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Cases have declined and deaths have slowed, but it’s a delicate moment to reopen.
The number of new coronavirus cases confirmed in the United States has steadily declined in recent days. In New York, the figure has dropped over the last month. The numbers have also plunged in hard-hit Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and some states, including Vermont, Hawaii and Alaska, are reporting few new cases at all.
But that progress is tenuous and uncertain.
Only about 3 percent of the population has been tested. More than 20,000 new cases are identified most days. And almost every day this past week, more than 1,000 Americans died from the virus. The total death toll is now in excess of 87,000.
That has left the nation at a perilous moment, beginning to reopen businesses and ease social distancing measures despite the risk of a resurgence.
“We’re seeing a decline; undoubtedly, that is something good to see,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. “But what we are also seeing is a lot of places right on the edge of controlling the disease.”
A number of states lifted restrictions on businesses and public life on Friday. More than two-thirds of states have reopened in some significant way, including some that were among the most restrictive.
Reopenings might ease the nation’s intense economic pain: 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.
A divided House narrowly passed a $3 trillion pandemic relief package on Friday, including aid for state and local governments and another round of $1,200 payments to taxpayers, but Republican opposition has been near-unanimous and the bill stands little chance of becoming law.
The reopenings are occurring even as the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, testified before Congress this week that relaxing restrictions too soon could trigger another uncontrollable outbreak.
In Arizona, which began reopening its economy without seeing a sustained drop in cases, infection numbers have kept rising. More than 13,100 cases had been identified as of Friday. In Alabama, case numbers have grown again since the state began to reopen. And in Minnesota, cases around St. Cloud and Minneapolis have surged over the past two weeks.
The House’s vote to allow remote balloting will fundamentally change how Congress operates.
When the House of Representatives acted on Friday to allow remote voting and virtual hearings, the coronavirus pandemic succeeded in doing what Philadelphia’s yellow fever outbreak of 1793, the Spanish influenza of 1918, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and generations of agitators for institutional change never could: untethering Congress from its mandate to come together physically.
With Friday’s party-line vote, 217 to 189, as long as the public health emergency persists, lawmakers from Alaska to Florida need not leave the safety of their homes to question witnesses at a hearing, sign subpoenas or vote on legislation.
Democrats who control the chamber have stressed that they are simply trying to find a way for the House — a coequal branch of government and, they argue, a crucial counterweight to President Trump — to perform its basic functions while congregating in Washington is a dire health risk.
Republicans, almost reflexively, are opposed to the changes and have denounced them as an unconstitutional power grab. But beyond the partisan considerations, a broad cross-section of congressional scholars, parliamentary experts and former officials warn that the decision could have unintended and long-lasting consequences.
Michael Stern, a former senior legal counsel to the House who writes about congressional legal issues, said the institution was built on the understanding that its members would gather. “There is a pretty strong argument that if you cut that out, you are losing something,” he added. “And you may not know how significant it is until it’s gone.”
New York City beaches, a beloved summer standby, will stay closed as others in the state reopen.
For New Yorkers, a refreshing dip in the ocean at Coney Island has long been a staple of summer and a vital source of relief from the heat.
The Ramones sang of the pleasures of Rockaway Beach in Queens, and sandy salsa dancers have flocked for years to Orchard Beach in the Bronx, a stretch known to some as the Puerto Rican Riviera.
But those beloved beaches, usually some of the region’s most crowded, will not be the same this summer.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that opening New York City’s 14 miles of public beaches was “not in the cards” by Memorial Day weekend, when they have traditionally opened for swimming, and that they would stay closed until officials were confident they could be used without a serious risk of spreading the virus.
Mr. de Blasio’s announcement came the same day Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that all state-run beaches in New York would be open for swimming by the Memorial Day weekend, with restrictions in place to ensure social distancing.
The governor made his decision in concert with his counterparts in New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware, who offered similar announcements.
In New Orleans, goodbyes are more grim than usual.
Since early March, nearly 500 people have died of the virus in New Orleans. Roughly three-quarters of those who died were black.
“In April we did four times what we would normally do in one month,” said Malcolm Gibson, the owner of Professional Funeral Services in New Orleans. “I probably had five husband-and-wife funerals. I’ve never had that.”
