with Mariana Alfaro

President Trump said three times Wednesday that he had “never heard of” Rick Bright, the scientist who alleges he was removed as the leader of the federal agency working on a coronavirus vaccine because he resisted efforts to “provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public.”

“The guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t,” the president said during his evening news conference at the White House. “I’d have to hear the other side. I don’t know who he is.”

Trump’s professed unfamiliarity with a top official tasked with developing a cure for a contagion that has killed at least 46,782 and infected 842,000 Americans is in and of itself remarkable. But it captures in miniature Trump’s strained relationship with scientific experts, who polls show voters rely on most for accurate information about the coronavirus.

Bright said he was removed on Tuesday as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, known as BARDA, and “involuntarily transferred to a more limited and less impactful position at the National Institutes of Health.” Through whistleblower lawyers he has retained to represent him, the immunologist released a blistering 516-word statement on Wednesday afternoon. “Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” he wrote. 

Bright, who has a doctorate in immunology and molecular pathogenesis from Emory University and has spent his entire career in vaccine development, maintains that he was pushed out after expressing opposition to the anti-malarial drug that was being promoted as a cure-all by people in the administration. He acknowledged clashing with political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services over what ideas made the most scientific sense to pursue.

“I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections,” Bright wrote. “Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit. While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public. I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 while under the supervision of a physician. These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients with COVID-19.”

Bright said in his statement that he will formally request an investigation into his dismissal by the HHS inspector general, as well as “the manner in which this Administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merit.” 

“Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics,” Bright wrote.

The political appointees at HHS dispute that Bright fought against using the drugs. “As it relates to chloroquine, it was Dr. Bright who requested an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for donations of chloroquine that Bayer and Sandoz recently made to the Strategic National Stockpile for use on COVID-19 patients,” HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement. She added that Bright will “work on development and deployment of novel point-of-care testing platforms” in the new role at NIH.

Other Trump appointees told various reporters on the condition of anonymity that Bright – a civil servant who has held the job since 2016 – was overly confrontational, ineffective and that they had been looking to get rid of him since before the pandemic because of his job performance. “One person familiar with the situation said Bright was frozen out of his email and learned about the reassignment only when his name was removed from the BARDA website this weekend,” Politico reports.

Bright’s allies, signaling a potentially messy back-and-forth to come, implicated Trump: “A person familiar with Dr. Bright’s account said that Dr. Bright was pressured to rush access to the drug after the president and Larry Ellison, the chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle, had a conversation about chloroquines,” the New York Times reports. “Dr. Bright was then directed to put in place a nationwide expanded access program to make the drugs available on a broad basis without specific controls in place, according to the person familiar with his account. Medical experts say that it is still not known whether hydroxychloroquine might emerge as an effective treatment for the most devastating symptoms of Covid-19.”

Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, was removed from her post as her agency’s coronavirus response chief after saying publicly on Feb. 25 that Americans should begin preparing for “significant disruption” to their daily lives from this “severe illness.” Today, these comments seem unremarkable because this is what’s happened. If anything, it sounds like an understatement. But Trump was angry that she was causing what he felt was undue alarm. The CDC has not held a daily briefing since March 9 in part out of a desire not to provoke the president.

“The result is a culture in which public health officials find themselves scrambling to appease and placate Trump, a mercurial boss who is focused as much on political and economic considerations as scientific ones,” Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lena Sun report. “An internal White House ‘Covid Mail’ email address, for instance, exists to receive queries and suggestions from ‘friends and family’ as well as random individuals — including doctors and business owners — from around the country who have reached out to White House officials. Those emails then get farmed out to the appropriate agencies — from the Food and Drug Administration to [HHS] — but some officials have privately worried that these missives receive priority and distract from more crucial scientific pursuits. … Guidelines that were drafted by the CDC and Federal Emergency Management Agency for safely reopening the country were watered down by White House officials before they were published, officials say.”

The Wall Street Journal has a new story that places a large share of the blame on HHS Secretary Alex Azar for the federal government’s botched early response: “Interviews with more than two dozen administration officials and others involved in the government’s coronavirus effort show that Mr. Azar waited for weeks to brief the president on the threat, oversold his agency’s progress in the early days and didn’t coordinate effectively across the health-care divisions under his purview. … Mr. Azar’s defenders say he is being unfairly blamed by White House officials eager to cover up their own missteps. … Mr. Azar has largely been sidelined over the past several weeks from discussions with the president and with the White House task force, administration officials said. He hasn’t attended the daily briefing since April 3.”

