The Daily 202: Losing a job can also mean losing health coverage, adding to anxiety amid coronavirus pandemic

With Mariana Alfaro

Ramona Valdez is one of the more than 10 million Americans who filed for unemployment benefits last month. The 64-year-old was laid off on March 10 after 22 years as a housekeeper at the Sheraton in Stamford, Conn., when occupancy rates plummeted at hotels because of the coronavirus contagion. Her employer-sponsored health insurance coverage ended effective April 1. This is especially problematic because she broke her right wrist after falling at home, and she has a doctor’s appointment scheduled for April 15 to get the cast removed.

“I have to get it removed, but I don’t have the money,” she said in Spanish. “On top of that, they might tell me to do physical therapy. I don’t know how I’d pay for that. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Losing a job doesn’t just mean losing a paycheck. For millions, it will also mean losing employer-covered health care. Valdez immigrated to the United States in 1984 from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, and does not speak English. Her daughter and union steward have been trying to help figure out a way for her to get insured again, but they’ve found the process byzantine and the options costly. 

Making it harder is the uncertainty of not knowing when she might get rehired. When will people begin traveling again? When will life return to normal? “I can only rely on God,” Valdez said. “I just pray every single day that people will stay home so this will be over quickly.”

She is a member of Unite Here, a union of hotel, casino, restaurant and cafeteria workers. “We represent 300,000 people. My bet is about 280,000 have lost their jobs,” said union President Donald “D.” Taylor. “That might be a low number. It might be 290,000.”

The Labor Department, which reported this morning that the jobless rate rose to 4.4 percent in March, said almost two-thirds of job losses occurred in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Taylor, calling from his home in Las Vegas, expressed disgust that last week’s $2 trillion stimulus bill did not include insurance subsidies for the unemployed or mandates that companies receiving government assistance provide health coverage for workers who get laid off. He said many of his members are covered by labor agreements that allow for extending coverage through June 30, but others who depend on company plans – and millions who are not unionized – have already lost coverage. 

“What I cannot understand is how, in the midst of a health-care crisis, we have millions of people losing health care and no one’s talking about it,” said Taylor. “It’s the epitome of an ironic situation that a $2 trillion bailout, the largest bill ever passed by Congress, contains nothing about continuing or expanding people’s health care.”

The Trump administration has decided not to reopen the enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, but losing a job qualifies as a significant life event. That starts a 60-day window during which people can register for a new insurance plan at healthcare.gov. Quality coverage in these marketplaces can still be costly, as well.

Most people who lose employer-based coverage are eligible to extend it for up to 18 months under the COBRA program, but this can be prohibitively expensive – especially if you have little savings and need to buy food and other necessities. People on COBRA are required to pick up their employer’s full share of the monthly premium. Congress subsidized these payments during the Great Recession but did not do so in last week’s legislation, known as the CARES Act.

To be eligible for Medicaid, many states require people’s income to be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. States typically want to see their tax returns from the previous year, and many laid-off workers will be above the threshold. President Trump said during his Wednesday evening news conference that he is looking into expanding Medicare and Medicaid eligibility to cover some of the newly uninsured, but he was quite vague about the details. And Vice President Pence signaled that this idea is not under serious consideration. Trump even joked with a Fox News reporter about how Pence had ducked the topic. “Mike was able to speak for five minutes and not even touch your question,” the president said. “That’s what you call a great professional!”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin emphasized on Thursday that millions of Americans will receive their $1,200 (or less) stimulus check via direct deposit in about two weeks while others will see them a few “weeks” after that.

“The $1,200 check won’t cover rent in any major metropolitan area in America. If you walk into an emergency room, that’s gone,” said Taylor, who added that many of his members earned too much last year to qualify for Medicaid this year. “Listen, extending unemployment is good. But if you get sick, that’s not going to cover any medical bills. … Co-pays are not the issue if you don’t have coverage.”

Jose Guerra lost his job as a bartender in a Houston airport restaurant called Ember last Tuesday. Initially, the 61-year-old said he felt relieved because he’s been terrified that he’d contract covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, from one of the travelers who cycle through from all over the world. But then he panicked when he realized he would lose his health insurance.

