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House Set to Sign Off on Economic Stimulus Bill Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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HealthDay Reporters

THURSDAY, April 23, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Lawmakers were poised to pass a $484 billion deal on Thursday that would replenish a small business loan program that has run out of funding and direct more money to hospitals and COVID-19 testing.

The Senate has already passed the measure, and the House is now expected to do the same, the Washington Post reported.

The legislation would add $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, the Post reported. It would also boost a separate small business emergency grant and loan program by $60 billion, and direct $75 billion to hospitals and $25 billion to a new coronavirus testing program.

Passage of the stimulus package might take some of the sting out of the latest unemployment numbers, with 4.4 million more Americans added to jobless rolls on Thursday. So far, more than 26 million Americans are out of work due to the coronavirus crisis.

Despite the pain that battling the new coronavirus has exacted upon the economy of the United States, a new Associated Press poll finds Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of stay-at-home orders and other efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The survey, released Wednesday by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, also finds a majority of Americans say it won't be safe to lift those measures anytime soon.

Sixty-one percent of Americans said stay-at-home orders issued by government officials to prevent COVID-19 infections have been about right. And 56% say conditions are unlikely to be safe enough in a few weeks to start lifting those restrictions, the AP reported.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order stating that the issuance of all green cards in the United States will be suspended for 60 days as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.

The halt will not stop temporary workers on nonimmigrant visas from entering the United States, the Post reported.

"I will be issuing a temporary suspension of immigration into the United States," Trump said during a coronavirus media briefing. "By pausing, we'll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs."

Broad restrictions have already been placed on travel from Europe, China and other coronavirus hot spots.

Coronavirus circulating weeks earlier than thought

New research also suggests that the new coronavirus was circulating in the United States weeks earlier than previously believed. California health officials said Tuesday that autopsies show that at least two people who died in early and mid-February had COVID-19. Until now, the earliest case was believed to be in a Seattle suburb on Feb. 26, the Post reported.

As the U.S. coronavirus death toll edged past 47,000 and the case count climbed to more than 834,000 on Thursday, governors across America crafted plans to start to ease social distancing in the coming weeks.

But new estimates from Harvard University researchers suggest that the United States as a whole cannot safely reopen unless health officials triple the number of coronavirus tests that are now being conducted, The New York Times reported.

Governors in some of the states that have been hit the hardest are already calling for far more testing in the coming month.

Statistics from New York and New Jersey have been encouraging in recent days. In both states, the curve of new infections appeared to be flattening or dropping, the Times reported.

But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo emphasized the need for federal help to carry out the widespread coronavirus testing that officials say is necessary to reopen New York's economy.

Plans to reopen take shape

Talk of potentially reopening America came after Trump announced new federal guidelines last Thursday that governors could use going forward.

The national plan laid out three phases that would slowly return life to a "new normal" that continues to use some of the most fundamental aspects of social distancing.

"We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time. And some states will be able to open up sooner than others. Some states are not in the kind of trouble that others are in," Trump said during a media briefing last week.

Coronavirus cases and deaths in several of America's early hotspots continued to show signs of plateauing, while governors from those hard-hit states worked on their own regional pacts to help reopen those areas.

New York and six other Northeast states -- New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island -- extended stay-at-home orders through at least May 15 while they work on those plans, CNN reported.

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington have announced a similar regional pact, the AP reported.

And seven Midwestern states have followed suit and announced a pact of their own, CNN reported.

Phased-in reopening

For his part, Trump continued to push for reopening at least part of the U.S. economy in early May as he released the national reopening guidelines.

The guidelines lay out three phases:

  • Phase 1: All vulnerable individuals continue to stay at home. Physical distancing must be practiced in public places and non-essential travel must be minimized. If schools are closed, they should stay closed. Visiting senior living centers is still not allowed.
  • Phase 2: Non-essential travel may resume. People should avoid public gatherings of 50 or more, unless physical distancing is possible. Visits to senior centers would still be prohibited, but schools and day care centers could re-open.
  • Phase 3: This would be the country's "new normal." Physical distancing in public places is still recommended, but vulnerable individuals can resume public activities. Visits to senior centers can resume.

There is no set timeline for moving through each of the three phases, according to the AP. Governors will make that decision, but a state or region should experience another 14-day decline in cases before moving to the next phase, the wire service said.

When Americans do leave their homes, federal guidance now urges everyone to wear face coverings in public to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Economic rescue plan

As the U.S. economy continues to falter, Americans have struggled to find out if they can receive benefits from a $2 trillion stimulus package that was passed into law in March. The financial relief is starting to be felt as state and federal agencies process millions of aid applications from small businesses and the newly jobless, the Post reported.

The legislation sends $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, along with $500 per child. It also gives an additional 13 weeks in unemployment aid and a four-month enhancement of jobless benefits, the Times reported.

However, funding for the Paycheck Protection Program was exhausted last Thursday, meaning that the Small Business Administration (SBA) had to stop approving applications, the Post reported. More than 1.4 million loans worth more than $315 billion have already been approved, according to the SBA.

In some good news, millions of Americans have started to see promised tax rebates directly deposited into their bank accounts, the Post reported.

The help comes not a moment too soon, as roughly 90% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders, the AP reported.

States battle coronavirus

New York remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, though key COVID-19 statistics have been leveling off.

In preparation for any reopening in the coming weeks, Cuomo has announced that the state will implement the "most aggressive" antibody testing program in the country over the next week, CBS News reported.

"Nobody has done testing on this level ever," Cuomo said, but he emphasized that any plan to reopen the state includes knowing how many have been infected.

To also protect against the spread of COVID-19, Cuomo issued an executive order last week stating all New Yorkers must have a mask or mouth and nose covering when they are not maintaining social distancing in public, CBS News reported.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts has become a coronavirus hot spot, as the state's death toll is set to almost double in less than a week.

COVID-19 deaths are expected to surpass 2,000 this week in that state, the AP reported.

"We're right in the middle of the surge now," Gov. Charlie Baker said.

Massachusetts isn't the only state struggling to control the spread of coronavirus. According to a Times tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Thursday morning are: New York with more than 257,000 cases; New Jersey with nearly 96,000; Massachusetts with nearly 43,000; California with more than 37,500 and Pennsylvania with more than 36,700.

At the same time, several other states have announced plans to reopen in the next week or two.

Some states plan rapid restarts

Amidst much criticism from public health experts, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said he will restart the state's economy by the end of the week, saying many businesses could reopen as early as Friday, the AP reported.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee said he was not extending his "safer-at-home" order that is set to expire on April 30, the Times reported. Businesses in Ohio are expected to reopen on that date as well.

And in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said that department stores and some other retail businesses that had previously been deemed nonessential would be allowed to reopen on Tuesday. However, they must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Public beaches in that state will also reopen on Tuesday.

But even as states move ahead with plans to reopen, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that a second wave of the novel coronavirus later this year could be more dire because it is likely to coincide with the start of flu season, the Post reported.

"There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through," CDC Director Robert Redfield told the Post. "We're going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time."

Globally, the situation remains grim. In Europe, Spain reported more than 22,000 deaths by Thursday, despite signs the infection rate is slowing, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Deaths in Italy also remain high at more than 25,000, although numbers have leveled off there as well. Both countries are cautiously moving through plans to reopen their economies.

Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 2.6 million on Thursday, with more than 184,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: April 21, 2020, media briefing with President Donald Trump; April 15, 2020, media briefing with N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo; CNN; Associated Press; The New York Times; Washington Post; CBS News

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