Coronavirus Live Updates: Promising Results From Early Vaccine Tests, Drug Maker Says, Rallying Wall Street

Stocks climbed after encouraging data about the first coronavirus vaccine tested in people.

The drug maker Moderna said Monday that the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to be safe and able to stimulate an immune response against the virus.

The findings, which helped prompt a rally on Wall Street, are based on results from the first eight people who each received two doses of the experimental vaccine, starting in March.

Those people, healthy volunteers, made antibodies that were then tested in human cells in the lab, and were able to stop the virus from replicating — the key requirement for an effective vaccine. The levels of those so-called neutralizing antibodies matched the levels found in patients who had recovered after contracting the virus in the community.

Limited data from the early phase, however leaves much uncertainty around the vaccine’s potential success.

If those trials go well, a vaccine could become available for widespread use by the end of this year or early 2021, Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview. How many doses might be ready is not clear, but Dr. Zaks said, “We’re doing our best to make it as many millions as possible.”

Despite the uncertainties, the company’s announcement rapidly encouraged investors, who also welcomed a pledge from Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, that there was “really no limit” to what the central bank could do with its emergency lending facilities.

The S&P 500 rose more than 3 percent by early Monday afternoon, and Moderna’s shares surged more than 25 percent.

Monday’s rally had all the characteristics of one focused on the prospects for a return to normal. Travel stocks, like United Airlines, Expedia Group and Marriott International, were among the best performers in the S&P 500.

Oil prices also moved higher, with West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. standard crude, rising above $30 a barrel for the first time since March, and government bond prices fell.

In a pointed challenge to President Trump, President Xi Jinping of China on Monday offered to provide $2 billion in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and called on other nations to increase their contributions to the World Health Organization at a time when the United States has withdrawn its funding from the global health network.

Mr. Xi’s remarks, delivered during an extraordinary virtual meeting of heads of state and health experts from around the world, are likely to ratchet up pressure on Mr. Trump, who last month announced that the United States would its annual contribution of about $550 million to the organization, accusing it of promoting disinformation from China about the coronavirus outbreak. W.H.O. officials have denied the claims and China has insisted it was transparent and open.

In his remarks, Mr. Xi also defended his country’s handling of the outbreak and appeared to brush aside calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus — a demand the United States as been promoting among its allies – saying such forensics should wait until the crisis had subsided.

The $2 billion would be a vast increase in China’s contribution to the W.H.O., which last year totaled $43 million. In April, after the United States announced it would cut funding to the organization, Beijing said it would provide an additional $30 million to the W.H.O.

A senior Trump administration official called China’s pledge of $2 billion “a token to distract from calls from a growing number of nations demanding accountability for the Chinese government’s failure to meet its obligations under International Health Regulations to tell the truth and warn the world of what was coming.”

On Saturday, Mr. Trump appeared to backtrack on his threat to defund the W.H.O., saying he was considering a proposal to provide 10 percent of the U.S.’s contribution, though he later cast doubt on even that amount in a Twitter message to the Fox Business Network anchor Lou Dobbs.

Mr. Xi’s speech delivered by videoconference during the opening session of the World Health Assembly, its first meeting amid the coronavirus pandemic, sought to position China as a leader in the organization. He also announced increased support to African nations struggling to contain the virus with financial assistance, Chinese doctors and what he described as a “global humanitarian response depot and hub in China to ensure the operation of anti-epidemic supply chains.”

The new Congressional Oversight Commission raised questions about how the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department are administering emergency bailout funds in its inaugural assessment of the $500 billion program.

The report is the first in what will be a monthly review of how the funds are being used. The money, which was allocated as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act, is being used to provide grants and loans to airlines and companies that are vital to national security and to backstop lending programs designed by the Fed.