The recovering alcoholic celebrated his birthday alone this week, sheltering in place at his apartment, and he’s been joining Alcoholics Anonymous meetings via Zoom to get support. In the past year alone, he’s had three surgeries: hand surgery because his fingers kept locking into place at work, nasal surgery because he was struggling to breathe and knee surgery because he tore his meniscus. He said the Cigna insurance he had until Wednesday was good and covered everything above his $1,000 deductible. Some friends have told him to apply for Medicaid, but he thinks his income was too high to qualify. He said he does not know what his options are under the ACA. 

“I’m in uncharted territory,” he said. “I don’t know what I am going to do.”

Galiv Shishir, 31, was laid off along with 20 of his colleagues on March 12 as a bartender at Charmaine’s in San Francisco. After two years of working at the trendy rooftop spot, he got a severance check for $1,500, not enough to even meet rent in the Tenderloin neighborhood where he lives. He said he had a stroke two years ago, at 29, and the doctors were not able to fully understand why. But his insurance covered tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. 

“So I am constantly worrying in the back of my mind,” he said. “I really don’t know where things will go past May for me. I know that it would not be the right decision, probably, with the way the virus is spreading and how people are interacting, but because I’m so anxious, and I’ll be out of money soon, I just want everything to open again.”

Shishir’s asthmatic wife, who works in retail and doesn’t get insurance through her job, also depended on his lapsed insurance to get the inhalers she needs. He’s collecting unemployment benefits, and he’s looking into signing up for COBRA, but he said no one has explained to him how it works. As he sat at home, he’s found himself missing his home country of Bangladesh, which he emigrated from in 2008.

“In Bangladesh, we have a lot of floods and everything and we are kind of prone to disasters all the time,” he said. “But I never felt very insecure back there, ever. To be frank, being in America right now, I really don’t feel secure. … I sort of think that I should have been home for all this, and that it might have been better, because people are much more communal. Capitalism has left so many holes here in this country that are being exposed. It makes people like me feel really helpless.”

I also spoke with an engineer, a member of a different union, who was laid off in Las Vegas by the casino where he has worked for more than two decades. He said he has not been able to file for unemployment benefits yet because he has been stuck on hold for hours each of the three days he called. “I’ve only got enough money to pay my mortgage for a couple of months, and I don’t know what I’ll do about health care,” he said.

He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he does not want his longtime girlfriend to know that a desire to get on her employer’s health insurance might be what prompts him to finally pop the question and take the plunge toward matrimony. “That’s a [messed] up reason to do it,” he explained. “But even if I took a menial job, there’s really nothing I can do. Everyone in Vegas got laid off at the same time.”

More on the cascading economic calamity

“The Economic Policy Institute predicts nearly 20 million Americans will be out of work by July, which would be the worst unemployment situation the United States has faced since the Great Depression,” Heather Long and Abha Bhattarai report. “Even the normally cautious Congressional Budget Office predicts the unemployment rate will exceed 10 percent. … The massive aid packages Congress passed in March will help, many say, but Goldman Sachs still predicts a 9 percent contraction in the first quarter and a 34 percent contraction in the second quarter. … Economists think the true number of laid off workers is probably higher than the nearly 10 million who filed jobless claims in March, since so many people have not been able to complete their application as state unemployment office websites crash and phone lines are swamped. …

“Hotels, restaurants, malls, hair salons and theaters have been among the hardest hit. … Also, industries often considered recession-proof, including white-collar education, health care and transportation, also are experiencing furloughs and layoffs. Aerospace giant Boeing on Thursday began offering buyouts to its nearly 100,000 U.S. workers.”

“Uber drivers and other gig economy workers were promised unemployment benefits. It may be a long wait,” Tony Romm reports. “In California, Illinois, Washington and a slew of other states, local unemployment officials are signaling they aren’t yet ready to start processing aid for laborers in what is known as the gig economy. Already inundated with record numbers of jobless claims and lacking federal guidance, many states say they need more time to set up a new system that can process additional benefits — and some say they may not be able to accept applications until later in April. Until now, many gig workers were ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits, even if driving passengers or delivering goods was their primary source of income. That’s because they are often categorized as independent contractors, not full-time employees, for companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and Postmates.”

