As talks drag on, McConnell signals openness to jobless aid extension, and negotiators agree on a deadline.
Negotiators on Capitol Hill reported little progress on Tuesday toward reaching an agreement over an economic recovery package. But the top Senate Republican signaled that he might be willing to reverse course and accept the extension of $600-per-week jobless-aid payments that many in his party oppose if it would yield a compromise, and the White House and congressional Democrats agreed to an end-of-the-week deadline to seal a deal.
“The American people, in the end, need help,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, told reporters. “And wherever this thing settles between the president of the United States and his team that has to sign it into law and the Democrat not-insignificant minority in the Senate and majority in the House is something I am prepared to support, even if I have some problems with certain parts of it.”
Democrats have rejected narrow proposals extending the expired benefits, insisting that the problem must be dealt with in a broader package of relief measures. They also want aid for states and cities whose budgets have been crippled.
Mr. McConnell’s comments came after he and other Republicans huddled privately over lunch with Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary. Afterward, Republican senators who have largely sat out the talks sounded downbeat about striking a deal before they are scheduled to begin a monthlong recess on Friday.
But later, after a meeting with Mr. Meadows and Mr. Mnuchin, top Democrats indicated there had been progress.
“They made some concessions, which we appreciated; we made some concessions, which they appreciated,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said after the 90-minute meeting, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California hosted in her Capitol Hill suite. “We’re still far away on a lot of the important issues, but we’re continuing to go at it.”
Tens of millions of Americans have lost crucial unemployment benefits that formally expired on Friday, and economists warn that permanent damage could be wrought on the economy without action.
Republican leaders have put forward their own plan to extend the weekly benefit at a significantly lower level. But many of their own rank-and-file members oppose even that, giving them little leverage against the united Democrats.
At the White House, Mr. Trump continued to dangle the possibility that he could circumvent Congress and take executive action to halt evictions nationwide and suspend the payroll tax. It is far from clear that the president has the power to do either of these unilaterally, but his deputies appeared to be using the possibility as a negotiating tactic with Democrats — and to get around the objections even within Mr. Trump’s own party on the payroll-tax issue.
“We want to take care of the eviction problem,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference. “People are being evicted unfairly. It’s not their fault. It’s China’s fault.”
The president blamed the Democrats for rejecting White House offers to pass a short-term extension of the expired unemployment benefits and said the only thing Democrats “really want to do is bail out states that have been poorly managed by Democrats.”
Novavax, the little-known Maryland company that received a $1.6 billion deal from the federal government for its experimental coronavirus vaccine, announced encouraging results in two preliminary studies on Tuesday.
In one study, 56 volunteers produced a high level of antibodies against the virus without any dangerous side effects. In the other, researchers found that the vaccine strongly protected monkeys from coronavirus infections.
Although it’s not possible to directly compare the data from clinical trials of different coronavirus vaccines, John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine who was not involved in the studies, said the Novavax results were the most impressive he had seen so far.
“This is the first one I’m looking at and saying, ‘Yeah, I’d take that,’” Dr. Moore said.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University who was not involved in the studies, called them “encouraging preliminary results,” but cautioned that it won’t be possible to say whether the vaccine is safe and effective until Novavax conducts a large-scale study — known as Phase III — comparing people who get vaccinated with people who get a placebo.
The company, which has never brought a vaccine to market in its 33-year history, has said that if its vaccine is shown to be effective, it can produce 100 million doses by the beginning of next year, or enough to give to 50 million people if administered in two doses. Under its deal with the federal government, the company will also receive money to undertake large-scale manufacturing of millions more doses if the vaccine is shown to work.
Novavax’s vaccine is one of more than two dozen products to have entered the first round of safety tests in people, known as Phase I trials. Five other coronavirus vaccines are already in Phase III trials, in which thousands of people are tested to see if a vaccine works.
In Mississippi, masks are now mandatory in public and retail spaces statewide, the governor announced Tuesday.
Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said at a news conference that he was “implementing a statewide mask mandate today.” He also said that all students and teachers would be mandated to wear masks when schools open in the fall, unless they have a medical reason not to. And he said that he was pushing back the start of the school year in eight counties that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus.
“I know that I want to see college football in the fall,” he added. “The best way for that to occur is for us all to recognize that wearing a mask, as irritating as it can be — and I promise you, I hate it more than anybody watching today — it is critical.”
Previously, masks had been mandated in 37 of Mississippi’s 82 counties. At the news conference, Mr. Reeves noted that his “piecemeal approach” had been criticized “by an awful lot of people.”
