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US Coronavirus Updates: Trump Seeks $250B for Payrolls in Aid Showdown; Cases Near 400K

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With its biggest one-day jump yet, New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus officially eclipsed the number of those killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

More than 4,000 people have died in New York from COVID-19, according to the count released Tuesday by the city. Across the U.S., the death toll neared 13,000 and 400,000 confirmed infections Tuesday night.

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.:

Trump Seeks $250 Billion for Payrolls in Coronavirus Aid Showdown

As Congress races to craft the next coronavirus rescue package, President Donald Trump's sudden request Tuesday to pump $250 billion more into a just-launched small business payroll program sets up a new showdown over aid.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said more money is needed for the popular new $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which took off last Friday but was quickly overrun as companies jumped at the chance to tap up to $10 million in forgivable loans to keep paychecks flowing amid the stay-home shutdown.

Mnuchin requested the funds in private calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Democrats largely support it as a component of a broader new aid package, but McConnell wants to swiftly jam it through Congress this week, even though the House and Senate are all but shuttered.

“The way it’s going, we’re going to need that, because the people are loving it,” Trump said in a conference call with banking executives open to the press.

The push for the hefty sum, now heading for a vote with just 48 hours notice, threatens to upset the fragile agreement between the political leaders that more needs to be done amid the pandemic and its stark economic shutdown.

The House was already preparing to boost the small business program as part of a broader $1 trillion package Pelosi wants as a follow-up to the sweeping $2.2 trillion rescue that became law in late March.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said his administration will "look into" putting a hold on U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, stating they "missed the call" on the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump Threatens to Put Hold on US Funding to World Health Organization

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said his administration will "look into" putting a hold on U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, stating they "missed the call" on the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump made the threat at a White House press briefing as deaths and infections across the country continued to rise.

Trump criticized the organization, saying they “called it wrong” and saying they seem to be “very China-centric.”

The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus, even though there is reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the country’s official tally.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has voiced skepticism of many international organizations.

Acting Navy Secretary Submits Resignation Amid Coronavirus Uproar

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly has submitted a letter of resignation to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter before an official announcement. The official says Modly has also told staff he is quitting.

Modly had created a combustible controversy by firing the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt last week, saying Capt. Brett E. Crozier had shown “extremely poor judgment” in widely distributing by email a letter calling for urgent help with the COVID-19 outbreak aboard his ship.

Modly then flew to the ship, at port in Guam, and delivered a speech to the crew in which he lambasted Crozier, saying he was either “too naive or too stupid” to be in charge of an aircraft carrier. On Monday night, at Esper’s insistence, Modly issued a public apology, but by then the calls among Democrats in Congress for his resignation were mounting.

Photographer Eddie Rodriguez captured video of near-barren Chicago landmarks at night as the city undergoes a stay-at-home order.

Trump Replaces Virus Oversight Appointee With His Own Pick

President Donald Trump is replacing acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who a panel of inspectors general had named to lead the oversight committee, with EPA inspector general Sean O’Donnell. O'Donnell is now tasked with overseeing implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus law.

O’Donnell will also temporarily be lead watchdog for both the agencies, pending the confirmation of Jason Abend, who Trump has nominated to fill the Defense Department role.

This comes as Trump’s critics take aim at a wave of presidential actions and comments that stand to re-shape the ranks of independent federal watchdogs. Late Friday night, Trump fired intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson, who flagged the Ukraine whistleblower complaint to Congress that ultimately led to the president’s impeachment.

Requests to Delay Mortgage Payments Jump Nearly 2,000% 

Requests to delay mortgage payments grew by 1,270% between the week of March 2 and the week of March 16, and another 1,896% between the week of March 16 and the week of March 30, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Mortgage Bankers Association, CNBC reported.

The Cares Act, which President Donald Trump signed March 27, seeks to limit the economic damage from COVID-19. The government implemented the mortgage relief measures before Trump signed the bill. It mandates that all borrowers with government-backed mortgages — about 62% of all first lien mortgages according to the Urban Institute — be allowed to delay at least 90 days of monthly payments and possibly up to a year’s worth. Those payments must ultimately be remitted either at the end of the loan term or in a structured modification plan.

But it's also getting more difficult for borrowers to get through to their mortgage servicers to make these forbearance requests. Hold times for calls jumped to 17.5 minutes from under 2 minutes just three weeks ago, while the percentage of callers who hung up hit 25% from 5%, according to the MBA.

Airlines Can't Afford to Refund Surge of Canceled Flights, Industry Group Says

Airlines owe passengers more than $35 billion in refunds for flights that have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the cash-strapped industry would lose millions of jobs and some carriers could go under if they are forced to reimburse travelers all at once, the industry’s representative body warned.

The International Air Transport Association said Tuesday global airlines can't afford to refund scores of canceled flights and issued a plea for urgent government support amid warnings that carriers are running out of cash, Reuters reported.

“The key element for us is to avoid running out of cash so refunding the canceled ticket for us is almost unbearable financially speaking,” IATA Director General Alexandre De Juniac said during an online news conference Tuesday.

The plea comes in response to enforcement notices by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the European Commission warning airlines that they must issue refunds for flight that have been canceled or changed significantly during the coronavirus crisis if the passenger does not accept the alternative offered by the airline. Both the DOT and the Commission reported a spike in complaints from travelers being denied refunds and told they were only eligible for travel vouchers or credits.

But IATA says, with two million flights canceled so far and a decline in new bookings, carriers are hoping to hold on to the cash they have in order to preserve jobs and stay solvent.

"Passengers have the right to get their money," IATA said in a statement Friday. "They paid for a service that cannot be delivered. And in normal circumstances, repayment would not be an issue. But these are not normal circumstances. If airlines refund the $35 billion immediately, that will be the end of many airlines. And with that an enormous number of jobs will also disappear."

Airline Cancellation and Fee Waiver Policies for US-Based Carriers

Cuomo: NY Sees Largest Single-Day Increase in Virus Deaths

The state of New York saw its largest single-day death toll jump from Monday to Tuesday, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo emphasized that the rate of hospitalizations was falling.

Cuomo said in his daily briefing Tuesday 731 people lost their lives in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of coronavirus fatalities in the state to 5,489. Most of the dead — at least 3,202 — have been killed in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak, making the coronavirus more deadly than the Sept. 11 terror attack.

Cuomo said the spike in deaths reflects patients who may have fallen critically ill at the start of the outbreak, NBC New York reports. The longer patients are on ventilators, the less likely they are to ever come off of them, the governor said.

"Behind everyone of those numbers is an individual, is a family, a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers," he said.

But in an encouraging sign, he reported that the average number of people newly hospitalized each day dropped over the past three days. He also pointed to intubation rates slowing.

“To the extent that we see a flattening or a possible plateau, that’s because of what we are doing, and we have to keep doing it,” he said of social distancing policies and the need to keep them in place.

US Surgeon General: I ‘Never Saw’ Memo Warning of Pandemic

The U.S. surgeon general said Tuesday he "never saw" a Jan. 29 memo from White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that reportedly warned the Trump administration about the possible threat the novel coronavirus posed to the U.S. public and the economy, but he added "there were preparation going on all the time."

In an interview on TODAY, Dr. Jerome Adams told co-host Savannah Guthrie that health officials have been warning for decades that a pandemic like the coronavirus is a possibility, but said "many people at all levels just did not expect something like this to happen at this magnitude."

"This virus has humbled many of us," Adams said.

The memo, addressed to the National Security Council and first reported by The New York Times, warned that a full-blown pandemic in the U.S. could kill as many as "1.2 million souls" and "cost the United States trillions of dollars." At the time, President Donald Trump was publicly downplaying the threat of an outbreak and continued to do so well into February and early March.

Asked whether the White House had sufficient warning about the possibility of a severe outbreak, Adams, who joined the task force in late February, said behind the scenes Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had been preparing, looking at stockpiles of supplies and "trying to come up with plans" since the first alarms sounded in early January that the outbreak in China might ignite a global pandemic.

But a review of federal purchasing contracts by The Associated Press shows federal agencies largely waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders of N95 respirator masks, mechanical ventilators and other equipment needed by front-line health care workers. Kathleen Sebelius, health and human services secretary during the Obama administration, told the AP the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the Strategic National Stockpile, the federal cache of supplies that is now nearly drained just as the numbers of patients needing critical care is surging.

"What I'm focused on now is helping the American people understand what they can do moving forward to protect themselves," Adams said.

Adams also urged Wisconsin residents who plan on going to the polls Tuesday to vote in the state's primaries, to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

"If you're going to exercise your right to vote, please do it as safely as possible," he added.

Wisconsin Primary Held Tuesday Despite Stay-at-Home Order

Wisconsin is asking hundreds of thousands of voters to ignore a stay-at-home order in the midst of a pandemic to participate in Tuesday's presidential primary election, becoming a test case for dozens of states struggling to balance public health concerns with a core pillar of democracy.

The National Guard will help run voting sites across the state after thousands of election workers stepped down fearing for their safety. Dozens of polling places will be closed, but those that are active will open at 7 a.m. CDT.

Democrats in and out of Wisconsin screamed for the low-profile contest to be postponed, yet Republicans — and the conservative-majority state Supreme Court — would not give in. The partisan split was colored by a state Supreme Court election in which a lower turnout was thought to benefit the conservative candidate.

While Trump's health advisers encouraged all Americans to stay home, Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt downplayed the heath concerns. The state had reported nearly 2,500 coronavirus infections and 77 related deaths as of Monday night.

Federal officials warn this could be the worst week yet as cases of the coronavirus pandemic begin to peak. Health experts are warning Americans to even avoid grocery stores and pharmacies during this critical week.

Talks to Move All MLB Teams to Arizona Underway, Sources Say

Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday by Major League Baseball and the players’ association.

The sides held a telephone call to talk about paths forward for a season delayed by the new coronavirus pandemic, people familiar with the discussion told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because no details were announced.

Ideas are still in the early stage, and the Arizona option would have many obstacles to overcome, the people said.

Half of the MLB clubs hold spring training in Arizona, the other half in Florida.

Arizona’s advantage is 10 spring training ballparks plus the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field all within about 50 miles. Florida’s spring training ballparks are spread by as much as 220 miles.

Major League Baseball officials said Thursday they would delay Opening Day by at least two weeks.

USNS Comfort Crew Member Tests Positive

A crew member on the Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort, dispatched to New York City to help in the coronavirus outbreak in the region, has tested positive for the illness COVID-19, NBC News reports.

The Navy said in a statement that the crew member tested positive Monday and is isolated from other crew or any patients.

"There is no impact to Comfort’s mission, and this will not affect the ability for Comfort to receive patients," the Navy said. 

The USNS Comfort, with a capacity of around 1,000 beds, was initially supposed to take non-virus patients in order to help local hospitals care for cases associated with the epidemic, but on Monday the governor and President Donald Trump said it would take COVID-19 patients. Trump said it would also take patients from New Jersey.

The Department of Defense released a timelapse of the USNS Comfort arriving in New York City.

US Death Toll Climbs Past 10,000

The United States reached yet another grim milestone as the death toll surpassed 10,000 nationwide. New York state accounts for nearly half of the dead with 3,500 deaths in New York City alone.

In comparison, Spain has just more than 13,300 deaths and Italy has some 16,500, according to Johns Hopkins University.

United States officials estimate that the nation could see 100,000 to 240,000 deaths at best by the end of the outbreak.

The Associated Press/NBC
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