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, 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 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.
The Los Angeles mayor says 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.
“So, if you think you might have Covid-19, want the reassurance that you don’t or you’ve been around people that you have seen with symptoms, get a test,” the mayor said. “We can do it.”
“We’re sorry, but testing appointments are full at this time,” the website said when a user indicated that he or she had no symptoms. “Please check back for updates.”
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.
In response to a reporter’s question about how the city would manage to test so many people, Mr. Garcetti said the city had tests left over each day and was confident in its ability to test any resident who wanted it, including those who want to get tested multiple times over the course of several weeks or months.
Mr. Garcetti said the testing would be carried out at 34 testing sites in the city that have the capacity to test at least 18,000 people each day. At least 140,000 people have been tested at those sites in the past month, he said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said on 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, a Republican, 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.
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 until May 15 and are considering using their legislative authority to find a way to override it.
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, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said that Louisiana, which was among the states hardest hit by the virus, was not ready to take that step. He met with President Trump on Wednesday and discussed efforts to ramp up testing and create a road map for reopening the state’s economy.
The governor’s supporters have argued that overriding his 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 would choke an already weakened economy, and that more relaxed measures would cause less damage to the economy while being sufficient in fighting the virus.
Critics of the governor are arguing for an alternative 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.
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 open 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.
“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.
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 on 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 reach 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 pre-pandemic 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 it would keep interest rates near zero until a recovery was well underway.
A woman who gave birth on a ventilator dies of the virus while in prison.
The first female federal prisoner to die after contracting the coronavirus was a 30-year-old mother who had just weeks earlier given birth while on a ventilator.
The woman, Andrea Circle Bear, of Eagle Butte, S.D., was sentenced in January to serve 26 months in prison for using a residence on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation to sell drugs in 2018.
On March 20, Ms. Circle Bear was transferred from a jail in Winner, S.D., to Federal Medical Center Carswell, a prison that holds about 1,625 female prisoners in Fort Worth. She was immediately placed into quarantine, the federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement, in line with the agency’s new policy to reduce the risk of inmates contracting the virus from a new arrival.
Because of concerns about her pregnancy, Ms. Circle Bear was admitted to a hospital about a week later, on March 28, but she was sent back to the prison later that day.
Three days later, Ms. Circle Bear developed a fever, a dry cough and more possible coronavirus symptoms, and was taken back to the hospital, where she was placed on a ventilator, a sign that she was struggling to breathe on her own. The next day, on April 1, her baby was born by cesarean section. The judge who sentenced Ms. Circle Bear had said in court documents that her baby was due in early May.
On April 4, three days after her baby’s birth, Ms. Circle Bear’s coronavirus test came back positive. She died on Tuesday, more than three weeks later.
“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, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said in a statement. “Her death is a national disgrace, and I hope it is a wake-up call.”
The coronavirus has ravaged prisons across the United States, and eight of the nation’s 10 largest coronavirus clusters were in prisons or jails as of Wednesday evening, according to The New York Times’s tally of cases.
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.”
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, outlined the conditions that it expected 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.
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.