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Fauci Supports Birx’s Coronavirus Assessment After Trump Criticizes Her


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ImageDr. Anthony S. Fauci agreed with Dr. Deborah Birx’s statement that the United States has entered a “new phase” of the pandemic.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, agreed on Monday with his colleague Dr. Deborah Birx that the United States has entered a “new phase” of the coronavirus pandemic, in which the virus is now spreading uncontrolled in some states by asymptomatic people — comments that drew fire from President Trump.

Dr. Fauci said Dr. Birx had been referring to the “inherent community spread” that is occurring in some states, adding: “When you have community spread, it’s much more difficult to get your arms around that and contain it.”

Speaking during a news conference with Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, Dr. Fauci called the community spread “insidious” and noted that it was happening outside of confined spaces like nursing homes and prisons.

In backing up Dr. Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Fauci indirectly put himself at odds with the president. Earlier on Monday, Mr. Trump had called Dr. Birx “pathetic” on Twitter and suggested that her comments about a “new phase” were an effort to curry favor with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

At an evening news conference, Mr. Trump appeared to temper his comments about Dr. Birx. “She’s a person I have a lot of respect for,” he said, while defending his administration’s response to the virus.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. responded to Mr. Trump in a tweet on Monday afternoon. “It’s hard to believe this has to be said, but if I’m elected president, I’ll spend my Monday mornings working with our nation’s top experts to control this virus — not insulting them on Twitter,” Mr. Biden said.

But other Republicans piled on. “Dr. Birx, like Dr. Fauci, has been wrong much more than she has been right on COVID-19, & their destructive prescriptions have led to the devastation of countless American lives,” Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, wrote on Twitter.

Dr. Birx had warned during an appearance on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday that the United States was entering a “new phase” in its fight against the pandemic, and that rural communities would not be spared. “It is extraordinarily widespread,” she said.

On Monday morning, shortly after Mr. Trump tweeted about her, Dr. Birx told governors on a weekly briefing call that a lack of masks at large gatherings in homes was “a critical issue,” pointing to spikes in many Southern states.

Mr. Trump has also criticized Dr. Fauci, despite his claims that the two have a “very good relationship.” In a tweet on Saturday responding to news reports that Dr. Fauci had linked the recent surge in cases to inadequate lockdowns, Mr. Trump tweeted: “Wrong!”

In a livestreamed conversation on Monday with Dr. Howard Bauchner, the editor in chief of The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Fauci said that as communities around the country struggle to decide whether and how to reopen schools, scientists “really need to be humble.”

There are significant gaps in knowledge about how likely children are to contract the coronavirus, become ill and transmit the disease, Dr. Fauci said. A recent study found that young children carried high levels of the virus in their noses and throats, for example, but did not prove they were contagious.

Dr. Fauci said he hoped some questions about the risks to children and their role in transmission would be answered by a new government study that involves 6,000 people and seeks to find the rate of infection in children and their families.

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Where cases are rising fastest

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Trump on Monday hurled insults at Democratic leaders who were huddling with his top advisers in search of a compromise economic recovery package, threatening to act on his own to ban evictions as he again undercut negotiations to reach a broader deal.

Mr. Trump floated the possibility of using an executive order to address an expired federal moratorium on evictions, even though a $1 trillion Republican aid proposal did not include such a pause. He said he remained “totally involved” in stimulus talks, even though he wasn’t “over there with Crazy Nancy,” a reference to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

But the president has been notably absent from the negotiations on a sweeping economic stabilization package, even as tens of millions of Americans have been cut off from enhanced jobless benefits they have depended on for months during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same moment that Mr. Trump was blasting her, Ms. Pelosi met on Capitol Hill with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, in search of a compromise. It was the fifth such meeting in eight days, following a staff policy call on Sunday and a rare Saturday session with the four negotiators.

At the White House, Mr. Trump accused Democrats of being single-mindedly focused on getting “bailout money” for states controlled by Democrats, and unconcerned with extending unemployment benefits.

“All they’re really interested in is bailout money to bail out radical left governors and radical left mayors like in Portland and places that are so badly run — Chicago, New York City,” Mr. Trump said.

Democrats have proposed providing more than $900 billion to cash-strapped states and cities whose budgets have been devastated in the recession, but it is Republicans who have proposed slashing the jobless aid. Democrats have refused to do so, feeding the stalemate.

