Coronavirus Live Updates: U.S. Moves to Speed Testing as Fight Against Virus Intensifies


The Trump administration moved on Friday to dramatically speed up coronavirus screening, introducing an emergency hotline for private laboratories and new partnerships with companies developing tests that can detect the virus within an hour.

The unit within the Department of Health and Human Services that does biomedical research will award over a million dollars to two companies, DiaSorin Molecular and Qiagen, to speed up the development of the tests, the department announced Friday morning.

The Food and Drug Administration said on Friday that a 24-hour emergency hotline would be created to help private-sector and academic labs authorize new tests and process the ones deployed.

Health and Human Services also made drastic changes to the team overseeing the distribution of tests to public and private labs, installing Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for the agency, to oversee the efforts.

Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the F.D.A. commissioner, now must report to Admiral Giroir, said Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary.

The move was another indication of tension among top health officials as the Trump administration has struggled to catch up with the demand nationally at public health labs.

The C.D.C. botched its first attempt to mass produce a diagnostic kit, a discovery made only after officials had shipped hundreds of kits to state laboratories.

A promised replacement took several weeks, and still did not permit state and local laboratories to make final diagnoses. And the C.D.C. essentially ensured that Americans would be tested in very few numbers by imposing stringent and narrow criteria.

Stocks rebounded on Friday from their worst day in more than 30 years, a rally pinned partly to signs of movement in Washington and a declaration by leaders in Germany, which has Europe’s biggest economy, to spend whatever it would take to support businesses there.

By late morning in New York, the S&P 500 was up about 3 percent.

The buying also swept through markets in Europe, with major indexes rising as much as 10 percent. Oil prices, which have collapsed in recent weeks, rose 7 percent and yields on U.S. government bonds rose.

All of those moves were signals that investors felt a touch better about the outlook for the economy than they did a day ago.

But financial markets have been nothing if not inconsistent for the past three weeks, plunging, and then rising, and then plunging again, as each day brought new measures to try to contain the outbreak and new worries that the economy, workers and businesses would take a hit as a result of them.

On Thursday, stocks on Wall Street and in Europe plunged in their biggest daily drop since the stock market crashed in 1987, as President Trump’s ban on entry from most European countries to the United States disappointed investors who had been waiting for Washington to take stronger steps to bolster the economy.

But late Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said that she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had “resolved most of our differences” on a package of economic aid for workers and companies, pledging a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday.

Adding to the positive news for markets, the German government said on Friday that it would not put any limit on fiscal stimulus, and that it would take on debt if needed to bolster its economy.

President Trump said he had not been tested for the coronavirus despite coming into contact with a person who only days later tested positive. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada is self-isolating after his wife tested positive. The leader of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, is awaiting results of his own test after an aide fell ill. And the Australian minister for home affairs, Peter Dutton, tested positive on Friday, days after meeting with Attorney General William P. Barr and Ivanka Trump.

The reach of the virus into the world’s highest political reaches was a stark reminder — if one was needed — that the pathogen knows no limits and that no corner of daily life was immune.

Three weeks ago, Wall Street was trading at record highs. On Thursday, traders suffered their worst losses in decades. On Friday, however, U.S. futures surged and European indexes traded higher, further evidence of the virus’s whipsaw effect on the markets.

An avalanche of cancellations and closings gathered speed. In the United States, Broadway has gone dark and Disney parks are shutting their doors for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Nearly every sport has been affected, including soccer, with the English Premier League the latest to announce suspension of play. The Boston Marathon and the Masters golf tournament were also called off.

Even Mount Everest was closed to climbers on Friday.

In Italy, daily life has ground to a halt. More than 1,000 people have died there and many doctors are facing a choice unthinkable only days ago: who lives and who dies.

With the exponential growth of the virus, European countries rolled out a broad array of restrictions. In Spain, which now has around 4,000 cases, the government ordered its first mandatory lockdowns, affecting about 70,000 people in four towns in Catalonia. Belgium on Friday joined the list of nations closing schools. Cafes and restaurants were also ordered to shut their doors at midnight.

In Britain, the government has so far resisted taking extreme measures. Shops, schools and pubs were open. Mass gatherings have not yet been banned. More stringent measures were being held in reserve.

Australia’s minister for home affairs, Peter Dutton, who last week met with Ivanka Trump, President Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, said he had contracted the new coronavirus.

Mr. Dutton, a hard-line conservative and former police officer who has been relatively quiet in the midst of the outbreak, said on Twitter on Friday that he had tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19.

“I feel fine and will provide an update in due course,” he wrote.

Last week, Mr. Dutton met with Ms. Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr in Washington.

Mr. Dutton is the latest in a string of foreign dignitaries who have met with associates of Mr. Trump in recent days, only to later learn they had been infected.

The Australian government announced that starting Monday all events with 500 people or more will effectively be banned. On Thursday, the actor Tom Hanks tested positive for the virus in Australia.

The volley of developments suggests Australia may be moving into a more aggressive phase of contagion, even as officials roll out an economic stimulus package and continue to argue that a crisis has not yet arrived.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that isolation and the tracing of contacts have been shown to slow the spread of the virus. “And that’s why Australia right now is in a position where we have low rates of this virus and the number of cases that have presented. But we’ve always known that the number of cases will rise.”

