Senate Passes $2 Trillion Economic Aid Deal as Coronavirus Deaths Top 1,000
The U.S. Senate voted late Wednesday to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package to bolster the U.S. economy as the country's coronavirus death toll passed 1,000.
The unprecedented legislation will send $1,200 checks to many Americans, create a $367 billion loan program for small businesses and set up a $500 billion fund for industries, cities and states, the Washington Post reported. The House was expected to pass the bill on Friday, and then send it to President Donald Trump for his signature.
The help cannot come too soon, as more than 100 million Americans -- nearly 1 in 3 -- have been ordered by their state's governors to stay home, away from work and school.
Nearly 70,000 U.S. COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, with 1,050 deaths, the Associated Press reported Thursday. New York is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with more than 30,000 cases and close to 300 deaths, the wire service said.
Despite the steep rise in U.S. cases, Trump said Tuesday he would like to re-open the country by Easter, April 12, the New York Times reported.
"We can socially distance ourselves and go to work, and you'll have to work a little bit harder," Trump said. "You can clean your hands five times more than you used to. You don't have to shake hands anymore with people."
Most health experts reacted negatively to Trump's plan however.
If people are told they can head back to work, commuting by bus or subway while thousands of new infections are confirmed each day, "the virus will surge, many will fall ill and there will be more deaths," Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine expert at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine, told the Times.
Trump's remarks also came in sharp contrast to actions other leaders have taken around the world: India ordered a 21-day shutdown of a country in which 1.3 billion people live, while Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach agreed to postpone the Summer Olympics in that country until at least the summer of 2021.
The United Kingdom has also ordered a shutdown of its country, while Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, was diagnosed with coronavirus on Wednesday, CNN reported.
Grim statistics pile up in the U.S.
In the United States, a tripling in the number of coronavirus cases could make America the world's next hot spot, World Health Organization spokeswoman Margaret Harris said Tuesday, the Post reported.
"It's just going to get worse this week and worse next week," Dr. Leana Wen, a visiting professor at George Washington University, told CNN Monday night.
Things are particularly grim in New York City, where one hospital in Queens saw 13 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, the Times reported.
At Elmhurst Hospital Center, a 545-bed public hospital, doctors and nurses have only a few dozen ventilators for their patients, some of whom have died while waiting for a bed. A refrigerated truck has been stationed outside the hospital to hold the dead, the newspaper reported.
Citywide, all of the more than 1,800 intensive care beds are expected to be full by Friday, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing memo obtained by Times.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo did offer up some good news on Wednesday, saying that social distancing measures might be working. This week, the state's hospitalization estimations were down markedly, from a doubling of cases every two days to a doubling every four days.
It is "almost too good to be true," Mr. Cuomo said during a media briefing.
South sees spike in cases
But cases are just starting to spike elsewhere, particularly in the South: Louisiana, Florida and Georgia are facing alarming increases, with more than 4,700 cases and 125 deaths reported in those three states alone, CBS News reported.
New Orleans now has more cases than Los Angeles County, which is 25 times larger. In just over two weeks, the number of cases in Louisiana has skyrocketed to almost 1,800, CBS News reported.
Along with Cuomo, at least 19 other governors have announced stay-at-home orders in states including California, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Washington state and Hawaii, CNN reported.
On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that all residents coming into Florida from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut airports quarantine themselves for 14 days.
Many cases in places like Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach have been tied to travelers arriving from New York, the Times reported.
"Hopefully that [order] will be a deterrent for people if you're just trying to escape here," DeSantis said Monday.
National public health officials quickly followed suit with a recommendation of their own: Dr. Deborah Birx, who's coordinating the U.S. coronavirus response, told reporters during a media briefing Tuesday night that people leaving New York City should quarantine themselves for two weeks because of the spike in infections there.
Economic help, medical supplies coming
On Sunday, Trump also approved disaster declarations for regions hit hardest by the pandemic, activating the National Guard in three states.
The declarations will bring supplies, medical stations and naval hospital ships to New York, Washington state and California, CNN reported.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed an $850 billion coronavirus relief package into law.
The package will provide sick leave, unemployment benefits and free coronavirus testing.
Trump has also invoked a wartime law that would allow the federal government to direct companies to produce medical supplies if needed.
As countries around the world wonder what is in store for their citizens in the coming months, one glimmer of hope has emerged: On Tuesday, China lifted travel restrictions on the Hubei province, which was hardest hit by coronavirus earlier this year. And China's National Health Commission said Thursday that its 67 new COVID-19 cases were all in recent arrivals from abroad, the AP reported.
The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Italy.
On Wednesday, Italy reported more than 7,500 deaths, by far the highest of any country, the AP reported. The virus has been especially deadly for old Italians. But the country has seen a slowing in the rate of new infections for the fourth day in a row, the Timesreported.
State, local officials continue shutdowns
Meanwhile, state and local officials across the country continued to order the temporary closings of bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
Last Monday, the Trump administration ramped up its coronavirus "social distancing" advisory to now discourage gatherings of 10 or more people.
In addition to advising against group gatherings of more than 10 people, Trump also discouraged eating and drinking at restaurants, bars and food courts, and any discretionary travel.
The president also said his administration is doubling down on testing for COVID-19. Stores such as Walmart, CVS and Walgreens have set aside part of their parking lots for drive-through testing.
States Race to Contain Virus
In the meantime, the public lives of Americans have come to a halt, as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted officials across the country to close, cancel or postpone any event or activity that might foster the spread of COVID-19.
A majority of states have shuttered all public schools, Broadway has gone dark, Disney World and Disneyland were closed, March Madness was canceled, and most professional sports leagues postponed their seasons.
New York, Washington state and California have been hard hit by coronavirus cases in the United States. New York has 30,811 cases, Washington state has 2,580 cases and California has 2,535.
Meanwhile, officials in Florida closed most beaches in the state on Sunday, after young spring breakers ignored social distancing guidelines and partied with abandon on the sand. That state now has 1,977 cases, with 23 deaths.
Worldwide, the case count approached 490,000 while the death toll climbed past 22,000 on Thursday, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
SOURCES: March 24, 2020, media briefing with President Donald Trump; CNN; Washington Post; Associated Press; New York Times; CBS News