Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top...

Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top federal epidemiologist, at President Donald Trump's briefing on Tuesday. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates

Mission almost accomplished?

President Donald Trump has set a goal of April 12 for getting the economy revved up, and he'd like to see “packed churches all over our country" on that date, Easter Sunday. 

The notion that social distancing guidelines and other coronavirus-fighting shutdown measures could be in the rearview mirror that soon was met with skepticism and alarm. So, too, was Trump's seeming openness — reiterated Tuesday in Fox News appearances and the daily White House pandemic briefing — to accept a higher toll of death and serious sickness to reboot the economy faster.

Though the number of cases is still exploding, worst of all in New York City and on Long Island, Trump said the nation is "near the end of our historic battle" with "light at the end of the tunnel." Why Easter, just 19 days away? "I think it would be a beautiful time. And it's just about the timeline I think is right," he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top expert on infectious diseases who often has contradicted Trump, said diplomatically at Tuesday's briefing that he's advised Trump to be "very flexible" on the date. Trump also gave himself wiggle room, saying, “We’ll only do it if it’s good and maybe we do sections of the country" where the outbreaks are less severe. “New York City definitely is a very hot spot,” Trump said. The White House response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said the metropolitan area is the source of 60% of the newest cases.

States and localities didn't wait on the federal government for stay-home guidelines and can continue to set their own. Other health experts have warned that a patchwork state-by-state approach alone could not contain a virus that ignores borders. On Capitol Hill, some Trump allies warned against a policy pivot that would tilt the balance of interests more toward the economy at the expense of public health.

"There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus," said the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. "I think we do need to follow CDC guidelines and watch what our experts are saying," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). "I would love to see the economy up and going as soon as possible, but let's make sure we’re taking care of people first.”

Trump's FDA commissioner from 2017 to 2019, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, tweeted: "There’s a strong and understandable desire to return to better times and a functioning economy. But it should not be lost on anyone that there's no such thing as a functioning economy and society so long as COVID-19 continues to spread uncontrolled in our biggest cities." 

Cuomo: Help or we can't breathe

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo grew exasperated Tuesday at the pace of federal help flowing to New York, with infection rates doubling every three days — now topping 25,000 in the state — and the peak still two to three weeks away. He called Trump's ideas for restarting the economy premature and "Darwinian."

"We haven't flattened the curve, and the curve is actually increasing," Cuomo said. A flashpoint for Cuomo's anger was the Trump administration's hesitation to use the Defense Production Act to speed the manufacture and delivery of ventilators to help COVID-19 patients who won't be able to breathe on their own.

Noting a recent FEMA shipment that added 400 ventilators to the state's inventory, Cuomo exclaimed: "What am I going to do with 400 ventilators, when I need 30,000?” He added, “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”

Vice President Mike Pence, appearing at Tuesday's White House town hall on Fox News, said 2,000 ventilators from the national stockpile were shipped to New York "earlier" Tuesday, and on Wednesday "there will be another 2,000 ventilators shipped from the national stockpile." 

Trump hit back at Cuomo during the town hall, reading from a dubious report that the governor turned down a chance to buy more ventilators in 2015 and "established death panels and lotteries instead." For more, see the roundup of key developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones, and a complete list of coronavirus stories from newsday.com.

Experts: Keep our distance

Health experts point to overwhelming evidence from around the world that closing businesses and schools and minimizing social contact are crucial to avoid exponentially mounting coronavirus infections, The Washington Post reports.

They warn that ending the shutdown too soon would be disastrous because the country has barely given those restrictions time to work, and because U.S. leaders have not pursued alternative strategies used in other countries.

“To be a week into these restrictions and already be talking about abandoning them is irresponsible and dangerous,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Relaxing them now would allow the virus to “spread widely, rapidly, terribly, and could kill potentially millions in the year ahead with huge social and economic impact.”

William Gates — who cofounded Microsoft and now leads a global health foundation — put it graphically in a TED interview: "It’s very tough to say to people: ‘Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts.’ ”

Trump went back Tuesday to comparisons of coronavirus casualties to those from the flu and car crashes. "We never turn the country off," he said at the Fox News town hall.

Janison: Easter charade?

Trump clearly is trying to calm markets, address people's frustration and, of course, campaign for reelection, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. But it also suits his celebrity-game-show style to build suspense about what he, the decider, will do in the "next episode." 

In previous crises, either real or contrived, Trump has grabbed attention by hinting he could do something stunningly bold and contrary to solid advice. In this case, that would mean prematurely blowing off health precautions. But don't bet on him to carry out such a rash gamble.

Remember the none-too-subtle threat to nuke North Korea? Seal off the whole Mexico border? Remove Robert Mueller as special counsel? Keep government shut down until Congress funded a border wall? Abolish birthright citizenship? Critics of a rushed easing of emergency measures can take solace in the fact that none of these threats panned out.

Breakthrough for rescue deal

Financial markets were optimistic enough about a $2 trillion package nearing the finish line in Congress to send the Dow up a record 2,113 points

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced news of a further breakthrough on the Senate floor shortly after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday with action due later in the day.

"This is a wartime level of investment into our nation," McConnell said. "The men and women of the greatest country on Earth are going to defeat this coronavirus and reclaim our future, and the Senate is going to make sure they have the ammunition they need to do it."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been negotiating the deal, has agreed to add an inspector general and congressional oversight for a $500 billion fund proposed for distressed companies, a senior White House official told CNN. Democrats wouldn't bite on the original plan from Trump. "I’ll be the oversight," the president had said Monday.

Prescription for harm

Health officials across the world are issuing warnings over the unauthorized use of antimalarial drugs, after Trump’s comments touting their potential as "game-changers" for treating coronavirus sparked panic-buying and overdoses, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Pharmacists who fill prescriptions for patients taking chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, drugs approved for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, are finding it difficult to find them in recent weeks.

An Arizona man died and his wife became critically ill after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, which is not a medication for humans but is put into aquariums to treat parasites in fish.

The widow told NBC News that after she watched Trump talk about chloroquine on televised briefings, "I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, 'Hey, isn't that the stuff they're talking about on TV?’ ” The couple figured it could prevent infection by the virus.

Newsday's Carol Polsky has more on doctors' warnings that drugs touted as promising treatments for COVID-19 can cause serious side effects or overdoses without proper medical guidance.

What else is happening:

  • Joe Biden went on a media interview blitz on Tuesday. Criticizing Trump for spreading misinformation, he said on "The View": "The American people can handle the truth. But what they can't handle is something that's not true, that they believe in a moment and then they find out is not true. They lose confidence."
  • A CBS News poll found 53% of Americans say Trump is doing a good job handling the coronavirus outbreak, though 66% also feel the his administration was not prepared to deal with it when it started. Gallup finds Trump's overall approval rating at 49%, matching his best ever.
  • Biden holds a negligible 3-point lead over Trump in the race for president, but the likely Democratic nominee has a larger edge among voters in key swing counties across the country, according to a Monmouth University poll.
  • Hillary Clinton aimed a snarky tweet at Trump, without mentioning any name: "Please do not take medical advice from a man who looked directly at a solar eclipse."
  • Election officials across New York's 62 counties on Tuesday formally asked lawmakers to move the state’s presidential primary and other special elections from April 28 to June 23, saying the pandemic makes sticking to the earlier date "dangerous" and all but "impossible," Newsday's Yancey Roy reports.
  • Former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who expressed concern over his coronavirus risk, lost a bid for an early release from prison. Cohen's request “appears to be just another effort to inject himself into the news cycle," said Manhattan U.S. District Judge William Pauley.