Coronavirus Updates: US Leads World in Cases; Navy Hospital Ship to Arrive in LA

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The Senate has unanimously passed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems overrun by the virus and its fallout. It now goes to the House. 

The stimulus comes as U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have now topped 1,000 and about 75,000 people were infected.

Worldwide, more than 510,000 people have been infected and about 23,000 have died. Both Italy and the United States appeared set Thursday to pass the number of infections in China, where the outbreak was first reported.

Here's the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:

Montana Issues Stay-at-Home Directive

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued a statewide stay-at-home directive Thursday night. His office says beginning Sunday residents are to remain in their homes as much as possible and nonessential businesses will temporarily close in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, NBC News reports.

Montana has 90 cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19, many of them in Gallatin and Yellowstone counties, which is where Bozeman and Billings are located, respectively. Bullock announced the state's first death Sunday.

Like other orders around the country, essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open and residents are allowed to leave to go shopping, take walks or other outdoor exercise or to walk dogs, and to care for loved ones, among other activities.

Navy Hospital Ship USNS Mercy to Arrive in Los Angeles Friday

The USNS Mercy, a Navy hospital ship, is set to arrive in Los Angeles on Friday to support medical systems amid the coronavirus pandemic, NBC News reports.

The Mercy set sail from San Diego this week. The Defense Department says the ship can hold up to 1,000 hospital beds, which will reduce the burden on regular hospitals that have to handle COVID-19 patients.

In Los Angeles County, the number of cases grew to 1,216 Thursday, including 21 people who have died, the health department said. There had been 559 new cases confirmed in the past 48 hours, and the department said the large increase was in part due to greater testing capacity that is allowing officials to identify cases, NBC News reports.

Trump Has 'Very Good Conversation' With China's President Xi

Trump tweeted early Friday saying he had a "very good conversation" with China's President Xi Jinping about the virus. He added that the two countries are committed to working together amid the pandemic.

Trump has been criticized in recent weeks for calling the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, the "Chinese virus." However, he seemed to back off from the term this week, NBC News reports. Trump was asked about the change in language Thursday and said that the virus did come from China but "I think it was time" and that "I don't have to say it, if they feel so strongly about it."

US Leads World in Number of Coronavirus Cases

The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases.

According to a running count by Johns Hopkins University, the number of people infected in the U.S. topped 82,000 on Thursday. That's just ahead of the 81,000 cases in China and 80,000 in Italy.

Italy has the most confirmed deaths of any country with more than 8,000. More than 1,000 people have died in the U.S.

President Donald Trump said the news reflected how tests were successfully being carried out in the country. He also suggested that he does not believe the numbers from China are entirely accurate.

Nurses, Doctors Treating Surge of COVID-19 Patients Describe Toll

With capacity stretched thin, U.S. hospitals are rushing to find beds for a coming flood of patients, opening older closed hospitals, turning single rooms into doubles and re-purposing other medical buildings. At the same time, medical professionals are warning of the risks they are facing on the frontlines.

Colleen Smith, an emergency room doctor at New York's Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, told the New York Times that the anxiety of the situation is overwhelming for her and the other doctors and hospital staff, who have seen emergency room visits jump this week about twofold as workers struggle to find the protective equipment they need to stay healthy while going from patient to patient. She said she feared that the ventilators they had would soon not be enough.

"I want people to know that this is bad," she said. "People are dying."

Map: Watch the Coronavirus Cases Spread Across the World

About 20% of U.S. hospitals said they didn’t have enough breathing machines for patients and 97% were reusing or otherwise conserving N95 masks, according to a survey conducted last week by hospital group purchasing organization Premier.

“Practicing medicine in this country, you don't think of needing to ration supplies,” said Dr. Joshua Lerner with Wachusett Emergency Physicians at Leominster Hospital in Massachusetts.

He told NBC Boston that the staff there has begun using the same mask for half their shift – about four hours at a time – in an effort to conserve their current supply.

Read the full story here.

Trump: Feds Developing New Guidelines for Coronavirus Risk

President Donald Trump said Thursday that federal officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by risk of virus spread, as he aims to begin to ease nationwide guidelines meant to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter to the nation's governors, Trump said the new guidelines are meant to enable state and local leaders to make “decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other measures they have put in place.” States and municipalities would still retain authority to set whatever restrictions deem necessary.

Trump has been seeking for days to determine how to contain the economic fallout of the guidelines issued by his administration as well as local leaders to slow the tide of infections. Last week he unveiled a 15-day program advising against large gatherings and calling for many Americans to remain at home — and many states have placed even greater restrictions on their residents.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top expert on infectious diseases, said Thursday he feels good about prospects for a vaccine to prevent COVID-19. "You're going to be hearing over the next months or more about different drugs that are going to go into these different randomized control trials," he said. "And I feel confident, knowing about what this virus is and what we can do with it, that we will have some sort of therapy."

Real ID Deadline Pushed Back a Year

The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday that it is extending the federal deadline for people getting driver's licenses with enhanced security features, called REAL ID, from Oct. 1, 2020, to Oct. 1, 2021.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said the delay is due to the upheaval brought by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The federal, state and local response to the spread of the Coronavirus here in the United States necessitates a delay in this deadline," Wolf said in a statement. "Our state and local partners are working tirelessly with the Administration to flatten the curve and, therefore, we want to remove any impediments to response and recovery efforts. States across the country are temporarily closing or restricting access to  DMVs. This action will preclude millions of people from applying for and receiving their REAL ID. Extending the deadline will also allow the Department to work with Congress to implement needed changes to expedite the issuance of REAL IDs once the current  health crisis concludes."

The REAL ID Act was passed after the 9/11 attacks and sought to make all state-issued identification cards more secure with uniform national standards.

Trump on Monday announced the deadline would be pushed back but did not say until when.

Pelosi Says House Will Pass Stimulus Bill With 'Strong Bipartisan Support'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the massive $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief bill approved by the Senate will pass the House on Friday with “strong bipartisan support.”

Pelosi spoke to reporters at the Capitol on Thursday a day after the Senate unanimously approved the measure. She expressed her disappointment with Republicans' refusal to increase food stamp benefits and laid out priorities for the next bill.

Pelosi said a fourth package should include a "better definition of who qualifies for family and medical leave," stronger OSHA protections, more money for state and local governments, and making sure that coronavirus testing and treatment is free.

She also appeared to take a shot a Trump's call to reopen the economy by mid-April, telling reporters: “If we do not heed the advice of the scientific community about isolation and avoiding as much communal contact as possible, then the light at the end of the tunnel might be a train coming at us, a proverbial train."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says the coronavirus relief bill will be brought to the House floor on Friday. She also discusses the need to focus on science and social distancing as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Fed Chairman Powell: ‘We May Well Be in a Recession’

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged Thursday that the U.S. economy may be in a recession as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but he said the economy has the potential to bounce back depending on how quickly the virus is contained.

“We may well be in a recession,” said Powell in an exclusive interview with the "TODAY" show. “But I would point to the difference between this and a normal recession. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy. Quite the contrary. We are starting from a very strong position.”

The Federal Reserve has taken a series of emergency actions to support the economy during the coronavirus outbreak, including lowering interest rates, and buying more securities.

Powell told co-host Savannah Gutherie the Fed will “aggressively and forthrightly” replace normal lending channels for businesses that have temporarily closed due to the pandemic.

Asked about criticism that the Fed will have few resources left to temper a crisis because of how low interest rates already are and the scope of its bond-buying program, Powell was adamant he and his colleagues aren’t lacking the tools they need.

“When it comes to lending, we are not going to run out of ammunition,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen.”

Jobless Claims Soar to 3.28 Million

Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982 — amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is doing to the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.

The pace of layoffs is sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms, and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have close factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they're cutting jobs to save money.

Nearly 3.3. million Americans filed jobless claims last week, a dire snapshot of just how quickly the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the nation's businesses and workers.

US Death Toll Passes 1,000

The number of deaths as a result of COVID-19 has surpassed 1,000 in the United States, NBC News reported. New York has more deaths than any other state with 334. Washington state has 134 and California has 67.

The U.S. has a total of 68,133 cases of coronavirus with New York reporting nearly 33,000 of those cases.

Senate Passes $2 Trillion Virus Relief Package

The Senate late Wednesday in a bipartisan vote passed an unparalleled $2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history, and, after days of delay and a last-minute scramble, the chamber at long last unveiled its final version.

The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

One of the last issues closed concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

The Associate Press/NBC
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