with Paulina Firozi
Governors are moving at different speeds to ease their lockdowns. But virtually all of them are planning for it.
That’s no surprise. Their economies are getting crushed, and the pressure to return to normal is on – regardless of whether the pandemic's curve has flattened in their area.
There is no precedent in modern U.S. history for what is happening to workers across the nation: 1 in 5 have now sought unemployment benefits in the past six weeks, as my colleagues Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam report.
Fourteen state governors — nine Republicans, five Democrats — have moved to ease social distancing restrictions.
But while the federal government recommends against reopening until there's a prolonged decline in cases, not all meet that standard. Nearly all these governors are continuing to limit how many people can be allowed inside a business at one time and which businesses may open up. While Georgia has stepped back the most from its lockdown, Mississippi and Alabama have only slightly tweaked the rules, according to a tally by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) is allowing businesses including retailers and hair salons to open today, and offices can start reopening on Monday at 50 percent capacity. Polis has emphasized a need to find sustainable ways of social distancing, without requiring people to stay inside their homes for months on end.
Many other governors are laying out plans to gradually reopen their economies — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), whose state is the hardest-hit in the United States.
The pushback Cuomo is getting illustrates the difficult economic and health choices facing governors.
“Extend the lockdown” became a hashtag trending on Twitter this week, as some New Yorkers protested Cuomo’s move to reopen. But the governor defended his efforts to a local CBS reporter, saying the week prior people had been protesting about not being allowed to return to work.
“Welcome to America,” Cuomo said. “You have some people who want to go to work … you have other people who say I don’t want to go back to work … I hear both voices, I feel both politics.”
More than 3.8 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week.
That makes a total of 30.3 million people with their jobs suddenly upended by the pandemic and subsequent government lockdowns.
“The outbreak and subsequent recession have wiped away all jobs created since the Great Recession,” Rachel and Andrew write. “Economists estimate the national unemployment rate sits between 15 and 20 percent, compared to about 25 percent at the peak of the Great Depression.”
The economic pressure to ease up on lockdowns is fierce and becoming more pronounced every week. The data illustrates how badly the economy has suffered as people stay home, my colleagues note.
“Data released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday showed the U.S. economy shrank 4.8 percent from January through March, marking the biggest decline since the Great Recession,” they write. “As global air travel dries up, Boeing said Wednesday it plans a 10 percent staff reduction — more than 14,000 jobs.”
No industry has been left untouched by the economic contraction.
The lockdowns, which began in mid-March, have affected different sectors at different points, beginning with full-service businesses such as auto shops and hair salons and most recently hurting industries with close ties to state and local government, Andrew reports.
Andrew analyzed unemployment-benefit claims from 14 states that publish them, to trace the sequence in which different sectors have been hurt.
“After that first chaotic week of lockdowns mid-March, as officials scrambled to slow the spread of the deadliest pandemic in more than a century, restaurants and theaters saw job losses slow while losses in other sectors, such as construction and supply-chain work, accelerated,” Andrew writes.
“Now, it appears the economic upheaval is hitting professional and public-sector jobs that some once regarded as safe.”
(Check out this new project from several of my Post colleagues, who are chronicling the journey of 10 people as they navigate the trail of economic devastation.)
The sector most recently affected — state and local governments — has become Democrats’ latest cause celebre.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday she would like to see about $1 trillion for state and local governments in the next potential coronavirus relief measure, much more than previously discussed and an enormous federal commitment to bailing out hammered state and local budgets, Erica Werner reports.
“Pelosi’s comments set up an intense clash with Senate Republicans as Congress begins to debate its next steps in responding to the pandemic,” Erica writes. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said repeatedly in recent days that he will not agree to additional spending for state and local governments unless Congress also passes liability protections for businesses and health-care workers — an idea Pelosi has rejected.
“President Trump, meanwhile, has suggested he will not approve more funding for states and cities unless they change their immigration policies to eliminate protections for unauthorized immigrants.”
Let's talk about priorities.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 29, 2020
Sen. McConnell cares about bailing out:
State and local governments want $ to fund:
Ahh, oof and ouch
AHH: The Trump administration is racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, confirmed the administration is working on an effort called “Operation Warp Speed” to develop hundreds of millions of doses by the beginning of next year.