Mr. Reeves has also been criticized for failing to encourage many businesses to shut down during the early months of the pandemic. And in the months that followed, he had been eager to lift restrictions that were stalling Mississippi’s economy, hoping to have the whole state open by July 1.
According to a New York Times database, at least 8 new coronavirus deaths and 572 new cases were reported in Mississippi on Monday. Over the past week, there have been an average of 1,167 cases per day, an increase of 13 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
On Monday, Mr. Reeves said the state was “starting to turn a corner.”
“Things are improving here,” he said. “But that does not mean that we can declare victory and take a step back.”
The United States’ top health official, Alex M. Azar II, will lead a delegation on a trip to Taiwan, a rare high-level visit by an American official to the island that has won praise for its success in battling the coronavirus.
Despite the likelihood that the visit will anger China and further fray ties between Beijing and Washington, officials billed it as an opportunity to strengthen economic and public health cooperation between the United States and Taiwan, a self-ruled territory that is claimed by Beijing.
As of Tuesday, the island of 23 million people just off the coast of southern China had reported 476 coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Officials in Taiwan have tried to turn their relative success in battling the coronavirus at home into a geopolitical victory. The island has sent millions of masks, emblazoned with the words “made in Taiwan,” to the United States, Italy and other countries devastated by the coronavirus.
No date was given for the visit. The trip by Mr. Azar, the secretary of health and human services, will be the first by a U.S. health secretary and the first in six years by a U.S. cabinet member, the department said in a statement on Tuesday. He is scheduled to meet with senior Taiwanese counterparts to discuss Taiwan’s role as a supplier of medical equipment and critical technology, among other issues, the health department said.
“Taiwan has been a model of transparency and cooperation in global health during the Covid-19 pandemic and long before it,” Mr. Azar said in the department’s statement. “I look forward to conveying President Trump’s support for Taiwan’s global health leadership and underscoring our shared belief that free and democratic societies are the best model for protecting and promoting health.”
The United Nations on Tuesday called for the world’s schools to make plans to reopen safely — but only after countries suppress transmission of the virus and control outbreaks.
“With the combined effect of the pandemic’s worldwide economic impact and the school closures, the learning crisis could turn into a generational catastrophe,” a U.N. policy brief from U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said.
The announcement argued that the adjustments made by schools worldwide to closing orders made in response to the coronavirus — providing lessons online, over radio, even on television in some places — highlighted inequalities among students and school districts and left many children behind, including those with disabilities.
“Parents, especially women, have been forced to assume heavy care burdens in the home,” the brief said.
In many countries around the world, including the United States, school districts planning to reopen are considering various measures, including holding classes in shifts or outdoors, mask wearing and so-called blended classes, in which students supplement in-person lessons with virtual ones.
A small border hospital in Texas is overwhelmed by a surge in cases.
Nearly every day, a crew at Starr County Memorial, a small rural hospital on the Mexican border, prepares a patient whom its doctors are unable to help, loads the gurney into a helicopter and stands back as the aircraft roars into the country sky.
“Very, very unfortunately, of all of the patients we have transferred, none have come back alive,” said Dr. Jose Vazquez, the health authority in Starr County, a remote section of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas that before the coronavirus outbreak did not have a single I.C.U. bed.
Starr County Memorial’s 45 beds were once sufficient for the roughly 65,000 people spread out along the border near Tamaulipas, Mexico. But the new wave of coronavirus infections has been merciless, with more than 2,110 cases in the county and nearly 70 deaths that are suspected of being linked to Covid-19, local officials said.
The surge was slow to arrive. After neighboring counties began reporting an explosion of infections in the spring, 21 days passed before a single case was detected in Starr County, Dr. Vazquez said.
But when the state reopened its economy in May, the virus began spreading rapidly through nearby Hidalgo and Cameron Counties, fueled by poverty and chronic disease. Large family outbreaks occurred as soon as people were allowed to leave their homes freely, health officials said.
Starr County, one of the poorest in the nation, is not alone. A study published this week in the journal Health Affairs, warning of stark disparities in the availability of critical care facilities, found that nearly half of the nation’s communities with a median income of $35,000 or less had no intensive care beds at all.
New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, resigned on Tuesday in protest over her “deep disappointment” with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent efforts to keep the outbreak in check.
Her departure came after escalating tensions between City Hall and top city health department officials, which had begun at the start of the outbreak in March, burst into public view and raised concerns that the feuding was undermining crucial public health policies.
“I leave my post today with deep disappointment that during the most critical public health crisis in our lifetime, that the health department’s incomparable disease control expertise was not used to the degree it could have been,” she said in her resignation email sent to Mr. de Blasio, a copy of which was shared with The New York Times.
“Our experts are world renowned for their epidemiology, surveillance and response work. The city would be well served by having them at the strategic center of the response not in the background.”
Mr. de Blasio reacted to her resignation by defending his handling of the outbreak, which devastated the city in the spring, killing more than 20,000 residents, even as it has largely subsided in recent weeks.
Still, the turnover in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene comes at a pivotal moment: Public schools are scheduled to partially open next month — which could be crucial for the city’s recovery — and fears are growing that the outbreak could surge again when the weather cools.
“It had been clear in recent days that it was time for a change,” Mr. de Blasio said in a hastily called news conference. “We need an atmosphere of unity. We need an atmosphere of common purpose.”
The mayor moved quickly to replace Dr. Barbot, immediately announcing the appointment of a new health commissioner, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, a former senior leader at Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital system. The speed of the appointment and the robustness of the announcement — Mr. de Blasio had lined up a former surgeon general to speak highly of Dr. Chokshi — suggested that Dr. Barbot’s resignation had not occurred in a vacuum. One city official said she had done so on Tuesday because she believed she was going to be fired.
Elsewhere in the New York area:
In New York City, the 2020 holiday production of “Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes” has been canceled because of the pandemic, Madison Square Garden Entertainment, which manages the show, announced on Tuesday. The Madison Square Garden Company plans to lay off 350 people, a spokeswoman said.
More than 87 days have passed since Tanzania reported even a single new virus case — far longer than any other African country. Tanzania’s president has declared the scourge “absolutely finished” and encouraged tourists to come back.
But outside the country, people are skeptical, and inside, few dare stand up to the president, John Magufuli, who has become increasingly autocratic since he was elected. Mr. Magufuli has said that the power of prayer helped purge the virus from Tanzania, even as the African continent is expected this week to cross the threshold of one million reported cases.
The Tanzanian president has promoted an unproven herbal tea from Madagascar as a cure. He has disparaged social distancing and mask wearing. And his government has not disseminated any recent data to the World Health Organization. The group last heard from Tanzania on April 29, when the country reported 509 cases and 21 deaths from Covid-19.
Mr. Magufuli’s handling of the pandemic “has been nothing short of an irresponsible disaster,” said Tundu Lissu, an opposition leader who fled the country in 2017 but recently returned to run for president. “His attitude has been Covid-19 will somehow go away if we all stop talking about it.”
In neighboring Kenya, lawmakers have also expressed concern about Tanzania’s virus response. The Kenyan authorities denied entry to dozens of Tanzanian truck drivers who had tested positive at border points.
Health experts warn that Mr. Magufuli’s denial around the virus could be calamitous.
“With no testing data or clinical surveillance information, Tanzania will be late in detecting and dealing with a potentially delayed explosion of severe clinical cases,” said Frank Minja, a Tanzanian doctor who is an associate professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at the Yale School of Medicine.
October could be a “make-or-break election” in Tanzania’s history, Mr. Lissu said. “We stand on the brink of disaster,” he added. “But we are also on the brink of a miracle.”
Elsewhere around the world:
Many hospitals in Lebanon, already dealing with virus patients, are now overwhelmed after an immense explosion in Beirut injured thousands. The country has reported 5,062 cases and 65 deaths from the virus, while lockdown measures have aggravated an already dire economic crisis.
After Moscow announced that it would begin widespread vaccination of its population in October with a vaccine that had not yet been fully tested in clinical trials, the World Health Organization on Tuesday urged caution, recommending that the country follow established guidelines for producing safe vaccines. Russia is moving ahead with several vaccine prototypes, its officials said, and at least one effort, developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, is in advanced stages of testing and has reportedly has been tested to some extent on soldiers.
Prime Minister Hubert Alexander Minnis of the Bahamas announced Monday that the country would resume a national lockdown “for a minimum of two weeks,” starting at 10 p.m. on Tuesday. “Nearing the end of this period, we will assess the health data and advise whether a further lockdown period is necessary,” he said. The Bahamas previously instituted a strict 24-hour lockdown for residents, which if broken could result in a $10,000 fine or 18 months in prison. Virus cases have skyrocketed there recently, with almost 44 percent of the total 679 cases being reported in the past seven days.
The state of Victoria in Australia, which has had a resurgence of the coronavirus and has enforced among the strictest lockdown measures in the world, reported 725 new cases and 15 deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, the highest numbers since the pandemic began. New curfews and restrictions in the state mean essential workers must now carry a permit before leaving home.
Students in Mexico will exclusively take classes broadcast on television or the radio when the school year begins later this month, in an effort to avoid further coronavirus outbreaks, the government announced on Monday. Schools will only reopen when authorities determine that new and active infections, which remain high across the nation, decline enough for a safe return to the classroom.
