Coronavirus live updates: Unemployment claims smash record; death toll rises in NY; $2T stimulus is near – USA TODAY

March 26, 2020

Jobless claims smashed a record, U.S deaths surged past 1,000, and those $1,200 stimulus checks were inching closer to America’s mailboxes Thursday as the coronavirus tightened its grip on America.

The Labor Department, in announcing the unemployment claims numbers for last week, said what Americans already knew – that layoffs hit the hospitality and food service industries particularly hard. Other industries that struggled included health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing industries, Labor said.

Congress was trying to supply a ray of hope. The House is scheduled to take up a Senate-passed, $2 trillion emergency aid proposal on Friday. Swift passage was expected – after an initial hangup, the package flew through the Senate on Wednesday night by a vote of 96-0. President Donald Trump has expressed a willingness to sign the measure. 

The stimulus comes as confirmed coronavirus cases in America surpassed 75,000, and more confirmations are expected as the U.S. ramps up testing. The global death toll was nearly 23,000; total confirmed cases went past 500,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.

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Record 3.3 million people apply for unemployment benefits

The number of Americans filing initial applications for unemployment benefits jumped nearly twelvefold to a record 3.3 million last week, the Labor Department said, offering the most vivid evidence yet of the coronavirus’s widespread damage to the economy. The total was well above the 1.5 million claims economists had forecast, according to the median estimate of those surveyed by Bloomberg.

The pandemic has set off the most abrupt near-shutdown of the economy in history. Many restaurants, shops, movie theaters, sports arenas and other gathering spots were compelled to close their doors or scale back service – and lay off staff.

– Paul Davidson

Death toll on rise in New York

One hundred people in New York state died Wednesday from the coronavirus, the state’s single deadliest day since the virus at the center of a global pandemic first hit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. The surge of deaths pushed New York’s total count to 385 since the beginning of March, when the state found its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

New York remains the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak with 37,258 confirmed cases – almost half of the national total as of Thursday afternoon. Cuomo said the outbreak’s peak in the state is still at least two weeks away, and the state was battling to make room in hospitals and obtain ventilators.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat the situation,” Cuomo said. “The situation is not easy. But easy times don’t forge character. It’s the tough times that forge character.”

Meanwhile, public officials of upstate towns where New York-area residents have second homes are being strongly urged not to travel there.

– Joseph Spector

13 die in 24 hours at one NYC hospital

At least 13 patients died in 24 hours at one hospital in New York City, currently the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. Elmhurst Hospital, part of the city’s public hospital system, said the 13 deaths were consistent with the number of intensive care unit patients the hospital was treating at the time.

The deaths occurred from Tuesday to Wednesday at the Queens hospital. The city has confirmed over 20,011 cases, leading to 280 deaths. “Elmhurst is at the center of this crisis,” hospital spokesperson Christopher Miller said. “It’s the No. 1 priority of our public hospital system right now.”

– Ryan W. Miller

House to vote on historic $2 trillion stimulus package

The House is expected to vote Friday on the stimulus package. Highlights include direct payments of up to $1,200 for most individuals and $2,400 for most married couples filing jointly, with an extra $500 for each child.

Unemployment insurance benefits would be expanded, increasing the maximum benefit by $600 a week for up to four months. Benefits would be available to workers who are part-time, self-employed or part of the gig economy. People who are still unemployed after state benefits end could get an additional 13 weeks of help. Food assistance programs would get a boost, and homeowners with federally backed mortgages would be protected from foreclosures for as long as 180 days. Students with federal loans could suspend payments until October.

– Maureen Groppe and Ledyard King

Stocks jump for third straight day

U.S. stocks rose sharply Thursday, even as data revealed a record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. The Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 1,000 points, a day after the blue-chip average notched back-to-back gains for the first time since February in anticipation of fiscal stimulus from Congress. The Dow rose a stunning 11% on Tuesday and closed with solid gains again Wednesday.

The markets, which have seen historic declines in recent weeks, have perked up because of the $2 trillion stimulus package that won Senate approval late Wednesday. 

– Jessica Menton

Tesla to make ventilators; hockey helmet firm to make face masks

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company’s solar-panel factory in Buffalo hopes to begin ventilator production “as soon as humanly possible.” Musk tweeted that “we will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York.” New York actually invested $750 million to help build the plant. Cuomo said the state, which has about 12,000 ventilators, may need as many as 40,000 in the next few weeks as the coronavirus outbreak races toward its peak in the state.

And Bauer, a hockey equipment manufacturing company, said it has shifted its focus to make products like masks and shields for medical professionals.

– Joseph Spector and Chris Bumbaca

China closes borders to keep COVID-19 from returning

China temporarily barred most foreigners from entering the country as it seeks to curb the number of imported coronavirus cases. The foreign ministry said even foreign citizens with residence permits will be prevented from entering starting on Saturday. Diplomatic workers will be exempt, and foreign citizens coming to China for “necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs” can still apply for visas. Most countries have halted or severely curbed international travelers in a bid to curb the pandemic.

The coronavirus emerged in China late last year before spreading around the globe. The outbreak in China has been largely controlled, however, and life has been returning to normal across the country.

Registered nurses and patient care technicians wait for their next patient to drive up to be tested for the coronavirus at Christenberry Fieldhouse in Augusta, Ga.

2-month-old Tennessean tests positive, has mild symptoms

A 2-month-old who has tested positive for COVID-19 in Nashville could be the youngest pandemic patient in the nation, officials say. City health officials said metro Nashville had 36 new cases in 24 hours. Alex Jahangir, the city’s coronavirus task force chair, said the infant has mild symptoms and is home “doing well.” 

Children appear to be at lower risk for the harshest effects of COVID-19 than adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but they are not immune to the disease. 

– Yihyun Jeong

Louisiana pastor defies social distancing; service draws 1,000

A Louisiana pastor continues to defy the state’s orders prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people by holding services drawing over 1,000 attendees about 15 miles northeast of Baton Rouge. 

The Rev. Tony Spell, who claims that congregants at Life Tabernacle Church in Central City have been cured of cancer and HIV, said that coronavirus is “politically motivated.” Spell says churchgoers bused in from five different parishes in Louisiana have attended his church every Sunday despite state recommendations against mass gatherings.

“If they close every door in this city, then I will close my doors,” Spell told CNN. “But you can’t say the retailers are essential but the church is not. That is a persecution of the faith.”

– Joshua Bote

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WHO: World ‘squandered first window of opportunity’ to curb outbreak

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus scolded world leaders for wasting precious time in the fight against the virus. He called it “public enemy No. 1” and asked countries to follow a series of protocols, including expanding training and deployment health care workers.

“The time to act was actually more than a month ago or two months ago,” he said. ”We squandered the first window of opportunity …  this is a second opportunity, which we should not squander and do everything to suppress and control this virus.”

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100-year-old nun lobbies for social distancing

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, who became a March Madness star in 2018 during Loyola-Chicago’s Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament, made another March appearance Thursday. Now she stars in a PSA video released by the school urging people to stay at home to help curb the pandemic.

“What we’ve been asked to do by government officials … and others in authority is not an easy thing to do,” said Sister Jean, who turned 100 in August. “But we must do it. We must not only do it, but we have to do it as a team in order to aid our global arena.”

– Scott Gleeson

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Contributing: The Associated Press