“The day before the scheduled launch of the federal government’s massive new small-business lending program, banks being tapped to dole out the money questioned whether it was ready to launch,” Aaron Gregg and Renae Merle report. “The $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program is a key element of the $2 trillion economic rescue package. … Administration officials have said money from the emergency loan fund will start flowing to small businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak Friday, delivering a sharply streamlined, same-day approval process unheard of in the history of federally backed small-business lending. But JPMorgan Chase, the country’s largest lender, said Thursday it did not expect to begin accepting applications for the program Friday, as scheduled. …

“Some banking officials have warned that the abbreviated review process ― which allows borrowers to attest to their own eligibility without the government’s approval ― will make the program a magnet for fraud. Although the SBA will be able to audit lenders and borrowers later, it will fall primarily to private bankers to make decisions about who should receive taxpayer-backed loans.

“The forced closure of businesses nationwide … would seem to be the perfect scenario for filing a ‘business interruption’ insurance claim. But most companies will probably find it difficult to get an insurance payout because of policy changes made after the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak,” Todd Frankel reports. “SARS, which infected 8,000 people mostly in Asia and is now seen as foreshadowing the current pandemic, led to millions of dollars in business-interruption insurance claims. … As a result, many insurers added exclusions to standard commercial policies for losses caused by viruses or bacteria. Now, the added policy language will potentially allow insurance companies to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in business-interruption claims.”

“As renters and homeowners grapple with mass layoffs and business closures, housing advocates are growing increasingly concerned the country will soon face a housing crisis to rival the one that nearly took down the economy a decade ago,” Merle reports. “Federal officials have imposed a nationwide halt to foreclosures and evictions for more than 30 million Americans with home mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration or two government-controlled companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the federal moratoriums do not cover more than 40 million renters or 5 million homeowners with mortgage loans not backed by the government.  And while the halt to foreclosures and evictions will keep many people in their homes temporarily, a bigger financial shock is brewing as people fall behind on their payments, industry analysts say. Mortgage servicers, which collect homeowners’ monthly loan payments, say they have already begun to see an uptick in borrowers seeking help and could quickly become swamped.” 

It’s no wonder alcohol consumption has surged.

More on the federal response

U.S. coronavirus deaths topped 1,000 in a single day.

“The United States cemented its position as the new front line of the outbreak Thursday as it tallied a total of more than 240,000 infections and 5,800 virus-related deaths. The number of people infected worldwide passed 1 million, and the number who have died of the disease rose above 52,000,” Matt Zapotosky, Isaac Stanley-Becker and John Wagner report. “The hard-hit areas inside of the United States continued to see virus-related casualties rise precipitously Thursday. New York added more than 430 to its death toll, bringing the total there to more than 2,300. Neighboring New Jersey added more than 180, bringing its total to 530. Michigan, which is drawing increasing concern, added 80 deaths on Thursday, bringing its total to more than 410.” Louisiana saw a 42 percent increase in known cases on Thursday, a spike Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) attributed to backlogs in testing. The state has 9,150 confirmed cases and 310 deaths.

The administration shoots the messenger. 

“Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was relieved of command at the direction of acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly. The Navy had become increasingly convinced that Crozier was involved in leaking the letter to the news media to force the service to address his concerns over the outbreak on his ship,” Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne report. “Modly said the letter, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, undermined more senior Navy leaders and could have emboldened adversaries of the United States in the Pacific region. …  Crozier asked that 90 percent of the crew, comprising more than 4,800 sailors, be removed to allow for testing, quarantining and disinfecting of the ship. … Some 113 members of the crew had tested positive as of Thursday, Modly said, predicting that ‘hundreds’ ultimately could.”

The Navy’s hospital ship in New York has only 20 patients. 

On Thursday, the U.S.N.S. Comfort “sat mostly empty, infuriating executives at local hospitals. The ship’s 1,000 beds are largely unused, its 1,200-member crew mostly idle. Only 20 patients had been transferred to the ship, officials said, even as New York hospitals struggled to find space for the thousands infected with the coronavirus,” the Times reports. “Another Navy hospital ship, the U.S.N.S. Mercy, docked in Los Angeles, has had a total of 15 patients. ‘If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,’ said Michael Dowling, the head of Northwell Health, New York’s largest hospital system. … On top of its strict rules preventing people infected with the virus from coming on board, the Navy is also refusing to treat a host of other conditions. Guidelines disseminated to hospitals included a list of 49 medical conditions that would exclude a patient from admittance to the ship. Ambulances cannot take patients directly to the Comfort; they must first deliver patients to a city hospital for a lengthy evaluation — including a test for the virus — and then pick them up again for transport to the ship.”

