The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Daily 202: Ohio’s chaotic election delay raises thorny questions about legitimacy and what’s next

with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

Abraham Lincoln rejected calls to postpone the 1864 election amid the Civil War, even though his reelection remained very much in doubt until the capture of Atlanta that September. “If the rebellion could force us to forgo or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us,” the 16th president reasoned. 

To be sure, Lincoln was not facing a global pandemic with a highly contagious novel coronavirus that epidemiologists fear could kill more than a million Americans if not quickly contained. Officials reported 18 new deaths across the United States on Monday, bringing the nationwide total to 85, with more than 4,450 cases now confirmed in the country and the real number thought to be far higher because of problems distributing the test.

But Lincoln was fending off an existential threat to the country’s survival. And his principle that the elections must go on has guided generations of leaders facing crises. During the influenza pandemic a century ago, for instance, local election officials across the country chose not to postpone voting in primaries during the 1918 midterms.

On Monday night in Ohio, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye rejected a temporary restraining order supported by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to postpone the state’s primary until June. He warned that rescheduling the election would “set a terrible precedent.” The judge explained during a court hearing that “there are too many factors to balance in this uncharted territory.”

That didn’t deter DeWine. A few hours later, his director of public health ordered polls closed on account of a statewide emergency. “During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election [Tuesday] would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” the governor tweeted. Overnight, without issuing an opinion, the Ohio Supreme Court denied a legal challenge to the order to postpone the primary. This means that there will not be in-person voting in the Buckeye State today.

“The only thing more important than a free and fair election is the health and safety of Ohioans,” DeWine said in a joint statement overnight with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R). “Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans.”

Arizona, Florida, and Illinois are forging ahead with their primaries today. Under the standard laid out by DeWine and LaRose, are those elections not “considered legitimate”? These are the kinds of messy questions raised by the last-minute decisions made by a patchwork of jurisdictions from coast to coast, no matter how well intentioned, to either postpone or continue as planned.

Many elderly poll workers have announced that they would not show up for their shifts today. This could lead to chaos and long lines. Certain polling places have been moved because they were at senior centers. This could cause confusion that deters people from voting. Will there be such a steep drop off in turnout because people are afraid of getting sick and confused about where to go that staff shortages become moot? How many people might get infected because they exercise their franchise? 

“We’re not going to panic,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said during a news conference that took place about the same time as DeWine’s.

“The longer we wait, the more difficult and dangerous this will become,” said Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D).

Does lower turnout alter the outcome of any election? It would be impossible to answer that with certitude. But imagine what people might say if the Democratic nomination came down to the outcome of the Ohio primary. 

Joe Biden has led Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in public polling of all four states that were scheduled to hold Democratic primaries today. NBC-Marist surveys published Monday showed the former vice president leading the senator by 23 points in Ohio and 17 points in Arizona. A Univision poll put Biden ahead by 38 points in Florida’s Democratic primary.

Even as President Trump showed a new seriousness about the outbreak, he told reporters that he didn’t think it was necessary for Ohio to delay its primary. “I think postponing elections is not a very good thing,” said Trump. “They have lots of room in a lot of the electoral places. … I think postponing is unnecessary.” He added that he defers to individual states.

For the foreseeable future, debates over delaying primaries and elections are poised to become normal. “In Arizona, the Maricopa County Elections Department closed 78 polling locations, citing widespread shortages of cleaning supplies. Now, rather than being limited to their local precinct, voters may cast ballots at any of 151 geographically dispersed polling centers,” Amy Gardner, Elise Viebeck and Isaac Stanley-Becker report. “Poll-worker shortages in Florida prompted one election official in Pasco County, north of Tampa, to draft sheriff’s deputies, school district workers and county employees to fill in. …

“Louisiana and Georgia announced over the weekend their plans to delay primaries. On Monday, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael G. Adams (R) recommended that Gov. Andy Beshear (D) move the presidential primaries scheduled for May 19 to June 23. Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson said he was considering postponing a Republican runoff in the 2nd Congressional District scheduled for March 31. Election officials in Maryland said they would examine the possibility of an election delay as well, and Texas Democrats called for all-mail elections on May 2 and May 26. And in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) issued an executive order delaying village elections until April 28, when the state is scheduled to hold its presidential primaries.”

