With Mariana Alfaro
If Debbie Birx is more diplomatic than Tony Fauci, maybe it’s because she’s literally a diplomat. Vice President Pence brought her from the State Department to the White House last month to coordinate the day-to-day operations of the coronavirus task force he leads.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, has maintained a much larger public profile. But he was absent from the daily briefing at the White House on Monday evening after giving startlingly candid interviews to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and Science magazine’s Jon Cohen over the weekend. In the latter, he lamented that he couldn’t stop President Trump from making false statements during the televised sessions. “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” Fauci said. That left Birx as the most senior medical expert on the dais.
Trump’s patience with Fauci, 79, has started to wear thin, Maggie Haberman reports in the Times: “So has the patience of some White House advisers, who see Dr. Fauci as taking shots at the president in some of his interviews with print reporters while offering extensive praise for Mr. Trump in television interviews with conservative hosts. Mr. Trump knows that Dr. Fauci, who has advised every president since Ronald Reagan, is seen as credible with a large section of the public and with journalists, and so he has given the doctor more leeway to contradict him than he has other officials …
“Officials asked him about the viral moment in the White House briefing room, when he put his hand to his face and appeared to suppress a chuckle after Mr. Trump referred to the State Department as the ‘Deep State Department.’ Dr. Fauci had a benign explanation: He had a scratchy throat and a lozenge he had in his mouth had gotten stuck in his throat, which he tried to mask from reporters.”
Trump appeared to accidentally retweet a picture capturing the awkward moment this morning (he quickly deleted it):
How much longer does Fauci last on the team? pic.twitter.com/igEvJ2tf70— Ben Terris (@bterris) March 24, 2020
While Birx has given fewer interviews, she has proven adept at navigating the byways of the federal medical establishment over the last 35 years. The 63-year-old is widely admired in her field for pioneering research on HIV/AIDS treatments, including leading a vaccine trial. She retired from the Army as a colonel after 20 years of service as an immunologist (she went to medical school at Penn State). Then Birx spent about a decade at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before President Barack Obama appointed her as the U.S. government’s Global AIDS Coordinator in 2014. This gave her the rank of ambassador and put her at Foggy Bottom, where she can go back after covid-19 is contained.
Trump clearly feels comfortable around her. Monday night’s nearly two-hour briefing demonstrated that she’s successfully developed a rapport with a president famous for his short attention span. The president appeared surprised to hear her disclose that she had a low-grade fever over the weekend. He playfully took a few steps away from her and laughed when she revealed that she hadn’t come into the White House because she didn’t want to accidentally infect him. Birx revealed that she took a test for the coronavirus that came back negative. Then she stayed home an extra day to be safe. “That’s how we protect one another,” she said. Birx noted that she has not seen her own grandchildren in three weeks before asking Americans to make personal sacrifices for the common good. She also said to assume everyone you come into contact with is infected with the contagion.
With the dexterity of a diplomat, Birx repeatedly ducked and dodged questions from reporters that might have put her crosswise with the president. Trump himself asked Birx multiple questions in front of the assembled press corps, including whether reporters will ever again be allowed to fill all the seats in the briefing room. She avoided directly answering, and the president appeared satisfied. Asked about a new dictate from the British government limiting public gatherings, which is at odds with Trump’s desire to loosen such guidelines as soon as possible, she passed. “I can’t really comment on how they got to that decision there or [a similar decision] in Germany,” she said. “I will never speculate on data. I always need to see data.” And so it went.
On NBC’s “Today” show this morning, Birx continued to avoid contradicting the president even as she pleaded with people to follow the restrictions currently in place. “This is my plea to every American: Please continue to follow the presidential guidelines,” she said.
Trump denied that Fauci is being sidelined. Asked why he wasn’t at the briefing, the president said they had just spent a long time together privately. “He's not here because we weren't discussing what he's best at,” said Trump. (In fact, they were.) Asked if Fauci agrees with him about reopening the country sooner than later (our reporting makes clear that he does not), Trump answered with a double negative: “He doesn’t not agree with me.”
