Coronavirus Live Updates: Retail Sales Show Steepest Drop on Record


Retail report shows biggest decline in sales in three decades of record-keeping.

Retail sales plunged in March as businesses shuttered from coast to coast and wary shoppers restricted their spending, a drop that was by far the largest in the nearly three decades the government has tracked the data.

Total sales, which include retail purchases in stores and online as well as auto and gasoline sales and money spent at bars and restaurants, fell 8.7 percent from the previous month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

The situation has almost certainly worsened since then. Most states didn’t shut down nonessential businesses until late March or early April.

What happens to retail matters to the broader economy. The sector accounts for more than one in 10 U.S. jobs; only health care employs more. Its stores generate billions of dollars in rent for commercial landlords, ad sales for local media outlets, and sales-tax receipts for state and local governments.

If retailers survive and can quickly reopen and rehire workers, then the eventual economic recovery could be relatively swift. But the failure of a large share of businesses would lead to prolonged unemployment and a much slower rebound.

But programs meant to support businesses, including government-backed loans and grants to keep businesses afloat, have gotten off to a rocky start.

“They need lifeboats, and the lifeboats aren’t getting out there fast enough,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “This is a time when speed matters more than bureaucracy.”

President Trump cut off funding for the World Health Organization on the same day that New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic, revised its death toll sharply upward to include people never tested but presumed to have been killed by the virus. That took the total in the city to more than 10,000 and pushed the national toll above 26,000.

A similar revision took place in Britain, where the government released data showing the death toll to be at least 10 percent higher than the official count of 12,107, with the new total taking into account deaths in nursing homes and private residences.

The modifications underscored the evolving picture of the ultimate toll. Worldwide, at least 125,000 people have died and roughly two million have tested positive for the virus. There remains no effective therapeutic treatment and it is likely to be at least a year until a vaccine is produced.

Even as some European countries took the first, tentative steps to restart their economies and governors in the United States began to outline similar plans, much of the world remained under orders to stay home.

The International Monetary Fund warned on Tuesday that the impact of shuttering factories, closing stores and bringing global commerce to a halt could produce the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

But with the United States still leading the world in new infections and deaths, state officials — who roundly rejected President Trump’s claim that he had “total” authority over the decision to restart the economy — said that the resumption of business would be a slow, step-by-step process, and that the new normal would look very different for the foreseeable future.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California avoided providing any timeline, but said face coverings were likely to be a feature of public life, at least for a time. Patrons of restaurants will probably be required to have their temperatures taken before being seated and will be served by someone in a mask and gloves, he added. Menus might be disposable.

While President Trump’s claim of unfettered presidential power was rejected by legal scholars across the ideological spectrum, he did have the authority to order the Treasury Department to break with protocol and feature the president’s signature prominently on the stimulus checks scheduled to be mailed to millions of Americans in the coming weeks.

Bill Gates joins the chorus condemning Trump’s W.H.O. decision.

President Trump’s decision to halt funding for the World Health Organization in the midst of a global health crisis of unparalleled scale was met with shock and indignation around the world.

“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who has donated the vast bulk of his fortune to supporting initiatives to bolster public health, wrote on Twitter. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”

Mr. Trump’s attack on the W.H.O., which was founded after World War II as part of the United Nations “to promote and protect the health of all peoples,” was the latest example of the president’s attempt to shift the blame for the handling of the crisis.

“So much death has been caused by their mistakes,” the president told reporters during a White House briefing. He said the W.H.O. “willingly took China’s assurances to face value” and “pushed China’s misinformation.”

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, on Wednesday condemned the American withdrawal of funding, telling reporters that it would weaken the W.H.O.’s capabilities and “undermine global cooperation on combating the pandemic.”

“We urge the U.S. to fulfill its responsibilities and obligations” to support the health organization in its efforts to lead “the international combat against the pandemic,” he said.

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, defended the World Health Organization, saying it “must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19.”

Mr. Guterres added that it was “possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities,” but he said that the middle of a pandemic was not the time to resolve those differences.

“It is also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus,” he said.

Patrice A. Harris, the president of the American Medical Association, said that the move was “a dangerous step in the wrong direction.”

“Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data,” Ms. Harris wrote in a statement. “Cutting funding to the W.H.O. — rather than focusing on solutions — is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world.”

Universities have suffered major financial losses after closing down their campuses to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and many are anticipating a significant enrollment drop in the fall — especially from foreign students, who usually pay full tuition and help keep schools afloat.

Even some wealthy universities have already frozen salaries and new hiring, while delaying construction projects and anticipating the need to slash scholarships.

In the wake of the pandemic, lucrative spring sports seasons have been canceled, room and board payments have been refunded, and students at some schools are demanding hefty tuition discounts. Other revenue sources like study abroad programs, campus bookstores and research grants have dried up.

Some institutions are projecting $100 million losses for the spring, and many are now bracing for an even bigger financial hit in the fall, when some are planning for the possibility of having to continue remote classes. They anticipate that many students will choose not to return for online learning, or may need to to take a gap year or choose less expensive educational options amid widespread unemployment, A higher education trade group has predicted a 15 percent drop in enrollment nationwide.

“The combination of fear for health and safety and the economic impact at the same time is one that I haven’t experienced, and I don’t think most university leaders have,” said Kent D. Syverud, the chancellor of Syracuse University.

At President Trump’s suggestion, his name will appear on the economic stimulus checks that will be mailed to millions of Americans beginning next month, the Treasury Department said on Tuesday. Adding Mr. Trump’s name is a break from protocol, and it will appear on the “memo” section of the check because Mr. Trump is not legally authorized to sign such disbursements.

A Treasury official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said adding the president’s name would not delay the disbursements, set to begin the week of May 4 for up to 20 weeks. Some Americans who are set to receive the stimulus funds through direct deposit will not even see it.

The addition of the president’s name to the stimulus funds comes at a time when Mr. Trump is trying to assert control of the country’s plan to reopen the economy after being decimated by the virus. Earlier this week, he claimed he had “total” authority on this matter, even though these decisions are made by the states.

To advise the president on how and when to reopen the economy, Mr. Trump announced a list of advisers, including more than 200 prominent business owners and leaders, labor union executives, the president of the United States Tennis Association, and the commissioner of the W.N.B.A. Also on the list was Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who owns The Washington Post and who is a frequent target of the president’s criticism.

During his Rose Garden announcement on Tuesday, Mr. Trump was vague about whether everyone on the list had agreed to serve on the task force or were even aware they were on it. At least one person on the list, who asked not to be identified for fear of angering the White House, said that no request had been made to join the list, and that there had been no advance notice of an announcement.

Paris Banks sprayed the seat with Lysol before sliding into the last row on the right. Rochell Brown put out her cigarette, tucked herself behind the steering wheel and slapped the doors shut.

It was 8:37 a.m., and the No. 17 bus began chugging westward across Detroit.

On stepped the fast-food worker who makes chicken shawarma that’s delivered to doorsteps, the janitor who cleans grocery stores, the warehouse worker pulling together Amazon orders.

By 9:15, every available row on the bus was occupied. Strangers sat shoulder-to-shoulder. The city might be spread across 139 square miles, but one morning last week, there was no way to social distance aboard this 40-foot-long New Flyer bus. Passengers were anxious and annoyed. Resigned, too.

Detroit has become a national hot spot, with more than 7,000 infections and more than 400 deaths. One reason for the rapid spread, experts say, is that the city has a large working-class population that does not have the luxury of living in isolation. Their jobs cannot be performed from a laptop in a living room. They do not have vehicles to safely get them to the grocery store.

And so they end up on a bus. Just like the No. 17 — a reluctant yet essential gathering place, and also a potential accelerant for a pandemic that has engulfed Detroit. It is a rolling symbol of how the virus is affecting Americans in disparate ways, often based on class and wealth.

Similar protective measures are taking place across the country.

On Sunday, Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey announced that transit riders older than 3 would need to wear masks on trains and buses or else be denied service. Mr. Murphy also mandated that transit employees wear gloves and masks after one of its conductors died from coronavirus complications.

And the transit system serving Eugene, Ore., Lane Transit District, also recently required bus riders to wear masks.

Further complicating the matter, scientists agree that while six feet is a sensible and useful minimum distance for people to separate from one another when possible, some say that farther away would be better.

Sneezes, for instance, can launch droplets a lot farther than six feet, according to a recent study, as a Times 3-D simulation shows.

Rubber boots hung from a tree of wooden pegs in soggy Central Park after being sterilized with chlorine. Workers observed a one-way flow into and out of what they referred to as “the hot zone” of patient treatment tents. Step by step, they removed their isolation suits in a designated area, as a monitor barked instructions.

“I like to liken it to a checklist that a pilot goes through before he starts the engine,” Dr. Elliott Tenpenny, the unit’s medical director, said on Monday. “You do it exactly the same way every single time.”

The field hospital began treating patients on April 1 for Mount Sinai Health System and is directly across Fifth Avenue from one of its main hospitals. The tents, which are operated by the evangelical Christian relief group Samaritan’s Purse, have the look of an Ebola treatment unit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some of its staff have previously been deployed.

The group has set up field hospitals in wartime Iraq, after an earthquake in Ecuador, following a hurricane in the Bahamas, and during a diphtheria outbreak in Bangladesh, among others.

The Central Park tent hospital is the group’s first medical deployment in the United States.

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There’s only so much togetherness anyone needs, and after a month of living together, your family most likely has had its share of rocky moments. We have some advice for problems such as navigating your stuck-together relationship and handling cooped-up children.

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This short list can guide our priorities in tech consumption even after we come out of this uncertain period. It also means that we don’t have to spend so much money to maximize our happiness.

Reporting was contributed by Ben Casselman, Sapna Maheshwari, Sheri Fink, John Eligon, Sabrina Tavernise, Michael D. Shear, Anemona Hartocollis, Karen Barrow, Kenneth Chang, James Gorman, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni, Aimee Ortiz, Marc Santora, Knvul Sheikh and Alan Rappeport.





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