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The Four Percent


Fears grow over new outbreaks as more states lift restrictions on bars, beauty shops and other businesses.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, lifted restrictions in 13 counties, including the Pittsburgh area, on Friday and announced 12 more counties that could reopen starting May 22. But he was not moving fast enough for some.

In Lebanon County, near Harrisburg, the Republican-led county board voted 2-1 on Friday to reopen businesses in defiance of the governor’s order, starting Monday. With a population of 141,000, the county has a higher infection rate than other parts of the state.

A number of states are lifting restrictions on businesses and public life on Friday, in a significant milestone for the country’s attempt to re-emerge from coronavirus-related shutdowns. More than two-thirds of states have now relaxed restrictions in some significant way, including some that had previously been the most locked down.

In Oregon, retail stores will flip their window signs to “open.” A stay-at-home order will expire in Arizona. And restaurants and bars in much of Virginia will be able to seat customers for happy hour again — but only outside.

The decision about whether to reopen or not has led to bitter protests and political fights, including in key battleground states that could help determine the presidential election in the fall. In Wisconsin, orders to stay at home turned to chaos this week after the conservative majority on the State Supreme Court overturned a statewide stay-at-home order by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.

In Lebanon County, Pa., the commissioner Bob Phillips, a Republican, said that he favored the resolution to reopen in defiance of the governor’s order, but noted that the county could now miss out on funding handed out by the state. Businesses that decide to reopen and hold licenses with the state could also face penalties.

“We’re trying to transfer the decision making to the business owners so they can open up and try to salvage what’s left,” he said in an interview.

As more and more people head back out in public, some of the most perilous exchanges have come between frustrated citizens and retail workers carrying the burden on the front lines. Skirmishes have broken out at places like Trader Joe’s and Target over customers not wearing masks.

But there is hope that the reopenings could ease the intense economic pain the nation is enduring: More than 36 million people have filed unemployment claims in the past two months, and on Friday the Commerce Department reported that retail sales fell a record 16.4 percent in April.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, will allow stores, salons and houses of worship to open up with social distancing requirements starting Friday night, even as cases remain relatively steady. Gyms, barbershops, movie theaters and bars with food permits will also be allowed to open back up in Louisiana, which at one point was experiencing the fastest growth in new cases in the world and most recently has seen a decline in new cases.

In New York, five regions were cleared to begin reopening on Friday some nonessential businesses, including construction, manufacturing and curbside retail. New York City was not among them.

The conversation is even turning to recreation and vacation, as the Outer Banks and other popular beach spots prepared to open up to visitors this weekend. Bates Hagood, the manager of Ocean Surf Shop, in Folly Beach, S.C., was bracing for an influx of customers. For six weeks, he said, the surf shop had been shut down with the exception of a few appointment visits. Now, his phone is ringing off the hook with surfers looking to buy and rent boards in anticipation of the weekend’s waves, and the store’s reopening.

His biggest fear is that crowds will overwhelm Folly’s businesses and services, and force another crippling shutdown. “Friday and Saturday, I just have a feeling,” he said. “Anytime we post any swell info or that waves are coming, people just go insane on social media. I just hope it doesn’t get super crazy. There are a lot of people in Charleston who are unemployed. The first they want to do is go to the beach. Unfortunately, it might get kind of crazy.”

That followed an 8.3 percent drop in March, producing by far the largest two-month decline on record. Total sales for April, which include retail purchases in stores and online as well as money spent at bars and restaurants, were the lowest since 2012, even without accounting for inflation.

Many economists expect spending to rise in May because most states have begun to lift barriers to commerce and movement.

But any recovery is likely to be slow and uneven. There is no guarantee that customers will return in numbers previously seen — and even if Americans feel comfortable going out to shop, they may not have as much money to spend because millions have lost their jobs.

Both companies were facing a host of issues before the virus forced them to close their stores and eventually file for bankruptcy. Those troubles had included adjusting to the rise of e-commerce and a lack of connection with a new generation of shoppers.

But they also shared one increasingly common problem for retailers in dire straits: an enormous debt burden — roughly $1.7 billion for J. Crew and almost $5 billion for Neiman Marcus — from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms.

As more parts of the country reopen businesses, many retail workers have reluctantly turned into de facto enforcers of public health guidelines, confronting customers who refuse to wear masks or to maintain a wide distance from others. The risk of a violent reaction now hangs over jobs already fraught with health perils.

A female cashier told a man refusing to wear a mask that he could not buy a pack of cigars at a convenience store in Perkasie, Pa. He punched her three times in the face.

And in the most violent incident, the security guard at a Dollar Store in Flint, Mich., was shot dead after insisting that a customer put on a mask.

Stores are “caught in the middle,” said Meegan Holland, the spokeswoman for the Michigan Retailers Association. “People can get belligerent when being asked to do something that they do not want to do.”

Public health officials have recommended masks as a crucial way to limit the spread of the virus, but they have also turned into a flash point in the country’s culture wars, with some defending their right to not wear one.

Public health experts said this argument was misguided.

“I never had a right to do something that could injure the health of my neighbors,” said Wendy E. Parmet, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University. Mask opponents generally overlook the fact that such regulations are meant to protect other people, not the person wearing the mask, she added.

The new vaccine czar says finding one by January is a “credible,” but difficult, goal.

The former pharmaceutical executive picked this week to lead a crash program to develop a coronavirus vaccine said Thursday that developing and mass-producing a successful vaccine by January 2021 is a “credible objective,” but acknowledged it would be difficult, Maggie Haberman and Noah Weiland report.

Moncef Slaoui, a former chairman of vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline, who is heading the program, conceded in an interview that even the time frame repeatedly cited by Dr. Fauci as necessary for developing the vaccine, which Mr. Trump has rejected, would still outpace what many scientists believe is possible.

“Frankly, 12-18 months is already a very aggressive timeline,” Mr. Slaoui said. “I don’t think Dr. Fauci was wrong.”

But Mr. Slaoui said he was undaunted by the president’s goal.

“I would not have committed unless I thought it was achievable,” Mr. Slaoui said, adding that he told the president that when he met with him for the first time on Wednesday at the White House and Mr. Trump asked if the goal was realistic.

In the vaccine world, new products take years, sometimes decades, to make it to the market. Vaccines have to be tested in thousands of healthy volunteers to make sure they are safe and work, and trying to rush that process could pose risks.

The Warp Speed project has been described by administration officials as an organizing mechanism for an already fierce race to find a vaccine, one that involves big pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and a handful of government agencies.

Mr. Slaoui will serve as the chief adviser on the effort, and Gen. Gustave F. Perna, a four-star general who is in charge of the Army’s readiness as head of the Army Matériel Command, will be the chief operating officer.

Their appointments were formally announced at the White House on Friday. During the event in the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump reiterated that he hoped a vaccine would be developed by the end of the year and he said, “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back, and we’re starting the process.”

An innovative coronavirus testing program in the Seattle area — promoted by billionaire Bill Gates and local public health officials as a way of conducting wider surveillance on the invisible spread of the virus — has been ordered by the federal government to stop its work pending additional reviews.

Researchers and public health authorities already had tested thousands of samples, finding dozens of previously undetected cases in a program based on home test kits sent out to both healthy and sick people in the hope of conducting the kind of widespread monitoring that could help communities safely reopen from lockdowns.

But the research groups and the public health department of Seattle and King County, which had been operating under authorization from the state, was notified this week that it now needs approval directly from the federal government. Officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration directed the partnership to cease its testing and reporting until the agency grants further approval.

The delay is the latest evidence of how a splintered national effort to develop, distribute and ramp up testing has left federal regulators struggling to keep up. Amid concerns about the reliability of a growing number of coronavirus antibody tests — which check whether someone may have previously had the virus — the F.D.A. responded last week by ordering companies to submit data proving their accuracy.

But the Seattle study does not track for antibodies and has wide backing, from the Seattle area’s public health leaders to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to Mr. Gates, whose foundation has been deeply involved in fighting the pandemic.

Federal officials are seeing additional information about how the swabs are handled and also have concerns about whether the group is really conducting surveillance testing, since results are being shared directly with patients.

The new rules will immediately allow for any member to vote remotely by giving precise, binding instructions to a proxy who is able to be present on the House floor. They also provide for a process in which lawmakers would eventually be able to cast their votes technologically from home.

Democrats who control the chamber have stressed that they are simply trying to find a way for the House to perform its basic functions at a time when the coronavirus has made congregating in Washington a dire health risk. They promise the changes will only be temporary and insist that the alternative is a House that cannot function as intended.

“It is in keeping with the vitality of the House that we are doing this, not in opposition to the traditions of the House,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said.

Some Republicans privately support a remote House, but plan to side with their leaders on Friday and vote against it anyway. The vast majority, though, have resisted the changes.

On the House floor on Friday, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, accused Democrats of “suspending the Constitution,” and setting up a scheme where just 22 members “with 10 proxies in their back pocket could do the business of 300 million great people in this country.”

The Senate has begun to allow senators and even witnesses to participate in hearings remotely by videoconference. But Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, rebuffed a bipartisan push for emergency remote voting and has reconvened senators in the Capitol to something approximating normal business.

Is it safe to go out to eat? What about outdoor activities?

New guidance for restaurant operators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention favors broad principles (“Intensify cleaning, sanitization, disinfection and ventilation”) over specific standards, so our restaurant critic, Pete Wells, asked doctors and health experts for suggestions on handling the risks of dining out while the virus is still a threat. Here are their recommendations.

  • Check your community’s health. Dining rooms are reopening in several states that have not met the criteria suggested by the White House for a phased reopening. You should check the latest data on virus cases in your community before deciding.

  • Know your personal risk. Anyone who has symptoms of Covid-19 or who has recently come into contact with someone who has had the virus should stay home. And anyone who falls into one of the high-risk categories identified by the C.D.C. should be especially cautious about going out to restaurants — particularly older people.

  • Look around once you arrive. Are the tables far apart? Will the chairs permit at least six feet of space between customers? “The biggest red flag would just be crowding,” said Craig W. Hedberg, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. “If people are crowded near the entrance or around the bar, or there’s a lot of interaction going on between staff and customers in proximity, then obviously they’re not operating in a mode that’s designed to prevent transmission of the virus.”

As warmer weather beckons, across the country, even the simplest outdoor activities seem fraught.

Is it safe to meet friends in the park, as long as they stay six feet away, on the other side of a blanket? How risky is a trip to the beach or swimming pool with the kids?

But experts also expressed particular caution about outdoor dining, using locker rooms at pools and crowds in places like beaches. And while going outside can help people cope with quarantine fatigue, there is a risk they will lower their guard or encounter people who are not being safe.

As the House barreled toward a vote Friday evening on a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package, a handful of Democrats in conservative-leaning districts announced they would join Republicans in opposing the measure, calling it an overly costly, politically charged measure.

Democratic leaders were confident they would still be able to pass the bill — which includes nearly $1 trillion for state, local and tribal governments and another round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans — calling it their opening offer in negotiations with the Republican-led Senate and the White House.

Democrats warned that opposing the package could carry grave political repercussions at a time when individuals and states are desperate for additional government help.

On a call with House Democrats on Thursday evening, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California warned lawmakers considering opposing the measure that they would find it difficult to defend a vote that deprives their states of much-needed funding, according to multiple people familiar her remarks, who described them on condition of anonymity.

Still, by Friday morning, multiple moderate Democrats were trying to do just that. In a statement that blasted the bill as “bloated,” Representative Cindy Axne of Iowa declared she “could not in good conscience vote to accept this Washington gamesmanship, or vote to approve unrelated wastes of taxpayer dollars.”

Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia said she would oppose the measure as well, calling it “a bill that goes far beyond pandemic relief and has no chance at becoming law, further delaying the help so many need.”

In an interview, Representative Kendra Horn, Democrat of Oklahoma, said she supported parts of the package, but could not back it in its current form. “This is a vote saying we need to do the work to get this bill where it needs to be,” she said.

The House’s most progressive members were also rankled by the bill, contending it did not go far enough to support workers in need of health care and regular paychecks. But the Congressional Progressive Caucus stopped short of encouraging members to oppose the bill, even as one of its leaders, Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, announced that she would vote “no.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using the $2 trillion economic stabilization law to throw a lifeline to education sectors she has long championed, directing millions of federal dollars intended primarily for public schools and colleges to private and religious schools.

Of $30 billion in the law for educational institutions turned upside down by shutdowns, Ms. DeVos has used $180 million to encourage states to create “microgrants” that parents of elementary and secondary school students can use to pay for educational services, including private school tuition. She has directed school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private schools.

And she has nearly depleted the funding set aside for struggling colleges to bolster small colleges — many of them private, religious or on the margins of higher education — regardless of need. The Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential, a private college that has a website debunking claims that it is a cult, received about $495,000.

In a statement, the Education Department said that every student and teacher had been affected by the pandemic. “The current disruption to our education system has reaffirmed what Secretary DeVos has been saying for years: We need to rethink education for all students, of every age, no matter the type of school setting,” it said.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware will allow beaches and lakeshores to open at 50 percent capacity Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said on Friday.

The announcement came as five parts of New York State began a gradual reopening on Friday with construction, manufacturing and curbside retail resuming. For the rest of the state that had not yet met reopening criteria, including New York City, stay-at-home orders were extended on Thursday night by executive order through May 28. (An earlier version of this briefing misstated the length of the stay-at-home order’s extension.)

Mr. Cuomo said Thursday that the remaining regions could reopen “the moment they hit their benchmarks.”

Even as Mr. Cuomo unveiled plans for beaches, he said that local governments could still decide to keep them closed, though they will have until Wednesday to decide. But he has also repeatedly said that any decisions about the waterfront would need to be made across the region to prevent overcrowding and excessive travel. If local officials did not enforce safety restrictions — like requirements for face coverings — or if beaches were overwhelmed, the states would step in and close them, he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier Friday that New York City’s beaches would not open for Memorial Day weekend. The city was not likely to ease restrictions on business and gatherings until at least the first half of the June, he said.

With a warmer weekend ahead, Mr. de Blasio said the city would try to reduce crowds at parks in Brooklyn and Manhattan and deploy police officers to limit access to the popular Sheep Meadow in Central Park.

But he also said the city would “reset” its approach to enforcing social distancing, focusing police officers on breaking up large groups. The police, he said, would also no longer be asked to enforce orders requiring people to wear face coverings.

On Friday, the state reported 132 more virus-related deaths, its lowest daily total since March 26.

There are now 110 cases in New York City of a rare and life-threatening inflammatory syndrome that afflicts children and appears to be connected to the virus, the mayor said. As of Thursday, three children had died statewide.

By late March, nearly every country in Europe had closed schools and businesses, restricted travel, and ordered citizens to stay home. But one stood out for its decision to stay open: Sweden.

Across Sweden, almost 30 percent more people died during the epidemic than is normal this time of year, an increase similar to that of the United States and far higher than the small increases seen in its neighboring countries. While Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia, all have strong public health care systems and low health inequality across the population.

“It’s not a very flattering comparison for Sweden, which has such a great public health system,” said Andrew Noymer, a demographer at the University of California at Irvine. “There’s no reason Sweden should be doing worse than Norway, Denmark and Finland.”

As high school and college come to a close for the Class of 2020, the virus has upended the traditional celebrations that accompany those milestones.

Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak, former co-stars of “The Office,” served as hosts to the Facebook celebration. Next month, Ms. Winfrey will also headline a virtual graduation ceremony for high school seniors in Chicago, where she filmed her top-rated talk show for more than two decades.

Mr. Obama is also scheduled to speak at a YouTube-hosted commencement on June 6, along with Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and the K-pop group BTS.

For more than 50 years, Cornelia Vertenstein, 92, has taught piano lessons from her home in Denver. Every week, through all those years, a parade of children came to her door, books in hand.

They practiced for an hour at the Chickering & Sons piano that Ms. Vertenstein and her former husband, both Holocaust survivors from Romania, bought for $600 in 1965, two years after landing in the United States.

And when the children left, at least the little ones, Ms. Vertenstein gave them a sticker for encouragement. They gave her a hug.

“I believe strongly in continuity,” Ms. Vertenstein said. “My students learn to be persistent in what they are doing. I try to teach them not only how to learn, but how to work.”

She insisted that the lessons would continue. She called the students on their cellphones, using FaceTime on her iPad, at the exact time when their lessons were scheduled.

“They know that when she calls, they need to be at the piano, books prepared, with a pencil and already warmed up,” said Yvette Frampton, a mother of three of Ms. Vertenstein’s students.

A month later, “Trolls World Tour” has brought in more than $100 million, a record for streaming. Universal said that when movie theaters reopened, it planned to release its films simultaneously in theaters and online, eliminating the theaters’ traditional window of exclusivity.

James B. Stewart asks: Is this, finally, the death knell for the theater?

If theaters are no longer the only places to watch hot new movies, what is left to attract crowds? Big screens are nice, and there’s the debatable proposition that movies are more fun when watched with a crowd and the aroma of popcorn, but that’s not much of a business model.

But the concept that a theater could be an experience beyond the movie itself that would lure people out of their homes may offer a path forward.

“Movie theaters have always come back, and when they do, they’ve been better,” said Maggie Valentine, author of “The Show Starts on the Sidewalk,” a history of movie theaters. She noted that the movie palaces of the 1920s were a response to the 1918 flu pandemic, and a drab, run-of-the-mill experience wouldn’t do the trick. “They had to give people a reason to leave their homes.”

Here are some tips for finding the right therapist.

Considering starting therapy? Even if you’re meeting online, an interview can help you determine whether or not the therapy, or the therapist, is a good fit.

Follow global updates from Times correspondents.

Industrial production surged last month in China, according to data released on Friday.

Reporting was contributed by Michael Levenson, Tara Parker-Pope, James Gorman, Mike Baker, Alan Blinder, Eileen Sullivan, Mary Williams Walsh, Michael Cooper, Erica L. Green, Katie Thomas, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Knvul Sheikh, Marc Santora, Ben Casselman, Neil MacFarquhar, Sapna Maheshwari, Sarah Mervosh, William K. Rashbaum, J. David Goodman, Jeffrey C. Mays, Joseph Goldstein, Michael Gold, Dagny Salas, Karen Barrow, John Branch, Julie Bosman, Kay Nolan, Campbell Robertson, Sheila Kaplan, Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, James B. Stewart, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sarah Kliff, Tariro Mzezewa, Chris Dixon, Maggie Haberman and Noah Weiland.



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