Coronavirus Live Updates: Jobless Claims Are Highest Ever; U.S. Death Toll Passes 1,000

The House will take up a $2 trillion stimulus deal. Hospitals in New York and New Orleans are struggling to cope. President Trump told governors he would begin categorizing regions by risk.

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Stocks are rising in anticipation of the House passing the $2 trillion stimulus bill.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected the House to pass a $2 trillion measure to aid an American economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.CreditCredit...Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the House on Friday will pass the $2 trillion stimulus bill to respond to the coronavirus pandemic “with strong bipartisan support,” after the Senate’s unanimous late-night vote to approve it.

She said the House, which has been in recess for the past week with lawmakers scattered throughout the country, would consider the measure on a voice vote, so that members who wanted to register their positions could do so audibly on the House floor, and others who could not or did not want to return to Washington would not be obligated to cast a vote in person.

The measure, the largest economic stimulus in modern American history, would send direct payments of $1,200 to Americans earning up to $75,000 — which would gradually phase out for higher earners and end for those with incomes more than $99,000 — and an additional $500 per child. It would substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, extending them for the first time to freelancers and gig workers, and adding $600 per week on top of the usual payment.

The package also includes $350 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses, and would establish a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies reeling from the crisis, allowing the administration to take equity stakes in airlines that received aid to help compensate taxpayers. It would also send $100 billion to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic.

Ms. Pelosi said it would not be the last effort by Congress to prop up the economy amid the coronavirus crisis. She said she did not “think we’ve seen the end of direct payments,” and she expressed frustration over funding for food stamps and the District of Columbia.

“There’s so many things we didn’t get in any of these bills,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters. Ticking off her wish list for another round of stimulus, the speaker said she wants to expand family and medical leave, add stronger occupational safety and health protections for workers, expanded safeguards for pensions, more money for the nutrition assistance program commonly known as food stamps, and funding for free treatment for those who test positive for coronavirus.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday that the congressional measure failed to meet the state’s needs, and called the bill “irresponsible” and “reckless.”

But Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, later told reporters that there was no rush for another package. “I wouldn’t be so quick to say you have to write something else,” he said. “Let’s let this bill work.”

The Trump administration plans to publish new federal guidelines to help states make decisions about relaxing or enhancing the measures they have put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, President Trump said in a letter sent on Thursday to the nation’s governors.

Mr. Trump said the guidelines would categorize different parts of the country as “high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.”

“Our expanded testing capabilities will quickly enable us to publish criteria, developed in close coordination with the nation’s public health officials and scientists, to help classify counties with respect to continued risks posed by the virus,” Mr. Trump said in his letter.

The process, he said, would incorporate “robust surveillance testing, which allows us to monitor the spread of the virus throughout the country.”

The letter came just days after Mr. Trump said he wanted to reopen the country for business by Easter, on April 12, despite widespread warnings from health officials that the worst effects of the virus were still weeks away and prematurely lifting quarantine guidelines would result in unnecessary deaths.

It appeared to be an effort to follow through on the promise, if in a more limited way and in only in certain parts of the country. Even as the country is weeks away from seeing the peak of the virus, Mr. Trump called the new information available from testing “the next phase in our war against this invisible enemy.”

On March 16, the administration released its first set of guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including closing schools and avoiding groups of more than 10 people, discretionary travel, bars, restaurants and food courts. Those guidelines were set to apply for 15 days, when Mr. Trump said he would reassess the situation. On Thursday, the coronavirus death toll passed 1,000 in the United States, a New York Times database shows.

ImageThe majority of deaths in the U.S. are concentrated in New York.
The majority of deaths in the U.S. are concentrated in New York.Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

Gov. John Bel Edwards said that the current trajectory of case growth in Louisiana was similar to Spain and Italy.

The situation in and around New Orleans is particularly acute, with the city reporting 827 confirmed cases as of Wednesday night, more than the total number of cases in all except 15 states. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and critical safety gear is running low.

Orleans Parish, which shares its borders with the city of New Orleans, has suffered the highest number of deaths per capita of any county in the nation. Of the parish’s 37 deaths — nearly three times the death toll in Los Angeles County — 11 are from a single retirement home, where dozens more residents are infected.

Cases of the virus have been found in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories, the Times database shows. California had reported more than 3,000 cases, and 67 deaths; Washington State had more than 2,500 cases and 130 deaths, including 37 connected to a single nursing home.

The crisis has sowed divisions among states competing for vital resources and communities looking to protect their residents.

People fleeing New York City have been greeted with suspicion by residents of the beach communities and villages where many have sought refuge. Florida now requires a 14-day quarantine of anyone who has arrived from the New York region over the past three weeks.

In Alaska, even more stringent measures were introduced, requiring everyone arriving in the state — whether residents or visitors — to self-quarantine for 14 days.

There were also complex issues within states. In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves signed an executive order Tuesday defining the essential businesses that should be allowed to stay open with some limitations during the coronavirus shutdown — a list that was more permissive than what some localities were planning. He was expected to issue a supplemental notice on Thursday saying that the order was not meant to interfere with decisions made by local governments.

More than three million people filed for unemployment benefits in the United States last week, sending a collective shudder throughout the economy that is unlike anything Americans have experienced.

In the half-century that the government has tracked applications, the worst week ever was 695,000 “initial” claims in October 1982.

The latest numbers, released by the Labor Department on Thursday, are some of the first hard data on the economic toll of the pandemic, which has shut down whole swaths of American life faster than government statistics can keep track.

Just three weeks ago, barely 200,000 people applied for jobless benefits, a historically low number.

As staggering as the new figures are, they almost certainly understate the problem. Some part-time and low-wage workers don’t qualify for unemployment benefits. Nor do gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed, although the emergency aid package being considered by Congress would broaden eligibility. Others who do qualify may not know it.

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An emergency room doctor in Elmhurst, Queens, gives a rare look inside a hospital at the center of the coronavirus pandemic. “We don’t have the tools that we need.”CreditCredit...Colleen Smith

The outbreak continued to gather pace in New York, where the number of hospitalized patients jumped by 40 percent in one day, Mr. Cuomo said Thursday.

The sharp jump in hospitalizations — to 5,327 patients, of whom 1,290 were in intensive care — called into question optimistic projections that Mr. Cuomo shared the day before, which had suggested that social distancing rules were slowing the rate of hospitalizations.

Mr. Cuomo said that the experts who make such projections note that there are often day-to-day fluctuations, and that it was better to look at longer time frames to make accurate estimates. “So we’ll just continue to watch it,” he said.

But with the state’s death toll rising to 385, up 100 from the day before, Mr. Cuomo gave a somber assessment of the challenges ahead.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat the situation,” he said. “The situation is not easy.”

Here’s what else he said:

  • New York State had 37,258 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning, up more than 6,400 from Wednesday morning.

  • Mr. Cuomo said the state had enough protective equipment for health care workers to satisfy the immediate need, despite recent reports of nurses and doctors in New York City reusing masks and using trash bags as gowns.

  • The governor said the state’s goal was to build at least one facility with more than 1,000 beds in each of New York City’s five boroughs and surrounding populous counties to manage an imminent overflow of patients

On Long Island, Peconic Landing, an upscale retirement community on the North Fork, announced six deaths from the virus, sparking fears of an even bigger outbreak among a vulnerable, confined population.

The challenge was evident at hospitals across the city, including Brooklyn Hospital Center, a 175-year-old hospital where Walt Whitman once comforted the Civil War wounded and where Anthony Fauci, the White House adviser who is now American’s most famous doctor, was born

More than 40 percent of the hospital’s inpatients were confirmed or suspected cases, as were more than two-thirds of the critical care patients. By Wednesday four had died, three of them since Monday. More than a half-dozen hospital workers have contracted the virus; two were receiving intensive care themselves.

It feels, one employee said, like an invisible war.

Dr. Sylvie de Souza, her green N95 mask already askew, trudged in clogs recently between the emergency department she chairs and a tent outside, keeping a sharp eye on the trainee doctors, nurses and other staff members who would screen nearly 100 walk-in patients for the coronavirus that day.

“I have so many different fears,” Dr. de Souza said on Wednesday. “It’s getting really, really more difficult every day.”

In Manhattan, a hospital has begun treating multiple patients on some of its ventilators, a breakthrough that could alleviate a critical shortage of the breathing machines and help hospitals around the country respond to the expected surge of patients.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital began so-called “ventilator sharing” this week at its Columbia Irving facility, hospital officials said. The technique has worked in scientific studies and was used after the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting. This is believed to be the first time that it has been used as a long-term strategy.

China further tightened travel restrictions on Thursday as it faces a surge in cases from people returning to the country from overseas, closing its borders even to foreign nationals who live there.

The government announced that it would suspend the entry of almost all foreign nationals holding valid visas and residence permits starting Saturday at midnight. The suspension also includes all visa-free transit policies. It does not apply to visas issued to diplomats or flight crew, or to people traveling to China for “necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs.”

“The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation and the practices of other countries,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Earlier in the day the Civil Aviation Administration of China said that starting Sunday foreign airlines would be allowed to operate only one air route to China and no more than one flight per week. Domestic airlines are also limited to one flight per week on one route to each foreign country.

China appears to have brought its epidemic under control, reporting zero local transmissions most days, and the government this week lifted the two-month lockdown in most of Hubei Province, where the pandemic began. But officials fear a resurgence of the disease as infected people return from other countries and have moved to discourage inbound travel, with international arrivals in cities like Beijing and Shanghai subject to strict quarantine procedures. As of Wednesday, China’s total number of imported cases was 541, the National Health Commission said.

China’s travel ban showed how quickly the center of the outbreak has shifted. On Jan. 31, the Trump administration said it would bar entry into the United States by most foreign nationals who had recently visited China; now it is China that is working to close its borders to foreign nationals.

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said on Thursday that the United States “may well” be in a recession already, but that it should get the coronavirus under control before getting back to work.

“The first order of business will be to get the spread of the virus under control, and then to resume economic activity,” he told NBC’s “Today” show, in a rare television interview. “The virus is going to dictate the timetable here.”

Mr. Powell’s comments contrast those of President Trump, who has suggested that he wants many Americans to get back to work as soon as Easter, on April 12, and that efforts to slow the spread of the virus by shuttering large parts of the economy should not cause more harm than the disease itself does.

The pandemic is inflicting enormous economic damage in the United States as quarantines close businesses, force people to stay at home and create uncertainty that has spurred volatility in financial markets. Mr. Powell and his colleagues have been taking aggressive measures to shore up the economy, and he used his first major interview since the crisis began to underline what they are doing — and why.

“You may well see significant rises in unemployment, significant declines in economic activity,” he said, adding that eventually the economy would bounce back, helped by central bank policy. “We want to make that rebound as vigorous as possible.”

The Army this week ordered a halt to most training, exercises and nonessential activities that require troops to be in close contact, military officials said, but abruptly reversed itself days later even as the infection rate within the American military shot up.

The move, by the largest branch in the U.S. military, would have been the most sweeping effort by any of the armed services to stave off the spread of coronavirus as the Defense Department comes to grip with an illness that has paralyzed plans and missions as the world faces a health crisis not seen in a century.

Rescinding the order sparked confusion among the ranks and with commanders. A Defense Department tally on Thursday reported that cases of coronavirus recorded by the Pentagon had hit 600, more than doubling in three days.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has insisted that the armed forces find a way to protect troops from the virus while still performing the military’s essential operations.

In Afghanistan, where roughly 12,000 American troops are stationed, the government said on Thursday that it would release up to 10,000 prisoners to reduce the health risks of overcrowding in the country’s jails.

Attorney General Mohammed Farid Hamidi said women and vulnerable people, like older prisoners, would be prioritized, and Taliban members would not be freed.

Spain’s health ministry, which is struggling to deal with a surge in coronavirus patients, said it was sending back to China about 9,000 test kits because they did not meet the required criteria.

China’s Embassy in Madrid said on Twitter that Spain had acquired the substandard test kits from a company that had not received an official license to sell such products. The embassy said that the bulk of the medical equipment ordered by Spain had not yet left China.

As of Thursday, the coronavirus had killed more than 4,000 people in Spain, a tally second only to Italy.

Problems with test kits from China have also been raised in Germany.

“I get every hundreds of emails every day with people saying, ‘Buy a million quick tests from China,’” Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, told reporters on Wednesday.

“Our institutes are testing these and looking at them, and they are not sensitive and specific enough,” Mr. Spahn said. “It does not help us if we have quick tests that deliver large numbers of false positive or false negatives. As soon as we have a quick test that is good, we will start using it.”

The problem with the test kits in Spain came to light a day after the country’s health minister, Salvador Illa, announced a huge order from China for face masks, respirators and other emergency gear worth $375 million.

Some Spanish hospitals have been strained to the limit by the pandemic, and doctors and nurses have been left without sufficient face masks and other protective gear. Employees in funeral parlors and nursing homes have also highlighted their unsafe working conditions, which have had tragic consequences.

Mr. Illa told lawmakers on Thursday, however, that Spain was reaching the peak of its epidemic and entering “a stabilization phase.”

Of the 75 senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security, 20 are either vacant or filled by acting officials, including Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary who recently was unable to tell a Senate committee how many respirators and protective face masks were available in the United States.

The National Park Service, which like many federal agencies is full of vacancies in key posts, tried this week to fill the job of a director for the national capital region after hordes of visitors flocked to see the cherry blossoms near the National Mall, creating a potential public health hazard as the coronavirus continues to spread.

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, workers are scrambling to order medical supplies on Amazon after its leaders, lacking experience in disaster responses, failed to prepare for the onslaught of patients at its medical centers.

Some 80 percent of the senior positions in the White House below the cabinet level have turned over during Mr. Trump’s administration, with about 500 people having departed since the inauguration. Mr. Trump is on his fourth chief of staff, his fourth national security adviser and his fifth secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Empty slots and high turnover have left parts of the federal government unprepared and ill equipped for what may be the largest public health crisis in a century, said numerous former and current federal officials and disaster experts.

The Group of 20 major economies vowed on Thursday to inject $5 trillion into the world economy to blunt the social, economic and financial blows of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint statement released after a virtual summit, the group promised to cooperate on wide-ranging measures to save lives, protect economies and share medical equipment to combat Covid-19, the disease the virus causes.

The meeting itself reflected the huge challenges posed to the world’s biggest economies by the pandemic, which has infected hundreds of thousands of people on almost every continent and led to more than 20,000 deaths.

Instead of an in-person meeting, the summit, chaired by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, was held by videoconference.

“The G20 is committed to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic,” the group’s statement said, vowing to support the efforts of the United Nations and other international organizations.

But the statement’s means of implementation were left unclear. It did not say which countries would contribute how much of the promised $5 trillion or how the sharing of medical gear would be organized.

Rivalries between members of the Group of 20 could complicate cooperation, with Saudi Arabia and Russia currently involved in an oil price war and China and the United States trading accusations over the origin of the virus.

Here are answers to some common questions about what the bill will mean for the swelling ranks of the unemployed, as the coronavirus shuts down whole industries.

Who would be covered by the expanded program?

The new bill would wrap in far more workers than are usually eligible for unemployment benefits, including self-employed people and part-time workers. The bottom-line: Those who are unemployed, partially unemployed or who cannot work for a wide variety of coronavirus-related reasons would be more likely to receive benefits.

How much would I receive?

It depends on your state.

Benefits would be expanded in a bid to replace the average worker’s paycheck, explained Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a public policy research group. The average worker earns about $1,000 a week, and unemployment benefits often replace roughly 40 to 45 percent of that. The expansion would pay an extra amount to fill the gap.

Under the plan, eligible workers would get an extra $600 per week on top of their state benefit. But some states are more generous than others. According to the Century Foundation, the maximum weekly benefit in Alabama is $265, but it’s $450 in California and $681 in New Jersey.

So let’s say a worker was making $1,100 per week in New York; she’d be eligible for the maximum state unemployment benefit of $435 per week. Under the new program, she gets an additional $600 of federal pandemic unemployment compensation, for a total of $1,035, or nearly all of her original paycheck.

Are gig workers, freelancers and independent contractors covered in the bill?

Yes, self-employed people would be newly eligible for unemployment benefits.

Benefit amounts would be calculated based on previous income, using a formula from the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, according to a congressional aide.

Self-employed workers would also be eligible for the additional $600 weekly benefit provided by the federal government.

What if I’m a part-time worker who lost their job because of a coronavirus reason, but my state doesn’t cover part-time workers. Would I still be eligible?

Yes. Part-time workers would be eligible for benefits, but the benefit amount and how long benefits would last depend on your state. They would also be eligible for the additional $600 weekly benefit.

In an embattled enclave in Syria, doctors have seen patients die from what looks like the coronavirus but are unable to treat them because they lack beds, protective gear and medical professionals. A refugee camp in Bangladesh is so cramped that its population density is nearly four times that of New York City, making social distancing impossible. Clinics in a refugee camp in Kenya struggle in normal times with only eight doctors for nearly 200,000 people.

As wealthy countries like the United States and Italy struggle with mass outbreaks of the coronavirus, international health experts and aid workers are increasingly worried that the virus could ravage the world’s most vulnerable people: the tens of millions forced from their homes by violent conflict.

Refugee camps across Africa, the Middle East and Asia are packed with traumatized and undernourished people with limited access to health care and basic sanitation, perfect breeding grounds for contagion. Extended families jam into tarpaulin shelters with mud floors. Food, water and soap are often lacking. Illnesses, from hacking coughs to deadly diseases, go untreated, facilitating their spread.

The coronavirus, which has infected hundreds of thousands of people around the globe, could rip through these camps with devastating speed and mortality.

“If we think this is a big issue in the U.S. and Europe, we haven’t seen anything yet if Covid gets into the refugee population.” said Adam Coutts, a public health researcher at Cambridge University. “People can’t even wash their kids, let alone wash their hands.”

A “continuous tsunami” of patients arriving at London hospitals is likely to overwhelm the city’s health care system in the coming days, says Chris Hopson, the chief executive of National Health Service Providers, which represents hospital bosses.

“They are struggling with two things: The first is the explosion of demand they are seeing in seriously ill patients,” he said. “They talk about wave after wave after wave — the word that’s often used to me is a continuous tsunami.”

The second is the high rate of illness among health care providers. While critical care capacity at hospitals across Britain has been significantly expanded, a constant influx of patients, limited ventilators and staff sickness rates of up to 50 percent in some hospitals have made the situation dire, he told BBC’s Radio 4.

A makeshift hospital for coronavirus patients is being readied at a large conference center in eastern London, the National Health Service said this week. There will be up to 500 beds with oxygen and ventilators, and it is expected to be operational next week.

The number coronavirus cases in Britain has continued to rise, reaching 9,529 cases on Wednesday, with most cases in the London area. At least 463 have died, including a 21-year-old woman whose family said she had no previous health issues.

At least half a million people in Britain have signed up to help the N.H.S., after calls for a “volunteer army” to reduce the pressure on the system

Pangolins, the scaly, ant-eating mammals once suspected as the missing link from bats to humans in the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, may not have played that role, some scientists say, although the animals do host viruses that are similar to the new human coronavirus.

In several reports from research conducted since the pandemic began, including a paper published Thursday in Nature, scientists have painted a picture with a missing middle. Both bats and pangolins have viruses similar to the new coronavirus. Somehow they form the raw material for the new virus, but exactly how that raw material was transformed — in what animal, or in humans — remains unknown.

Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, an organization that works on animal-to-human spillover diseases, said that accumulating evidence on pangolins made it “doubtful that this species played a role in the outbreak.”

“We need to keep looking for the original reservoir (likely a bat),” he said, adding that the potential intermediate host would likely be another mammal species that’s more widely traded in the Yunnan-to-Wuhan corridor of China.

While the pangolin trade is vast, Dr. Daszak said most of it “is in their scales, dried, in which viruses would almost certainly not be able to persist.”

Kristian G. Andersen of Scripps, who wrote a recent paper with other viral disease experts deciphering some aspects of the pangolin virus link, was more neutral. “In my opinion, none of the data I have seen so far is suggesting that pangolins did serve as an intermediate host, however, that doesn’t mean they didn’t serve as an intermediate host,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Michael Cooper, Alan Blinder, Karen Zraick, Annie Karni, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Jennifer Steinhauer, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Sheri Fink, Raphael Minder, Ben Hubbard, Hannah Beech, Mujib Mashal, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt, Najim Rahim, Katy Reckdahl, Hana de Goeil, Campbell Robertson, Richard Fausset, Patricia Mazzei, Kirk Johnson, Julie Bosman, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Julie Davis, Iliana Magra, Elisabetta Povoledo, Abdi Latif Dahir, Daniel Victor, Emily Cochrane, Nicholas Fandos, Michael Corkery, Sapna Maheshwari, Mariel Padilla, Christine Hauser, Fatima Faizi, David Zucchino, Alex Marshall, Vivian Wang and Yiwei Wang.