As businesses reopen, they want legal protections in case workers or customers contract the virus.
Amusement parks, salons, real estate agents and gyms around the country have begun requiring customers and workers to sign liability waivers pledging not to sue if they become infected with the coronavirus. And states like Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah have put in place new rules to protect companies from lawsuits if their workers or customers contract the virus at their businesses.
Whether companies would be liable for virus transmissions has become a key question as businesses seek to reopen around the country. Companies, universities and the groups that represent them are pushing Congress for temporary legal protections that they say will help get the economy running again.
But that idea has engendered stiff opposition among congressional Democrats and labor unions, who say that such a liability shield would encourage reckless behavior.
The debate is coming to a head in Washington, as Congress considers its next round of coronavirus legislation. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has singled out liability protection as the top Republican priority, with White House officials echoing that sentiment. Lawmakers expect some version of virus relief to pass through both chambers before the end of the summer.
But trial lawyers — as well as some legal experts — say the risk of such lawsuits is overstated and that legal protections may backfire.
“Immunity signals to workers and consumers that they go back to work or they go to the grocery store at their peril,” said David C. Vladeck, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.
The number of cases in Africa has doubled in the last 18 days, rising to more than 200,000, the W.H.O. says.
The pandemic took 98 days to reach 100,000 cases in Africa — but only 18 days to double from that figure, the World Health Organization announced on Thursday.
While the numbers may have risen so dramatically in part because of increased testing, the agency said in a statement that more than half of the 54 countries on the continent are experiencing community transmission. Ten countries are driving the rise in numbers, and account for nearly 80 percent of all cases, it said. South Africa accounts for about a quarter of total cases.
Of the 5,600 deaths recorded, the majority were in just five countries: Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan.
“For now, Africa still only accounts for a small fraction of cases worldwide,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the agency’s regional director for Africa. “But the pace of the spread is quickening. Swift and early action by African countries has helped to keep numbers low, but constant vigilance is needed to stop Covid-19 from overwhelming health facilities.”
The statement noted the “considerable socioeconomic cost” of lockdowns implemented to halt the spread of the virus, particularly on poor and marginalized communities. Many developing countries have begun to relax such measures even as infections surge.
“The need to balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods is a key consideration in this response, particularly in Africa,” Dr. Moeti said.
But the agency warned that the easing of restrictions must be coupled with widespread testing and vigilance until a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 is widely available.
Earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said his country’s lockdown — which has now been relaxed, with most people back at work — had achieved the goal of giving hospitals time to prepare. That assertion that may be tested in the coming days.
Arizona is among the emerging hot spots in the country as health care workers in the state grapple with an increase in cases. As of Tuesday, Arizona had 28,296 confirmed cases and 1,070 known deaths.
A jump in cases this month is fueling concerns of a potential increase in community spread, as Arizona has experienced several days in June with more than 1,000 newly reported cases, up from daily increases in the several hundreds.
While state officials in Arizona have contended that the rising case numbers were expected and reflect expanded testing, epidemiologists and some local health departments say that the state is undoubtedly experiencing increasing local transmission of the virus.
Authorities are bracing for what comes next. Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer at Banner Health, the state’s largest hospital system, said that the hospital network’s I.C.U. units treating Covid-19 patients were growing so busy that Banner would soon need to exercise a “surge plan” to expand I.C.U. capacity. (About 50 percent of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in Arizona are in Banner Health facilities.)
After Dr. Bessel issued her warning, Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, sent a letter to hospitals in the state urging them to “fully activate” emergency plans.
As cases continue to grow, hospital beds across the state are at a premium, with only 17 percent available as of Monday, according to data from the state. On Wednesday, test results showed a 20 percent positive test rate, the state reported.
Still, Arizona health officials seem to be sending different messages to people in the state. Jessica Rigler, the state health department’s assistant director, told the Arizona Republic this week, “We don’t want people to be in crisis mode, thinking that everything is all bad in Arizona with the cases.”
Arizona’s handling of the pandemic has vexed some epidemiologists and public health officials in the state. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, moved energetically to reopen the state in May — one of the earlier in the nation to do so.
Everything from swimming pools to gyms and Little League fields have opened in recent weeks, and relatively few people in Arizona are wearing masks compared with other parts of the country.
Schumer demands briefing for Democrats from the Trump administration’s virus task force.
