U.S. weekly jobless claims hit one-year low; fourth-quarter GDP revised up

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a one-year low last week as economic activity rebounds after weather-related disruptions in February.

But the labor market is not out of the woods yet, with the weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday showing a staggering 18.953 million people were still receiving unemployment checks in early March. It will likely take years for a full recovery from the pandemic’s scarring.

“Things have improved over the last year, but there are still millions of people dealing with real economic pain,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at Indeed Hiring Lab. “Increased vaccinations are hopefully the beginning of the end.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits tumbled 97,000 to a seasonally adjusted 684,000 for the week ended March 20, the lowest level since mid-March. Data for the prior week was revised to show 11,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 730,000 applications in the latest week. The decline in claims was led by Ohio, which has been dogged by fraudulent filings. There were also large decreases in California and Illinois.

Claims shot up in the second week of March, likely as backlogs after severe winter storms in Texas and other parts of the densely populated South region were processed.

The deep freeze in the second half of February, which also gripped other parts of the country, depressed retail sales, homebuilding, production at factories, orders and shipments of manufactured goods last month.

Warmer weather, the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic rescue package and increased vaccinations are expected to boost activity in March. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck an optimistic note on the economy at an appearance before lawmakers this week.

U.S. stocks opened lower. The dollar rose against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were higher.

CORPORATE PROFITS FALL

But the massive fiscal stimulus, which extended government-funded unemployment aid, including a $300 weekly supplement, through Sept. 6, could keep claims elevated as some people reapply for benefits. Rampant fraud has also pushed filings higher. Claims surged to a record 6.867 million in March 2020.

Just over a year after the pandemic barreled across the United States, jobless claims remain above their 665,000 peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession. In a healthy labor market, claims are normally in a 200,000 to 250,000 range.

Employment is 9.5 million jobs below its peak in February 2020. Economists say it could take at least two years for the economy to recover all the 22.4 million jobs lost in March and April last year.

It could even take longer for the labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, to rebound significantly. The participation rate is near a 47-year low, with women accounting for the biggest share of dropouts.

The claims report also showed that people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 264,000 to 3.870 million in the week ended March 13. But the decline in the so-called continuing claims was partly due to people exhausting their eligibility for benefits, limited to 26 weeks in most states.

At least 5.551 million people were on extended benefits during the week ended March 6, up 734,692 from the prior period. Another 1.068 million were on a state program for those who have exhausted their initial six months of aid.

The government also confirmed on Thursday that the economy lost considerable momentum at the end of last year amid a flare- up in new coronavirus infections and delays in providing more fiscal stimulus.

Gross domestic product increased at a 4.3% annualized rate, the Commerce Department said in its third estimate of fourth-quarter GDP growth. That was up from the 4.1% pace reported last month but a sharp deceleration from the record 33.4% rate logged in the third quarter.

Corporate profits were weak last quarter. After-tax profits without inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustment, which correspond to S&P 500 profits, contracted at a 1.7% rate after accelerating at a 36.1% pace in the third quarter. Profits fell 3.3% in 2020 after rising 1.8% in 2019.

But that is all history. The economy is forecast to grow by as much as a 7.5% rate in the first quarter. Growth this year is expected to top 7%. That would be the fastest growth since 1984 and would follow a 3.5% contraction last year, the worst performance in 74 years.

“We believe there is ample room for corporate profits to rise as company revenues pick up markedly and margins remain well supported,” said Lydia Boussour, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York. “Improving health conditions, expanding vaccine distribution, and generous fiscal stimulus will form a powerful growth cocktail.”

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

Chicagoans told to stay home, Detroit moves school online as COVID-19 cases surge

By Brendan O’Brien and Maria Caspani

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago issued a stay-at-home advisory and Detroit stopped in-person schooling on Thursday to staunch the coronavirus outbreak as more than a dozen states reported a doubling of new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

Officials in the Midwestern cities along with New York, California, Iowa and other states were re-imposing this week restrictions that had been eased in recent months. The moves were driven by surging infection rates and concern that the onset of winter, when people are more likely to gather indoors, will worsen the trends.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday issued a 30-day advisory calling upon residents to stay at home and have no visitors, even during Thanksgiving festivities. The third- largest city in the United States could see 1,000 more COVID-19 deaths by the end of 2020 if residents do not change behaviors to stop the spread of the virus, Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot set a 10-person limit on gatherings, including indoor and outdoor events, and said travelers from out of the state needed to quarantine for 14 days or submit a negative coronavirus test.

“None of us can keep maintaining the status quo in the face of this very stark reality,” the mayor told reporters, noting the average number of cases have gone from 500 to 1,900 per day over the last month and the city’s positivity rate shot up to 15% from 5%.

Illinois has emerged as the pandemic’s new epicenter in the region as well as across the country. In the past two weeks, the state reported about 130,000 cases, the highest in the country and more than hard-hit Texas and California.

A Reuters tally showed coronavirus cases more than doubling in 13 states in the past two weeks.

In Michigan, the Detroit public school system – the state’s largest – said on Thursday it would suspend of in-person education until Jan. 11, with the infection rate in the city rising rapidly. The district will hold all classes online starting Monday.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday that the country’s largest school system was preparing for a possible shutdown but closure might still be averted.

“We’re not there yet, and let’s pray we don’t get there,” de Blasio told reporters. De Blasio has said schools will close if the percentage of city residents testing positive, now at a seven-day average of 2.6%, surpasses 3%.

Total COVID-19 cases across the United States hit an all-time daily high for a second day in a row on Wednesday at 142,279 and crossed the 100,000 mark for an eighth consecutive day, Reuters data showed.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus surged to at least 64,939 by late Wednesday, the highest ever for a single day during the pandemic, increasing by more than 41% in the past two weeks. The death toll rose by 1,464 to a total of 241,809.

Vaccine developers have offered some good news this week, with Pfizer and BioNTech trumpeting successful early data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

Health experts are hopeful that a vaccine might become available in the coming months for the most vulnerable populations and for healthcare providers.

But with a more lengthy timeline for the general public, many are urging strict adherence to well-known virus mitigation measures like wearing a face covering, washing hands and maintaining a safe social distance.

“We hope that by the time you get into the second quarter, end of April, early May, May-June – somewhere around that time, the ordinary citizen should be able to get it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health official, told the ABC “Good Morning America” program on Thursday.

“What we need to do is what we’ve been talking about for some time now but really doubling down on it.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. crosses 10 million COVID-19 cases as third wave of infections surges

By Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia

(Reuters) – The United States became the first nation worldwide since the pandemic began to surpass 10 million coronavirus infections, according to a Reuters tally on Sunday, as the third wave of the COVID-19 virus surges across the nation.

The grim milestone came on the same day as global coronavirus cases exceeded 50 million.

The United states has reported about a million cases in the past 10 days, the highest rate of infections since the nation reported its first novel coronavirus case in Washington state 293 days ago.

The country reported a record 131,420 COVID-19 cases on Saturday and has reported over 100,000 infections five times in the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally.

The U.S. latest reported seven-day average of 105,600 daily cases, ramped up by at least 29%, is more than the combined average for India and France, two of the worst affected countries in Asia and Europe.

More than 237,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the illness caused by the coronavirus first emerged in China late last year.

The daily average of reported new deaths in the United States account for one in every 11 deaths reported worldwide each day, according to a Reuters analysis.

The number of reported deaths nationwide climbed by more than 1,000 for a fifth consecutive day on Saturday, a trend last seen in mid-August, according to a Reuters tally.

Health experts say deaths tend to increase four to six weeks after a surge in infections.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who spent much of his election campaign criticizing President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, pledged on Saturday to make tackling the pandemic a top priority.

Biden will announce a 12-member task force on Monday to deal with the pandemic that will be led by former surgeon general Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler. The coronavirus task force will be charged with developing a blueprint for containing the disease once Biden takes office in January.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit region based on the most cases per capita with North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska the top five worst-affected U.S. states.

Illinois emerged as the new epicenter in the Midwest, with the state reporting over 60,000 COVID-19 infections in the last seven days, the highest in the country, according to Reuters data. The state reported more than 12,454 new cases on Saturday, the highest single-day number so far.

Texas, which accounts for 10% of total U.S. cases, is the hardest-hit state and became the first to surpass a million coronavirus cases in the United States on Saturday.

According to a Reuters analysis, the South region comprises nearly 43% of all the cases in the United States since the pandemic began, with nearly 4.3 million cases in the region alone, followed by the Midwest, West and Northeast.

New York, with over 33,000 fatalities, remains the state with highest number of deaths and accounts for about 14% of total U.S. deaths.

