The Trump administration said on Tuesday it was pursuing a US$1 trillion stimulus package that could deliver $1,000 checks to Americans within two weeks to buttress the economy as the number of deaths from coronavirus nationwide crossed 100.
With cases of the respiratory illness reported in all 50 US states and the total number of infections surging past 6,400, millions of Americans hunkered down at home instead of commuting to work or school.
New York City said it might order its 8.5 million residents to “shelter in place” at home, as cities escalated “social distancing” policies by closing schools, bars, restaurants and theaters to fight the spread of the virus.
“It’s a very, very difficult decision,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We’ve never been here before.” The state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, told CNN he did not think it would work.
Kentucky and Illinois recorded their first coronavirus deaths, putting the nationwide toll at 108.
Authorities said 22 people had been infected at a nursing home in suburban Chicago.
In Washington state, where 52 people have died, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation approving $200 million for homeless aid and other measures to stop the spread of the virus. California’s governor signed off on $1 billion, and Georgia’s governor approved $100 million. Kansas shuttered schools through the end of the academic year.
In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy closed indoor shopping malls as a record number of unemployment applications crashed state computer systems. The nation’s largest indoor shopping center, Minnesota’s Mall of America, said it would close.
Sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles were ordered to write more tickets and make fewer arrests, to keep jail crowding to a minimum. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine postponed elective surgeries to preserve hospital space.
Less than a week after the NBA suspended its season, star player Kevin Durant tested positive for the virus, the Athletic reported.
Vice President Mike Pence said the White House may have the U.S. military establish field hospitals in virus hot zones if requested by state governors, or use the Army Corps of Engineers to add capacity to existing hospitals.
New York, Washington state and California have the most confirmed cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness.
Roughly half of all Americans want the US government to act more aggressively to slow the spread of the coronavirus, such as banning large public gatherings and shutting down all overseas flights, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.
In one of the most restrictive policies already in place, officials ordered residents of the San Francisco Bay area, some 6.7 million people, to stay home for all but the most crucial outings until April 7.
“It’s like living in a ‘Twilight Zone,’” said Rowan Oake, 36, during a jog through San Francisco’s Presidio Park. “You can feel the anxiety in the air.”
President Donald Trump said progress was being made against the fast-spreading pathogen and predicted the US economy would “come roaring back” when it slows.
“It’s going to pop,” said Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3.
The Republican president’s tone on the pandemic has changed sharply in the last few days. After initially playing down the threat and focusing on the stock market, his administration has begun pushing for urgent action to stem the disease’s economic and human toll.
His administration sought more than $1 trillion for a stimulus package, including $50 billion for hard-hit airlines facing bankruptcy.
“We’re going big,” Trump said.
Staff from the White House Physician's Office screen members of the news media for fever or other COVID-19-related symptoms in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the press briefing room at the White House in Washington, US, March 16, 2020. (REUTERS/Leah Millis)
‘Gag and vote for it’
The Trump administration is also considering a plan to send checks to individual Americans of $1,000 to help them weather the crisis, though details remain unclear.
High earners might not qualify for payments, which could be sent within the next two weeks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber would this week pass a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill cleared by the House of Representatives on Saturday, despite concerns from some Republicans.
He said he told them to “gag and vote for it anyway.”
McConnell said the Senate would not leave town until it passes a follow-up package.
The House bill would provide free coronavirus testing, establish paid sick leave for most workers and expand unemployment compensation.
US stocks jumped on Tuesday, a day after their steepest declines since the 1987 crash, as the Federal Reserve took further steps to boost liquidity. The benchmark S&P 500 closed up 6 percent. Mnuchin said the government may shorten trading hours if necessary.