Coronavirus Live Updates: Texas Protests to Demand a Reopening

Texans to join nationwide protests even as their governor lifts restrictions.

Protesters in Texas are preparing to converge on the steps of the Capitol building in Austin on Saturday and call for the reopening of the state and the country.

The gathering, effectively a rejection of social distancing restrictions and an embrace of President Trump’s tacit approval, is expected to be the latest in a wave of similar protests this week across the country, including in California, Michigan, North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.

Already, governors in a handful of states have begun to outline their plans to ease restrictions, in some cases naming an eclectic set of businesses — dog groomers, golf courses and farmers’ markets among them — they will allow to reopen.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, and Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, both said they hoped to reopen the economy by May 1. Thousands of people had gathered at the State Capitol in Michigan, and at least 100 in Ohio, to urge governors to ease restrictions.

In Austin on Saturday, the “You Can’t Close America” rally on the steps of the Capitol will be a public act of defiance of orders imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, putting it in line with a simmering ideological movement on the right resisting government mandates over the virus.

Echoing much of the same language used by demonstrators in Virginia and Michigan this week, a group called Reopen Maryland planned a similar protest in Annapolis on Saturday at noon, calling for an end of the state’s stay-at-home measures. The group’s organizer said the demonstration drew inspiration from the protests held in Michigan on Wednesday, which was financially supported by family members of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, according to a report in The Guardian.

The rally in Austin was organized by Owen Shroyer, the host of a show on Infowars, a website based in Austin that was founded by Alex Jones and traffics in conspiracy theories. Mr. Shroyer told his Infowars audience this week that the coronavirus was part of a scheme by the Chinese Communist Party and the so-called deep state to undermine Mr. Trump, and that reports of overwhelmed hospitals like those in New York were “propaganda.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which secures the Capitol grounds, said in a statement that it asked the public to comply with the social distancing guidelines found in the orders signed by Gov. Greg Abbott and in recommendations issued by federal health officials. “Our officers will take appropriate enforcement action — as with any other protest — should the situation warrant such action,” the statement read.

The urgency of the rally was dampened somewhat on Friday by Governor Abbott, who announced that he would do precisely what the protesters demanded: reopen Texas.

The debate over how soon to loosen restrictions on businesses and workers has moved from the hands of health experts to become an increasingly political fight over costs to the economy, which Mr. Trump sees as crucial to his re-election.

Ms. Whitmer, a potential vice-presidential pick, has stirred Republican fears that her growing popularity will help Democrats carry the battleground state of Michigan in November, whether or not she is on the ticket. Referring to the raucous rally that snarled traffic in Lansing, Mich. on Wednesday, she said, “It felt a lot more like a political rally than a statement about the stay-home order.”

Mr. Trump on Friday openly encouraged right-wing protests like the planned event in Texas, posting a series of all-caps tweets in which he declared, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” — two states whose Democratic governors have imposed strict social distancing restrictions. Mr. Trump also lashed out at Virginia, where the Democratic governor and legislature have pushed for strict gun control measures.

The tweets alarmed some governors. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said that the tweets “encourage illegal and dangerous acts” and could put Mr. Trump’s supporters — and others — at risk of contracting the virus.

“His unhinged rantings and calls for people to ‘liberate’ states could also lead to violence,” Governor Inslee said.

Even as it scrambles to contain the spread of Covid-19 within the United States, the Trump administration is pushing forward with its immigration enforcement agenda, deporting thousands of people to their home countries, including some who are sick with the virus.

Deportations also have risen sharply for children and teenagers traveling without their parents — long considered so vulnerable that they have almost never faced expedited deportations, until now.

The Trump administration closed the border to all but essential travel last month, warning that migrants could bring the coronavirus into the United States. But Guatemalan officials said this week that the United States has been exporting the virus to their country.

Dozens of Guatemalans who have been deported since late March have tested positive, according to the authorities there. A team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control traveled to Guatemala this week “to review and validate” the tests.

