The doctor who led the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine said on Wednesday that he was removed from his post after he pressed for a rigorous vetting of a coronavirus treatment embraced by President Trump. The doctor said that science, not “politics and cronyism,” must lead the way.
Dr. Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed this week as the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
Instead, he was given a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health. “I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in a statement to The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman.
“I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way,” he said.
The White House declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The medical publication Stat reported on Tuesday that Dr. Bright had clashed with Bob Kadlec, the assistant health secretary for preparedness and response.
Dr. Bright, who noted that his entire career had been spent in vaccine development both in and outside of government, has led BARDA since 2016.
In the statement, he said: “My professional background has prepared me for a moment like this — to confront and defeat a deadly virus that threatens Americans and people around the globe. To this point, I have led the government’s efforts to invest in the best science available to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, this resulted in clashes with H.H.S. political leadership, including criticism for my proactive efforts to invest early into vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives,” he said. “I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.”
Dr. Bright, who is a career official, pointed specifically to the initial efforts to make chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine widely available before it was scientifically tested for efficacy with the coronavirus.
“Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit,” he said.
“While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public,” Dr. Bright said, describing what ultimately happened. “I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed Covid-19 while under the supervision of a physician.
“These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients with Covid-19.
“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Dr. Bright said.
“I will request that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit,” he said. “Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.”
Dr. Bright has hired the lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, who have a whistle-blower practice and are known in part for representing Christine Blasey Ford, who, during the nomination process of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, accused him of engaging in sexual misconduct decades earlier, a claim he denied.
In a statement, the lawyers called Dr. Bright’s change in position “retaliation plain and simple,” and said that they planned to ask the Office of Special Counsel to seek a stay of his termination from the position and that he eventually be restored to it after investigations.
The panel did specifically advise against several treatments unless they were given in clinical trials. One was the combination of hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly promoted despite the lack of evidence that they work. Those drugs should be used only in clinical trials “because of the potential for toxicities,” the experts said.
The panel also had cautionary advice about hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, even when given without azithromycin, saying that patients receiving them should be monitored for adverse effects, particularly an abnormality in heart rhythm.
The revelation that a coronavirus death took place in the United States in early February shifts the understanding of its arrival and changes the picture of what the nation was contending with by the time government officials began taking action.
The first Covid-19 death in the United States had previously been believed to be on Feb. 26 in Seattle, one of the worst-hit cities in the country.
Officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., said Wednesday that a newly discovered coronavirus-linked death on Feb. 6, the earliest known death in the United States caused by the virus, was one of more than a dozen deaths in the county that the medical examiner had suspicions about. Some are still being investigated.
None of the deaths still under investigation came before Feb. 6.
That death was a 57-year-old woman who died at her home in Silicon Valley, officials said Wednesday.
The announcement has reset the timeline of the spread of infection in the United States.
Dr. Sara Cody, the chief health officer of Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, said the newly diagnosed cases underlined that the virus was spreading undetected for weeks in the country in January and February.
Dr. Cody led the effort to issue the nation’s first stay-at-home orders on March 16. But she said she would have issued the orders even earlier had she known about the February deaths.
“I think if we had had widespread testing earlier and if we had been able to document the level of transmission in the county, if we had understood then that people were already dying, we probably would have acted earlier than we did,” Dr. Cody said.
Officials have said that the death was believed to have been the result of community spread, not travel to another country.
The virus has an incubation period of 14 days, and people who die of it are often sick for at least three weeks; the individual who died on Feb. 6 could have been infected — and transmitting the infection to others — in early January, experts said.
Santa Clara County officials also have announced that a second death, on Feb. 17, was also a result of the coronavirus.
Testing at the time was limited by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria to examine individuals who had traveled abroad.
“This offers evidence of what many of us in the field had been saying,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “That restricting testing was going to miss cases that could have a chain of transmission that ended up with somebody dying.”
The Education Department will prohibit colleges from granting emergency assistance to undocumented students, even those currently under federal protection, according to guidance issued to colleges and universities on Tuesday.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered higher education institutions to distribute more than $6 billion in emergency relief only to students who are eligible for federal financial aid, including U.S. citizens or legal residents. The directive effectively excluded the hundreds of thousands of students who attend college under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program, an Obama-era policy that protects hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
Mr. Trump has moved to end the program, but that effort is awaiting Supreme Court review.
The funding is part of about $12 billion allocated for colleges and universities under a $2 trillion coronavirus stabilization law that Congress passed last month to help them recoup financial damages caused by pandemic. Half of those funds are supposed to go directly to students impacted by campus closures. In the coming weeks, schools are expected to award emergency relief grants to students to pay for expenses like food, housing, child care and technology.
