Headlines: March 25, 2020
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The US Senate finally reached a deal at 1:30 am on Wednesday morning on a massive $2 trillion economic stimulus plan to head off the economic damage of the Covid-19 pandemic. The package is the largest stimulus plan in US history. The New York Times explained that the bill, “touched virtually every aspect of American life, and amounted to hundreds of billions of dollars more than Congress provides for the entire United States federal budget for a single year, outside of social safety net programs.” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter, “This is not a moment of celebration, but one of necessity…To all Americans I say, ‘Help is on the way.’” A vote is now expected later on Wednesday. The legislation includes direct financial assistance to Americans starting at a $1,200 check to those making less than $75,000 a year and cutting off for those making above $99,000. Families with children would receive $500 per child. Also included in the package is $100 billion for hospitals as they deal with a massive wave of patients infected with Covid-19. Small businesses who keep employees on payroll will have access to loans from a $350 billion fund but airlines will have access to $25 billion in “grants.” State and local governments would have access to a $150 billion fund to make up for lost tax revenues. Senate Democrats, who had held up the negotiations angry about a lack over proper oversight for a $500 billion “slush fund” as they called it, ensured that no businesses linked to President Donald Trump, his family members, or Vice President Mike Pence would be eligible for assistance.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo slammed the bill as wholly inadequate. New York is the current epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US. In a press conference on Wednesday he said that the Senate bill funding for his state – the hardest hit during this crisis – is not nearly enough. Associated Press explained that New York City in particular is “[f]aced with an infection rate that is five times that of the rest of the country…Nearly 14,800 people in New York City have been diagnosed with coronavirus as of Tuesday, accounting for more than half the cases in the hardest-hit state in the nation.” The Trump administration has advised people traveling out of the state of New York should quarantine themselves for 2 weeks.
President Trump has held firm to his claim that he would like to see the US economy return to normal by Easter which is on April 12th. When asked by reporters what he based this deadline on, Trump simply said, “I thought it was a beautiful time. A beautiful timeline.” When asked to respond to Trump’s claim, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases diplomatically said, “You can look at a date but you’ve got to be very flexible and on a literally day-by-day and week-by-week basis. You need to evaluate the feasibility of what you’re trying to do.” Meanwhile, the New York Times editorial board on Tuesday called for a national lockdown and pointed to India where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered such a move for his nation’s 1.2 billion people for the next three weeks.
Meanwhile many groups of US workers are at risk who receive low pay, few benefits, and are working without personal protective equipment. Grocery workers in particular are faced with crowded stores and daily interaction with customers. As more Americans turn to delivery of goods while they observe quarantines, delivery drivers are facing similarly hazardous conditions, many of them without paid sick leave, health insurance, or even hand sanitizer. Workers at the online retail giant Amazon have tested positive for the virus in at least ten warehouses. Amazon workers, whose employer Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man, have been complaining over the past week about the lack of proper protection while doing their jobs.
A new poll has found that a majority of Americans are now taking the threat of the coronavirus seriously including Republicans. Nearly seventy percent of Americans in the Reuters/Ipsos poll feel the virus is a threat to their family or themselves. An earlier poll found Republicans lagging strongly behind Democrats in taking the virus seriously. Reuters explained that, “Trump’s overall approval numbers did rise slightly to 44% over the past few weeks, but at 4% it was a modest rise for a president confronting a national crisis. Former President George W. Bush’s approval rating shot up by 39 points to 90% in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to Gallup polling service.” Meanwhile the Justice Department has come under fire for sending a memo to Attorneys General in states around the country suggesting prosecutors could charge people with terrorism if it is determined that they knowingly spread the Covid-19 infection to others. And Republican Senator Rand Paul is continuing to face harsh criticism for continuing to work for six days while waiting for the results of his coronavirus test which turned out to be positive. Senator Paul is a doctor and may have exposed dozens of people.
Experts continue to warn that US’s inability to deal swiftly and efficiently with the spread of the virus could have catastrophic impacts. Testing for the virus continues to be slow – unlike in countries like South Korea which aggressively tested people on a broad scale and helped tackle the virus spread. For example in New York City, the local government website reads, “Unless you are hospitalized and a diagnosis will impact your care, you will not be tested.” That leaves out huge numbers of potential virus spreaders who may not be showing serious symptoms. Associated Press explained that the shortage of medical grade gloves continues to be a problem in large part because the US imports them from countries like Malaysia. About 75% of all medical grade gloves are made in factories in Malaysia that suffer from poor oversight and harsh labor conditions. Those factories are now operating at 50% capacity as Malaysia itself deals with the spread of the coronavirus. Another factor in the spread of the virus in the US is the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant “public charge” rule refusing legal status to anyone who uses publicly funded benefits. The Wall Street Journal reported that the rule – which the Supreme Court just reaffirmed – “is deterring people from getting medical treatment for fear of hurting their immigration status, making it harder to test and treat possible cases of the new coronavirus.” Meanwhile prisons and jails around the country that hold more than 2 million people in custody are also at risk. Imprisoned people at an Alabama County Jail recently threatened to commit suicide if immigrant detainees were allowed in that they feared might have contracted the disease. State and local officials are slow to release people but over the course of this week thousands of people have been released.
In international news, Spain saw a massive jump in new infections and deaths, now surpassing China and second only to Italy. The UK’s Prince Charles has tested positive for coronavirus and is under quarantine.