Democrats are using the crisis to push for an expansion of mail-in voting. It's worth noting that, where it's been made universal, mail-in voting usually raises turnout in ways that have benefitted their candidates. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on Monday that would require states to offer early in-person voting as well as no-excuse absentee and vote-by-mail options. It would also help states cover the cost of printing, self-sealing envelopes, ballot tracking and postage. “Vote-by-mail is a time-tested, reliable way for Americans to exercise their constitutional rights, and it is the right response to this crisis,” Klobuchar and Wyden write in an op-ed for today’s newspaper. Their bill is called the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020.

A Senate Republican aide privately made clear that their goal of getting this inserted in the next broad coronavirus relief package is a non-starter. Already, election lawyers are accusing one another of playing politics. “Marc Elias, who served as counsel to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid, said he and his associates are prepared to sue states to change their rules governing absentee and vote-by-mail opportunities, which are currently only afforded without an excuse in two-thirds of states. He is pursuing litigation in several states addressing rules for signature matching, postmark deadlines, and ballot assistance and collection — which could all be hurdles to broader mail-in voting,” Isaac and Amy report. “Kory Langhofer, an attorney for Trump’s 2016 campaign and transition team, said the ‘unprecedented situation’ made it difficult to predict how voters would react. He accused Elias, the Democratic attorney, of pursuing changes designed to ‘increase the rate at which his side’s likely voters participate.’”

The lawsuit DeWine endorsed in Franklin County, which the judge rejected, was filed by two women over 65 who haven’t voted yet. One of the women, Jill Reardon, said she’s battled two forms of cancer and suffers from “severe immune deficiency.” She claimed that forcing her to vote on Tuesday would violate “numerous provisions of Ohio law,” as well as her rights under the First and 14th amendments. “I should not be forced to make the choice between my health and my constitutional right to vote in the election,” Reardon wrote in an affidavit that sought a delay in the election.

There are other precedents for delaying local elections. Some municipal elections were delayed in 2017 after Hurricane Irma, and an emergency ordinance halted the mayoral primary in New York City during Election Day on Sept. 11, 2011, after planes struck the World Trade Center. Former New York governor George Pataki (R) disclosed in his memoir last month that Rudy Giuliani asked him a few days later to use emergency powers so he could extend his term in office as mayor of the Big Apple after 9/11. Pataki wrote that his “mind raced” as Giuliani made the request and that he thought to himself, “Are you really, right now, after a terror attack on our state, our city, asking me to just cancel the entire election? I am a conservative. We respect the law. For God’s sake, you’re a prosecutor! You know the law.”

More on the coronavirus

President Trump held a news conference alongside the coronavirus task force on March 16 and told Americans to avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more. (Video: The Washington Post)
Trump finally acknowledged the magnitude of the crisis. 

“Trump said Monday that Americans should avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, eating in restaurants or taking nonessential trips," Toluse Olorunnipa, Seung Min Kim and Scott Wilson report. “Taken together, the guidelines were the closest the federal government has come to calling for a nationwide quarantine, with the White House arguing that the United States has just 15 days to halt the spread of the coronavirus. … Trump on Monday appeared chastened by the magnitude of the crisis facing the nation and testing his presidency, … describing the virus as ‘an invisible enemy’ and ‘a very bad one’ that could continue to afflict the United States until August or later. As Trump spoke, stocks continued their historic plunge, with the Dow Jones industrial average ending the day down almost 13 percent, falling almost 3,000 points for its worst daily slide since 1987. …

“After struggling to ensure that widespread tests would be available for people with symptoms, the Trump administration said Monday that it had confirmed 1 million tests had been deployed nationwide, with plans to scale that up in coming weeks. State and local officials began to roll out additional test sites Monday, including drive-through testing in parts of New York state. … Trump and his coronavirus task force also recommended that states with evidence of community transmission of the virus should shut down schools, as well as bars, restaurants, gyms and other gathering spots. The administration also recommended that the elderly and people with serious health conditions stay at home and that nursing homes should halt all social visits. … ‘It isn’t an overreaction,’ Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said of the recommendations released Monday."

