Coronavirus Live Updates: Online Retailers Plan Campaign to Rescue Postal Service
Coronavirus Live Updates: Online Retailers Plan Campaign to Rescue Postal Service
Online retailers, including Amazon, want Congress to save the Postal Service.
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 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 on 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 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,” said Lauren Bauer, a Brookings fellow in economic studies, who oversaw the survey. “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.
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, the president 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.
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.
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.
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.
Temperatures in Phoenix are expected to hit 105 this week. Sacramento has already broken heat records recently, as have Galveston, Tex., Salt Lake City and Fort Myers, Fla.
But the usual strategy that cities rely upon to protect the most vulnerable from the heat — encouraging people to gather and cool down in public buildings like libraries or recreation centers — doesn’t work in an era of the coronavirus and social distancing. So cities across the country are rushing to test other ideas.
Not only has the Covid-19 crisis made gathering dangerous, public health and emergency management officials point out, but on top of that the very people most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses — the elderly or chronically ill — also tend to be most vulnerable to the virus. Last year was the second hottest on record, and climate change is intensifying heat waves around the world.
Pentagon moves to bar enlistment by people who have had the virus.
Those wishing to join the American military but who have been hospitalized with the novel coronavirus will be temporarily barred from joining the armed forces, according to a directive issued this week by the Pentagon, officials said on Wednesday.
Defense Department officials said the measure was “interim guidance,” and that it most likely would be updated as military officials learn more about the disease and its long-term risk to someone joining the military. Like the rest of the country, the Defense Department is struggling to figure out how to better manage and protect the country’s 1.2 million active duty troops from both the disease and its effects.
Defense Department officials said on Wednesday night that recruits who have had the coronavirus and are barred, for now, from entering the military probably would be given a return date to come back for consideration.
The armed services already have a system for granting waivers for enlistment to recruits who might otherwise not be allowed to enlist for a variety of medical and other reasons.
As of Wednesday morning, there have been just over 7,000 coronavirus cases among military personnel, contractors and Defense Department civilians.
Arizona has asked a team of university professors producing one of the state’s most robust public modeling assessments of the virus 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 situation 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, composed 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 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.
In an advisory to health care providers, state health officials said that most of the children who were believed to have what has been labeled “pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome” had tested positive for the virus or for antibodies to it.
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.
A 57-year-old man from El Salvador died of Covid-19 in federal immigration custody on Wednesday, according to his family and legal advocates, making him the first detained immigrant known to have succumbed to an outbreak that is widening in federal immigration detention facilities.
A federal judge ruled this month in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that the facility must release dozens of detainees who were considered to be at risk of contracting the virus. Two guards have also sued the facility, accusing it of unsafe working conditions during the pandemic and claiming that its operators have not always provided staff members with masks or adequate sanitation supplies.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has confirmed that at least 705 people detained in its custody have contracted the virus, about half of those who have been tested. The agency has released hundreds of medically vulnerable detainees after facing a series of lawsuits related to the pandemic, but about 29,000 remain detained.
Mr. Escobar had been an undocumented immigrant in the United States for about 40 years when he was detained this year during a traffic stop. He had sought unsuccessfully to be released from Otay Mesa as recently as mid-April because of his pre-existing health issues — he was diabetic and had required multiple surgeries on his foot.
He was hospitalized in late April because of complications associated with the virus.
Germany is re-emerging from lockdown, offering a model for the U.S. and others.
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,” she 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 also for 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.
Nearly 5,000 prisoners and at least 2,000 staff members have tested positive, a federal study says.
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 employees 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 employees 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 about 5,000 detention centers and prisons in the country, both public and private.
What will this week’s jobs data show?
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 after 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 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, Blue Flame Medical, had boasted that it could quickly obtain coveted test kits, N95 masks and other personal protective equipment through a Chinese government-owned company with which it had joined, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
The company was started by two Republican political consultants, Mike Gula and John Thomas, who had little 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. Mr. Thomas has served as a general consultant to a number of campaigns.
Mr. Thomas had asserted in an interview in March that the connections he and Mr. Gula made through their political work helped them find suppliers and connect to customers, such as large medical systems and law enforcement agencies around the world.
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.
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 spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, pointed to a recently leaked memo for Republican candidates that urged attacking China and its labs as a campaign issue. She said the memo had discredited the Trump administration’s allegations.
“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.”
In Washington, 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.
He said there were “different levels of certainty” assessed by different people or organizations, but Western officials from the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance say those agencies are coalescing around the idea that an outbreak that began in a lab was unlikely.
Trump says meatpacking plants will reopen soon, despite outbreaks.
Trump administration officials said Wednesday that meat shortages at grocery stores and fast food chains would be short-lived, despite outbreaks that have shut 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 the country’s supply of ground meat, pork loins and chicken. Hundreds of Wendy’s restaurants have run out of hamburgers, while Costco and Kroger have limited the number of meat items customers can buy.
The Trump administration issued an executive order last week to put more pressure on meatpacking facilities to remain open and help them reduce their liability in worker lawsuits.
When asked about shortages at Wendy’s, Mr. Trump said that 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.
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Reporting was contributed by Reed Abelson, Katie Benner, Katrin Bennhold, Alan Blinder, Keith Bradsher, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Ben Casselman, Niraj Chokshi, Helene Cooler, Michael Cooper, Michael Crowley, Elizabeth Dias, Caitlin Dickerson, 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.