The Senate’s top Democrat on Thursday accused Mr. Trump of being “too quick to sideline” his coronavirus task force, as infections spike around the country.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, called for the White House to allow Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and other members of the task force to brief Democrats next week on the state of the pandemic.
“The president was too quick to sideline the coronavirus task force, too eager to pretend that everything was back to normal and better than ever,” Mr. Schumer, said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Though Coronavirus infections are up in more than 20 states, Washington appears to have moved on to focus on other issues. Mr. Trump abandoned his daily coronavirus briefings more than a month ago, and Dr. Fauci — once a steady presence on Americans’ television sets and mobile devices — is rarely seen. Mr. Schumer also called for Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the president’s coronavirus response coordinator, to join Dr. Fauci in a briefing. Whether Mr. Trump will allow them to speak to Senate Democrats is unclear.
“We need to understand why these spikes are happening and how to adapt our national response,” Mr. Schumer said.
Former F.D.A. head says states with new outbreaks ‘never really got rid of the first wave,’ as stocks slide.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, warned on Thursday that some states are opening up for business even though they have not yet overcome the first wave of coronavirus cases.
“It’s not a second wave,” Dr. Scott said in an interview with the New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “They never really got rid of the first wave.”
“I think we should be concerned,” he added. “When you look at states like Arizona and Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina — those are where the big outbreaks are right now.”
Coronavirus infections were increasing in 21 states on Wednesday, as cases in the United States topped two million.
Dr. Gottlieb said that some states were struggling to identify and trace particular people or events that may have hastened the spread of the virus. “The cases are certainly concerning but I think the more concerning part is they haven’t been able to isolate what the source of the infection is,” he said.
When Wall Street opened a few hours later, stocks slid for a third-straight day of declines as investors considered a spate of grim forecasts about the economy. The S&P 500 fell more than 3 percent, on track for its worst daily drop since early April.
Even as stocks have rallied in recent weeks, some Wall Street analysts have cautioned that a second wave of cases could spook investors. On Thursday, shares of hotels, airlines and other businesses — that had rallied recently amid optimism over lifting lockdowns — fell sharply.
An additional 1.5 million new state unemployment claims were filed last week across the United States, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
That is the lowest number since the crisis began and continues the decline from the more than six million claims filed in a single week in March, but it is still an unusually high number.
More than 40 million state claims have been filed since the pandemic caused a widespread shutdown of businesses. In addition, some of the people ineligible for state benefits, like the self-employed, are getting aid under an emergency federal program.
“We’re slowly seeing the labor market recovery begin to take form,” said Robert Rosener, an economist at Morgan Stanley, but “there’s still an enormous amount of layoffs going on.”
The government reported last week that jobs rebounded in May and that the unemployment rate fell unexpectedly to 13.3 percent. Correcting for a classification error, the rate was closer to 16.4 percent — still lower than in April, but higher than at any other point since the Great Depression.
Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, warned on Wednesday that the economic pain could last for years and there would be “a significant chunk” — millions of workers — “who don’t get to go back to their old job, and there may not be a job in that industry for them for some time.”
Wall Street on Thursday was facing its third straight day of declines. U.S. stock futures tumbled more than 2 percent, amid a fresh round of negative forecasts about the economic recovery and signs that coronavirus cases continue to climb around the world.
The official New York Police Department policy is that officers should wear masks when interacting with the public. While officers may forgo it for different reasons, the images have fueled a perception of the police as arrogant and dismissive of protesters’ health.
“If you’re out here to protect the public, it starts with you,” said Chaka McKell, a carpenter who recently attended a protest.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Police Department dismissed the criticism about the lack of masks as petty.
“Perhaps it was the heat,” Sgt. Jessica McRorie of the department’s press office said in a statement. “Perhaps it was the 15 hour tours, wearing bullet resistant vests in the sun. Perhaps it was the helmets. With everything New York City has been through in the past two weeks and everything we are working toward together, we can put our energy to a better use.”
At his daily briefing on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked to respond to the Department’s statement. While there may be some legitimate reasons for officers to remove their masks, such as to take a drink of water, he reiterated that the city remains “in the middle of a pandemic” and that “overwhelmingly, people need to have face coverings on.”
“It is so important that the people of the city see the people they look to to enforce the law actually abiding by the same rules as the rest of us,” the mayor said. “That has to happen to the absolute maximum extent possible among our police officers.”
