Posted on

Coronavirus Bankruptcies Are Coming

Already, companies large and small are succumbing to the effects of the coronavirus. They include household names like Hertz and J. Crew and comparatively anonymous energy companies like Diamond Offshore Drilling and Whiting Petroleum.

And the wave of bankruptcies is going to get bigger.

Edward I. Altman, the creator of the Z score, a widely used method of predicting business failures, estimated that this year will easily set a record for so-called mega bankruptcies — filings by companies with $1 billion or more in debt. And he expects the number of merely large bankruptcies — at least $100 million — to challenge the record set the year after the 2008 economic crisis.

Even a meaningful rebound in economic activity over the coming months won’t stop it, said Mr. Altman, the Max L. Heine professor of finance, emeritus, at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “The really hurting companies are too far gone to be saved,” he said.

Many are teetering on the edge. Chesapeake Energy, once the second-largest natural gas company in the country, is wrestling with about $9 billion in debt. Tailored Brands — the parent of Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank and K&G — recently disclosed that it, too, might have to file for bankruptcy protection. So did Weatherford International, an oil field services company that emerged from bankruptcy only in December.

More than 6,800 companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, and this year will almost certainly have more. The flood of petitions from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression could swamp the system, making it harder to save the companies that can be rescued, bankruptcy experts said.

Most good-size companies that go into bankruptcy try to restructure themselves, working out payment agreements for their debts so they can stay open. But if a plan can’t be worked out — or isn’t successful — they can be liquidated instead. Equipment and property are sold off to pay debts, and the company disappears.

Without reform in the system, “we anticipate that a significant fraction of viable small businesses will be forced to liquidate, causing high and irreversible economic losses,” a group of academics said in a letter to Congress in May. “Workers will lose jobs even in otherwise viable businesses.”

Among their suggestions: increasing budgets to recall retired judges and hire more clerks, and giving companies more time to come up with workable plans to prevent them from being sold off for parts.

“Tight deadlines may lead to overly optimistic restructuring plans and subsequent refilings that will congest courts and delay future recoveries,” they wrote.

The pandemic — with its lockdowns, which have just started to ease — was enough on its own to put some businesses under. The gym chain 24 Hour Fitness, for example, declared bankruptcy this week, saying it would close 100 locations because of financial problems that its chief executive attributed entirely to the coronavirus.

But in many cases, the coronavirus crisis exposed deeper problems, like staggering debts run up by companies whose business models were already struggling to deal with changes in consumer behavior.

Hertz has been weighed down by debt created in a leveraged buyout more than a decade ago, and added to it with the acquisition of Dollar Thrifty in 2012. As it was battling direct competitors, the ascent of Uber and Lyft further upended the rental-car industry.

J. Crew and Neiman Marcus were carrying heavy debt loads from leveraged buyouts by private equity firms while struggling to deal with the changing preferences of shoppers who increasingly buy online.

Image
Credit…Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Oil and gas companies like Diamond and Whiting borrowed heavily to expand when commodities prices were much higher. Those prices started to fall as production increased, and plunged further still when Russia and Saudi Arabia got into a price war shortly before the economic shutdowns began.

(And then there are cases that have nothing to do with the pandemic but nonetheless take up time and energy in the courts. Borden Dairy, a Dallas company with a history that goes back to 1857, declared bankruptcy in January, a victim of declining prices, rising costs and changing tastes.)

A run of defaults looks almost inevitable. At the end of the first quarter of this year, U.S. companies had amassed nearly $10.5 trillion in debt — by far the most since the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis began tracking the figure at the end of World War II.

“An explosion in corporate debt,” Mr. Altman said.

Having a lot more debt to deal with is likely to make the coming bankruptcies a bruising experience for unsecured creditors, who may include retirees with pensions or health benefits, vendors waiting to be paid, tort plaintiffs whose lawsuits are cut short and sometimes even current workers. If a company goes into bankruptcy with more secured debts than the value of its assets, the secured creditors — including vulture investors who bought up the debt for a song — can walk away with virtually everything.

The sums at play in some of these cases will be enormous. Mr. Altman expects at least 66 cases with more than $1 billion in debt this year, eclipsing 2009’s mark of 49. He also predicted 192 bankruptcies involving at least $100 million in debt, which would trail only 2009’s record of 242.

Image

Credit…Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Robert J. Keach, a director of the American College of Bankruptcy, said many companies had so far managed to put off bankruptcy by amassing cash and conserving it as best they can: drawing down existing credit lines, furloughing workers, delaying projects and taking advantage of federal and state pandemic-relief programs.

But when those programs expire, the companies will start burning through their cash. That’s when bankruptcy filings are likely to soar and stay elevated, Mr. Keach said.

Expect “a Covid-19 cliff” in the next 30 to 60 days, he said.

Companies that received loans under the federal Paycheck Protection Program may be waiting to file, said Mr. Keach, who practices bankruptcy law with the firm of Bernstein Shur in Portland, Maine. The loans can be converted to grants if the companies meet certain requirements, and if the borrowers can put off bankruptcy until they’re sure they won’t have to pay the money back, they will have more cash when they file.

That’s an important consideration, because Chapter 11 is expensive. A bankrupt company must pay the fees of the lawyers and other professionals that help it reorganize, as well as the fees of those who advise the official creditors’ committees.

Image

Credit…Tony Dejak/Associated Press

The experts’ recommendations to Congress walk a fine line. They suggest allowing companies more time to come up with reorganization plans, even though Chapter 11 cases are supposed to move quickly so bankrupt companies don’t burn through their cash before they reorganize.

Generally, the longer a company stays in bankruptcy, the greater the chances of a liquidation. And that increases the likelihood that the company’s troubles will spread: Suppliers of raw materials could fold if a manufacturer languishes in bankruptcy, and smaller stores in entirely differently lines of business can suffer if a shopping-mall anchor can’t stay open.

These risks are real, said Robert E. Gerber, who retired in 2016 as a bankruptcy judge in the Southern District of New York. One of his cases was the 2009 bankruptcy of General Motors, which moved at lightning speed to keep the automaker from going under for good.

“If G.M. had failed, God knows how many companies in the supply chain would have failed, and this would have snowballed terribly,” said Mr. Gerber, who is now of counsel with the Joseph Hage Aaronson firm. The cascade would have wiped out paychecks to workers throughout the supply chain, threatening other businesses and even the finances of the local governments that count on them for tax revenue.

That, Mr. Gerber said, makes it imperative that the bankruptcy system have the resources to deal with the coming rush of cases.

“Bankruptcy can’t print money for those companies,” he said, “but it can give a good number of them a chance of survival.”

Read More

Posted on

Hertz: And Now for Something Completely Worthless

Typically, when a company offers stock to the public, it emphasizes the positive. Fundamentally, the pitch is this: Buy us and prosper. Maybe even get rich.

But Hertz Global Holdings put out a prospectus this week that projected a different outcome: Gamble on us and be prepared to end up with something worthless.

Hertz, you see, is bankrupt. But it said it hoped to sell $500 million in shares, maybe even $1 billion, anyway. For sheer audacity, what Hertz was trying just takes my breath away.

It caught the eye of the Securities and Exchange Commission, too. On Wednesday, Jay Clayton, the agency’s chairman, said on CNBC, “We have let the company know that we have comments on their disclosure,” and added, “In most cases, when you let a company know that the S.E.C. has comments on their disclosure, they do not go forward until those comments are resolved.”

Trading in the company’s shares stopped briefly at 11:44 a.m. and in a new filing, Hertz said it had suspended its new stock offering, while it discussed matters with the S.E.C.

The S.E.C. declined to expand on Mr. Clayton’s statement, and Hertz did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

What is unusual in the Hertz stock venture is that the company is still in the early stages of what are formally known as Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. Companies in bankruptcy do not, as a rule, sell stock, precisely because creditors have a higher claim on assets than shareholders do. By the time the creditors have been paid a fraction of what they are owed, there may be nothing left for shareholders.