“We had a long talk. He understands,” the president continued. “He’s a good man. I like Dr. Fauci a lot, just so you understand. … He’ll be back up very soon.”
Fauci is clearly playing more of an outside game, aimed at persuading the public, while Birx appears to be focused much more on maximizing her influence internally. These diverging approaches are worth exploring as Trump faces one of the most pivotal decisions of his presidency in the coming days, with the lives and livelihoods of countless Americans at stake. There are at least 610 reported deaths and 46,332 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on U.S. soil, with the numbers still expected to grow exponentially. To flatten the curve, more than 100 million Americans — nearly one in three — are under orders from their governors to stay at home.
But, but, but: “As he watches stock prices plummet and braces for an expected surge in unemployment, Trump has received urgent pleas from rattled business leaders, Republican lawmakers and conservative economists imploring him to remove some of the stringent social distancing guidelines that he put in place for a 15-day period ending March 30,” Phil Rucker, Jeff Stein, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker report. “Inside the White House, tensions are growing over how quickly people can return to work. … Trump is fixated on the economy — alarmed by the effects of the coronavirus so far and concerned about the impact of long-term contraction and surging unemployment on his reelection chances in November …
“There is a growing fear inside the administration that an effective freeze on an array of major sectors of the economy for an indefinite period could be economically unsustainable no matter what stimulus package Congress passes or what monetary levers the Federal Reserve pulls. … Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and officials from the Office of Management and Budget are seen internally as conduits for the business community and have been pushing to get the economy back on track as quickly as possible … One option under consideration is a gradual scaling back of current restrictions, where people younger than 40 who are healthy go back to work on a certain date, followed by people ages 40 to 50.”
The best public health experts uniformly agree that this is a bad idea, which could lead to a surge in cases and hospitals being overwhelmed. Trump acknowledged that the medical professionals don’t want him to loosen guidelines, even as the business world does. “If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world … and let’s keep it shut for a couple of years,” Trump told reporters. “We can’t do that.” Trump’s mantra was that “we can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” and he promised that “America will again, and soon, be open for business — very soon.”
The White House winds up feeling like a prison for every president, but that feeling is especially pronounced for Trump – who loves to hold stadium-size rallies – amid this pandemic. “Unable to travel and unsure of what to do, he’s been crashing West Wing meetings, often forcing staffers to hurriedly adjust agendas as the president frequently gets in the way of health professionals trying to chart a course of action,” the AP reports. “While some around him have suggested that he should only appear when there is big news to announce, Trump has been missing the spotlight and has told people that he knows the nation is watching the briefings and doesn’t want to give up the stage. On Sunday, he asked the briefing, originally slated for 4:30 p.m. to be pushed back later into the evening, when more people would be watching — including those tuning in for ‘60 Minutes,’ the president’s favorite broadcast news magazine.”
Another factor motivating Trump’s antsiness to relax restrictions is his private business. The Trump Organization has shut down six of its top seven revenue-producing clubs and hotels to slow the spread, depriving the president’s company of millions of dollars in revenue. Trump and his sons will not rule out taking millions in federal bailout money. “In his unprecedented dual role as president and owner of a sprawling business, Trump is facing dual crises caused by the coronavirus,” David Fahrenthold, Joshua Partlow and Jonathan O'Connell report. “So far, the Trump Organization has closed hotels in Las Vegas; Doral, Fla.; Ireland; and Turnberry, Scotland — as well as the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida and a golf club in Bedminster, N.J. Many of the clubs closed because they had to, under local orders. … Those [six properties bring] in about $174 million total per year, according to Trump’s most recent financial disclosures. That works out to $478,000 per day …
“Another of Trump’s golf clubs, in Aberdeen, Scotland, appeared likely to shut down soon, after an order from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that ‘nonessential’ shops should close … Even the Trump properties that remain open have been sharply affected: In Chicago, New York and Washington, the restaurants have closed, cutting off a key source of revenue. … 160 people have been laid off at Trump’s D.C. hotel, at least 51 laid off at Trump’s New York hotel and an unknown number laid off at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel … Three of Trump’s hotels — in Doral, Chicago and Washington — have outstanding loans from Deutsche Bank that originally totaled more than $300 million. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, all three reported lagging behind their peers in occupancy and revenue.”
