The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Daily 202: Five moves signal Trump’s attention is moving beyond the coronavirus crisis

with Mariana Alfaro

President Trump reversed course on Wednesday by announcing that he will not disband the White House coronavirus task force in the coming weeks, caving to criticism that he is trying to move on too quickly from the still-raging contagion, which has killed at least 72,000 and infected more than 1.2 million people in the United States.

Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump nodded to the gravity of the crisis as he sought to pin the blame entirely on China for his administration’s slow early response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. “This is really the worst attack we’ve ever had,” he said. “This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. There’s never been an attack like this. And it should have never happened. It could have been stopped at the source. It could have been stopped in China.”

As everyday Americans struggle amid the worst public health and economic crises in nearly a century, this president keeps signaling that his attention has turned elsewhere. His administration moved on Wednesday to advance an agenda that includes stripping health insurance coverage from millions of Americans, pursuing a vendetta against a billionaire who owns an independent newspaper he doesn’t like, granting more protections to students who are accused of sexually assaulting their classmates, vetoing a bipartisan measure designed to prevent a shooting war with Iran and not just building the border wall – but insisting on expensive design choices.

Here are five moves that signal the president’s priorities:

President Trump told reporters on May 6 that his administration will continue their attempts to toss out the Affordable Care Act. (Video: Reuters)

1) Trump allowed the deadline to pass on Wednesday for changing his administration’s position in a Supreme Court case that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act. 

The president told reporters in the Oval Office that he will forge ahead with trying to toss out the entire 2010 law, despite private warnings from some of his top advisers about the political and public health risks of doing so amid the pandemic. 

Quote of the day

“We want to terminate health care under Obamacare," said Trump.

While Trump has said he wants to preserve popular provisions of Obamacare, such as guaranteeing coverage for people with preexisting conditions and letting young adults stay on the plans of their parents, he still has never outlined a plan to accomplish this. Instead, he signed onto a lawsuit that would undermine the entire law – including the provisions he says he wants to protect. 

Attorney General Bill Barr attended a meeting of senior officials on Monday in which he argued the administration should temper its opposition to Obamacare in court, to allow for leaving some parts of the law intact, Devlin Barrett reports: “Barr and others in the administration have argued that killing Obamacare completely could be politically damaging to Republicans in an election year, particularly when there is a national health crisis. In two previous case, the Supreme Court upheld the law, but if the high court were to strike it down, millions of people could find themselves without affordable health care. The high court plans to hear arguments in the case later this year, and a decision may not come until 2021, well after the November election. The latest ACA suit was organized by Republican attorneys general in Texas and other states.”

“The President’s insistence on doubling down on his senseless and cruel argument in court to destroy the ACA and every last one of its benefits and protections is unconscionable, particularly in the middle of a pandemic,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

2) A top GOP donor and Trump loyalist is being installed atop the Postal Service.

“The Postal Service’s board of governors confirmed late Wednesday that Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman who is currently in charge of fundraising for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, will serve as the new postmaster general,” Josh Dawsey, Lisa Rein and Jacob Bogage scooped. “The action will install a stalwart Trump ally to lead the Postal Service, which he has railed against for years, and probably move him closer than ever before to forcing the service to renegotiate its terms with companies and its own union workforce. Trump’s Treasury Department and the Postal Service are in the midst of a negotiation over a $10 billion line of credit approved as part of coronavirus legislation in March.”

Trump said last month that he wants the Postal Service to quadruple fees for delivering packages for customers such as Amazon in exchange for the agency being able to tap the line of credit. Trump has long argued that Amazon doesn’t pay the Postal Service enough, a charge the agency has forcefully rebutted. Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post. Trump has made no secret of his distaste for Bezos, Amazon or this newspaper’s coverage of his administration.

“After criticizing the agency for years, Trump has been consolidating his influence lately. Three Republicans and one Democrat sit on the board of governors after the vice chairman, David Williams, a Democrat, resigned last week,” my colleagues report. “The departure came after Williams told confidants he was upset that the Treasury Department was meddling in what has long been an apolitical agency and felt that his fellow board members had capitulated to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s conditions for the $10 billion line of credit … Democrats have urged the Postal Service to hold firm with Treasury over the terms of the loan, betting they could win more money for the agency in another round of legislation and threatening the Trump administration with taking the risk of disrupting mail service. But in recent days, the Postal Service’s board has appeared open to some of the Trump administration’s terms … 

“DeJoy will be the first postmaster general in two decades who did not rise through the agency’s ranks. … Megan Brennan, the current postmaster general, who announced her retirement late last year, had clashed with the Trump administration over its efforts to take more control over postal finances and operations. Trump had urged her early in his tenure to increase fees for Amazon.” The Postal Service notes that its shipping rates are competitive with other carriers and quadrupling prices for Amazon would only prompt the company to ship through FedEx, UPS or its own delivery service. 

In a related power play, the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report last month stating that it found no evidence of undue influence or pressure on Defense Department personnel who handled a cloud computing contract potentially worth $10 billion, which was widely expected to go to Amazon before the company got snubbed. But the White House invoked executive privilege to block senior department officials from answering investigators’ questions about what Trump told them. “Good-government advocates said the White House’s decision to invoke executive privilege to prevent senior officials from speaking to investigators could suggest wrongdoing on the part of the president,” Ellen Nakashima and Aaron Gregg reported.

The White House declined to comment on the latest moves. “The Postal Service is in crisis and needs real leadership and someone with knowledge of the issues,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service. “This crony doesn’t cut it.”

3) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a 2,033-page regulation that grants new rights to college students accused of sexual assault.

“The new rule bars universities from using a single official to investigate and judge complaints, a popular model, and instead creates a judicial-like process in which the accused has the right to a live hearing and to cross-examine accusers,” Laura Meckler reports. “The rule also adds dating violence and stalking to the definition of sexual harassment. But it otherwise offers a narrow definition of harassment, requiring that it be severe and pervasive, as well as objectively offensive. … Overall, the rule narrows the types of complaints that institutions are obligated to investigate. For instance, universities will be required to investigate complaints only if they are made to proper authorities. … But incidents that occur off campus between two students on their own would not be subject to Title IX procedures.”

This new rule, which was first proposed in 2018 after DeVos revoked guidance issued by the Obama administration, has been strongly criticized by universities, women’s rights groups and congressional Democrats. They worry this will let assailants off the hook, discourage victims from coming forward, subject survivors to additional trauma, make college campuses less safe for women and turn campuses into courtrooms.

“On Wednesday, a leading advocacy group for colleges said the decision to implement the rule in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic reflected ‘appallingly poor judgment,’” Meckler reports. “‘We will fight this rule in court, and we intend to win,’ Emily Martin, a vice president at the National Women’s Law Center, an advocacy group, said Wednesday. She said the core of the challenge would be that the Education Department was ‘arbitrary and capricious’ and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how agencies write regulations. She said the agency ignored evidence showing that the rule would harm survivors of sexual violence.”

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has denied an allegation of sexual assault by a former legislative assistant, pledged on Wednesday to overturn the new regulations if he beats Trump in November. “Simply put: this new rule gives colleges a green light to ignore sexual violence and strip survivors of their rights,” said Biden.

“The Education Department also wanted to finalize the rule in time to avoid having it rolled back by the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn regulations passed in the previous months, GOP officials said. The administration feared that passing it too late might allow Democrats to attempt to undo it if they gain control of Congress next year,” per Meckler. “The rewrite of Title IX regulation will probably be recorded as the most significant and lasting legacy of DeVos’s tenure as education secretary. … She has worked to bolster for-profit colleges, but those moves affect just a slice of higher education. This regulation, by contrast, affects every school that accepts federal money, which is virtually all of them.”

4) Trump vetoed a war powers resolution that would limit his authority to launch military strikes against Iran without congressional approval.

“The measure, chiefly sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), earned bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and came after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad. It first passed the Republican-controlled Senate on Feb. 13 on a vote of 55 to 45, and the Democratic-led House passed it, 227 to 186, on March 11,” Seung Min Kim reports. “In a formal statement released by the White House, Trump called the measure a ‘very insulting resolution’ that Democrats introduced as a wedge issue to divide Republicans ahead of the November elections. ‘The few Republicans who voted for it played right into their hands,’ Trump said in the statement. … Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set up an override vote for 1:30 p.m. Thursday. That vote is almost certain not to meet the two-thirds threshold to successfully overturn a president’s veto.”

5) Trump’s order to paint the border wall black could drive up its cost by $500 million or more.

This is according to government contracting estimates obtained by The Post. “The president’s determination to have the steel bollards coated in black has fluctuated during the past several years, and military commanders and border officials believed as recently as last fall that they had finally talked him out of it. They consider the black paint unnecessary, costly and a significant long-term maintenance burden, and they left it out of the original U.S. Customs and Border Protection design specifications,” Nick Miroff and Dawsey report. “Trump has not let go of the idea, insisting that the dark color will enhance its forbidding appearance and leave the steel too hot to touch during summer months. 

“During a border wall meeting at the White House last month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the president told senior adviser Jared Kushner and aides to move forward with the paint job and to seek out cost estimates, according to four administration officials with knowledge of the meeting. … Trump, during that meeting, directed aides to seek input from North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel, a company the president favors. Fisher has a $400 million contract to build a section of new barrier in Arizona, an award that is under review by the Department of Defense inspector general. … 

“The president has promoted the border wall in tweets as well as in private conversations in recent weeks, aides say, amid criticism of the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He has also touted the structure — along with his efforts to block immigration — as a defense against the virus and a benefit to public health. Trump has made the border wall a pillar of his reelection pitch, promising to finish 500 miles by early next year, a goal that will require crews to nearly double their pace in coming months. Crews have completed about 175 miles of new barriers so far … 

“During the same White House meeting, Kushner expressed frustration at the pace of land acquisition in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, where the Trump administration is preparing to seize hundreds of parcels of private land from owners who have refused to sell. Trump’s son-in-law, who is also at the center of the administration’s pandemic response, has been placed in charge of overseeing construction. He expressed frustration at this role during the meeting, telling others the wall was not his favorite project but that he is the only one who can get it done.”

Meanwhile, a 57-year-old man who became ill while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement died on Wednesday as a result of a coronavirus infection. “San Diego County health officials confirmed that the man was hospitalized in late April after showing virus-related symptoms at ICE’s Otay Mesa Detention Center, which has the county’s largest outbreak cluster,” Arelis Hernández reports. “More than 132 detainees there have tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus … The detainee who died Wednesday was identified by his sister as Carlos Escobedo Mejia. Mejia came to the United States decades ago with his family after war broke out in his home country of El Salvador. ICE agents arrested him in January … 

“Mejia, who had diabetes, later spent days vomiting and complaining of pain, according to his sister, Rosa Escobedo Mejia. At one point, he stopped eating, according to a recorded interview with his sister that was released by advocates who have been in touch with the family. ‘They lock them up like animals,’ Escobedo Mejia said. ‘Everyone was getting infected.’”

Mejia was one of 2,655 people who reportedly died in the United States on Wednesday from the coronavirus.

More on the federal response

President Trump on May 6 contradicted a New Orleans nurse who said the availability of personal protective equipment has been "sporadic." (Video: Reuters)
The Trump administration shelved a CDC plan for reopening the country. 

A 17-page report “was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It was supposed to be published last Friday, but agency scientists were told the guidance ‘would never see the light of day,’ according to a CDC official,” the AP reports. “The rejected reopening guidance was described by one of the federal officials as a touchstone document that was to be used as a blueprint for other groups inside the CDC who are creating the same type of instructional materials for other facilities. The guidance contained detailed advice for making site-specific decisions related to reopening schools, restaurants, summer camps, churches, day care centers and other institutions. It had been widely shared within CDC, and included detailed ‘decision trees,’ flow charts to be used by local officials to think through different scenarios.” A coronavirus task force official told us that the White House is seeking revisions to the draft because it was “overly" specific. “Guidance in rural Tennessee shouldn’t be the same guidance for urban New York City,” the official told Dawsey.

In breaking Supreme Court news: The justices unanimously overturned the convictions of two of Chris Christie’s former associates in the “Bridgegate” case, saying the federal government went too far in prosecuting them for retaliating against political rivals. “The former allies, Bridget Kelly and William E. Baroni Jr., took part in a 2013 plot to back up traffic on the George Washington Bridge, the nation’s busiest, as retaliation against a local mayor who declined to endorse Christie’s reelection bid” for New Jersey governor, Robert Barnes reports. “But Justice Elena Kagan said that did not amount to securing money or property, which is what the federal statute requires.” 

Under scrutiny: A black, female federal scientist who is working on vaccines.

Kizzmekia Corbett, 34, drew scrutiny for comments she has made highlighting the virus’s disproportionate toll on African Americans, Darryl Fears reports. “On Feb. 27, Corbett posted a tweet that lamented the lack of diversity on Trump’s coronavirus task force. … The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases where Corbett works, was investigating her tweets, but the agency said it had merely advised her of its social media guidelines. Since the controversy, Corbett has scaled back her use of social media. She stopped appearing on television, and the NIAID declined to make her available to The Post for an interview … In an administration in which the president has had a tenuous relationship with his own scientists and experts, Corbett’s diminished visibility raised eyebrows. Her defenders say she was ridiculed for speaking the truth.” 

Frontier Airlines abandoned plans to sell social distancing "upgrades" for $39.  

“Faced with widespread outrage from Democratic lawmakers, Frontier Airlines said late Wednesday it was abandoning its plan to sell passengers a $39 upgrade that would guarantee they could sit next to an empty middle seat while flying during the [outbreak]," Ian Duncan reports

  • The Labor Department reported today that 3.2 million Americans filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the seven-week total for people seeking jobless benefits to more than 33 million Americans. The unemployment rate has jumped from around 3.5 percent earlier this year to close to 20 percent now, many economists believe. (Heather Long and Emily Guskin)
  • Neiman Marcus Group filed for bankruptcy this morning, joining J.Crew. The Dallas-based chain of high-end department stores has struggled to pay down $5 billion in debt, much of it from leveraged buyouts in 2005 and 2013. “The pandemic has forced it to temporarily shutter all 43 of its stores and furlough the majority of its 14,000 workers,” Abha Bhattarai reports. “In addition to its namesake stores, the company also owns Bergdorf Goodman, Horchow and Mytheresa. The company said it is considering closing some stores, but did not provide further details.”
  • Gap and Nordstrom are among a growing group of national retailers preparing to reopen hundreds of stores with new protocols for shoppers and workers. Gap said it will reopen 800 North American stores this month, starting with a few in Texas. Bathrooms and fitting rooms will be closed and returned items will be quarantined for 24 hours before going back to shelves. (Bhattarai and Taylor Telford)
  • Uber will cut 3,700 jobs, or about 14 percent of its workforce, because fewer people are taking rides. (Rachel Lerman)
  • Disney will reopen its Shanghai park on Monday with new safety measures, but it could be a lot longer before that happens in the U.S. The company said it is still “too early to predict” when the American parks will reopen. (Steve Zeitchik)
The IRS said $1,200 stimulus payments sent to dead people have to be returned. 

“In a rush to get money to Americans experiencing the economic fallout, many payments went to people who had died since the beginning of 2018. Dozens of readers have reached out to ask why deceased spouses, parents and siblings have received $1,200 stimulus checks or direct deposits to bank accounts kept open to settle estates,” Michelle Singletary reports. The agency also said payments made to incarcerated people need to be returned. 

  • Strip clubs, payday lenders, cleaning crews and lobbyists are suing to get loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. (Todd Frankel and Jonathan O’Connell)
  • Sen. Richard Burr's (R-N.C.) brother-in-law dumped a significant portion of his stock holdings on the same day as the senator. Gerald Fauth, who is on the National Mediation Board, sold between $97,000 and $280,000 worth of shares in six companies, including several hit severely by the economic downturn. (ProPublica)
Federal agencies hired contractors with no experience to find protective equipment.

“It remains a mystery why the CEO of Federal Government Experts LLC let me observe his frantic effort to find 6 million N95 respirators and the ultimate unraveling of his $34.5 million deal to supply them to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals. … It’s also unclear why the VA gave [Robert] Stewart’s fledgling business [an important contract],” ProPublica’s J. David McSwane reports. “The VA, far more than any other agency, appeared to be awarding large contracts to little-known vendors in search of the personal protective equipment that’s pitted local, state and federal agencies against one another. … I wanted to know how a company the 34-year-old Stewart had formed two years earlier had gotten one of the largest no-bid contracts. And, more importantly, could it fulfill it? There was reason to wonder. A quick Google search showed large portions of the text on FGE’s company website had been lifted verbatim from a 1982 Harvard Business Review article … I found nothing suggesting the company could buy and ship life-saving medical equipment — and fast.”

Meanwhile, a New York woman went $600,000 in debt to buy PPE for workers. 

Rhonda Roland Shearer “doesn’t necessarily present as a skilled medical supplies haggler, but that’s all she does now,” Jada Yuan reports. “Shearer’s goal with the PPE, as it was for months after the 2001 terrorist attack that leveled Lower Manhattan’s twin towers, is to bypass an equipment distribution system that she believes is failing workers on the front lines, nonprofit workers and the homeless. ‘I’m running literally 18-hour, 20-hour days,’ she said, either hunting down good prices for the PPE or standing outside hospitals asking employees what they need. Over the past month, according to bank statements and receipts shared with The Post, Shearer has gone from zero debt to borrowing more than $600,000 on a home equity line of credit to buy wholesale masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and face shields. She leveraged about $1 million in this way after 9/11. … The only way to get workers what they needed, she decided, was to buy and distribute it herself.”

Coronavirus survivors will be barred from joining the military, according to a Pentagon memo.

The memo, sent to military entrance processing stations, lays out guidelines for staff to deal with potential, as well as confirmed, coronavirus cases, Military Times reports. "That starts with screening at all MEPS, which includes taking a temperature and answering questions about symptoms and potential contact. If an applicant fails screening, according to the memo, they won’t be tested, but they can return in 14 days if they’re symptom-free. Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 will have to wait until 28 days after diagnosis to report to MEPS. Upon return, a diagnosis will be marked as ‘permanently disqualifying’ for accession. Recruits can apply for waivers for all permanently disqualifying conditions, including surviving COVID-19. However, without any further guidance for exceptions dealing with COVID-19, a review authority would have no justification to grant a waiver.”

Dispatches from the front lines of the coronavirus battles

A tale of two Americas: One New Mexico mayor asked for a lockdown. Another defied orders. 

“Louie Bonaguidi had been mayor of this tiny city set among high desert buttes and Native American reservations for just a matter of hours last week when the governor called. ‘I want to congratulate you on your election,’ New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told him. ‘And give my condolences, because we’re locking your city down.’ Bonaguidi was not disappointed to hear that state troopers would be deployed to blockade all roads into Gallup. He was relieved,” Robert Klemko and Griff Witte report. “Less than an hour’s drive east on historic Route 66, in the even smaller city of Grants, the mayor was fighting a very different enemy last week: the governor. Mayor Martin ‘Modey’ Hicks was screaming at state troopers he had derided as ‘Gestapo’ and leading a rebellion against Lujan Grisham’s statewide stay-at-home orders. He was encouraging local businesses on the city’s hard-luck main drag to defiantly reopen. There was no sense shutting down the economy, Hicks said, just because of a virus that, like the flu, needed to be left to ‘take its course.’ The disparate reactions from two mayors within the same region of a single state reflect America’s ever-widening gulf in the struggle against covid-19. … The lightly populated county surrounding Grants, Cibola, has seen just 74 confirmed novel coronavirus cases as of Wednesday. In neighboring McKinley County, home of Gallup, there have been 1,274, or about 30 percent of the state’s total." 

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez (R) said that, while originally excluded from the state’s reopening order, South Florida restaurants and retailers should begin reopening soon. “In order for our state to be successful, we need our South Florida communities to be successful,” DeSantis said, per the Miami Herald. But Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R) warned against the dangers of a premature opening on Twitter, saying things can’t go back to normal at the cost of lives.
  • Hundreds flocked to a reopened mall in Yuba City, Calif., one of three counties in Northern California that have defied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) stay-at-home order by allowing some businesses to reopen. (Antonia Farzan)
  • Customers at an Oklahoma City McDonald’s shot employees in a dispute over distancing restrictions. The incident left two workers in the hospital and another injured. (Teo Armus)
  • New Orleans businesses will have to keep a log of customers under the city’s reopening plan to facilitate contact tracing. (4WWL)
  • Two businesses in Utah County, Utah, told staff to ignore coronavirus guidelines, resulting in 68 positive cases, officials said. (Herald Extra)
Maryland will reopen golf courses and beaches. 

“Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that the state would slowly begin to ease his stay-at-home order, granting permission for certain outdoor activities and allowing doctors to schedule some elective surgeries,” Erin Cox, Fenit Nirappil, Laura Vozzella and John Woodrow Cox report. “The small step toward reopening came as state Schools Superintendent Karen B. Salmon announced that public school campuses would remain shuttered for the rest of the academic year. … [Hogan said] state parks and beaches will reopen at 7 a.m. Thursday for boating, camping, fishing and tennis. … For now, however, Hogan is not ready to carry out what he’s described as the ‘first phase’ of his plan to reopen Maryland, which reported 47 new covid-19 deaths Wednesday. Small shops must stay closed and most nonessential busi­nesses are still barred from providing curbside service. All gatherings of more than 10 people remain prohibited. But golf courses may reopen as of Thursday morning, along with the state park recreational facilities. And many elective surgeries — including dental work — will be permitted.” 

Disproportionately black counties account for over half of U.S. cases and nearly 60 percent of deaths. 

“Black people make up a disproportionate share of the population in 22 percent of U.S. counties, and those localities account for more than half of coronavirus cases and nearly 60 percent of deaths, a national study by an AIDS research group found,” Vanessa Williams reports. “The study also found that socioeconomic factors such as employment status and access to health care were better predictors of infection and death rates than underlying health conditions. Gregorio Millett, vice president of Amfar, the Foundation for Aids Research, said the findings suggest that black people will be more vulnerable to the pandemic as states begin to reopen businesses and public spaces.” 

  • Hispanic and black workers are more likely to have lost their jobs amid the current shutdowns than white workers, a Post-Ipsos poll found. Twenty percent of Hispanic adults and 16 percent of black adults report being laid off or furloughed since the outbreak began in the U.S., compared with 11 percent of white workers and 12 percent of workers of other races.
  • Seventy-seven percent of laid-off workers believe they will return to their old jobs, a Post-Ipsos poll found. However, a new report from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago predicts 42 percent of recent layoffs resulting from the pandemic will result in permanent job losses.
  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar blamed workers’ “home and social” conditions for the outbreaks in meatpacking plants, rather than the conditions at the plants themselves. (Politico)
Antibody testing is showing some early promise. 

“The global search for a treatment targeting the novel coronavirus has led to an unlikely potential savior: a cocoa-colored llama named Winter, whose blood could hold a weapon to blunt the virus,” Karin Brulliard and Carolyn Johnson report. “She lives at a research farm in Belgium with about 130 other llamas and alpacas. And like all of them, she produces a special class of disease-fighting antibodies — tiny, even by antibody standards — that show early promise in laboratory tests in blocking the novel coronavirus from entering and infecting cells. In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Cell, an international team of scientists reports that these petite antibodies, harvested from Winter’s blood, were used to engineer a new antibody that binds to the spiky proteins that stud the surface of the novel coronavirus, ‘neutralizing’ its insidious effect. The study, through preliminary, points to a possible treatment. Other efforts to create more-traditional antibody drugs are moving forward fast, with the hope they could provide a bridge until there is a vaccine.”

Most new hospitalizations in New York are people who were staying home.

“Most new Covid-19 hospitalizations in New York state are from people who were staying home and not venturing much outside, a ‘shocking’ finding, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said,” CNBC reports. “The preliminary data was from 100 New York hospitals involving about 1,000 patients, Cuomo (D) said at his daily briefing. It shows that 66% of new admissions were from people who had largely been sheltering at home. The next highest source of admissions was from nursing homes, 18%. … He said the information shows that those who are hospitalized are predominantly from the downstate area in or around New York City, are not working or traveling and are not essential employees. He also said a majority of the cases in New York City are minorities, with nearly half being African American or Hispanic."

The foreign fallout

The E.U. said the pandemic recession will be the worst in its history.

“E.U. policymakers offered a grim forecast, predicting that even if the handling of the crisis goes smoothly and societies do not need to shutter again now that many have started easing restrictions, the economy of the European Union is expected to shrink by 7.4 percent in 2020,” Michael Birnbaum reports. “By comparison, Europe’s economy declined by just 4.4 percent in 2009, the worst year of the global financial crisis.” 

  • World food prices fell for the third month in a row, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Sugar prices hit a 13-year-low, while meat prices declined by 2.7 percent. (Antonia Farzan)
The bloc is loosening its lockdowns, but don’t expect to vacation there anytime soon.

Europe is “nowhere close to reopening as international vacation destinations. The most optimistic countries — Greece and Portugal among them — hope there’s a chance they might be able to pitch themselves as safe options by the second half of summer,” Chico Harlan reports. “The European Union’s ban on nonessential travel from countries outside the bloc is set to expire May 15. But one E.U. official … said the ban was highly likely to be extended for another month at least. On top of that, some countries are considering mandatory quarantines for international arrivals. British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC last weekend that he was ‘actively looking at’ the possibility of a 14-day quarantine, ‘so that when we have infection rates within the country under control, we’re not importing.’ … A provision under consideration by the French Parliament this week would require 14 days of isolation for new arrivals and up to 30 days for people with symptoms.” 

Afghanistan and Iran are investigating the deaths of 16 migrants near their border. 

The nations “have launched a joint investigation into allegations that dozens of Afghan migrants who crossed illegally into Iran were tortured by Iranian border guards and thrown into a river, where at least 16 drowned,” Susannah George reports. “The allegations come as coronavirus lockdowns in Afghanistan have caused unemployment to spike and food prices to soar. As coronavirus spread in Iran earlier this year, more than 200,000 Afghans returned to Afghanistan. And now as the Afghan economy has been crippled by the pandemic, some are trying to return to Iran in search of work.”

New details emerged on how an operation to “capture” Nicolás Maduro went rogue.

Representatives of the Venezuelan opposition, appointed by leader Juan Guaidó to explore all options in their U.S.-backed quest to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, gathered last September on the shores of Biscayne Bay. They were there to meet with former U.S. Army Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, who presented them with an answer: Operation Resolution, Anthony Faiola, Karen DeYoung and Ana Vanessa Herrero report. “Goudreau claimed to have 800 men ready to penetrate Venezuela and ‘extract’ Maduro and his henchmen, according to J.J. Rendón, the Venezuelan political strategist tapped by Guaidó to help lead the secretive committee. … But soon after the signing, Rendón said, Goudreau began acting erratically…. The relationship between the two men quickly went south. … [Rendón] and other opposition officials considered the operation dead. Until Sunday morning, [when] Goudreau appeared in a video with a former Venezuelan military officer in battle fatigues. The men proclaimed the start of an operation to ‘liberate’ Venezuela … But by then the mission — apparently infiltrated by Maduro’s agents — had already sustained a devastating blow, with eight men killed and two captured … Goudreau insists that some form of the operation is ‘ongoing’ and that Venezuela’s mainstream opposition betrayed him by reneging on their deal. He said he opted to move forward with what he says he was hired to do. He said it had nothing to do with money; he was doing ‘the right thing.’”

  • Maduro released a video of former U.S. Special Forces soldier Luke Derman, who was captured by Venezuelan forces Monday as he and seven others approached the country’s coastline in a small boat in an attempt to capture Maduro. In the video, Derman says he helped train a force of about 50 to 60 and that he was working under Goudreau’s orders. Derman said the plan was for Maduro to be captured and flown to the U.S. (Karen DeYoung

Social media speed read

The Treasury Secretary got in an online feud with the Guns N’ Roses frontman: 

Eagle-eyed social media users noticed that Mnuchin used an icon of the flag of Liberia, which is nearly identical to the American flag, Allyson Chiu reports. The original tweet was deleted and replaced with one using the correct flag. 

A fox has apparently been avidly following our coverage:

The elusive artist Banksy donated a new painting depicting a nurse as a superhero to a British hospital: 

View this post on Instagram

. . Game Changer

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on

The artist left the painting at the hospital, with a note saying: "Thanks for all you're doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if its only black and white." The painting will remain at Southampton General Hospital until the autumn when it will be auctioned to raise money for the National Health Service, the BBC reported.

Videos of the day

Stephen Colbert said the president’s coronavirus task force is too popular to be taken down:

Sam Bee listed a few things that we’ve started doing now, thanks to the virus, that we could have been doing all along:

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