U.S. weekly jobless claims blow past 6 million mark

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits shot to a record high of more than 6 million last week as more jurisdictions enforced stay-at-home measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic, which economists say has pushed the economy into recession.

Thursday’s weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department, the most timely data on the economy’s health, reinforced economists’ views that the longest employment boom in U.S. history probably ended in March.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits surged 3.341 million to a seasonally adjusted 6.648 million for the week ended March 28, the government said. Data for the prior week was revised to show 24,000 more applications received than previously reported, lifting the number to 3.307 million.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would jump to 3.50 million in the latest week, though estimates were as high as 5.25 million.

“Similar to last week’s unemployment claims numbers, today’s report reflects the sacrifices American workers are making for their families, neighbors, and country in order to slow the spread,” U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement.

The United States has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, with more than 214,000 people infected. Nearly 5,000 people in the country have died from the illness, according to a Reuters tally.

The dollar <.DXY> was little changed against a basket of currencies. U.S Treasury prices were trading higher while U.S. stock index futures pared gains.

GENEROUS PROVISIONS

Applications for unemployment benefits peaked at 665,000 during the 2007-2009 recession, when 8.7 million jobs were lost. Economists say the country should brace for jobless claims to continue escalating, partly citing generous provisions of a historic $2.3 trillion fiscal package signed by President Donald Trump last Friday and the federal government’s easing of requirements for workers to seek benefits.

As a result, self-employed and gig workers who previously were unable to claim unemployment benefits are now eligible. In addition, the unemployed will get up to $600 per week for up to four months, which is equivalent to $15 per hour for a 40-hour workweek. By comparison, the government-mandated minimum wage is about $7.25 per hour and the average jobless benefits payment was roughly $385 per person per month at the start of this year.

“Why work when one is better off not working financially and healthwise?” said Sung Won Sohn, a business economics professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Last week’s claims data has no bearing on the closely watched employment report for March, which is scheduled for release on Friday. For the latter, the government surveyed businesses and households in the middle of the month, when just a handful of states were enforcing “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders.

It is, however, a preview of the carnage that awaits. Retailers, including Macy’s, Kohl’s Corp and Gap Inc , said on Monday they would furlough tens of thousands of employees, as they prepare to keep stores shut for longer.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, the government report on Friday is likely to show nonfarm payrolls dropped by 100,000 jobs last month after a robust increase of 273,000 in February. The unemployment rate is forecast to rise three-tenths of a percentage point to 3.8% in March.

“A rough look at the most affected industries suggests a potential payroll job loss of over 16 million jobs,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management in New York. “The loss would be enough to boost the unemployment rate from roughly 3.5% to 12.5%, which would be its highest rate since the Great Depression.”

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid jumped 1.245 million to 3.029 million for the week ended March 21, the highest since July 6, 2013.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Dan Burns, Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

Exclusive: How elite U.S. college students brought Covid-19 home from campus

By Anna Irrera and Steve Stecklow

(Reuters) – Like many American colleges, Vanderbilt University in Nashville announced last month it was closing its dormitories and putting classes online because of the growing threat of coronavirus. It said it was acting “out of an abundance of caution” after a local healthcare worker had tested positive for the disease.

The message was lost on many students.

Before leaving campus and returning to their homes and families throughout the United States and abroad, more than 100 Vanderbilt students attended parties, ignoring the school’s explicit instructions not to do so. They crowded into apartment complexes and other locations, and posed for group pictures they posted on Instagram. Many celebrated St. Patrick’s Day six days early – on the same day New York City announced it was cancelling its traditional annual parade.

One photo of a March 11 party, posted on Instagram and seen by Reuters, shows a student in a makeshift hazmat suit, a black mask and green bowler hat with shamrocks, as a large group of students party in the background. “I dare you to give me corona,” reads the picture’s caption. The photo’s location jokingly claims to be “Wuhan, China” — the origin of the global pandemic.

Some Vanderbilt students later learned they were infected with the virus, known as COVID-19. A private online group of students who say they have contracted coronavirus had 107 members this week, with most stating they had mild or moderate symptoms, according to posts seen by Reuters. Vanderbilt University Medical Center, an independent hospital near the campus, also reported 86 employees have tested positive for coronavirus to date, according to a spokeswoman.

The example of Vanderbilt – a prestigious, private research institution in America’s South – shows that risky behavior by some young people extended far beyond the spring break mob scenes on Florida beaches that emerged last month. It illustrates the role students at some colleges – particularly those with a global footprint – have played in the pandemic.

