U.S. deaths from covid-19 passed 60,000 on Wednesday, a figure President Trump had once projected would be the upper limit, as hopes rose for a drug treatment that the top U.S. infectious-disease expert said has shown a clear benefit in an early trial.
“The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Anthony S. Fauci said alongside Trump at the White House on Wednesday. “That is really quite important.”
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci leads, is overseeing a study of more than 1,000 patients in the United States and around the world.
The study showed that patients treated with remdesivir were ready to be discharged from the hospital within 11 days, on average, compared with an average of 15 days for patients who had received a placebo.
While not a “knockout,” Fauci said that shows an important and promising avenue for further study. “What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus,” Fauci said.
Remdesivir can have serious side effects, according to previous trial results, including loss of kidney function and declining blood pressure. Those symptoms are caused by severe cases of covid-19, as well, making it difficult to determine which problems were caused by the drug and which by the illness.
The NIAID study is the most rigorous test to date of the potential treatment because it is a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, the gold standard for seeing whether a drug is safe and effective.
The study showed only a marginal benefit in the rate of death. Fauci said that a death rate of 8 percent for those taking the drug versus 11 percent for those taking the placebo is not statistically significant but that the results will undergo further analysis.
The drug must be given intravenously over five to 10 days, and the NIAID trial results apply only to hospitalized patients. Remdesivir is not intended for use in the majority of patients, estimated to be 80 percent or more, who are infected with the novel coronavirus but do not require hospitalization.
The U.S. death toll eclipses the number of American service members killed in the Vietnam War. The comparison, although imperfect, indicates the scope of the outbreak since the first death in February in the United States and its territories, according to figures compiled by The Washington Post.
Trump had cited the 60,000 ceiling earlier this month, before saying Monday that the death toll could go higher, perhaps to 70,000. He also once used the figure 75,000. The eventual total appears likely to surpass either estimate.
“If we didn’t do what we did, you would have had a million people die, maybe more, maybe 2 million people die,” Trump said Wednesday. “And if you think that we’d be at 65, or 70, or 60, or whatever the final level would be,” Trump said, “. . . we’ve done it right.”
As antsy Americans show growing signs of “quarantine fatigue” and officials face pressure to ease coronavirus restrictions, factories, malls and state governments in many parts of the country are taking steps toward reopening.
But Fauci also said Wednesday that a second wave of infections is “inevitable” in the United States, which has recorded more than 1 million confirmed cases — nearly one-third of the global total. Fauci also warned that “we could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter” if the right countermeasures aren’t put in place.
“It’s not going to disappear from the planet,” the nation’s top epidemiologist said in a Tuesday interview with the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. “ … In my mind, it’s inevitable that we will have a return of the virus or maybe it never even went away,” he said.
Meanwhile, the economic toll of the virus became clearer.
The U.S. economy shrank by 4.8 percent from January through March as it saw the worst slowdown in growth since the Great Recession.
Trump did not directly comment on that glum first-quarter result, but he gave a cheerful prediction of a quick rebound.
“I think next year is going to be an incredible year for our economy,” he said at a White House event later Wednesday. “I think the fourth quarter is going to be really, really good.”
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 532 points, about 2.2 percent, to 24,634 after positive reports about the remdesivir treatment. Stocks are on pace for a strong month.
The tension between scientific recommendations of caution in the lifting of restrictions and the economic and political imperatives to get people back to work were on display at the White House event, which took place with some social distancing measures but without the use of face masks.
Trump invited business leaders from Hilton, Toyota, Waffle House and others to present their plans for resuming regular business. He announced he will travel to Arizona next week for a virus-related economic event and said he is looking forward to political rallies ahead of the November election.
“I think there’s a tremendous pent-up demand,” Trump said, rebutting polling that suggests many Americans are wary of resuming practices such as eating in restaurants, staying in hotels and attending sports events.
“I think we want to go back to where it was. When I look at a baseball game, I want to see people right next to each other,” Trump said.
“I don’t want to see four seats in between every person, so the stadium becomes 25 percent of its original size. No, I want to see the NFL with a packed house. I don’t want to see NFL with three seats in between people. No, I don’t want to.”
The White House announced Wednesday that Trump will participate in a live town hall question-and-answer session on Sunday evening, broadcast by Fox News from the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial. The president will “answer your questions about safely returning to work,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted.
White House senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner derided the “eternal lockdown crowd” as he claimed during a morning television interview that “extraordinary” strides have been made in developing coronavirus testing capacity.
Appearing on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” Kushner offered an optimistic scenario about the expansion of testing, which health experts say remains among the greatest challenges in reopening the economy safely in the coming months.
“The goal here is to get people back to work,” he added. “The eternal lockdown crowd can make jokes on late-night television, but the reality is that the data is on our side, and President Trump has created a pathway to safely open up our country and make sure that we can get our economy going and get Americans back to a place where it will be even stronger than it was.”
That prompted a sharp rejoinder from Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.).
“There is no ‘eternal lockdown crowd,’ ” Rush wrote on Twitter. “There are people who put human health over the health of our economy, and then there are people like you.”
Nearly half of the world’s workforce is at risk of losing their incomes as the pandemic continues to disrupt lives and economies around the globe, a U.N. agency warned.
The Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that workers in informal economies account for nearly half of the global workforce, or 1.6 billion people. Those people, already among the most vulnerable in labor markets, now “stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed,” the ILO said in a statement.
“The first month of the crisis is estimated to have resulted in a drop of 60 per cent in the income of informal workers globally,” according to the ILO. “This translates into a drop of 81 per cent in Africa and the Americas, 21.6 per cent in Asia and the Pacific, and 70 per cent in Europe and Central Asia.”
The labor rights organization estimated 68 percent of workers live in countries with recommended or required workplace closures, down from 81 percent two weeks ago. The ILO attributed the decline primarily to China’s lifting of much of its lockdown.
Signaling confidence that it has contained the virus, China scheduled its big legislative meetings for late May. The “Two Sessions” meetings had been postponed at the height of the outbreak.
But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that holding the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 will be “impossible” if the pandemic is not contained. Originally slated to take place this summer, the Olympic Games have been postponed until July 2021. A growing chorus of Japanese scientists have warned that even a one-year delay might not be enough, and Abe on Wednesday became the most prominent voice to echo those concerns.
Several top government officials have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, including Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam, the Health Ministry confirmed Wednesday.
Interior Minister Botche Cande and two other cabinet members are among those who also tested positive. Health Minister Antonio Deuna said they are in quarantine at a hotel in Bissau, the capital, Reuters reported. The small country, home to about 1.8 million people, has confirmed at least 73 cases of the virus, according to a Johns Hopkins University database. The first two cases were diagnosed in March.
India will permit workers, students and tourists stuck across the country to return to their homes after five weeks of nationwide lockdown, although national restrictions remain in place, the government said Wednesday.
The change represents a significant shift in India’s restrictions on movement. On March 25, the government shut down all long-distance transportation — including flights, trains and buses — in this country of more than 1.3 billion to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The abrupt lockdown stranded millions of laborers in Indian cities without jobs and with no means to leave. In desperation, thousands set off on foot.
The country has roughly 32,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 1,000 deaths.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Wednesday of a potential “second pandemic” — of lawsuits — if his idea of shielding businesses from liability is not included in the next round of legislation crafted by Congress in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
McConnell’s description came during a radio interview as he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continued to jockey over the scope of the legislation. Democrats are insisting that it include hundreds of billions of dollars in additional aid to states and localities to make up for lost tax revenue during the pandemic.
“Well, look, there’s no question that all governors regardless of party would like to have more money, and I’m open to discussing that,” McConnell said on Fox News Radio’s “The Brian Kilmeade Show.” “But what [Pelosi is] ignoring is the second pandemic, which is going to be lawsuits against doctors, nurses, hospitals and brave business people.”
McConnell suggested this week that any legislation that provides state and local aid should also include some sort of “liability shield” that would prevent businesses from being sued by customers and perhaps employees who contract the coronavirus, an idea that has been under consideration at the White House.
“I mean, this is the best way to protect the brave people who have been taking care of covid-19 patients, and it will take a good deal of bravery to open up their business,” McConnell said.
John Wagner, Tony Romm, Mark Berman, Siobhán O’Grady, Miriam Berger and Lateshia Beachum in Washington, and Joanna Slater and Niha Masih in New Delhi, contributed to this report.