The stimulus law, titled the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, did not explicitly define which students qualified for the funds. The Education Department defended its choice to do so. “The CARES Act makes clear that this taxpayer funded relief fund should be targeted to U.S. citizens, which is consistently echoed throughout the law,” a spokeswoman said in statements to reporters.
The department’s guidance alarmed higher education advocates and policy experts, who said it ran counter to what Ms. DeVos told them when she announced the funding was coming.
The announcement came as Mr. Trump, whose administration has faced intense criticism in recent months for his handling of the pandemic, sought to change the subject this week by resuming his assault on immigration, which animated his 2016 campaign and became one of the defining issues of his presidency.
Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that he would sign the executive order on Wednesday mandating a 60-day halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to the United States. He backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups complained of losing access to foreign labor.
The president’s new policy would close the doors to thousands of people hoping to enter the United States or to lay down permanent roots in the country through long-term work or family connections — at least temporarily.
From Oklahoma’s spas to South Dakota’s raceways, states grapple with reopening businesses.
Barbershops, nail salons, spas and pet groomers in Oklahoma will be allowed to open for business by appointment only starting Friday, Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Starting May 1, he said, restaurants will be able to open their dining rooms. Movie theaters, churches, gyms and sporting venues can also open, as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines. Bars will remains closed.
“This is a careful and measured approach designed to protect our most vulnerable while safely easing Oklahomans back to work,” Mr. Stitt said.
States around the nation have been trying to balance combating a public health crisis with the need to ameliorate a growing economic crisis. At the White House, President Trump has made it clear that he is impatient for businesses to reopen. In some states, small protests — with the support of some conservative groups — have urged governors to ease restrictions. But polls have found Americans are more fearful of easing restrictions too early than too late, and some business leaders have cautioned against moving too quickly to reopen.
In South Dakota, two dirt tracks plan to hold auto races this weekend, opening their gates to hundreds of spectators despite the state’s governor, Kristi Noem, urging people to stay away.
In South Carolina, where Gov. Henry McMaster allowed many stores to reopen Tuesday, consumers were slow to return. And Georgia prepared to go ahead with its plans to let a wide variety of businesses reopen in the next few days despite the objections of the mayors of its biggest cities and of health experts who warn that the virus is still spreading there.
The tensions are playing out across the nation in different ways.
In South Dakota, the organizers of the races at the two tracks near Jefferson said that they would limit the number of fans to avoid crowding: The Park Jefferson International Speedway will allow a maximum of 700 people in its 4,000-seat venue on Saturday night, while Raceway Park will let 500 fans in for its Sunday races.
“We intend to go overboard on following C.D.C. guidelines,” the Speedway’s owner, Adam Adamson, told The Argus Leader.
While there is no stay-at-home order in South Dakota, Ms. Noem said she did not agree with the decision to carry out the races. “I can encourage people not to go. I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to attend,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday.
South Dakota is one of the few states, including Iowa and North Dakota, without a stay-at-home order; it also does not have enforceable restrictions against large gatherings. The state has recorded 1,755 cases of the virus and eight Covid-related deaths
Union County, where the two venues are, has had seven positive tests for the virus, according to data collected by The Times.
In South Carolina, where some stores resumed business for the first time on Tuesday, people largely stayed away. The streets were mostly empty in downtown Charleston, bereft of the residents, tourists and students who typically crowd into its picturesque galleries and shops.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp’s call to let gyms and hair salons reopen Friday and restaurants and theaters reopen Monday drew rebukes from mayors, public health experts and some business owners, who worry about another wave of infections. The state is continuing to see new infections and deaths: The Georgia Department of Public Health reported on Wednesday that the state had 20,740 known cases and 836 deaths.
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at a briefing Tuesday evening that she did not know how people could operate hair salons and tattoo parlors in Georgia while maintaining the social distancing needed to curb the spread of the virus.
“So if there’s a way that people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things,” she said. “ I don’t know how. But people are very creative.”
After Trump’s criticism, Harvard says it won’t accept relief money.
Harvard announced Wednesday that it would not accept $8.6 million in taxpayer money that the university was set to receive as part of an emergency relief package for higher education, whose losses have been mounting during the pandemic.
The school’s decision came a day after President Trump criticized Harvard for receiving federal relief funds despite its large endowment, valued at $41 billion before the pandemic. “Harvard’s going to pay back the money,” he said.