Israel reopened schools in May, and within days infections were reported at a Jerusalem high school. The virus rippled out to the students’ homes and then to other schools and neighborhoods, ultimately infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives. Other outbreaks forced hundreds of schools to close, and across the country, tens of thousands of students and teachers were quarantined. As countries consider back-to-school strategies for the fall, the outbreaks there illustrate the dangers of moving too precipitously.
A day before the United States surpassed 150,000 deaths from the coronavirus, Mr. Trump appeared resigned to the toll, saying in an interview, “It is what it is.”
“They are dying. That’s true,” Mr. Trump told Axios in an interview recorded on July 28 and released in its entirety on Monday. “It is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it.”
The president’s critics say he could have done much more to keep the virus from spreading to the extent it has, including encouraging states to be more cautious in reopening instead of encouraging them.
The country’s death toll, currently nearly 156,000, is far from the total of “75, 80 to 100,000” deaths that Mr. Trump predicted in early May when he credited himself with preventing the toll from being worse.
Even after his predictions proved wrong, Mr. Trump has continued to credit himself for the United States not being even worse off.
“One person’s too much,” Mr. Trump told Axios. “And those people that really understand it, that really understand it, they said it’s an incredible job that we’ve done.”
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ROUNDUP
Six U.S. governors join forces to buy 3 million tests.
Governors of six states said on Tuesday that they were partnering to purchase millions of virus tests and expand their testing capability as many states continue to struggle to keep up with the demand for tests.
The governors of Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia are negotiating a purchase of three million antigen tests — 500,000 per state — as part of the new compact, which was created by Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican and the outgoing chair of the National Governors Association.
Members of the compact hope that it will show companies that there is “significant demand” to create more tests, according to a statement from Mr. Hogan’s office, something made apparent by the long lines that continue to plague virus testing sites across the country. The governors — three Republicans and three Democrats — also hoped the compact would help states buy tests in a more “cost-effective manner.” More states and local governments may join the group.
Antigen tests, the type the states would buy, can provide results in less than an hour, but scientists have said that they fear the tests will frequently miss infections. The governors are negotiating to purchase the three million tests from two medical companies — Becton, Dickinson & Company and the Quidel Corporation — whose tests could produce false negative results between 15 and 20 percent of the time. The companies were the first to receive emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for their coronavirus antigen tests.
The Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization in New York, is also part of the compact between the governors and said it was ready to help find sources of funding for the testing operation.
“With severe shortages and delays in testing and the federal administration attempting to cut funding for testing, the states are banding together to acquire millions of faster tests to help save lives and slow the spread of Covid-19,” Mr. Hogan said in a statement.
The National Institutes of Health is now recruiting patients for two studies to test possible antibody treatments for Covid-19. The studies, which are now in their second phase, are testing drugs called monoclonal antibodies produced by Eli Lilly and its partner, Abcellera Biologics in Vancouver. The process began in March, and has progressed at “record speed,” said Daniel Skovronsky, chief scientific officer at Eli Lilly. Researchers hope to have results in October or November.
Researchers are studying why in certain patients, according to a flurry of recent studies, the virus appears to make the immune system go haywire. Unable to marshal the right cells and molecules to fight off the invader, the bodies of the infected instead launch an entire arsenal of weapons — a misguided barrage that can wreak havoc on healthy tissues, experts said. Researchers studying these unusual responses are finding patterns that distinguish patients on the path to recovery from those who fare far worse. Insights gleaned from the data might help tailor treatments to individuals, easing symptoms or perhaps even vanquishing the virus before it has a chance to push the immune system too far.
Thousands of Covid-19 patients have been treated with blood plasma outside of rigorous clinical trials — hampering research that would have shown whether the therapy worked. Doctors and hospitals desperate to save the sickest patients have been eager to try a therapy that is safe and might work. Many patients and their doctors — knowing they could get the treatment under a government program — have been unwilling to join clinical trials that might provide them with a placebo instead of the plasma. The unexpected demand for plasma has inadvertently undercut the research that could prove that it works.
Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Pam Belluck, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Emma Bubola, Benedict Carey, Julia Carmel, Damien Cave, Emily Cochrane, Abdi Latif Dahir, Jacey Fortin, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Gold, J. David Goodman, Maggie Haberman, Mike Ives, Juliana Kim, Isabel Kershner, Gina Kolata, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Emily Palmer, Marc Stein, Eileen Sullivan, Jim Tankersley, Michael Wines, Will Wright and Karen Zraick.