The United States performed about 10.5 million coronavirus tests in the first seven days of November, of which 6.22% came back positive, compared with 6.17% the prior seven-days, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Diane Craft and Michael Perry)

Teenager charged with killing two in Kenosha to fight extradition, lawyer says

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with killing two protesters and injuring another during demonstrations about race and justice in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will fight his requested extradition from Illinois, his lawyer told a court hearing on Friday.

Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged by Kenosha County’s district attorney with six crimes for shooting three people who tried to subdue or disarm him during protests on Aug. 25, killing 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, 26.

Rittenhouse participated in the hearing at the Lake County Circuit Court in Illinois via video link from the detention facility where he is being held. He was wearing a black sweatshirt and a gray mask covered his face.

“Good morning, your honor,” he addressed the judge in his only remarks in the hearing, which lasted just a few minutes.

John Pierce, one of Rittenhouse’s lawyers, said he planned to fight the request by Kenosha prosecutors that he be transferred to Wisconsin to face the charges.

“We intend to challenge extradition by writ of habeas corpus,” Pierce said. “And so we would ask that the procedures be put in place whereby extradition documents are in fact sent from Wisconsin so we can review them.”

The teenager had traveled to Kenosha on Aug. 25 from his home in nearby Antioch, Illinois, in a self-appointed role to protect the streets of Kenosha where the police shooting of Jacob Blake had sparked unrest during protests against police brutality and racism.

Rittenhouse’s legal team have said that he feared for his life when he fired his semi-automatic rifle and was acting in self-defense. Cellphone videos from the night show chaotic scenes, including one where Rittenhouse is chased and falls down before his encounter with Huber and another man, Gaige Grosskreutz.

Huber appeared to hit Rittenhouse in the shoulder with a skateboard and tried to grab his rifle before being shot, according to the criminal complaint. Rittenhouse then pointed the rifle at Grosskreutz, who had a hand gun. Grosskreutz was shot but survived.

Rittenhouse’s lawyers have also sought to portray the case as a referendum on the right to bear arms following a summer of sometimes violent protests in major U.S. cities.

“A 17-year-old American citizen is being sacrificed by politicians, but it’s not Kyle Rittenhouse they are after,” the narrator says in a video released this week by a group tied to his legal team. “Their end game is to strip away the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities.”

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

COVID-19 cases rise in U.S. Midwest and Northeast, deaths fall for third week

(Reuters) – Several states in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast have seen new COVID-19 cases increase for two weeks in a row, though nationally both new infections and deaths last week remained on a downward trend, a Reuters analysis showed.

The United States reported more than 287,000 new cases in the week ended Sept. 6, down 1.4% from the previous week and marking the seventh straight week of declines. More than 5,800 people died from COVID-19 last week, the third week in a row that the death rate has fallen.

Nevertheless, 17 states have seen cases rise for at least two weeks, according to the Reuters tally of state and county reports. They include Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin, where between 10% and 18% of people tested had the new coronavirus.

In the Northeast, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York also reported increases in new cases for at least two weeks, though the positive test rate ranged from a low of 0.9% in New York to a high of 4.3% in Delaware — below the 5% level the World Health Organization considers concerning.

In some states, testing has increased as schools reopened. New York City, for instance, is testing 10% to 20% of students and staff every month. The University of Illinois is testing students twice a week.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a fifth week to 5.5%, well below a peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

The United States tested on average 741,000 people a day last week, up 5% from the prior week, but down from a peak in late July of over 800,000 people a day.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

Teenager in Wisconsin shootings charged with six criminal counts: complaint

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager arrested and charged in the shootings in Wisconsin that led to the death of two people and injury of another, faces six criminal counts, according to a court document released on Thursday.

The charges against Rittenhouse in Kenosha County include first degree intentional homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, who was carrying a skateboard when he was gunned down. A conviction on that charge alone carries a life sentence.

Rittenhouse, 17, is being held in Illinois where he lives. He has a court hearing on Friday for his requested extradition to Kenosha. The public defender assigned to his case in Lake County, Illinois has declined to comment.

The charges were detailed in a criminal complaint released by Kenosha County’s clerk of courts. The document is the first detailed disclosure of the case against Rittenhouse for his role in the violence that erupted on Tuesday night when armed militia members clashed with protesters in the city.

The protests started after Jacob Blake was shot multiple times in the back by a police officer on Sunday afternoon.

Rittenhouse was also charged with causing the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, a 36-year-old demonstrator who he shot in the parking lot of a used car dealer just before midnight on Tuesday, according to the complaint, which draws on multiple cell phone videos and witness accounts.

One video records Rittenhouse saying “I just killed somebody” after shooting Rosenbaum, the complaint says.

Rittenhouse was carrying a Smith & Wesson AR-15 style rifle and “was not handling the weapon very well,” one witness states in the complaint. “The recovered magazine for this rifle holds 30 rounds of ammunition,” the complaint says.

The complaint says one video shows Huber, with a skateboard in his right hand, approaching Rittenhouse when he was on the ground. Huber appears then to try and grab the gun from Rittenhouse with his left hand before Rittenhouse fires.

“Huber staggers away, taking several steps, then collapses to the ground. Huber subsequently died from this gunshot wound,” the complaint says.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)

Three more states, D.C. and Puerto Rico added to New York’s COVID-19 travel advisory

(Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional three states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The states of Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota were added to the travel order which was first issued in June. The District of Columbia and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico were also added.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 34 states are now required to quarantine, Cuomo said.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Franklin Paul)

Energy Transfer digs in on North Dakota pipeline expansion despite oil slump, sources say

By Laila Kearney and Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. pipeline company Energy Transfer has taken the rare step of invoking force majeure – normally used in times of war or natural disaster – to prevent oil firms from walking away from a proposed expansion of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Energy Transfer wants to nearly double the size of the line, and some companies that signed up say it is no longer necessary due to the sharp fall in U.S. oil production after the coronavirus pandemic. North Dakota is one of the costliest spots in the United States to produce crude, and its output has dropped by about one-third from last year, more than most other oil-producing states.

DAPL is the largest pipeline running out of North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin. It has capacity to ship 570,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude to its endpoint in Illinois. Users say an expansion to 1.1 million bpd is unlikely to be filled because the state’s production is not expected to rebound soon.

“Honestly, DAPL is not needed,” said one customer who committed to space on the expanded line, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’re trying to build a house that all these people signed up for. Even if there’s no longer a need for the house, you can’t really walk away from it. Would I like to get out? Yes, for sure.”

Energy Transfer, however, has invoked force majeure because it could not get the permits by a certain date, according to one shipper on the line and another familiar with the declaration. That buys the company more time to get regulatory approvals and prevents customers from walking away from their commitments.

The company declined to comment on the force majeure. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Coleman reiterated previous company statements that it has received enough interest to increase the pipeline’s capacity.

Pipelines are generally built after companies find customers willing to commit to shipping oil. That helps pipeline builders to line up financing for such projects, which take years to complete. Contracts to use future pipeline space usually allow customers to walk away from those agreements when substantial delays occur.

In an April filing with Illinois regulators, Energy Transfer said that “not one shipper has sought to withdraw from an existing agreement” despite the oil downturn and that demand exceeds DAPL’s current capacity. The company said in legal filings that the downturn is temporary.

North Dakota’s production has dropped by 450,000 bpd, down from a peak of nearly 1.5 million bpd reached last year, according to the Energy Information Administration’s data.

The expanded line is currently expected to enter service in late 2021.

At least a half-dozen U.S. oil pipeline projects have been put on hold indefinitely so far this year, according to U.S. Energy Department data. U.S. production has dropped from a record 12.9 million bpd in late 2019 to roughly 11 million bpd.

OPPOSITION IN ILLINOIS

DAPL drew thousands of people to North Dakota in 2016 in support of Native American tribes and environmental groups protesting the line’s initial construction. It eventually started in mid-2017 after months of delays.

To expand the line, Energy Transfer needs approval from regulators in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

The first three have said yes, but environmental groups brought numerous legal challenges in Illinois starting a year ago. They argued the application was improperly filed and that an expansion increases the risk of large-scale leaks. The challenges may force the company to resubmit its application.

“They’re in force majeure right now because they did not get the permits,” one source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

An administrative law judge in Illinois could issue findings on the legal dispute as early as this month, though there is no timeline for that report. Once those findings are released, and both Energy Transfer and the opposition respond, the Illinois Commerce Commission will vote on whether the expansion can go forward. That vote has not been scheduled.

Even if producers wanted to fight Energy Transfer’s declaration of force majeure, they may be hesitant to initiate legal action due to the time and cost involved, said Ted Borrego, who has practiced oil and gas law for over 45 years and teaches at the University of Houston Law Center.

“Rarely will you see a shipper trying to bail out of a contract,” he said.

DAPL customers such as Hess Corp and refiner Marathon Petroleum, which invested in the original DAPL project, declined to comment specifically on any contractual agreements on DAPL or on the proposed expansion. Continental Resources, another large Bakken producer, did not respond to requests for comment.

“Hess believes that DAPL has and will continue to be a critical piece of U.S. energy infrastructure, which allows for transportation of crude oil into expanded domestic markets in the U.S. and abroad,” company spokesman Rob Young said.

Bakken crude producers generally break even on drilling at a price of about $46.50 a barrel, according to Deutsche Bank analysts, higher than other parts of the country. The U.S. crude oil benchmark is trading just below $40, after averaging just $17.50 in April and $33.70 in May.

While output in North Dakota has rebounded somewhat from its fall in May to less than 1 million bpd, production is expected to remain lower than its peak.

“At the moment I don’t think the demand is there from shippers for more DAPL, given the decline in Bakken output,” said Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at Morningstar in Austin, Texas.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Devika Krishna Kumar; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Coronavirus stay-at-home directives multiply in major U.S. states

By Steve Gorman and Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – New Jersey’s governor was expected on Saturday to follow four other states – California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut – demanding that millions of Americans close up shop and stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus infections.

The sweeping state-by-state public health restrictions, unprecedented in breadth and scope, added to the distance being experienced among ordinary Americans.

“I know people want to hear it’s only going to be a matter of weeks and then everything’s going to be fine,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Saturday. “I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks. I believe it is going to be a matter of months.”

Meanwhile, the global pandemic seemed to close in on the highest levels of power in the nation’s capital.

An aide to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, leading the White House task force formed to combat the outbreak, tested positive for the virus, but neither President Donald Trump nor Pence have had close contact with the individual, Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, said in a statement late on Friday.

Pence’s office was notified of the positive test on Friday evening, and officials were seeking to determine who the staffer might have exposed, Miller said.

The aide was not publicly identified, and the vice president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for further details of the diagnosis or whether Pence would be tested.

“He’s recovering and has very, very mild symptoms,” Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short told CNN on Saturday.

The White House said last week that Pence did not require testing after dining with a Brazilian delegation, at least one member of which later tested positive for the respiratory illness. Trump has tested negative for the virus, his doctor said last week.

Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives tested positive on Wednesday, becoming the first members of Congress known to have contracted the disease, which has killed 266 people in the United States.

The total number of known U.S. coronavirus cases has risen exponentially in recent days, climbing past 19,000 in a surge that health officials attributed in large part to an increase in diagnostic testing. More than 270 Americans have died.

Click  for a GRAPHIC on U.S. cases.

Cuomo said New York state was sending 1 million N95 respirator masks to New York City on Saturday. He said the state has identified 6,000 ventilators for purchase, which he described as a major step, but added that it needs 30,000.

“We are literally scouring the globe for medical supplies,” the governor said. New York state has recorded 10,356 cases, he said, 6,211 of them in New York City.

SOCIAL-DISTANCING GOES STATEWIDE

Expanding on social-distancing measures increasingly adopted at the local level, California Governor Gavin Newsom instituted the first statewide directive requiring residents to remain indoors except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”

Newsom’s order, announced late on Thursday, made allowances for the state’s 40 million people to venture outside for exercise so long as they kept their distance from others.

On Friday, his counterparts in New York state, Illinois and Connecticut followed suit, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to issue similar directives on Saturday.

The five states where governors have banned or will soon ban non-essential businesses and press residents to stay inside are home to 84 million people combined, about a quarter of the entire U.S. population and account for nearly a third of the nation’s economy.

The state directives were for the most part issued without strict enforcement mechanisms to back them up.

“What we want is for people to be in compliance and we’re going to do everything that we can to educate them,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a briefing on Saturday. Police officers would “admonish” those found to be on non-essential outings to go home, she said.

“That’s what we hope is the end of any kind of contact that anyone might have with the police department,” Lightfoot said.

Cuomo said there will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance.

Even before the flurry of statewide stay-at-home orders, the pandemic had virtually paralyzed parts of the U.S. economy and upended lifestyles over the past week, as school districts and colleges canceled classes and many companies were shuttered, either voluntarily or by local government mandates.

Washington state, which documented the first known U.S. coronavirus case in January and now accounts for the greatest number of deaths – 83 as of Friday – has since March 16 closed bars, restaurants, recreation venues and entertainment facilities, while banning all gatherings of more than 50 people.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Caroline Spezio in New York; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Daniel Wallis)

Stay-at-home orders in major states mark next phase of U.S. coronavirus crisis

By Lisa Richwine and Gabriella Borter

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York and Illinois on Friday followed California in telling tens of millions of people to stay at home in the most sweeping measures the United States has taken so far to try to contain the coronavirus crisis.

The moves, which impact more than 70 million people or about a fifth of the U.S. population, close all but essential businesses and require people to stay inside except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to give similar orders shutting down all but essential businesses within the next 24 hours.

“To avoid the loss of tens of thousands of lives we must order an immediate shelter-in-place,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said on Friday, using a term that has commonly referred to mass shootings. Illinois includes Chicago.

The four states where governors have banned or will soon ban non-essential businesses and ask residents to stay home account for about 30% of the U.S. economy, the world’s biggest.

In New York City’s Central Park, several bikers and joggers were on the pathways, mostly alone but a few in pairs.

“It’s real and it’s scary, I hate it,” said physical therapist Kerry Cashin, 49, of the stay-at-home order. “I feel like I always knew it was going to go this way, but it made me scared.”

Just two dozen people milled outside Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, the home of the Oscars, an area normally teeming with hundreds of tourists.

Zane Alexander, 27, said he was on his way to pick up his last paycheck “until lord knows when.” He had been working on a medical marijuana dispensary’s street team, a job that normally had him outside, but that team was disbanded until further notice.

“It’s totally understandable,” Alexander said, but added “I sure wish it weren’t the case.”

Retiree Jerry Rasmussen, 73, sat on a sunny public bench reading the San Francisco Chronicle in the city’s central neighborhood of Cole Valley, with hand sanitizer, gloves and a mask beside him.

“I figure being outdoors like this is pretty safe, as long as I’m not too close to anyone,” he said.

VENTILATORS NEEDED

Cuomo, in making his stay-at-home announcement, pleaded for more medical personnel and supplies such as ventilators and protective masks to treat coronavirus cases that could overwhelm the hospitals in his state of nearly 20 million.

“The ventilators are to this war what missiles were to World War Two,” Cuomo said. He said the state would “pay a premium” to companies that could provide more personal protective equipment, gloves and masks. He asked companies that might be capable of making these products to “get creative.”

Cuomo issued an executive order mandating all non-essential workforce to stay home and all non-essential businesses to close.

“Remain indoors, go outside for solitary exercise,” he said.

The pandemic that has swept the globe has also shattered lifestyles across much of the United States in the past week, shuttering schools and businesses, prompting millions to work from home, forcing many out of jobs and curtailing travel.

The health orders imposed on Thursday by California authorities on the state’s 40 million people allow for outside exercise as long as people stay six feet apart.

“We need to take it really seriously and prevent spread of the disease,” said venture capitalist Meredith Finn, 37, while walking her dog Brady in the affluent West Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. “It’s definitely the right move.”

More than 1,000 cases have been confirmed in California, where 19 people have died. New York officials said the state has 7,102 confirmed cases and of those, 4,408 are in New York City, the most populous U.S. city with about 8.5 million people. Thirty-eight have died in the state.

Washington state, where the first U.S. coronavirus cluster emerged, has since March 16 closed bars, restaurants and recreation and entertainment facilities, and has banned all gatherings of more than 50 people.

More than 220 people have died in the United States and over 14,100 cases had been confirmed by Friday afternoon, the surge in cases reflecting an increase in testing. Health experts believe the actual number of COVID-19 cases to be far higher.

Click for a GRAPHIC on U.S. cases.

In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump and other officials told reporters the United States was working with Mexico to suspend non-essential travel at the border. The border with Canada already is closed to non-essential traffic.

With businesses closing and daily life grinding to a near halt, and the U.S. unemployment benefits program about to face its biggest test in more than a decade, the Trump administration announced more moves to give relief to workers and students. Tax filing day was moved to July 15 from April 15, while interest and payments on federal student loans were suspended for at least the next 60 days.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Lucy Nicholson, Katie Paul, Nathan Layne, Bill Berkrot, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Nick Brown and Jonnelle Marte, Ann Saphir and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool; Editing by Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)