All these factors make it especially important for there to be public health experts inside the West Wing who have the president’s ear and trust. Not only is he temperamentally and financially inclined to relax restrictions, Trump has much closer relationships with his economic advisers than the scientists and doctors in his orbit. Birx’s efforts to ingratiate herself with the president could help her persuade him to continue restrictions that might be in the public’s best interests. Even as she declined to allow any distance to emerge between her and the president, she left little doubt about where she stands substantively on the key questions.
“What the president has asked us to do is to assemble all the data and give him our best medical recommendation based on all the data, and so that’s what we’ll be doing this week,” Birx said at the news conference. “This is consistent with our mandate to really use every piece of information that we can in order to give the president our opinion that’s backed up by data.”
A reporter asked Trump whether he’ll relax guidance for people to stay home even if Fauci objects. The president was noncommittal. “He’s very important to me, and we’ll be listening to him,” he said. “I’ll be listening to Deborah, who you just spoke to. I’ll be listening to other experts. We have a lot of people that are very good at this. And, ultimately, it’s a balancing act. … I’m a student. I’ve learned a lot from Deborah. I’ve learned a lot from Tony. … I’ve learned a lot.”
As the president continued holding court in the briefing room, he told Birx that she could leave and didn’t have to wait around. “We want her to go back to work,” Trump said.
The latest on the federal response
A stimulus deal appears to be near.
“The White House has agreed to allow enhanced scrutiny over a massive loan program that is a centerpiece of the Senate’s $2 trillion coronavirus economic package, … taking steps to address a major Democratic concern and potentially pave the way for a vote by Tuesday night,” Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis, Paul Kane and Jeff Stein report. “The stock market rose sharply in anticipation of the deal, with the Dow Jones industrial average up more than 1,200 points, or nearly 7 percent, at the open. The Senate bill would allow the Treasury Department to extend $500 billion in loans and loan guarantees to try and blunt the virus’s economic impact. … Trump has already said where he wants some of the money to go, promising assistance to cruise ship companies, for example, that have operations in Miami. And when he was asked Monday evening who would perform oversight of the program, Trump responded ‘I’ll be the oversight.’
“But during closed-door negotiations on Capitol Hill, White House officials have agreed to allow an independent inspector general and an oversight board to scrutinize the lending decisions … The precise oversight structure for the new lending program could not be determined, and it was also unclear whether the oversight structure would be as robust as what was created during TARP. By Monday evening, a number of Republicans were on board with making changes to win Democratic support. The concession came as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) negotiated until nearly midnight on Monday at the Capitol, updating President Trump frequently and sounding more optimistic than they have through days of rocky talks.”
Trump expressed support this morning for the package:
Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2020
Sen. Rand Paul kept working for six days as he waited for his coronavirus test results.
“The Kentucky Republican took no steps to self-quarantine — continuing to cast votes on the Senate floor, delivering a speech lambasting a coronavirus aid bill, and meeting with other GOP senators in strategy sessions that defied federal advisories warning against gatherings of more than 10 people. Paul even squeezed in a round of golf at a private club," Seung Min Kim, Michael Scherer and Paul Kane report. “On Monday, Paul was defiant that he did nothing wrong, despite bipartisan criticism for his behavior and even sharper private furor among senators and aides because he had potentially exposed them.” In those six days, Paul also worked out at the Senate gym. A notice distributed to Senate staffers said all health and fitness facilities have finally closed, but two officials said the senators-only gym can still be accessed with a keypad.
Civil libertarians are freaking out over the Justice Department’s coronavirus contingencies.