Harvard said on Wednesday that there had been a lot of confusion surrounding the emergency fund, and that Harvard “did not apply for this support, nor has it requested, received or accessed these funds.” Mr. Trump had criticized the university in response to a reporter’s question about an entirely different relief fund meant for small businesses.
Harvard, which had previously said it would use all of the federal money to support students in need, opted not to take it after Mr. Trump and others, including several Republican congressmen, complained that it was unseemly for the country’s richest university to receive taxpayer money during a crisis that has left millions of Americans without jobs.
At least two other universities, Princeton and Stanford, also announced on Wednesday that they would not be taking the money allocated to them by Congress through a $14 billion federal aid package for some 5,000 American colleges, universities and trade schools.
Harvard said in a statement that it faced “significant financial challenges” because of the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.
“We are also concerned, however,” it said, “that the intense focus by politicians and others on Harvard in connection with this program may undermine participation in a relief effort that Congress created and the president signed into law for the purpose of helping students and institutions whose financial challenges in the coming months may be most severe.”
Testing positive does not mean the cats have the same illness that people have, nor does it mean that the cats can pass the illness to people. And tests for pets are not the same as those for people, so no humans missed out on testing because of the cats.
Veterinarians tested both cats because they showed symptoms of a respiratory infection. One owner had tested positive for the virus. No human in the other cat’s household tested positive.
The Agriculture Department and the C.D.C. emphasized that there was “no evidence that pets play a role in spreading the virus in the United States.” For now, the C.D.C. recommends keeping cats indoors to prevent them from contact with other animals or people.
And for people who become sick, they recommend, as they have in the past, isolating from pets as much as possible, treating them as you would a human being in your family.
Dogs are less susceptible to infection with the virus, according to the same research paper on cats. Although there is some evidence that they may have low-level infections, they have not shown any symptoms. Nonetheless, the C.D.C. recommends keeping dogs on a six-foot leash when walking them (and to keep them away from other animals) and avoiding contact as much as possible if you are sick.
Fraudsters are tapping stimulus money meant for the needy.
The federal government’s stimulus checks were meant to help people exactly like Krystle Phelps of Owasso, Okla.
She and her husband, Christopher, who have two children, recently lost their incomes after Oklahoma shut down the bars near Tulsa that she cleaned and that he supplied with vending machines. But when Ms. Phelps, 33, went to the I.R.S. website to check on the status of her family’s stimulus funds, she learned someone else had filed taxes on her husband’s behalf and used his identity to obtain their $3,400 payment.
“I cried all day,” said Ms. Phelps, who is about a month away from being unable to pay her mortgage and has cut out everything but the basics, canceling cable and eliminating snacks for the children. “It is a little relief, and then you find out it isn’t happening.”
In recent weeks, criminals have used people’s Social Security numbers, home addresses and other personal information — much of which was available online from past data breaches — to assume their identities and bilk them out of their stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.
The scale of the fraud has been enormous, fueled by the economic crisis and the confusion surrounding the $2 trillion stabilization plan that President Trump unveiled last month. That has been compounded by the government’s own lack of security measures for people claiming stimulus payments, with those going through the I.R.S. website to get their checks needing to input just a few pieces of information that scammers can readily obtain.
Stocks rallied on Wednesday and oil prices reversed some of their tremendous losses as investors regrouped after two days of turmoil in financial markets.
The S&P 500 climbed more than 2 percent, and shares in Europe were also higher. The benchmark for American crude — which had been hammered out of concern that a glut in supply would soon overwhelm storage facilities — bounced back more than 20 percent.
Investors also rallied behind a handful of earnings updates that showed companies had not done as poorly in the first three months of the year as some had expected. After Snap, the owner of Snapchat, reported a surge in revenue and user growth, its shares rallied along with those of Twitter and Facebook.
Similarly, shares of some restaurant chains jumped after Chipotle Mexican Grill said on Tuesday that digital and delivery sales driven by the crisis soared. Executives at Chipotle also said the company was preparing to reopen stores, as states lift stay-at-home restrictions. Chipotle was the best performer in the S&P 500 on Wednesday, with a gain of 14 percent.
Investors had other news to consider. The Senate on Tuesday passed a bipartisan $484 billion relief package that would replenish a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals, states and coronavirus testing.
The gains came after the S&P 500 had fallen 3 percent on Tuesday, its sharpest decline in three weeks in a drop that had suggested a marked shift in sentiment among investors who had otherwise been buying stocks with every sign of progress in the fight against the coronavirus, effort to reopen the economy or indication that Washington would spend more to help. That optimism was briefly shattered on Monday when oil prices collapsed as energy traders panicked about disappearing demand for petroleum and the fact that there were few places left to store all the crude still being pumped.