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said if his state continues to use ventilators at the current rate, its stockpiles would be depleted in just six days.
  • New data shows New York, in desperation, is paying enormous markups for supplies, including almost $250,000 for a single X-ray machine. Laws against price gouging generally don’t apply to government purchases. (ProPublica)
  • New York’s aging gay population survived the HIV crisis. Now they’re confronting a new plague that has brought flashbacks of what they once endured: Fury at the government over its haphazard initial response, suspicion about abatement or promises of a vaccine, and anxiety about how much worse this could get for the marginalized. (Richard Morgan and Jada Yuan)
  • New Yorkers have become the face of the fearsome infection in America. The city’s residents have become virtual pariahs whose potential arrival has spurred anxious demands for roadblocks up and down the East Coast. (Paul Schwartzman)
The White House will soon urge Americans to wear face coverings in public. 

Trump said “that ‘a recommendation is coming out,’ but ‘I don’t think it will be mandatory. If people want to wear them, they can,'” Lena Sun and Dawsey report. “Later, however, a White House official … said that the guidance being considered is ‘narrowly targeted to areas with high community transmission’ and that the matter remains under discussion.”

Trump invoked the Defense Production Act for 3M.

The president announced he’s using the Korean War-era law to compel 3M to provide more N95 masks for medical workers, a sharp turnabout in the administration’s posture toward the company. “The confluence of a slow initial response by the Trump administration, its wariness of compelling the industry to produce gear and a long-running debate about granting manufacturers legal protection in a health emergency contributed to a critical shortage of masks to front-line workers,” Jeanne Whalen, Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger report. “The need to dramatically ramp up U.S. production and distribution of masks should have been apparent early on in the crisis, former disaster preparedness officials said. For years, public health advocates had warned that the U.S. national stockpile of medical supplies was woefully inadequate. The dearth of masks for medical workers … has become symbolic of the nation’s wider failure to properly prepare for the pandemic.”

Virginia, Maryland and the District received a fraction of what was requested from FEMA.

The District got zero hospital ventilators and Maryland got none of the nasal swabs used for testing. D.C. also got none of the safety goggles and hand sanitizer it asked for and received less than 1 percent of a requested 663,760 gloves and 1,132,478 respirator masks. “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said the equipment delivered ‘isn’t close to enough,” Antonio Olivo, Jenna Portnoy and Fenit Nirappil report. “The White House referred questions to FEMA, which said the stockpile was never intended to fulfill all state and local needs.” The information became public as the region reported hundreds of new cases, totaling 4,698, with Maryland seeing its biggest per-day increase and Virginia and D.C. seeing big jumps. “The number of regional fatalities attributed to covid-19 reached 90, underscoring officials’ concerns that the national capital region will become a new epicenter of infection in coming weeks.”

Experts and Trump’s own advisers doubt the White House’s official death estimates.

“Leading disease forecasters, whose research the White House used to conclude 100,000 to 240,000 people will die nationwide from the coronavirus, were mystified when they saw the administration’s projection this week. The experts said they don’t challenge the numbers’ validity but that they don’t know how the White House arrived at them,” William Wan, Josh Dawsey, Ashley Parker and Joel Achenbach report. “White House officials have refused to explain how they generated the figure — a death toll bigger than the United States suffered in the Vietnam War or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They have not provided the underlying data so others can assess its reliability or provided long-term strategies to lower that death count. …

Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told others there are too many variables at play in the pandemic to make the models reliable … Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the vice president’s office have similarly voiced doubts about the projections’ accuracy …  Another key question is what time period the White House’s 100,000-to-240,000 projection covers. Imperial College’s worst-case scenario calculated the toll exacted by the virus over a couple of years. But if the White House’s projection covers only the next few months, … the true death toll will almost certainly be larger because the United States will probably see additional waves of covid-19 until a vaccine is deployed.”

