Timeline of virus’s arrival in the U.S. shifts with the revelation of an early death in California.
The revelation that a death from the virus took place in the United States in early February shifts the understanding of the its arrival in this country and changes the picture of what the nation was contending with by the time government officials began taking action.
The first Covid-19 death in the United States had previously been thought to be on Feb. 26 in Seattle, one of the worst-hit cities in the country.
The finding that a death on Feb. 6, in Santa Clara County, Calif., was a result of the virus pushes the time frame of the virus’s arrival and spread in this country weeks earlier than was previously known, at least into January and perhaps even earlier, local officials say.
Santa Clara County was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to urge its residents to remain in their homes to slow spread of the virus. On March 16, President Trump issued national guidelines recommending that Americans stop unnecessary travel and avoid bars, restaurants and groups of more than 10 people.
Officials have said that the death — which occurred nearly three weeks before a death in Washington State that had previously been considered this country’s first Covid-19 death — is believed to have been the result of community spread, not travel to another country.
“It was probably around unrecognized for quite some time,” said Dr. Jeffrey V. Smith, the Santa Clara county executive and a medical doctor.
The virus has an incubation period of 14 days and people who die of it are often sick for at least three weeks, so the individual who died on Feb. 6 could have been infected — and transmitting the infection to others — in early January, experts said.
Santa Clara County officials also have announced that a second death, which took place on Feb. 17, was also a result of the coronavirus. Both of the deaths in Santa Clara County took place before what had been believed to be the first deaths from the virus in the United States in late February.
Testing at the time was limited by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria to individuals who had traveled abroad.
“This offers evidence of what many of us in the field had been saying” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “That restricting testing was going to miss cases that could have a chain of transmission that ended up with somebody dying.’’
This shift in timing raises new questions about when the virus arrived in this country, how it spread and how government officials approached a strategy to slow the spread. At the time of the first death, American officials were restricting travel from China and urging recent travelers from there to isolate themselves for two weeks.
The list of events being canceled is stretching into the summer and fall, and public health officials are warning that in the absence of a vaccine or reliable therapy, the risk of a “second wave” of infections later in the year remains a grave threat.
“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., told The Washington Post.
The country, Dr. Redfield predicted, could “have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”
Families that have waited years to be reunited, businesses that rely on foreign workers, universities that recruit international students with the promise of high-paying American jobs — all of their plans faced uncertainty on Tuesday as the Trump administration announced new restrictions on permanent residency in the United States.
Mr. Trump said on Tuesday that he would order a temporary halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to the United States, but he backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups exploded in anger at the threat of losing access to foreign labor.
The president signaled that a 60-day ban on most green cards was intended to protect work opportunities for the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in the pandemic. But if it is extended, its impact on businesses and families could be much broader. Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that he would sign the executive order on Wednesday.
The new policy would close the doors to thousands of people hoping to enter the United States or to lay down permanent roots in the country through long-term work or family connections — at least temporarily.
“It’s really worrying news,” said Elsa Ramos, whose 22-year-old son, Eder, is in Honduras, waiting for a green card that would allow him to join his parents and sister in the United States.
“Imagine the excitement that you have that your son is on his way into the country and then Trump destroys that,” Ms. Ramos said. “It’s really hard.”
Mr. Trump, whose administration has faced intense criticism in recent months for his handling of the crisis, abruptly sought to change the subject Tuesday night by resuming his assault on immigration, which animated his 2016 campaign and became one of the defining issues of his presidency.
Lawyers at the Justice Department were still studying whether the president had the legal authority to unilaterally suspend the issuance of green cards, an order that caught officials at the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security off guard, according to people with knowledge of the announcement.
The decision not to block guest worker programs — which provide specific visas for technology workers, farm laborers and others — is a concession to business groups, which assailed the White House on Tuesday.
Rob Larew, the president of the National Farmers Union, said that even talk of restrictions on immigrant farm workers was disruptive. “It just adds to an already stressed food system,” he said.
Stocks on Wall Street and in major European markets rallied on Wednesday, and oil prices climbed more than 10 percent, reversing some of the tremendous losses that had unnerved investors for several days.
The S&P 500 rose about 2 percent in early trading, after a nearly 5 percent drop on Monday and Tuesday.
The selling earlier in the week had been triggered by a collapse in oil prices, as the price of one oil benchmark dipped below zero for the first time, meaning some holders were ready to pay people to take a barrel off their hands.
But on Wednesday, some stability returned to the energy market.
Futures contracts for June delivery of West Texas Intermediate crude, the American benchmark, were up more than 11 percent at $12.92 a barrel. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell nearly 18 percent earlier in the day but then recovered to gain 5 percent, at $20.30 a barrel — still a remarkably low price.