The call for large events to be canceled brought an end to the Australia Grand Prix, a Formula One motor race, along with other major cultural and sporting event

At least six states and several large school districts moved on Thursday to close schools for at least two weeks, extreme measures that they hope will stem the spread of the coronavirus, but which come at the cost of upending the daily lives of 6 million schoolchildren and their parents.

All public schools, and many if not all private schools, in Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Kentucky and New Mexico were told to close beginning next week, and the governor of Washington State ordered all schools shut in three counties near Seattle. The Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in Texas, also said it was closing for two weeks.

The actions came as the number of people who have been infected with the coronavirus in the United States jumped by nearly 400 on Thursday. The virus has been diagnosed in more than 1,650 people in 46 states and has killed at least 41 people, according to a New York Times database. The closings could have a severe effect on parents who will need to find child care, and on the many students who depend on the cafeteria for food and the school for shelter.

In Kentucky, for example, 75 percent of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. In Ohio, there are more than 25,000 students who are defined as homeless.

Some of the largest school districts in the country have remained open amid the coronavirus threat. Officials in New York, home to the nation’s largest school district, have said closing its schools would be a last resort. In Los Angeles, the second-largest district, the superintendent said on Thursday night that schools would remain open for the time being, despite the teachers’ union calling on him to close it.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain said on Friday that the country would be placed under a state of emergency for 15 days, which could allow his government to restrict the movement of citizens, ration goods and impose other measures to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

The decision came as Spain reported about 4,200 confirmed infections, the most in Europe after Italy. The Spanish death toll reached 120 on Friday.

In a brief televised address, Mr. Sánchez said that the state of emergency would come into force on Saturday, after a ministerial meeting, and that it was designed to use “all the resources of the state to protect better the citizens, especially those who are most vulnerable to the virus.”

Mr. Sánchez said that Spain and other European countries were “only in the first phase of the fight against the virus.” He warned that Spain could reach 10,000 cases in coming weeks.

But Mr. Sánchez did not specify what kinds of measure would be imposed under a state of emergency. “We will take weeks,” he said. “It will be very hard and difficult, but we will overcome the virus, that’s certain.” The government has already closed museums and sports centers, and students nationwide were sent home from school this week. Earlier Friday, Spain ordered the lockdown of about 70,000 people in four towns in Catalonia.

The coronavirus has spread at an alarming rate in Spain over the past week, with the Madrid region becoming the center of the health crisis and two of Mr. Sánchez’s ministers testing positive for the virus.

Under the Spanish Constitution, the government can maintain a nationwide state of emergency for 15 days. The law also allows the government to requisition factories and other infrastructure. Parliament must approve an extension.

The only other time that Spain declared a state of emergency was in 2010, when the government ordered the military to break up a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers that brought to air traffic to a standstill.

Germany is making a package of economic assistance worth more than $600 billion available to help companies in Europe’s largest economy survive the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier, said on Friday.

“There will be no upper limits for the amount of credit” from the government-owned lender KfW Bankengruppe, Mr. Altmaier said. “This is the time for working together.”

As new infections have risen across the Continent, and daily life has ground to a halt in many places, businesses have been left reeling.

Olaf Scholz, the German finance minister, said that the government could take further steps, including taking stakes in companies, if deemed necessary. “We can’t forget the lessons of the previous financial crisis,” Mr. Scholz told reporters in Berlin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to citizens to reduce their social contacts “wherever possible,” as the number of infections in Germany passed 3,000, with six deaths.

“Exceptional situations call for exceptional measures,” Ms. Merkel said on Thursday after meeting with state governors. “This is anything but a little blip in the course of history. It is a break that will challenge all of us.”

Today, we look at how the places you interact with daily are ensuring they stay safe while still being able to function, including how gyms should be disinfecting their equipment, new guidance for building managers, and how needed changes may affect workers.

Canadian lawmakers suspended Parliament on Friday for five weeks.

The decision to adjourn came the morning after Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said she had tested positive for the coronavirus. Mr. Trudeau is now in isolation for two weeks, although he shows no symptoms and physicians are not testing him for the virus.

Several other lawmakers have also been isolating themselves since Thursday as a precautionary measure.

Mr. Trudeau continues to perform most of his official duties, although his meetings have become conference calls and he was absent from the House of Commons. He spoke with several world leaders during the day, including President Trump.

On the advice of physicians, Mr. Trudeau will continue to work from home for the next 14 days, the statement said. Mr. Trudeau will make a speech to Canadians about the coronavirus pandemic on Friday following a conference call with the country’s provincial leaders.

Broadway will go dark for at least a month beginning Thursday, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced restrictions on public gatherings in an extraordinary step to fight the growing outbreak of the coronavirus.

The governor’s decision to limit gatherings of more than 500 people was a blow to the theater industry, a crown jewel of New York City’s tourist trade. Last season, the industry drew 14.8 million patrons and grossed $1.8 billion.

All 41 Broadway theaters have at least 500 seats, and most have more than 1,000.

