Day 1154: "Just in case we need it."
1/ The Senate approved a coronavirus relief package to provide sick leave, unemployment benefits, free testing, and food and medical aid to people impacted by the pandemic. The bill now goes to Trump, who is expected to sign it. The Senate’s approval of the House-passed coronavirus bill, known as “phase two,” comes as senators are expected to begin negotiations on a $1.3 trillion “phase three” stimulus package. (USA Today / Politico / Washington Post / CNBC / Bloomberg)
- Rand Paul delayed the Senate vote on the aid package by forcing a vote on an amendment to “require a social security number for purposes of the child tax credit.” The amendment would also give Trump “the authority to transfer funds as necessary, and to terminate United States military operations and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan.” (NBC News)
2/ Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin warned lawmakers that unemployment could reach as high as 20% if they fail to act on a $1.3 trillion White House stimulus package. The “phase three” stimulus would send two $1,000 checks to Americans and allocate $300 billion to help small businesses avoid layoffs. Unemployment currently stands at 3.5%. In Connecticut, about 30,000 claims for unemployment benefits have been filed since Friday – 10 times the average weekly total. In Ohio more than 48,000 applications over two days have been filed, compared to just under 2,000 for the same period the week before. In New Jersey, 15,000 applications arrived on Monday, causing the state’s website to crash. Pennsylvania experienced more than 50,000 applications on Monday and more than that on Tuesday. The leading labor union for hospitality workers said it expects 80% to 90% of its 300,000 members to be out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. Travel Association projects 4.6 million jobs lost this year in the travel industry, which would push the unemployment rate up to 6.3%. It’s estimated that unemployment hit 25% during the Great Depression and 10% during the Great Recession. An official from the Treasury Department later clarified that the 20% figure was not meant to be a forecast, but simply an illustration of what could happen if lawmakers failed to act. (CNBC / NBC News / Washington Post / Politico / HuffPost / New York Times / Bloomberg)
The IRS closed field offices in Northern California, Seattle, Puerto Rico, and the New York City area. The Social Security Administration closed 1,400 offices. The federal government has 2.1 million employees and is the nation’s largest employer. (Washington Post)
Trump’s federal personnel director quit her post with no notice yesterday, leaving the agency that oversees workplace policy for 2.1 million civil servants with no leader. Office of Personnel Management chief Dale Cabaniss resigned in frustration after just five months on the job due to ongoing tensions with the White House budget office and with John McEntee, a 29-year-old political appointee and Trump loyalist the budget office installed at OPM in the last month. Cabaniss felt she was being micromanaged and that her authority was not respected. Cabaniss’s deputy, Michael Rigas, will take over as acting head of the agency. (Washington Post / Politico)
The U.S. and Canada suspended “all nonessential travel” between the two countries. (CNN / Associated Press)
Germany closed its borders to travelers from other EU countries. (Politico)
3/ The Dow closed below 20,000 points for the first time since February 2017, erasing nearly all of the index’s gains since Trump’s inauguration. The S&P 500 dropped 5.2% and closed nearly 30% below its record high set last month. Trading was also briefly suspended after a “circuit breaker” meant to ensure orderly market behavior halted trading across the U.S. stock exchanges for 15 minutes. It was the fourth time in a week that a circuit breaker was triggered. (CNBC / Politico / CNN / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg)
- The New York Stock Exchange will temporarily close its trading floor and move fully to electronic trading starting March 23 after two people tested positive for coronavirus at entrance screenings. (CNBC)
4/ Trump invoked the Defense Production Act “just in case we need it,” allowing the government to boost manufacturing of masks, ventilators, respirators, and other protective gear for health care workers. Trump also ordered two Navy hospital ships with 1,000 beds each to help with the crisis – one to New York, the other to the West Coast – which he described as “the big white ships with the red cross on the sides.” Trump later clarified on Twitter that while he signed the Korean War-era law, he would only “invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future.” (New York Times / Bloomberg / ABC News)
The Trump administration is considering mobilizing the National Guard and Reserve at the federal level to help combat the coronavirus. At the state level, 18 governors have already activated more than 1,500 guardsmen to assist with the U.S. response to the virus. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, called on Trump to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to retrofit existing buildings to care for COVID-19 patients. (Politico) / Vox / New York Times)
The U.S. and other countries face a shortage of ventilators. U.S. hospitals have roughly 160,000 ventilators and there are another 12,700 in the National Strategic Stockpile. American and European manufacturers, however, say they can’t speed up production to meet global demand. Earlier this week, Trump urged governors to find ways to procure new ventilators, saying “Try getting it yourselves.” (New York Times)
The U.S. Air Force flew 500,000 coronavirus test swabs from Italy to Memphis, Tennessee. (Defense One)
Trump considered issuing an executive order expand the use of experimental drugs against coronavirus over the objections of FDA scientists, who warned it could pose unneeded risks to patients. The order, entitled the Executive Order to Save Lives, would have allowed any drug or therapy with “evidence of safety” to begin Phase 1 testing for patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus disease. (Wall Street Journal)
[STUDY] How quickly hospitals can be overwhelmed by coronavirus and why it’s important to “flatten the curve.” In 40% of markets, hospitals would not be able to make enough room for all the coronavirus cases, even if they could empty their beds of other patients. In a best-case scenario, with cases of coronavirus spread out over 18 months, American hospital beds would be about 95% full. (New York Times / ProPublica)
5/ Trump plans to turn back all asylum seekers and other non-U.S. citizens trying to cross the southwestern border illegally. Ports of entry will remain open to U.S. citizens, green card holders, select others with proper documentation, and commercial traffic. But under the new rule, Border Patrol will be under orders to immediately return anyone who tries to cross the southern border between legal ports of entry back to Mexico. Asylum seekers will not be held at any American facility or given due process. (New York Times)
- Trump – again – attempted to blame China for the spread of the coronavirus by calling it the “China Virus,” which – aside from being racially offensive and inaccurate – advocacy groups say has put Asian Americans at risk of retaliation. “It’s not racist at all,” Trump told reporters. “No, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why. It comes from China. I want to be accurate.” After the emergence of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the WHO asked national authorities, scientists, and the media to not name a virus after people, a geographic location, a cultural group or even a species of animal, because that can stigmatize communities. Separately, a Chinese American news reporter said that a White House official referred to coronavirus as the “Kung-Flu” to her face. (Politico / ABC News / Associated Press / Vox / Washington Post)
poll/ 70% of Americans say the coronavirus outbreak poses a major threat to the U.S. economy. 47% say it is a major threat to the overall health of the U.S. population. (Pew Research Center)
poll/ 18% of Americans have experienced layoffs and reduced hours due to the coronavirus pandemic. Of those affected, a quarter of households making less than $50,000 had experienced cut hours or a job loss. (NPR)
poll/ 42% of Americans trust Trump to protect the country from the coronavirus, compared to the CDC (75%), National Institutes of Health (68%), and the World Health Organization (66%). (Axios)
Become a member.
Help keep WTF Just Happened Today going with a small contribution.