The programs are just getting up and running. The report says that Treasury has yet to disburse the $46 billion in grant and loan money to airlines or businesses critical to national security. Thus far, it has only used $37.5 billion for the Fed’s Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, which purchases outstanding corporate bonds through a special purpose vehicle. The Fed’s other facilities, which are intended to keep credit flowing to businesses and state and local governments, are expected to be operational in the coming weeks, though the timeline remains highly uncertain.

The bipartisan commission is comprised of two Republicans, Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Representative French Hill of Arkansas, and two Democrats, Bharat Ramamurti, a former economic adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Representative Donna Shalala of Florida.

The commission questioned how the Fed and Treasury will measure the success of the programs. Signaling its areas of concern, it questioned if the Fed facilities will favor large companies over smaller ones and if the agencies believe that the loan money will help stabilize the economy regardless of how it is used.

The next report is due in late June.

Firms face tough choices: Monday is the deadline to decide whether to return government loans.

When big companies got loans backed by the federal government’s $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program, outrage ensued. Many people expressed anger that the government’s main vehicle for helping mom-and-pop shops struggling during the pandemic was being undermined.

Lawmakers opened congressional inquiries and demanded firms give the money back, while the Trump administration tightened eligibility rules. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, threatened to hold firms criminally liable if they did not meet the program’s requirements and gave companies until Monday to decide whether to return their loans without repercussions.

But the majority of money extended to public companies has so far not been returned.

Two of those companies, Escalade, a sporting goods manufacturer in Evansville, Ill., and RealNetworks, a Seattle software developer, both sought and received loans that they had determined they needed to pay employees and keep their operations afloat. Escalade got $5.6 million on April 14; RealNetworks qualified for $2.9 million on April 24. But after the federal government scolded publicly traded companies for taking loans, they took different paths.

Escalade returned the funds, hoping to avoid running afoul of new federal guidelines for the loans and betting states would loosen stay-at-home restrictions enough to restart operations. RealNetworks kept its loan and says it will use it to bring workers back this week.

Black and Latino business owners are struggling to get government assistance under the Paycheck Protection Program, a new survey has found, and many say they are on the brink of closing permanently.

The survey, conducted by the Global Strategy Group for two equal-rights organizations, Color of Change and UnidosUS, included interviews with 500 business owners and 1,200 workers from April 30 to last Monday. Just 12 percent of the owners who applied for government-backed loans in the $650 billion program reported receiving what they had asked for, and nearly half of all owners said they anticipated having to permanently close in the next six months.

By comparison, in a survey of small businesses by the Census Bureau from April 26 to May 2, three-quarters said they had asked for a loan and 38 percent of them said they had received one.

The program was the first time some black and Latino business owners had ever sought a bank loan. Two-thirds of the respondents sought loans of under $50,000 through the government’s aid program. Nearly half said they had to lay off at least some employees.

Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, said the survey showed that “if we don’t get policies to protect these communities, we will lose a generation of black and brown businesses, which will have deep impacts on our entire country’s economy.”

Hotlines in California were deluged on Monday as the state began taking applications for $75 million in cash assistance to help undocumented immigrants weather the Covid-19 economic downturn.

The one-time grants of $500 per person or $1,000 per household will be awarded to about 150,000 people who phone in on a first-come, first served basis, state officials said. Philanthropic organizations and private donors pledged an additional $50 million, for another 100,000 immigrants. Miriam Jordan reports.

There are an estimated 10.6 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., of whom 2 million live in California, more than any other state.

Undocumented immigrants are among the most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic; many work in jobs in homes, hotels and restaurants that have been shut down during state-ordered lockdowns.

In anticipation of the payments, people looking for information on how to apply over the weekend directed a flurry of calls to the 12 nonprofit organizations contracted to vet the applications. By Monday, when the phone lines opened, many people reported they could not get through.

The sign-ups were being conducted almost entirely by telephone to avoid hazardous in-person contacts.

To qualify for the money, applicants must prove they are undocumented, out of work because of the health crisis and not eligible for federal stimulus checks or unemployment benefits.