While White House officials and Democratic leaders reported some progress over the weekend in their talks, they still have substantial differences. Democrats are pushing a $3 trillion rescue plan that would include restoring $600-per-week jobless aid payments that expired on Friday and extending them through January, while Republicans have proposed a $1 trillion package that would slash the unemployment payments considerably.

More than 47,800 new cases and more than 600 new deaths were reported in the United States on Monday.

Credit…Gabriele Holtermann/Sipa, via Associated Press

Counting for the 2020 census will end on Sept. 30, a month earlier than previously scheduled, the Census Bureau said in a statement on Monday.

The census is constitutionally required to count all residents of the United States every 10 years, but the 2020 effort has faltered amid the pandemic. In recent weeks, the Trump administration and Senate Republicans appeared to signal that they wanted the census finished well ahead of schedule.

Census data is enormously important. It is used to reapportion all 435 House seats and thousands of state and local districts, as well as divvy up trillions of dollars in federal aid.

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Updated 2020-08-04T07:33:06.428Z

“Under this plan, the Census Bureau intends to meet a similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses, including outreach to hard-to-count communities,” the Census Bureau said in its statement.

Critics said the move was pushed by the White House and motivated by partisanship.

“We’re dealing with a census that’s been really challenged by Covid-19,” said Vanita Gupta, a former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division who is now the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “And in the middle of this pandemic, the administration has tried to sabotage the census for partisan gain, to move its anti-immigrant agenda and to silence communities of color.”

She added that rural communities could be badly hurt by an undercount.

On Monday night, the White House referred questions to the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2010, census takers worked from May to August to count hard-to-find households. This spring, the bureau said it was pushing back the start to August, ending on Oct. 31.

The population totals, required to reapportion the House of Representatives, are traditionally delivered to the president on Dec. 31, but this year the bureau had asked Congress for a four-month extension of the statutory deadline. The White House backed the extension at the time. The House approved the delay; the Senate has not.

Congress could still act to extend census statutory deadlines as part of the next coronavirus relief package.

Education Roundup

Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

The new academic year is underway in some parts of the United States, with the first few days of school showing just how fraught reopening classrooms can be. Already in some states, schools that decided to open for in-person classes are quarantining staff members and students, and even closing temporarily as positive cases are found.

Traditionally, about 14 percent of the nation’s children go back to school by the second week of August, mostly in the South and Midwest, although this year, some districts in those areas have postponed classes by a week or two, or plan to start the year online.

Many schools in Indiana started on Thursday. On Saturday, the superintendent of the Elwood Community School Corporation in the central part of the state sent a note thanking students and parents for “a great first two days of school!”

But the optimistic tone quickly gave way: Staff members had tested positive, and the high school was forced to close its doors and move all students in seventh through 12th grades to online learning for at least a week.

And similar developments occurred across the country. Just hours into the first day of classes at Greenfield Central Junior High School, also in Indiana, the county health department notified the school that a student had tested positive. The student was isolated, and others who had been in proximity were forced to quarantine for two weeks.

At a high school in Corinth, Miss., someone also tested positive during the first week back, and exposed students there were asked to stay home for 14 days. And in the Atlanta area, more than 200 employees of a single school district in Gwinnett County tested positive or were in quarantine last week before classes even resumed.

Gwinnett County Public Schools is the largest school system in Georgia, with more than 180,000 students. Teachers returned to work last Wednesday, in preparation for starting classes remotely on Aug. 12. But as of Thursday, about 260 employees had been excluded from work because they tested positive or had potentially been exposed to the virus.

Other key developments in education:

  • Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland on Monday issued an emergency order counteracting Montgomery County’s health department, which on Friday said that all private schools needed to start the year remotely in the fall, just as public schools in the region plan to.

  • In New Jersey, face coverings will be required for all students inside a school building, unless doing so would adversely affect a student’s health, the governor said.

  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is planning to fully reopen next week, but 30 tenured faculty members wrote an open letter to students published Friday in The Charlotte Observer pushing for virtual learning and encouraging students to stay home.

Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

Hurricane Isaias made landfall in the Carolinas on Monday night, at a time when many people in the Southeast are already beleaguered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Disruptions in testing, in transporting samples and supplies, in and staffing labs could complicate efforts to gauge virus transmission in states that have struggled to contain it.

In Florida, for example, 43 state-run testing sites were forced to close on Friday as Isaias, then a tropical storm, headed for the state’s east coast. The number of lab results received daily by Florida’s Health Department, which had generally been in the 90,000 range in the past two weeks, fell on Sunday to about 61,000.