  • A new NPR-PBS-Marist poll finds that 60 percent of U.S. adults said they have not very much or no trust at all in the coronavirus communication they receive from Trump.
  • Fox News hosts, who spent weeks downplaying the virus’s threat, suddenly shifted their tone. Host Sean Hannity, for example, lauded the president’s handling of what he is now referring to as a “crisis.” (Paul Farhi and Sarah Ellison)
Governors have filled the vacuum left by Trump’s early lack of leadership.

“In the absence of unambiguous guidance from the president for the citizens he was elected to lead, the frustration of governors boiled over,” Philip Rucker reports. “Trump had whacked a beehive of angst earlier Monday when he convened a conference call with the nation’s governors. He told them that the states should not rely on the federal government to provide respirators, ventilators and other equipment to aid the infected, and that states should work on obtaining their own. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) compared the comment to being at war and ‘we just heard our leader say you all need to get your own weapons at the state level to defeat this. But that’s the way it’s been.’ Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who chairs the National Governors Association, said in an interview that ‘some of my colleagues were pretty upset,’ although he allowed for the possibility that the president may have misspoken. … 

“Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin drew a parallel from today to the Great Depression in the early 1930s, when President Herbert Hoover was so lacking in leadership and unwilling to commit federal aid to help those suffering that it fell to governors to protect their citizens. That was when a New York governor named Franklin D. Roosevelt rose to national prominence.” 

  • San Francisco Bay area leaders called on 6 million residents to stay home until at least April 7. (Scott Wilson)
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) resisted taking drastic steps until aides threatened to quit. After taking the crisis more seriously by closing schools, bars and restaurants, de Blasio still went to the gym Monday. (NYT)
  • Puerto Rico became the first U.S. territory to be placed under 24-hour virus isolation. (AFP)
  • In Kentucky, a man refused to follow medical advice and self-quarantine. In response, the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office posted armed deputies outside his house to enforce the quarantine. (Katie Shepherd)
How long will social distancing last? 

It’s not going to be over anytime soon — a matter of months rather than weeks. Experts tell William Wan that key factors include when the U.S. reaches its peak number of cases, what drastic actions we take to keep the virus at bay once that peak is reached, still unknown characteristics about the virus’s behavior and how much we’re willing to do to flatten the epidemiological curve – and for how long.

Congress is trying to swiftly pass a third coronavirus relief bill. 

Four sources told The Post this morning that Trump will ask for a massive economic stimulus package of around $850 billion to stanch the economic free-fall caused by the coronavirus. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Congress’ third coronavirus relief bill should include further steps to assist individual Americans and families; actions to secure the economy and small businesses; and additional steps to shore up the health care system and support medical professionals who are expected to be overwhelmed in coming weeks,” Erica Werner, Paul Kane, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim report. "The legislation is likely to carry a price tag in the hundreds of billions of dollars, reminiscent of the bailouts and stimulus packages Congress was forced to enact in the 2008 financial crisis. Work on the new piece of legislation follows enactment earlier this month of an $8.3 billion package focused on the public health care system, and House passage last week of a bill aimed at safety net programs including sick leave, unemployment insurance and food stamps. … 

“Senate Democrats also have an ambitious wish-list. Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed a $750 billion package to address everything from hospital capacity and loan forbearance to treatment affordability and remote learning. … GOP senators discussed Schumer’s proposed $750 billion pricetag -- and concluded their package could end up being even costlier, [Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)] said. … First, though, the Senate must act on legislation passed by the House last week that devotes tens of billions of dollars to new paid sick leave benefits, unemployment insurance, free coronavirus testing, and food safety programs. The legislation -- which passed just before 1 a.m. Saturday after a flurry of last-minute negotiations -- required technical changes that threatened to hold up Senate action. Those legislative fixes were hammered out Monday and passed by the House Monday evening."

Casinos joined the airline industry in asking Congress for bailouts. 

