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Coronavirus Live Updates: Obama Cites Need for Leadership

2020-05-17 13:20:55

In two graduation speeches, Obama offered advice to students and criticized U.S. leadership.

Former President Barack Obama delivered two virtual commencement addresses this weekend, mixing advice to graduates with criticism of the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,” he said on Saturday in the first address streamed online. “A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”

The speeches came as more than two-thirds of states have significantly relaxed restrictions, leaving the nation at a delicate moment.

With states scrambling to pay unemployment claims, a vast attack that flooded unemployment agencies with fraudulent claims appears to have siphoned millions of dollars. Secret Service investigators said they had information implicating a Nigerian fraud ring that filed claims on behalf of people who in many cases had not lost their jobs.

As experts continue to warn that testing needs to be more widely available, the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday granted emergency clearance for a coronavirus testing kit that will enable people to take a nasal sample at home and send it to a laboratory. It was the F.D.A.’s second such approval.

Across the United States, low-income communities of color are exposed to significantly higher levels of pollution, studies have found, and also have higher levels of lung disease and other ailments. Now, scientists are racing to understand whether long-term exposure to air pollution plays a role in the pandemic, particularly since minorities in the country are dying disproportionately.

The science is preliminary, because the coronavirus remains poorly understood. But researchers are finding reason to look closely.

Said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an epidemiologist and Detroit’s former health director: “The system has allowed, basically, low-income people and people of color to have to breathe the pollution.”

Among the three governors scheduled to appear on Sunday’s television talk shows is Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a Democrat who has been trying to manage the reopening of a state that varies widely from county to county.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Newsom will have a national stage from which to explain his efforts, which have drawn some resistance, and provide updates on the pandemic in California.

Mr. Newsom has allowed shops to offer curbside retail and child care services to reopen, along with manufacturers that make retail goods. In much of the state, restaurants and shops remain prohibited from letting customers eat or shop inside their doors. But Mr. Newsom has allowed 22 mostly rural counties, of the state’s 58, to do so after submitting public safety plans.

Some beaches, trails and parks also reopened in the state this weekend.

Also scheduled to appear on the CNN show is Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican who imposed restrictive measures in the state before many of his Republican colleagues, becoming the first to close schools. The number of new daily cases in the state is down from its peak and has plateaued. Now, as Mr. DeWine looks to reopen the state, he has also chastised those seeking to get ahead of the state orders.

After The Columbus Dispatch published pictures of people crowded together at a restaurant patio, a spokesman for the governor condemned those who were “disregarding safety guidelines,” even as he noted that, beginning on Friday, restaurants and bars will be able to serve customers at tables outside.

Mr. Polis is not the first leader to do so, but there was pressure to make the process easier in Colorado amid the pandemic, as several big policy options may appear on the ballot in November, including a proposal for paid family leave and several tax measures, according to The Denver Post.

The federal government said this month that it would borrow a record-breaking $3 trillion from April to June to help businesses and workers get through the coronavirus-induced recession.

Running such a large deficit would have been politically untenable a year ago. Since the end of World War II, economists have warned that doing so would risk runaway inflation and possibly unsustainable tax increases on future generations. But now, even some of the United States’ most ardent deficit hawks have watched the debt pile up and said, “More, please.”

Economists have pressed for additional aid to small businesses, enhanced unemployment benefits for workers, and more assistance for state and local governments that have seen a steep falloff in tax revenue and have laid off one million workers.

Such spending, they say, would hasten a rebound in economic growth and help save businesses that might otherwise fail, generating a return to the economy that exceeds the relatively low future interest costs incurred by prolific borrowing.

Deficit critics still exist. Republican leaders in the Senate have cited debt concerns as a reason to move slowly on a new package of economic assistance amid the pandemic. But there is little argument among either conservative or liberal economists that the deficit needs to grow, as tax revenues fall and spending needs rise amid a pandemic that has shuttered business activity and thrown at least 20 million people out of work.

“Any sensible policy is going to have us racking up the deficit for a long time, if you can,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist whose work on government debt and economic growth was frequently cited by lawmakers pushing rapid deficit reduction under President Barack Obama.

“If we go up another $10 trillion,” he said, “I wouldn’t even blink at that now.”

Medical workers have been celebrated for their commitment to treating coronavirus patients. But even as applause to honor them swells nightly from city windows, and cookies and thank-you notes arrive at hospitals, many doctors, nurses and emergency responders are battling a crushing sense of inadequacy and anxiety.

Every day, they become more susceptible to post-traumatic stress, mental health experts say. And their psychological struggles could impede their ability to continue working with the intensity and focus that their jobs require.

Although the causes for the suicides last month of Dr. Lorna M. Breen, the medical director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, and John Mondello, a New York emergency medical technician, are unknown, the deaths served as a wake-up call about the mental health of medical workers. Even before the pandemic, their professions were pockmarked with burnout and even suicide.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization issued a report about the pandemic’s impact on mental health, highlighting health care workers as vulnerable. Recent studies of medical workers in China, Canada and Italy who treated Covid-19 patients found soaring rates of anxiety, depression and insomnia.

“Physicians are often very self-reliant and may not easily ask for help” said Dr. Chantal Brazeau, a psychiatrist at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “In this time of crisis, with high workload and many uncertainties, this trait can add to the load that they carry internally.”

The isolation and close quarters of life under lockdown have shifted the balance in relationships between spouses and partners, employees and bosses, children and parents, students and teachers.

Add to this list a classification of people who typically spend years fighting for resources and turf while seeking to coexist in forced proximity.

We are talking about siblings.

The new reality for brothers and sisters is that they must spend much of their time together, in the absence of friends, school peers or teammates.

Parents say that long days at home are peppered with arguments, but it isn’t just that. Plenty of families are also noticing a positive development on the new home front: the redefining and even deepening of sibling relationships.

A day after several New York regions were cleared to begin reopening, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said this weekend that horse racing tracks in the state, as well as the Watkins Glen International auto racing track, would be allowed to open without fans on June 1.

“We can have economic activity without having a crowd — that’s great,” Mr. Cuomo said in his daily briefing on Saturday. “We can do that in this state. But no crowds, no fans.”

With the coronavirus’s grip on the region easing, Mr. Cuomo’s announcement paved the way for events to begin at tracks, including Belmont Park on Long Island, which hosts the Belmont Stakes. Watkins Glen International is an annual stop for NASCAR, which is set to resume its top series in South Carolina on Sunday.

The steps were announced as major indicators, such as new hospitalizations and virus-related deaths, continued to decline.

Across the Hudson River, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey also announced reopening steps in preparation for the state’s beaches to reopen, with some restrictions, by Memorial Day weekend, along with those in New York, Connecticut and Delaware.

Mr. Murphy said that fishing charters and other boating rental services would be allowed to open Sunday, but that they must ensure social distancing and track customers in logs to help state officials with contract tracing, if necessary.

Mr. Murphy also announced the approval of $1.4 billion in federal funding for the New Jersey Transit system, which has taken an enormous financial hit during the shutdown. “I cannot overstate how vital this funding is,” Mr. Murphy said.

There were 115 new coronavirus deaths reported on Saturday in the state, bringing the total to 10,249.

As both states looked ahead to plot ways for residents to enjoy the summer without a surge in virus cases, police officers in New York City continued to work to control crowds during a warm weekend, temporarily closing the entrance to the popular Sheep Meadow in Central Park after the area became crowded.

Driving is picking up a little. Refineries in China are buying more oil. Saudi Arabia and Russia ended their price war and slashed production, and U.S. oil companies are decommissioning rigs and shutting wells.

All of those developments helped push up oil prices modestly in recent weeks — just enough for some of the best oil wells in the United States to break even, and what may seem like a minor miracle given that the price is more than $60 above where it was about a month ago.

“May, it seems, is a month when traders can finally sit back more comfortably for a moment and take a breath,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen, the head of oil market research at Rystad Energy, a research and consulting firm. “But we warn that the second half of the year will not be met with precrisis oil prices again.”

Energy experts say that oil prices may dip again if there is another surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Prices could also fall when tankers filled with more than 50 million barrels of crude oil from Saudi Arabia reach the United States in the next two months.

But there are signs that demand for petroleum products is beginning to rise again, especially the demand for gasoline.

Technical glitches during Advanced Placement online exams are the latest problem that high school students have confronted as they navigate testing, college applications and college visits remotely during the pandemic — adding stress to a process that is anxiety-inducing even under the best of circumstances.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the A.P. exams, said that submission issues had affected under 1 percent of the roughly 2.2 million tests taken last week and that students would be able to retake the tests next month.

“We share the deep disappointment of students who were unable to complete their exam — whether for technical issues or other reasons,” Zach Goldberg, a College Board spokesman, said in a statement. “We’re working to understand these students’ unique circumstances in advance of the June makeup exams.”

The College Board said in March that it would administer digital versions of the A.P. exams, which can allow high school students to receive credit for introductory-level college courses.

In summer resort towns across the United States, livelihoods for the year are built in the 15 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It is during those weeks that tourists arrive to bask on the beach and gather for festivals and weddings. It is also when associated tour operators, hoteliers, innkeepers, restaurant employees and others earn the bulk of their income.

But this year, with Memorial Day — the kickoff for summer — approaching next weekend, there will be fewer guests to welcome and likely no sizable weddings or festivals to host. Business owners in resort areas, from Cape Cod, Mass., to Lake Chelan, Wash., say that as the start of summer approaches, they are facing the difficult reality that little money will be made this year.

Between canceled trips and uncertainty about how willing and able people will be to travel once shelter-in-place rules are lifted, business owners say that even if summer travel starts late, it won’t make up for losses already incurred.

For this weekend and Memorial Day weekend, “everything has been canceled and we have zero income,” said Barb Rishel, the owner of the Wellington Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Traverse City, Mich. “It’s devastating. It’s bleak.”

Unable to travel, some turn to backyard camping.

Think s’mores, stars, the air mattress deflating with a cartoony hiss. Picture children’s faces, fire-lit and, for just another minute, little else. It could happen in farmland, suburbia or the Bronx — and it could be lovely. In lieu of summer vacation, there are also ways to take a vacation at home.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Karen Barrow, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Jan Hoffman, Sheila Kaplan, Clifford Krauss, Michael Levenson, Tariro Mzezewa, Katherine Rosman, Andrea Salcedo, Hiroko Tabuchi and Jim Tankersley.


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