“When you send kids back without any precautions,” said Michelle Brané, of the Women’s Refugee Commission, an advocacy group, “you create a situation in which traffickers, smugglers and people who want to take advantage of them are literally waiting for them in these border towns.”

In a city already locked up and hidden away behind lowered gates and darkened doors, New Yorkers now walk behind their own personal barriers. A population known for big mouths pulled on a newly essential accessory and ventured into a landscape that changed yet again on Friday when, as of 8 p.m., a new order from the governor mandated the wearing of masks in public.

The mask felt to many like the latest sweeping affront brought by something so small — it’s taken our schoolrooms, our jobs, our handshakes and hugs, and now, half of our very faces.

As part of his latest measures to contain the coronavirus, which has killed more than 12,000 people in the state and infected more than 200,000, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo rolled out the executive order this week.

Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are requiring that masks be worn in stores; likewise in Los Angeles and some surrounding California counties. New York’s order is the most expansive, requiring face coverings anywhere in the state where two people might come within two yards of each other, though for now, there is no fine for disobeying.

“Nobody likes it, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” said Amanda Neville, 43, inside her wine store in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

As some governors consider easing social distancing restrictions, new estimates by researchers at Harvard University suggest that the United States cannot safely reopen unless it conducts more than three times the number of coronavirus tests it is currently administering over the next month.

An average of 146,000 people per day have been tested for the coronavirus nationally so far this month, according to the Covid Tracking Project, which on Friday reported 3.6 million total tests across the country. To reopen the United States by mid-May, the number of daily tests performed between now and then should be 500,000 to 700,000, according to the Harvard estimates.

That level of testing would be needed to identify the majority of people who are infected and isolate them from people who are healthy, according to the researchers. About 20 percent of those tested so far have been positive for the virus, a rate that the researchers say is too high.

“If you have a very high positive rate, it means that there are probably a good number of people out there who have the disease who you haven’t tested,” said Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “You want to drive the positive rate down, because the fundamental element of keeping our economy open is making sure you’re identifying as many infected people as possible and isolating them.”

Judges are delaying executions because of virus fears.

Credit…Tennessee Department of Correction, via Associated Press

Tennessee’s Supreme Court on Friday postponed the execution of a man who was scheduled to be killed on June 4, the latest in a string of executions delayed because of the pandemic.

As the coronavirus has spread into prisons and jails across the United States — leading to more limits on inmates’ daily lives and fear among prison employees — it has also prompted some judges to postpone capital punishment. In Texas, five scheduled executions have been delayed because of the coronavirus, according to The Associated Press. The most recent stay came on Thursday.

The inmate in Tennessee, Oscar F. Smith, has been on death row for nearly 20 years. Mr. Smith, 70, had asked a judge to postpone the execution in part because the virus had delayed his appeal efforts.

The judges agreed and granted a six-month postponement, setting a new date of Feb. 4, 2021.

“It makes no sense to bring execution witnesses and other people into the prison and possibly expose them to Covid-19 infection or introduce the virus into the prison population,” one of Mr. Smith’s lawyers, Kelley J. Henry, said in a statement after the ruling. She said Mr. Smith maintained his innocence and planned further appeals.

The issue of delays is likely to come up again. Prisoners are scheduled for execution in the coming months in Missouri, Ohio and Texas.

Boeing and other manufacturers say they will restart assembly lines.

The announcement is the first attempt at large-scale resumption of business activity by a U.S. corporation since the coronavirus outbreak forced companies and government officials to shut down most nonessential work. Boeing’s shares rose more than 14 percent on Friday.

Some European automakers — including Volkswagen, Volvo and Daimler — are planning to restart assembly lines next week, staffed by workers in masks and protective clothing, sometimes separated from one another by plastic screens.

Carmakers have been among the hardest-hit by the global pandemic. New car registrations in the European Union fell 55 percent last month compared with a year earlier, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said, as dealers closed their doors and buyers were stuck in their homes. Sales all but evaporated in Italy, the European country that went into lockdown the earliest, falling 85 percent. Spain and France also suffered declines of around 70 percent.

The how, when, what and why on masks.