Groups opposed to the program sued to block the state from using taxpayer dollars, arguing that it was illegal. The cases were dismissed by the court.

The state’s standards that New York City has yet to meet are:

  • A rate of new hospitalizations below 2 per 100,000 residents a day. In New York City, that works out to around 170 per day. According to the state, the number in the city is around 200 per day.

In the regions that can restart, construction, manufacturing, and wholesale trade can resume. Some retail businesses may open for curbside service only. Five regions became eligible on Friday and a sixth, the region around Buffalo, can reopen on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

Other activities that are allowed include drive-in movies, landscaping and gardening businesses and “low-risk recreational activities” like tennis.

Another 106 people died in the state, Mr. Cuomo said.

In Massachusetts, one of the hardest-hit states, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday presented his four-phased strategy to gingerly resume public life, replacing his “stay at home” advisory with a new one, “safer at home.”

The four stages, which begin today and last for three weeks apiece, are known as “start,” “cautious,” “vigilant” and “new normal,” with each new phase replacing the previous guidelines with slightly looser ones. Progress from one stage to the next is contingent on a continuing decline in the virus’s spread, Mr. Baker warned.

“If we don’t keep up the fight, and don’t do the things that we all know we have to do, and know we can do, we run the risk of creating a second spike in the fall,” he said.

Across the country, governors are engaging in a precarious balancing act, weighing the risks of reopening their states with the acute need to minimize economic harm. The pendulum will move further toward the economy this week, when several more states, including Connecticut, Kentucky and Minnesota, move to reopen.

More than two-thirds of states have relaxed restrictions in some significant way, or begun a regional reopening. The shift has come as reported cases of the virus have declined nationally in recent weeks. Mr. Trump on Monday tweeted a call to “REOPEN OUR COUNTRY!”

But even governors who have allowed certain returns to business have expressed hesitance, and public health officials have been warning for weeks that reopening too soon could lead to a devastating second outbreak.

“This is really the most crucial time,” Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, said Sunday on CNN. “And the most dangerous time.”

Similarly, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a Democrat, said on CNN that he understood the hardship and stress people were facing. “The question is,” he added, “how do you toggle back and make meaningful modifications to the stay-at-home order?”

Mr. Trump, in telephone comments during a golf broadcast on Sunday, he said he missed sports and wanted “big, big stadiums loaded with people.”

Stores and malls are reopening in Minnesota on Monday. On Wednesday, hard-hit Connecticut is expected to reopen salons, museums and office buildings. By Friday, stores and restaurants are expected to open back up in Kentucky.

The virus could take a toll in areas where chronic health conditions are common.

As the virus continues to spread over the next months, and maybe even years, it could exact a heavy new toll in areas of the United States that have not yet seen major outbreaks but have high rates of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and other chronic health conditions.

Even in lower-risk counties, a significant proportion of the population is living with these conditions.

Public health experts warn that these areas may not be adequately prepared for new waves of infection, even as some have lifted restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus.

“Places that have not seen a lot of infection yet should be thinking about what infection is going to mean once they have an outbreak there,” said Micaela E. Martinez, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

“This infection is highly contagious and we have no vaccine, so it will inevitably sweep through our populations unless we have very tight measures in place to prevent that from happening,” Dr. Martinez said. Once it does, the overall health of a community will matter, she added.

In his 20 years in and out of homelessness, Ollie Harris has seen a lot of things. But what happened on a recent Friday near his tent in Oakland, Calif., was new.

“Would you like to be tested today?” asked a woman who was wearing a surgical mask.

“I might as well,” Mr. Harris replied. A nurse quickly swabbed Mr. Harris’s nostrils and throat and then jotted down his information.

Only 26 of every 1,000 Californians have been tested, ranking the state 26th in the nation, and among the vast numbers of the untested are many high-risk groups, but none more so than the 150,000 homeless people living throughout California. Their encampments, often crowded and lacking basic sanitation, could provide a place for the virus to flourish.