But on Wednesday, some stability returned to the energy market, with the price of both West Texas Intermediate crude, the American benchmark. Shares of companies in the energy industry also rallied.
Tyson Foods said on Wednesday that it would close its largest pork processing facility, the latest in a string of plant closings that has put a strain on the nation’s meat supply.
The plant in Waterloo, Iowa, had been running at reduced levels in recent days because workers were staying home, the company said.
Over the last few weeks, meat plants have become major “hot spots” for the coronavirus pandemic, with some reporting widespread illnesses among workers, posing a serious challenge to meat production. Other major meatpackers like Smithfield, JBS and Hormel have also closed plants in recent days.
Tyson said it would invite the Waterloo plant’s 2,800 workers to be tested for the coronavirus at the facility this week.
“The closure has significant ramifications beyond our company, since the plant is part of a larger supply chain that includes hundreds of independent farmers, truckers, distributors and customers, including grocers,” the chief of Tyson’s fresh meats division, Steve Stouffer, said in a statement.
The company had closed another meat plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, but it reopened the facility on Tuesday.
Lawmakers are making their way back to Washington ahead of an expected vote on Thursday to give final approval to a $484 billion package that would revive a loan program for distressed small businesses and provide additional aid for hospitals and testing.
The Senate approved the measure on Tuesday on a voice vote — a necessity since the chamber is on an extended recess amid the pandemic and most senators are outside of Washington. But that will not be possible in the House, where there is enough dissatisfaction in both parties about the bill that leaders have summoned lawmakers back to the Capitol for a vote. House Republicans have signaled that they would force a roll-call vote on the measure, while some of the most liberal Democrats are deeply opposed to a bill they argue provides far too little for the most urgent needs, omitting funding for struggling cities and localities.
“It is insulting to think that we can pass such a small amount of money — in the context of not knowing when Congress is even going to reconvene — pass such a small amount of money, pat ourselves on the back and leave town again,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said on Monday. “I need legislation that is going to save people’s lives.”
The measure was the product of an intense round of negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration that unfolded as the small-business loan program — created by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law — quickly ran out of funding, collapsing under a glut of applications from desperate companies struggling to stay afloat.
The measure would provide $320 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, $75 billion for hospitals, $25 billion for testing and a mandate that the Trump administration establish a national strategy to help states and localities, which are required to outline their own plans, deploy testing widely.
While in Washington to pass it, House Democratic leaders are also planning to push through a measure to create a select committee to scrutinize the Trump administration’s coronavirus response and the management of the $2.2 trillion stimulus programs. Mr. Trump has dismissed the idea as a partisan “witch hunt” and Republicans are likely to oppose the move.
Democratic leaders on Wednesday backed away from a planned move to change the rules of the House of Representatives to allow lawmakers to cast votes remotely for the first time in history during the pandemic, scrapping a vote on the plan after Republicans registered sharp opposition.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Wednesday that his agency plans to pump another $40.4 billion into the health care economy to help hospitals and health care providers struggling to stay afloat amid a crush of uninsured coronavirus patients.
The money — $20 billion for health care providers; $10 billion for hospitals hard hit by the virus; $10 billion for rural hospitals and $400,000 for the Indian Health Service — comes from $100 billion that Congress already allocated to the agency and is in addition of $30 billion that has already been spent. Mr. Azar said his agency expects to receive an additional $75 billion when the next stimulus package, passed by the Senate on Tuesday, is approved by the House and signed into law by President Trump.
Eating in a pandemic: Here’s some advice.
Whether you are cooking meals from scratch every single day, turning to your childhood comfort foods, or don’t have much of an appetite, the lockdown has probably changed your eating habits. Here are some tips to ensure your diet is healthy and help you remember that moderation is key.
What else is happening in the world? Check it out.
Track the progress of the pandemic and stay abreast of the latest developments with our team of international correspondents.
Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Karen Barrow, Alan Blinder, Michael Cooper, Monica Davey, Caitlin Dickerson, Catie Edmonson, Richard Fausset, Sheri Fink, Jacey Fortin, Thomas Fuller, James Gorman, Erica L. Green, Maggie Haberman, Amy Harmon, Anemona Hartocollis, Nicole Hong, Tiffany Hsu, Miriam Jordan, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Gina Kolata, Lisa Lerer, Sarah Mervosh, Alexandra E. Petri, Nathaniel Popper, Alan Rappeport, Rick Rojas, Marc Santora, Michael D. Shear, Natasha Singer, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Jim Tankersley, Katie Thomas, Kenneth P. Vogel and Pete Wells.