SATURDAY, March 28, 2020 (HealthDay News) — President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package into law on Friday, as U.S. coronavirus cases surged past 100,000 and the death toll passed 1,600.
The unprecedented legislation will send $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, along with $500 per child. It will also give an additional 13 weeks in unemployment aid and a four-month enhancement of jobless benefits, The New York Times reported.
The package also includes $377 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and the creation of a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies. Hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic will also get $100 billion in aid, the Times reported.
Also on Friday, Trump issued an order to force General Motors to manufacture ventilators, the Times reported. The action represented an about-face after he had largely dismissed the outcry for ventilators earlier in the day. In addition, he signed an order on Friday that permits the Pentagon to bring former troops back to active duty to help with the military’s response to the pandemic.
All of the help comes not a moment too soon, as more than 100 million Americans have been ordered by their state’s governors to stay home.
New York is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with more than 44,635 cases and 535 deaths, according to the Times.
“We are in for a bumpy ride for the next 12 to 18 months,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN. “If we are aggressive now about stopping things, shutting down, building up a test regime, we can then open up again … and most places can go back to work. But only when we are ready. And we are nowhere near ready now.”
Despite the steep rise in U.S. cases and dire projections, Trump has said he would like to re-open the country by Easter, April 12, the Times reported.
On Thursday, Trump tailored his message slightly, suggesting that strict social distancing measures might be eased soon in parts of the country where the virus is not spreading widely.
Most health experts have 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, in Nashville, told the Times.
Trump’s remarks also came in sharp contrast to actions other leaders have taken around the world this past week: 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. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also diagnosed with COVID-19 on Friday, the first head of state to do so, CNN reported.
Grim statistics pile up in the U.S.
Things are particularly dire in New York City, where one hospital in Queens saw 13 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours, the Times reported.
Citywide, all of the more than 1,800 intensive care beds were expected to be full by the weekend, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing memo obtained by the Times.
New York Governor 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.
And in New Rochelle, N.Y., drastic measures to contain a cluster there appeared to be paying off by Friday with a slowing in new cases, the Times reported.
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 Friday.
New Orleans now has more cases than Los Angeles County, which is 25 times larger, CBS News reported.
Hot spots, and areas relatively untouched
And some health officials are warning that parts of Michigan and Illinois could be the next epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reported.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said Thursday that health officials are concerned that counties like Wayne County, Mich., and Cook County, Ill., are showing a “more rapid increase” in cases.
However, Birx also noted that 40% of the country has “extraordinary low rates of coronavirus,” with roughly 19 states reporting fewer than 200 cases, CNN reported.
Along with Cuomo, at least 21 other governors have announced stay-at-home orders in states including California, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Oregon, Washington state and Hawaii, CNN reported.
Economic help, medical supplies coming
Earlier this month, Trump 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.
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. On Saturday, China will begin a ban on foreign travelers to its country, to avoid possible re-infections there, the Associated Press said.
The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Italy.
On Saturday, Italy passed China for coronavirus cases, reporting more than 86,000 and over 9,000 deaths, the AP reported. The virus has been especially deadly for older Italians. But the country has seen a slowing in the rate of new infections for the fourth day in a row, the Times reported.
State, local officials continue shutdowns
Meanwhile, state and local officials across the United States continued to order the temporary closings of bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
Last week, 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.
New York, Washington state and California have been hard hit by coronavirus cases in the United States. New York has 44,635 cases, Washington state has 3,770 cases and California has 4,914, according to the Times.
A surge of coronavirus cases in California has begun and will worsen, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday, the AP reported, while the mayor of Los Angeles warned that his city could soon see the kind of hospital crush that has crippled New York City.
“We are now seeing the spike that we were anticipating,” Newsom declared while standing in front of the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship Mercy that arrived in the Port of Los Angeles on Friday. It will take non-virus patients to free up rooms at hospitals for coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, officials in Florida have closed most beaches in the state after young spring breakers ignored social distancing guidelines and partied with abandon on the sand. And on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis put a two-week halt on any new vacation rentals and ordered state troopers to stop drivers from Louisiana to tell them to self-isolate for 14 days. Florida now has 3,198 cases, with 46 deaths.
Worldwide, the case count approached 620,000 while the death toll topped 28,000 on Saturday, 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.
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