“Justice Department officials have gamed out scenarios in which they would seek to extend statutes of limitation for investigations stalled by the coronavirus epidemic or ask to hold inmates longer than normal because of delayed court hearings,” Matt Zapotosky reports. “The Justice Department’s thinking was revealed in proposals made to Congress in recent weeks that seek to confer a new power on the chief justice of the United States and give other top judges across the country wider latitude to postpone hearings in the districts they oversee."
The National Guard is trying to tamp down conspiracy theories that martial law is coming.
“Senior U.S. officials have addressed the issue in briefings, a Pentagon official rebutted speculative online posts and the government has created a new website titled ‘Coronavirus Rumor Control,’” Dan Lamothe reports. “More than 8,000 National Guardsmen were on duty as of Monday to respond to the spread of the virus, with tasks ranging from delivering needed supplies to disinfecting public areas. … [Defense Secretary Mark Esper said] ‘this is not a move toward martial law, as some have erroneously claimed.’"
Testing and treatment
The coronavirus isn’t alive, and that’s why it’s so hard to kill.
It's “little more than a packet of genetic material surrounded by a spiky protein shell one-thousandth the width of an eyelash, and leads such a zombielike existence that it’s barely considered a living organism. But as soon as it gets into a human airway, the virus hijacks our cells to create millions more versions of itself,” Sarah Kaplan, William Wan and Joel Achenbach report. “It dwells in the upper respiratory tract, where it is easily sneezed or coughed onto its next victim. But in some patients, it can lodge itself deep within the lungs, where the disease can kill. … Another insidious characteristic of this virus: By giving up that bit of lethality, its symptoms emerge less readily than SARS, which means people often pass it to others before they even know they have it. … Outside a host, viruses are dormant. They have none of the traditional trappings of life: metabolism, motion, the ability to reproduce.”
Researchers hope visualizing the virus’s architecture will offer a map of how to defeat it. “Sugars dot the outside of the spike, just like sugars dot the outside of regular human cells, said David Veesler, a structural virologist at the University of Washington who led a team that visualized the SARS-CoV-2 spike … This carbohydrate camouflage makes the virus more difficult for the human immune system to recognize,” Bonnie Berkowitz, Aaron Steckelberg and John Muyskens report. “Each spike is made of three identical proteins twisted together, Veesler said. His team captured images of the ends of these proteins opening in the spike’s cap-like apex before and during the attempt to bind to a receptor. … Experts say a vaccine is at least a year away, but they’re coming up with strategies now. One may be able to trigger antibodies that strike areas of the protein that are exposed when it opens, said virologist Vineet Menachery, who specializes in the study of coronaviruses at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.”
Warm, humid weather could slow the coronavirus.
Laboratory studies are underway to see how temperature and humidity affect covid-19. “Multiple early studies provide evidence of statistical ties between temperature and humidity ranges and the geographic regions where this virus has thrived. While none of these studies has been peer-reviewed, they all point to the same general possibility: The pandemic could ease in parts of North America and Europe during the summer months, though it could then come roaring back in the fall,” Andrew Freedman and Simon Denyer report.
Huge discrepancies across states are muddling the meaning of test results.
“Some states are keeping negative tests secret while others aren’t. Some track state lab results, while ignoring test results from private companies. Some restrict the availability of tests, while others test widely,” Steven Mufson, Andrew Ba Tran and Brady Dennis report. “‘We have no systematic strategy to do the kind of surveillance necessary to understand the chain of transmission,’ said Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at Yale School of Medicine and an expert on analyzing the outcomes of a broad range of medical treatments. ‘We’re basically flying blind because we have so little idea about its penetration into our society and the number of people affected.’”
An Arizona man died after trying to self-medicate.
The man and his wife took a drug meant for aquarium cleaning that contains chloroquine phosphate, a drug Trump recently touted as a possible coronavirus treatment in spite of a lack of study by health officials. The woman is under critical care. “The toxic ingredient they consumed was not the medication form of chloroquine, used to treat malaria in humans. Instead, it was an ingredient listed on a parasite treatment for fish," NBC News reports. “The man's wife [said] she'd watched televised briefings during which Trump talked about the potential benefits of chloroquine. … The couple — both in their 60s and potentially at higher risk for complications of the virus — decided to mix a small amount of the substance with a liquid and drink it as a way to prevent the coronavirus. … Within 20 minutes, both became extremely ill, at first feeling ‘dizzy and hot.’ … Shortly after he arrived at the hospital, her husband died. … The Arizona woman now warns others to listen to medical professionals for the best coronavirus advice."
Supplies have evaporated for patients who need the drugs Trump touted as unproven treatments.
“The U.S. has all but exhausted its supplies of two anti-malarial drugs that are being used by some doctors in the U.S. and China to treat the coronavirus,” Chris Rowland reports. “The sudden shortages of the two drugs could come at a serious cost for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients who depend on them to alleviate symptoms of inflammation, including preventing organ damage in lupus patients.”
Folks already at risk face grave danger.
“The struggle is particularly acute for those whose existing ailments can be fatally exacerbated by the disease — people whose lungs have been compromised by pulmonary disorders, whose immune systems have been suppressed by chemotherapy or whose blood sugar spikes dangerously as their bodies fight even common colds,” Cleve Wootson reports. “They have become the most stringent of the social distancers, filling refrigerators and medicine cabinets and hoping that supplies last until the worst is over. Wary of hospital waiting rooms filled with coughing people, when they get sick, they are turning to self-diagnosis and, at times, simply guessing.”
- Lenny Bernstein, Rowland and Tom Hamburger: “Dialysis patients are at high risk during covid-19 outbreak.”
- Cardiologist Haider Warraich: “Coronavirus is especially threatening for people with heart disease.”
The cascading domestic fallout
Many local leaders are imposing stricter restrictions on freedom of movement.
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered all passengers on flights that originated in New York or New Jersey to self-quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in his state. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) ordered a similar quarantine for any person flying into her state. Michigan, Oregon, Indiana and West Virginia became the latest states to announce stay-at-home orders. Wisconsin’s governor plans to follow suit today. The governors of Maryland and Massachusetts ordered nonessential businesses to close. (Dennis)
- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said the city’s intensive care units saw a spike in cases, as supplies grow scarce. (Shayna Jacobs and Lenny Bernstein)
- The virus is spreading faster in Louisiana than in any other part of the world, with New Orleans ER workers saying their hospitals are on the verge of collapse. Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the nation. (Vice)
- A 1,000-bed U.S. Navy hospital ship is heading to Los Angeles with a full blood bank and 80 intensive-care beds. (Paul Sonne)
- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year. (Hannah Natanson)
- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said she will not order residents to stay home. The city's homeland security director said officials are working with hospitals to use unlicensed spaces such as hallways. Local officials are scouting locations to reconfigure, such as unused hotels, to prepare for a surge of victims. Maryland announced 44 new confirmed cases on Monday while Virginia announced 35 and the District reported 21. A 1-year-old tested positive for the virus in D.C. (Rachel Weiner and Dana Hedgpeth)
- Denver issued a stay-at-home ordinance, but marijuana dispensaries are allowed to stay open as essential businesses. (Denver Post)
- Major airlines are drafting plans for a potential voluntary shutdown of virtually all passenger flights across the U.S., as government agencies also consider ordering such a move. (Wall Street Journal)
- Boeing shut down all Puget Sound operations in Washington state for two weeks after an employee died of the virus. (Aaron Gregg and Christian Davenport)
- Facebook sent home thousands of human moderators, leaving algorithms in charge of policing misinformation. (Elizabeth Dwoskin and Nitasha Tiku)
- CVS will hire 50,000 new workers and pay out bonuses, as the pandemic boosts demand. (Jacob Bogage)
- A House panel warned that the virus could destroy the Postal Service by June. (Politico)
- The rich are investing in bunkers to ward off the virus. Inquiries and sales are skyrocketing for hideout shelters across the country. (Los Angeles Times)
Cruise ships are petri dishes of contagion.
The number of passengers on the Grand Princess who actually have the coronavirus will remain a mystery. “Hundreds of the nearly 2,000 Americans transported from the ship to bases have declined to be tested while quarantined, officials say. More than three dozen people who agreed to be tested after arriving on the bases received positive results, nearly double the number confirmed on board,” Mark Berman and Faiz Siddiqui report. “These numbers indicate that the coronavirus spread more widely among those who had traveled on the ship than was previously known, and they raise questions about whether potentially infected people could be returning to their communities when they are scheduled to begin leaving the bases this week.”
A growing number of U.S. passengers who were flown home after being stranded on a European cruise ship are showing flu-like symptoms. “Their experience is a sign that, even as many parts of the nation have entered near total shutdowns in an attempt to slow the outbreak, different standards about how to handle those at risk of being contagious may be allowing the virus to spread,” Rosalind Helderman reports. “The Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that the first Costa Luminosa passengers who tested positive for covid-19 … showed no symptoms of illness when they boarded the charter flight back to the United States.”
Investigators say the nursing home that became a hotspot failed to notify authorities.
“The Life Care Center home in Kirkland, [Wash.], which has so far been associated with 37 deaths from covid-19 … also failed to ‘rapidly identify and manage ill residents’ and had no backup plan when its primary clinician became ill, according to the inspectors,” Jon Swaine reports. “The Life Care Center home in Kirkland is owned by Life Care Centers of America, the country’s biggest privately held nursing home company, which says that it has more than 200 facilities across 28 states.”
A March 5 soirée in Connecticut became a “super spreader.”
“The Westport soirée — Party Zero in southwestern Connecticut and beyond — is a story of how, in the Gilded Age of money, social connectedness and air travel, a pandemic has spread at lightning speed. The [50 or so] partygoers — more than half of whom are now infected — left that evening for Johannesburg, New York City and other parts of Connecticut and the United States, all seeding infections on the way,” the Times reports in a good story on how easily the virus can spread. “Westport, a town of 28,000 on the Long Island Sound, did not have a single known case of the coronavirus on the day of the party. It had 85 on Monday, up more than 40-fold in 11 days.”
The outbreak has made funerals dangerous.
“Mourners and funeral directors are making difficult decisions, weighing whether to postpone services, hold them with strictly limited access, broadcast them online or record them to replay later,” Arelis Hernández and Mark Berman report.
Joe Biden addressed the nation about the crisis from a new studio.
Speaking from behind a lectern in the study of his Delaware home, the presumptive Democratic nominee said Trump should’ve done more when the threat was emerging in China. “My point is not simply that the president was wrong,” Biden said. “My point is that the mindset that was slow to recognize the problem in the first place to treat with the seriousness it deserves is still too much a part of how the president is addressing the problem.” In related news, Annie Linskey scooped that the powerful AFSCME union will endorse Biden. (Matt Viser)
The growing global fallout
The Tokyo Olympic Games have been postponed.
“Facing heavy global pressure and rising athlete dissent, the International Olympic Committee sharply reversed course Tuesday and agreed with Japanese officials that the Olympics and Paralympics will not take place this summer in Tokyo in the wake of the growing novel coronavirus pandemic. Organizers say they now hope to stage the Games by the summer of 2021,” Adam Kilgore, Rick Maese and Simon Denyer report. “Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday proposed a one-year postponement … The IOC quickly agreed that the Games would be held about one year after the previously scheduled start date, July 24. … The modern Olympics, which date from 1896, have been canceled three times (1916, 1940 and 1944) because of world wars.”
Italy’s staggering death toll may be a preview more than an anomaly.
At 6,077 and counting, the country has lost more people to the coronavirus than any other. “The disaster in Italy does not stem from gross government negligence. Rather, analysts say it is partly a consequence of the weeks between the emergence of the outbreak and the government decision to absolutely lock down the population. And though many in Italy now argue that their government waited too long, democracies across the West have been mulling the same decisions,” Chico Harlan, Stefano Pitrelli and Claudia Cavaliere report. “Italy has fewer acute-care beds relative to its population than South Korea or Germany, but more than Britain or the United States."
A World Health Organization official said that “we are now seeing a very large acceleration” in U.S. infections, adding that America has the potential to become the new epicenter of the crisis. Meanwhile, elite hackers are targeting the WHO as the agency sees more than a two-fold increase in cyberattacks, Reuters reports.
In Spain, as soldiers help disinfect retirement homes hit by the virus, they have made some particularly gruesome discoveries: the abandoned dead — or dying — bodies of elderly residents. In Madrid, the city’s funeral service temporarily stopped accepting the corpses of those infected, and an ice rink has been turned into a makeshift morgue. (Teo Armus)
The State Department said 13,500 Americans stranded abroad have asked for help.
“The effort to repatriate Americans has become the main focus of the State Department as it has suspended all routine visa operations and reassigned personnel to the often-complex task of getting people out of countries as borders and airports close,” Carol Morello reports.
Tehran and Washington traded blame for the virus’s spread in Iran.
“Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said in a tweet that the United States is ‘impeding’ the global fight to contain the spreading covid-19 disease by sustaining its sanctions, the latest salvo in a feud that escalated Sunday with comments by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei suggesting America had created the coronavirus. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo countered on Monday by saying that the ‘fabrications’ by Khamenei about what Pompeo referred to as the ‘Wuhan Virus’ put Iranians and people worldwide at risk,” Liz Sly reports. “Khamenei’s televised comments on Sunday were made in response to U.S. offers to send aid to Iran as Tehran struggles to contain the highest coronavirus infection rate in the Middle East. Khamenei said the United States could not be trusted to help because it ‘may’ have created the coronavirus now sweeping the world.”
Japan’s social distancing is shrinking as fears ease. It might be too soon.
“Two months into the pandemic here, and the parks last weekend were full in Tokyo with people gathering to view cherry blossoms. The temples were packed with those seeking blessings for the spring and the bars and restaurants were filled,” Simon Denyer reports. “Japan added 38 new cases on Monday, bringing the number of confirmed infections to 1,140, with 42 deaths, not including cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. … The sense here is that Japan has dodged a bullet, either by luck or judgment, but experts warn the country is not invincible."
The Philippine legislature granted President Rodrigo Duterte “special powers” to tackle the virus, including the authority to take over private hospitals. Thailand declared a state of emergency as cases increased 14-fold in a month. Beijing ordered all overseas arrivals to self-quarantine as Hubei – the former outbreak epicenter – drew down travel restrictions. Australia asked people to defer signing up for unemployment after lines at welfare offices got so long they violated social distancing rules. A German man was arrested after he posted a video showing him licking an escalator handrail and a subway ticket machine last week. He reportedly wanted to spread the virus, local media said. (Our correspondents here and around the world have more on these and other developments on our live blog.)
Hong Kong also appeared to have the virus under control. Then it let its guard down. “The number of confirmed cases has almost doubled in the past week, with many imported from overseas, as Hong Kong residents who had left -- either to work or study abroad, or to seek safety when the city seemed destined for a major outbreak earlier this year -- return, bringing the virus back with them,” CNN reports. “On Monday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that all non-residents would be barred from the territory as of Wednesday, the latest addition to a raft of new measures."
Londoners are fleeing to the countryside. Locals are begging them to stay away.