The city is still reporting hundreds of new cases each week, and more than 40 members of the Police Department have died of Covid-19, the police said. As of May 29, the most recent date that numbers were made available, 901 uniformed members — about 2.5 percent — were out sick, down from 19.8 percent at its peak in April. As of that same date, 5,627 members of the Department had returned to work after testing positive.
Here are some other important developments in New York:
Five regions of upstate and central New York can move into Phase 3 of reopening on Friday, the governor said. That allows indoor restaurant dining to resume and nail salons and massage parlors to operate, all with limits.
The governor also said the state would allow local municipalities to open public pools and playgrounds if officials judge it is safe to do so and continue to follow best practices.
Roughly 851,000 people rode the subway on Wednesday, up slightly from Monday and Tuesday, the interim president of New York City Transit said Thursday. Bus ridership was also ticking up, she added, and 92 percent of riders have worn masks. “People are sort of taking their time, but approaching the system with confidence,” she said. “They’re ready to come back.”
New York’s first lady announced that the city would invest $3 million into a restaurant revitalization program meant to provide support to unemployed and underemployed workers.
Statewide, there were an additional 36 virus-related deaths, the governor said.
A number of public health agencies have offered tips for dating and sex during the pandemic, but the New York City health department has recently updated its Safer Sex and Covid-19 fact sheet with more-detailed and descriptive advice. The new guidelines still say “you are your safest sex partner,” and that the “next safest partner” is someone in your household.
Across the United States, school leaders are beginning to roll out plans to welcome more than 50 million students back in the fall, including procuring millions of masks; flooding schools with nurses, aides and counselors; and staggering schedules to minimize class size.
But the expensive demands to meet public health guidelines and increasing pressure to make up for setbacks that have disproportionately affected low-income students, students of color and those with disabilities could cripple some schools’ budgets.
On Wednesday, educators told a Senate panel that without a large federal investment in public schools, districts hit hard by the virus will struggle to meet the needs of their pupils this fall as they try to reopen. “We must double down for those who have been most impacted by the Covid crisis if we are to deliver on the promise of education to create a more equitable society,” said the superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
This week Britain abandoned plans to have primary school pupils return before the summer holidays. Unlike many U.S. schools, British schools had remained open for vulnerable students and those whose parents are essential workers.
In the Netherlands, all elementary schools opened on Monday. Social distancing and masks are not required for children in day care and elementary schools, but they must wash their hands often. At Dutch high schools, which opened last week, social distancing is required. Some schools in Spain, which was among the hardest-hit European countries, opened late last month.
Hong Kong schools began to reopen on May 27 for half-day classes after being closed since February. Students, teachers and visitors are required to wear masks, sanitize their hands and have their temperature checked upon arrival.
It is impossible to know what the time away from school will mean for children, but some studies paint a bleak picture. As our reporter Dana Goldstein wrote last week, new research suggests that by September, most U.S. students will have fallen behind where they would have been if they had stayed in classrooms, with some losing the equivalent of a full school year’s worth of academic gains.
The drugmaker Regeneron said on Thursday that it was beginning a clinical trial of an antibody cocktail that it has developed to prevent and treat Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Regeneron, which is based in Tarrytown, N.Y., is one of a handful of companies trying to develop treatments that work similarly to the antibodies that people develop naturally when they contract the virus. If the treatments work, they might provide a bridge to a vaccine, and possibly a temporary protection to people like health care workers who are at high risk of becoming infected.
The company said it would begin testing its product in four groups: patients who are hospitalized with Covid-19; those who are infected and have symptoms but are not hospitalized; groups that are at high risk of being infected, like health care workers; and people who have been exposed to someone with Covid-19.
Regeneron developed the antibody treatment using specially designed mice that have human immune systems, as well as by isolating antibodies from people who have recovered from Covid-19. The researchers selected two of the most potent antibodies and then scaled them up for testing. A similar approach was used by Regeneron in an antibody treatment that was shown to work with Ebola patients.
“We hope to see similar success with this program and help improve outcomes against this terrible disease,” Christos Kyratsous, a vice president at Regeneron, said in a statement.
Drug trials are highly unpredictable, even if they have shown early promise in the lab. Still, the company has said that if the cocktail is successful, it could be ready to produce thousands of doses for preventive use by the end of the summer, before vaccines are available.