“The requested aid for the casino companies, raised by lobbyists in recent days, could come in the form of a comprehensive bailout package, similar to what lawmakers may provide to airlines, cruise companies and the hospitality industry. Other possibilities include direct cash payments, deferred taxes or special bankruptcy protections,” Jeff Stein, Rachel Siegel and Jonathan O'Connell report. “One person said that on a strategy call Monday with members of the American Gaming Association, which represents the industry, a representative of Wynn Resorts raised the possibility of the industry seeking cash payments. Wynn Resorts was previously run by one of President Trump’s biggest political donors, Steve Wynn, who resigned his post in 2018. … 

“The Trump administration has already moved to help the oil and gas industry by announcing plans to buy oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to buttress companies hit by a downturn in energy prices. Trump administration officials have also said the administration will push for special financial relief for the airline, cruise and hospitality industries, which have also been hit hard by the coronavirus. … Trump still owns a hotel with casino magnate Phil Ruffin, the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas. Although the hotel does not have a casino, Trump’s company operates the property and relies heavily on Las Vegas tourism for business.”

U.S. airlines are asking for more than $50 billion in federal assistance,” Lori Aratani reports. “Among the requests is nearly $30 billion in grants for passenger airlines and cargo carriers, according to a document from Airlines for America, the industry’s leading trade group. In addition, the industry is seeking $25 billion in loans and temporary tax relief in the form of a repeal of all federal excise taxes on tickets, fuel and cargo through the end of 2021 and a rebate of all federal excise taxes paid between January and March of 2020. … Trump on Monday said that his administration would support the airlines but offered no specifics. … The Airlines for America proposal is more than triple what the airline industry received in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. That package included $5 billion in direct aid and $10 billion in loan guarantees.”

As airline chief executives come hat in hand to the taxpayers, one reason they’re out of cash is the biggest U.S. airlines spent 96 percent of their cash flow over the last decade on buying back their own shares. “American Airlines … led the pack, with negative cumulative free cash flow during the decade while it repurchased more than $12.5 billion of its shares,” Bloomberg News reports. “United Airlines Holdings Inc. used 80% of its free cash flow on buybacks."

The sick leave provision in the House bill is riddled with loopholes.

Most of America’s nearly 159 million workers will get some paid time off if they or their families are affected by the virus, but there are loopholes. The House bill, which is supported by Trump and poised to be passed by the Senate, “would grant two weeks of paid sick leave at 100 percent of the person’s normal salary, up to $511 per day,” Heather Long explains. “It would also provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave at 67 percent of the person’s normal pay, up to $200 per day. But there’s a catch: It doesn’t cover everyone. Small and midsize companies are required to provide these benefits (though companies under 50 workers can apply for a waiver from the paid family leave). ‘Gig’ workers and people who are self-employed get the benefits in the form of a tax credit. But large companies with more than 500 employees are not mentioned in the bill. … These employees will have to rely on the policies of the companies they work for.”

Testing in the U.S. has been stalled by red tape and government mistakes.

“When Olfert Landt heard about the novel coronavirus, he got busy. Founder of a small Berlin-based company, the ponytailed 54-year-old first raced to help German researchers come up with a diagnostic test and then spurred his company to produce and ship more than 1.4 million tests by the end of February for the World Health Organization. … By contrast, over the same critical period, U.S. efforts to distribute tests ground nearly to a halt, and the country’s inability to produce them left public health officials with limited means to determine where and how fast the virus was spreading,” Peter Whoriskey and Neena Satija report. “The United States’ struggles, in Landt’s view, stemmed from the fact the country took too long to use private companies to develop the tests. The coronavirus pandemic was too big and moving too fast for the CDC to develop its own tests in time, he said. … 

“While FDA and CDC officials have attributed some of the testing delays to their determination to meet exacting scientific standards they said were needed to protect public health, the government effort was nevertheless marred by a widespread manufacturing problem that stalled U.S. testing for most of February. … It has been long-standing practice for CDC scientists in emergencies to develop the first diagnostic tests, in part because the CDC has access to samples of the virus before others, officials said. Later, private companies that win FDA authorization can scale up efforts to meet demand. In responses for this story, CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes said in a statement: ‘This process has not gone as smoothly as we would have liked.’" 

The rest of the federal government is scrambling to keep up.