Debbie Birx, the coordinator of the White House task force, said the government is still not receiving the results of 50 percent of coronavirus tests being administered. “I have 660,000 tests reported in. We’ve done 1.3 million,” she said. When asked about the possibility 1 in 3 tests produced false negatives, Birx said, “I haven’t seen that kind of anomaly.” (CNN)

Quote of the day

Trump tested negative a second time for the coronavirus, using the new test that takes less than 15 minutes to reveal results. “I think I took it out of curiosity to see how quickly it worked and fast it worked,” the president said. “I’ve done them both. And the second one is much more pleasant, I can tell you that.” (Politico

Jared Kushner is squarely in the middle of the administration’s chaotic response.

The president’s son-in-law and senior adviser “has made himself the point of contact for many agency officials who know that he can force action and issue decisions without going to the president. But while Mr. Kushner and his allies say that he has brought more order to the process, the government’s response remains fragmented and behind the curve,” the New York Times reports. “Some officials said Mr. Kushner had mainly added another layer of confusion to that response, while taking credit for changes already in progress and failing to deliver on promised improvements. He promoted a nationwide screening website and a widespread network of drive-through testing sites. Neither materialized. … 

“Normally out of public view, Mr. Kushner made a rare appearance on camera on Thursday, joining his father-in-law’s daily briefing on the virus to describe his own efforts … [and] adding a complaint that states had been imprecise in their estimates of needed supplies. … Mr. Kushner has embedded dozens of political appointees and recruits from the private sector in critical spots like FEMA. His ‘impact team,’ as he calls it, has been nicknamed the Slim Suit Crowd for its sartorial preferences by khaki-wearing FEMA veterans. … (A) senior official described the Kushner team as a ‘frat party’ that descended from a U.F.O. and invaded the federal government.”

The National Security Council is preparing for contingencies.

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, who covered SARS in China in the early 2000s as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, moved out of his old office in the West Wing two-and-a-half weeks ago into an isolated part of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Politico reports. “Pottinger also took half of the NSC’s front-office support staff with him. Although Pottinger is on frequent phone calls with [his boss Robert] O’Brien, he doesn’t interact with him much in person anymore in case one of them is infected. And Pottinger, as the deputy, is ready to step in temporarily should O’Brien get the virus.”

A nursing home faces a $611,000 fine over lapses.

Life Care Center of Kirkland, Wash., the nursing home tied to at least 37 covid-19 deaths, could also lose Medicare and Medicaid funding if it does not correct a slew of deficiencies by September that led to the country’s first major outbreak. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote that the nursing home failed to report an outbreak of respiratory illness to local authorities for two weeks as required by law, gave inadequate care to its residents during the outbreak and failed to provide 24-hour emergency doctor services, Maria Sacchetti and Jon Swaine report

Nancy Pelosi created a committee to conduct oversight of Trump’s virus response. 

“Where there’s money, there’s also frequently mischief,” the House speaker said as she announced the creation of the special bipartisan panel she said would be focused on rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. “Without specifically mentioning Pelosi or her new committee, Trump bristled Thursday at the prospect of additional congressional investigations,” Erica Werner and Paul Kane report. “‘Here we go again. … It’s a witch hunt after a witch hunt,’ Trump said … The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus, as Pelosi called it, will be chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is the No. 3 Democratic leader as majority whip.”

American carnage

The virus is devastating Americans of every age.

Jason Hargrove, a bus driver in Detroit, posted a video on March 21 complaining of picking up a passenger who was coughing openly, exposing him to the virus. Now he’s dead at 50. While there’s no way of knowing for sure whether Hargrove got the illness from the rider he mentioned, his foreboding words have rocked the city. (Timothy Bella)

  • Caroline Saunby, the mother of 6-year-old twins, died at 48 even though she had no underlying health problems. She was described by family members as a “germophobe and obsessive hand-washer.” (New York Post)
  • Urszula Osborne, 41 and nearly eight months pregnant with her second child, is isolating in her Boston home with her 3-year-old son after testing positive. Her husband Ray, 40, is intubated on a ventilator and in a coma after contracting the virus. She’s a Polish immigrant with no family here. (Boston Globe)
  • Jessica Beatriz Cortez, 32, died a day after being diagnosed in Los Angeles. She emigrated from El Salvador three years ago. (L.A. Times)
  • Conrad Buchanan, a healthy 39-year-old DJ, died in Florida after being denied a test because he was young and lacked preexisting health issues, his wife said. (CNN)
  • Andrew Jack, an actor known for his role as Caluan Ematt in “Star Wars,” died at 76. (Hollywood Reporter)
  • Bert Argo, a mortgage banker who attended a birthday party at Trump’s seaside golf club in Los Angeles on March 8, died at 75. His wife fell ill as well, their daughter said, but has since recovered. (David Fahrenthold)
  • Ken Shimura, a beloved comedian in Japan, died at 70. (NYT)
  • Noel Sinkiat, a nurse who worked at Howard University Hospital in D.C. for 41 years, died of the virus at 61. His wife, Lourdes Gerardo, tested positive after his death, which meant she couldn’t pick up his body or mourn his death with anyone else. (Rachel Weiner and Justin Wm. Moyer)
  • Kenneth Moore, who worked for D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Services for 16 years, died at 52. (Tom Jackman)
Good news: A 104-year-old in Oregon beat the virus. 

“When William ‘Bill’ Lapschies celebrated his 104th birthday with his family over chocolate cake and his favorite pizza on Wednesday, he wasn’t just marking another annual milestone in his long, full life. He was also celebrating a full recovery from the [virus] as one of the oldest-known survivors,” Katie Shepherd reports. “Lapschies’s illness played out like a roller-coaster ride. … By Wednesday, his 104th birthday, Lapschies was feeling healthy again, able to remove his mask and step outside for the first time in weeks. ‘He is fully recovered. He is very perky,’ daughter Carolee Brown told the Oregonian. ‘And he is very excited.’”

Widespread resistance to stay-at-home orders has exposed cultural rifts.

“Kay Ivey, the Republican governor of Alabama, put down a marker last week in affirming that it was ‘not the time to order people to shelter in place.’ … In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson said he was not inclined to ‘make a blanket policy,’ adding, ‘It’s going to come down to individual responsibilities,’” Isaac Stanley-Becker and Chelsea Janes report. “And in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order this week under growing pressure as his state’s death toll mounted, a Tampa-area megachurch pastor who was arrested for holding services in violation of a local order announced Thursday he was considering reopening the church in time for Easter.” Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor who resisted a statewide order until Wednesday, said he did not learn until Tuesday that the virus was “transmitting before people see signs.” This has been common public knowledge for weeks. The CDC, which is based in Atlanta, and other experts have been loudly warning about the disease’s spread in asymptomatic people.

Fauci said last night on CNN that he “doesn’t understand” why every state hasn’t issued a stay-at-home order and urged governors to “reconsider.”

Many in Florida wonder if the latest restrictions came in time.

“Calle Ocho, the vibrant Miami street once bustling with Cuban restaurants and Latin music, is silent amid a nightly curfew. And in The Villages, a sprawling senior-living community near Ocala, town square concerts have ceased and the pools have closed. Slowly and reluctantly over the past month, as coronavirus infections grew from almost none to nearly 8,000 and more than 125 residents have died, Florida has sobered up,” Cleve Wootson, Lori Rozsa and Brady Dennis report. “Florida’s bout with the virus is likely to peak in early May, when an estimated 175 people will die of covid-19 every day, according to the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. … In total, it predicts 6,897 Sunshine State residents could eventually die of the coronavirus.”

The Coral Princess cruise ship bound for Fort Lauderdale confirmed 12 cases aboard. But only 13 people have been tested on a vessel that has 1,020 guests and 878 crew. It’s coming into port on the heels of the Zaandam and Rotterdam ships, which arrived in Port Everglades yesterday and started disembarking passengers after a clash between federal and local authorities. Between those two ships, 250 guests and crew have reported flu-like symptoms since March 22. Four people died on the Zaandam, including two who tested positive. Most passengers are expected to leave South Florida by tonight. (Hannah Sampson)

Democrats delayed their national convention until August 17. 

The decision puts the gathering in Milwaukee one week before the Republican convention, which both Trump and the RNC said will go forward in Charlotte, per Michael Scherer and Annie Linskey. But a federal judge declined to postpone next Tuesday’s Wisconsin’s primary, Amy Gardner reports. In other political news: The president’s reelection campaign called former Attorney General Jeff Sessions “delusional” for linking himself to Trump and asked in cease-and-desist letter that he stop attaching himself in an attempt to win back his old Senate seat in Alabama’s runoff, per the Times.

Zoom users are at risk. 