The hardest part for Mr. Gibson has been telling families that only 10 people were allowed at funeral services because of state social-distancing restrictions.
“That’s my grandmother!” distraught family members would say to him. “She raised me! You’re telling me I can’t be in the room?”
Many families are waiting to have funeral ceremonies for those they have lost. Some are going forward with burials this weekend, as state restrictions are scheduled to loosen slightly. But packed sanctuaries and crowded repasts are still a long way off.
Normally, a service would last for hours, with large crowds of family and friends singing hymns and telling stories together.
“We are beyond normal,” the Rev. Juan Crockett said. He has lost four of his friends. Two others, he said, were recently told they had a short time left to live.
Obama is expected to deliver two commencement speeches on Saturday.
Former President Barack Obama is set to give two virtual commencement speeches to graduating college and high school seniors on Saturday in his first public addresses to a national audience during the pandemic.
“I’ve always loved joining commencements — the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice,” Mr. Obama posted on Twitter this month. “Even if we can’t get together in person this year, Michelle and I am excited to celebrate the nationwide Class of 2020 and recognize this milestone with you and your loved ones.”
Mr. Obama’s words are expected to draw much interest at a time when President Trump has received immense scrutiny for his handling of the coronavirus. Mr. Obama has generally avoided publicly criticizing Mr. Trump, but he called the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic “anemic and spotty” in a private call last week.
The virus has dashed many graduation traditions, so political leaders and celebrities have stepped in to celebrate graduates as they enter a world shaped by uncertainty, infection fears and economic instability.
Mr. Obama’s first address at 2 p.m. Eastern will be aired during a ceremony for more than 27,000 graduates from 78 historically black colleges and universities. He is then scheduled to have remarks air during a prime time special for high-school graduates that starts at 8 p.m. Eastern on all the major television networks.
On Friday, Oprah Winfrey urged the “pandemic class” to rebuild a fairer society in a video commencement speech hosted by Facebook.
A barber defied the rules and cut hair in his home. Now he has the virus.
The complaint came in last month from a resident of Kingston, a city in the Hudson Valley: A local barbershop was still performing haircuts, in violation of New York’s emergency shutdown orders.
Two days later, a buildings investigator went out to investigate. La Lima Barbershop at 678 Broadway was dark. Three more visits, on April 13, 17, and 19, turned up the same result.
The complaint was left unresolved until this week, when the proprietor of the shop, Joseph LaLima, was hospitalized for the coronavirus.
He had never stopped cutting hair. But he was doing it in the privacy of his home — in the back of the shop.
“He said do not open up your shops, barbershops, beauty parlors, nail salons, tattoo parlors,” Mr. LaLima said on Friday, referring to the governor. “So I didn’t.”
Global updates from Times correspondents.
While the world continues to be walloped by the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has seen his already high approval ratings soar even higher, touching 80, even 90 percent. The reason? Unlike two of the populist leaders to whom he is often compared, President Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Modi’s country has rallied around him.
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When mortgage relief comes with a bill for $4,000.
Edith Duran quickly found herself in a difficult spot as the coronavirus pandemic crippled the local businesses she counts as clients. She couldn’t draw her full salary in February, and by March, she was seeking relief on her mortgage.
She was allowed to pause her payments for three months starting in early April, but the company that handles her mortgage made a seemingly impossible request: Pay back the $4,450 in skipped payments on July 1.
“That is a lot of money to come up with all at once when we are struggling to get things aligned and get our lives back in order,” said Ms. Duran, who owes about $163,000 on her four-bedroom ranch in DeLeon Springs, Fla.
With unemployment soaring, millions of borrowers have flooded mortgage firms with requests to hit the pause button. Federal officials have made it possible for borrowers with government-backed mortgages to suspend their payments for up to a year without immediately paying it back. But about 30 percent of homeowners with mortgages are like Ms. Duran. Their loans are owned by banks or private investors and are not governed by the same rules.
And for them, there has been little in the way of relief.
Reporting was contributed by Julie Bosman, Audra D.S. Burch, John Eligon, Nicholas Fandos, Annie Flanagan, Amy Harmon, Corey Kilgannon, Sarah Maslin Nir, Campbell Robertson and Mitch Smith.
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