The United States on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 4 million confirmed coronavirus infections, and President Donald Trump announced he was canceling the public celebration of his nomination for a second term, as institutions from schools to airlines to Major League Baseball wrestled with the consequences of a pandemic still far from under control.
The rapid spread of the virus this summer is striking, taking just 15 days to go from 3 million confirmed cases to 4 million. By comparison, the increase from 1 million cases to 2 million spanned 45 days from April 28 to June 11, and the leap to 3 million then took 27 days.
Trump’s cancellation of the in-person portion of the Republican National Convention planned for next month in Jacksonville, Fla., represented a remarkable reversal. He had insisted for months on a made-for-television spectacle that would have packed people close together in a state that is now an epicenter of the resurgent pandemic.
On Thursday, he conceded that was not going to work. “The timing for this event is not right,” Trump said during the latest of somber, solo White House briefings this week. “It’s just not right with what’s been happening.”
Florida reported 173 deaths on Thursday, its highest single-day count of new deaths, and also reported more than 10,200 new coronavirus cases.
In a scathing statement blaming the surge of new cases on Trump’s “failure to care,” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said the president “quit on this country and waved the white flag of surrender.”
Meanwhile, nearly every public health metric suggests America is badly losing its fight against the virus.
Positivity rates have reached alarming levels in numerous states, hospitalizations are soaring, and more than 1,100 new coronavirus deaths were reported across the United States on Wednesday, marking the first time since May 29 that the daily count exceeded that number, according to Washington Post tracking.
The rolling seven-day average of infections has doubled in less than a month, reaching more than 66,000 new cases per day Wednesday. The U.S. death toll now exceeds 141,000.
As a result, many businesses appear to be pulling back after their attempts to resume more normal operations proved premature, and an additional 1.4 million American workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. It was the first time since March that new claims rose. Another 980,000 new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims – the benefits offered to self-employed and gig workers – were also filed.
Congress, meanwhile, struggled to confront the crisis. Senate Republicans killed Trump’s payroll tax cut proposal on Thursday, widening an unusual rift with the White House over the cost and contents of the latest national coronavirus relief package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had planned to roll out a $1 trillion GOP bill Thursday morning, but that was canceled amid the intraparty conflicts.
Administration officials then floated a piecemeal approach, involving several different aid bills, but ran into opposition from lawmakers in both parties.
Trump’s briefing Thursday afternoon, his third of the week, reflected an effort to increase popular support for his management of the coronavirus outbreak, which even many of his allies have criticized. About 2 out of 3 Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, a new poll found.
Trump dismissed or played down the risk of the virus for months after it had begun spreading in the United States and has been a self-described cheerleader for rapid reopening of businesses and schools shuttered to help slow its spread.
The survey of 1,057 adults in the United States, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, also showed that 3 out of 4 Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support mandatory face coverings when people are outside their own homes.
Democrats overwhelmingly favor mask mandates, at 89 percent. The majority of Republicans – 59 percent – also support them.
Ninety-five percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans say they wear face coverings when leaving home. Overall, more Americans – 86 percent – are wearing masks compared with in May, when 73 percent were doing so.
Trump resisted wearing a mask in public until earlier this month, despite calls to set a good example from the top. He now calls it patriotic to wear a mask, though he still does not wear one consistently and says people should decide for themselves. Trump carries a black-cloth version in his pocket, which he says is sufficient for those instances when he is close to people who have not been screened for the virus.
Trump’s shift may reflect a growing consensus in favor of masks, although it is not clear that opposition to them has ebbed among some of the president’s strongest political supporters.
The business community is struggling, too. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines posted big quarterly losses between April and July in their earnings reports released Thursday, projecting that travel demand will not rebound anytime soon.
In American’s second quarter, revenue dropped more than 86 percent, to $1.6 billion, from nearly $12 billion a year ago, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The company posted a net loss of nearly $2.1 billion, attributing it to stay-at-home orders, border closures and travel restrictions.
“As a result, we have experienced an unprecedented decline in the demand for air travel, which has resulted in a material deterioration in our revenues,” the company said in the earnings report. “While the length and severity of the reduction in demand due to Covid-19 is uncertain, we expect our results of operations for the remainder of 2020 to be severely impacted.”
Southwest Airlines posted revenue of $1 billion in its second quarter, an almost 83 percent dip compared with a year ago. The company also posted a net loss of $915 million.
Trump also took a small step back from his insistence that schools should open on time this fall, conceding instead that some schools might need to delay in-person learning. Many school districts have already announced that decision.
Trump has been critical of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying it made it too tough for schools to reopen, and promised new guidelines would be issued. On Thursday, the CDC released several documents emphasizing the benefits of in-person school, in line with Trump’s messaging. Some of the guidance was written by White House officials rather than experts at the CDC, people familiar with the process said.
The new guidelines for school administrators mention precautions outlined in previous documents, but they appear to drop specific reference to keeping students six feet apart – something many schools find almost impossible to do if they are fully reopened. This document also suggests that schools only consider closing if there is “substantial, uncontrolled transmission” of the virus, and not necessarily even then.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, echoed Trump in making a case for students to return to classrooms, despite the state’s teachers union suing over an order forcing schools to fully reopen. Meanwhile, a new poll showed that most parents would prefer to delay the start of in-person school.
During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” DeSantis said that schoolchildren are “by far at the least risk for coronavirus, thankfully.”
“We also know they play the smallest role by far in transmission of the virus, and yet they’ve really been asked to shoulder the brunt of our control measures,” said DeSantis, a close Trump ally who had volunteered his state for the Republican convention next month.
DeSantis said that the “evidence-based decision” is for all parents to have the option of in-class instruction for their children if they choose. He said those who are not comfortable with sending their children back to school could continue distance learning.
The role children play in spreading the virus is still being studied, with experts saying that results are not definitive. A South Korean study found that children over the age of 10 were as likely to transmit the virus as adults, while those under 10 were less likely to spread it.
Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Wednesday on Fox News that the United States is launching a study of its own, adding that the data “really needs to be confirmed here.”
Among the most visible American institutions searching for a path forward is the sports industry. Major League Baseball began a pandemic-shortened season on Thursday, playing in empty stadiums amid questions about whether the sport can make it through October without having to abort. It is as much a science experiment as a championship pursuit.
Players are prohibited from spitting or high-fiving. Foul balls that wind up in the stands will remain there.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, threw out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals home opener against the New York Yankees. Nationals star outfielder Juan Soto tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday and missed the game.
Meanwhile, Japan marked a year’s delay of the Olympic Games on Thursday. Tokyo was to host the 2020 Summer Olympics starting Friday. A 15-minute ceremony in Tokyo’s newly built $1.4 billion Olympic Stadium started the countdown to the delayed games, now set to begin on July 23, 2021. The city also marked a new daily record in reported cases on Thursday, with 366.
A poll this week by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency found that fewer than 1 in 4 people in Japan even want to host the games anymore. One-third of respondents said the games should be canceled, while 36 percent expressed interest in postponing them for more than a year.