The Department of Veterans Affairs serves as a backup health system in times of crisis, but its mission statement for this crucial role was deleted from the agency’s website Friday as many worried the coronavirus pandemic could overload civilian hospitals. “It’s Orwellian,” Kristofer Goldsmith, an associate director at Vietnam Veterans of America, tells Alex Horton.

  • Agencies were directed to expand telework to their staffs outside of D.C. (Lisa Rein and Missy Ryan)
  • The U.S. Supreme Court, an institution that cares deeply about precedent, has postponed its next round of oral arguments for the first time since the Spanish flu epidemic hit Washington in 1918. (Robert Barnes)
  • The Pentagon rejected proposals from military officials to stop training new recruits. (Dan Lamothe)
  • The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mark Green, will resign. Green said his resignation does not stem from any dissatisfaction with the administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, but his departure leaves the administration with one less experienced hand to help coordinate the worldwide response. (Carol Morello)
  • The CDC confirmed the first case of the virus in one of its own 11,000 employees. (Derek Hawkins)
  • The WHO also reported that two of its staffers are infected with the virus. (Rick Noack)
Early warnings were ignored by the incoming Trump administration.

In a tabletop exercise seven days before Trump’s inauguration, top officials briefed the incoming administration on a scenario remarkably like the pandemic he faces now. “And in the words of several attendees, the atmosphere was ‘weird’ at best, chilly at worst,” Politico reports. “The Trump team was told it could face specific challenges, such as shortages of ventilators, anti-viral drugs and other medical essentials, and that having a coordinated, unified national response was ‘paramount’ — warnings that seem eerily prescient given the ongoing coronavirus crisis. But roughly two-thirds of the Trump representatives in that room are no longer serving in the administration.”

The outbreak is impacting nearly every facet of American life.
  • Classes have been canceled for an estimated 37.4 million public school students across at least 72,000 schools. The National Education Association recommended shutting down all schools nationwide for two weeks. (Education Week)
  • Many school systems have set up “grab and go” feeding sites, or they're delivering meals to stops in poor neighborhoods, ordered to continue serving the more than 20 million free lunches that kids depend on. (Moriah Balingit)
  • Dozens of retailers, including Microsoft, T-Mobile and Sephora, are closing stores or reducing hours. (Teo Armus)
  • The virus is upending the entertainment industry: “Saturday Night Live” halted production, actor Idris Elba tested positive, the Met Gala was postponed, and studios, including Universal, Paramount and Disney, have postponed the release of highly awaited movies like “Fast and Furious 9,” “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Mulan.” (Sonia Rao and Travis Andrews)
  • Minor-league baseball players were sent home without pay or any promise of weekly stipends. (Jesse Dougherty)
  • The Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument and other popular National Park Service sites were shuttered. (Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin)
  • Gun sales are surging in many states, with first-time gun buyers fearing an “unraveling of the social order and some gun owners worried that the government might use its emergency powers to restrict gun purchases," per the Los Angeles Times.
  • The Kentucky Derby was postponed until September. (NYT)
  • New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the leading cancer hospitals, faces mask shortages as coronavirus cases show up in staff and patients. (BuzzFeed News)
Virginia reported its second death, as the D.C. region’s case count climbed past 100.

“Restaurants [in the District and Maryland] may still offer food for carryout and delivery, but customers may not dine in. Officials said the shutdown will be fully enforced,” Antonio Olivo, Ovetta Wiggins and Fenit Nirappil report. “The second death in the region from coronavirus was a man from York County, Va., who was in his 70s and died of respiratory failure in the hospital … With newly reported cases pushing the region’s known total to 116 as of Monday evening — 52 in Virginia, 41 in Maryland and 23 in the District — residents and businesses dug in for a long period of increasing isolation. … [Hogan, Northam] and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) urged the Trump administration Monday to make the Washington region a priority for testing — including drive-through testing sites.”

