Wall Street Starts Second Quarter With a Plunge: Live Updates

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Stocks drop as investors brace for more damage to come.

Wall Street is back in selling mode.

Faced with grim new projections of the potential scale and economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, investors dumped stocks on Wednesday. The S&P 500 fell more than 4 percent, bringing its decline over two days to 6 percent.

The drop, which followed a sell-off in Europe and Asia, came after President Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday that the United States would face a “very, very painful two weeks.” U.S. government scientists projected that the outbreak could kill up to 240,000 people in the country. On Wednesday, the United Nations warned of “enhanced instability, enhanced unrest and enhanced conflict.”

The economic readings continue to worsen as well. On Wednesday, surveys of manufacturing and factory activity in the United States, Europe and Japan showed activity slowing to levels not seen in a decade or more. In the United States, factory orders and employment measures fell to their lowest since 2009, the Institute for Supply Management said.

Fears are growing that the global downturn could be far more punishing and long lasting than initially feared — potentially enduring into next year, and even beyond — as governments intensify restrictions on business to halt the spread of the pandemic, and fear of the virus impedes consumer-led economic growth.

“The market is sort of steeling itself for the onslaught of bad news over the next couple weeks,” said Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist at the brokerage firm BTIG.

On Thursday, the U.S. government will report how many people filed for unemployment last week, and the data could show as many as 5 million workers lost their jobs as people stay home and factories shut down.

“There was an expectation that April 30 was perhaps a doable date in terms of reopening the economy,” said Mr. Emanuel. “I think the market is trading today as if that date is more like the end of May.”

On Wednesday, the decline was led by companies that have become familiar targets of investor unease during the crisis. Airlines were the worst performing sector in the S&P 500 as government data showed a staggering drop in passenger traffic through airports. United Airlines fell 19 percent, and American Airlines dropped 12 percent.

Cruise operator Carnival was the worst performing stock in the S&P 500, with a decline of 33 percent, while rival Royal Caribbean fell 20 percent.

Oil industry leaders will meet with Trump.

Top oil company executives will meet with President Trump on Friday to discuss possible government steps to take pressure off the industry at a time of slumping energy demand, according to a person close to company leaders.

The executives are not entirely united, with some favoring tariffs on imported oil and others favoring relief from regulations and royalties on federal lands.

The plan for the meeting was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

The meeting comes after Saudi Arabia sought to limit production as the coronavirus outbreak weighed on global markets, but failed to get Russia to agree. As a result, both countries are pumping more oil to gain market share from U.S. producers, driving prices to two-decade lows. West Texas intermediate crude, the American benchmark, is trading barely above $20 a barrel.

Warren pressures delivery companies over workers.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called on food delivery start-ups to reclassify the workers who deliver their orders as employees rather than independent contractors, a move that would make the workers eligible for health care and other benefits.

In letters sent on Wednesday to the chief executives of DoorDash, Uber Eats, Instacart and GrubHub, Ms. Warren said the companies had misclassified their workers for years but the coronavirus pandemic increased the urgency with which they must act. California and Massachusetts have passed legislation that requires the so-called gig economy companies to reclassify their workers but the companies have resisted doing so.

“The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated how much your company is completely reliant on these workers to provide essential services to the public,” Ms. Warren wrote. “Delivery workers are experiencing serious health and economic vulnerabilities as a result of their jobs, and your company is failing to provide appropriate and necessary protections.”

Instacart and DoorDash spokespeople said that their companies had offered quarantine pay to delivery workers and wanted to work with Ms. Warren to protect workers. Uber said Congress should pass new laws to protect the gig economy model. A GrubHub representative said the company was also offering quarantine pay and sanitation supplies.

Automakers report a sharp drop in sales.

Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Automakers reported a plunge in new-vehicle sales as fear of the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders kept consumers from dealerships, adding to the troubles of the country’s largest manufacturing sector.

General Motors said sales fell 7 percent in the first quarter and Fiat Chrysler said first-quarter sales fell 10 percent. Both companies said a significant decline in March offset strong sales in January and February.

Hyundai reported a 42 percent drop in March, and Mercedes-Benz had a 50 percent decline. Other automakers will report monthly and quarterly totals later on Wednesday.

Industry forecasters expect to produce a total for March after all automakers have reported. ALG, a company that tracks trends in auto sales, estimated that industrywide March sales fell 37 percent from a year ago.

The drop in sales is the second big blow to automakers. Most of the industry has shut down factories across North America to prevent the spread of the virus among workers.

“The market right now is really shellshocked,” said Brian Benstock, general manager of Paragon Honda in Queens. He said his service department is “on limp mode” and his sales area is dark.

Data on airport screenings shows falloff in air travel.

As the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world in February and March, demand for flights quickly started to collapse. World governments enacted travel bans, borders closed, and travelers opted to stay at home in efforts to contain the outbreak. Those efforts have almost entirely halted air travel in the United States.

The number of people screened by the federal government at airport checkpoints fell dramatically each day in March when compared to the same day of the week a year earlier, ending the month at just 7 percent of last year’s volume, according to Transportation Security Administration data.

