WEDNESDAY, March 25, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Senate leaders reached agreement early Wednesday on a $2 trillion stimulus package to bolster the U.S. economy as the country battles coronavirus.
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. Quick passage of the bill in Congress is expected.
The help cannot come too soon, as more than 100 million Americans -- nearly 1 in 3 -- have now been ordered by their state's governors to stay home.
More than 52,970 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, with 704 deaths, CNN reported Wednesday.
Despite the steep rise in U.S. cases, President Donald 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."
But 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 were taking around the world on Tuesday: 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, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that the rate of infections in the state is doubling nearly every three days. At that rate, the apex of the disease in the state was going to be higher and hit earlier than had been expected, the Times reported.
"We haven't flattened the curve, and the curve is actually increasing," he said. Instead of the 110,000 beds that state officials had first projected they would need, as many as 140,000 hospital beds might be necessary, the Times reported.
"One of the forecasters said to me: 'We were looking at a freight train coming across the country,'" Cuomo said Tuesday. "We're now looking at a bullet train."
Along with Cuomo, at least 15 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.
Building medical supply chain
On Monday, Trump signed an executive order making it a crime to stockpile medical supplies, the Associated Press reported.
"If you are sitting on a warehouse with surgical masks, you will be hearing a knock on your door," Attorney General William Barr told reporters during the media briefing.
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.
Four large medical stations with 1,000 beds each are going to be built in New York, Trump said, while eight medical stations are heading to California over the next 48 hours. In Washington state, Trump said seven medical stations will be set up, CBS News reported.
Meanwhile, the State Department has raised its global health advisory to the highest warning level and announced that Americans should not travel outside the country and citizens abroad should either return home or stay in place as the coronavirus pandemic grows.
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.
The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Italy.
On Tuesday, Italy reported more than 69,000 cases and 743 new deaths, pushing the country's death toll past 6,800, by far the highest of any country, the Associated Press reported. The virus has been especially deadly for the European country's large older population. The health care system has also been stretched to a breaking point, especially in northern Italy.
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.
"This afternoon we're announcing new guidelines for every American to follow over the next 15 days," Trump said during a media briefing last week.
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.
A computer modeling report from researchers at Imperial College London that predicted 2 million American deaths unless stringent social distancing measures were enacted may have convinced U.S health officials to take the extraordinary step, the Times reported.
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 25,665 cases, Washington state has 2,469 cases and California has 2,102.
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 1,467 cases, with 20 deaths.
More than 420,000 people worldwide have been infected and over 18,900 have died, 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.
By Robin Foster and E.J. Mundell
SOURCES: March 24, 2020, media briefing with: President Donald Trump; March 9, 2020, media briefing with Vice President Mike Pence; U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; CNN; Washington Post; Associated Press; New York Times
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