The Senate took up the $2 trillion stimulus deal, the mayor of New York said more than half his city could face coronavirus infection, and Britain revealed Wednesday that Prince Charles tested positive for the virus.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the bipartisan agreement "the largest rescue package in history." The Senate will hold a vote to end debate and clear the way for final Senate passage, likely later Wednesday.
After its expected passage, the bill goes to the House for a vote before heading to President Donald Trump's desk. The deal comes as confirmed cases in America, now over 60,000, have been climbing at an exponential rate. More are expected as the U.S. increases testing.
The U.S. death toll was at 849 Wednesday afternoon after eclipsing 600 on Tuesday. Globally, more than 20,000 people have been killed by the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.
WHO calls for six measures to halt spread
In a press briefing Wednesday evening, World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for countries to adopt six measures to aggressively attack the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The measures ask countries to expand, train and deploy healthcare workers; implement a system to find every suspected case “at the community level”; ramp up production and availability of testing; equip and adapt facilities to isolate and treat patients; develop plans and protocols to quarantine; and refocus the whole of government to suppress and control COVID-19.
“These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission, so that when restrictions are lifted, the virus doesn’t re-surge,” Tedros said. “The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.”
Tedros also welcomed the call made Monday by United Nations secretary general António Guterres for a global ceasefire so that governments can wholly focus on eradicating the virus.
– Lorenzo Reyes
Most Americans to get $1,200 checks
People earning less than $75,000 per year will get $1,200 checks under the stimulus agreement that caps five days of negotiations. Married couples earning less than $150,000 will get $2,400 and children will be worth another $500 each under the deal. Another $250 billion set aside for direct payments to individuals and families, $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion in unemployment insurance benefits and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.
Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer said that every worker who is laid off will have their salary remunerated by the federal government so they can pay their bills.
"And because so many of them will be furloughed rather than fired, if they have benefits, they can continue, and — extremely important — they can stay with the company or small business," he said.
Mayor: Half of NYC will be infected
More than half of New York City's population can expect to be infected by the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Most will suffer only a "mild experience," but many will become very sick, and "we are going to lose some people," he said. April will be tough and May tougher before the virus crisis eases, he said. The city has seen 192 deaths so far, and there are more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus.
"The world we knew is gone," de Blasio said in a social media post. "And it's not coming back, not for the next few months. That's the blunt truth."
Cuomo: Social distancing is working
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said social distancing has helped slow the rate of hospitalizations in his state, but that they are still rising above expectations. He said the state will need 140,000 hospital beds, almost three times the existing capacity. He expects the state's curve to hit its apex in two or three weeks.
"We are still on the way up the mountain," he said.
Cuomo also said the state has sufficient masks and other protective equipment to last several days, but that the race to acquire respirators remained critical. He said they will be returned to states who donate them – and that his state will provide expertise on treatment as well.
"We are asking the country to help us," he said. "We will return the favor."
Prince Charles tests positive, displays 'mild symptoms'
Britain's Prince Charles, heir to the throne, has tested positive for the coronavirus, his official royal residence said in a statement. The statement said that Prince Charles, 71, has "been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health." His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, does not have the virus, a test showed.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth has canceled a number of diary events "as a sensible precaution" amid the outbreak but as late as last week she was still holding "audiences" with members of the public. Britain's monarch is 93.
– Kim Hjelmgaard
Student loan collection program eased
Many student loan borrowers far behind on their payments will see the federal government easing collection efforts as part of its response to the financial uncertainty as coronavirus spreads. The federal government will no longer withhold portions of borrowers’ tax returns and Social Security payments, the Education Department said. And borrowers whose paychecks were garnished will be entitled to their full wage. Private collectors working for the government have also been told to stop collection calls and letters.
– Chris Quintana
Texas gets major disaster declaration
Trump issued a major disaster declaration for Texas as the state grapples with a growing number of cases of the coronavirus. Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet the declaration will expand the state’s access to federal resources.
A major disaster declaration gives the state access to federal assistance programs for individual and public infrastructure, including funds for emergency and permanent work.
Texas has 1,130 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the 11th largest total in the nation.
-- Nicole Cobler, Austin American-Statesman
Innovative chef Floyd Cardoz dead at 59
Revolutionary chef Floyd Cardoz, who wowed critics and diners alike with his bold cooking at Tabla and Bombay Bread Bar in Manhattan, has died from COVID-19. He was 59.
Cardoz, who co-owned The Bombay Canteen and O Pedro in Mumbai, also won the third season of "Top Chef Masters." He had returned from India via Frankfurt on March 8 feeling feverish. He admitted himself to a New York hospital believing he had the flu, according to close friend Lou Palma.
On his Instagram account, Cardoz apologized for worrying anyone about his health. "I am so sorry for causing undue panic," he said.
Esther Davidowitz, Bergen Record
Tony Awards postponed
Nearly two weeks after Broadway went dark due to concerns over the coronavirus, this year's Tony Awards have been postponed. They had been scheduled for June 7 in New York City's Radio City Music Hall.
Officially, Broadway is shut down until April 12, but experts say it's unlikely curtains will rise that soon. The awards show won't be rescheduled until theater productions restart, organizers said.
Ilana Keller, Asbury Park Press
Italy, Iran see spike in deaths; Spain passes China
Italy saw a jump in its daily death toll following two straight days of declines, the nation's civil protection chief said Wednesday. Tuesday saw 743 deaths, up from 601 on Monday and 653 on Sunday. More than 6,800 have died since the outbreak swept into Italy last month. In Spain, where an ice rink has been converted into a morgue, 738 more deaths were reported for a total of 3,434 overall, surpassing China's total.
Iran reported 122 deaths, bringing the total there to more than 2,000. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that U.S. sanctions are impeding Iran’s efforts to fight coronavirus – and are putting the entire world in danger. "In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us," Bachelet said.
First immigration detainee tests positive
A federal immigration detainee in New Jersey is the first to test positive for the coronavirus, spurring renewed warnings from advocates about the safety of those being held. People held in detention centers are "sitting ducks," said Andrea Flores, a deputy director of policy at the ACLU. Flores urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to set more detainees free.
The jail in Bergen County — the epicenter of the New Jersey outbreak —was put under lock down after the positive test. A spokesman for ICE, which pays Bergen and other county jails to house those accused of immigration violations, said the agency has been working with local officials to determine whether any detainees require additional testing.
– Monsy Alvarado and Steve Janoski, Bergen Record
US, Asian stocks leap after Dow Jones' historic surge
U.S. stocks raced higher again Wednesday, a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average's biggest surge since 1933. Global markets also soared, with Japan's Nikkei 225 index jumping 5.3%, Hong Kong adding 3% and Sydney climbing 3.6%. Tokyo share prices were also boosted by the decision to postpone the 2020 Olympics to 2021 in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
All that followed a stunning 11.4% surge Tuesday in the Dow. The S&P 500 index leaped 9.4% as a wave of buying around the world interrupted what has been a brutal month of nearly nonstop selling.
Pompeo blasts China, calls COVID-19 ‘Wuhan virus’
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly used the term “Wuhan virus” to refer to the coronavirus, despite warnings from health experts that the term risks stigmatizing Asian-Americans and concerns the label has incited racist attacks in the U.S. In a 15-minute news conference, Pompeo never used the official medical term – COVID-19 – for the disease. Pompeo also lashed out at China again for its handling of the initial outbreak, which began in Wuhan.
“They were the first country to know about the risk to the world from this virus," Pompeo told a handful of reporters gathered for Wednesday’s briefing. "They repeatedly delayed sharing.”
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Hundreds of Waffle House restaurants go dark
Waffle House, known for weathering many a natural disaster, said it's closing 365 of its restaurants. The chain posted a map on social media showing the closed restaurants, while another 1,627 across the southeastern U.S. remained open. The posts also featured the hashtag "#WaffleHouseIndexRed. The Facebook Post drew almost 1,000 comments, most of the reflecting alarm, such as "Oh geez, now we can worry" and "It's getting real sir."
The chain has its own "Waffle House Index" used during natural disasters to assess damage. If a store is closed, it's likely in an area with significant damage.
As colleges send students home, Liberty University invites them back
Most of them won’t attend classes in person, but thousands of Liberty University students will return to the evangelical Virginia campus amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of the students are not at-risk because of their age, President Jerry Falwell Jr. argued in an interview with the News and Advance in Lynchburg. The president of the private, Christian college is a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump.
Liberty's move is remarkable as the coronavirus spreads across the United States. Hundreds of universities have closed their campuses and asked students to leave crowded dorms. Some have allowed students who can’t move back home – international students or those without secure housing – but most campuses are becoming emptier, not fuller.
– Chris Quintana
Fever charting shows social distancing is slowing the spread of coronavirus
Early evidence suggests closing bars, restaurants and other businesses to keep people apart in places including New York City, has slowed the incidence of fevers that are an early indicator of coronavirus, according to a new analysis of fevers and symptoms across the U.S.
Data from health technology company Kinsa, which did the analysis using its digital thermometers, show the number of people with flu-like illness — atypical fever and symptoms — began dropping almost immediately after mandatory social distancing measures were implemented in some areas.
The company downloads fever readings from more than 1 million thermometers in use around the U.S. It predicted the 2018 spread of the flu and bad colds that were often mistaken for the flu last winter.
"When you shut down schools and businesses, you are breaking the chain of infections," said Kinsa CEO Inder Singh. "The data are showing it is working and the clusters of fever we were seeing are leveling off and diminishing within days.
– Jayne O'Donnell