On March 1, the agency screened about 99 percent of the 2.3 million passengers, airline crew members and airport workers who filtered past its checkpoints on the same day last year. But by Tuesday, the end of the month, only about 146,000 people streamed past the checkpoints, or about 7 percent of the 2 million people screened last year.

Why the global recession could last a long time.

Fears are growing that the downturn gripping the global economy could be far more punishing and long lasting than initially feared — potentially enduring into next year and even beyond.

The pandemic is above all a public health emergency. So long as human interaction remains dangerous, business cannot responsibly return to normal. And what was normal before may not be anymore. People may be less inclined to jam into crowded restaurants and concert halls even after the virus is contained.

The abrupt halt of commercial activity threatens to impose economic pain so profound and enduring in every region of the world at once that recovery could take years. The losses to companies, many already saturated with debt, risk setting off a financial crisis of cataclysmic proportions.

“I feel like the 2008 financial crisis was just a dry run for this,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist and co-author of a history of financial crises, “This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.”

“This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years,” he said. “Everything depends on how long it lasts, but if this goes on for a long time, it’s certainly going to be the mother of all financial crises.”

The U.S. government readies loans for midsize companies.

The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are racing to finalize the development of a Main Street lending program aimed at helping mid-market companies along with a new program to buttress states and municipalities suffering financially from the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC on Wednesday that the programs were part of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to stimulate an economy that is facing a deep recession. Mr. Mnuchin said he was also talking with members of Congress about legislation that would boost investment in the nation’s infrastructure and that he was prepared to ask for more money to support small business loans.

“Jay Powell and I are working round-the-clock at providing liquidity into the economy,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

Mr. Mnuchin would not reveal the timing of the new Fed programs, but said they would be coming shortly.

“We want to get up and running so that they’re available to American business and American workers quickly,” he said.

Start-up employees are among those out of work with little warning.

Start-ups have always been risky, designed to grow fast or die, but the coronavirus pandemic is turbocharging Silicon Valley’s natural selection and causing a shake-up so sudden it has defied comparison.

In just a few weeks, more than 50 start-ups have cut or furloughed roughly 6,000 employees, according to a tally by The New York Times. Plans for initial public offerings are delayed. And funding is drying up for many young tech companies.

Start-ups in some areas — telemedicine, food delivery, online learning, remote work, gaming — are thriving amid the quarantines.

But at ClassPass, which offers a membership program for fitness classes, more than 95 percent of its revenue evaporated in just 10 days as studios and gyms around the world shut down.

The fallout is hitting prominent start-ups as well. Airbnb, the home rental start-up valued at $31 billion, has stopped hiring and has suspended $800 million of marketing. Bird, an electric scooter start-up, laid off 30 percent of its staff last week, while Everlane, an apparel company, cut or furloughed hundreds of workers.

There were signs that the boom times were shaky even before the coronavirus brought wide swaths of the U.S. economy to a halt. But the pain is now deeper and most likely just beginning, especially as investors, already bruised by a string of disappointing initial public offerings last year, become even more cautious.

What else is going on:

  • Whiting Petroleum, an oil company focused on shale projects in North Dakota and Colorado, said it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing “the severe downturn in oil and gas prices driven by uncertainty around the duration of the Saudi/Russia oil price war and the Covid-19 pandemic.” Whiting, which has roughly $1 billion of debt coming due over the next year, said it had reached an agreement in principle with some creditors on a comprehensive restructuring.

  • Investors pulled more than $83 billion out of equity and debt investments in emerging markets, new data from the Institute of International Finance shows. “This record-breaking outflow episode is significantly larger than the one seen during the global financial crisis,” economists at IIF wrote in a note on Wednesday.

  • Banks in Britain, including Barclays, HSBC and RBS, said they would not pay dividends or carry out share buybacks this year. The supervisory arm of the Bank of England, which had requested the move, also encouraged the banks not to award cash bonuses to senior staff members this year. The European Central Bank has issued a similar request to eurozone banks.

Reporting was contributed by Clifford Krauss, Erin Griffith, Alan Rappeport, Neal E. Boudette, Kate Conger, Ben Dooley, Peter S. Goodman, Niraj Chokshi, Li Yuan, Keith Bradsher, Noam Scheiber, Amie Tsang, Jason Karaian, Carlos Tejada, Stanley Reed, Quoctrung Bui, Katie Robertson, Mohammed Hadi, Kevin Granville and Daniel Victor.

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Notion, Maker of Collaboration Software, Raises $50 Million

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SAN FRANCISCO — The spread of the coronavirus has meant feast or famine for technology start-ups. While many are cutting staff and slashing costs as they reel from the outbreak’s fallout, others have experienced a surge in demand.

One of the lucky ones is Notion, a workplace productivity start-up based in San Francisco, whose tools help people organize and track their work. With more people working remotely now and turning to such products, new customer sign-ups hit a new high for Notion in recent weeks.

That allowed the start-up to garner new funding. On Wednesday, Notion said it raised $50 million from Index Ventures and other investors that valued it at $2 billion. Notion had previously been valued at $800 million.

The fund-raising was completed in 36 hours last week after the virus pushed Ivan Zhao, Notion’s founder and chief executive, and Akshay Kothari, Notion’s chief operating officer, to rethink their previous position of not relying too much on venture capital.

In a moment of uncertainty, Mr. Kothari said, “financing is a signal of stability, which is important for us.”

So they called Sarah Cannon, an investor at Index Ventures who had been courting Notion for over a year. “When the world changed, they changed their mind,” she said.

Notion is emblematic of the kind of technology start-up that may be in a position to survive the shakeout in Silicon Valley. Its tools help office workers, now quarantined in their homes, work together more seamlessly. Notion is also profitable.

Before the most recent funding, Notion, which was founded in 2013, had raised $17 million. The company declined to disclose its revenue, but said it had made money since 2018.

Notion’s stark black-and-white product offers “templates” of checklists and projects for, say, bringing on new hires, tracking product development, or managing editorial calendars for marketers. People use Notion in place of note-taking apps, collaboration services or writing software, and they pay a monthly fee of $4 to $20 each for extra features like more security and storage.

Ram Shriram, a venture capitalist who invested in Notion in 2013, said that at many businesses, “a lot of the products we use were designed in the 1990s.” There is room for new workplace tools that take advantage of the internet and other advances so people can collaborate and have the most up-to-date data while they work, he said.

Mr. Zhao started Notion after graduating from the University of British Columbia and working at Inkling, a document-sharing start-up in San Francisco. He initially raised $2 million, which he spent on developing a product over several years.

At one point, Notion ran dangerously low on cash and laid off four employees. In 2016, Mr. Zhao borrowed $150,000 from his mother to keep the start-up afloat.

The tide turned that same year when Mr. Zhao released Notion’s software product. It quickly caught on among techies and early adopters at companies like Samsung and Hearst.

At MetaLab, a 140-person design agency in Vancouver, Notion has now replaced 12 different tools, including Google Slides and Trello, a list-making service. MetaLab said it used Notion to present work to clients and to collect their feedback all in one place, among other tasks.

“It’s not trying to be everything to everyone,” Justin Watt, MetaLab’s director of operations and marketing, said of the software. “The killer feature is that it is what you make of it.”

That traction attracted venture capitalists and others who wanted to invest in Notion last year. But Shana Fisher, an investor at Third Kind Venture Capital who had earlier backed the start-up, cautioned Mr. Zhao about raising too much capital because it could be distracting.

Notion has users in countries including Russia, Japan and Germany. Since last May, its users have organized more than 180 meet-ups in 21 countries and 52 cities.

By early last year, Notion had nearly one million users. That has since quadrupled, Mr. Kothari said.

The company has stayed small, with 42 employees. People eager to work there have gone to surprising lengths for attention — one recently sent a package of cupcakes decorated with his own face and the words “Hire me!”

Mr. Zhao said he was wary of bloat slowing the start-up down and degrading the quality of its product.

“‘Moby Dick’ is written by one person,” he said. “Adding another person doesn’t necessarily give you a higher-quality ‘Moby Dick.’ It doesn’t even necessarily make it faster.”

The start-up is now in a tricky stage of building on its growth with more established customers. Last year, Notion expanded its service to larger corporate clients, who typically need armies of sales representatives and who negotiate complicated contracts.

Notion has hired seven salespeople, who will not be able to visit clients in person while social distancing is in effect. It is also building new features into its software — like options for dictating who can access and edit documents — to satisfy larger companies’ legal, security and compliance requirements.

Mr. Kothari said Notion could have easily raised more than $50 million, but that amount gives the company at least 10 years of financing to operate.

“Ten years is enough,” Mr. Zhao said.

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Auto Sales Plummet in First Quarter as Buyers Stay Away

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Automakers reported a plunge in new-vehicle sales as fear of the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders kept consumers from dealerships, adding to the troubles of the country’s largest manufacturing sector.

General Motors said sales fell 7 percent in the first quarter and Fiat Chrysler said first-quarter sales fell 10 percent. Both companies said a significant decline in March offset strong sales in January and February.

In addition, Hyundai reported a 42 percent drop in U.S. sales in March, and Mercedes-Benz had a 50 percent decline. Other automakers will report monthly and quarterly totals later on Wednesday.

ALG, a company that tracks trends in auto sales, estimated that industrywide March sales fell 37 percent from a year ago. Analysts will tabulate a total for March sales after all automakers have reported their numbers.

Dealers had hoped to continue selling cars at the beginning of March, but customer traffic quickly dwindled as it became clear that the virus was spreading rapidly. Many dealerships around the country remain open for repair and maintenance services, often with reduced hours.

“The market right now is really shellshocked,” said Brian Benstock, general manager of Paragon Honda in Queens. He said his service department is in “limp mode” and his sales area is dark.

Tom Maletic, a retired pharmaceuticals salesman in Napoleon, Mich., was ready to turn in a 2011 Ford Focus in need of major repairs a week ago, but the virus forced him to put off a purchase. Instead he spent $1,500 on fixing his Focus, which has 130,000 miles on the odometer.

“My wife said we could get a Mustang, but I wasn’t going to go out shopping for a car,” Mr. Maletic said.

The drop in sales is the second big blow to automakers. Most companies have shut down factories across North America to prevent the spread of the virus among workers.

Automakers and dealers expect a bigger decline this month because stay-at-home orders will be in effect for most or all of the month in many parts of the country. Even as some states lift or relax those orders, consumers will likely stay away from showrooms for some time.

In St. Louis, where a lockdown order has been issued by the local government, Ann Kittlaus is unsure of how to trade in her family’s 2017 Acura MDX, since the lease is expiring soon. “We would have to have the dealer deliver a new one and take the other away,” said Ms. Kittlaus, a public relations professional and mother of two college-age children.

She added she would probably let the vehicle sit for a week to be sure it doesn’t have any traces of the virus. In any case, she said she is not in a hurry to make the trade. “It’s not like we’re going anywhere,” Ms. Kittlaus said.

A dramatic drop in sales in April could cause a painful chain reaction. With no buyers driving cars off their lots, dealers won’t have to order more from the manufacturers. That could force car companies and their suppliers to keep their plants idle or production low even once officials allow more people to go back to work.

Signs of strain have already surfaced. G.M., Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler have cut or deferred pay for executives. G.M. and Ford have drawn on lines of credit to stock up on cash. Group 1 Automotive, a Houston-based company that owns 242 new-vehicle dealerships and 49 repair shops, has cut executive pay and furloughed thousands of employees for at least 30 days.

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The Coronavirus Patients Betrayed by Their Own Immune Systems

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The 42-year-old man arrived at a hospital in Paris on March 17 with a fever, cough and the “ground glass opacities” in both lungs that are a trademark of infection with the new coronavirus.

Two days later, his condition suddenly worsened and his oxygen levels dropped. His body, doctors suspected, was in the grip of a cytokine storm, a dangerous overreaction of the immune system. The phenomenon has become all too common in the coronavirus pandemic, but it is also pointing to potentially helpful drug treatments.

When the body first encounters a virus or a bacterium, the immune system ramps up and begins to fight the invader. The foot soldiers in this fight are molecules called cytokines that set off a cascade of signals to cells to marshal a response. Usually, the stronger this immune response, the stronger the chance of vanquishing the infection, which is partly why children and younger people are less vulnerable over all to coronavirus. And once the enemy is defeated, the immune system is hard-wired to shut itself off.

“For most people and most infections, that’s what happens,” said Dr. Randy Cron, an expert on cytokine storms at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

But in some cases — as much as 15 percent of people battling any serious infection, according to Dr. Cron’s team — the immune system keeps raging long after the virus is no longer a threat. It continues to release cytokines that keep the body on an exhausting full alert. In their misguided bid to keep the body safe, these cytokines attack multiple organs including the lungs and liver, and may eventually lead to death.

In these people, it’s their body’s response, rather than the virus, that ultimately causes harm.

Cytokine storms can overtake people of any age, but some scientists believe that they may explain why healthy young people died during the 1918 pandemic and more recently during the SARS, MERS and H1N1 epidemics. They are also a complication of various autoimmune diseases like lupus and Still’s disease, a form of arthritis. And they may offer clues as to why otherwise healthy young people with coronavirus infection are succumbing to acute respiratory distress syndrome, a common consequence of a cytokine storm.

Reports from China and Italy have described young patients with clinical outcomes that seem consistent with this phenomenon. It’s very likely that some of these patients developed a cytokine storm, Dr. Cron said.

In the case of the 42-year-old patient, the suspected cytokine storm led his doctors to eventually try tocilizumab, a drug they have sometimes used to soothe an immune system in distress.

After just two doses of the drug, spaced eight hours apart, the patient’s fever rapidly disappeared, his oxygen levels rose and a chest scan showed his lungs clearing. The case report, described in an upcoming paper in Annals of Oncology, joins dozens of accounts from Italy and China, all indicating that tocilizumab might be an effective antidote to the coronavirus in some people.

On March 5, China approved the drug to treat serious cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and authorized clinical trials. On March 23, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted approval to the pharmaceutical company Roche to test the drug in hundreds of people with coronavirus infection.

Tocilizumab is approved to quieten the chatter of immune molecules in rheumatoid arthritis and in some types of cancer. It mutes the activity of a specific cytokine called interleukin-6 that is associated with an over-exuberant immune response.

“That’s the rationale for using the drug,” said Dr. Laurence Albiges, who cared for the patient at the Gustave Roussy Cancer Center in Paris.

Even as researchers look for treatments, they are trying to learn more about why some people’s immune systems go into this dangerous overdrive. Genetic factors explain the risk, at least in some kinds of cytokine storms.

There are many variations on the phenomenon, and they go by many names: systemic inflammatory response syndrome, cytokine release syndrome, macrophage activation syndrome, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis.

Broadly speaking, they are all marked by an unbridled surge in immune molecules, and may all result in the fatal shutdown of multiple organs.

But many doctors are unfamiliar with this niche concept or how to treat it, experts said.

“Everyone’s talking about cytokine storm as if it were a well-recognized phenomenon, but you could have asked medics two weeks ago and they wouldn’t have heard of it,” said Dr. Jessica Manson, an immunologist at University College London Hospital.

A patient battling a cytokine storm may have an abnormally fast heart rate, fever and a drop in blood pressure. Apart from a surge in interleukin-6, the body may also show high swirling levels of molecules called interleukin-1, interferon-gamma, C-reactive protein and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.

This storm, if it develops, becomes obvious a few days into the infection. But the sooner doctors catch on to it and treat it, the more likely the patient is to survive. Too late, and the storm may be beyond control, or may already have caused too much damage.

There is a relatively simple, rapid and easily available test that can detect whether a patient’s body has been taken over by a cytokine storm. It looks for high levels of a protein called ferritin.

But if the test does suggest a cytokine storm is underway, what then?

The seemingly obvious solution is to quell the storm, Dr. Cron said: “If it’s the body’s response to the infection that’s killing you, you need to treat that.”

The reality is trickier, especially given the lack of reliable data for Covid-19. But noting that drugs like tocilizumab are taken regularly by people with arthritis, Dr. Cron said the benefit would probably outweigh potential harm if someone is facing death.

“We need evidence-based data, but in a pandemic, where we’re flying by the seat of our pants, we always have to treat the patient in front of us,” he said.

Other drugs might also be useful against cytokine storms. For example, a drug called anakinra mutes interleukin-1, another of the wayward proteins. Clinical trials of anakinra for Covid-19 are also underway. A report published this week suggested that hydroxychloroquine, a much-spotlighted malaria drug that also calms an overactive immune response, might also be effective as a treatment for those who are mildly ill from coronavirus.

Doctors could also turn to corticosteroids, which broadly turn down the entire immune response. That poses its own danger, by exposing the patient to other opportunistic infections, especially in a hospital. “It’s about getting the balance right between suppression of the over-exuberant immune response and still allowing the immune response to fight the virus,” Dr. Manson said.

A group of experts convened two weeks ago to discuss the best ways to collect more data and to treat patients who appear to have cytokine storm. It’s already clear that the complexities of the immune system and the course of coronavirus mean there is no single best treatment.

At the Gustave Roussy Cancer Center, doctors treated another coronavirus patient with tocilizumab. That individual did not show any improvement with the drug.

“The response to the pathogen, the virus, is totally different in different individuals,” said Dr. Fabrice André, an oncologist at the center. “The trials will determine in which patients it works.”

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Warner Media Shake-Up: Jason Kilar Replaces John Stankey as Chief Executive

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Jason Kilar will replace John Stankey as the chief executive of Warner Media next month, the company announced on Wednesday.

Mr. Kilar, the founding chief executive of Hulu, will report to Mr. Stankey, who will remain AT&T’s president and chief operating officer.

Warner Media, a division of AT&T that includes HBO, CNN and the Warner Bros. movie studio, is scheduled to unveil a new streaming service next month, HBO Max.

“Jason is a dynamic executive with the right skill set to lead WarnerMedia into the future,” Mr. Stankey said in a statement. “His experience in media and entertainment, direct-to-consumer video streaming and advertising is the perfect fit for WarnerMedia, and I am excited to have him lead the next chapter of WarnerMedia’s storied success.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Stop Trying to Be Productive

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When Dave Kyu, 34, an arts administrator in Philadelphia, realized that he would be working from home for the foreseeable future, he began to fantasize about the projects he could now complete around the house.

“We went and bought all this paint and cabinet hardware and thought we were going to do the kitchen cabinet project we had wanted to do forever,” he said. Two weeks later, he and his wife haven’t touched their supplies. They have two children and demanding jobs. There’s no extra time.

“We realize now it was a silly thought,” Mr. Kyu said. “It’s a lot more stressful than I expected.”

As the coronavirus outbreak has brought life largely indoors, many people are feeling pressure to organize every room in their homes, become expert home chefs (or bakers), write the next “King Lear” and get in shape. The internet — with its constant stream of how-to headlines and viral challenges — has only reinforced the demand to get things done.

“It’s everywhere,” said Julie Ulstrup, 57, a photographer in Colorado. “It’s in blog posts, it’s on social media, it’s in emails I get from people like, ‘use this time productively!’ As if I usually don’t.”

But in the midst of a global pandemic that has upended nearly every facet of modern life, people are finding it harder and harder to get things done.

“It’s tough enough to be productive in the best of times let alone when we’re in a global crisis,” said Chris Bailey, a productivity consultant and the author of “Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction.” “The idea that we have so much time available during the day now is fantastic, but these days it’s the opposite of a luxury. We’re home because we have to be home, and we have much less attention because we’re living through so much.”

After her office announced that it would be going remote, Sara Johnson, 30, who works in philanthropy, created a detailed schedule of all the things she’d do with the extra three hours a day that she would no longer spending commuting. “I sat down last weekend and just felt like I hadn’t been maximizing this time that I have that I don’t usually have on my hands,” she said.

“I set an hour on my call every day for a home workout. Then I’d be on calls for three hours, then I’d make a homemade breakfast, take a walk at lunchtime, work on something non-screen-related in the evening, cook dinner and go on a run,” she said. So far, she admitted, “none of this has stuck.”

This urge to overachieve, even in times of global crisis, is reflective of America’s always-on work culture. In a recent article for The New Republic, the journalist Nick Martin writes that “this mind-set is the natural endpoint of America’s hustle culture — the idea that every nanosecond of our lives must be commodified and pointed toward profit and self-improvement.” Drew Millard put it more directly in an essay for The Outline: If you are lucky enough to be employed, the only person who cares what you’re doing right now is your boss.

Anne Helen Petersen, a journalist and the author of the forthcoming book “Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” seconded his assertion. “We’re so used to making every moment of ours productive in some capacity,” she said. “Like, I’m on a walk, I should listen to this information podcast that makes me more informed or a better person.”

Dr. Petersen said that the impulse to optimize every minute is especially common in millennials, many of whom are now balancing work and child care at home. “I think for millennials, our brains are particularly broken in terms of productivity,” she said. “Either you give up or feel bad about it all the time.”

Maggie Schuman, 32, is facing that very quandary now that her family is taking part in a Peloton challenge through the workout platform’s app.

“Every day everyone sends around a green check mark, and for some reason, now that I have that in my head of this thing I’m supposed to be doing, I’m not doing it,” Ms. Schuman, a product specialist in California, said. “I feel a bit like a failure.” She also ignored her sister when she tagged her in a push-up challenge on Instagram.

Instead, Ms. Schuman has started a gratitude journal and is working on practicing acceptance. “You’re supposed to be inventing something or coming up with the next big business idea or doing something great that’s going to be worthy of time spent at home,” she said. “I’m trying to be more OK with just being.”

Noelle Kelso, 38, a scientific consultant in Georgia, said that she’s “trying to find productivity in the small moments” but that the recent events have given her perspective.

“For a lot of Americans, everyone’s job is at stake right now whether you thought you were upper middle class, middle or working class, everyone’s livelihood is at stake,” she said. Right now she is focusing on not allowing her mind to “drift to a place of fear, concern, panic or stress,” she said, and instead encouraging herself to “keep the faith and remain grateful.”

“Putting all this pressure and stress on myself, it’s incredibly counterproductive,” said Ms. Ulstrup. “I’m putting stress on myself during a time that’s already stressful.”

Adam Hasham, 40, a product manager in Washington, said that it’s only a matter of time before more people realize that self-optimization in this time is futile. “I stopped seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, adding that his optimism about the situation had “gone out the window.”

“It’s like you’re underwater,” Mr. Hasham said.

Dr. Petersen said having compassion during these times is key. “I think that everyone is coping with this differently, and there’s a real tendency to shame people who aren’t coping with it the way you are or have different circumstances,” she said.

Finding small pleasures helps, too. Mr. Bailey offered one suggestion: “Get yourself some Indian food and drink a bottle of wine with your spouse. We’re going through a lot and we all just need to take it easy.”

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Are You Unemployed Because of the Coronavirus Outbreak?

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The coronavirus pandemic, and the shutdowns it has caused, has already led to millions of unemployment claims across the U.S. Economists expect millions more in the weeks ahead.

The Times would like to talk to people in the U.S. who have lost jobs or income as a result of the outbreak. Have you been able to apply for unemployment benefits? Do you expect to go back to the same employer once businesses reopen? How are you making ends meet?

We would also like to talk to the businesses making the difficult decision whether to lay off workers. Have you been forced to cut jobs? How did you come to that decision? How, if at all, will the federal government’s rescue package affect your plans?

Please answer the questions below. A Times reporter or editor may contact you to hear more about your story.

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Zantac Products Should Not Be Sold or Used, F.D.A. Warns, Citing Cancer Danger

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The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday asked companies to stop selling all forms of the heartburn drug Zantac, after concluding that a potential cancer-causing contaminant can build up in the drug when stored for long periods.

The agency also recommended that consumers who use over-the-counter forms of the drug, also known as ranitidine, stop taking it and that they should dispose of any tablets or liquid that they have. People who take prescription forms of the drug should speak with their doctor about other options before stopping treatment.

Most manufacturers withdrew their products from the market several months ago, after an outside pharmacy raised the alarm about the drug last year. Large pharmacy chains, including Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS, had also removed all of the products from their shelves.

The F.D.A. said last September that the contaminant was a type of nitrosamine called N-nitrosodimethylamine, or NDMA, which is believed to be carcinogenic in humans and is found in a variety of products, including cured meats.

Its investigation was prompted by the findings of an online pharmacy, Valisure, which had petitioned the F.D.A. to request a recall of all products containing ranitidine because it said its own tests had revealed high levels of NDMA, above the F.D.A.’s acceptable daily limit.

At the time, Valisure speculated that the source of the contaminant was the result of the “inherent instability” of the ranitidine molecule, which can degrade under certain conditions, such as high temperatures, to create NDMA.

But the F.D.A. initially pushed back against the pharmacy’s testing methods, saying the results were invalid because the pharmacy heated the product, which created the higher levels of NDMA.

On Wednesday, however, the agency appeared to confirm Valisure’s findings, saying that “the impurity in some ranitidine products increases over time and when stored at higher than room temperatures and may result in consumer exposure to unacceptable levels of this impurity.”

The F.D.A. said people could consider other heartburn products that did not contain NDMA, according to its testing. They include brand and generic forms of Pepcid, Tagamet, Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec.

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France Tries Limiting Joblessness to Confront Coronavirus Recession

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PARIS — When France started shutting down a few weeks ago as the coronavirus marched relentlessly into the country, Dominic Paul feared disaster. His family’s white-glove catering company, Groupe Butard, halted operations, putting 190 jobs at risk.

Edward Arkwright, the director general of Aéroports de Paris, the Paris airport operator, weighed how to preserve over 140,000 jobs when a freeze on most global airline traffic caused activity to nose-dive 90 percent in a few head-spinning days.

The future of both businesses, and hundreds of thousands more around France, spiraled into uncertainty. Instead of sinking, though, they are being thrown lifelines as the French government deploys a targeted plan aimed at sheltering companies and keeping every worker possible employed.

“We’re using the government’s whole toolbox to get through this crisis,” said Mr. Paul, eyeing the company’s empty Armenonville Pavillon on the edge of Paris, where just weeks ago chefs and waiters served delicacies like scallop carpaccio for glittering events. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to keep up.”

As the coronavirus wallops the world’s economies, France is rapidly emerging as a test case of whether a country can hasten the recovery from a recession by protecting businesses from going under in the first place, and avoiding mass joblessness.

In the United States, the coronavirus has already provoked millions of layoffs. While the $2 trillion rescue package signed by President Trump sends massive relief to American workers and businesses, France and other European Union countries are deploying a more encompassing state-led approach to ward off mass joblessness in the event that the epidemic takes months, rather than weeks, to contain.

“There’s a very different strategy in Europe than in the United States about how to manage this recession,” said Patrick Artus, chief economist of Paris-based Natixis Bank. “The idea is to have no layoffs or company closures, so that when the coronavirus is finally under control the economy can start right back up.”

France is hoping to learn a lesson from the 2008 financial crisis, when it didn’t take aggressive steps to support workers and businesses. Unemployment soon jumped to around 10 percent and stayed high for half a decade. By contrast, the rise in joblessness in Germany — which kept companies from collapsing by subsidizing furloughs in a system known as “Kurzarbeitergeld,” or short-time work — lasted less than a year before falling steadily.

“France has decided it’s not going to make the same mistake with the coronavirus,” said Simon Tilford, director of the Forum New Economy, a research institution in Berlin. “That approach is going to be much less devastating.”

Austria, Denmark and other northern countries have similar policies, and Britain announced last week that it would do the same. And on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said governments would join to support short-time work so that “more people will keep their job” during the current crisis.

In France, the government is spending 45 billion euros ($50 billion) to pay businesses not to lay off workers. Deadlines for taxes and loan payments are delayed. Another €300 billion in state-guaranteed loans are being extended to any struggling company that needs them.

Over 337,000 businesses have already put 3.6 million employees on paid furlough to be reimbursed by the state, the Labor Ministry said Wednesday. Officials expect the numbers to more than double as it receives “several thousand requests per minute.”

The plan isn’t without risks. European leaders are wary of relaunching the economy before the epidemic is proved to be under control. The tsunami of fiscal support by France and its neighbors — over €2 trillion euros in spending and loan guarantees combined — can only be sustained a few months, economists say.

The risk extends to the businesses as well, which must continue to pay one-fifth of the salaries of employees who aren’t working. If the economy doesn’t rebound by autumn, companies say they may yet be forced to revert to layoffs.

Mr. Paul of Groupe Butard is betting things won’t get that bad, despite fearing the worst when orders were canceled en masse in early March. Events organized by corporate giants like Schneider Electric and the French Federation of Rugby were called off, shrinking his expected monthly revenue of €4 million to €500,000 and leaving Dominique Julo, the company’s events director, with little to plan for.

Since then, Mr. Paul has used all the financial backstops made available by the French government, even delays of payments for electricity bills and rent on Groupe Butard’s offices and its hulking food preparation facilities outside of Paris.

The state will pay him 80 percent of his employees’ salaries to keep them on payroll. Although Mr. Paul is still waiting for the money, because of a backlog in the 10-day reimbursement period promised by the government, the combined financial relief means the company “will be ready to rebound once the crisis is over,” he said.

In Germany, use of its paid furlough program is also soaring. Nearly 500,000 firms filed for support in March, the government said Tuesday, up from fewer than 2,000 in February. Among them are Daimler, Volkswagen, Lufthansa and the company that manages Frankfurt Airport, where air traffic has plunged 90 percent.

A similar collapse in activity forced Mr. Arkwright, the director general of Aéroports de Paris, to put 80 percent of the 6,000 administrative employees and 135,000 baggage handlers, security agents and other workers on paid furlough after Orly Airport and all but two terminals at Charles de Gaulle Airport, the second-busiest in Europe, closed.

He faced extraordinary circumstances as losses ballooned to an estimated €1.3 billion. Adding to the chaos, Chief Executive Augustin de Romane tested positive for the virus, leaving Mr. Arkwright to manage on an emergency basis as two-thirds of the airport company’s board also self-quarantined. All the executives emerged in good health.

Aéroports de Paris, which is half owned by the state and is slated for privatization this year, is saving €25 million a month from government subsidies for paid furloughs, Mr. Arkwright said. The state has asked the company not to pay out an annual dividend.

“The advantage of this approach is that we can start up again literally from one day to the next,” Mr. Arkwright said. “I can call you and say, ‘come in tomorrow.’ But if you go into unemployment, it’s not sure you’d be called in for a job. And we would lose people with valuable skills.”

Allowing unemployment to balloon would also cost European governments huge sums, because of the generous benefits offered to fired workers. In Germany, for instance, someone who is let go after 12 months can still receive 60 percent of their salary for the next nine; in France, unemployment benefits last up to two years.

“Laying people off actually costs more,” said Mr. Arkwright.

And people who can keep their jobs “are less unhappy and shocked than people who have been fired,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London. “They are less likely to dramatically cut their consumption. That limits the overall economic damage,” he said.

In that sense, Mr. Schmieding added, governments paying companies to keep people furloughed “achieve a bigger impact for less money than supporting people who have lost their jobs.” The United States, which will now extend jobless benefits and make one-time cash payments to support workers, is effectively “paying the price for its inadequate welfare net,” he said.

Mr. Paul of Group Butard said the French government’s protectionist playbook could sometimes be stifling for business. 

But in the coronavirus crisis, safeguarding the economy and helping companies avoid throwing workers into unemployment would leave French society better off than others once the epidemic is contained, he said.

“The French system can be cumbersome,” he said. “But it is incredibly effective in times like these.”

Constant Méheut contributed reporting from Paris and Jack Ewing from Frankfurt

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Malaria Drug Helps Virus Patients Improve, in Small Study

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The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine helped to speed the recovery of a small number of patients who were mildly ill from the coronavirus, doctors in China reported this week.

Cough, fever and pneumonia went away faster, and the disease seemed less likely to turn severe in people who received hydroxychloroquine than in a comparison group not given the drug. The authors of the report said that the medication was promising, but that more research was needed to clarify how it might work in treating coronavirus disease and to determine the best way to use it.

“It’s going to send a ripple of excitement out through the treating community,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

The study was small and limited to patients who were mildly or moderately ill, not severe cases. Like many reports about the coronavirus, it was posted at medRxiv, an online server for medical articles, before undergoing peer review by other researchers.

But the findings strongly support earlier studies suggesting a role for the drug, Dr. Schaffner said.

“I think it will reinforce the inclination of many people across the country who are not in a position to enter their patients into clinical trials but have already begun using hydroxychloroquine,” he said.

Previous reports from China and France that the drug seemed to help patients, along with enthusiastic comments from President Trump, have created a buzz around hydroxychloroquine and the closely related chloroquine, which are decades-old drugs used to treat malaria and autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. A resulting spike in demand has led to hoarding and shortages, and left patients who rely on the drugs for chronic diseases wondering whether they will be able to fill their prescriptions.

With no proven treatment for the coronavirus, many hospitals have simply been giving hydroxychloroquine to patients, reasoning that it might help and probably will not hurt, because it is relatively safe.

The earlier reports from France and China drew criticism because they did not include control groups to compare treated versus untreated patients. Researchers called the reports anecdotal, and said the lack of controls made it impossible to determine whether the drugs worked.

Among health officials who declined to endorse the drugs, and who called for clinical trials, were some members of the president’s coronavirus task force — including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

The new study, of 62 patients with an average age of about 45, did have a control group. It was conducted at the Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, in Wuhan, China. The patients were carefully chosen to exclude people with medical problems that could be made worse by hydroxychloroquine, like abnormal heart rhythms, certain eye diseases, and liver or kidney problems.

Half the subjects — the controls — received just the usual care given to coronavirus patients, and half had usual care plus hydroxychloroquine. The usual care included oxygen, antiviral drugs, antibiotics and other treatments.

Their disease was considered mild, even though all had pneumonia that showed up on CT scans. After giving informed consent, they were assigned at random to either the hydroxychloroquine or the control group. They were treated for five days, and their fevers and coughing were monitored. They also had chest CT scans the day before the study treatment began, and the day after it ended.

Coughing and fever eased a day or so earlier in the patients who received hydroxychloroquine, and pneumonia improved in 25 of 31, as opposed to 17 of 31 in the controls.

The illness turned severe in four patients — all in the control group.

Two patients had minor side effects from hydroxychloroquine: One had a rash and another had a headache.

Dr. Schaffner cautioned that the results applied only to patients with relatively mild illness, like the ones in the study, and could not be generalized to advanced cases.

“If you want to treat people who are already seriously ill, we don’t know how well this will work,” he said.

If the drug is helping, it is not clear how. There are two possible ways. In laboratory studies, it can stop the virus from invading cells. But hydroxychloroquine can also dial back an overactive immune system, which is why it can treat autoimmune diseases. And a powerful immune reaction to the coronavirus is suspected of playing a role in some of the severest cases of the disease.

“We don’t know which of the pharmacologic aspects of hydroxychloroquine are most active, the antiviral part, or the immunomodulatory part,” Dr. Schaffner said. “We don’t know, but it does reinforce the notion, as the authors say briefly, it reinforces the thinking about the nature of many of these pneumonias we are seeing, which seem to have an immune basis, as opposed to being secondary bacterial pneumonia, which we see so often in influenza.”

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