Azar initially put a former Labradoodle breeder in charge of the pandemic task force. Reuters published its own scathing story about the HHS secretary’s early moves, specifically his decision in January to put Brian Harrison in charge of the agency’s day-to-day response to covid-19: “Five sources say some officials in the White House derisively called him ‘the dog breeder.’ … HHS is a behemoth department, overseeing almost every federal public health agency in the country, with a $1.3 trillion budget that exceeds the gross national product of most countries. Azar and his top deputies oversaw health agencies that were slow to alert the public to the magnitude of the crisis, to produce a test to tell patients if they were sick, and to provide protective masks to hospitals even as physicians pleaded for them. …

“Harrison, 37, was an unusual choice, with no formal education in public health, management, or medicine and with only limited experience in the fields. In 2006, he joined HHS in a one-year stint as a ‘Confidential Assistant’ to Azar, who was then deputy secretary. He also had posts working for Vice President Dick Cheney, the Department of Defense and a Washington public relations company. Before joining the Trump Administration in January 2018, Harrison’s official HHS biography says, he ‘ran a small business in Texas.’ The biography does not disclose the name or nature of that business, but his personal financial disclosure forms show that from 2012 until 2018 he ran a company called Dallas Labradoodles. The company sells Australian Labradoodles, a breed that is a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Poodle. He sold it in April 2018, his financial disclosure form said. HHS emailed Reuters that the sales price was $225,000.”

Quote of the day

"I'm accurately quoted in The Washington Post," CDC director Robert Redfield said at the White House briefing after Trump asked him to clarify his statements from an interview with Lena Sun.

What the science tells us

Governors rushing to reopen could be making a deadly mistake. 

“By the end of the week, residents in Georgia will be able to get their hair permed and nails done. By Monday, they will be cleared for action flicks at the cineplex and burgers at their favorite greasy spoon. And it will almost certainly lead to more novel coronavirus infections and deaths. As several states — including South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida — rush to reopen businesses, the sudden relaxation of restrictions will supply new targets for the coronavirus that has kept the United States largely closed down, according to experts, math models and the basic rules that govern infectious diseases,” William Wan, Carolyn Johnson and Joel Achenbach report. "The vast majority of Americans are still believed to be uninfected, making them like dry kindling on a forest floor. Barring a vaccine or treatment, the virus will keep burning until it runs out of fuel. … Epidemiological models suggest the best strategy for keeping the burn rate under control is to drive the number of infections as low as possible before restoring economic activity. That would then provide time to react if cases flare. … 

"Studies emerging in the past week are also changing scientists’ understanding of how the virus spreads, which will make efforts to reopen society even harder. A growing body of evidence suggests the virus is most contagious in people before they develop a fever or even feel a tickle in their throat. That suggests silent spreaders are seeding new cases. … Given the dangers involved in reopening, what states desperately need are a warning system and suppression tool to prevent infections from cresting again into the deadly peaks the United States saw in March and April. But states are jumping into their experiments without the two tools deployed by almost every other advanced nation: massive testing and contact tracing.” 

Georgia, according to some models, is one of the last states that should be reopening. It’s had more than 830 covid-19 deaths and tested less than 1 percent of its residents — low compared with other states and the national rate. And the limited amount of testing so far shows a high rate of positives at 23 percent. In Ohio, where businesses are expected to start to reopen by next week, a prison has become one of the most worrisome outbreaks in the country, with more than 2,000 inmates testing positive. In South Dakota, which remains one of the few states without a stay-at-home order, a racetrack said it plans to go forward on Saturday with a car race drawing 700 spectators.

Trump said he strongly disagrees with Georgia's governor and thinks the state is reopening too soon. The president said he spoke Wednesday to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and told him that “I disagree, strongly, with his decision to open up facilities which are in violation of the Phase I guidelines.” At the same time, he added, Kemp “must do what he thinks is right.” Kemp defended his decision in a string of tweets and said of Trump: “I appreciate his bold leadership and insight during these difficult times and the framework provided by the White House to safely move states forward.” (Karen DeYoung)

A mysterious blood-clotting complication is killing coronavirus patients.

“Increasingly, doctors also are reporting bizarre, unsettling cases that don’t seem to follow any of the textbooks they’ve trained on,” Ariana Eunjung Cha reports. “They describe patients with startlingly low oxygen levels — so low that they would normally be unconscious or near death — talking and swiping on their phones. Asymptomatic pregnant women suddenly in cardiac arrest. Patients who by all conventional measures seem to have mild disease deteriorating within minutes and dying at home. With no clear patterns in terms of age or chronic conditions, some scientists hypothesize that at least some of these abnormalities may be explained by severe changes in patients’ blood. The concern is so acute some doctor groups have raised the controversial possibility of giving preventive blood thinners to everyone with covid-19 — even those well enough to endure their illness at home. Blood clots, in which the red liquid turns gel-like, appear to be the opposite of what occurs in Ebola, Dengue, Lassa and other hemorrhagic fevers that lead to uncontrolled bleeding. But they actually are part of the same phenomenon — and can have similarly devastating consequences. Autopsies have shown some people’s lungs fill with hundreds of microclots. Errant blood clots of a larger size can break off and travel to the brain or heart, causing a stroke or heart attack.”

In New York’s largest hospital system, 88 percent of coronavirus patients on ventilators didn’t make it. 

“A paper published in the journal JAMA about New York State’s largest health system suggests a reality that, like so much else about the novel coronavirus, confounds our early expectations,” Ariana reports. “Researchers found that 20 percent of all those hospitalized died — a finding that’s similar to the percentage who perish in normal times among those who are admitted for respiratory distress. But the numbers diverge more for the critically ill put on ventilators. Eighty-eight percent of the 320 covid-19 patients on ventilators who were tracked in the study died. That compares with the roughly 80 percent of patients who died on ventilators before the pandemic, according to previous studies — and with the roughly 50 percent death rate some critical care doctors had optimistically hoped when the first cases were diagnosed. … 

"The paper also found that of those who died, 57 percent had hypertension, 41 percent were obese and 34 percent had diabetes which is consistent with risk factors listed by the [CDC]. Noticeably absent from the top of the list was asthma. As doctors and researchers have learned more about covid-19, the less it seems that asthma plays a dominant role in outcomes. One other surprising finding from the study was that 70 percent of the patients sick enough to be admitted to the hospital did not have a fever. Fever is currently listed as the top symptom of covid-19 by the CDC, and for weeks, many testing centers for the virus turned away patients if they did not have one.”

The FDA commissioner said states could increase testing with at-home kits.

“The FDA this week gave the green light to the first coronavirus test that allows patients to collect nasal samples at home,” Lateshia Beachum and Laurie McGinley report. “FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said … that the new at-home test kits can detect the presence of the novel coronavirus and are as effective as tests administered in a doctor’s office. The FDA has said patients will be able to collect nasal samples using the kit’s swabs and saline. Once patients collect the specimens, they will mail them to LabCorp lab for testing. Users can go online and answer a questionnaire about their symptoms. If the symptoms meet FDA guidelines for the virus, a package with a swab and saline solution will be sent in the mail overnight, he said. The user can mail the sample overnight and get results from LabCorp soon after, Hahn said.” While the test brings much promise, Hahn said the estimated time for a vaccine to become available is March 2021.

  • A group of doctors in Boston ran out of cotton swabs for testing, so they contacted some old classmates at MIT. Twenty-two days later, the first of four prototypes were clinically validated, and now hundreds of thousands of 3-D printed nasopharyngeal swabs are being churned out every day. (Steven Mufson, Craig Timberg and Nitasha Tiku)
  • The military is planning to roll out expanded testing, beginning with nuclear forces and troops engaged in combat. The process will then be widened to include other service members, as more materials become available. (Missy Ryan)
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he and the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut will launch an ambitious program to test, trace and isolate infected people. (Bloomberg News)
  • Workers did not leave a Pennsylvania factory for 28 days, sleeping and working all in one place, as they produced tens of millions of pounds of the raw materials that will end up in face masks and surgical gowns. No one told them they had to do it: All the workers volunteered, hunkering down at the plant to ensure that no one caught the virus outside. The 43 men went home on Sunday, after each working 12-hour shifts all day and night for a month straight. (Meagan Flynn)
  • The drugmaker Jaguar Health more than tripled the price of its lone FDA-approved drug, Mytesi, right after asking the federal government to expand its use to coronavirus patients. The antidiarrheal medication is specifically for people with HIV/AIDS who are on antiretroviral drugs. At the beginning of the year, a 60-pill bottle of it went for $668.52. On April 9, the company raised the price to $2,206.52. (Axios)
D.C. released statistics showing the disproportionate impact on the poor, sick and elderly.

Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) expressed alarm as she announced 15 new fatalities — including several people who died without being hospitalized. “Ten of the dead were from wards 5, 7 and 8, the poorest and most heavily African American parts of the city, mirroring a national trend in which blacks have been disproportionately affected,” Antonio Olivo, Fenit Nirappil and Erin Cox report. “Nine of the dead were older than 80; one was a 100-year-old woman and another a 98-year-old woman. The District’s tally of covid-19 deaths is 127, a per capita rate of 18.6 per 100,000 residents that is the highest in the region." The overall tally of confirmed infections in the District, Maryland and Virginia climbed to 28,295, with 1,185 known deaths."

A man who criticized lockdown measures died.

“Like many families who have lost someone during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the McDaniel family initially planned to live-stream the funeral for the Ohio father, John W. McDaniel, 60, who died on April 15 after testing positive for the virus,” Katie Shepherd reports. “But his wife, Lisa McDaniel, told friends and family in a letter published by the Snyder Funeral Home in Marion, Ohio, that his Wednesday funeral would instead be privately recorded after her family endured a deluge of angry and even mocking messages from strangers upset that he had described the coronavirus outbreak as a ‘political ploy.’”

Two New York cats tested positive for the virus.

Both pets are expected to recover after showing symptoms of mild respiratory illness. But there is still no evidence that house pets transmit the virus to humans, experts said. “One cat is owned by a person who tested positive for the coronavirus before the cat showed signs, but the other cat lives in a household where no members had confirmed cases of the virus. It is possible this cat was infected by a household member who was only mildly ill or asymptomatic,” Karin Brulliard reports. “Other evidence also points to cats’ susceptibility. A preliminary study of blood samples from 102 stray, shelter and pet cats in Wuhan, China, found that about 15 percent had been infected with the virus. A laboratory experiment in which scientists introduced the virus to animals found that cats and ferrets were highly susceptible, dogs much less so, and pigs, chickens and ducks not at all. … Whether an animal can be infected depends on a receptor on certain cells that the virus needs to be able to ‘unlock,’ scientists say, and some species have better fits.” Meanwhile, the New York Post reports that another seven big cats at the Bronx Zoo tested positive.

The federal response

More than 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.

It’s the fifth-straight week that job losses reported by the Labor Department were measured in the millions. “From March 15 to April 18, 26.5 million have probably been laid off or furloughed,” Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam report. “The number of jobs lost in that brief span effectively erased all jobs created after the 2008 financial crisis. Jobless figures on this scale haven’t been seen since the Great Depression.”

Experts warn of a W-shaped economic recovery. 

“There are growing concerns that any economic recovery later this year could prove short-lived because of a possible deadly resurgence of the novel coronavirus and a late spike in bankruptcies and defaults, a wicked combination that could cause households and businesses that barely survived the spring lockdown to go under later in the year,” Heather Long reports. “Some economists say a W-shaped recovery is increasingly likely, in part because creating a vaccine is likely to take at least a year and millions of Americans and businesses are piling up debt without an easy ability to repay it.  … [This] means the economy starts looking better and then there’s a second downturn later this year or next. It could be triggered by reopening the economy too quickly and seeing a second spike in deaths from covid-19 … This could cause many businesses, which were barely hanging on, to close again. Many Americans could become even more afraid to venture out until a vaccine is found.”

  • “The best solutions will be those that are tailored to particular regions, industries and institutions,” writes columnist Steven Pearlstein. "There are no riskless or costless solutions. This is not a science. … Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. … Play the probabilities. … Prioritize workers over investors. … Prioritize low-wage workers over high.”
  • U.S. stocks rebounded as oil prices stabilized and states moved to loosen lockdowns. (Thomas Heath and Jacob Bogage)
  • Big banks like JPMorgan Chase, Citibank and U.S. Bank prioritized the loan applications of their wealthiest clients for federal assistance before turning to smaller businesses, many of which couldn’t get their requests submitted before the money dried up. (NYT)
  • As big banks remained slow and cautious, small-town community banks scrambled to provide federal loans and outpaced the national leaders. (Jeanne Whalen and Renae Merle)
The Justice Department anticipates the stimulus package will be a major target for fraud. 

“Already, department officials have seen large numbers of scammers trying to profit from the global pandemic,” Matt Zapotosky reports. “The criminal division’s National Center for Disaster Fraud … has received more than 9,000 tips in the past month, deeming 3,100 worthy of possible investigation and referring them to various state and federal agencies, officials said. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center also has reviewed more than 3,600 complaints pertaining to suspected coronavirus-related scams. … Small businesses could make false statements on their loan applications, inflating payroll numbers to get a bigger check ... Americans or even foreign entities could create documents for fictitious businesses to apply for loans. State government officials who get money might participate in kickback schemes as they award contracts.”

Mitch McConnell said he favors letting states declare bankruptcy rather than bailing them out.

“‘I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route,’ he said Wednesday in response to a question on the syndicated Hugh Hewitt radio show. ‘It’s saved some cities, and there’s no good reason for it not to be available.’ The host cited California, Illinois and Connecticut as states that had given too much to public employee unions, and McConnell said he was reluctant to take on more debt for any rescue,” Bloomberg News reports. “New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said he was stunned by McConnell’s comments, which he called ‘completely and utterly irresponsible.’ … New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, tweeted that McConnell ‘wants police officers to lose their jobs. He wants firefighters to go broke. He wants hospitals to close and sick people thrown out on the street.’”

GOP leaders want Congress to return to D.C., contrary to public health advice. 

This would mean “bringing hundreds of lawmakers, aides and support staff back to Capitol Hill despite the warnings of public health officials,” Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report. “Republican objections in the House helped scuttle an initial step toward remote legislating this week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) postponed plans to temporarily institute proxy voting on the House floor … The pressure to reopen comes as Congress prepares to add another $484 billion in rescue spending this week … Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a radio interview that he was ready to reconvene the full Senate on May 4 — before a stay-at-home order for Washington expires May 15. … Democratic congressional leaders have taken a much more cautious tack …‘It’s not just about us. It’s about the staff. It’s about the press. It’s about the security and about those who run the building,’ Pelosi [said].” Trump himself is eager to get out of the White House. Aides are exploring way to allow the “frustrated” and “restless” president to leave Washington, per MSNBC.

The government will provide some federal aid to pay hospitals for treating the uninsured.  

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar “announced the payments for patients without health coverage as part of several strands of funding the government will distribute from a federal relief package to hospitals and other health-care facilities and practitioners,” Amy Goldstein reports. “On top of $30 billion already handed out from a $100 billion fund, Azar said $20 billion will soon be disbursed to a broader range of facilities, such as children’s hospitals, that were left out of the first batch. He said officials are still working on a formula to allot an additional $10 billion to hospitals in communities hit especially hard by covid-19 … Another $10 billion will be devoted to hospitals and clinics in rural areas, where health-care facilities tend to be financially fragile, while $400 million will be given to Indian Health Service facilities, the secretary said.” 

Joe Biden is making an end run around Trump as the president dominates the stage. 

“Homebound at his estate in Wilmington, Del., Biden’s quarantined campaign is adjusting to a new reality in which the prime-time TV slots that would carry his rallies and speeches under normal conditions are now largely dedicated to subjects other than the 2020 presidential campaign,” Annie Linskey reports. “That’s left Biden with little choice but to spread his message around — bracketing the president by offering himself to local newscasts in battleground states that run his interviews while viewers wait for Trump’s briefings and hamming it up on radio or late night (or late, late night) TV. Biden’s appearances tend toward relatable and soft, in contrast to Trump’s more contentious evening performances. But they also aim at groups of voters that Biden must attract to win in November, including suburbanites, younger voters and nonwhite voters. … Still, the approach leaves Biden operating on the fringes of the national stage, where he’s less likely to be blotted out by Trump. Polls show Biden has struggled to make his message about the virus become, well, viral, although overall results are mixed.”

  • Biden has an 8-point advantage over Trump in Michigan, 49 percent to 41 percent, according to a Fox News poll. On handling the virus, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s job approval is 19 points higher than Trump’s (64 percent vs. 45 percent), with 61 percent of Michiganders say the state should wait before reopening the economy, even if it hurts workers. In another Fox poll, Biden leads Trump in Pennsylvania, 50 percent to 42 percent.
  • In Florida, 72 percent of residents don’t want distancing rules relaxed next week, a Quinnipiac poll found. About three-quarters of registered voters there think the economy should only reopen when public health officials deem it safe.
  • Sixty-three percent of Americans are more worried about lifting restrictions too fast and worsening the outbreak than worry about lifting restrictions too slowly and worsening the economy, per a new CBS News national poll. Almost half – 48 percent – said they wouldn’t return to public places until they are confident that the outbreak is over.
  • The number of Americans who say the “worst is yet to come” dropped from 74 to 51 percent, but sharp partisan divisions remain, per a new Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll. (John Wagner)

The foreign fallout

Trump’s order to ban immigration for 60 days contains broad exceptions. It's more limited than what he tweeted.

“The order, which takes effect Thursday, will not apply to immigrants who already are living and working in the United States and are seeking to become legal permanent residents. Medical professionals, farmworkers and others who enter on temporary ‘nonimmigrant’ visas are unaffected, and the suspension also exempts the spouses and underage children of U.S. citizens, among other carve-outs.” The order also carries exemptions for members of the U.S. armed forces as well as their spouses and children, along with wealthy investors and prospective adoptees, Nick Miroff, Maria Sacchetti and Arelis Hernández report. “It will put a halt on employment-based immigration visas as well as the family-based categories for parents and siblings, which the president has often derided as ‘chain migration.’ The measure also freezes the Diversity Visa Lottery, another frequent Trump target, which issues about 50,000 green cards annually. Legal permanent residents who are trying to bring their spouses and children into the country also will be unable to do so."

Like authoritarians everywhere, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is capitalizing on the pandemic to claim more power. 

“With the explicit support of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the army, Revolutionary Guard and its paramilitary Basij force have taken command of the country’s response to the pandemic, including the construction of hospitals and the enforcement of quarantine laws,” Joby Warrick, Erin Cunningham and Souad Mekhennet report. “U.S. and European officials say that the security branches’ bid for greater dominance during the crisis appears intended, in part, to discredit President Hassan Rouhani, whose more moderate government has been faulted by conservative leaders for a bungled early response to the pandemic.” 

  • Trump instructed the Navy to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian gunboats that “harass” U.S. ships, a threat officials said was meant to warn Iran not to repeat what the Pentagon described as a provocative encounter last week in the Persian Gulf. (Anne Gearan, John Wagner, Dan Lamothe and Carol Morello)
  • Russian medical workers say the virus is ravaging their ranks, but their hospital chiefs are silent. The perception of secrecy has frayed many Russians’ already low trust of health authorities and engendered skepticism of official information about the crisis. (Robyn Dixon)
  • Turkish dissidents remain jailed even as thousands of inmates were released to spare them from the contagion. (Kareem Fahim)
  • U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned of a human rights crisis resulting from the pandemic. (Rick Noack)
An uncounted legion has died outside of hospitals. Some of those deaths are less lonely. 

“When it came time for the conversation about whether Carmelo Marchese should go to the hospital, his daughter didn’t tell him about her fears — that he’d be taken away in an ambulance and never see his family again,” Chico Harlan, Stefano Pitrelli and Gianluca Panella report. “She just told him what she thought was most necessary. That northern Italy’s hospitals were overloaded. That a 93-year-old, weakened already with fever, wouldn’t be prioritized. That his odds might be no worse at home. … She looks back on that conversation as the closest thing to a decisive moment about how Carmelo Marchese would die — in his bedroom, next to an oxygen canister, his crying daughter and grandson steps away.” 

  • Up to half of Europe’s fatalities have been residents of long-term care facilities, according to the WHO. (James McAuley)
  • Greece has never recorded a daily death toll higher than nine, making it a coronavirus success story. But it will be economically devastated anyway. The country is forecast to face one of the heaviest economic blows in Europe because of its dependency on tourism. (Elinda Labropoulou)

Social media speed read

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) lashed out against McConnell for saying states should go bankrupt before getting federal bailouts:

A CNN anchor made this point about Trump's ill-advised peddling of hydroxychloroquine:

Andrew Cuomo’s news briefing slides are getting more relatable:

Today is Prince Louis’s second birthday. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, shared these photos of her son:

Videos of the day

Stephen Colbert joked that Trump will have to do the unthinkable: His job.

Trevor Noah talked to New York's governor:

Sam Bee discussed the PPE supply shortage with experts: