Coronavirus Live Updates: Studies Show N.Y. Outbreak Originated in Europe

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Credit...Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Coronavirus in New York came mainly from Europe, studies show.

New research indicates that the coronavirus began to circulate in the New York area by mid-February, weeks before the first confirmed case, and that it was brought to the region mainly by travelers from Europe, not Asia.

“The majority is clearly European,” said Harm van Bakel, a geneticist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who co-wrote a study awaiting peer review.

A separate team at N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine came to strikingly similar conclusions, despite studying a different group of cases. Both teams analyzed genomes from coronaviruses taken from New Yorkers starting in mid-March.

The research revealed a previously hidden spread of the virus that might have been detected if aggressive testing programs had been put in place. On Jan. 31, President Trump barred foreign nationals from entering the country if they had been in China — the site of the virus’s first known outbreak — during the previous two weeks.

Viruses invade a cell and take over its molecular machinery, causing it to make new viruses. An international guild of viral historians ferrets out the history of outbreaks by poring over clues embedded in the genetic material of viruses taken from thousands of patients.

In January, a team of Chinese and Australian researchers published the first genome of the new virus. Since then, researchers around the world have sequenced over 3,000 more. Some are genetically identical to each other, while others carry distinctive mutations.

C.D.C. issues new back-to-work guidelines for essential workers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidelines on Wednesday detailing how essential employees can go back to work even if they have been exposed to people infected by the coronavirus, provided they do not feel sick and follow certain precautions.

Those employees can return if they take their temperature before heading to their workplaces, wear a face mask at all times and practice social distancing while on the job, Dr. Robert Redfield, the C.D.C. director, said at the White House briefing. They should not share headsets or other objects that touch their faces, and they should not congregate in break rooms or crowded areas, he said.

Dr. Redfield said that employers should send workers home immediately if they developed any symptoms. He also said they should increase air exchange in their buildings and clean common surfaces more often. The goal, he said, was to “get these workers back into the critical work force so that we don’t have worker shortages.”

The new guidance appears to blend earlier advice. Last week, the C.D.C. recommended that even healthy Americans wear masks in public after data showed as many as 25 percent of people infected with the virus were asymptomatic, at the urging of the White House, businesses, workers and others to kick-start the idled economy.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, and other government experts suggested at the briefing that the strict measures being taken by Americans to stem the spread of the virus may be leveling new cases in areas like New York, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.

In New York, ‘the bad news is actually terrible.’

New York, the hardest hit state in America, reported its highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in a single day on Wednesday, announcing that another 779 people had died. That brought the virus death toll to 6,268 in New York State, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo noted was more than twice as many people as the state had lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“I went through 9/11,” he said at his daily briefing. “I thought in my lifetime I wouldn’t have to see anything like that again — nothing that bad, nothing that tragic.”

The number of hospitalizations had fallen in recent days, he said, suggesting that social distancing measures were working to flatten the steep curve of the virus’s spread, at least for now. The rates depend not only on the number of new arrivals but also on hospital admission standards.

“If we stop what we are doing, you will see that curve change,” Mr. Cuomo warned.

Then he pivoted to a more somber tone. “The bad news isn’t just bad,” he said. “The bad news is actually terrible.”

New Jersey also had a record number of deaths in the past day: Gov. Philip D. Murphy said that 275 people had died there, up from 232 on Tuesday. More people have died in New York and New Jersey — a total of 7,772 — than in the rest of the United States combined.

Mr. Cuomo said that the staggering death toll could continue to rise even as hospitalization rates were falling, because it reflected people who had been on ventilators for long periods of time.

He expressed reluctance to offer a timeline on when social gatherings could begin again, when he was asked about New York’s theater industry, which will remain shuttered until at least June. “I wouldn’t use what Broadway thinks as a barometer of anything,” he said.

New York State now has more confirmed cases than any single country in the world outside of the United States.

The virus might not fade in warm weather, scientists warn.

The homebound and virus-wary across the Northern Hemisphere, be it Mr. Trump or cooped-up schoolchildren, have clung to the possibility that the pandemic will fade in hot weather, as some viral diseases do.

But the National Academy of Sciences, in a public report sent to the White House, has said, in effect: Don’t get your hopes up. After reviewing a variety of research reports, the panel concluded that the number of studies, of varying quality of evidence, simply do not offer a clear forecast of what will happen to the spread of the coronavirus in the summer.

The report cited a small number of well-controlled laboratory studies that show that high temperature and humidity can diminish the ability of the virus to survive in the environment. But the report noted the studies had limitations that made them less than conclusive.

“Given that countries currently in ‘summer’ climates, such as Australia and Iran, are experiencing rapid virus spread, a decrease in cases with increases in humidity and temperature elsewhere should not be assumed,” the report stated.

Homes for disabled people experience a surge in coronavirus cases.

As the coronavirus preys on the most vulnerable, it is taking root in New York’s sprawling network of group homes for people with special needs. As of Monday, 1,100 developmentally disabled residents in New York State have tested positive for coronavirus, and 105 have died, state officials said, a death rate far higher than in the general population.

Separately, a study by a large consortium of private service providers found that residents of group homes and similar facilities in New York City and surrounding areas were 5.34 times more likely than the general population to develop Covid-19 and 4.86 times more likely to die from it.

A caregiver on Staten Island, who said about 50 colleagues had tested positive, described the challenges faced by those remaining on the job.

“One of the individuals here is positive, and his behavior is to get up, to pace, and he wants to give me a hug, shake my hand,” the caregiver said, asking that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak.

“They have a hard time realizing that they need to be isolated, and the psychologists aren’t coming out and talking to him,” he added. “We don’t have training for this. We’re just learning on the fly.”

Alabama treatment guidelines are ruled discriminatory.

The growing number of coronavirus cases has raised interest in state guidelines outlining who should be prioritized for lifesaving medical treatments in an emergency. But certain standards that Alabama had on the books are discriminatory, the federal health department’s Office of Civil Rights said on Wednesday.

Alabama’s criteria, contained in a 2010 document that set out the state’s guidance for rationing ventilators in an emergency, suggested that doctors consider withholding advanced treatment based on patients’ intellectual disabilities, with “profound mental retardation” and “moderate to severe dementia” weighing against them. The guidelines also referred to age as a potential category for exclusion, which raised questions of age discrimination, according to the review.

The state has agreed to remove all links to the document on its website and not include the contested guidance in its plan for responding to the coronavirus outbreak, the civil rights office said.

The quick resolution to a complaint meant that the state would not be subject to a lengthy investigation that might result in a potential loss of federal funds. “It sends a message to other states that they need to review their crisis standards-of-care policies to make sure that they are fully compliant,” Roger Severino, the civil rights office’s director, said in a statement.

Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, said in a statement: “All people deserve compassion and equal respect, and with this in mind, the allocation of care cannot discriminate based on race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, exercise of conscience or religion.”

Days before Easter, Kansas legislators overturn an order limiting religious services.

Republican legislators in Kansas on Wednesday rescinded an order intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus by limiting the size of church services, even as the number of cases in that state continued to rise.

The senate president, Susan Wagle, a Republican, said most people were aware that the virus was highly contagious and wanted to limit its spread, “but don’t tell us we can’t practice our religious freedoms,” according to The Wichita Eagle.

The move, days before Easter, came after Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, signed an executive order banning gatherings of 10 or more people at religious institutions.

She warned that Kansas was approaching its projected peak infection rate in the coming weeks and “the risk for a spike in Covid-19 cases through church gatherings is especially dangerous.”

Ms. Kelly said on Wednesday that Kansas had 1,046 cases of the coronavirus and 38 deaths. At a news conference, she denounced lawmakers for reversing the order, calling it a “shockingly irresponsible decision that will put every Kansan’s life at risk.”

White House’s $250 billion request is inadequate, Pelosi says.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on Wednesday the White House’s request for a quick, $250 billion infusion for loans to small businesses would not pass the House without additional funds for hospitals and states, and other changes demanded by Democrats.

“The bill that they put forth will not get unanimous support in the House — it just won’t,” she said in an interview on NPR, pointing to, among other Democratic requests, a proposal to reserve half of the loan program for businesses owned by farmers, women, people of color and veterans.

“Why wouldn’t you give them an avenue to participate?” she asked.

On Wednesday evening Mr. Trump called on Congress to approve more money for the loan program “this week, as soon as possible.”

“I think we have a pretty good understanding with the Democrats, hopefully it’s going to be bipartisan,” he said. “We do not have time for the partisan games, we don’t want that, the obstruction, or totally unrelated agendas.”

In a joint statement earlier, Ms. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said they wanted to add $100 billion for hospitals, community health centers and health systems — in part to shore up testing and the distribution of critical safety gear for health workers on the front lines — as well as $150 billion for state and local governments and a 15 percent increase in food assistance benefits.

It was unclear whether Republicans would agree to the additions, although some lawmakers warned against doing anything that could delay an infusion of cash that both parties agree is badly needed for small businesses.

A jail in Chicago is now the largest-known source of U.S. infections.

The Cook County Jail in Chicago, a sprawling facility that is among the largest jails in the nation, has emerged as the largest-known source of U.S. virus infections, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

At least 353 cases can be linked to the jail — more than have been connected to the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt; a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash.; or the cluster centered in New Rochelle, N.Y.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, said 238 inmates and 115 staff members had tested positive as of Wednesday.

The outbreak appears to confirm the concerns of many health officials, who warned that America’s overcrowded and unsanitary jails and prisons could be a major source of spread. Those warnings prompted the authorities across the country to release thousands of inmates to try to slow the infection, save lives and preserve medical resources.



How Coronavirus at Rikers Puts All of N.Y.C. at Risk

Officials have promised a mass release of inmates from city jails to slow the spread of coronavirus. Critics say the government isn’t moving fast enough.

“To not have any control over anything, to just be waiting and on the edge of your seat, it’s mind blowing at this point.” Janette’s fiancée, Michael, is detained on Rikers Island. He’s serving time because he failed to check in with his officer, violating his parole for drug possession. Now Michael, and hundreds like him, are at the center of a public health crisis experts have been warning about for weeks. “Two months owed to the city, it’s not worth somebody’s life. You’re giving people a life sentence leaving them there.” TV announcers: “An inmate who tested positive for Covid-19 died yesterday at Bellevue Hospital.” “Rikers is one of the largest correctional facilities in the world, and right now, the infection rate there is seven times that of New York City.” “Is our prison system equipped to handle an outbreak?” “When the coronavirus seeped into the jails, public officials, public advocates all rushed to address the situation.” “We will continue to reduce our jail population.” “We’re releasing people who are in jails because they violated parole.” When the virus was first identified in New York, there were 5,400 inmates in city jails. To combat the spread of the virus, the Board of Correction recommended the release of 2,000 inmates. Parole violators, people over 50, those medically at risk and inmates serving short sentences. But two weeks later, government officials have released just half. “Prisons, jails, are acting as incubators for the virus.” “Think about the jails as the world’s worst cruise ship.” “If we get a real situation here, and this thing starts to spread, it’s going to spread like wildfire, and New York is going to have a problem on their hands.” Thousands of employees travel through the city’s jails every day, forming a human lifeline to the city. Inmates also come and go. “So it’s particularly urgent to get this under control because it’s not just about who is in the jails right now, it’s really about the city.” This is Kenneth Albritton. He was being held on Rikers as Covid-19 spread through the city. “It’s scary in there, that’s what I would tell you. When I was in there, you had guys making their own masks with their shirts. They didn’t want to breathe in the air with the same people that’s in the dorm with them.” Kenneth was on parole after serving time for second-degree manslaughter when he was 18. “I was brought to Rikers Island on Feb. 5 for a curfew violation. For me reading a paper and watching the news, and I’m seeing that they’re saying no more than 10 to a group. But you have 50 guys that’s in a sleeping area. It’s impossible to tell us to practice social distancing there when they’re being stacked on top of each other.” After someone in his dorm tested positive, Kenneth says he was quarantined. But less than 24 hours later, he was released. He was given a MetroCard, but no guidance about how to deal with the potential spread of Covid-19. “If they would have tested me on my way out, then I would have felt like, OK, they took the proper steps. When I left the pen to come home, they told us nothing about how we should handle situation. Even though nobody told me nothing, I felt I should quarantine myself.” “Not much has been considered in terms of what happens to inmates after their release, and once they’re back in the communities and in their homes.” When we asked about the pace of releases, the mayor’s office agreed it was slow, but said they don’t have full control of the process. The state’s Department of Corrections said it’s working as quickly as possible. “My fiancée who’s on Rikers, we had our son in September and about two weeks after that, he found out that he had a warrant for his arrest.” “Oh, you got those boogies. I told you that baby likes that camera — Oh my goodness.” “This is a person with nonviolent charges. It’s like a real health care disaster. The parolees is like the easiest thing they do. Right. Yeah, they said about 500 or 700 parolees. I just had read it last night. Yes, that he signed off on it.” The outbreak at city jails doesn’t just pose a threat to inmates. On March 27, Quinsey Simpson became the first New York City corrections officer to die from Covid-19. “Correction officers every day, despite harm to themselves and their family, are rolling on this island to do this job.” Officer Husamudeen criticizes the city’s response, though he’s arguing for improving jail conditions not releasing inmates. “That’s not the answer to solving this problem. They haven’t served their time. If they served their time, they wouldn’t be on parole.” But his opposition is in the minority. While the overall population at Rikers has decreased, there’s an unusual consensus from public defenders, prosecutors and corrections officials that the releases aren’t happening quickly enough. “We need to reframe our thinking around public safety right now to accommodate the fact that public safety includes trying to prevent viral spread.” “My brother who’s a New York City schoolteacher contracted the coronavirus. Are you OK? Oh, I love you. Oh, you scared? What’s the matter? Oh, God. Don’t get into your head that it’s going to beat you. You’re going to beat this. OK? OK, I love you. OK, I’ll call you in a little while. OK. As a teacher, he had a lot of precautions, and thought he was following everything he was supposed to be doing, and he contracted the coronavirus going into a school. This is why I’m so adamant about fighting for Michael to get home. The person standing right next to you can have it and you wouldn’t even know it.” Across city jails, hundreds of inmates and corrections workers have tested positive, and half of all inmates are now under quarantine. “Covid-19 and the pandemic has exposed pretty rapidly sort of all of the weakest places in our social safety nets. And it is no surprise that one of those is the ways that jails put people at risk.” “I know, love — This is just ridiculously scary.”

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Officials have promised a mass release of inmates from city jails to slow the spread of coronavirus. Critics say the government isn’t moving fast enough.CreditCredit...Yousur Al-Hlou/The New York Times

Still, hundreds of diagnoses have been confirmed at local, state and federal correctional facilities — almost certainly an undercount, given a lack of testing and rapid spread — leading to hunger strikes in immigrant detention centers and demands for more protection from prison employee unions.

In Cook County, officials released hundreds of inmates early — all of whom had been convicted of nonviolent crimes like drug possession and disorderly conduct. Judges are continuing to examine the cases of each inmate to determine if bonds can be lowered for certain people. That would allow dozens, perhaps hundreds, more people to be released, officials say.

In New York City, jails like Rikers Island are also seeing infection rates grow exponentially. City and state officials have promised the mass release of inmates. But many say they are not moving quickly enough, putting inmates, staff and the city at risk.

Seismographs reveal that stay-at-home orders have quieted the planet.

Seismometers may be built to detect earthquakes, but their mechanical ears hear much more. Even the everyday hum of humanity — people moving about on cars, trains and planes — has a seismically detectable heartbeat.

But as billions of people have been instructed to stay home to try to curtail the pandemic’s spread, the roar of urban life has turned into a whisper all over the world. Today, in cities large and small, the thumping pulse of civilization is now barely detectable on many seismograms.

“It did make the scale of the shutdowns a bit more real to me,” said Celeste Labedz, a graduate student in geophysics at the California Institute of Technology.

In person, you can see only your neighborhood’s dedication to remaining home. With seismometers, Ms. Labedz said, you can see the collective willingness of millions of the world’s urban dwellers to hunker down.

London is no longer buzzing. Paula Koelemeijer, a seismologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said the seismometer in her suburban house was clocking a 20 to 25 percent reduction in average weekly noise, compared with the week before Britain began its lockdown.

Noise levels on some seismic stations in Los Angeles have dropped to below half of what they normally are, Ms. Labedz said.

Claudio Satriano, a seismologist at the Paris Institute of Earth Physics, detected a 38 percent drop in the average daytime noise in his city.

Scientists are now able to better hear the planet’s natural tectonic soundtrack. With the volume of humanity reduced, “we can detect smaller earthquakes, just like how it’s easier to hear a phone ring in a library than at a rock concert,” Ms. Labedz said.

California will spend $1.4 billion on personal protective equipment.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said on Wednesday that the state would spend $1.4 billion on personal protective equipment for medical personnel, supermarket workers, employees of the Department of Motor Vehicles and any other “front-line employees walking the streets.”

One day after announcing that the state had reached agreements to buy 200 million masks a month from factories in Asia, Mr. Newsom and other officials described a broad effort that includes the purchase of gowns, face masks and other equipment.

“We made a big, bold bet on a new strategy, and it is bearing fruit,” Mr. Newsom said.

As part of the plan, the state is contracting with a company to sterilize 80,000 N95 masks daily. The masks can be used about 20 times before being discarded.

Mr. Newsom also announced one of the state’s highest death tolls: 68 people died over the past 24 hours, bringing California’s total deaths to about 450.

Amid nationwide concern about the disproportionate number of nonwhite people who have died from the virus, Mr. Newsom said preliminary data did not show that trend in California.

He said Latinos made up 30 percent of the state’s cases and 29 percent of the deaths; Asians made up 14 percent of cases and 16 percent of deaths; and black residents made up 6 percent of cases and 3 percent of the deaths. But he offered the caveat that the state has ethnicity data for only about one-third of cases.

The S&P 500 is up 23 percent from its March low.

Wall Street resumed its rally on Wednesday. With a more than 3 percent gain, the S&P 500 is now up about 23 percent from its March 23 low.

The market has been steadily climbing since it hit that bottom, a rebound that began after the Federal Reserve and lawmakers in Washington took unprecedented steps to protect the world’s largest economy from a collapse amid the pandemic. Stocks are still down about 19 percent from their late February high.

To some extent, the recent gains reflect Wall Street’s fear of missing out on the rebound that many analysts predicted would eventually come.

“If you wait until the coast is clear you will have missed a huge part of the gains,” said Matt Maley, chief market strategist at Miller Tabak a trading and asset management firm. “And professional investors can’t afford to do that.”

For now, though, it is big money managers — not mom-and-pop retail investors — who are in on the action. Hedge fund traders and mutual fund managers have swooped into the market, driving sharp gains for blue-chip shares that have been battered by the market sell-off.

Still, the market’s recent optimism is set against a grim backdrop of economic and human catastrophe that continues to play out — and which threatens to undercut any rally at a moment’s notice.

A new report on weekly jobless claims on Thursday is certain to show millions more Americans are out of work. The two prior reports recorded more than 10 million claims for unemployment in late March.

Here are answers to common questions about the malaria drug Trump keeps pushing.

There is no proof that any drug can cure or prevent infection with the coronavirus. But in the face of an exploding pandemic with a frightening death toll, people are desperate for a bit of hope.

The drug that has received the most attention is hydroxychloroquine, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly recommended, despite warnings from his own health officials that there is little data to support its widespread use as a treatment against the virus.

With so many mixed messages, here are answers to common questions about the drug, including what it is, how it is being used, what studies show and what its potential side effects are.

Passover will be different this year.

For generations Jewish families have gathered for the first night of Passover to recount the 10 plagues from the Book of Exodus — frogs, pestilence, death — and to remember how God delivered the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago.

Jews observed the Seder in the fifth century B.C. on the Egyptian island of Elephantine, and they observed it in 1943 as German troops liquidated the Warsaw ghetto. And on Wednesday in homes across the United States, families will once again light candles at the Seder table and ask why this night is different from all other nights.

Of course, with a literal plague in their midst, families cannot meet in person this year and may even tweak their Haggadahs — the text that is annually read aloud — to reflect the moment. But the power of Passover remains, perhaps even more so as a symbol of perseverance.

The Times asked families around the country to share reflections on the Passover story in this moment. Their words speak to the power of memory, the meaning of plague, and how crockpots and cookbooks can connect us with loved ones of generations past and future.

Reporting was contributed by Reed Abelson, Peter Baker, Alan Blinder, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Audra D. S. Burch, Weiyi Cai, Emily Cochrane, Michael Cooper, Stacy Cowley, Elizabeth Dias, Caitlin Dickerson, Conor Dougherty, Julia Echikson, John Eligon, Nicholas Fandos, Lisa Friedman, Thomas Fuller, Robert Gebeloff, J. David Goodman, Abby Goodnough, William Grimes, Danny Hakim, Anemona Hartocollis, Adeel Hassan, Jack Healy, Danielle Ivory, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Nicholas Kulish, Michael Levenson, Dan Levin, Patricia Mazzei, Colin Moynihan, Andy Newman, Jack Nicas, Richard A. Oppel Jr., David E. Sanger, Marc Santora, Charlie Savage, Dionne Searcey, Matt Stevens, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Sabrina Tavernise, Timothy Williams and Carl Zimmer.

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