Other colleges have also reported coronavirus outbreaks. Forty-four students at the University of Texas at Austin tested positive for the disease after returning from spring break in Mexico, according to a state university spokeswoman. In March, the University of Tampa said five students traveling together during spring break had tested positive.

In a statement, Vanderbilt said: “Just as for our peers around the country, COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for our community as we have sought, above all, to protect the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. Vanderbilt has regularly communicated with our community about the essential steps the university is taking, and that they must take, to limit the spread of disease.”

The university declined to answer questions about how many students have contracted coronavirus, citing federal student privacy law.

TRAVELS IN EUROPE

Vanderbilt began its spring break earlier than many schools. It took place between Feb. 29 and March 8, a time in which the pandemic, which began in China, was beginning to seriously affect Europe, but hadn’t yet significantly hit the United States.

“Vandy” is an elite school with a large cohort of well-to-do students. Many travel abroad during spring break, especially Europe. They often visit other Vanderbilt students attending study-abroad programs.

On Feb. 25, Vanderbilt warned students not to travel to China or South Korea – two coronavirus hot spots – and to reconsider making non-essential trips to other countries with serious outbreaks. International students were advised not to leave the United States at all.

One country that hadn’t yet reported many cases was Spain. Max Schulman, a Vanderbilt junior, said he traveled to Barcelona with more than a dozen classmates and estimated that about 50 Vanderbilt students in all were there during spring break. Spain has since emerged as one of the epicenters of the global outbreak.

Schulman said he felt tired, restless and “delirious” on his flight back. Instead of returning to campus, he went to his family’s home in Long Island, New York, and later tested positive for coronavirus.

Other Vanderbilt students who traveled to Spain and other European countries returned to the Nashville campus.

On March 8, an online petition started by Chinese first-year student Yihan Li asked Vanderbilt to cancel classes to protect students’ health, as the number of infections in the Nashville area slowly rose. “There have been two confirmed cases in Nashville and our students are returning from all over the world after the spring break,” the petition stated. “It is at great risk to hold classes as normal.” More than 2,000 people signed. Vanderbilt has about 12,000 full-time undergraduate and graduate students, according to its website.

The same day, the university informed students that there were no confirmed cases on campus. It also noted that an unidentified student who had studied abroad but hadn’t returned to Nashville had tested positive. The announcement followed a story in the campus newspaper, the Vanderbilt Hustler, that a student in a program in Italy had later tested positive in Chicago.

Classes resumed on Monday, March 9. By the end of the day, the school disclosed that several students on campus reported they had been exposed to an unidentified individual who tested positive that day. It announced it was cancelling classes for the rest of the week and would soon move them online through March. The announcement added: “To be clear, the university will remain open.”

At the time, scores of other American colleges and universities were taking steps to cancel classes and switch to online instruction, according to data compiled by Bryan Alexander, a senior scholar at Georgetown University.

A picture of Vanderbilt’s announcement appeared on a satirical Instagram account with this comment: “Let spring break pt. 2 begin.” That night, some students began partying to both commiserate and celebrate over the end of classes, one student told Reuters.

On March 10, Vanderbilt issued a warning to campus residents: “There should be no parties/gatherings; students are encouraged to maintain social distance and minimize interactions with others.” The college was two days ahead of Nashville’s mayor in urging social distancing.

Some seniors worried their college days were coming to an abrupt end and the campus would soon clear out, students said. Their fears soon came true: On March 11, Vanderbilt told students that a healthcare worker at Vanderbilt University Medical Center had tested positive and classes would go on line for the rest of the semester. Undergraduates living on campus should leave within four days.

PARTY TIME

Planned St. Patrick’s Day parties were moved up. The event is an annual tradition for many Vanderbilt students, who refer to it as “St Fratty’s” because many parties are held at fraternity houses.

“We’re all here and we’re ready to fire one last time before our college careers are ended” by coronavirus, stated one Facebook post announcing an off-campus St Patrick’s Day party. Several students who attended the party later tested positive for coronavirus, according to a student. Reuters could not independently confirm this.

Another “St Fratty’s” celebration kicked off in the rooftop courtyard of Wesley Place apartments, a residential complex that is home to third-year and fourth-year students. Instagram pictures depict clusters of students clad in green, chatting in close proximity, drinking from beer cans and red cups, and posing together for pictures.

