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Coronavirus Live Updates: Testing in the U.S. Becomes Major Campaign Issue

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ImageFood distribution in Jackson Heights, Queens, this week.
Credit…Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

Another 2.1 million new unemployment claims were filed last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, pushing the total past 40 million since the coronavirus pandemic grabbed hold in mid-March.

The report marks the eighth week in a row that new jobless filings dipped from their peak of almost 6.9 million, but the level is still far above historic highs.

The latest claims may not only be a result of fresh layoffs, but also evidence that states are working their way through a backlog. State unemployment offices that manage and distribute benefits have been stretched by the scale of the layoffs. And overcounting in some places and undercounting in others has made it difficult to precisely measure the number of layoffs caused by the pandemic — and devise policy responses — as shutdowns lift and state and local economies start to reopen.

Shelter-in-place orders and business restrictions have been lifting across the country, and some workers have been called back to work. But the reopenings remain bumpy and incomplete, and flare-ups of the coronavirus continue to disrupt business.

The Trump administration will not issue a midyear update to its economic forecasts this summer, breaking decades of tradition amid the uncertainty of a pandemic recession, administration officials confirmed on Thursday.

The decision will spare the administration from having to reveal its internal projections for how deeply the recession will damage economic growth and how long the pain of high unemployment will persist.

When the administration last published official projections in February, it forecast economic growth of 3.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2021, and growth rates at or around 3 percent for the ensuing decade. It forecast an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent for the year.

The virus has rendered those projections obsolete. Unemployment could hit 20 percent in June, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told CNN this week. The Congressional Budget Office said in April that it expects the economy will contract by 5.6 percent this year and end with unemployment above 11 percent.

The White House is required by law to issue both an annual budget and a midyear update to it, called a “mid-session review.” Updating economic projections in the mid-session review is optional, but it is a practice that administrations — including Mr. Trump’s — have widely followed since the review was mandated by Congress in 1970.

The review is required by law to give at least a partial window into how the administration expects the economy to perform this year and in the future: It must contain “any substantial changes to estimated receipts or expenditures” by the federal government, which includes the projected effects of cratering tax collections from lost economic activity and increased spending and tax cuts to combat it.

The decision not to release updated projections was first reported by The Washington Post.

Trump administration officials have in the past resisted updating their forecasts in the face of evidence that the economy was not growing as fast as they had projected. The budget they released in February officially conceded for the first time that growth in 2018 and 2019 had not reached 3 percent, as they had predicted.

The Federal Reserve is still scheduled to release its first summary of economic projections this year following its June 9-10 meeting. Central bankers release the forecasts for unemployment, growth, inflation and interest rates each quarter, but skipped the March edition amid coronavirus uncertainty.

Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

As nations loosen lockdown restrictions, countries are turning their focus to testing and contact tracing to contain coronavirus outbreaks. Starting today, Britain will start mass testing and tracing. In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus originated, the government undertook a mass testing program to prevent a resurgence. In two weeks, it says it has been able to test nearly 6.5 million people.

President Trump and his presumptive Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., have outlined two very different strategies for moving forward. Mr. Biden, who laid out his plan in a little-noticed Medium post, said he would he would set up testing through the federal government, with a public-private board to oversee test manufacturing and distribution, federal safety regulators enforcing testing at work and at least 100,000 contact tracers tracking down people exposed to the virus.

The Trump administration released its new testing strategy over the weekend in an 81-page document, as it was required to do under the Paycheck Protection Program and Heath Care Enhancement Act. The plan would hold states responsible for carrying out all coronavirus testing, though the federal government would provide some supplies needed for the tests.

Polls show that voters tend to favor a prominent role for the federal government. In a Pew Research survey released this month, 61 percent of Americans said coronavirus testing was mostly or entirely the responsibility of the federal government, not the states. A Fox News poll released last week found that 63 percent of registered voters viewed the “lack of available testing” as a “major problem.” Just 12 percent said it was not a problem at all.

Still, some say a one-size-fits-all program isn’t the right way to go. Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, called Mr. Biden’s idea a “typical Democratic response.”

“There’s a big difference between what’s going on in Queens, N.Y., and rural Tennessee, and the governors know best what to do,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s plan, though, shows what a national strategy could entail, including a “Pandemic Testing Board” to oversee “a nationwide campaign” to increase production of diagnostic and antibody tests, coordinate distribution, identify testing sites and people to staff them, and build laboratory capacity.

Testing, he and his advisers wrote, “is the springboard we need to help get our economy safely up and running again.”

Credit…Erin Kirkland for The New York Times

The nation’s staggering unemployment figures — devastating as they are — do not fully capture the degree to which the coronavirus has disrupted professional life across the country.

Since March, when the crisis began to shut businesses en masse, a generation of professionals has seen careers enter a state of suspended animation. Hiring has dried up, advancement has ceased, job searches have been put on hold and new ventures are in jeopardy. As a result, even well-connected high earners are suddenly in unfamiliar territory.

“We’re not just in a holding pattern,” said Alisa Cohn, an executive coach who works with companies including Google and Pfizer. “We’re on our way somewhere new, but we don’t know what it looks like.”

For many professionals, the timing has been excruciating. After five years at the wellness industry start-up she co-founded in San Francisco, Hasti Nazem decided it was time for her next adventure in Silicon Valley. Her last day was March 5.

Two months later, the job market has imploded, promising leads have dried up, and Ms. Nazem, 35, is stuck in limbo. She is mining her network for introductions, but is still without a full-time job.

“I’m mostly having Zoom calls with strangers,” she said.