Still, a federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware gave Hertz permission on Friday to sell up to $1 billion in stock, and on Monday, its prospectus said it intended to sell $500 million worth.

Issuing additional shares of stock while the bankruptcy process is still underway is a fabulous idea, if you hold the company’s bonds, said Michael Cazayoux, who has analyzed Hertz’s bonds for KDP Investment Advisors.

“The money that the new shareholders pay may go right to the bondholders,” he said. That’s one reason he has given Hertz bonds a “buy” rating. They have been trading for around 40 cents on the dollar but may be worth more than 50 cents — thanks, in part, to the money that may flow in from new shareholders.

On the face of it, though, if the new stock sale were permitted, it would be a very bad deal for shareholders. “That’s why, normally, this just doesn’t happen,” he said.

But there is always a first attempt, and this may well be it.

I asked Lynn E. Turner, a former S.E.C. chief accountant, whether a stock offering like this, by a company in the early days of bankruptcy, has ever occurred before. “I can’t recall an incident where a company has made a stock filing this early after filing for bankruptcy,” he said.

Hertz, to its credit, disclosed the risks to prospective stock shareholders quite openly. If it is permitted to proceed with the sale, buyers won’t be able to say they weren’t warned.

The prospectus says clearly that on May 22, the giant car rental company entered bankruptcy proceedings because it could not pay all of its debts. As a consequence, there is a “significant risk” that by the time the company’s lenders are through with it, all of its stock — not just the shares in the potential new offering — will turn out to be “worthless.”

In fact, it uses the word “worthless” seven times, like a series of hazard lights set up along a long and dangerous road, so even unwary, inexperienced or perversely oblivious drivers will see at least one of them.

Here is a representative sample. It appears in boldface, much like this, so you can’t miss it:

We are in the process of a reorganization under chapter 11 of title 11, or Chapter 11, of the United States Code, or Bankruptcy Code, which has caused and may continue to cause our common stock to decrease in value, or may render our common stock worthless.”

Hertz appears to have sought to comply with legal requirements while availing itself of what it described in a court filing as a “unique opportunity” to raise money cheaply by selling new shares, while day-traders on Robinhood and other platforms play with its existing stock as though it were a video game.

The details are singular, but the recent trading frenzy — bidding up shares despite clear warnings that they have little or no intrinsic value — is reminiscent of previous episodes of what the economist Robert J. Shiller calls “irrational exuberance.”

Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America, said, “What immediately came to mind for me were the stock disclosures you used to see for I.P.O.s during the dot-com bubble in the middle of 1990s, where the companies explained in vivid detail that they had no prospects for ever making a profit — and people bought those stocks like hot cakes.”

Image
Credit…Bob Riha/Liaison, via Getty Images

In some respects, she said, the Hertz gambit reminds her of the initial public offering of one of the dot-com era’s most spectacular flameouts, Pets.com. In a prospectus for its February 2000 offering, it said, “We believe that we will continue to incur operating and net losses for the next four years, and possibly longer, and that the rate at which we will incur these losses will increase significantly from current levels.”

The company made a cultural mark — its television commercials, featuring a raucous sock puppet, were, for a time, ubiquitous — but the prospectus was wrong about one thing. It didn’t manage to lose money for four years. By November 2000, it folded, and its existing shareholders lost their money. Unlike Hertz, though, it went bankrupt quietly and didn’t try to sell additional stock while in bankruptcy.

The dot-com bubble didn’t end well for anyone but short-sellers, who were betting on the bubble’s demise. By October 2002, the Nasdaq, in which many of the dot-com stocks were concentrated, lost more than 75 percent of its value.

Of course, the current era is different. The stock market’s volatility — and many of Hertz’s problems — are, to a large extent, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and may well be relieved if and when the pandemic recedes decisively.

And Hertz, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2018, is no Pets.com. It has survived many market cycles and in many incarnations. It is even possible, Mr. Cazayoux said, that with some big “ifs,” the next chapter in Hertz’s story will be a happy one. If it is able to sell the stock, and if the economy recovers quickly, it is conceivable that Hertz can “cure” its bankruptcy quickly, and the stock will be worth something, after all. “It’s extremely risky, certainly,” he said.

For extreme risk takers, a new offering of stock from a bankrupt company could conceivably have some value, said Jay R. Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida. Mr. Ritter said he teaches that a stock is “an option on the future value of a firm.” If that future value is somewhere between zero and, say, $2 billion, the stock might be “worth something as long as there’s a possibility” that the company will end up being worth something.

But that’s a gamble, in my estimation, not an investment. It sure isn’t something I would count on. As Ms. Roper put it: “What Hertz is doing raises serious concerns for investors.”

But, like Pets.com, Hertz is creating a wonderful spectacle. While social distancing, enjoy bankruptcy from the sidelines.

Read More

Posted on

Stocks Go Down, Too

Want this in your inbox each morning? Sign up here.

The stock market had its worst day in months yesterday, with the S&P 500 index dropping nearly 6 percent. Or, as The Times’s Matt Phillips put it, “At least for a day, reality triumphed over hope on Wall Street.”

Back in the red for the year: At the beginning of this week, a heady stock rally erased all of the market’s losses for the year, even as pandemic lockdowns curtailed activity and companies reported ugly quarterly earnings. Yesterday’s plunge pushed the S&P 500 back below where it began the year (and more than 10 percent off its all-time high, set in February).

• That said, futures suggest a pretty big bounce at the open, regaining about a third of yesterday’s fall.

Blip or bear market? Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought:

📈 The steep decline during the early stages of the pandemic was a short-term, virus-induced stumble during a rally that began more than 10 years ago.

📉 The sharp rise in recent months was a momentary rally masking a bear market that could roar back if there’s a second wave of infections or long-term economic damage from the lockdowns.

Looking at history as a guide is tricky, because it’s been more than a century since investors had to reckon with a pandemic. If you plot the market from its peak versus other bear markets in recent history, the bullish case is that stocks could behave as they did in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. That would mean another three or four months before stocks set a new high; other market downturns took a lot longer to regain lost ground.

• Bloomberg’s John Authers notes the 1990 analogy, pointing out that the market reached a new peak after Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait. But, he asks: “Is there any way to achieve a comparably clear victory over the coronavirus?”

Image
Image

Credit…Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection last month. But as investors improbably piled into its shares this week, the car rental pioneer is trying to take advantage of this unexpected turn of events.

The company wants to sell up to $1 billion in new stock. “The recent market prices of and the trading volumes in Hertz’s common stock potentially present a unique opportunity,” lawyers for the company said in a bankruptcy court hearing yesterday.

• Even after falling to $2.06 yesterday, the company’s shares are still way above the 56 cents they traded at after the Chapter 11 filing.

• Some company insiders took advantage of the rally by unloading their shares this week.

The move is exceedingly rare for a bankrupt company, since most Chapter 11 restructurings result in stockholders — who are last in line to recover financial assets — being wiped out.

It’s possible that stockholders could get some money after Hertz restructures. After all, the hedge fund mogul Bill Ackman made a fortune from owning stock in the bankrupt real-estate business General Growth Properties nearly a decade ago. But in a sign of Hertz’s dire financial straits, the company has asked for permission to end leases for more than 144,000 vehicles that it says it can no longer afford.

Image

Credit…Noam Galai/Getty Images

Amid the protests set off by the police killing of George Floyd, corporate America is making more promises to combat racism and discrimination.

Some of the latest moves:

Apple and YouTube each pledged $100 million for race initiatives. Apple will donate money toward education and criminal justice reform, though it gave few details about what that will entail. YouTube will create a fund to highlight black creators on its platform, and in some cases directly fund black-focused content.

• A founder of The Wing, Audrey Gelman, resigned as C.E.O. of the women-focused co-working company. She faced criticism for what current and former workers said was mistreatment of minority workers.

Hasbro removed cards from “Magic: The Gathering,” a popular fantasy card game, that featured offensive characters.

But the gap remains wide. The Financial Times notes that management teams and corporate boards still have few black and other minority members, despite years of companies’ pledging to improve diversity.

• Kemi Role, a top official at the National Employment Law Project, told The Wall Street Journal that improvements need to be made throughout companies: “How are their cafeteria workers being treated? How are their people in factories being treated?”

• Ultimately, companies will be judged on their results, Stephanie Creary of the Wharton business school notes in a list of tips for making meaningful corporate statements: “If you do nothing after saying something, your words will not matter.”

The European Union is preparing an antitrust case against Amazon. Regulators plan to argue that the e-commerce giant has unfairly used third-party merchant data to promote its own products, The Times’s Adam Satariano reports.

Goldman Sachs wants to settle the 1MDB scandal without admitting guilt, The Times’s Matt Goldstein reports. The Wall Street firm is pushing back against federal prosecutors who want the bank to pay over $2 billion in fines and plead guilty to a felony.

Who are Joe Biden’s economic advisers? It’s unclear who has the ear of the Democratic presidential candidate, and a recently formed economic policy committee urged participants to stay silent on what is discussed. That said, here’s Mr. Biden’s plan for reopening the economy, released yesterday.

Image

Credit…Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Yesterday we highlighted a study about positive effects of small talk in the office, which the researchers called “uplifting yet distracting.” With so many offices and other workplaces now closed, there are fewer opportunities for superficial chitchat, which could be a good thing for efficiency. But judging by readers’ response, you (mostly) miss it:

• Everhard: “Small talk is an essential part of the informal organization, and without any informal organization a company will never work efficiently.”

• Karen: “Personally, I probably abused the time talking to fellow employees about non-work subjects and gossiping, but it was wonderful to be able to converse about things going on in the world outside. I give it a 70 percent good use of time.”

• Larry: “Asking somebody how their weekend was, or how the kid’s baseball game or school play went, is all part of how an organization grows.”

• Jasmin: “I have enjoyed my solitude during this season of confinement. I have maintained contact with some of my favorite colleagues and continue to run away from the chatterbox always trying to initiate a conversation.”

• Alan: “Companies can’t force those kinds of interactions with Zoom happy hours.”

Deals

• The food delivery service DoorDash is reportedly near a deal to raise money from investors including T. Rowe Price and Fidelity at a $15 billion valuation. (WSJ)

• Palantir, the data consultancy, reportedly plans to file for a public market listing within weeks, with an eye to begin trading in the fall. (Bloomberg)

• The private equity giant KKR is said to have asked outside advisers to cut their fees at least 15 percent to “share in the economic pain” of the pandemic. (FT)

Politics and policy

• The Trump administration abandoned an earlier commitment to disclosing which companies received federal coronavirus rescue loans. (WaPo)

• Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Harriet Tubman would not replace Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill until at least 2030. (NYT)

Tech

• Chris Cox, who quit as Facebook’s chief product officer last year amid a disagreement with Mark Zuckerberg, will return to that position. Separately, the company plans to create a new fund to invest in start-ups. (NYT, Axios)

• Zoom apologized for following a Chinese government request to take down the account of a U.S.-based humanitarian group that commemorated the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. (CNBC)

• An ad tech company secretly used facial-recognition software on 30,000 people who attended this year’s Rose Bowl. (OneZero)

Best of the rest

• The economics of harvesting frozen water on the Moon. (Quartz)

• Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” looks increasingly like a pixelated Wall Street. (WaPo)

We’d love your feedback. Please email thoughts and suggestions to dealbook@nytimes.com.

Read More

Posted on

Hertz, Car Rental Pioneer, Files for Bankruptcy Protection

Hertz, which started with a fleet of a dozen Ford Model T’s a century ago and became one of the world’s largest car rental companies, filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday after falling victim to its mountain of debt.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated Hertz by grounding business travelers and tourists, making it impossible for the company to continue paying its lenders. A sharp drop in used car prices has also decreased the value of its fleet.

“They were doing quite well, but when you turn off the revenues and you own all these cars and all of a sudden the cars are worth less it’s a very tough business,” said John Healy, an analyst and managing director with Northcoast Research in Cleveland.

Hertz said late Friday that it would use more than $1 billion in cash on hand to keep its business running while it proceeds with the bankruptcy process.

“Today’s action will protect the value of our business, allow us to continue our operations and serve our customers, and provide the time to put in place a new, stronger financial foundation to move successfully through this pandemic and to better position us for the future,” Paul E. Stone, its chief executive, said in a statement.

The bankruptcy filing excludes operations in Australia, Europe and New Zealand as well as the company’s franchisee locations. Hertz also said that it had sought aid from the federal government, but that funding for its industry “did not become available.”

Though it had piled up $17 billion in debt, Hertz, which also owns the Dollar and Thrifty brands, was reporting healthy sales at the start 2020. The company’s revenue rose 6 percent in January and February.

But the pandemic dealt what the company has described as “a rapid, sudden and dramatic” blow. Sales dried up in March as much of the world started to shelter at home. Airports, where Hertz and its competitor Avis Budget Group earn most of their revenue, turned into ghost towns.

By late March, the company started to cut back on spending, sold some of its cars, furloughed workers and combined nearby outposts. Hertz management suggested that they had some room to maneuver, including access to $1 billion in cash.

“Hertz is a resilient company, with resilient brands and resilient people,” its chief executive, Kathryn Marinello, said in a statement at the time.

But Ms. Marinello resigned last week, and Hertz has since laid off or furloughed 20,000 employees, half of its work force. The company had cut pay for senior leaders in March, too, but reversed that decision recently.

The company’s march to bankruptcy began in late April when it missed a payment on a lease for some of its fleet, which includes about 667,000 cars, sport utility vehicles and other vehicles worldwide. It persuaded lenders to give it until midnight on Friday to put together a financial plan that they could accept. But in a filing this month, Hertz acknowledged the enormity of the task.

“If our business does not recover quickly and we are unable to successfully restructure our substantial indebtedness, obtain further waivers or forbearance or raise additional capital, there is substantial doubt that we will be able to continue as a going concern,” the company said.

Hertz had struggled in the years after the financial crisis of 2008 but had begun to turn around recently. Under Ms. Marinello, the company had improved operations, cut costs and reduced its debt, analysts said.

“I have no doubt that had the coronavirus not happened that Hertz would have eventually achieved its turnaround,” said Ryan Brinkman, an automotive industry analyst with J.P. Morgan.

The company’s shares closed on Friday at $2.84, down from around $20 in late February. Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor, owned about 39 percent of the company’s shares as of mid-March.

Its peers were better suited for the moment. Avis Budget Group, which has less debt, said last month that it had access to enough cash to survive the year. Avis, which also raised $500 million in a bond sale this month, acted more quickly to cut costs, analysts said. Enterprise, a private company, is better diversified and not nearly as reliant on rentals at airports as either Avis or Hertz.

When Ms. Marinello took the helm of Hertz in early 2017, she inherited a troubled company.

In addition to amassing a lot of debt, Hertz had recently purchased too many compact cars, which have been falling out of favor with American drivers for years, and failed to meet corporate cost-cutting goals. Her predecessor spun off the company’s equipment rental business. Earlier, Hertz decided to move its headquarters from New Jersey to Florida, which led many seasoned executives to leave the company.

“The company lost a lot of momentum during that time,” Ms. Marinello told investors soon after taking over. She was the company’s fourth boss in three years. And Hertz had been poorly served by “incredibly optimistic demand forecasts” and misguided car purchases, she said.

By some accounts, the company’s modern difficulties date to 2012. That year, Hertz, under the leadership of Mark Frissora, bought Dollar Thrifty in a deal valued at $2.3 billion, a price that some investors and analysts believed was too rich.

“That was the beginning of their troubles,” said Betsy Snyder, a credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings.

In mid-2014, Hertz said it would need to correct its financial results going back three years because of a string of accounting errors. A few months later, Mr. Frissora stepped down.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 20, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.