In one photo, a group of seven young women dressed in green huddle together, hugging and holding hands. A photo collage posted by Vanderbilt’s chapter of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority showed small groups of young, green-clad women smiling, hugging and posing for pictures. The sorority didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Following the Wesley Place party, students dispersed to other locations, including off-campus fraternity houses and another apartment complex, according to students and social media posts.

One video shows several dozen students in a backyard dancing, hugging and drinking. Text overlaying the video reads, “Schools out forever,” while the caption reads, “the luck of the Irish did not grace Vanderbilt this st frattys.”

That same day, March 11, three news developments smashed America’s complacency about the disease. President Donald Trump imposed a 30-day ban on foreigners traveling from Europe, the National Basketball Association suspended its season, and movie star Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had tested positive for coronavirus in Australia.

Some Vanderbilt students soon were reporting in private chat groups that they had contracted coronavirus.

A private group called “Covid Family” that consists of students who said they had contracted the virus grew to 107 members. In one poll of 80 students, a dozen answered “yes” to whether they had coronavirus, according to a screenshot. Reuters couldn’t determine if the self-reported diagnoses were accurate.

One infected student interviewed by Reuters attended off-campus parties and experienced symptoms on March 15 after returning home. The student’s mother also developed mild symptoms. The student said the exact source of the infection was impossible to know.

Sophia Yan, a first-year Vanderbilt student from China, told Reuters she found out she had contracted coronavirus upon returning home to the Chinese city of Shenzhen on March 17. She said she didn’t attend any parties on campus, leading her to suspect the virus was more widespread at Vanderbilt than students and the administration realize.

She said she believes the university should have required students to report all their travels during spring break and released information about any who had tested positive, such as their whereabouts and what classes they attended.

“Unfortunately, Vanderbilt’s lack of effective measures largely reflects how the United States as a whole is dealing with this crisis,” she said. “To combat this pandemic, U.S. federal and state governments, as well as the American people, must recognize the severity and urgency of the matter.”

Vanderbilt didn’t respond to a specific question about Yan’s comments.

But it said because of federal student privacy law, “we are unable to disclose widely within the Vanderbilt community personally identifiable information about any student who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

Netra Rastogi, a Vanderbilt sophomore, doesn’t fault the administration. “I don’t think they realized that so many students at Vanderbilt wouldn’t take this whole situation seriously.”

(reporting by Anna Irrera and Steve Stecklow; editing by Janet McBride)

What about us? Russia’s coronavirus supplies to United States spark criticism at home

By Gabrielle T├ętrault-Farber and Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian medical equipment delivery to the United States to help fight the coronavirus drew anger from critics of the Kremlin on Thursday who pointed out that Russia was itself experiencing severe shortages of such items.

A Russian military plane carrying protective gear and ventilators landed in New York City on Wednesday. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow had paid half the cost with the other half picked up by Washington.

Critics of President Vladimir Putin said the delivery was a publicity stunt that squandered precious medical resources which Russia’s regions are lacking.

“Russia has actually sold the United States masks and medical equipment when doctors and nurses across the country are left without masks and are infecting one another,” prominent opposition politician Alexei Navalny wrote on Twitter.

“It’s monstrous. Putin is crazy.”

The Kremlin has cast the move as a goodwill gesture at a time when it says all nations need to unite to take on coronavirus and said it hopes Russia might be able to access U.S. medical equipment in future if necessary.

“There is always criticism like this”, Interfax news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Russia has so far recorded 3,548 coronavirus infections in 76 of its more than 80 regions. Thirty people have died across the country, authorities say.

The Health Ministry said on Wednesday it was pleased with Russian regions’ readiness to tackle the virus. But some say they are experiencing shortages of the most basic equipment.

Doctors at a hospital in the Moscow region told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper they had been asked to sew their own masks, while state television in Bashkortorstan, a region about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) east of Moscow, last month showed viewers how to make their own masks because pharmacies had run out.

The Alliance of Doctors, a trade union for medical workers which is often critical of the authorities, said it had been collecting money across Russia to buy protective gear for doctors and was distraught to see the country now shipping the same equipment to the United States.

“It’s just making a mockery of everything,” the trade union wrote on Twitter.

Another Russian Twitter user pointed out that while ventilators had landed in New York, similar shipments were not reaching needy Russian cities such as Saratov and Voronezh.

Russia’s Health Ministry said on Thursday that the country had enough ventilators to meet its current needs and that hospitals would receive another 8,000 by the end of May.

Russia’s delivery has angered some people in the United States too. Former U.S. diplomat Brett McGurk was among those criticising President Donald Trump for serving up what he called “a propaganda bonanza” to Putin.

Moscow has also flown several flights carrying medical supplies to Italy, which has recorded more than 13,000 dead. Several European Union and NATO officials characterised the aid as a geopolitical move to extend Russian influence in Europe.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Gabrielle T├ętrault-Farber; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Most Americans huddle indoors as coronavirus deaths keep spiking

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Four new states imposed sweeping stay-at-home directives on Wednesday in response to the coronavirus pandemic, putting over 80% of Americans under lockdown as the number of deaths in the United States nearly doubled in three days.

The governors of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Nevada each instituted the strict policies on a day when the death toll from COVID-19 shot up by 925 to more than 4,800 nationwide, with 214,000 confirmed cases, according to a Reuters tally.

President Donald Trump said he saw no need for the federal government to issue a nationwide decree, with 39 states and the District of Columbia now requiring residents to stay home except for essential outings to the doctor or grocery store.

He also told a White House briefing on Wednesday he was considering a plan to halt flights to coronavirus hot spots.

“We’re certainly looking at it, but once you do that you really are clamping down on an industry that is desperately needed,” Trump told a White House news briefing.

Such a plan might conceivably shut down traffic at airports in hard-hit New York, New Orleans and Detroit.

“We’re looking at the whole thing,” Trump said of curtailing domestic flights already greatly reduced as demand has fallen.

White House medical experts have forecast that even if Americans hunker down in their homes to slow the spread of COVID-19, some 100,000 to 240,000 people could die from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

A Pentagon official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said the U.S. Department of Defense was working to provide up to 100,000 body bags for use by civilian authorities in the coming weeks.

Since 2010, the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 1918-1919 flu pandemic killed 675,000 in the United States, according to the CDC.

A healthcare worker walks outside a newly constructed field hospital in the East Meadow of Central Park during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid

New York state remained the epicenter of the outbreak, accounting for more than a third of the U.S. deaths. Governor Andrew Cuomo told police on Wednesday to enforce rules more aggressively for social distancing.

“Young people must get this message, and they still have not gotten the message. You still see too many situations with too much density by young people,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in imposing rules to close playgrounds, swing sets, basketball courts and similar spaces.

“How reckless and irresponsible and selfish for people not to do it on their own,” Cuomo said.

CALIFORNIA CASES SURGE

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference the city was contracting with hotels as part of a massive effort to add 65,000 additional hospital beds by the end of the month.

De Blasio, also a Democrat, said the city had arranged to add 10,000 beds at 20 hotels, which have lost most of their guests as travel has stopped.

“This is going to be an epic process during the month of April to build out all that capacity,” de Blasio said. “But this goal can be reached.”

California saw the number of coronavirus cases surge by roughly 1,300 over the day before to nearly 10,000 as Governor Gavin Newsom warned that even as stay-at-home policies appeared to be having some effect, the state would run out of intensive- care hospital beds equipped with ventilators within six weeks.

Newsom said California could still manage to “bend” the state’s infection curve more, saving the need for additional beds, if residents were rigorous in staying home and avoiding contact with others.

“We are in a completely different place than the state of New York and I hope we will continue to be, but we won’t unless people continue to practice physical distancing and do their part,” the Democratic governor told a news conference in the state capital, Sacramento.

But Americans under lockdown and largely unable to work struggled with making ends meet as rent came due on Wednesday, the first day of the month.

In Oakland, California, Alfa Cristina Morales said she had been surviving on money saved for a U.S. citizenship application since losing her job at a coffee shop. Morales had sought unemployment benefits to support her two-year-old son.

“We’re worried that it won’t be enough,” she said.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said a six-week-old baby had died from COVID-19, in what he called “a reminder that nobody is safe from this virus.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told Fox News that Broward County would likely allow two cruise ships with coronavirus outbreaks carrying a total of 2,500 people to dock in Fort Lauderdale, despite his misgivings about potentially contagious foreign nationals.

“We were concerned about a deluge into the hospitals, but I think it turns out that there will probably be some who need to go, but it’s very manageable and the local hospital system thinks that they can handle it,” DeSantis, a Republican, told Fox.

At Fort Lauderdale, Floridians aboard the ships would be taken home and flights arranged for foreigners, he said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Tim Ahmann, Daniel Trotta, Maria Caspani, Nathan Layne, Stephanie Kelly, Peter Szekely, Lisa Shumaker, Sharon Bernstein, Jeff Mason, Mohammad Zargham, Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)

Oil falls after U.S. crude stockpiles jump and gasoline demand slumps

By Laura Sanicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Wednesday after data showed U.S. crude inventories rose last week by the most since 2016 while gasoline demand suffered its biggest weekly drop ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Crude inventories <USOILC=ECI> rose by 13.8 million barrels last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said. That was the biggest one-week rise since 2016, and analysts expect similar reports in coming weeks, as refineries curb output further and gasoline demand continues to decline.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude <CLc1> fell 29 cents, or 1.5%, to $20.19 a barrel by 1:30 p.m. ET (1730 GMT), after hitting a low at $19.90.

June Brent crude <LCOc1> fell $1.45, or 5.5%, to $24.90 a barrel. The global benchmark fell to $21.65 on Monday, its lowest since 2002, when the now-expired May contract was the front month.

The market has slumped on pledges of higher output from Saudi Arabia and Russia after a supply pact collapsed and the sharp fall in demand because of the coronavirus pandemic. Brent crude fell 66% in the first three months of 2020 – its biggest ever quarterly loss.

“Global inventories will be chock full by mid-May. I think the market can continue to decline further,” said Gene McGillian, a broker and oil analyst at Tradition Energy.

“There’s no signs of reproachment with producers and with further demand destruction we could get another $5 taken from the market.”

U.S. state governments have issued orders trying to halt the spread of the virus, and many residents are staying out of their cars. Gasoline demand fell by the most ever in one week, with products supplied, a proxy for demand, dropping by 2.2 million barrels per day to 6.7 million bpd. That augurs for more refining cutbacks down the road.

“Demand is a disaster,” said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho in New York. “That’s the whole problem here. It’s horrible.”

The bearish mood has been fueled by a rift within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members have been unable to agree to a technical meeting in April to discuss sliding prices.

An OPEC-led supply deal fell apart on March 6 when Russia refused to cut output further. Saudi Arabia has already begun to boost output, a Reuters OPEC survey showed on Tuesday, and is expected to pump more in April. [OPEC/O]

“It is very unlikely that OPEC, with or without Russia or the United States, will agree a sufficient volumetric solution to offset oil demand losses,” BNP Paribas analyst Harry Tchilinguirian said in a report on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would join Saudi Arabia and Russia, if need be, for talks about the fall in oil prices.

(Additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi and Alex Lawler; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Goodman)

France passes 4,000 coronavirus deaths

PARIS (Reuters) – French health authorities reported 509 new deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, taking the total to 4,032, making the country the fourth to pass the 4,000-fatalities threshold after Italy, Spain and the United States.

After speeding up the previous two days, the rate of increase of deaths has decelerated in France, which is now in its third week of lockdown to try to slow the spread of the virus.

The daily government tally still only accounts for those dying in hospital but authorities say they will very soon be able to compile data on deaths in retirement homes, which is likely to result in a big increase in registered fatalities.

State health agency director Jerome Salomon told a news conference that the number of cases had risen to 56,989, a rise of 9%, versus +17% Tuesday.

Salomon said 6,017 people were in a serious condition needing life support, up 8% compared with Tuesday.

France has increased the number of beds in intensive care units from 5,000 to about 10,000 since the start of the crisis and it is scrambling to reach 14,500.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Alison Williams)

Trump warns Iran, proxies against attacking U.S. in Iraq

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday warned Iran and its proxies against attacking U.S. troops or assets in Iraq, citing a possible “sneak attack” but giving no other details.

“Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chris Reese; Editing by Chris Reese)

What’s in the $2.3 trillion U.S. coronavirus rescue package

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump signed the largest federal stimulus package in history into law on March 27 to help cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic and shore up medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak.

Here are major elements of the plan, which is estimated to cost roughly $2.3 trillion. Cost estimates are provided by congressional committees and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan policy group.

DIRECT PAYMENTS TO AMERICANS

Direct payments of up to $1,200 each to millions of Americans, with additional payments of $500 per child. Payments would be phased out for those earning more than $75,000 a year. Those earning more than $99,000 would not be eligible.

Estimated cost: $292 billion

ENHANCED UNEMPLOYMENT AID

Payments for jobless workers would increase by $600 per week. Laid-off workers would get those payments for up to four months. Regular benefits, which typically run out after six months in most states, would be extended for an additional 13 weeks.

Self-employed workers, independent contractors and those who typically don’t qualify for unemployment benefits would be eligible. The government would also partially make up wages for workers whose hours are scaled back, in an effort to encourage employers to avoid layoffs.

Estimated cost: $260 billion

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS AND GRANTS

Loans for businesses that have fewer than 500 employees could be partially forgiven if they are used for employee salaries, rent, mortgage interest and utility costs. The bill also includes emergency grants for small business.

Estimated cost: $377 billion.

AID TO AIRLINES, LARGE BUSINESSES

The bill sets up a fund to support a new Federal Reserve program that offers up to $4.5 trillion in loans to businesses, states and cities that can’t get financing through other means.

Companies tapping the fund would not be able to engage in stock buybacks and would have to retain at least 90% of their employees through the end of September. They would not be able to boost executive pay by more than $425,000 annually, and those earning more than $3 million a year would see their salaries reduced.

The fund would be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional oversight board. The Treasury secretary would have to disclose transactions.

Businesses owned by President Donald Trump, other administration officials or Congress members, or their family members, would not be eligible for assistance.

Loans are set aside for airlines, air cargo carriers, airline contractors and “businesses important to maintaining national security,” widely understood to be Boeing Co.

Total cost: $500 billion

GRANTS FOR AIRLINES

Airlines, air cargo carries and airline contractors also could get grants to cover payroll costs. They would have to maintain service and staffing levels, and would not be able to buy back stock or pay dividends. The U.S. government could get stock or other equity in return. Executive pay above $425,000 a year would be frozen for two years, and those who earn more than $3 million annually would see their salaries reduced.

Total cost: $32 billion

HOSPITALS AND PUBLIC HEALTH

– $100 billion for hospitals and other elements of the healthcare system

– $16 billion for ventilators, masks and other medical supplies

– $11 billion for vaccines and other medical preparedness

– $10 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other health agencies

– $20 billion for veterans and military health systems

– $20 billion for the Medicare health program for seniors

STATES, EDUCATION, TRANSPORTATION

– $150 billion for state, local and Native American tribal governments

– $45 billion in disaster relief

– $32 billion for education

– $25 billion for mass-transit systems

– $10 billion in borrowing authority for the U.S. Postal Service

– $1 billion for the Amtrak passenger rail service

– $10 billion for airports

– $4 billion to suspend airline ticket, cargo and fuel taxes

TAX CUTS

– A refundable 50 percent payroll tax credit for businesses affected by the coronavirus, to encourage employee retention. Employers would also be able to defer payment of those taxes if necessary. Cost: $67 billion

– Loosened tax deductions for interest and operating losses. Cost: $210 billion

– Loosened rules for retirement funds, allowing people to withdraw money early or postpone withdrawals from accounts such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) that have been hurt by turbulence in financial markets. Cost: $8 billion

– Allows people to use tax-advantaged savings accounts to buy menstrual medical products. Cost: $9 billion

– Tax write-offs to encourage charitable deductions and encourage employers to help pay off student loans. Cost: $3 billion

– Waive tax on distilled spirits used to make hand sanitizer

INCREASED SAFETY NET SPENDING

– $25 billion more for food stamps and child nutrition

– $12 billion more for housing programs

– $5 billion more for child and family services

OTHER ELEMENTS

– Temporary ban on foreclosures and evictions for people who rely on federal housing and mortgage programs

– Defer payments and interest on federal student loans

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney, Steve Orlofsky, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

With hospitals under siege, U.S. to build hundreds of temporary coronavirus wards

With hospitals under siege, U.S. to build hundreds of temporary coronavirus wards
By Susan Heavey and Nick Brown

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States aims to build hundreds of temporary hospitals to ease pressure on medical centers struggling to keep up with a surge of coronavirus patients, officials said on Tuesday, a day after the number of U.S. deaths hit a new daily high.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which converted a New York convention center into a 1,000-bed hospital in the space of a week, is searching for hotels, dormitories, convention centers and large open space to build as many as 341 temporary hospitals, the chief of corps said on Tuesday.

“The scope is immense,” Lieutenant General Todd Semonite of the corps told the ABC News “Good Morning America” program. “We’re looking right now at around 341 different facilities across all of the United States.”

The U.S. caseload rose by more than 20,000 confirmed cases on Monday, overwhelming hospitals that are running out of doctors, nurses, medical equipment and protective gear.

A record 575 people died, pushing the death toll past 3,000 on Monday, more than the number killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the caseload rose to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally of official statistics.

U.S. officials estimate the death toll could reach 100,000 to 200,000.

The corps, the engineering arm of the U.S. Army, joined with New York state officials to convert New York’s Jacob Javits Convention Center into a facility to treat non-coronavirus patients. The conversion will relieve the pressure on hospitals treating patients with COVID-19, the respiratory ailment caused by the novel coronavirus.

In addition, construction of a 68-bed field hospital began on Sunday in Manhattan’s Central Park. Provided by the Mount Sinai Health System and non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, the makeshift facility is expected to begin accepting patients on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The converted convention center is blocks away from the Hudson River pier where the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort docked on Monday. The floating hospital will take up to 1,000 non-coronavirus patients starting on Tuesday. Another temporary New York hospital is planned for the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center where the U.S. Open is played.

In Los Angeles, the USNS Mercy, similar to the Comfort, is already treating patients. Authorities in New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago were setting up field hospitals and convention centers in their cities.

EMOTIONAL TOLL

In the New York City suburbs, nurses are bracing for a surge of patients. The medical surgery unit at New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Hudson Valley branch has 17 coronavirus patients, more than half its capacity, said nurse Emily Muzyka, 25.

Muzyka, who is training nurses on loan from other units, said she was trying to stay calm, but broke down when a relatively healthy, 44-year-old COVID-19 patient declined quickly and required ventilation.

“I had a meltdown and cried to my boyfriend,” she said.

No-visitor policies mean very ill patients may die alone, adding to the emotional toll.

“I’ve held patients’ hands through their final breaths in the past,” Muzyka said. “It’s a lonely death.”

In a tribute to first responders, New York’s landmark Empire State Building on Tuesday night illuminated the top of its tower in red with a pulsating light on its antenna that simulated an emergency siren. The building’s website said this was an homage to the “heroic COVID-19 emergency workers.”

The temporary hospitals aim to free all of New York City’s 20,000 hospital beds for coronavirus patients, de Blasio said.

New York is still short on doctors and nurses, and de Blasio asked the U.S. military for help.

“We are going to need a lot more military presence. We’re going to need a lot more help from the federal government, including medical personnel from the military, very, very quickly,” de Blasio told NBC’s “Today” show.

U.S. health officials are urging Americans to follow stay-at-home orders until the end of April to contain the spread of the virus, which originated in China and has infected about three-quarters of a million people around the world.

The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert said on Tuesday there was some evidence that social distancing efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus were having an impact, even though the situation remained very dangerous.

“We’re starting to see glimmers that that is actually having some dampening effect,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN in an interview. “But that does not take away from the seriousness … We clearly are seeing cases going up.”

At least 30 of the 50 states have ordered people to stay home, leading economists to predict severe economic contraction.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said lawmakers needed to take up another coronavirus economic relief bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said Congress should “wait and see” whether another bill was needed.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Nick Brown and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Howard Goller)

Top U.S. expert sees ‘glimmers’ social distancing dampening virus spread

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert said on Tuesday there were “glimmers” that social distancing efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus were having an impact, even though the nation was still in a very dangerous situation.

“We’re starting to see glimmers that that is actually having some dampening effect,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci told CNN in an interview. “But that does not take away from the seriousness … We clearly are seeing cases going up.”

Fauci’s comments came after the United States endured its deadliest day yet on Monday with 575 coronavirus-related fatalities. U.S. officials want to build hundreds of temporary hospitals across the country as existing medical centers have come under siege from the coronavirus outbreak.

The number of U.S. dead has now climbed past 3,000, more than the number who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections rose to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally of official U.S. statistics.

Fauci cautioned that, while stay-at-home restrictions were starting to produce some results, Americans remained at risk.

“We clearly are seeing cases going up. People in New York

are in a difficult situation,” he said. “We are still in a very difficult situation. We hope and I believe it will happen, that we may start seeing it turn around, but we haven’t seen it yet.

“We really have to hang in there and abide by the mitigation strategies. We do believe it’s working.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Tim Ahmann; editing by Susan Heavey and Bill Berkrot)