Bond prices on Wednesday also signaled some returning investor optimism. U.S. Treasury bond prices fell, a signal that the markets were favoring putting money in places considered less conservative.
Delta Air Lines, though, reported a loss of $607 million between January and March, its first quarterly loss in five years.
The airline said it ended March with about $6 billion in cash on hand, but added that it was also burning through $100 million in cash per day by the end of that month. After cutting costs and expenses, Delta expects to slow that rate to $50 million per day by the end of June.
Under the stimulus passed last month, Delta received $5.4 billion in grants and loans to pay its employees. It said it is also eligible for a $4.6 billion loan under the law, should it decide to take it. The airline also said it plans to cut schedules by 85 percent in the second quarter, in line with competitors like United Airlines, which reported a $2.1 billion quarterly loss on Monday.
Public health officials in California are expanding testing to include some people who are asymptomatic, going beyond federal guidelines that have so far focused on testing people who were most at risk and showing symptoms.
The new guidelines in California prioritize screening and testing people who are living in communal living facilities, such as prisons and homeless shelters, as well as asymptomatic health care employees working in hospitals or nursing homes.
The expanded testing — which has already begun at a homeless shelter in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Skid Row — could offer an early glimpse of how widely the virus has infiltrated society, even among people who otherwise appear healthy. As many as 25 percent of people infected may not show symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 200 people have been tested so far at the homeless shelter, Union Rescue Mission, and at least 43 people had tested positive as of Tuesday afternoon, said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the public health director in Los Angeles County. Of the 43 who tested positive, she said more than half had not been showing symptoms.
The results mirror findings of asymptomatic cases that have begun to emerge at other facilities in the United States, as officials ramp up aggressive testing.
In Ohio, where an outbreak at a prison has become the country’s largest-known source of infections, officials said that many of the people who tested positive did not appear sick. In Boston, where universal testing was conducted at a homeless shelter earlier this month, officials found that nearly everyone who tested positive had not been showing symptoms.
Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, said he was “baffled” by how many people without symptoms had tested positive at the shelter.
“The lesson for this is there is so much we don’t know, and in this particular very poor and vulnerable population,” Mr. O’Connell said. “We suspect all around the country, this is probably going to be duplicated.”
Lawmakers are making their way back to Washington ahead of an expected vote on Thursday to give final approval to a $484 billion package that would revive a loan program for distressed small businesses and provide additional aid for hospitals and testing.
The Senate approved the measure on Tuesday on a voice vote — a necessity since the chamber is on an extended recess amid the pandemic and most senators are outside of Washington. But that will not be possible in the House, where there is enough dissatisfaction in both parties about the bill that leaders have summoned lawmakers back to the Capitol for a vote. House Republicans have signaled that they would force a roll-call vote on the measure, while some of the most liberal Democrats are deeply opposed to a bill they argue provides far too little for the most urgent needs, omitting funding for struggling cities and localities.
“It is insulting to think that we can pass such a small amount of money — in the context of not knowing when Congress is even going to reconvene — pass such a small amount of money, pat ourselves on the back and leave town again,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said on Monday. “I need legislation that is going to save people’s lives.”
The measure was the product of an intense round of negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration that unfolded as the small-business loan program — created by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law — quickly ran out of funding, collapsing under a glut of applications from desperate companies struggling to stay afloat.
The measure would provide $320 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, $75 billion for hospitals, $25 billion for testing and a mandate that the Trump administration establish a national strategy to help states and localities, which are required to outline their own plans, deploy testing widely.
While in Washington to pass it, Democratic leaders are also planning to push through a change to House rules to allow remote voting for the first time in the history of the chamber. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to approve the proposal, which would temporarily allow members to designate another lawmaker to cast votes for them by proxy if they are unable to travel to the Capitol themselves because of the pandemic. Republicans say they will oppose the change.
Struggling to keep their businesses alive in the second month of compulsory closings, many owners of independent restaurants and bars across the country are starting to despair of getting the help they need to return.
The relief bills that have passed Congress don’t seem to be working for them, they say. Emergency loans made available in the first injection of funds into the Paycheck Protection Program, said one New York baker, went to “people who knew people, and things got pushed around.”
“It just seemed — corrupt is the word to use,” he said.
Many are doubtful that a fresh injection of aid — including a $484 billion plan expected to win approval later this week — will solve their problems, and other measures they favor seem to be going nowhere.
They are confused, they are angry and they all say they know a dozen other small-business owners just like them.
“Independent restaurants have never had a great voice in Washington,” said Andy Ricker, the chef and founder of several Thai restaurants in Portland, Ore. “The people who have a voice in Washington have the money to pay for it. I don’t have a spare $1,000 a month to pay for this stuff.”
