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Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported this week: Monday, 2,513; Tuesday, 3,170; Wednesday, 4,081; Thursday, 5,137.
The painful week President Trump predicted on Tuesday will look darker today as the government reports as many as 3.5 million more Americans filed claims for unemployment benefits as the U.S. economy lurches to a halt. Last week’s tally was a jaw-dropping 3.3 million.
The president, congressional leaders and governors continued on Wednesday to wrestle with a deadly coronavirus along with the escalating tally of millions of workers suddenly out of work at a time when few companies are hiring. The Labor Department this morning will report on weekly jobless claims and analysts expect to see the early contours of an economy now in recession.
Companies reduced payrolls by 27,000 in early March before the worst of the coronavirus-induced economic downturn, according to a report Wednesday from Automatic Data Processing and Moody’s Analytics. Based on unemployment claims filed in states, actual losses for the month will turn out to be worse; Wednesday’s report covered the period through March 12. In total, job losses in March are expected to be 10 million to 15 million, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s (CNBC).
“Much bigger job losses are coming,” Zandi warned.
Lawmakers who may be out of Washington until later this month are working from home to begin formulating the next phase of legislative help to bolster an eventual U.S. recovery.
In Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is staring down a potential showdown with the president over a gargantuan infrastructure package, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is pushing as a “phase four” bill in response to the pandemic.
While Trump and some other Republicans are generally supportive of a potential infrastructure bill, McConnell and others on the right are wary and are concerned that it could resemble the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As Alexander Bolton and Jordain Carney write, the $831 billion stimulus package was one of the top legislative achievements of former President Obama and was derided by Republicans after it added significantly to the debt and took months to buoy the economy.
Robert Costa, The Washington Post: Pelosi should “stand down” on passing another rescue bill in House, McConnell says.
While phase four legislation is under consideration, there is concern among some lawmakers and tax-policy experts about the just-enacted $2.2 trillion relief package, specifically over guidance issued on Monday from the IRS indicating that seniors would need to file short tax returns to receive their coronavirus relief checks.
Late on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that qualifying Social Security recipients will automatically receive direct deposit stimulus payouts to their bank accounts without having to file IRS returns this year, a concession to simplicity and a reduction in confusion for senior citizens. Complaints about the initial guidance came immediately from Democratic lawmakers and advocates for millions of elderly Americans (The Hill).
“Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return need to take no action, and will receive their payment directly to their bank account,” Mnuchin said in a statement.
The Hill: 7 industries lobbying for more stimulus.
The Hill: Economists fear the slow pace of coronavirus testing will prolong the U.S. recession. … Anthony Fauci, director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Wednesday that in the near future, improved testing and virus contact tracing can help reopen the country and ease long-running stay-at-home orders (The Hill). … Fauci now has a security detail following threats (The Hill).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidelines on Wednesday to say anyone in contact with an infected person, with or without symptoms of illness, may transmit the virus. Scientists believe unknowing coronavirus “carriers” may account for about 10 percent of new infections. It’s a serious hurdle for international efforts to throttle COVID-19 and adds urgency to broader testing and an eventual vaccine for the masses (The Associated Press).
LEADING THE DAY
STATE WATCH: The national stockpile of protective medical supplies and equipment distributed to states during the coronavirus pandemic is nearly depleted, according to Department of Homeland Security officials. States have cast wide nets on their own to locate in the private marketplace supplies they need for their hospitals, often frustrated by shortages and shouldering exorbitant prices in bidding wars with other states (The Washington Post).
Trump confirmed the Post report on Wednesday but explained that to save time, the government instructed suppliers and manufacturers to ship medical materials directly to specific hospitals rather than to the stockpile. The president said more than 1,000 ventilators were shipped to hospitals on Wednesday. He said 11 companies are currently manufacturing ventilators for the government, but conceded that making ventilators in large quantities takes time.
COVID-19 mitigation: Some governors have yet to issue stay-at-home orders, but they are now in the minority of states (The Hill). Confirmed cases of the coronavirus total 216,722 this morning in all 50 states, according to the latest data.
Want to check out what each state is doing (or not doing) amid the crazy-quilt of U.S. mitigation efforts? NBC News has a state-by-state roundup HERE.
Nursing homes: One of the most deadly transmission points for the coronavirus around the country continues to be nursing homes (The Associated Press). Nursing and long-term care facilities across the United States are facing a crisis as residents test positive for COVID-19, often with tragic results. Relatives and advocates for the elderly want federal and state intervention and greater transparency (The Hill). The death toll is at least 450, including fatalities in Tennessee, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland due to infections that originate from visitors, clinicians, transfer hospitals and caregivers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which has regulatory oversight over all U.S. nursing homes, in March flagged the beginning of the crisis by reporting that 147 nursing homes had at least one case of infection, although CMS refused to identify which facilities were affected (CNBC). Now CMS has declined to release its tally of nursing home contagion.
Florida: Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis (pictured below) relented on Wednesday and issued a statewide stay-at-home order for residents of the Sunshine State. Earlier this week, he tried to limit a shelter-in-place order to counties in South Florida only (The Hill).
Trump on Wednesday praised DeSantis for his handling of restrictions in the president’s current home state. “There are some states that don’t have much of a problem” with COVID-19, Trump said. “You have to give a little bit of flexibility. … Look, we’re really here to help governors. We’re here, and we’re backing them up.”
The Hill: Trump resists a national quarantine order.
Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday issued a stay-at-home order for the entire state through April 30.
Nevada: Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) on Wednesday extended the state’s existing emergency actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — including closure of public and private schools, shutdown of nonessential businesses including casinos, and a ban on large gatherings — from mid-April until the end of this month, while urging state residents to shelter in place (The Nevada Independent).
New Jersey: Anticipating revenue shortfalls and budgetary challenges, the New Jersey legislature gave Gov. Phil Murphy (D) authority to shift the state’s fiscal year forward to September 30 from June in order to gain a more realistic picture of how the coronavirus has affected its fiscal health and to craft a budget. The state’s tax filing deadline also moved ahead to July 15, corresponding with the extended federal filing deadline (The Associated Press).
New York: Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) of New York City on Wednesday said during a briefing that his team is searching for at least 400 more ventilators by Sunday and needs 3.3 million N95 respirator masks for medical personnel. He said the city estimates it will need a minimum of 2,500 to 3,000 ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients over the next week (CNBC).
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is sheltering in place with his family in Brooklyn, told NPR during an interview that he was on the phone on Wednesday with the president and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to advocate for the needs of New York City as well as the nation. Schumer said he wants the president to appoint a “czar,” perhaps a military general or quartermaster, to organize and expedite the transport of federal supplies to areas where they are most needed, and approve federal hazard pay for doctors, nurses, medical technicians and first responders — including in New York, the country’s epicenter of coronavirus infections — because they are at personal risk while treating COVID-19 patients.
“I like it,” Trump said of the hazard pay idea, which he called “bonus pay” during a briefing with the press on Wednesday. “I think it’s incredible,” he said of the New York doctors and nurses he viewed on television as they walked into a Queens hospital to begin their shifts this week. “They’re like soldiers, so we’re going to do something for them.”
Schumer also urged the Treasury Department and the IRS to rethink a new requirement that senior citizens who have not been required to file a tax return do so now in order to receive the recently enacted stimulus funding.
> California: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) urged individuals in the second-largest U.S. city to wear masks when they go outside to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, or to perform other essential tasks. “To be clear, you should still stay at home. This isn’t an excuse to suddenly all go out,” Garcetti said. However, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) did not make the same recommendation statewide and continued to tell Californians to stay at home (The Associated Press).