Other companies working on antibody treatments include Eli Lilly, which recently began early-stage trials of its treatment, and Vir Biotechnology, which is working in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline.
A young woman whose lungs were destroyed by the coronavirus received a double lung transplant last week at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the hospital reported on Thursday, the first known lung transplant in the United States for Covid-19.
The 10-hour surgery was more difficult and took several hours longer than most lung transplants because inflammation from the disease had left the woman’s lungs “completely plastered to tissue around them, the heart, the chest wall and diaphragm,” said Dr. Ankit Bharat, the chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program at Northwestern Medicine, which includes Northwestern Memorial Hospital, in an interview.
He said the patient, a woman in her 20s who had no serious underlying medical conditions, was recovering well: “She’s awake, she’s smiling, she FaceTimed with her family.”
But she has a long way to go. She is still on a ventilator because even though the transplanted lungs are healthy, her long illness has left her chest muscles too weak for breathing, and it will take time for her strength to return.
The transplant was her only chance for survival, Dr. Bharat said. His team wanted other transplant centers to know that the operation could save some desperately ill Covid-19 patients.
He said that other medical centers had been calling to find out about the operation and that some wanted to send Covid-19 patients to Northwestern for lung transplants.
“I want to emphasize that this is not for every Covid patient,” Dr. Bharat said. “We are talking about patients who are relatively young, very functional, with minimal to no comorbid conditions, with permanent lung damage who can’t get off the ventilator.”
For such patients, he said, the news of a successful transplant “absolutely could start something.”
Xie Yiyi, who is American-educated, lost her job last Friday, making the 22-year-old Beijing resident one of millions of young people in China left unmoored and shaken by the coronavirus. So that same day, heeding the advice of one of China’s top leaders, she decided to open a barbecue stall.
Street vendors are seen by many Chinese people as embarrassing eyesores from the country’s past, when it was still emerging from extreme poverty. In many Chinese cities, uniformed neighborhood rule enforcers called chengguan regularly evict and assault sidewalk sellers of fake jewelry, cheap clothes and spicy snacks.
But Li Keqiang, China’s premier, has publicly called for the country’s jobless to ignite a “stall economy” to get the country’s derailed economy back on track. In the process, he laid bare China’s diverging narratives after the coronavirus epidemic. Is China an increasingly middle-class country, represented by the skyscrapers and tech campuses in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen? Or is much of it still poor and backward, a country of roadside stalls in back alleys?
Here are some other developments from around the world.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous country, is experiencing a sustained spike in coronavirus cases, roughly three weeks after millions of people began crisscrossing the country at the end of Ramadan. This week, Indonesia has recorded three consecutive days of about 1,000 new infections each day, with a total of 35,295 cases and 2,000 deaths as of Thursday afternoon.
Concerned about the economic impact on tourism and universities, the European Union is recommending that all member countries in the bloc open their borders to one another by Monday. The European Commission, the executive branch of the bloc, is recommending a gradual opening to outsiders starting in July.
In Canada, commentary on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unruly mane has become a national sport. With barber shops and salons set to reopen in Ottawa on Friday, the question is: Will he get a haircut, or will he refrain in solidarity with Canadians in areas still under lockdown?
At a parking lot in Prague, a group of actors prepared a stage set — but then performed to an audience of cars.
In Schüttorf, a small German town near the Dutch border, a nightclub hosted guests. But the clubbers had to stay in their cars. They were allowed outside only to use the bathroom.
In an industrial wasteland in northern Copenhagen, a family of churchgoers said their prayers from the comfort of their car, as their pastor preached to them in a parking lot.
But the longer the pair traveled, the faster Europe seemed to accelerate toward normalcy. Cars were back jamming the streets. Chatter was returning to the classrooms. Families were beginning to meet again.
Across the continent, Europeans were gradually adapting to the new reality. The normal felt almost normal again.
Reporting was contributed by Hannah Beech, Nick Corasaniti, Jacey Fortin, Rick Gladstone, Dana Goldstein, Denise Grady, Erica L. Green, Tiffany Hsu, Patrick Kingsley, Raphael Minder, Claire Moses, Tara Parker-Pope, Monika Pronczuk, Alan Rappeport, Kaly Soto, Matt Stevens, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Ana Swanson, Katie Thomas, Laetitia Vancon, Daniel Victor, Michael Wilson, Michael Wines, Li Yuan and Karen Zraick.
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