As millions of Americans lose jobs, take pay cuts, close businesses and absorb family members into their homes, they are being forced to rethink where their money goes. Even before the scramble for new jobs can begin, people are cajoling creditors, looking for gig work or simply cutting back to get through the first few disorienting weeks.
Lissa Gilliam and her husband are waiting for Washington State to make jobless benefits available to contractors through a federal assistance program, and hope to take advantage of a state program for maternity aid once their daughter is born in May. A $15,000 construction project planned for the rear of their house is on hold. They canceled their gym membership, their Hulu streaming service, multiple newspapers and even the Adobe Acrobat software that Ms. Gilliam uses for design work.
“We’re trying not to spend money,” she said. “At a minimum, we need to hold on to our house.”
But Santa Clara County officials said that autopsies of two people who died at their homes on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17 showed that the individuals were infected with the virus. The presence of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, was determined by tissue samples and was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, county health officials said in a statement.
“Each one of those deaths is probably the tip of an iceberg of unknown size,” Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s chief medical officer, said in an interview. “It feels quite significant.”
Scientists around the world are also racing to use small genetic changes in the virus — biological markers that act as something like fingerprints for disease detectives — to map how the pathogen swept across the country and around the world.
Mike Baker and Sheri Fink report on how the high-tech detective work of the researchers in Seattle and their partners elsewhere have opened the first clear window into how and where the virus was spreading — and how difficult it will be to contain.
Both studies were performed in California: one among residents of Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, and the other among residents of Los Angeles County. In both cases, the estimates of the number of people infected in those counties were far higher than the number of confirmed cases.
But in a reflection of how much remains unknown and how hard it is to draw sweeping conclusions, the studies, conducted by public health officials and scientists at Stanford University and the University of Southern California, have earned the ire of critics who questioned both the recruitment methods and the analyses.
The propaganda efforts go beyond text messages and social media posts directed at Americans. In China, top officials have issued directives to agencies to engage in a global disinformation campaign, according to American officials.
Spread the word, the messages said: The Trump administration was about to lock down the entire country.
“They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters,” warned one of the messages, which cited a source in the Department of Homeland Security. “He said he got the call last night and was told to pack and be prepared for the call today with his dispatch orders.”
The messages became so widespread over 48 hours that the White House’s National Security Council issued an announcement via Twitter that they were “FAKE.”
Since that wave of panic, United States intelligence agencies have assessed that Chinese operatives helped push the messages across platforms, according to six American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to publicly discuss intelligence matters. The amplification techniques are alarming to officials because the disinformation showed up as texts on many Americans’ cellphones, a tactic that several of the officials said they had not seen before.
That has spurred agencies to look at new ways in which China, Russia and other nations are using a range of platforms to spread disinformation during the pandemic, they said.
The origin of the messages remains murky. American officials declined to reveal details of the intelligence linking Chinese agents to the dissemination of the disinformation, citing the need to protect their sources and methods for monitoring Beijing’s activities.
An informal coalition of influential conservative leaders and groups, some with close connections to the White House, has been quietly working to nurture protests and apply political and legal pressure to overturn state and local orders intended to stop the spread of the virus.
Among those fighting the orders are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, which played pivotal roles in the beginning of Tea Party protests starting more than a decade ago, and a law firm led partly by former Trump White House officials. The effort picked up some influential support on Tuesday, when Attorney General William P. Barr expressed concerns about state-level restrictions potentially infringing on constitutional rights.
While polls show a majority of Americans are more concerned about reopening the country too quickly, those helping orchestrate the fight against restrictions predict the effort could energize the right and potentially help Mr. Trump as he campaigns for re-election.
Noah Wall, the advocacy director for FreedomWorks, described the current efforts as appealing to a “much broader” group. “This is about people who want to get back to work and leave their homes,” he said.
Jay Timmons, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, one of America’s largest business lobbying groups, had another word for the protesters: idiots.
“These people are standing so close together without any protection — with children, for God’s sakes,” Mr. Timmons said in an interview. “And they have no concern, and it’s all about them, and it’s all about what they want.”
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Reporting was contributed by Eileen Sullivan, Alan Blinder, Monica Davey, Amy Harmon, Sarah Mervosh, Anemona Hartocollis, Marc Santora, Mike Baker, Sheri Fink, Gina Kolata, Thomas Fuller, Karen Barrow, Caitlin Dickerson, Miriam Jordan, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Lisa Lerer, Alexandra E. Petri, Michael D. Shear, Natasha Singer, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Kenneth P. Vogel, Pete Wells and Tiffany Hsu.