Isaias made landfall in southern North Carolina late Monday night after strengthening into a Category 1 hurricane and was expected to travel up the East Coast. Testing sites have been closed as far north as Maryland in anticipation.

Officials have told residents in the storm’s projected path to prepare themselves, and businesses are concerned about how much damage it will bring.

“It’s a wait-and-see game,” said Jay Slevin, the manager of a pizzeria about a mile from the shore in Myrtle Beach, S.C., southwest of where Isaias made landfall.

Officials are also changing how they run shelters and advising residents to regard them as a last resort, out of fear that the virus could spread in crowded indoor spaces.

At a briefing on Monday afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina advised residents in vulnerable areas to stay with friends or family or to go to a hotel. But he added that shelters would open for those who need them, with health screenings, social distancing and cleaning protocols.

“I know that North Carolinians have had to dig deep in recent months to tap into our strength and resilience during the pandemic, and that hasn’t been easy,” he said. “But with this storm on the way, we have to dig a little deeper.”

In Italy, prostitution is not illegal, nor is it regulated as an official occupation, making the country’s 70,000 sex workers largely ineligible to receive economic relief. Many have been forced to take their chances by returning to work in order to avoid poverty.

In May, organizations that promote the rights of Italian sex workers sought to draw the government’s attention and get support, arguing that the pandemic showed the harm of forcing sex work underground.

In March, Regina Satariano, a 60-year-old sex worker in Tuscany, started hearing about colleagues who hadn’t eaten and a landlord who had threatened to evict a group of 17 housemates, all sex workers who were out of work because of the pandemic.

Ms. Satariano put together her savings and bought bags of pasta, tomato sauce, chicken and soap to distribute to her colleagues. But without support from the state, she said, many sex workers will continue to go hungry. If officials don’t change things now, she added, “they never will.”

In other European countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany, sex workers can enter formal contracts with their clients. During the lockdown, those who were officially registered with the government were eligible for economic relief.

Scotland also included sex workers in its relief programs. In Greece, where prostitution is legal and regulated, brothels were allowed to reopen on June 15, provided that sex workers kept their clients’ names and contact details for four weeks for tracing purposes.

In Italy, various charities and associations have raised money for groceries, medicines, bills and rent to benefit the country’s sex workers. But for the most part, Italian sex workers, who are often from immigrant communities, have had to fend for themselves.

A recent report by the Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network and the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe showed that many sex workers defied lockdown rules in order to work, putting both themselves and their clients at risk.

A newly married couple from New Zealand who were stranded for months in the remote Falkland Islands have managed to return home — by catching a ride for more than 5,000 nautical miles on an Antarctic fishing boat.

The couple, Feeonaa and Neville Clifton, were honeymooning in the south Atlantic archipelago, about 300 miles off the coast of Argentina, as South America’s coronavirus epidemic began to escalate in March. After their flights home via Brazil were canceled, they remained in lockdown with an aunt in the Falklands, where Mr. Clifton was born.

The couple have been together more than 25 years and raised three children, but decided only recently to marry and take a honeymoon. Ms. Clifton said they spent their time in lockdown rekindling old hobbies, like playing card games.

“I think maybe I fell in love with him just a little bit more,” she added of her husband.

That was the easy part.

Ms. Clifton, 48, said that when they began planning their escape from the Falklands, one of their only options was a military transport through Africa and Britain.

“At the time we were being told Latam might fly next month, and then again the next month after that,” she said, referring to Latam Airlines, a major carrier in the region. “Unfortunately the deadline kept getting further and further pushed back.”

They explored other travel options, but each seemed complex and likely to put them at increased risk of contracting the virus.

Eventually, they settled on the San Aotea II, a fishing boat that was heading their way. The only catch was that the journey would take 29 days and traverse the notoriously treacherous Southern Ocean.

But Ms. Clifton, who had never spent a night on a boat, said the trip was surprisingly calm, and that the crew helped pass the time by playing cards with them.

The couple arrived in New Zealand on Tuesday morning after testing negative for the virus. Ms. Clifton said in a telephone interview a few hours later that they still felt “extremely wobbly” — to the point where a shopkeeper they came upon during the drive home thought they were dancing.

“We were just trying to stand up straight,” she said.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Facebook on Monday agreed to lease all the office space in the mammoth James A. Farley Building in Midtown Manhattan, reaffirming its commitment to an office-centric urban culture despite the continued spread of the coronavirus.

The timing of the announcement was somewhat of a surprise because Facebook has given most of its employees the option of working from home. Even after the pandemic subsides, Facebook has said that within the next 10 years, up to half of its roughly 52,200 employees across the country would work from home.

New York’s economy has been cratered by the outbreak. The city is slowly reopening, but many companies have told their employees not to return to their offices until early next year, if not later. Much of Manhattan’s business district remains a virtual ghost town.

But Facebook now has more than 4,000 employees in its offices in Manhattan, up from about 2,900 employees at the beginning of the year. The company leased office space at Hudson Yards — which is also in Midtown — in November, and it has expressed interest in the 107-year-old Farley Building for months. With the addition of 730,000 square feet there, Facebook has acquired more than 2.2 million square feet of office space in Midtown Manhattan in less than a year, enough for thousands of employees.

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Apple, Amazon and Google all lease space in the same area, an emerging tech corridor. A Facebook spokeswoman said it was too soon to estimate how many employees will end up at the Manhattan properties, given the uncertainties of the outbreak.

Credit…Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals’ outbreak has swelled to at least 13 players and staff members, in yet another blow to the rocky start of the Major League Baseball season. The Cardinals’ outbreak comes after the Miami Marlins reported an outbreak last week: 18 players and two coaches.

The Cardinals have been quarantined since Thursday at their hotel in Milwaukee, where their three-game series with the Brewers was postponed last weekend after St. Louis’s first cases were confirmed.

“I think everyone is trying to look for someone or something to blame, and there isn’t one person or one thing to blame,” said Derek Jeter, the Marlins’ chief executive. “This is a health crisis that we’re all dealing with — a health crisis that not only our country is dealing with, but our world is dealing with.”

Baseball wants to insulate itself from that world, but its 30 teams are traveling throughout the United States to stage a 60-game season. The league determined that a so-called bubble approach was impractical, and the areas it considered months ago to carry out a season in a contained environment — Arizona, Texas and Florida — have since become hot spots for the virus. Yet road trips have increased the risk of infection.

Mr. Jeter said the Marlins had been unfairly maligned for playing in Philadelphia on July 26 after they learned of four positive tests; in fact, he said, the Phillies and M.L.B. were also aware of those test results. He also disputed that the Marlins had acted recklessly in Atlanta, where they played two exhibitions.

Mostly, Mr. Jeter said, the Marlins were careless, failing to adhere strictly to mask wearing and social distancing. While there was “no salacious activity” in Atlanta, he said, some players did leave the hotel for coffee or shopping.

White House officials have been told they will be randomly screened for the coronavirus starting on Monday, according to a person who received the email.

The new policy is a change for the White House, where the testing requirement had previously been only for people in proximity to Mr. Trump.

It was unclear what exactly prompted the change. An employee in the White House complex cafeterias recently tested positive for the virus, prompting the closing of the dining halls. And last week, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, tested positive after experiencing minor symptoms. Mr. O’Brien is the most senior White House official known to have contracted the virus. He typically works from an office steps away from the Oval Office.

Public health experts have been concerned about the high levels of asymptomatic transmission across the country. Even employees who do not work in proximity to the president could be seeding chains of infection.

The email made clear that anyone who does not comply with assignments for testing would be seen as refusing to be tested, according to the person who received it.

Credit…Danielle Scruggs for The New York Times

Medicare’s coverage of a broad range of services is slated to end when the coronavirus no longer poses a public health emergency. Private insurers, which followed the federal government’s lead, could revert to paying doctors for virtual visits at a fraction of the cost for traditional visits, if anything at all.

“The concern everyone in the industry has is that reimbursement is in jeopardy,” said Dr. Mia Levy, the director of the cancer center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, which treated patients virtually during the height of the pandemic.

On Monday, President Trump described telehealth as a “very, very big priority” after he signed an executive order aimed at making permanent some of the changes in Medicare policy that his administration adopted during the pandemic. The order focuses in part on finding ways to ensure access to medical care for people in rural areas.

While there is broad bipartisan support for telehealth coverage, Congress would have to pass specific legislation to make some of Medicare’s changes permanent. Some lawmakers favor permanently expanding Medicare payment for a broad range of telemedicine services, but others are concerned about the technology’s cost and potential for fraud.

