Coronavirus, White House Task Force, U.S. Senate: Your Wednesday Briefing

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The New York Times’s staff members in Hong Kong — like many other workers there — returned to their offices on Monday for the first time in six weeks. They did so after the local government eased some coronavirus restrictions.

To get into the building that houses the Times bureau, reporters and editors had to wear a mask and walk through a thermal scanner that took their temperature. In the elevator, they found a small table with hand sanitizer and tissues, as well as a trash can. Only half of the staff comes into the office at any one time.

This is the new normal in Hong Kong — both very different from before the virus and very different from an American-style lockdown.

Subway workers clean handrails frequently. Restaurants are open, with tables spaced five feet apart. Diners are often given a small paper bag in which to put their mask — so it doesn’t infect the table, or vice versa, as Adrienne Carter, The Times’s Asia editor, told me.

Credit…Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Entrance to Hong Kong is limited mostly to residents, all of whom are tested and quarantined, even if the test is negative. And residents wear masks despite 90-degree heat. “They’re so hot,” Adrienne says. “But it feels second nature to me at this point.”

The most important point: Hong Kong’s strategy is working extremely well.

It hasn’t reported a new homegrown case in more than two weeks. Over all, only about 1,000 people — out of 7.5 million — have tested positive. Only four have died.

It’s a sign that a lockdown isn’t the only way to battle the virus. But it’s also a reminder of how different life in a post-reopening United States will be from life in countries that have most effectively stopped the virus’s spread.

Adrienne has lived most of her life in the U.S., and I asked her how well she thought Hong Kong’s strategy could be transferred to today’s United States. “I’m not sure any of it is going to fly,” she said.

Related: “The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying,” Charlie Warzel writes in Opinion.

The Trump administration plans to disband its coronavirus task force in the coming weeks. Vice President Mike Pence said the decision was a “reflection of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country” — despite growing evidence that the outbreak is still raging.

The task force was a key part of President Trump’s response: He often shared the stage with its medical experts, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, during televised briefings.

Why it matters: “The influence of those health officials was reassuring to those who believed doctors and scientists should mix with the more economic-minded figures in the group,” said Noah Weiland, who covers health care for The Times. “If the task force dissolves, people like Dr. Fauci may have a less organized role at the White House.”

The number of children afflicted with a mysterious illness — most likely connected to Covid-19 — is growing. There are now at least 50 reported cases in New York State, and several more across the United States and in Europe.

The symptoms include fever, rash, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea; though none of the children have died, some have needed a mechanical ventilator to help them breathe. The condition suggests that, contrary to early hopes, children will not be spared all of the virus’s most serious effects.

The coronavirus appears to have reached Europe in late December, weeks earlier than previously understood. The new evidence came from a sample taken on Dec. 27 — and tested only recently by doctors — from a 42-year-old man near Paris who had not traveled abroad.

If verified, the discovery would mean the virus was spreading beyond China for weeks, unrecognized.

The chart below makes clear why the United States has a meat shortage (including at the more than 1,000 Wendy’s franchises that were sold out of burgers this week).

Among the 10 metropolitan areas with the most new confirmed virus cases per capita, half are home to a meat processing plant where workers evidently have the virus. The tight working conditions at the plants seem to be a key reason.

A Senate committee will hold a confirmation hearing today for 37-year-old Justin Walker, the youngest nominee to the federal appellate court in Washington since 1983. Walker is a protege of Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who called the Senate back to Washington this week in part for today’s hearing.

Walker’s likely confirmation is part of McConnell’s ambitious strategy for remaking the federal courts. He refused to confirm many nominees in President Barack Obama’s second term and has since helped Trump appoint more than one-quarter of all appellate judges.

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized for a gallbladder condition but plans to take part in today’s arguments by telephone.

  • President Trump, in Arizona, said yesterday: “Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”

  • A Times investigation shows how Jared Kushner and a team of young volunteers fumbled the job of chasing down medical supplies.

  • Peloton, the company that makes a $2,000 exercise bike, has seen its stock soar 86 percent since mid-March.

Tara Parker-Pope gets some of her best ideas for Well, The Times’s consumer health site, from reader questions. So we’re going to start a regular feature in this newsletter where Tara answers a question that readers submit.

Today’s is about how to clean surfaces effectively — ideally to kill any trace of coronavirus or other germs.

Many cleaning products recommend leaving the disinfectant on a surface for a long time — like four minutes or even 10 minutes — before wiping it off. Several readers asked, in essence: Really?

The short answer: You probably don’t need to take those times literally. They tend to come from laboratory tests involving more germs than exist in most homes. And yet many of us probably are cleaning surfaces too quickly.

“Reporting this story has made me realize how I’ve been cleaning all wrong and too fast,” Tara says. “I always just spray and wipe — I never let it sit!”

Fortunately, the new coronavirus is fairly easy to kill. Even a little extra cleaning time — one expert suggests about a minute — can do the job. For more, read the full story.

Fish has long been an afterthought for many home cooks. But with restaurants closed, Americans are setting records for retail seafood purchases and going for outside-the-box picks like fish collar, octopus and frozen squid.

“People want a challenge to create dinners with,” one fishmonger told The Times. “They can’t go to a restaurant, so they’re creating the excitement at home.”

Saltwater recipes: Try making halibut roasted with lemons, olives and rosemary, or a speedy “no recipe” recipe for fish chowder that works with any fillets you have.

When they’re not busy terrorizing honeybees and humans, Asian giant hornets — known for their sometimes lethal sting and recently spotted in the U.S. — are a traditional delicacy in some rural areas of Japan.

They can be fried on skewers for added crunch, preserved in jars or steamed with rice. And their venom gives liquor a kick.

We asked 11 showrunners what programs they’re obsessed with. Among their recommendations: the survivalist reality show “Alone,” the South Korean zombie thriller “Kingdom,” and the British rom-com “Lovesick.”

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Avocado throwaway (three letters).

You can find all our puzzles here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. How’s the chili oil? We hear some Morning readers have been placing orders.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about why the Senate is determined to reconvene.

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Lara Takenaga, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Sanam Yar, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Lauren Leatherby contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.