“The January timeline represents a fast pace for vaccine development but still means there would be no fail-safe protection from the novel coronavirus until long after most Americans are likely to have returned to work or school and until after the November presidential election,” Anne Gearan, Felicia Sonmez and Erica report.
Fauci said he's part of the team working on that effort. He said makers of the best potential candidates will fast-track vaccine production “at risk,” which means ramping up before it's proven the vaccines work.
“We want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it’s safe and its effective,” he said on NBC News's “Today” show. “I think that is doable if things fall in the right place.”
Bloomberg News’s Jennifer Jacobs and Drew Armstrong reported on the effort this week, writing that “taxpayers will shoulder much of the financial risk that vaccine candidates may fail, instead of drug companies.”
Trump defended the dash for a vaccine, saying the goal was not “over-promising.”
He added: “I don't know who said it, but whatever the maximum is, whatever you can humanly do, we're going to have. And we hope we're going to come up with a good vaccine."
OOF: U.S. officials are considering proposals for retaliation against China over its handling of the coronavirus.
Senior officials across federal agencies were set to meet yesterday on a strategy for retaliatory measures. There is evidence that Chinese government officials sought to silence doctors who raised alarm about the virus’ human-to-human transmission and potential lethality. Yet such a move could hamper an already strained relationship between the nations, Jeff Stein, Carol D. Leonnig, Josh Dawsey and Gerry Shih report.
Administration officials insist the discussions are preliminary, even as Trump fumes to aides and others about China, blaming the country for withholding information about the virus.
The president “has discussed enacting dramatic measures that would probably lead to retaliation by Beijing,” they write. “In private, Trump and aides have discussed stripping China of its ‘sovereign immunity,’ aiming to enable the U.S. government or victims to sue China for damages.”
One senior adviser told The Post: “Punishing China is definitely where the president’s head is at right now.”
OUCH: The administration is preparing shipments of critical personal protective equipment to send to nursing homes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is set to coordinate a shipment of a seven-day supply of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks, gloves, eye protection and gowns, to more than 15,400 nursing homes, Politico’s Rachel Roubein reports.
The shipments, according to a FEMA document, will begin the first week of May and will be completed by the middle of next month.
“The first deliveries will target metro areas hit hard by the coronavirus, such New York City, northern New Jersey, Boston, Chicago and Detroit,” Rachel writes. “The FEMA document says shipments will ‘supplement existing efforts’ to provide protective equipment to nursing homes and will serve as a ‘bridge between other PPE shipments.’ ”
She adds that the agency acknowledges there’s still a greater need for equipment.
The number of nursing homes across the country reporting covid-19 cases is surging. A Post analysis of state and federal data published this week found the number of these facilities publicly reporting cases doubled in the last week. More than 1 in 6 nursing homes in the country now say they have infections among residents or staff, Joel Jacobs, Shawn Mulcahy, Sidnee King and Debbie Cenziper report.
“In five states — Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia and New Jersey — the virus has struck a majority of nursing homes, the data shows,” they write. “In New Jersey, second only to New York in total number of confirmed coronavirus cases, health officials have reported infections at 80 percent of the state’s homes.”
Congress on coronavirus
Nancy Pelosi says Democrats are eyeing $1 trillion or state and local governments in next relief bill.
That amount of aid for states and cities is bound to be a sticking point in the next coronavirus spending bill, Erica reports.
“Pelosi’s comments set up an intense clash with Senate Republicans as Congress begins to debate its next steps in responding to the pandemic,” she writes. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said repeatedly in recent days that he will not agree to additional spending for state and local governments unless Congress also passes liability protections for businesses and health-care workers — an idea Pelosi has rejected.”
The president has suggested any funding for states and cities will have conditions, such as a change to their immigration policies.
At a news conference yesterday, Pelosi said governors and local governments have separately pointed to about $500 billion in needs. The $2 trillion Cares Act lawmakers passed in March included $150 billion for states, but the funding was limited to coronavirus response, which some leaders say made it hard when they have major budgetary needs.
In non-coronavirus news
Joe Biden denies the sexual assault allegation against him.
“I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago. They aren’t true. This never happened,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said in a written statement on Friday morning.
NEWS: Biden has released a written statement on accusations he faces:— Sean Sullivan (@WaPoSean) May 1, 2020
"I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago.
They aren’t true. This never happened."
This marks the first time Biden has weighed in directly.
Biden is set to appear on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” where he's expected to publicly address the recent allegation of sexual assault, Matt Viser and Sean Sullivan write.
Trump said yesterday that Biden "should respond" but that he “didn’t know anything about” the allegation. Trump suggested Tara Reade's account could be a “false accusation.”
Nancy Pelosi said she is “satisfied” with Biden's response to the allegation.
Pelosi said during a television interview that she has a “great comfort level” with how former vice president Joe Biden has addressed an allegation of sexual assault. It was the House speaker’s strongest defense of the presumptive Democratic nominee, John Wagner reports.
“I want to remove all doubt in anyone’s mind: I have a great comfort level with the situation as I see it, with all the respect in the world for any woman who comes forward, with all the highest regard for Joe Biden,” Pelosi said.
Reade, who worked for Biden while he was a senator from Delaware, “said in interviews with The Washington Post last year that Biden put his hands on her shoulders and neck when she was working in his Senate office. She said she had complained about it to three senior aides in the office, but those aides told The Post they had no recollection of Reade making a claim. Last month, in a podcast interview, Reade alleged that Biden assaulted her after pushing her against a wall somewhere on Capitol Hill.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Pelosi’s latest comments hypocritical.
“If she thinks [Biden’s] lack of a response is a good enough response, then to me that’s being a hypocrite based upon the past comments she made on other situations similar to this,” McCarthy said at a weekly news conference.
The acting president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund said the group believes survivors:
At @PPact, we believe survivors—and saying we believe survivors doesn't mean only when it's politically convenient. Our country is hungry for leadership on this issue & now is the time to give it to them. @JoeBiden must address this allegation directly. https://t.co/4qj6mzSIUL— Alexis McGill Johnson (@alexismcgill) May 1, 2020
Here are a few more headlines and developments before you head into the weekend:
As reopening begins:
- As the federal governments social distancing guidelines expire, health officials are worried people may become complacent, especially as governors ease restrictions in their respective states, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Rachel Weiner report.
- Macy’s will reopen all its stores in six weeks after shuttering all 775 locations in March. Dozens of stores will reopen on Monday as lockdowns start to ease, Taylor Telford and Abha Bhattarai report.
Work in the nation’s capital:
- Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) questioned the move to have senators return to work next week, a move that could put Capitol Hill workers at risk, Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report. “We are now going to have thousands of people coming to work against the rules that they’ve established. I do not know what the health justification of that is,” Booker said on a call with Senate Democrats.
In the states:
- Republican-led states are warning workers that they could lose unemployment benefits if they don’t return to work, Tony Romm reports. Even as business leaders desperately need workers to return when states start to reopen, labor activists say some now-unemployed individuals who weren’t making much money may not feel its worth the risk to return to an underpaid job.
The hardest hit:
- D.C. day-care centers are struggling, without federal stimulus dollars and without families paying their regular fees. “Even if they do manage to survive until the city reopens, they're unsure how they'll afford to adhere to the recommended health and social distancing guidelines, which would require ample protective equipment and fewer children in classrooms,” Perry Stein reports.
On the front lines:
- Lawmakers have not approved emergency pay for doctors, nurses and other health workers on the front lines even a month after Trump and top Democrats appeared to support doing so, Jeff and Heather Long report.
- It’s been nearly seven weeks into the shutdown, but people in the District, Maryland and Virginia are still getting sick. “Doctors and public health officials said it increasingly is infecting people who cannot afford to miss work, or telecommute — grocery store employees, delivery drivers and construction workers. Sometimes they, in turn, infect their families,” Kyle Swenson and Jenna Portnoy report.
- Amazon plans to spend at least $4 billion this quarter to add warehouse and delivery employees to meet the soaring demand for household goods and other products as consumers shop from home, Jay Greene reports. Amazon finance chief Brian Olsavsky said during a call with financial analysts said a “large portion” of that money will go to hiring workers, and other funds will go toward protective gear.