Many patients enjoy the convenience of telemedicine. And it is particularly valuable for those vulnerable to the virus, like Susan Varak, 45, who has breast cancer. “I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to be face-to-face every couple of weeks,” she said.

But for some patients, telemedicine is not a substitute for in-person care. Jorge Cueto, who is in his mid-20s, said a virtual visit is often an additional step before going to the doctor’s office for, say, a sore throat.

“It’s another fee, it’s another gating mechanism,” he said.

Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, argues that the goal of telemedicine should not be to lower health care costs over all. One of its main benefits, he said, is improving patients’ access to care, adding that it would be foolish to expect savings if more people also get treatment. “Those don’t reconcile,” he said.


Credit…Mark Makela/Getty Images

New Jersey will again restrict indoor gatherings as cases have risen in the state, Gov. Philip D. Murphy said Monday. Gatherings will be limited to 25 percent of a room’s usual occupancy limit, with a maximum of 25 people, down from 100 people.

The new guidance will not apply to weddings, funerals, or memorial services, he said, nor will it affect religious or political activities protected under the First Amendment. Those events will still be capped at 100 people, or 25 percent maximum occupancy.

The governor reiterated that officials believed that indoor house parties and other gatherings were contributing to the resurgence of the virus in New Jersey, which made significant progress battling its outbreak in April and May.

The rate of virus transmission, a rough measure of the spread of infection, in the state rose significantly in July, Mr. Murphy said. As of Saturday, the first day of August, the rate was at 1.48, according to the state, meaning that each person with the virus infected an average of 1.48 people. Just one month ago, Mr. Murphy said, the rate was at 0.87. The rate is a rough estimate, because many infections are undetected for a variety of reasons, including asymptomatic infections and testing issues.

“I don’t think we ever graduated out of the first wave,” he said. “As the clock has gone on, folks have begun to, a little bit, fall off the wagon,” in terms of indoor gatherings that violated the state’s social-distancing guidance.

Elsewhere in the United States:



Coronavirus Cases ‘Trending Down’ in California, Governor Says

Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday that the total number of people testing positive for the coronavirus was on the decline.

I want to give you some good news, and that is our number of positive cases yesterday was 5,739. That is a one-day number. And again, I’ve made this point abundant over the past. And that is, I don’t look to one-day numbers.They go up, they go down, there’s some weekend reporting often that is an example on Mondays. That’s why the seven-day average becomes even more important. And that seven-day average you’ll see at 7,764. Average daily tests continue to go up. The good news is, the total number of people testing positive is now going down. We have gone down to 7 percent. This, reflected in this slide over a 14-day period, shows that 7.5 percent number that we presented to you on multiple occasions now again tracking down to 7 percent. So, 14-day positivity rate, reflected in the slide: 7 percent. This seven-day positivity rate now down to 6.1 percent is not where it needs to be. It is still too high. But again, it is good to see this number trending down, not trending up.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Monday that the total number of people testing positive for the coronavirus was on the decline.CreditCredit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times
  • Declaring that “lives are at stake,” Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston announced that residents of the nation’s fourth largest city will face citations and fines of up to $250 for failing to wear masks in public. He said police officers and firefighters would be authorized to issue citations to anyone in public without a mask after first issuing a warning. Though there have been signs of improvement, Houston and surrounding Harris County remain one of the nation’s worst hot spots with 50,896 cases and 478 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom of California had encouraging news on Monday for a state whose residents have been whipsawed by early successes against the virus and then a disastrous reopening of the economy in early summer. After surging for most of July, the average number of new cases and intensive care admissions have decreased in the state, the governor reported. Data compiled by The New York Times show the seven-day average of cases down 19 percent from a peak on July 25 in California. Mr. Newsom cautioned that the virus is still surging in some parts of the state.

  • More than two million Americans who have lost ground economically during the pandemic have also lost health insurance recently, with African-Americans and low-wage workers the hardest hit, according to a new analysis of census data by the advocacy group Families U.S.A. “It’s part of a bigger story — a tale of two pandemics, where some of us are doing fine, or even doing really well, and others are really suffering,” said Stan Dorn, the author of the study.

  • In New York City, the mayor said Monday that he plans to bring back a program that allows restaurants to serve patrons in outdoor dining areas on city streets, next year on June 1. He said the program had helped more than 9,000 restaurants reopen for outdoor dining, allowing an estimated 80,000 workers to return to their jobs.


