March 26, 2020

The Senate unanimously passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package late Wednesday that aims to provide economic relief to businesses and individuals during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The measure expands unemployment benefits, gives $100 billion to hospitals dealing with coronavirus, provides $350 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses, and sends direct payments of $1,200 to Americans earning up to $75,000.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the measure is "historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis. Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt."

The House is expected to vote on the legislation — the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history — on Friday. Catherine Garcia

March 27, 2020

Apparently President Trump's tweets weren't enough.

On Friday, Trump announced that he had invoked the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to start producing ventilators. GM was "wasting time" in negotiations, so Trump sidestepped those talks to "require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators," he said in a Friday statement.

Trump activated some provisions of the Korean War-era DPA last week, calling himself a "wartime president." But he didn't utilize the provision that can compel companies to ramp up production of needed medical supplies; We "haven't had to use it because no one has said NO!" Trump tweeted Tuesday. Still, Democratic lawmakers and national security experts kept pushing Trump to invoke the act.

Trump targeted GM and Ford yet again in a tweet just a few hours before invoking the DPA, calling on GM to "immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!" Unfortunately, six exclamation points just couldn't get the job done. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 27, 2020

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the U.S., Americans have turned to grocery delivery services to avoid going out and potentially exposing themselves to the virus. But the workers who make those deliveries happen say they're feeling none of that same security.

Shoppers for the grocery delivery service Instacart will stop accepting orders starting Monday to demand better protections amid the pandemic. They're seeking additional "hazard pay" for every delivery, paid protections such as hand sanitizer and gloves, and expanded sick leave, and won't return to work until their demands are met, Vice first reported.

"It's so scary to be in a grocery store right now, and so scary to be around swarm and mobs of people," veteran Instacart shopper and strike organizer Vanessa Bain told The Washington Post. But "while Instacart's corporate employees are working from home, Instacart's [gig workers] are working on the frontlines in the capacity of first responders," Bain told Vice. Instacart joins strikers across the nation, including Amazon workers in Queens and sanitation worker in Philadelphia, who are complaining of unsafe conditions amid the new coronavirus spread.

"The health and safety of our entire community — shoppers, customers, and employees — is our first priority," a spokesperson for Instacart told Vice. The company offered new features and benefits to workers in a Friday blog post, including adding 30 more days to its 14-day sick leave for those quarantined or sick from COVID-19, but only for those who've tested positive for the disease. None of the new benefits met strikers' demands. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 27, 2020

In yet another surreal sight to emerge from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis on Friday delivered a blessing from a strikingly deserted St. Peter's Square.

It was a rainy Friday in Vatican City as Pope Francis delivered his Urbi et Orbi blessing amid the coronavirus crisis, which has left more than 9,000 people dead in Italy. The prayer the pope offered is usually reserved for Christmas and Easter, The Washington Post notes. It was streamed online, and the Vatican referred to this as "An Extraordinary Prayer in the Time of Pandemic."

"Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities," Pope Francis said, per Reuters. "...We have realized that we are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other."

Italy is among the most affected countries amid the coronavirus crisis with more than 80,000 cases, and Vatican City has confirmed four cases.

"Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts," the pope said near the end of his homily, per the National Catholic Register. "You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm."

The unusual sight of the pope's blessing in the empty St. Peter's Square was, Reuters' Crispian Balmer said, "another image that will go down in history," while the Post wrote that "the images of the event were among the most memorable in the modern history of the Catholic Church." Brendan Morrow

March 27, 2020

It took New York City just about a week to build its newest 1,000-bed hospital.

As of Friday, what's being called the New York Medical Station at the Javits Center appears ready to open for non-COVID-19 cases. Rows of makeshift hospital rooms line the main convention floor separated by temporary walls and sheet doors, and all the rooms are decked out with a bed, lamp, and even a little plant.

Starting Monday, the Javits Center will serve patients who aren't suspected of having the new coronavirus, as those cases have quickly overwhelmed New York City's existing hospitals. Still, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has warned the 1,000 additional beds won't satisfy the growing need for hospital space throughout the city. He called on President Trump to approve building field hospitals across the city's five boroughs to provide an additional 4,000 beds as New York quickly becomes the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also thanked the Army National Guard, which put together the Javits hospital in just a week. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 27, 2020

The House of Representatives passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, sending it to President Trump's desk.

The House on Friday approved the relief package responding to the coronavirus pandemic after the Senate took the same step. The bill, which includes stimulus checks for most Americans, was passed in a voice vote.

One lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), tried to force a roll call vote rather than a unanimous voice vote on the bill. The House had been hoping to avoid asking members to unnecessarily travel and gather together in Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic, but was required to form a 216-member quorum to overrule Massie; "scores of lawmakers" had to "begrudgingly" return to the Capitol, The Washington Post writes.

Massie drew bipartisan criticism with this move. President Trump slammed him as a "third rate grandstander" and called for him to be kicked out of the Republican Party, while former Secretary of State John Kerry called him an "a--hole." Trump is expected to sign the stimulus bill, tweeting Friday that "workers and small businesses need money now in order to survive." Brendan Morrow

March 27, 2020

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Friday announced the state's coronavirus death toll has passed 500, but he did have a bit of good news to offer.

Cuomo on Friday said 519 people have died from the COVID-19 coronavirus in New York, up from 385 fatalities reported the day before.

"That is going to continue to go up, and that is the worst news that I could possibly tell the people of the state of New York," the governor said.

The number of coronavirus cases in New York has climbed past 40,000, by far the most in the country. Cuomo cited the number of people who were hospitalized 20 or 25 days ago and had been on a ventilator since then in explaining the rising death toll.

"We're seeing a significant increase in deaths because the length of time people are on the ventilator is increasing, and the more it increases, the higher the level of deaths will increase," Cuomo said. "...It's bad news, it's tragic news, it's the worst news, but it is not unexpected news, either."

Cuomo did, however, offer some good news, saying that COVID-19 hospitalizations were previously doubling every two-and-a-half days in the state, but now, the number is doubling roughly every four days.

"It's still doubling, and that's still bad news," Cuomo said. "...But there is good news in that the rate of the increase is slowing."

Cuomo on Friday also delivered an impassioned message to members of the National Guard assisting with the pandemic response, saying, "I am proud to fight this fight with you." Brendan Morrow

March 27, 2020

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will gain some unprecedented power from the coronavirus relief bill he helped write.

The House is set to pass a stimulus bill that addresses economic shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday (or possibly Saturday). It'll send individual checks to Americans and billions of dollars to institutions and businesses, and with Mnuchin overseeing it all, it'll make him "one of the most powerful Cabinet members in modern history," The Washington Post writes.

Mnuchin has been at the forefront of congressional negotiations surrounding the stimulus bill since the start, steering it from its trillion-dollar beginnings to a final total more than double that cost. A highlight of the bill is its $1,200 checks for individual Americans. Mnuchin will be responsible for ensuring those checks actually get distributed, and has so far been hopeful — perhaps unrealistically so — that they'll be out by April.

The bill also contains a $500 billion funding program, and Mnuchin will oversee how it's distributed to local and state governments, as well as businesses, the Post notes. He'll undoubtedly face pressure from corporate executives looking for bailouts from that fund, and will have to weigh those pleas alongside the needs of taxpayers.

Mnuchin will remain "under constant scrutiny by Democrats, Republicans, a new inspector general, a new congressional oversight panel, as well as [President] Trump" as these disbursals go on, the Post notes. But he's so far gotten both sides of the aisle and the president onboard with the bill, even as Trump reportedly fielded dozens of calls complaining about what was inside it. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

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