  • The Arlington Diocese joined D.C. and Maryland Catholic leaders in canceling Mass, and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said its previously announced two-week closure of all churches would last through mid-May, including Holy Week and Easter.
  • First lady Melania Trump announced the cancellation of the White House Easter Egg Roll, which dates to 1878.
  • Metro Transit police closed its District 2 station for disinfecting after a patrol officer tested positive. (Justin George)
  • Metro trains and buses joined other transit systems in cutting services. Here's how you can still get around the region. (Luz Lazo)
  • D.C.’s cherry blossoms are here, and peak bloom is expected by the weekend. But the Cherry Blossom Parade has been canceled. (Jason Samenow)
Giovanni Locatelli compared the obituary sections of L’Eco di Bergamo, which increased from three pages on Feb. 9 to 10 pages on March 13. (Video: Giovanni Locatelli via Storyful)
In the Italian province of Bergamo, obituaries fill the newspaper, but survivors mourn alone. 

“In the part of Italy hit hardest by the coronavirus, the crematorium has started operating 24 hours a day. Coffins have filled up two hospital morgues, and then a cemetery morgue, and are now being lined up inside a cemetery church. The local newspaper's daily obituary section has grown from two or three pages to 10, sometimes listing more than 150 names, in what the top editor likens to ‘war bulletins,’” Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli report. “All across Bergamo, people are being picked up in ambulances, rushed to the hospital and dying in sealed-off wards where even their closest relatives are not allowed. Many funerals are taking place with only a priest and a funeral home employee present, while family members face restrictions on gathering, remain in quarantine or are too sick themselves.” 

Restrictions are being adopted around the globe.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry criticized Trump’s description of the pandemic as a “Chinese virus,” accusing him of insulting China and suggesting the U.S “first take care of its own business,” Siobhán O’Grady and Teo Armus report on our live blog. Here are more updates from across the world:

  • Canada will shut its borders to almost all noncitizens, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced.
  • India shut down the Taj Mahal and expanded travel bans.
  • New Zealand will deport two visitors who entered the country from Southeast Asia and failed to self-quarantine. Almost all visitors entering the nation are required to isolate for 14 days.
  • Hong Kong placed all foreign arrivals under mandatory home quarantine.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a nationwide shutdown of bars, nightclubs, theaters, museums, brothels, casinos, cinemas, swimming pools and gyms. Religious services also were banned.
  • The al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the Shiite Muslim shrine in Karbala, Iraq, are among the great Middle Eastern religious sites that have been closed. (Liz Sly)
  • In Latin America, Peru suspended some constitutional rights, shuttered its borders and entered a state of enforced isolation, while Paraguay and Ecuador imposed curfews and Costa Rica, Colombia and Uruguay also closed borders. Venezuela ordered a nationwide quarantine after cases doubled to 33, an all but guaranteed threat to the nation’s crippled health system. (Teo Armus)
  • Actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, were released from a hospital in Australia but remain self-quarantined. (Allyson Chiu)
The U.K. is still resisting lockdowns.

Bars and most schools, plus museums and restaurants, remain open. But that go-slow approach began to shift on Monday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson encouraged his fellow citizens to avoid “all non-essential contact with others,” to work from home and to self-isolate if they are elderly. All the measures are voluntary, but Johnson warned that his government had the power to make them mandatory. This comes after a modeling by epidemiologist stressed that as many as 250,000 Brits could die unless the government does more to suppress the outbreak, William Booth reports from London.

Meanwhile, Beijing is slowly but unmistakably returning to normal because of its lockdowns.

“For countless others and me, the tilting scales raised the question: Are China’s strict measures a model for the rest of the world? The truth is, I don’t know,” our China correspondent Gerry Shih writes. “What I have seen is that success in containing the epidemic has not been exclusive to authoritarian systems; it has been used in democratic governments in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea that also appear to be heading for quick recoveries. What I also see is that China and the other successful Asian countries seem to have a public buy-in — a vast scale of grass-roots mobilization and coordination at the highest levels, which, for all its faults, happen to be the Communist Party’s strengths.” 

U.S. officials claim foreign disinformation is stoking virus fears. 

“On Sunday, federal officials began confronting what they said was a deliberate effort by a foreign entity to sow fears of a nationwide quarantine amid the virus outbreak,” the AP reports. Twitter removed posts by former Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke and other Trump allies that promoted conspiracy theories and virus doubts, Aaron Blake reports.