> Kansas: The state’s controversial use of cell phone technology to track social distancing as a mitigation technique during the pandemic has sparked complaints of warrantless searches. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is using a GPS program to track residents’ locations through their cell phones in a bid to slow coronavirus cases, officials revealed during a press conference on Wednesday. Kansas is the first state to publicly acknowledge its use of such a program (National Review). Kansas Justice Institute, a public-interest litigation firm, sent a letter to Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) questioning the legal justification of population tracking. “The wholesale, warrantless collection of cellular data raises significant privacy issues, even during a pandemic,” Samuel MacRoberts, general counsel and litigation director, wrote.
The Hill: Grand Canyon National Park is closing “until further notice” amid coronavirus concerns.
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IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
CORONAVIRUS & INTERNATIONAL: The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is at least 939,436 this morning, with 47,287 reported deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
> NATO ministers will meet today and Friday via teleconference to discuss the coronavirus emergency and security and how to “step up and speed up our efforts,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday. “We can see what more we can do because this will last. This will take time before we are able to call off all the measures needed in the fight against the crisis.” Stoltenberg called on members of the alliance to develop a synchronized response that includes support for civilian efforts to tackle the spread of the disease (CNBC).
> Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia: Trump and members of his Cabinet on Wednesday announced a beefed-up U.S. “war against the cartels” spearheaded through the Pentagon’s U.S. Southern Command to interdict narcotics trafficking in the Pacific and the Caribbean. The effort to seize “hundreds of tons of cocaine” destined for the United States and moved at sea involves the U.S. Navy, Air Force and 10 Coast Guard cutters, Attorney General William Barr said (The Associated Press).
> Iran: Trump on Wednesday warned Tehran that it would pay a “very heavy price” if it tries to attack U.S. forces on the assumption that Washington is distracted by the coronavirus pandemic. “We just have information that they were planning something, and it’s very good information,” the president told reporters on Wednesday. “It was led by Iran, not necessarily Iran, but by groups supported by Iran, but that to me is Iran. And we’re just saying, don’t do it. Don’t do it. It will be a very bad thing for them if they did it,” Trump added (The Hill).
> China: With the coronavirus wreaking havoc across the world, China seeks to expand its influence abroad through a widespread propaganda campaign as it tries to conceal its initial cover-up of the pandemic while lending help to countries affected by the virus. China has noted that it has delivered aid to more than 100 nations, including the U.S., but experts say that what they are promoting is nothing more than a facade (The Hill).
> Italy: Italian officials extended the nationwide lockdown until April 13 as the death toll eclipsed 13,000 on Wednesday. Italy accounts for more than one-quarter of the deaths from the coronavirus worldwide. Nonetheless, Italy announced its lowest daily death count in more than a week, suggesting the pandemic could be stabilizing there. The total of 727 deaths in 24 hours on Wednesday was down from Tuesday’s total of 837.
“The curve tells us that we’re at a plateau,” Silvio Brusaferro, the president of Italy’s Higher Health Institute, said on Wednesday. “That doesn’t mean we’ve hit the peak and that it’s over, but that we must start the descent … by applying the measures in force” (The Guardian).
The Wall Street Journal: The soccer match that kicked off Italy’s coronavirus disaster.
> France: France became the fourth nation to see its death count surpass 4,000 (after Italy, Spain and the United States) as top officials indicated that the lockdown across the country will be slowly undone at the appropriate time.
France reported 509 new deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, but the rate of death has slowed down after the third week of the national lockdown, which will run until April 15.
“It is likely that we are not heading towards a general de-confinement in one go and for everyone,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said (Reuters).
> Japan: In an effort to stem the spread of the virus, Japanese officials will ban foreigners from 73 countries from entering the nation and ask everyone arriving from abroad to self-quarantine for two weeks as it struggles to contain the coronavirus.
A group of medical experts advising Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (seen below) said Wednesday that the hospitals in Tokyo, Osaka and other major cities are under duress and that a quick course of action is necessary.
“We must prevent infections from spreading further no matter what. We have come to the edge of edges, to the very brink,” said Economics Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, noting that infectious disease experts are concerned about medical capacity in Tokyo (Reuters).
> United Kingdom: London is on the verge of opening a new temporary hospital, known as NHS Nightingale, that will be able to treat nearly 4,000 patients only nine days after the plans were drawn up for the facility in the ExCeL conference center (Financial Times).
The U.K. also saw job claims substantially increase as roughly 950,000 Britons applied for welfare benefits and the economy reels from the coronavirus. According to The Associated Press, that total is about 10 times the total for a two-week period.
> Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday told Germans to stay at home until after Easter (until April 19) to avoid contagion and transmission tied to COVID-19. The shelter-in-place period will be re-evaluated after the holiday, she said (Reuters).
> Brazil: President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil continues to minimize the risk of COVID-19 in his country, calling it “a measly cold.” He has defied the advice of his own health minister (The New York Times). On Wednesday, Bolsonaro spoke by phone with Trump about the next steps each country is taking to slow the spread of the virus, according to the White House. Brazil has reported 6,931 cases of the coronavirus and 244 deaths.
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COVID-19 is twisting 2020 beyond all recognition, by Thomas B. Edsall, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/2UzPdjH
The case for optimism, by Scott W. Atlas, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/39Cm7EC
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets for a pro forma session on Friday at 10 a.m.
The Senate will convene in a pro forma session at 10 a.m. Votes are not scheduled until April 20.
The president has no public events scheduled.
Vice President Pence will lead a meeting of the president’s coronavirus task force and participate in a 5 p.m. press briefing with daily updates.
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➔ Politics: Top Democrats are considering contingency plans for the party’s national convention as it is increasingly unlikely that it will take place in its current form from July 13-16 in Milwaukee. One possibility is a delay of the four-day confab until August. As the party in the White House, the GOP convention (Aug. 24-27) is scheduled to go second. Convention officials are expected to make a decision by May 1 (The Hill). … According to a new Marquette University Law School poll, former Vice President Joe Biden holds a slight lead over the president in Wisconsin, taking 48 percent to 45 percent for Trump (The Hill). … Biden confirmed that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is among the women he’s considering as a potential running mate (The Hill).
➔ Zoom is, well, zooming: As Americans stay home, video conferencing software company Zoom has seen a surge in use. But the new business has exposed vulnerabilities in its systems and made the company a target among lawmakers and hackers (The Hill).
➔ Tissue tragedy: “Burned extensively” was the description from the Texas Department of Transportation on Wednesday after a tractor-trailer hauling toilet paper crashed and caught fire near Dallas, spilling one of America’s most coveted commodities across an interstate. The toilet paper appeared to be large rolls typically used in stores, restaurants and other businesses. The driver was unhurt (The Associated Press).
➔ Youngsters need new diversions!: Harry Potter’s creator, author J.K. Rowling, launched a website, Harry Potter At Home, featuring quizzes, games and crafts for young readers who are stuck indoors for the time being and ready to escape to the “wizarding world.” For the month of April, Rowling also partners with the audio publisher-distributor Audible and the library e-book supplier OverDrive for free audio and digital editions of the first Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” (The U.S. edition is called “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”). Rowling’s British and American print publishers, Bloomsbury and Scholastic, will contribute materials to the Potter web site and to their own web sites (The Associated Press). … Young people who lament being homebound and without familiar routines, such as gym class, can do some exercises in their living rooms via YouTube with British exercise coach Joe Wicks, creator of “P.E. with Joe.” NPR interviewed him this week and Wicks, an entrepreneur with loads of energy, offered fitness tips for people of all ages feeling restless during social distancing and self-isolation.
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report puzzle! Inspired by images that tell us stories about the pandemic around the world, we’re eager to see if readers can correctly identify four major cities seen in the photographs below.
To play along, identify these global locations and send us your best guesses, matched to the image numbers we’ve added. Easy!
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