Official case counts often substantially underestimate the number of coronavirus infections. But in the new studies, which tested the population more broadly in an effort to estimate everyone who has been infected, the percentage of people who have been infected so far is still in the single digits. The numbers are a small fraction of the threshold known as herd immunity, at which the virus can no longer spread widely. The precise herd immunity threshold for the virus is not yet clear, but several experts said they believed it would be higher than 60 percent.

Even in some of the hardest-hit cities in the world, the studies suggest, the vast majority of people still remain vulnerable to the virus.

Viewed together, the studies show herd immunity protection is unlikely to be reached “any time soon,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“We don’t have a good way to safely build it up, to be honest, not in the short term,” Dr. Mina said. “Unless we’re going to let the virus run rampant again — but I think society has decided that is not an approach available to us.”

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Ms. DeVos announced the measure in a letter to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state education chiefs.

“The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers and families,” Ms. DeVos wrote on Friday, referring to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. “There is nothing in the act suggesting Congress intended to discriminate between children based on public or nonpublic school attendance, as you seem to do. The virus affects everyone.”

A range of education officials said the guidance would divert millions of dollars from disadvantaged students and force districts to support even the wealthiest private schools.

The association representing the nation’s school superintendents told districts to ignore the guidance, and at least two states, Indiana and Maine, said they would.

Private school leaders say they are also in crisis. Many of those schools serve low-income students whose parents have fled failing public schools. About 5.7 million students attend private schools, 30 percent of them from families with incomes below $75,000 a year. Private school groups say those families are most at risk without federal aid.

Under federal education law, school districts are required to use funding they receive for their poorest students to provide “equitable services,” such as tutoring and transportation for low-income students attending private schools in their districts. But Ms. DeVos’s guidance would award private schools more services than the law would normally require.

Credit…Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction for an exceptionally illustrious class, including the former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, will be postponed from August to next spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the Hall of Fame’s board of governors, said Wednesday.

No announcement will be official until the board of governors convenes on June 10, Mr. Colangelo said.

The enshrinement weekend was originally scheduled for Aug. 28-30, and Mr. Colangelo had proposed Oct. 10-12 as an alternative in case fears over the pandemic lingered. But Mr. Colangelo said it had become clear to him that neither weekend would be feasible.

Credit…Gregory Bull/Associated Press

More than a dozen Indian casinos across California reopened last week despite pleas from the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom.

In a series of correspondences and video chats with tribal leaders this month, Mr. Newsom sought to persuade more than cajole.

“This virus does not recognize jurisdictional boundaries, and it is in the best interest of public health to move toward reopening in concert,” he wrote in a letter to tribal leaders.

While churches and beaches have become bitter reopening battlegrounds, the issue of the state’s more than 70 Indian casinos, an $8 billion industry that has been shut down for the past two months, has been a separate contest of wills.

The question of who should decide when they are allowed to reopen is shadowed by the legacy of the deadly and degrading treatment of tribal communities for centuries. It is also complicated by the role of sovereignty. Under a series of agreements that tribes have with the government, Indian businesses have a special status that allows them to operate independently in many areas.

A majority of Indian casinos in the state have chosen to stay closed and are coordinating their reopening with the governor’s office.

But the closure in March elicited fears that tribes could lose the financial independence that came with owning a successful business.

Greg Sarris, the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which runs a casino north of San Francisco that is still shut, does not question the right of other tribes to open.

“I will honor any tribe’s sovereignty,” Mr. Sarris said. “Sovereignty is the only thing we have.”

Credit…Emily Rose Bennett for The New York Times

The pandemic has unmoored already fragile institutions across the country, forcing many Americans to turn to one another for help instead of to the government or nonprofit organizations.

Though the groups’ efforts vary widely, similar attempts to offer assistance have formed in dozens of states, including Arizona, North Carolina and Texas.

The groups are something of a throwback; such networks were popular in the heydays of communal activity, in the early 20th century and again in the 1960s and ’70s.

Among those wanting to help their community were three young idealists from the Detroit area — Justin Onwenu, Bridget Quinn and Lauren Schandeve. So they organized. And with nothing happening in person, they turned to Facebook, creating a group called Metro Detroit Covid-19 Support.

Within days it grew to include thousands of people throughout the area. As the weeks wore on, many people requested or provided face masks, and increasingly, in desperation, asked for help with unemployment.

“For my age group, if we don’t walk away from this moment understanding there are things we really need to change, we will have failed,” Mr. Onwenu said. “It was just so clear early on: This is a generational moment and it’s going to be on us. You look at history and there are certain moments where the psyche of communities completely changes, and this will be one of them.”

Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

As the British government prepares to roll out a large-scale track and trace system designed to head off a second spike in infections, other countries’ experiences offer case studies — and cautionary tales.

Starting today, anyone in Britain who has potential symptoms of Covid-19 will be tested and, if positive, be asked to list all those with whom they have recently been in close contact for at least 15 minutes. Those people, in turn, will be contacted and asked to isolate themselves for 14 days.

It’s just the latest national campaign that aims to prevent more infections, and another test of how testing and tracing affect transmission of the virus. The results so far are mixed.

Rest and fluids are essential, but so is knowing when to call a doctor. Give yourself plenty of time to feel better.

Reporting was contributed by Karen Barrow, Scott Cacciola, Patricia Cohen, Catie Edmondson, David Gelles, Erica L. Green, Apoorva Mandavilli, Jennifer Medina, Nadja Popovich, Margot Sanger-Katz, Anna Schaverien, Kaly Soto, Thomas Fuller, Jim Tanksersley and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

Source: NY times

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