Starting at 8 p.m. on Friday, people in New York must wear masks or other coverings when social distancing is not possible, including on mass transit, to prevent the spread of the virus. But everyone should be wearing masks when out in public, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here’s everything you need to know.

From the cashier to the emergency room nurse to the drugstore pharmacist to the home health aide taking the bus to check on her older client, the soldier on the front lines of the current national emergency is most likely a woman.

One in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential, according to a New York Times analysis of census data crossed with the federal government’s essential worker guidelines. Nonwhite women are more likely to be doing essential jobs than anyone else.

The work they do has often been underpaid and undervalued — an unseen labor force that keeps the country running and takes care of those most in need, whether or not there is a pandemic.

Women make up nearly nine out of 10 nurses and nursing assistants, most respiratory therapists, the majority of pharmacists and the overwhelming majority of pharmacy aides and technicians. More than two-thirds of the workers at grocery store checkouts and fast food counters are women.

As the coronavirus has swept across the country, it has stolen millions of jobs and thrust people everywhere into acute financial insecurity. It has also forced most of the population to shelter in place. But in one industry where rejection is a normal part of a day’s work, telephone polling, the people making the calls are finding that many people are suddenly willing, even grateful, to talk.

Many, in fact, wanted to keep talking — about their loneliness, about their sadness, about their fears for the future — even after the questions had stopped.

“People are dealing with anxiety, and they haven’t seen their family and friends,” said Ayala Mitchell, an interviewer for the Siena College Research Institute. “They just want to talk to someone.”

Executives at a number of firms across the country said in interviews that not only are more people willing to answer the phone to unknown callers these days, but that those who do agree to be interviewed are more likely to stay through the end of the conversation. This has led to an increase in productivity rates of roughly 25 percent, they said, and it also means that — in a moment of crisis and in the midst of a presidential election — a wider variety of people are willing to tell pollsters what they think. And that means it’s more likely that a poll’s respondents will come closer to reflecting the makeup of the general population.

At his daily briefing one afternoon this week, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi reported that the death toll in the state from the coronavirus had climbed. He reiterated just how eager he was to reopen businesses. He answered reporters’ questions about extending the shelter-in-place order and ramping up testing.

And then he wished dozens of state residents a very happy birthday.

There was Alex, Brianna, Asher and Billy. There was more than one sweet 16, and others who ranged in age from preschoolers to an 83-year-old. Governor Reeves pointed out that one boy was a green belt in karate. “Keep working hard,” the governor said. “You’ll be a black belt before you know it.”

It was certainly an abrupt turn, swerving from delivering grim news about a pandemic and spreading economic pain to making birthday shout-outs like a drive-time D.J. But the announcements — and televised briefings from government officials, from the White House on down — have grown into a defining element of the pandemic.

Regular briefings have helped transform Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a veteran civil servant and infectious disease expert, into a household name. The graphics appearing beside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York during his briefings have spawned instant Twitter memes.

In Mississippi, the addition of birthday greetings has resonated as so many have found comfort from even the tiniest of gestures, anything that could be held up as evidence of a sense of togetherness while legally mandated to stay apart.

The decision to include birthdays in the briefings was made about a week ago, as some started asking on social media whether Governor Reeves could mention their children. A first-term governor, Mr. Reeves also wanted to add some bright moments and buoy people’s spirits, including his own: He noted in a recent briefing that he had just marked his 90th day in office, a period that has already included deadly tornadoes; the Pearl River’s swelling and flooding Jackson, the state capital; and a crisis in state prisons sparked by violence and decrepit conditions.

“It brightens my day,” the governor said of the birthday wishes in a quick phone call after a recent briefing. So far, more than 3,200 people have submitted requests for birthday shout-outs.

Reporting was contributed by Kwame Opam, Manny Fernandez, Michael Wilson, Caitlin Dickerson, Kirk Semple, Karen Barrow, Michael D. Shear, Robert Gebeloff, Sarah Lyall, Rick Rojas, Campbell Robertson and Giovanni Russonello.

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