Credit…Pedro Pardo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.

“We would like to return to face-to-face classes, but it is neither possible nor prudent,” said the education minister, Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, in a news conference. Mr. Moctezuma said he wanted to avoid the fates of “Isreal, South Korea, the United Kingdom, France, to name a few examples, who reopened their schools and had to close them again.”

The announcement is one of the first signs of caution in the nation’s approach to reopening the economy in the face of the pandemic. Restaurants, hotels and factories have all been allowed to restart operations, even though the country has not managed to get the virus under control. Over the weekend, Mexico surpassed the United Kingdom to become the country with the third highest coronavirus deaths worldwide.

Four television companies will air classes to 30 million students on broadcast channels, in Spanish, sign language and 20 Indigenous languages, the education minister said. The government will distribute free textbooks to students who can’t afford them.

In other global news:

  • The head of the World Health Organization said that while there was great progress in the global search for a vaccine for the coronavirus, people should not expect the crisis to end anytime soon. “A number of vaccines are now in Phase 3 clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director general, told reporters on Monday. “However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be.”

  • A Norwegian cruise ship line halted all trips and apologized Monday after a coronavirus outbreak on one ship infected at least five passengers and 36 crew, The Associated Press reported. Health authorities said they feared the ship also could have spread the virus to dozens of communities along Norway’s western coast. The Hurtigruten cruise line was one of the first companies to resume sailing during the pandemic.

  • President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Sunday ordered Manila and its suburbs to re-enter lockdown for two weeks as the health department reported 5,032 new cases of the coronavirus. Infections spiked after the government eased lockdown rules and gradually opened up in an effort to jump-start the economy. Hospitals have been overwhelmed, and doctors have warned they are reaching a breaking point.

Credit…Nolwen Cifuentes for The New York Times

For nearly 70 years, the Small Business Administration’s disaster relief program has helped companies recover from catastrophe. But it has never faced anything like this.

Besieged by more than eight million applicants — and operating in the shadow of the hastily assembled Paycheck Protection Program — the disaster relief effort has given out more money in the past few months than it had in its entire history.

But the demand has created a problem that is hobbling hundreds of thousands of applicants: The agency, afraid of running out of cash, capped its coronavirus loans at a fraction of what companies can normally borrow — even though the program has handed out less than half the $360 billion it can lend.

The cap has left many borrowers with loans that they fear will not be enough to keep their businesses afloat. Nearly 400,000 businesses have run into the $150,000 limit, according to the agency’s data. S.B.A. representatives declined to comment on the cap or why it was imposed.

“Without the extra capital, it will be very difficult for us to survive,” Caroline Keefer, a clothing designer in Los Angeles, wrote in an appeal to the agency after her loan was capped.

The cap has been just one problem with the program, officially called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. Applicants faced long delays, confusing procedures and communication lapses. And on Tuesday, the agency’s internal watchdog said that hundreds of millions of dollars handed out through the program may have been fraudulently obtained.

In New York City, an expanding universe of distinctive small businesses — from coffee shops to dry cleaners to hardware stores — that give its neighborhoods their unique personalities and are key to the city’s economy are starting to topple. When the pandemic eventually subsides, roughly one-third of the city’s 240,000 small businesses may never reopen, according to a report by the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group. So far, those businesses have shed 520,000 jobs.

On Monday, more than 100 current and former chief executives called for more aid to small businesses across the country in a letter sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“Allowing small businesses to fail will turn temporary job losses into permanent ones,” states the letter, which was organized by the former Starbucks chief Howard Schultz with the support of Senators Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Todd Young, a Republican. It was signed by the likes of Walmart’s Doug McMillon, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai and Disney’s Bob Chapek.

Reporting was contributed by Reed Abelson, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Peter Baker, Emma Bubola, Benedict Carey, Emily Cochrane, Jill Cowan, Stacy Cowley, Jacey Fortin, Thomas Fuller, Michael Gold, Denise Grady, Jason Gutierrez, Matthew Haag, Maggie Haberman, Javier C. Hernández, Annie Karni, Tyler Kepner, Sarah Kliff, Andrew E. Kramer, Sharon LaFraniere, Dan Levin, Apoorva Mandavilli, Sarah Mervosh, Azi Paybarah, Daniel E. Slotnik, Eileen Sullivan, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Noah Weiland, Michael Wines, Sameer Yasir and Karen Zraick.


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