Mr. Harris was among the first to participate in one of the new testing initiatives by health experts at California’s top public and private universities. They aim to fill gaps in knowledge about the disease’s prevalence, unravel mysteries about survivor immunity and answer other looming questions as California begins to ease its lockdown.

So far, their work has raised as many questions as it has answered. But there have also been intriguing, if still tentative, findings.

The initiative that tested Mr. Harris, for example, has found just four positive cases out of the 233 homeless people it has tested so far. Another found stark contrasts in infection rates based on whether a person was able to work from home or not.

The experts leading these efforts said they acted to fill a void. Eva Harris, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Berkeley, said that watching the virus spread around the world while bickering government leaders hesitated to act was like witnessing the Titanic speeding toward the iceberg.

“We finally just said, ‘OK, it hit,’ and still nothing happened, so we need to get involved,” she said.

In the first weeks after the pandemic hit New York, Dr. James A. Mahoney barely slept.

When he was not working his day shifts at an intensive care unit at University Hospital of Brooklyn, he was working nights across the street at Kings County Hospital Center. When he was not at a hospital, he was conducting telemedicine sessions with his regular patients from home, making sure they were wearing masks and washing their hands.

He would run from crashing patient to crashing patient, always at the bedside where it was most dangerous.

“One of the sad stories of this pandemic is that we’re losing people that we couldn’t afford to lose,” Dr. Robert F. Foronjy, Dr. Mahoney’s boss, said.

A late morning drive down Fifth Avenue, starting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the lanes are normally choked with inching traffic, now passes by almost impossibly quickly.

The notorious F.D.R. Drive along the East River, prone to random standstills throughout its long stretch, now feels more like a Grand Theft Auto game.

In Brooklyn, turn a corner and see a line of people standing six feet apart and still as stone, masked, awaiting permission to enter Whole Foods.

The virus has transformed the experience of operating a motor vehicle in New York City.

With no office to go to or friends to visit, and facing stern orders to stay home, a vast majority of drivers have left their vehicles idle, creating something altogether new: open road, miles and miles of it.

It cannot last, of course; drivers are already seeing an increase in traffic from a month ago, with much more to follow as people venture out of quarantine, wary of public transportation.

But for now, an emptiness remains. No gridlock, no rush hour. Just numbers rolling over on the odometer, the spring afternoon flitting past the window, the smartphone map showing very little yellow or red.

It’s a very pleasant surprise, until you remember what brought it about, at what cost.

“Post-apocalyptic,” one van driver said of the experience. “You’re flying down 278 and there’s no one there and it’s four o’clock in the afternoon.”

One type of job that is on the rise: contact tracing.

More than 11,000 people across the United States are employed as contact tracers working to track and stop the spread of the virus, and local health departments plan to hire thousands more. The work is mostly phone-based and can be done from home. The jobs can be full- or part-time, often with an hourly wage of $17 to $25; some include benefits.

Keep up with Times correspondents around the globe.

Japan’s economy becomes the largest to officially enter a recession. A Canadian military jet crashes during a flyover for virus workers.

Reporting was contributed by Alan Blinder, Eileen Sullivan, Michael Cooper, Sarah Mervosh, Ellen Barry, Nadja Popovich, Anjali Singhvi, Matthew Conlen, Michael Schwirtz, Jeanna Smialek, Alan Rappeport, Neal E. Boudette, Denise Grady, Emily Flitter, Kaly Soto, Andy Newman, Marc Santora, Melina Delkic, Jane E. Brody, Abby Goodnough, Adam Liptak, Max Brimelow, Julie Chang, Pedro Cota, Kristen Hwang, Alex Matthews, David McCabe, Sharon Otterman, Rick Rojas, Jacey Fortin, Neil Vigdor and Michael Wilson.

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