As the coronavirus upended the top echelons of the U.S. government on Tuesday — leaving President Trump convalescing in the White House, the Capitol eerily empty after lawmakers tested positive and most of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in quarantine — the president abruptly ended talks on a stimulus bill intended to shore up the nation’s pandemic-stricken economy.
Mr. Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he was ending talks with Democrats on the bill, which aimed to send more aid to Americans grappling with high unemployment and to help state and local governments stay afloat as tax collections plummet, sent the stock market sliding. It came after Jerome H. Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, warned that failing to inject more federal help into the economy would risk weakening the tenuous recovery.
In multiple tweets later Tuesday night, Mr. Trump appeared to backtrack on his assertion that an agreement would wait until after Nov. 3, at one point urging both chambers to “IMMEDIATELY Approve” reviving a lapsed loan program for small businesses, funds to prevent airlines from furloughing or laying off workers and another round of stimulus checks. It remained unclear if his tweets, which came after stocks plummeted, reflected a willingness to restart negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Both provisions have bipartisan support, but several lawmakers have pushed for them to be included in a broader package.
Taken together, the drumbeat of events showed the extent to which the coronavirus is continuing to dominate life in America with less than a month to go before the next presidential election. The outbreak at the White House has raised concerns in the city that surrounds it. New cases are surging in the upper Midwest. The average of new reported infections across the country is creeping up again, after a late-summer decline.
In New York, which was the center of the pandemic early on but has since seen a marked decline in cases, several worrisome outbreaks led Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to temporarily close nonessential businesses and schools in some parts of New York City and its northern suburbs.
And Mr. Trump, who left the hospital to convalesce at a White House that has become a virus hot spot, announced on Twitter that he wants to face off against his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., in person next week — when he could still be contagious.
Mr. Trump said he planned to attend next week’s debate in Miami, which is scheduled for Oct. 15. It was unclear if the debate commission would permit the debate to go ahead, given his illness, or whether Mr. Biden would agree to share the stage with him. And as both campaigns prepared for a vice-presidential debate on Wednesday, aides to Vice President Mike Pence raised objections to plans to put plexiglass dividers between him and his opponent, Senator Kamala Harris of California.
Mr. Biden, in a speech in Gettysburg, Pa., where a Civil War battlefield serves as a symbol of a country divided against itself, called for national unity and said that what “we’re experiencing today is neither good nor normal.”
Facebook removed a post from Mr. Trump on Tuesday that violated its policy against sharing misinformation about the virus, one of the few times that the social network has taken down one of his posts. In Mr. Trump’s message, he falsely suggested that the flu was deadlier than the coronavirus.
And hopes that a new vaccine could be authorized by Election Day — which Mr. Trump has relentlessly pushed for — faded after the Food and Drug Administration released updated, stricter guidelines for vaccine developers. The stricter guidelines had been blocked by White House officials, including Mark Meadows, the chief of staff.
In pulling the plug until after the November election on talks for a new bill to send aid to needy Americans, Mr. Trump accused Ms. Pelosi in a tweet of “not negotiating in good faith” and urged Senate Republicans to focus solely on confirming his nominee to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks. Mr. Trump said that he had instructed Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to stop negotiating, sending the S&P 500 down as much as 1 percent in the immediate aftermath of his tweet. It had been up more than half a percent in the moments before. The index closed down 1.40 percent for the day.
“Our Economy is doing very well,” Mr. Trump tweeted as the market fell. “The Stock Market is at record levels, JOBS and unemployment also coming back in record numbers. We are leading the World in Economic Recovery, and THE BEST IS YET TO COME!” Mr. Biden countered on Twitter that “the President has turned his back on you.”
Mr. Trump was recovering in the White House residence, as a number of advisers and other officials stayed home, because they either had contracted the coronavirus or had been near people who had.
On Tuesday evening, senior administration officials confirmed that Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s top speechwriter and policy adviser, had tested positive for the virus.
The Capitol, normally a beehive of a workplace for 535 legislators and thousands of staff members, was eerily empty on Tuesday after Senate leaders agreed to adjourn for two weeks beginning Monday, even as Republicans are trying to fast-track Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. More than 40 senators, along with more than a dozen congressional aides and reporters, have been tested for the coronavirus since late last week, officials said on Tuesday. Three Republican senators — Mike Lee of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — have tested positive in recent days.
At the highest level of the military, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with several of the Pentagon’s most senior uniformed leaders, was quarantining after being exposed to the coronavirus, a Defense Department official said Tuesday. The official said that almost the entirety of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Gen. James C. McConville, the Army chief of staff, was quarantining after Adm. Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, tested positive for the virus.
In a memo titled “Precautions and POTUS Interactions” sent around the White House this week, staff members were warned about what to do when interacting with the president, including acquiring personal protective equipment from an “Isolation Cart.”
Staff members are only to go to the Oval Office or the residence on the second floor, where the first family lives, if they’re requested to go and expected to be there. If staff members are not in close contact with the president, meaning they’re more than six feet away from him, only a “surgical mask” and hand sanitizer are required, according to the memo from the White House Management Office, which was reviewed by a Times reporter.
But within six feet, people must use sanitizer and “remove any outer garments,” the memo said. “Ensure you are wearing the following Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE is provided in the Isolation Cart” that’s located “in the foyer area of the second floor residence and the outer Oval Office,” the memo stated.
The memo listed the types of equipment, including, “Yellow gown,” “Surgical mask,” “Protective eye wear” and “Gloves.”
Upon exiting, people are instructed to remove gowns and gloves and put them in a trash receptacle next to the cart, clean the eye shields with wipes that are provided and save them for future use, and then wash hands or use sanitizer after leaving.
With reduced financial support from the British government, colleges and universities are pushing to stay open to retain tuition fees and placing students into lockdown, with coronavirus infections rising in their dorms.
Students at Manchester Metropolitan University have taken to calling one of their residences H.M.P., for Her Majesty’s Prison, due to strict protocols that have left trash piled up in shared kitchens and students washing their clothes in bathroom sinks. Security guards stalked the gates, keeping anyone from leaving or entering.
Parties at the beginning of the school year led to the virus tearing chockablock though student suites, and the university largely left students on their own: It imposed such a draconian lockdown that students had to nurse roommates back to health, parents drove hours to deliver food and lawyers offered pro bono help.
The outbreaks have shone a harsh light on Britain’s decade-long campaign to turn higher education into a ruthless market. By cutting state grants and leaving schools dependent on tuition fees and room rents, the government encouraged them to jam more students onto campuses.
For Britain, where the Covid-19 death toll stands at 58,000, the highest in Europe, the pandemic has forced a reckoning with the government’s treatment of higher education, even as the country’s universities make crucial advances in the race for a vaccine.
“Students are money in the bank, and as long as we’re on campus they’ll worry about the consequences later,” said Aslan Warburton, a freshman at Manchester Metropolitan. “The financial side has taken priority over student well-being and the greater good.”
Dr. William Foege, a legendary figure in public health circles who served both Democratic and Republican presidents, has written an extraordinary private letter to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling on him to expose the Trump administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic — even if it means getting fired.
In the Sept. 23 letter, obtained and published Tuesday evening by USA Today, Dr. Foege, who served as director of the C.D.C. under former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, called on the current director, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, to admit to the administration’s failures or risk presiding over the ruin of the public health agency’s reputation, and his own.
“Dear Bob, I start each day thinking about the terrible burden you bear,” he began, making clear that this was not the first conversation the two men have had about the administration’s response and Dr. Redfield’s role in it.
“As I have indicated to you before, resigning is a one-day story and you will be replaced,” Dr. Foege wrote, adding that if Dr. Redfield remained silent, the White House would simply “blame you for the disaster” and move on.
He suggested another course: “You could, upfront, acknowledge the tragedy of responding poorly, apologize for what has happened and your role in acquiescing, set a course for how C.D.C. would now lead the country if there was no political interference.”
“Don’t shy away from the fact this has been an unacceptable toll on our country,” he added. “It is a slaughter and not just a political dispute.”
Dr. Foege, 84, has worked in the field for more than half a century. He is credited with devising the strategy that led to the successful eradication of smallpox in the 1970s, and played a key role in improving immunization rates in developing countries in the 1980s. He told Dr. Redfield he needed to lift morale at the C.D.C. and restore the agency’s reputation.
“When they fire you,” he concluded, “this will be a multi-week story and you can hold your head high. That will take exceptional courage on your part. I can’t tell you what to do except to revisit your religious beliefs and ask yourself what is right.”