Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

  • Forget reopening by Easter, experts say: The coronavirus is still “wildly out of control” in the U.S.

  • There was still no agreement on a $2 trillion economic relief plan, but Democrats and Trump administration officials were optimistic.

  • India ordered its entire population — 1.3 billion people — to stay inside their homes for three weeks.

  • The Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be postponed until 2021.

  • Get the latest updates here, plus maps and full coverage

Stay-at-home orders, business closures and bans on gatherings are painful for many and costly for everyone, so it’s natural to want them to end as soon as possible.

Conservatives and Wall Street executives are raising alarms about the economic harm the shutdowns from the coronavirus outbreak are doing, and President Trump said on Tuesday he “would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go, by Easter” — less than three weeks from now.

But easing up so soon would be disastrous, public health experts say. Many more people would become infected, hospitals would be strained past the breaking point, the death toll would skyrocket — and the economic damage would only worsen.

“There’s no magic wand — there’s no 15-day cure,” says Donald G. McNeil Jr., the Times science reporter who’s been talking to the leading experts on epidemics.

The coronavirus remains “wildly out of control” in the U.S., Donald says on today’s episode of “The Daily” podcast, with little sign that the “patchwork” of restrictions in place now has begun to brake it yet.

“To be effective, given how lax Americans are about staying in the shutdown,” he says, “we have got to have a shutdown that lasts for months and months.”

And he says it would do more good if it were nationwide. “The only way to get on top of this disease is to stop the clusters,” he says, and as long as some people are moving about freely, new clusters will keep appearing.

Endgame in China: Hubei province, where the outbreak erupted in late December, said on Tuesday that it was lifting some restrictions. But Hubei has been locked down for two months, much more tightly than anywhere in America. And even with new case reports near zero, some experts maintain that the epidemic there may not yet be over.

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New York City is now the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the U.S., with nearly 15,000 confirmed cases in the city — roughly 5 percent of the global total — and thousands more in the suburbs. The case count in New York State is doubling every three days, the governor said today.

To understand why, we spoke to Brian Rosenthal, an investigative reporter on our Metro desk who has written about the particular challenges facing the city.

What is it about New York City that made the virus explode here?

According to the experts, the single biggest factor is simply the density of the city. Twenty-eight thousand people live in every square mile of New York.

New York has been testing a lot of people. Are the big numbers just a product of that?

We looked into it. New York has conducted more tests than any other state. However, even after you account for that, the number of cases in New York is much higher.

If you just compare the percentage of tests that have come back positive, it’s about 25 percent in New York, and in California it’s about 5 percent. That doesn’t necessarily mean that five times as many people in New York have it, but it is a sign that the virus is probably more widespread in our community than in California.

What would explain the difference?

What the experts think is that this virus was circulating in the city for much longer than we thought, and it spread before we put in place these social distancing measures. We are starting to see the ramifications of that now, days and weeks after the virus spread, because it takes time for symptoms to show up.

Does New York’s experience offer any lesson?

I think the most important lesson for the general public is to take this seriously, because the number of cases can escalate extremely quickly, and it will catch you off guard.

With a vaccine still at least a year away, researchers have been hunting for existing drugs that might be useful in treating Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. They see some potential in 69 compounds, including some already in use for other diseases that might be repurposed quickly.

But even with only limited, anecdotal evidence that the drugs do any good, President Trump has already lauded some of them as possible game-changers, including the malaria drug chloroquine and an experimental antiviral drug, remdesivir. Clinical trials have begun, but scientists have yet to report any results, let alone get the drugs approved for use.

The publicity has prompted some doctors to start hoarding some of the drugs by writing prescriptions for themselves and their relatives. In response, state pharmacy boards are issuing emergency rules for how the drugs can be dispensed.

Gilead, the maker of remdesivir, is limiting distribution in the face of overwhelming demand. The company ended its “compassionate use” program, which allowed use of remdesivir in certain cases that had no other approved treatment options.

A deadly mistake: A couple in Arizona tried to self-medicate by ingesting an aquarium-cleaning additive that has the same active ingredient as chloroquine. The additive is poisonous; the husband died, and the wife was left in critical condition.

  • In Spain, army troops have found elderly people abandoned in several nursing homes. The country has tallied 40,000 coronavirus cases and more than 2,600 deaths.

  • With the U.S. case count nearing 50,000, the Trump administration said it planned to use its authority under a wartime production law for the first time, to order the production of 60,000 testing kits.

  • South Africa, with 550 cases, the most in Africa, will begin a three-week national shutdown on Thursday.

  • Doctors in Cuba are monitoring 38,000 patients for Covid-19 symptoms, and more than 40,000 visitors to the island have been ordered to self-isolate. The country has 40 confirmed cases.

Fight loneliness: Simply offering to help a neighbor or calling an old friend can go a long way to relieve the emotional toll from social distancing, our personal health columnist writes.

Read and escape: We asked more than 20 authors, including Celeste Ng, Ann Patchett and Min Jin Lee, about the books they like to lose themselves in.

Handle your kids’ disappointment: Here’s how to deal with the letdown when school and birthday parties are canceled.

Flex your creativity: We’ve published a cartoon scene of New Yorkers stuck indoors (toilet paper hoarders included) that you can color right on your screen.

Addi’s Diner is a local treasure. They serve a pancake that’s about the size of a car steering wheel. Addi is a Braves fan. I’m a Dodgers fan. Whenever I come in, we make a show of insulting the other’s team. Sunday I dropped by to get a $20 gift certificate. I’m going to keep doing that for a while. Addi appreciated it, but she still dissed my Dodgers. And I her Braves.

—Michael Jaffarian, Springfield, Ore.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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Lara Takenaga, Jonathan Wolfe and Tom Wright-Piersanti contributed to today’s newsletter.

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