Security researchers who’ve analyzed the programming code said the videoconferencing software many of us are using to communicate with coworkers relies on techniques that could expose some people to breaches. The company apologized for falling short on privacy expectations. (Drew Harwell)

The foreign fallout

Italy and Spain are seeing their first positive indicators. 

“The Italian and Spanish ambassadors to the United States reported signs of improvement in the coronavirus situation in their countries Thursday, where numbers of confirmed infections, hospitalizations and deaths remain high but are beginning to stabilize,” Karen DeYoung reports. “‘These are just the first positive signs, and they have to be taken cautiously,’ Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio said. ‘But they show that measures taken both nationally and at the local level have started to pay off.’ … Both Varricchio and Spanish Ambassador Santiago Cabanas … stressed the need for international solidarity and cooperation. But they cited the risk of growing authoritarianism … The virus, Cabanas said, is ‘putting pressure not just on the health of our citizens but also on the health of our democracies.'” 

European leaders fear the epidemic could lead to the break up of their union. 

Countries have begun to coordinate their efforts to procure supplies, and they have sent more aid to hard-hit Italy than China has. But the past week has seen a reemergence of a north-south rift over how to handle the economic response. The union is also being pulled east and west, as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used emergency powers to effectively suspend democracy, riding roughshod over Europe’s basic principles of the rule of law. Collectively, these tensions could overwhelm the alliance, Loveday Morris and Michael Birnbaum report from the continent.

  • Portions of Paris’s sprawling Rungis food market – the largest wholesale meat and vegetable market in the world – were turned into a temporary morgue to accommodate the surplus of corpses. France has reported 5,400 fatalities from the virus. (James McAuley)
  • The U.K. government announced an effort to produce 30,000 ventilators. Just 30 will be delivered to British hospitals next week, officials warned, with the other 29,970 coming in the following weeks, William Booth and Christine Spolar report.
  • Britain is expected to reach peak infection this month. The Financial Times estimates 1 in 15 Londoners may be infected. One of the dead is Areema Nasreen, a mother of three and a 36-year-old nurse who worked for the National Health System. (Jennifer Hassan)
  • A refugee camp in Greece was quarantined after 20 displaced people there tested positive. The European Union called this a stark “warning signal” of the calamity that could ensue on the Greek islands, where facilities for over 40,000 asylum seekers are poorly equipped. (Miriam Berger)
Chinese leaders are preparing for their second wave

Saturday is Tomb-Sweeping Day in China, in which families remove weeds and brush away dirt from the graves of their ancestors. But few will be tending to graves this year. In fact, thousands of families, especially those in Wuhan, have still been unable to bury their dead. (Anna Fifield)

  • A top Chinese Communist Party official in Wuhan, Wang Zhonglin, warned the outbreak could soon return and ravage the city again. He is urging higher-level officials to provide more guidance, including telling residents to only leave home when it’s necessary. (Adam Taylor)
  • The CIA is hunting for China’s authentic virus totals. Obtaining a more accurate count is critical to better understand how the virus will impact us. So far, however, intelligence agencies have concluded that the Chinese government itself doesn’t know the extent of the spread. (NYT)
  • Beijing told foreign diplomats not to return to China. The foreign ministry said officials are aware of cases of the virus among the diplomatic corps and announced it would stop issuing new identification cards to foreign emissaries. (Taylor)
India is confronting its first “super-spreader.”

More than 400 members of a Muslim missionary group are infected. This represents about one-fifth of India’s total confirmed cases, sparking a frantic effort to track down anyone who attended their meetings. (Joanna Slater, Niha Masih and Shams Irfan)

  • Schools in Singapore and other nonessential businesses will close as cases jump tenfold in a month. (Shibani Mahtani)
  • Canada became the latest country to pull its military trainers out of Iraq because of the outbreak. (CBC)
  • The virus’s latest casualty in Mexico is Corona beer. Modelo, the Mexican brewing company behind the top-selling pale lager, said it will no longer be produced because it is considered a “nonessential” product. (Teo Armus)

Social media speed read

The director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at Columbia University’s medical school reflected on how drastically things have changed in the past week:

Michelle Obama reminded us to avoid buying products with the label WIC on their price tag so people who depend on food assistance can buy them: 

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers looked at some of the ways Jared Kushner has already failed:

Stephen Colbert thinks he’s a bad roommate to the rest of his quarantined family: 

And Trevor Noah talked to Bill Gates about the epidemic: 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *