The early results of a federal trial showing that treatment with remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug, can speed recovery in infected patients were heralded as “very optimistic” at the White House by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That helped the S&P 500 gain nearly 3 percent on a day the Commerce Department reported the worst quarterly contraction in the nation’s gross domestic product since 2008, during the Great Recession.
“The federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story,” Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, said on “Fox & Friends.” “And I think that that’s really, you know, what needs to be told.”
At a televised meeting at the White House with business leaders on Wednesday afternoon, the president went further, talking of seeing “the light at the end of the tunnel very strongly.” He waxed at length about restoring life to the United States as if the crisis were nearly over. He disclosed that he planned to fly to Arizona next week and soon after that to Ohio. He talked wistfully of going to football games and resuming his campaign rallies. “I’d like to get out,” he said.
The strong desire to let businesses reopen has been complicated by the nation’s inability to conduct the amount of testing that public health officials say will be needed to identify, trace and contain new outbreaks as social distancing rules are eased.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Trump joined Dr. Fauci in hailing the early results of the federal trial of remdesivir, holding out hope that the drug could help very ill patients recover more quickly.
“It is a very important proof of concept, because what it has proved is that a drug can block this virus,” Dr. Fauci said. “This is very optimistic.” Dr. Fauci cautioned that the results of the study still needed to be properly peer reviewed.
President Trump wants a crash program to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, an undertaking viewed with some skepticism even inside the administration.
The idea would be to accelerate the process to create to create, test and mass-produce a vaccine — which doctors have repeatedly said would take a minimum of a year to 18 months — so that hundreds of millions of doses could be ready by the end of the year. Public health experts have warned that rushing the process could undermine the treatment’s effectiveness, and even lead to sickness or death.
The White House has made no public announcement of the effort, which is known internally as “Operation Warp Speed.” Some officials are apparently trying to talk the president out of moving too quickly, warning about the risks that would come with setting an unrealistic deadline.
But after the effort was first reported by Bloomberg News, the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed its existence. “Operation Warp Speed is clearly another extension of the President Trump’s bold leadership and unwillingness to accept ‘business as usual’ approaches to addressing the Covid-19 crisis,” said Michael R. Caputo, the Trump loyalist recently hired as the department’s new assistant secretary for public affairs.
After hearing from Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other experts on the coronavirus task force that even a year to 18 months might be an ambitious timetable to have a vaccine ready for mass use, Mr. Trump ordered the health and human services secretary, Alex M. Azar II, to come up with a faster program.
According to one administration official, the idea would be to indemnify the major pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies from liability if the vaccines incite sickness or death, and to involve the Pentagon in the testing program. But most of the military’s efforts have focused on defenses against biological weapons, not viruses that arise naturally or are transmitted by community spread.
It is not clear how much federal money the administration might put behind the effort.
Los Angeles mayor says that all residents can now get tested.
Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles said on Wednesday evening that any city and county residents who want a virus test can get one, whether or not they are showing symptoms.
Priority will still be given to health care employees, other workers who interact with the public and people with symptoms, but asymptomatic residents will also be able to get a test.
Mr. Garcetti said that in doing so, Los Angeles would be the “first major city in America” to offer free coronavirus testing to all residents. He said residents of Los Angeles County were included in the move.
It is unclear how many people will sign up to be tested or how long they will have to wait. Just over 6 million people have been tested in the United States, including about 603,000 in California, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 10 million people live in Los Angeles County, according to the Census Bureau.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, said Wednesday that the state would take a “small, deliberate, methodical” approach to reopening. The first phase, which will begin on Monday, will allow restaurants and stores to operate at 25 percent capacity. Outdoor seating at restaurants will be allowed, with social distancing. Movie theaters will remain closed, as will bars, gyms and personal services like hairdressers.
“We want to build as much confidence as possible with the general public,” Mr. DeSantis said at a news conference. “Fear is our enemy.”
For now, the reopening will exclude Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, the state’s most populous, which have had a majority of cases. The Florida Keys will also remain closed to nonresidents. Mr. DeSantis said he was confident that southeast Florida would be able to follow the rest of the state soon but provided few other details as to how he would enforce the reopening phases or prevent residents from traveling among counties.
“They just had a lot of people from New York City coming down,” he said. “People didn’t know that they were bringing down the virus in late February and early March.” Elective surgeries at hospitals will be reinstated statewide.
The governor, who met with President Trump in Washington on Tuesday, said the White House gave the state the green light to begin lifting restrictions. “I spoke with the president’s team,” Mr. DeSantis said. “They agreed that Florida is ready to go to Phase One.”
Republican lawmakers in Louisiana are pushing back against the governor’s decision to extend the statewide stay-at-home order and are considering using their legislative authority to find a way to override it.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, met with Mr. Trump on Wednesday and discussed efforts to ramp up testing and create a road map for reopening the state’s economy. The meeting came after Mr. Edwards announced this week that the executive order, which had been set to expire on Thursday, would remain in place until May 15.
The extension prompted an immediate backlash from Republicans, with some lawmakers weighing a petition that would officially challenge the governor’s order, The Advocate reported on Wednesday.
“We’re working on every possible solution to safely open our economy as quickly as possible and get our families back to work,” Clay Schexnayder, the Republican speaker of the state House of Representatives, said in a statement. “One of the ideas is to override the governor’s emergency declaration.”
As other states in the South have moved forward with plans to ease restrictions, Mr. Edwards said that Louisiana, which was among the states hardest hit by the virus, was not ready to take that step. His supporters also argued that overriding the order would interrupt the flow of federal emergency funds and interfere with other executive commands, like the closure of schools.
Still, Republicans argued that Mr. Edwards’s decision to delay reopening was choking an already weakened economy, and that more relaxed measures would cause less damage to the economy while being sufficient in fighting the virus.
“The delay in restarting Louisiana’s economy will destroy jobs and ruin livelihoods,” Blake J. Miguez, a Republican lawmaker, said on Twitter.
Critics of the governor are arguing for an alternative to the statewide order: a set of restrictions imposed on more targeted areas that are considered hot spots for the virus. “This one-size-fits-all lockdown is not sustainable,” Sharon Hewitt, a Republican state senator, said on Twitter.
The statewide orders have become partisan flash points elsewhere. In Wisconsin, leading Republican lawmakers have sued Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, to try to overturn the extension of the stay-at-home order.
Meatpacking plants are now ‘critical infrastructure,’ but that means little.
President Trump’s declaration on Tuesday that meatpacking plants were “critical infrastructure” that should be kept open during the pandemic sent a powerful signal that protecting the nation’s food supply was a federal priority.
“This is more symbolism than substance,” said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas. “He’s opening the door for the executive branch to take some far more specific actions vis-à-vis the meat plants, but the order itself doesn’t do anything.”
While the order does not explicitly mandate that plants stay open, it could allow the Agriculture Department to potentially force meat companies to fulfill orders from retailers, effectively keeping them in some capacity.
Lobbyists for the meat industry said the executive order, which allowed for the Defense Production Act to be invoked and could shield companies from lawsuits, was significant because it created federal guidelines for the steps plants needed to take to prevent the virus from spreading. Though it did not explicitly mandate that plants stay open, it signaled that the decisions around whether to reopen should be driven by the federal government and not the local authorities.
“This order tells them they need to stay open, and they get cover,” Howard Roth, the president of the National Pork Producers Council, said on a conference call on Wednesday.
Still, the order does not address some critical questions, such as whether the plants should test all their workers for the virus before reopening. Some plants have reopened without widespread testing.
The questions now are how extensive the damage will be — and how long the country will take to recover.
U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the economy, fell at a 4.8 percent annual rate in the first quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That is the first decline since 2014 and the worst quarterly contraction since 2008, when the country was in a deep recession.
Things will get much worse. Widespread layoffs and business closings did not happen until late March, or the very end of the last quarter, in most of the country. Economists expect figures from the current quarter, which will capture the effects of the shutdown more fully, to show that G.D.P. contracted at an annual rate of 30 percent or more.
“They’re going to be the worst in our lifetime,” Dan North, the chief economist for the credit insurance company Euler Hermes North America, said of the second-quarter figures. “They’re going to be the worst in the post-World War II era.”
The larger question is what happens afterward. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said this week that he expected the economy to “really bounce back” this summer as states lift stay-at-home orders and trillions of dollars in federal emergency spending reaches businesses and households.
Most independent economists are much less optimistic. The Congressional Budget Office last week released projections indicating that the economy would begin growing again in the second half of the year, but that the G.D.P. would not return to its prepandemic level until 2022 at the earliest.
The Federal Reserve pledged on Wednesday to do what it could to insulate the economy as lockdowns took a severe toll on economic growth. The central bank said that it would keep interest rates near zero until a recovery was well underway.
Deaths have been mounting at a nursing home for veterans in western Massachusetts, where at least 68 residents have died after contracting the virus, making it one of the deadliest nursing home outbreaks in the country.
To date, 82 residents and 81 employees of the facility have tested positive.
Employees at the 247-bed, state-managed Holyoke Soldiers’ Home have described the facility as unprepared for the wave of cases that emerged in March. They said infected patients were left on crowded wards, exposing dozens of vulnerable veterans.
Lethal outbreaks of the virus have ravaged nursing homes across the nation. The virus is known to be more deadly to aging, immune-compromised people; small, confined settings like nursing homes, where workers frequently move from one room to the next, are particularly vulnerable to spreading infection.
The outbreak in Holyoke became public at the end of March, after Alex Morse, the mayor, received an anonymous letter from a staff member describing “horrific circumstances.” Within days, the facility’s superintendent had been placed on administrative leave, and the National Guard was deployed to assist with testing.
Since then, because military honors are unavailable, flags in the state have been lowered to half-staff in memory of veterans lost in Holyoke and at a soldiers’ home in Chelsea, Mass.
A woman who gave birth on a ventilator dies of the virus while in prison.
A woman from South Dakota who gave birth while on a ventilator died in federal custody on Tuesday after contracting the virus.
Andrea Circle Bear, 30, of Eagle Butte, S.D., appears to be the first female federal inmate in the United States to die in custody after contracting the virus, according to data from the Bureau of Prisons. She had recently begun serving a 26-month sentence for maintaining a drug-involved residence on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, the agency said in a news release.
Ms. Circle Bear was transferred on March 20 from a local jail in Winner City, S.D., to Federal Medical Center Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth, and immediately placed in quarantine. Just over a week later, on March 28, she was admitted to a hospital over concerns about her pregnancy and sent home the same day.
Ms. Circle Bear was readmitted on March 31 when she started experiencing a fever, dry cough and other possible symptoms of the coronavirus, and she was confirmed to have Covid-19 three days later, on April 4. By then she had already been placed on a ventilator and given birth to her child via cesarean section.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a national criminal justice advocacy organization, has called for an investigation into Ms. Circle Bear’s death and questioned why she was imprisoned in the first place.
“Not every prison death is avoidable, but Andrea Circle Bear’s certainly seems to have been — she simply should not have been in a federal prison under these circumstances,” Kevin Ring, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Her death is a national disgrace, and I hope it is a wake-up call.”
Ms. Circle Bear is one of 30 inmates who is confirmed to have died from the virus while in custody, according to Bureau of Prison data.
Vice President Mike Pence defended his decision not to wear a face mask while touring a building at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on Tuesday, saying he was regularly tested for the virus and was following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, even if he was violating the clinic’s policy.
Kenneth Rinzler, a lawyer who had open-heart surgery at the clinic in 2010, wrote in a letter to the president of the institution that he was “beyond shocked” to see Mr. Pence in the building without a mask “and violating every basic tenet of social distancing.”
Susie Watson, the wife of a former bone marrow transplant patient at the clinic, was equally alarmed and wrote to the clinic asking why its administrators did not insist that Mr. Pence wear a mask.
“It really makes us wonder about your judgment,” she wrote in an email that she shared with The Times. “Wearing a mask should not be voluntary at Mayo. This is seriously upsetting, not to mention a huge public relations mistake for all the nation to see.”
Ms. Watson also said she considered it “their error as much as Pence’s.”
A spokeswoman for the vice president did not respond on Wednesday to a request for comment. Mr. Pence defended his decision on Tuesday.
After Trump nudges schools to reopen, a national union pushes to protect educators.
As schools across the country consider when they might reopen and what that could look like, the American Federation of Teachers, one of two national teachers’ unions, said it would release a plan on Wednesday outlining the conditions that they expect to be met before schools reopen.
The vision is more cautious than the one expressed in recent days by the president, who on Monday told governors in a call that they should “maybe get going on it.”
Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, said the plan offered “a stark contrast to the conflicting guidance, bluster and lies of the Trump administration.”
The union is asking for school buildings to remain closed until local cases have declined for 14 consecutive days with adequate testing. It says that when schools open, they should be prepared to screen for fevers, set up hand-washing stations at entry points, place individuals with suspected cases in isolation rooms and provide staff members with protective equipment.
The plan floats the possibility of voluntary summer programs, smaller class sizes of 12 to 15 students and schedules of partial days or weeks to maintain social distancing, with after-school programs for families that need more hours of child care.
After a revered Hasidic rabbi died of the virus in Brooklyn on Tuesday, his fellow congregants informed the Police Department that they would hold a public funeral despite virus restrictions.
The local police precinct did not stand in their way, a testament to the Hasidic community’s influence in the Williamsburg neighborhood. But by 7:30 p.m., an estimated 2,500 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men had arrived to mourn Rabbi Chaim Mertz, packing together shoulder-to-shoulder on the street and on the steps of brownstones, violating social distancing guidelines and turning the funeral into one of most fraught events of the virus crisis for Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Police began to disperse the mourners, and the mayor lashed out on Twitter at “the Jewish community, and all communities,” saying he had instructed the Police Department “to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups.”
Mr. de Blasio spent much of Wednesday on the defensive over his handling of the funeral and his use of the phrase “Jewish community” in his public criticism of the mourners.
“People’s lives were in danger before my eyes and I was not going to tolerate it,” he told reporters. “I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way, that was not my intention. It was said with love, but it was tough love.”
The challenge of monitoring gatherings may become even more daunting as the weather gets warmer and more New Yorkers are tempted to leave their homes for the first time in weeks — even as the pandemic appears to have no clear end in sight.
At his daily briefing, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said that 330 more people had died, a third consecutive day at a flat rate, bringing the state’s official tally to 17,968. But the number of new hospital admissions for the virus increased slightly for the first time in 12 days.
The Navy delays a decision on the captain of the Roosevelt and expands an investigation.
The acting secretary of the Navy on Wednesday ordered a wider investigation into the events aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, apparently shelving for now a recommendation by the Navy’s top admiral to restore Capt. Brett E. Crozier to command the virus-stricken warship.
“I have unanswered questions that the preliminary inquiry has identified and that can only be answered by a deeper review,” the acting secretary, James E. McPherson, said in a statement.
Mr. McPherson said he was directing the chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael M. Gilday, to conduct a follow-up investigation, expanding a preliminary review that the Navy completed and presented last week to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper.
Mr. McPherson’s announcement came days after Admiral Gilday recommended reinstating Captain Crozier. But Mr. Esper, who initially said he would leave the process largely in the hands of the military chain of command, delayed endorsing the findings until he said he could review the Navy’s investigation.
Follow updates on the pandemic from our team of international correspondents.
Sweden forged its own path while countries around it shut down, and Russia extended its lockdown despite having relatively few confirmed cases.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Ellen Barry, Alan Blinder, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Audra D.S. Burch, Ben Casselman, Michael Cooper, Michael Corkery, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Gold, Dana Goldstein, Jenny Gross, Amy Harmon, Christine Hauser, Josh Katz, Gina Kolata, Lisa Lerer, Denise Lu, Patricia Mazzei, Rick Rojas, David E. Sanger, Margot Sanger-Katz, Marc Santora, Michael D. Shear, Eric Schmitt, Liam Stack, Jennifer Steinhauer, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Linda Villarosa, Kenneth P. Vogel and Noah Weiland.