cellphones.

Collectively, the goals are targeted legislation, financial investments, and government and corporate accountability. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the longtime civil rights leader, is calling for the creation of a new Kerner Commission to document the “racism and discrimination built into public policies” that make the pandemic measurably worse for some African-Americans.

“It’s really hard to overstate the critical moment we are in as a people, given how this virus has ripped through our community,” said Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization with 1.7 million members. “We know the pain will not be shared equally.”

Mr. Robinson’s organization and others, such as the National Urban League and the N.A.A.C.P., have hosted telephone and virtual town halls, drafted state and federal policy recommendations and sent letters to legislators.

Smaller local groups are working around social distancing restrictions to rally support. And across the country, individuals are making direct pleas for all to help slow the outbreak’s spread.

“I am trying to sound the alarm because I see the devastation in the black community,” Michael Fowler, the coroner of Dougherty County, said hours after the Georgia county’s 91st Covid-19 death. “Preachers, a judge, a church choir member, all walks of life are dying. My job is to pronounce death, but I believe in trying to save lives.”

The Trump administration said late Sunday that the United States would defer certain tariff payments for 90 days to help some importers who have been hurt by the pandemic.

For weeks, American businesses, trade groups and lawmakers of both parties have lobbied the White House to roll back the tariffs President Trump had placed on hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign products, saying the taxes were compounding financial pain for companies struggling with economic fallout from the virus.

But the deferral will not apply to the tariffs that businesses have criticized the most — including those that Mr. Trump has placed on more than $250 billion of Chinese products, as well as on foreign steel, aluminum, washing machines and solar panels. The 90-day delay also excludes a large class of tariffs that the United States levies against foreign producers who receive unfair subsidies or sell their products at unfairly low prices.

Mr. Trump, who has proclaimed himself a “tariff man,” has frequently rebuffed calls to roll back tariffs, falsely stating that the levies are paid for solely by foreign firms. In fact, numerous studies have shown that American businesses and consumers bear the brunt of the tariffs.

The executive order allows the administration to defer tariff payments for goods imported in March and April. The option will only be available for importers with significant financial hardship, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

India has pursued its lockdown — the world’s largest — with remarkable zeal.

People aren’t just dutifully following the law. Many are going above and beyond it. Volunteer virus patrol squads are popping up everywhere, casting an extra net of vigilance over the entire country. Neighborhoods are imposing extra rules and sealing themselves off.

Lower castes are being shunned more than usual. The term “social distancing” plays straight into centuries of ostracism of certain groups who until recently were called “untouchable.” Muslims, a large minority in a Hindu-dominated land, are facing a burst of bigotry and attacks.

“This is one of the problems of overzealousness,’’ said Adarsh Shastri, a politician in the Indian National Congress, the leading opposition party. “People get a chance to enforce the laws per their own personal prejudice.”

If M.L.B. and the players’ union need to fight over the details about a return to play, it may mean that such a return is possible, our columnist Tyler Kepner writes.

America wants a baseball season. Nobody knows quite how that will look amid the coronavirus pandemic. Those are the only certainties for a sport that has an unbroken chain of seasons with at least 100 games stretching back to the 19th century.

Hopeful hints emerged last week from Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, who both touted the feasibility of having teams play in empty ballparks. But a quandary loomed: If teams cannot sell tickets, how much will the players be paid?

“The issue over pay without fans is going to get ugly,” said a top official of one team who insisted on anonymity to speak candidly about league matters. “Owners will claim they’d lose money by playing without fans if players get their full per-game salaries, and it may be true. They’re going to want a big reduction in pay from players.”

When Major League Baseball and the players’ union agreed on new rules for the delayed season on March 26 — the original opening day — they vowed to discuss “the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate substitute neutral sites.”

For the owners, that set up a negotiation on pay structure. But the players’ side has a different interpretation of “economic feasibility,” according to the agent Scott Boras.

In a way, this would be a welcome fight, because it would force baseball to set out a clear path to returning. That does not yet exist, and it depends largely on the availability of coronavirus tests, the spread of the pandemic, and authorization from state and local governments.

Jehovah’s Witnesses — with 1.3 million members in the U.S. who hand out brochures on sidewalks and subway platforms and ring doorbells — are one of the most visible religious groups in the nation. Members are called on to share scriptures in person with nonmembers, warning of an imminent Armageddon and hoping to baptize them with the prospect of living forever.

Yet the pandemic led the group’s leaders to decide that, in the interest of safety, Jehovah’s Witnesses should stop witnessing, its practice of in-person attempts at converting people to the group.

The move was the first of its kind in the nearly 150 years that the group has existed. It followed anguished discussions at Watchtower headquarters, with leaders deciding on March 20 that knocking on doors would leave the impression that members were disregarding the safety of those they hoped to convert.

“This was not an easy decision for anybody,” said Robert Hendriks, the group’s U.S. spokesman. “As you know, our ministry is our life.”

Reporting was contributed by Annie Karni, Abby Goodnough, Brooks Barnes, Nicole Sperling, Rick Rojas, Erica L. Green, Lola Fadulu, Audra D.S. Burch, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Nicholas Fandos, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Neil MacFarquhar, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Chris Cameron, James B. Stewart, Sabrina Tavernise, Sarah Mervosh, John Eligon, Dionne Searcey, Corey Kilgannon, Matthew Rosenberg, Katie Rogers, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Jon Pareles, Melina Delkic, Neil Vigdor, Alan Rappeport, Mike Baker, Ana Swanson and Tyler Kepner.





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