“Jittery urbanites drove their camper vans up to the Scottish Highlands, and the worried well searched for holiday cottages to self-isolate in Cornwall. With international jet travel nearly shut down, schools closed and London the germy epicenter of infection in Britain, the people were hitting the highways and boarding trains to the boonies,” William Booth reports. “But out in the countryside, locals warned outsiders, essentially, ‘You’re going to kill us.’ Some of the prettiest places in England, Wales and Scotland are also the least populated and the most underserved by the National Health Service. On Monday night, frustrated with the public’s refusal to abide by calls to practice strict social distancing measures, Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued new edicts: People were ordered to stay at home, except to go shopping or visit the doctor or pharmacist. They will be permitted a bit of daily exercise. They were told not to travel — except to go to work, to do jobs they cannot do from home.”
Quote of the day
“It’s a little bit like, when you discover sex can be dangerous, you don’t come out and say, there should be no more sex. You should give people guidance on how to have sex less dangerously," said former Council of Economic Advisers chief economist Casey Mulligan. (NYT)
Social media speed read
A Catholic priest died after donating his respirator:
Fr. Giuseppe Berardelli, a 72-year-old priest who gave a respirator (that his parishioners had purchased for him), to a younger patient (whom he did not know), has died from #coronavirus.— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) March 24, 2020
"Greater love has no person..." (Jn 15:13) https://t.co/qXQ6knoE6n via @Araberara pic.twitter.com/uKxRNghire
Minnesota’s lieutenant governor lost her brother to the virus:
View this post on Instagram
Almost exactly two months after we buried our dad, my brother Ron passed away on Saturday. To many, he’ll be a statistic: Tennessee’s second COVID-related death. But to me, I’ll remember a loving, older brother, uncle, father, and husband. Ron was a tough-as-nails Marine who was a big teddy bear on the inside. He never left my dad’s side during his final weeks and took care of everyone else in the way only he could. His politics didn’t match mine AT ALL (and we joked about it constantly) but Ron was a very good man who had an amazing capacity to love. I miss him dearly. Several weeks ago, Ron was diagnosed with cancer. His immune system was compromised and he contracted COVID-19. He was put in a medically induced coma and placed on a ventilator. He fought it as hard as he could but it was simply too much for his body. THIS is why we must #StayHome If you feel fine, that’s great. But please consider the possibility that you’re carrying the virus and don’t know it, and then you walk past the next Ron, my big brother, in public. COVID-19 now has a personal connection to me. Please do all you can to prevent one for you. #StayHomeMN
Trump's former top homeland security adviser on the National Security Council had this warning:
Sadly, the numbers now suggest the U.S. is poised to take the lead in #coronavirus cases. It’s reasonable to plan for the US to top the list of countries with the most cases in approximately 1 week. This does NOT make social intervention futile. It makes it imperative!— Thomas P. Bossert (@TomBossert) March 23, 2020
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is taking the side of the scientists over others in Trump's orbit who want to send people back to work next week:
There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) March 23, 2020
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) lashed out against Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) for not resigning after getting caught dumping stock as the coronavirus spread:
.@KatieHill4CA gets run out of Congress for screwing a campaign staffer absent any complaint.@SenatorBurr stays as Intelligence Chairman after screwing all Americans by falsely reassuring us w opeds on #COVID while he dumped his stock portfolio early.— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) March 23, 2020
This is not fair.
Coronavirus cases have grown at a faster rate in the United States than anywhere else, according to this Financial Times chart that has gone viral (pardon the pun):
The U.S. now has more cases at this point in the crisis than China did at the same point. Or any other country in the world. pic.twitter.com/CJqoGbtL25— Ian Sams (@IanSams) March 23, 2020
And this clip of Texas’s lieutenant governor on Fox News is making the rounds:
Tx Lt Gov Dan Patrick says grandparents would be willing to die to save the economy for their grandchildren pic.twitter.com/wC3Ngvtsbj— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) March 24, 2020
Videos of the day
Late-night hosts, forced to deliver their shows from home, are getting creative. Stephen Colbert fixed a bike for everyone to see:
Seth Meyers delivered his monologue from his home’s hallway:
And Jimmy Kimmel video-called Julia Louis-Dreyfus: