(HealthDay News) — President Donald Trump signed an $850 billion coronavirus relief package into law late Wednesday, as the number of U.S. cases climbed to 9,000.
The package will provide sick leave, unemployment benefits and free coronavirus testing.
Even as the legislation became law, the drafting of $1 trillion economic stabilization package is also already underway. That package would send $500 billion in direct payments to taxpayers and provide loans to businesses, and has already begun, the New York Times reported.
Trump also invoked a wartime law on Wednesday 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 emerged: For the first time since the coronavirus outbreak began, China on Thursday reported no new local infections for the previous day, the Times reported.
The country of 1.4 billion is not out of the woods yet, since experts say there will have to be at least 14 consecutive days without new infections for the outbreak to be deemed over. Whether the virus will re-emerge once daily life returns to normal remains to be seen.
The good news in China stood in sharp relief to what is unfolding in Italy, as that European country appeared poised to pass China’s death total by the end of Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
Italy reported a total of 2,978 deaths on Wednesday after another 475 people died, the wire service said. Since Italy has been averaging more than 350 deaths a day since March 15, it almost certainly will pass China’s 3,249 dead by the end of Thursday, the AP said.
State, local officials continue shutdowns
Meanwhile, state and local officials across the country continued to order the temporary closings of bars and nightclubs and the placement of seating restrictions on restaurants. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said Tuesday that a “shelter-in-place” order could be announced for the city’s 8.6 million residents in the next 48 hours, the Times reported.
On Monday, the Trump Administration ramped up its coronavirus “social distancing” advisory to now discourage gatherings of 10 or more people.
Hours later, about 7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area were ordered to shelter in their homes, an order that was extended to another 2 million residents by Wednesday. Residents were instructed to only leave for “essential” reasons, such as going grocery shopping, going to the bank, using gas stations and going to pharmacies, CNN reported. By far the strictest social distancing measure in the United States at this point, the order mirrors many of those already in place across Europe.
“”We know these measures will significantly disrupt people’s day to day lives, but they are absolutely necessary,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “This is going to be a defining moment for our city, and we all have a responsibility to do our part to protect our neighbors and slow the spread of this virus by staying at home unless it is absolutely essential to go outside.”
Federal government takes less drastic measures, for now
For now, the federal government recommends less drastic measures for the rest of the country.
“This afternoon we’re announcing new guidelines for every American to follow over the next 15 days,” President Donald Trump said during a Monday media briefing.
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 prior advisory had discouraged gatherings of 50 or more people. However, Dr. Deborah Birx, a virologist and coronavirus task force coordinator, explained that newer models of the virus’ spread now implicate people who might not even show symptoms as a significant source of “silent” infections.
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.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, all Americans need to limit their contact with others to slow the rate of new infections.
“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Fauci warned, and the crisis could continue into the summer. “It’s how we respond [now] to that challenge that will determine what the ultimate endpoint is going to be.”
State officials across America had already begun to enact even tougher restrictions to try to slow the spread of coronavirus, as the country’s case count reached passed 9,000, with 149 deaths, CNN reported.
Aid to states
Trump’s announcement last Friday of a national emergency, nearly unprecedented in American history, immediately freed up more than $50 billion in federal funds to help states control the spread of COVID-19 before it overwhelms hospitals and health care systems.
“Through a very collective action and shared sacrifice and national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said at a White House press briefing, flanked by top officials engaged in the coronavirus fight.
As well as delivering a huge funding boost, the national emergency declaration also greatly broadens the powers of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar. The HHS can now bypass regulations that might otherwise hem in a hospital’s ability to reach peak performance as critically ill cases flood in.
The president also said his administration is doubling down on testing for COVID-19. Experts, including Fauci, have already called the slow rollout of such tests a system failure.
Now, there’s “a new partnership with the private sector to vastly accelerate and test for the coronavirus,” Trump said last Friday.
Beyond that, Trump and health officials said that Google will soon create a new website that will let any American describe his or her symptoms online and, if applicable, be directed to the nearest drive-through testing site.
Stores such as Walmart, CVS and Walgreens will set aside part of their parking lots for drive-through testing.
Crisis is changing lives
In the meantime, the public lives of Americans have come to a halt, as the coronavirus pandemic prompted officials across the country to close, cancel or postpone any event or activity that might foster the spread of COVID-19.
At least 37 states have shuttered all public schools, CNN reported. Meanwhile, Broadway went dark, Disney World and Disneyland were closed, March Madness was canceled, and most professional sports leagues postponed their seasons.
Cases in Washington state spiked to 1,187 by Wednesday. In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has turned a New York City suburb into a “containment zone.” Schools and houses of worship in the city of New Rochelle will be closed for two weeks. A cluster of more than 538 cases there could be the largest in the nation, and National Guard troops have been ordered to help clean public spaces and deliver food during the containment period, the AP reported.
New York, Washington state and California now have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the United States, the Times reported. New York has 2,382, Washington state now has 1,187 cases and California has 598.
As of Tuesday, the WHO had reported 207,855 cases of coronavirus in 166 countries and territories, including over 8,648 deaths.
Internationally, hopes of containing the coronavirus are fading fast.
In Asia, South Korea and Iran are each battling major outbreaks of COVID-19. In Europe, Italy has ordered a lockdown of the entire country, some 60 million people, as it tries to contain a major outbreak of COVID-19. By Tuesday morning, the case count in that country had passed 35,000, CNBC News reported.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the country’s lockdown will have to be extended past April 3 as its daily death toll spiked on Wednesday, CNBC reported.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.