At a later news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency for New York City, which will empower him to take expedited measures to control the outbreak; he could, for example, implement a curfew, limit traffic to emergency vehicles or suspend certain laws.

Mr. de Blasio said that New Yorkers should prepare themselves for restrictions that could last as long as six months.

Cases in New York State grew to 325, with 95 cases in New York City. Mr. de Blasio suggested that there would be 1,000 positive cases by next week as testing increased.

China is pushing a new theory about the origins of the coronavirus: It is an American disease that might have been introduced by members of the United States Army who visited Wuhan in October.

There is not a shred of evidence to support that, but the notion received an official endorsement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose spokesman accused American officials of not coming clean about what they know about the disease.

China, under diplomatic pressure for the early missteps in handling the outbreak, has sought to deflect attention from those failings at home and abroad and now turned to a well-worn practice of blaming internal problems on foreign actors.

“The conspiracy theories are a new, low front in what they clearly perceive as a global competition over the narrative of this crisis,” Julian B. Gewirtz, a scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard, said of the Chinese.

In the United States, a number of politicians and media personalities have promoted comparably preposterous conspiracy theories.

Speaking on Fox News, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, raised the possibility that the virus was manufactured by the Chinese government in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan. Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist and Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio talk show host, have also pushed this theory, which has been dismissed by scientists.

China said on Friday there had been eight new officially confirmed infections from the virus in the past 24 hours, and seven deaths from it. It was its lowest official tally since the country imposed emergency measures in January.

First came a tickle in her throat. Then, a hacking cough. Then, a shortness of breath she had never experienced before. Hillary King, a 32-year-old consultant in Boston, who lives down the street from a hotel where dozens of Biogen executives contracted the new coronavirus, decided she had better get tested.

But getting tested is far easier said than done, even as testing slowly ramps up nationwide. Just days after President Trump announced that anyone who wanted a test could get a test, Ms. King’s experience shows how difficult it can be in the United States to find out if you have the coronavirus. Many who fear they have the virus have faced one roadblock after another as they try to get tested, according to interviews with dozens of people across the country.

Some have been rejected because they had no symptoms, even though they had been in proximity to someone who tested positive. Others were told no because they had not traveled to a hot spot abroad, even though they had fevers and hacking coughs and lived in cities with growing outbreaks. Still others were told a bitter truth: There simply were not enough tests to go around.

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Thursday. “It is a failing. I mean, let’s admit it.”

The inability to test widely in the United States — which is far behind other countries in this regard — has severely hampered efforts to contain the outbreak. An early test rolled out to states by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was flawed, and delays have continued ever since. Public health experts have warned that each day people do not know whether they have the virus, they risk spreading it more widely.

After a day of intense negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Ms. Pelosi told reporters that “we’ve resolved most of our differences” and that the House would vote on Friday on the measure, “one way or another.” It would then go to the Senate, which called off a recess that had been scheduled for next week.

The legislation, Democratic aides said, will include enhanced unemployment benefits, free virus testing and aid for food assistance programs. The package also ensures 14 days of paid sick leave, as well as tax credits to help small and midsize businesses fulfill that mandate.

The fast-moving measure reflects a sense of urgency in Washington to enact a fiscal stimulus in the face of a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the financial markets.

The negotiations hit snags as Republicans balked at the sweeping proposal to provide paid sick leave, something Senate Republicans had already blocked when Democrats sought earlier in the week to bring up a separate bill. Mr. Mnuchin, in a frantic attempt to keep talks on track, spoke by phone at least seven times with Ms. Pelosi, negotiating additional changes to the House legislation so it could have a chance of winning the support of Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans.

The mayor of one town complained that doctors were forced to decide not to treat the very old, leaving them to die. In another town, patients with coronavirus-caused pneumonia were being sent home.

In less than three weeks, the coronavirus has overloaded the heath care system all over northern Italy. It has turned the hard hit Lombardy region into a grim glimpse of what awaits countries if they cannot slow the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve” of new cases — allowing the sick to be treated without swamping the capacity of hospitals.

If not, even hospitals in developed countries with the world’s best health care risk becoming triage wards, forcing ordinary doctors and nurses to make extraordinary decisions about who may live and who may die. Wealthy northern Italy is facing a version of that nightmare already.

“This is a war,” said Massimo Puoti, the head of infectious medicine at the Niguarda hospital in Milan, one of the largest in Lombardy.

This week Italy put in place draconian measures — restricting movement and closing all stores except for pharmacies, groceries and other essential services. But they did not come in time to prevent the surge of cases.

Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Ernesto Londoño, Melissa Eddy, Aurelien Breeden, Constant Méheut, Elisabetta Povoledo, Ivan Nechepurenko, Raphael Minder, Steven Erlanger, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Steven Lee Myers, Andrew Higgins, Damien Cave, Farah Stockman, Hannah Beech, Heather Murphy, Gillian Wong, Jorge Arangure, Bhadra Sharma, Emily Cochrane, Jeanna Smialek, Jim Tankersley, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Neil Vigdor, Jason Horowitz, Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Rick Gladstone.

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