Authoritarian governments are arresting people who spread negative information.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry said it had identified 93 people that had made provocative and unfounded postings about the outbreak on social media and already arrested 19 of them,” Paul Schemm reports on our live blog. “Their posts claimed that the Turkish government hadn’t taken sufficient measures to combat the outbreak and was covering up the true extent of its spread. With only 47 cases, Turkey has escaped some of the higher infection rates of its neighbors. In Kuwait, the Ministry of Interior said late Monday that the administrators of 14 websites had been referred to the prosecutors for committing ‘irregularities and disseminating inaccurate news’ that has hampered the government effort to battle the outbreak.”

Quote of the day

“We have a choice to make as a nation: Do we want to go the direction of South Korea and really be aggressive and lower our mortality rates, or do we want to go the direction of Italy?” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on “Fox and Friends.” “When you look at the projections, there’s every chance that we could be Italy.”

Other developments that shouldn't be overlooked

The Justice Department abandoned the prosecution of a Russian firm. 

“The stunning reversal came a few weeks before the case — a spinoff of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe — was set to go to trial,” Spencer Hsu reports. “Assistants to U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea of Washington and Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers cited an unspecified ‘change in the balance of the government’s proof due to a classification determination,’ according to a nine-page filing accompanied by facts under seal. Prosecutors also cited the failure of the company, Concord Management and Consulting, to comply with trial subpoenas and the submission of a ‘misleading, at best’ affidavit by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a co-defendant and the company’s founder. Prigozhin is a catering magnate and military contractor known as ‘Putin’s chef’ because of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. … The government added that Concord enjoys ‘immunity from just punishment’ even if found guilty, since it has no business presence in the United States."

McConnell has a request for veteran federal judges: Quit.

“Running out of federal court vacancies to fill, Senate Republicans have been quietly making overtures to sitting Republican-nominated judges who are eligible to retire to urge them to step aside so they can be replaced while the party still holds the Senate and the White House,” the NYT reports. “[McConnell] has been personally reaching out to judges to sound them out on their plans and assure them that they would have a worthy successor if they gave up their seats soon.”

A man was charged with threatening to kill Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Robert M. Phelps, 62, threatened Schiff’s life in a message sent through the congressman’s online meeting scheduler, an FBI agent alleged in an affidavit. He signed the message in his own name and added, “Republican,” according to the affidavit. Phelps, according to the affidavit, told investigators he had a “right to contact members of Congress and defend ‘his president.’” (Matt Zapotosky

Biden’s promise to choose a woman veep reignites hopes of a female president.

“Biden, 77, has described himself as a ‘bridge’ to the next generation of leaders, a comment widely interpreted as a signal that he’d serve just one term, meaning his running mate would be even more of a president-in-waiting than usual,” Annie Linskey reports. “A person close to the Biden team … said the campaign will soon announce a running mate vetting operation, but warned that the campaign is in the midst of growing quickly after its rocky start. Biden has told MSNBC that it’s ‘very important’ to pick someone who’s been tested via a presidential campaign, suggesting that the women who ran against him may have an edge. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) have both endorsed Biden … Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has not endorsed Biden, but the two have spoken twice since she dropped out of the race this month. … So far, 56 percent of Democratic voters this year have been women…”

Tom Brady announced this morning that he’s leaving the New England Patriots.

He plans to finish his career elsewhere. “Brady, who will become a free agent at 4 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, said goodbye to the team with which he won six Super Bowls over 20 seasons in two notes posted on his Twitter account,” Cindy Boren notes. “He’ll be 43 when the 2020 season opens and acknowledged the uncertainty that adds.”

Social media speed read

Tony Fauci still finds the time to run:

As many governors urged their residents to stay at home, the governor of West Virginia did the opposite: 

Some spring breakers ignored all recommendations and went to the beach:

Videos of the day

The EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland, Wash., has seen more than 100 cases of the coronavirus. Their ICU director explains how they are working to save lives and contain the virus:

EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, Wash. has already seen more than 100 cases of COVID-19. Their ICU director explains how they are working to save lives. (Video: Tim Matsui/The Washington Post)

To encourage social distancing, Coldplay’s Chris Martin held an online concert:

John Legend will hold an at-home concert today and the Met is streaming operas all week. 

And penguins were free to roam the Chicago aquarium: