March 26, 2020

The Senate unanimously passed a massive $2.2 trillion coronavirus emergency rescue package late Wednesday, and among its many tools to bolster the economy amid the COIVD-19 pandemic is $290 billion set aside for direct payments to most Americans. Assuming the House passes the bill, expected to happen Friday, and President Trump signs it, most Americans will get a one-time payment of about $1,200 sometime in April, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says.

The payments will be based on tax returns from 2019 or 2018. Generally speaking, individuals with an adjusted gross income up to $75,000 will get $1,200 checks, or $2,400 for couples earning up to $150,000. Couples and "head of household" single parents will also get $500 per child. The checks taper off up to $99,000 in income per individual and $198,000 for joint filers with no children. The Washington Post has a calculator for estimating how much money your check should contain. Kiplinger also has a helpful stimulus calculator.

About 125 million people, or 83 percent of tax filers, will get checks, says Kyle Pomerleau at the American Enterprise Institute. "The main people excluded from receiving a payment are: the wealthy, nonresident aliens (i.e. foreigners who do not hold a green card), and 'dependents' who can be claimed on someone else’s tax return.," the Post reports.

Many Americans won't actually get a paper check. The first people to get funds from the program will be those who have direct deposit information on file with the Internal Revenue Service from 2019 returns, filed this year, or 2018 returns. If the IRS does not have your direct deposit information, it will send a check to the mailing address it has on file. "People who don't pay taxes, such as those with very low incomes, may be hard to reach the way the program is designed," Politico notes.

"The last time the U.S. government did anything like this, back in 2008," the Post reports, "the payments went out in batches and it took about eight weeks for the final people to receive their checks." Peter Weber

8:26 a.m.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a novel coronavirus test for emergency use that can reportedly provide diagnostic results in less than 15 minutes, a major improvement from most tests, many of which take days.

The test is produced by Abbot Laboratories, which plans to begin delivering 50,000 per day starting April 1 to places they are most needed like emergency rooms, urgent-care clinics, and doctors' office. The testing equipment is small and portable, and can reportedly be used just about anywhere.

Abbot also received approval on another testing system earlier in the week that takes longer to deliver results, but can churn out more tests on a daily basis. Between the two systems, the company hopes to eventually provide 5 million per month.

Several other companies are working to get out faster testing systems, as well, which will allow doctors to determine treatments for patients more quickly and help relieve the pandemic's mounting pressure on the United States health care system. Bloomberg also reports that Henry Schein, Inc., has a point-of-care antibody test ready to go. That test won't be able to detect a current infection, but could prove valuable in determining the pandemic's full scope by revealing whether a person's immune system already fought off the coronavirus, which diagnostic tests aren't able to do. Read more at CNN and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

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

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