Senate Passes Aid Package – The New York Times


The Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a sweeping, $2 trillion fiscal measure to shore up the United States economy as it weathers the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, advancing the largest fiscal stimulus package in modern American history.

The House was expected to quickly take up the bill on Friday and pass it, sending it to President Trump for his signature.

The legislation would send direct payments of $1,200 to Americans earning up to $75,000 — which would gradually phase out for higher earners and end for those with incomes more than $99,000 — and an additional $500 per child. It would substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, extending them for the first time to freelancers and gig workers and adding $600 per week on top of the usual payment.

The measure would also provide $350 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and establish a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies reeling from the impact of the crisis, allowing the administration to take equity stakes in airlines that received aid to help compensate taxpayers. It would also send $100 billion to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic.

The bill was the product of intense bipartisan negotiations among Republicans, Democrats and the White House. Three senators were absent from the late-night roll call because of the novel coronavirus. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, has contracted Covid-19, while two Utah Republicans, Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, were in self-isolation out of an abundance of caution after spending time with Mr. Paul. Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican, also missed the vote because he wasn’t feeling well and had left Washington to return home out of an abundance of caution, a spokesman said.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that he was seeing indications that the virus could keep returning as a “seasonal, cyclic thing,” like the flu.

One of the key questions about the virus has been whether its spread would slow or stop in warm weather and return in cold weather, and Dr. Fauci suggested that it may follow that seasonal pattern.

“What we are starting to see now in the southern hemisphere,” he said, referring specifically to southern Africa, “is that we are having cases that are appearing as they go into their winter season. And if, in fact, they have a substantial outbreak, it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared that we will get a cycle around the second time.”

That makes it all the more important that scientists “have a vaccine available for that next cycle,” as well as “a menu of drugs that we have shown to be effective and shown to be safe,” he said.

As the virus spreads, school systems around the country are extending closings that superintendents once hoped would only last for a few weeks.

School districts in six Bay Area counties, including San Francisco, said on Wednesday that the schools would remain closed at least through May 1, and Maryland said the state would keep schools shuttered for another month, until at least April 24. In Connecticut, the governor extended the suspension of in-school classes through April 20 but indicated that students could stay at home until fall. And in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker said that he would keep schools closed at least through at least May 4.

“This is not an extended school vacation,” Mr. Baker said Wednesday, saying that schools would continue to develop programs for home instruction.

Some states have already gone farther. Virginia officials announced this week that schools would not reopen until the fall. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly was the first to take that drastic step when, last week, she ordered all schools to close until the fall.

At least 55 million K-12 students in every state have been affected by the coronavirus, according to Education Week, a website that is tracking the closings.

Chain stores are pushing the limits of what it means to be “essential” as governors and mayors mandate store closures. Several retailers — like Sears, Kmart, and Joann Fabric and Craft Stores — have provided employees with letters they can share, arguing that their businesses are essential. And there’s growing debate and legal action regarding whether gun dealers belong on the list.

All over the country, homebound Americans are crafting face masks to help shield doctors, nurses and others from the coronavirus. They are making masks for America, much as a previous generation manufactured ammunition and tended “victory gardens” during World War II.

The coronavirus relief package as drafted is a win for airlines, who got the bailout they asked for. But hotel owners, particularly small business owners who own the majority of brand-name hotels, are still worried over how quickly the money will be available and whether it will be enough to help, with travel expected to be down well into the summer. The bill includes tax breaks, but many businesses would not see cash refunds until 2021. And while the deal will get a lot of checks in the mail, the aid might soothe financial pain for only a few months. More may be needed soon.

As much of the Western United States braces for another fire season, which typically ramps up in the middle of May, some wildland managers find themselves with one less tool in their arsenal to mitigate risk. Prescribed burns, in which firefighters deliberately set lands ablaze with the goal of reducing brush, grasses and other easily ignitable material that can help fuel large fires, have been postponed in all Forest Service regions because of concerns over the coronavirus.

“This decision to temporarily postpone ignitions will prevent any effects from smoke that might further worsen conditions for those who are at risk in our communities,” Imani Lester, the acting National Press Officer for the United States Forest Service said in an email.

Older adults and people with underlying conditions like asthma are especially at risk for suffering adverse reactions to smoke from wildfires, which in recent years have been made worse by climate change. They are also more likely to become more severely ill from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Prescribed or controlled burns are planned to burn at lower intensity than wildfires and generate less air pollution as a result. They are typically managed in such a way to minimize the number of people who are affected by the smoke. And firefighters who primarily perform prescribed burns have a lower overall risk than those who perform other forms of wildland firefighting.

The postponement comes as much of the West is experiencing uncommonly good air quality in part because the coronavirus has led to fewer people driving and flying.

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New York continued to grow — reaching more than 30,000 — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Wednesday that there were early signs that the state’s stringent restrictions on social gatherings could be slowing the virus’s spread.

The scale of the epidemic in New York City has led White House officials to advise people who have passed through or left the area to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo said there were indications that social distancing measures put in place in New York appeared to be helping — but that more needed to be done. “The evidence suggests that the density control measures may be working,” he said.

On Sunday, for example, the state’s projections showed hospitalizations doubling every two days. By Tuesday, the estimates showed hospitalizations doubling every 4.7 days, he said — adding the caveat that such a projection was “almost too good to be true.”

He cited encouraging news from Westchester County, where the rate of infection has slowed. “We have dramatically slowed what was an exponential rate of increase,” Mr. Cuomo said. “That was the hottest cluster in the United States of America. We closed the schools, we closed gatherings, we brought in testing, and we have dramatically slowed the increase.”

But Mr. Cuomo said that more needed to be done, particularly to make it easier to maintain social distancing in New York City, the most densely populated major city in the United States.

New York State, which has tested more people than any other state, now has 30,811 confirmed cases, an increase of more than 5,000 since Tuesday morning. More than 200 people have already died statewide. New York City has 17,856 confirmed cases.

At Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, Dr. Ashley Bray performed chest compressions Tuesday on a woman in her 80s, a man in his 60s and a 38-year-old who reminded the doctor of her fiancé. All had tested positive for the coronavirus. All eventually died.

Elmhurst, a 545-bed public hospital, has begun transferring patients not suffering from coronavirus to other facilities as it moves toward becoming a facility dedicated entirely to the outbreak. Doctors and nurses have struggled to make do with a few dozen ventilators. Calls over a loudspeaker of “Team 700,” the code for when a patient is on the verge of death, come several times a shift. Some have died inside the emergency room while waiting for a bed.

A refrigerated truck has been stationed outside to hold the bodies of the dead. Over the past 24 hours, New York City’s public hospital system said in a statement, 13 people at Elmhurst had died.

“It’s apocalyptic,” said Dr. Bray, a general medicine resident at the hospital.

All of the more than 1,800 intensive care units in New York City are expected to be full by Friday, according to a FEMA leadership briefing obtained by The New York Times. Patients could stay for weeks, limiting space for newly sickened residents.

Recovered coronavirus patients appear to gain immunity to the virus, scientists say, but with some significant unknowns. Now they are testing treatments that could help end the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of plasma from recovered patients to treat some severe cases. And New York will begin testing serum from people who have recovered from the virus to treat those who are seriously ill.

A study in macaques infected with the new coronavirus suggested that once infected, the monkeys produce neutralizing antibodies and resist further infection. But it is unclear how long the monkeys, or people, would remain immune.

Still, even if people become reinfected, the second bout with the coronavirus would likely be much milder than the first, said Florian Krammer, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

The quickest way to assess immunity is a test that looks for protective antibodies in the blood of people who have recovered. Antibody tests are used in a handful of countries, but are just widely coming to market in the West. Before the method can be put into wide use, scientists must address certain safety issues. Some pharmaceutical companies are hoping to sidestep some of those concerns by developing antibodies against the coronavirus in the laboratory.

Florida has a message for New Yorkers: Please don’t visit.

Hawaii, another state that thrives on tourism, is asking tourists to stay away for a month.

And Alaska is requiring a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering that state from, as Alaskans put it, Outside.

It is a rare circumstance in the United States, a country where travel between states is generally welcomed, that states are suddenly looking for ways to discourage residents of other states from coming into theirs. They are on particular alert for travelers from New York City, which has far more cases than any other area in the country.

Pennsylvania is poised to become the 10th state to delay its presidential primary election because of the coronavirus pandemic, with its State Senate voting in an extraordinary remote session Wednesday afternoon to move the contest from April 28 to June 2.

Gov. Tom Wolf, who has said he favors the delay, was expected to sign the measure as early as Wednesday evening.

With numerous states, including Indiana, Connecticut and Ohio, pushing or preparing to push their presidential primaries to June 2 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the votes that day will confer a huge bounty of delegates, second only to Super Tuesday in early March.

Although former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has built an all but insurmountable lead, June 2 — which is 10 weeks away — will be his first chance to clinch his party’s presidential nomination. Only then would he have a definitive reason to press for the withdrawal of his rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has shown no inclination to leave a race that feels frozen in place.

Nine other states, as well as Puerto Rico, have taken action over the past two weeks to adjust the dates of their elections as the campaign calendar has been upended by the outbreak. Elections officials in New York are also considering postponing that state’s April 28 primary, with June 23 as the likely replacement.

Pennsylvania would be the sixth state to shift its primary to June 2, joining five other contests already scheduled for that Tuesday.

Even as the calendar shifted, state officials and voting rights advocates were concerned that the $400 million included in the Senate stimulus package to safeguard elections is far less than the amount states will need to implement voting by mail across the nation. The $400 million is one-fifth of the $2 billion that voting experts said was needed and that some Democrats had sought.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran announced new restrictions on travel and public gatherings on Wednesday, in a belated attempt to contain the growing spread of the virus.

The rules will be in effect for nine days starting Thursday and ban travel in or out of cities unless for emergency purposes, the government said. Nonessential private businesses and open public spaces, including parks and gardens, were ordered to shut down. Violations will be penalized, the government warned.

“People must adjust to more difficult circumstances because we have no choice. Saving the lives of people is very important to us,” Mr. Rouhani said.

The majority of the government’s 2.4 million employees would be told to stay home, with exceptions in the health care and banking sectors, a government spokesman said.

The move comes after Mr. Rouhani was criticized for his management of the crisis, particularly for allowing Iranians to travel across the country last week for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Iran’s transportation police estimated that 8.5 million people traveled for the holiday, risking further spread of the virus.

Iran’s health ministry said on Thursday that there were 27,017 cases across the country and that 2,077 people had died, including 43 medical workers.

The ministry has asked Iran’s parliament…


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