Coronavirus Live Updates: ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Fraud Reported as Jobless Claims Reach 38.6 Million


A fraud network siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment funds.

A sophisticated fraud network targeting Washington State’s unemployment system claimed hundreds of millions of dollars before officials were able to identify and crack down on the coordinated attack, state officials said Thursday.

“I realize this is a jaw-dropping figure,” said Suzi LeVine, the commissioner of the state Employment Security Department. The fraudulent claims had been filed on behalf of tens of thousands of people, and many involved individuals who had not lost their jobs, she said.

“I hate to say it, but this is going to take longer and look grimmer than we thought,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economist at Stanford University.

Investigators said the impostors appeared to be working with an extensive database of personal information stolen in earlier hackings that allowed them to submit claims.

Washington State had moved to make payments available quickly and deliver them to direct-deposit accounts. But the state began realizing the scope of the problem when people who had not filed for unemployment received mail saying that they had.

Ms. LeVine said the state had increased security on its systems and delayed payments to prevent further fraud. That has blocked thousands of other claims worth an additional hundreds of millions of dollars.

To address the problem, the city will increase to 1.5 million the number of meals it distributes each day by next week. A million meals will be delivered; the rest will be available for pickup at schools.

President Trump, who has defiantly refused to wear a mask in public despite the recommendations of federal health officials, toured a Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Thursday with his face uncovered. It was against the factory’s guidelines and the urging of Michigan’s attorney general, who had written him earlier that it was “the law of this state.”

The Ford Motor Company later said in a statement that William Clay Ford Jr., its executive chairman, had “encouraged President Trump to wear a mask when he arrived.”

“He wore a mask during a private viewing of three Ford GTs from over the years,” the statement said. “The president later removed the mask for the remainder of the visit.”

The president’s arrival in Michigan, a key swing state where the virus has become a polarizing flash point, came just a day after he threatened to withhold federal funding from the state for taking steps to make it easier to vote by mail amid the pandemic.

During his visit, Mr. Trump continued to press for the easing of more social-distancing restrictions. He blamed Democrats for keeping the economy closed and suggested voters would punish them in the presidential election and view it as “a November question.”

President Trump on Thursday night called for flags at the White House, on public grounds across the country and on naval vessels to be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims of the coronavirus, a rare acknowledgment of the lives lost from an administration that typically likes to downplay the death toll and take credit for lives it claims it saved.

“Our nation mourns for every life lost to the coronavirus pandemic, and we share in the suffering of all those who endured pain and illness from the outbreak,” read the proclamation that was signed by Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump, who had signaled his plans in two tweets on Thursday, ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff through Sunday. The death toll in the United States is expected to pass the grim milestone of 100,000 in the coming days.

On Memorial Day, the president said, the flags at half-staff would be honoring the nation’s war dead.

The announcement came several hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, had written to Mr. Trump asking him to fly flags at half-staff on the day the country reached 100,000 Covid-19 deaths.

In their letter to Mr. Trump, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer called for “a national expression of grief.”

Facebook said on Thursday that it would allow many employees to work from home permanently. But there’s a catch: They may not be able to keep their Silicon Valley salaries in more affordable parts of the country.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, told workers during a staff meeting that within a decade as many as half of the company’s more than 48,000 employees would work from home.

Tech executives have long believed that person-to-person communication was a big part of the creativity that went into generating popular products. They built giant campuses that reflected that belief — from the ornate offices of Apple, Google and Facebook in Silicon Valley to the new Amazon headquarters in Seattle — and used free shuttle buses, free cafeterias and personal services like dry cleaning to give employees little reason to go home, let alone avoid the office.

If other giant companies follow Facebook’s lead, tech employment could start to shift away from expensive hubs like Silicon Valley, Seattle and New York. But the option to work from home could have a price for tech workers: Starting in January, Facebook’s employee compensation will be adjusted based on the cost of living in the locations where workers choose to live.

“It’s still amazing to me, like, how can that be the case, that there is not a more systematic way to address a central need?” said Fyodor Urnov, the scientist who oversaw the transformation of the Innovative Genomics Institute into a clinical laboratory.

Most testing is not done by public health authorities — whose labs have been chronically underfunded — but by hospital laboratories and major for-profit testing companies.

The deal with AstraZeneca is the fourth and by far the largest vaccine research agreement that the department has disclosed. The money will pay for a clinical trial of the potential vaccine in the United States this summer with about 30,000 volunteers.

The H.H.S. statement said the agency and AstraZeneca “are collaborating to make available at least 300 million doses,” and projected that the first doses could be available as early as October.

AstraZeneca said it was also discussing deals for simultaneous production by other companies, including the giant Serum Institute of India, a major supplier of vaccines to the developing world.

The U.S. is distributing billions of dollars to companies to develop vaccines through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Scores of vaccine efforts are underway around the world, and several potential vaccines are now in at least small-scale clinical trials.

Mr. Trump is continuing to rail against voting by mail, which is increasingly viewed as a necessary option for voting amid a pandemic.

Part of the growth is because of the specter of people voting and getting sick amid the pandemic, as happened in Wisconsin last month. But part reflects the growth of voting by mail as an increasingly desired option even before the coronavirus. In 2016, nearly one in four voters cast absentee or mail ballots, twice the share just 16 years ago, in 2004.

Many of the states that have relaxed their rules have done so only for pending primary elections, leaving the possibility that they could refuse to relax them in November. And some conservative groups plan to sue to limit its use. Like Mr. Trump they cite largely undocumented allegations of fraud.

But Daniel A. Smith, a University of Florida political scientist and expert on mail ballots, said it’s unlikely states that allowed mailing voting in primaries will forbid it in November.

“The horse is out of the barn whether it’s primaries or the general election,” he said. “The optics are such that states will be under enormous pressure to continue to allow mail voting in the fall.”

The coming Atlantic hurricane season is “expected to be a busy one,” with the likelihood of as many as 19 named storms, including as many as six major hurricanes, a federal weather scientist said Thursday. The forecast could be further complicated by the pandemic, which is hobbling relief agencies and could turn evacuation shelters into disease hot spots.

Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster with the climate prediction center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, delivered the forecast as part of the annual announcement of the agency’s hurricane season outlook.

The pandemic will add to the challenges of the season: There are worries about shelters and how to protect people evacuating without exposing them to the virus. Relevant work forces have been strained, too, with just 38 percent of staff members from the Federal Emergency Management Agency available to be deployed to a disaster zone.

A spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, which manages most of the country’s shelters, said the organization is “prioritizing individual hotel rooms over congregate shelters.”

But, she said, individual rooms might not be an option in large-scale disasters, so the organization would instead rely on “additional safety precautions” for group shelters, such as health screenings, masks, additional space between cots and extra cleaning and disinfecting.

New York State is now investigating 157 cases of a severe inflammatory syndrome affecting children that appears to be linked to the virus — a 53 percent increase over the last nine days, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday.

A majority of the children in the state found to have the illness so far have tested positive for the virus or antibodies, the governor said. Researchers were now examining whether the infected children were genetically predisposed to the syndrome, he added. As of last week, there were three deaths.

In New York City, nearly one in four people does not have enough food, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. Officials said the city would boost the amount of food it distributes to 1.5 million meals daily by next week; 32 million meals have been handed out already in the crisis.

Before the virus hit, the mayor said, officials believed that “somewhere over a million people in the city” needed food more at some point in the year. That number is now thought to be two million or more, he said.

For some people, the Memorial Day weekend is typically a time to pay respects to the dead. For others, the three-day weekend is a time to travel or hit the beach.

Airports will be less crowded but transformed. The Transportation Security Administration said Thursday that passengers would be asked to scan their own boarding passes and place any food in their luggage in a separate bin during screening to limit cross contamination. And it is relaxing the 3.4 ounce rule: Passengers will be allowed to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer with them on their journey.

China imposes a quarantine in its northeast.

The latest outbreak in China is concentrated in Jilin, a northeastern province of 27 million people near the borders with Russia and North Korea. Jilin has reported only about 130 cases and two deaths, but experts there have warned of a potential “big explosion.”

Want some tips for biking as a family?

The humble bicycle is the surprise star of lockdown. With youth sports on hold, car traffic down 75 percent or more throughout the United States and cooped-up children doing parkour on the living room furniture, family bike rides have never sounded better. Here are some tips for a safe and successful trip.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Karen Barrow, Katie Benner, Julie Bosman, Niraj Chokshi, Emily Cochrane, Patricia Cohen, Michael Cooper, Andrew Das, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Christopher Flavelle, Chaseedaw Giles, James Glanz, Matthew Goldstein, Abby Goodnough, Kathleen Gray, Maggie Haberman, Sheila Kaplan, Annie Karni, David Kirkpatrick, Heather Murphy, Andy Newman, Azi Paybarah, Linda Qiu, William K. Rashbaum, Campbell Robertson, John Schwartz, Anna Schaverien, Lauren Sloss, Kaly Soto, Chris Stanford, Alexandra Stevenson, Eileen Sullivan, Vanessa Swales, Katie Thomas and Benjamin Weiser.



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