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Pences Test Negative; States Warn That Supplies Are Dwindling

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, tested negative for the coronavirus, a spokeswoman for Mr. Pence said Saturday night.

At a White House press briefing on Saturday, Mr. Pence disclosed that he and Ms. Pence would be tested later that afternoon after an official in his office tested positive.

The White House physician advised him that he “has no reason to believe I have been exposed,” Mr. Pence said, noting that the person in his office did not come into close contact with Mr. Pence or President Trump.

“I am pleased to report that he is doing well,” Mr. Pence said of the employee, whom he did not name, adding that the person “has not been to the White House since Monday.”

The White House first disclosed the employee’s illness on Friday evening. Mr. Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, said in a statement that “further contact tracing is being conducted in accordance with C.D.C. guidelines,” but she did not immediately reply to a request for more details about the official’s role.

Several former and current Trump administration officials have self-quarantined over concerns of exposure to the virus. Those include Mick Mulvaney, the former acting White House chief of staff, and Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary.

Last week, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, stayed home “out of an abundance of caution” after an Australian official she recently met with tested positive for the coronavirus, a White House spokesman said. By Friday, she had returned to work, watching from the sidelines as her father sparred with reporters in the briefing room.

A person familiar with the situation said she had tested negative for the virus.

The White House signaled Saturday that American companies were increasing efforts to restock hospitals with crucial supplies during the coronavirus pandemic, but it again stopped short of more assertive steps that some state and local leaders have been demanding.

At a news conference on Saturday at the White House, Vice President Mike Pence said the federal government had ordered “hundreds of millions” of N-95 masks for health care facilities across the country, but he did not say precisely when they would be delivered to workers. And President Trump said another company, Hanes, was now on the roster of major corporations coordinating with the administration.

The White House’s moves appeared unlikely to satisfy calls for more aggressive action from Washington as the nation grappled with a coast-to-coast reorientation of American life. More than 21,000 cases have been confirmed in the United States, and many more infections are expected in the coming weeks.

Officials in a number of states, including New York and California, have issued dire predictions and warned of dwindling supplies of crucial gear, like protective equipment, and what they believe will be a vast demand for ventilators.

Mr. Trump has sent conflicting signals on how the federal government might solve the supply issues. On Saturday, he said that he had not used the Defense Production Act — which empowers the government to mobilize the private sector to increase the production of scarce goods — because companies were stepping up voluntarily. He cited Hanes and General Motors, which he said would make masks and ventilators.

“We want them on the open market from the standpoint of pricing,” Mr. Trump said.

A Hanes spokesman said the company has agreed to make up to six million masks a week along with a group of other yarn and clothing companies after Trump administration officials reached out about a week ago. The masks will not be the highly sought-after N-95 masks. Hanes is negotiating a contract with the U.S. government to supply the masks at market rates, the spokesman said.

Other companies the administration announced coordination with include Honeywell and 3M. Mr. Trump also said Pernod Ricard USA had repurposed production facilities in four states to manufacture hand sanitizer, with the first delivery expected on Tuesday. Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, said on Saturday that the company would donate millions of masks to health professionals fighting the virus in the U.S. and Europe.

Meanwhile, luxury and fashion and manufacturers are pivoting from clothing to surgical masks and other protective gear.

In the United States, entities as diverse as Christian Siriano, a fashion designer favored by former first lady Michelle Obama, Dov Charney, the founder of Los Angeles Apparel and the former chief executive of American Apparel, and Karla Colletto, a swimwear company, all said this weekend they had begun to repurpose their operations to create masks and hospital garments.

In Europe, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company, announced on Saturday it had ordered 40 million face masks from a Chinese supplier. They are bound for France. L’Oreal and Coty, the beauty conglomerates, announced they would use their facilities to produce large quantities of hand sanitizer for European hospitals.

Separately, the Food and Drug Administration announced on Saturday that it would permit a Silicon Valley company, Cepheid, to start selling a diagnostic test that could determine in about 45 minutes whether a patient has the virus that causes Covid-19.

The company’s chief medical officer, David Persing, said the tests would be compatible with systems it already had in place at thousands of hospitals and clinics, and that they were likely to hit the market late next week. He did not say how many would be available or how much they would cost.

Gov. David Ige of Hawaii, seeking to slow the increase of coronavirus cases in his state, on Saturday ordered a mandatory 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving in Hawaii, including both tourists and returning residents. He said his order was the first of its kind in the nation.

“The threat of Covid-19 is extremely serious, and it requires extreme actions,” he said in a news conference.

Under Mr. Ige’s emergency proclamation, returning residents are to quarantine in their homes, with visitors to stay in their hotel rooms or rented lodgings. They are to leave only to seek medical care.

Mr. Ige said in a Facebook post that failure to follow the order would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, up to a year’s imprisonment or both.

The Hawaii Department of Health on Saturday reported 48 cases of coronavirus in the state, an increase of 11 from the day before. A majority of the state’s cases are linked to travel, according to Mr. Ige.

The mandate will go into effect on Thursday. The governor said the delay was to give tourists time to cancel or postpone their trips, which he said he hoped they would do.

“We know that our economy will suffer from this action,” he said. But it is necessary, he added, to “flatten the curve” so that the state’s health care system is not overwhelmed.

Dr. Marty Brueggemann, the chief medical officer at Virginia Mason Memorial in Yakima, Wash., warned Saturday that the hospital could run out of life-preserving ventilators by April 8 if the case projections don’t improve and the hospital isn’t able to acquire other machines.

Dr. Brueggemann said he’s witnessed a jarring juxtaposition of what’s going on inside the hospital, which is controlling visitors and preparing for an onslaught of patients, only to leave the facility and find people out in the community gathered in large groups, making clear to him that the general population doesn’t grasp the gravity of the situation.

“We will have to decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t,” Dr. Brueggemann said. “That’s only 19 days away.”

Washington’s Department of Health has told local leaders that only the highest-priority areas will have access to the government’s stockpile of protective equipment, including N95 masks.

Long-term care facilities with confirmed infections and hospitals with the largest number of confirmed cases are at the top of the list, while sites lower down include homeless shelters or medical facilities that don’t have confirmed cases. The agency cautioned that not all requests will be fulfilled, and leaders at places like neighborhood health clinics have already seen weeks pass without requests being approved.

Experts predict an explosive growth in the number of critically ill patients in some areas of the U.S., similar to that occurring now in Italy.

Efforts are being made to suppress the outbreak and expand medical capacity. But if forced to ration, medical workers ask, how do they make the least terrible decision? Who even gets to decide, and how are their choices justified?

In the United States, some guidelines already exist for this grim task. In an effort little known even among doctors, federal grant programs helped hospitals, states and the Veterans Health Administration develop what are essentially rationing plans for a severe pandemic. Now those plans, some of which may be outdated, are being revisited for the coronavirus outbreak.

Even if the United States cuts its rate of transmission in half — a tall order — some 650,000 people might become infected in the next two months.

That was the conclusion of Columbia University researchers who used a New York Times database of known cases and Census Bureau transportation data to model how the outbreak could evolve. The estimates are inherently uncertain, and they could change as the United States adopts additional measures to control the outbreak.

After a day of negotiations over an economic stabilization package, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, asked top Republican negotiators to “draft final legislative text that reflects their compromise products” and deliver it later in the evening. His goal, he said in a statement Saturday night, is to ensure senators could review it before a procedural vote Sunday that would allow the relief for American families and businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Republicans and Democrats have worked together to produce a compromise that should be able to pass the Senate with an overwhelming bipartisan majority,” Mr. McConnell said.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said in his own statement that an agreement on the draft legislation, which is expected to exceed $1.3 trillion, had not yet been reached, but Democrats “look forward to reviewing their first draft and negotiating a bipartisan compromise.”

Mr. McConnell along with Mr. Schumer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, are scheduled to meet with Steven T. Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, in Mr. McConnell’s office Sunday morning, according to a person familiar with the plans.

In a letter to congressional leaders on Saturday, the chief executives of major airlines, UPS and FedEx said that they would postpone mass layoffs and stock buybacks and dividends if Congress secured a large enough bailout for their industry.

“We are united as an industry and speaking with one voice,” wrote the group, which included the heads of Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines. “We urge you to swiftly pass a bipartisan bill with worker payroll protections to ensure that we can save the jobs of our 750,000 airline professionals.”

If Congress approves at least $29 billion in grants for the industry, the executives said they would commit to no furloughs or layoffs through August. If an equal amount in loans is passed, they would commit to limits on executive compensation and to freezing stock buybacks and dividends for the life of the loan.

In a separate letter to senators on Saturday, Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, echoed the call for grants tied to employment, criticizing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to provide the industry with loans.

“Federal aid designed for payroll is the only way to prevent massive layoffs,” she said. “Loans won’t cut it.”

Ms. Nelson also said that such aid should be tied to limits on buybacks, executive pay and dividends, as well as protecting union contracts.

Italy has imposed a lockdown, deployed the army and risked its economy to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Yet Italy’s toll is growing more staggering by the day: On Saturday, officials reported 793 additional deaths, by far the largest single-day increase so far. Italy has surpassed China as the country with the highest death toll, becoming the epicenter of a shifting global pandemic.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday that all Italian businesses must close until April 3, with the exception of those essential to maintaining the country’s supply chain, Reuters reported. Supermarkets, pharmacies, postal and banking services will remain open, and essential public services including transport will be ensured, Mr. Conte said.

“It is the most difficult crisis in our postwar period,” Mr. Conte said in a video posted on Facebook.

The government is expected to publish an emergency decree on Sunday to make the latest crackdown immediately effective.

The virus’s effects are being felt throughout Europe. Poland has reported fewer than 500 cases, but one of the country’s hospitals was shut down and evacuated on Saturday after 30 patients and staff members were found to have the virus. France, one of the hardest hit countries in Europe, raised its totals to 14,459 confirmed cases and 562 deaths, and said it had ordered over 250 million face masks from French and foreign suppliers.

The governor of the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg asked hospitals in his state to estimate capacity in their intensive care units, so that French patients in need of respirators from the heavily hit Alsace region can be transferred for treatment.

The German authorities banned people in Berlin from meeting in groups of more than 10 people, with the exception of lawmakers, courts and those providing essential services, and Spain’s health ministry reported a surge in the number of coronavirus deaths to 1,326 and total cases to 25,000, a rise of about 25 percent from a day earlier.

In the Madrid region, which has had 60 percent of Spain’s cases, hospitals are overflowing and facing equipment shortages. Officials ordered that a field hospital with about 5,500 beds be set up in the Spanish capital’s main exhibition center. In the Valencia region, three field hospitals have been added, with a combined 1,000 beds. Hotels have also been converted into hospitals in Madrid and Catalonia, where 122 people have died.

But Italy’s struggle is among the world’s most pronounced, and it is increasingly being seen as a tragic warning for other countries to heed, in part because it is still paying the price of early mixed messages by scientists and politicians. The people who have died in staggering numbers recently — more than 2,300 in the last four days — were mostly infected during the confusion of a week or two ago.

President Trump sent a letter to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, expressing his willingness to help the North battle the coronavirus, and North Korea responded by expressing gratitude.

“I would like to extend sincere gratitude to the U.S. president for sending his invariable faith to the Chairman,” said Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s sister and policy aide, in a statement carried by the North’s state-run Korean​ Central​ News Agency. Ms. Kim lauded Mr. Trump’s decision to write the letter as “a good judgment and proper action.”

In the letter, Mr. Trump “wished the family of the Chairman and our people well-being,” Ms. Kim said, referring to his brother by one of his official titles.

According to Ms. Kim, Mr. Trump also explained his plan to move relations between the two countries forward and “expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work, saying that he was impressed by the efforts made by the Chairman to defend his people from the serious threat of the epidemic.”

The White House confirmed that Mr. Trump had sent Mr. Kim a letter but did not comment on its specifics.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim have repeatedly touted their unusual relationship. But relations between Pyongyang and Washington ​have cooled since the leaders’ second summit meeting, held in Vietnam in February of last year, collapsed over differences regarding how quickly North Korea should dismantle its nuclear weapons program and when Washington should ease sanctions.

The Mexican government is allowing the United States to immediately return Central American migrants who cross the southwestern border illegally as part of new travel restrictions that took effect on Saturday.

The United States will begin immediately returning some migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to Mexico, according to a Customs and Border Protection official and an official with the Mexican government.

The Trump administration has said the policy is necessary to combat a potential outbreak of the coronavirus in border facilities.

Mexico, in an about-face, confirmed that some Central Americans would be returned to Mexico. Officials at the Foreign Relations Ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the specifics of the plan.

As recently as Friday, Marcelo Ebrard, the foreign minister for Mexico, said his country would only accept Mexicans who were rapidly returned. Central American migrants were sent to Mexico from the United States under a different policy that allows them to make an asylum claim but forces them to wait south of the border as their cases wind through the U.S. immigration system.

Under the new rule, migrants found to have a criminal history or unaccompanied children will not be immediately returned.

But Central Americans and Mexicans will be driven to the nearest port of entry and rushed back to Mexico. Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, said other border crossers would be flown back to their home country.

It remains unclear whether the directive from the top health officials in the United States would prevent every migrant from having an opportunity to claim asylum. Immigration lawyers have said the rule potentially violates laws that say the United States must provide a migrant on American soil the opportunity to ask for protections and not force migrants to return to places where they would face persecution.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a Major Disaster Declaration for New York, meaning billions of dollars in federal aid could be coming to New York as the rising number of coronavirus cases shows no sign of abating.

As of Saturday, 10,356 New York state residents had tested positive for the virus. With 6 percent of the U.S. population, the state now accounts for nearly half of the cases in the country tallied by The New York Times.

Stay-at-home orders in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are set to go into effect over the next couple days. New Jersey’s takes effect at 9 p.m. Saturday, New York’s at 8 p.m. on Sunday and Connecticut on Monday at 8 p.m. Non-essential businesses are ordered closed and residents are being asked to remain indoors unless exercising or shopping for food or medicine.

On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that one million N-95 protective masks were being sent to hospitals in New York City and another 500,000 to Long Island. The state had also identified about 6,000 ventilators from “places all across the globe” for purchase, the governor said.

With coronavirus threatening to overwhelm New York hospitals, state officials are considering turning landmark locations like the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into makeshift hospitals.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also looking at other locations, including two at State University of New York campuses on Long Island, and at the Westchester Convention Center. The Army Corps is expected to outfit the centers with hospital equipment as soon as Mr. Cuomo tours and green lights the locations, officials said.

For more than a week, the 315 passengers aboard the Silver Shadow cruise liner were stuck in their cabins in Recife, Brazil, after a Canadian passenger fell ill and ultimately tested positive for the coronavirus.

Late Saturday, the State Department said the United States Embassy in Brazil and the Consulate General in Recife were working to return the American passengers on the ship on a special charter flight.

The passengers received meals in their rooms and had their temperatures checked daily. No one else has gotten sick.

Over the past few days, most of the 18 countries with citizens aboard the Silver Shadow have chartered aircraft and flown their residents home from Brazil. Canadian travelers left the ship on Saturday, but 103 Americans remain stranded and afloat.

Ship personnel told the Americans they would be taken off the ship early Saturday and flown on a charter flight to Dallas, according to one American passenger. But that plan was canceled early Saturday without explanation.

“Luxembourg, Romania, Uruguay and even Italy have flown their citizens home, but not the United States,” the American passenger said in a phone call from the ship, adding that Mr. Trump’s “America First” mantra has become “America Last.” The passenger asked not to be identified out of fear of retribution from ship personnel.

Feeling anxious about the coronavirus is understandable, but a little respite is also important. Try hosting a remote happy hour, for instance, or learning a new song — one you can sing while washing your hands.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Kate Taylor, Mariel Padilla, Choe Sang-Hun, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Azam Ahmed, Vanessa Friedman, Jessica Testa, Emily Cochrane, Alan Blinder, Katie Rogers, Elaine Yu, Melissa Eddy, Christopher Flavelle, Peter Robins, Raphael Minder, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Maya Salam, Vivian Wang, Isabel Kershner, Livia Albeck-Ripka, Michael Roston, James Gorman, Niraj Chokshi, Julie Bosman, Jesse McKinley, Matt Apuzzo, Selam Gebrekidan, Katie Thomas, Denise Grady, Kenneth P. Vogel, Catie Edmondson, Jesse Drucker, Ben Protess, Steve Eder, Eric Lipton, Alissa J. Rubin, Aurelien Breeden, Joanna Berendt, Jason Horowitz, Emma Bubola, Elisabetta Povoledo, Farnaz Fassihi, Sheri Fink and Kamil Kakol.

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