Coronavirus live updates: $1,200 checks almost in the mail as Senate negotiates stimulus; Trump offers N. Korea help

A bipartisan deal appeared imminent Sunday on a ballooning stimulus package aimed at pumping life into a national economy staggered by coronavirus-driven shutdowns and quarantines. The deal, now estimated at $1.4 trillion, includes $1,200 checks for most U.S. adults and hundreds of billions to assist businesses ground almost to a halt by the pandemic.

“We are poised to deliver the significant relief that Americans need with the speed that this crisis demands,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

The U.S., which confirmed more than 26,000 cases and 340 deaths, trailed Spain, Italy and China in reported infections. Confirmed cases, however, are a function of testing. Worldwide cases of coronavirus surpassed 311,000, and there were more than 13,400 deaths as of Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.

The gloomy news was not enough to silence Chicagoans, however, who shared in a citywide “Livin’ on a Prayer” singalong Saturday night. Jennifer Gorny Carlson and her 6-year-old daughter danced on their lawn.

“We just came out of the house for the first time in two weeks to dance with friends – from a safe distance – so it truly was joyful,” Carlson said.

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Stimulus: $1,200 checks for people, help for businesses, too

Your $1,200 check could be in the mail very soon. President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a deal was “very near”  to help Americans. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed confidence a deal could be struck. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, sounded a positive note on Twitter: “Ever think you’d hear the phrase ‘Congress to the rescue’? Senate Republicans now bending on funds to states. Negotiating on terms, size of funding. Good news.”

McConnell’s plan would provide a $1,200 check for most individuals making up to $75,000 annually, with smaller checks for people making more and no checks for those making in excess of $99,000. Schumer called for “unemployment insurance on steroids,” giving workers who lost their jobs checks approximating what they were making before they were let go.

Critical condition: Supply of equipment for health care workers

The scramble for vital gear needed to protect health care workers continues to intensify. Hospitals in Detroit put out a plea for donations of disposable face masks, N95 respirators, eye protection including face shields and safety goggles and other safety equipment. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was sending 1 million N95 masks to New York City and purchasing 6,000 ventilators.

FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor told CNN that requests are coming in from every state “looking for the exact same things… We are trying to make sure we focus our efforts on the hot spots that need it he  most. And then if you don’t it right away you will be a little further down the list but we will get to you.”

North Korea: Trump offered help with COVID-19

President Donald Trump has sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offering to help the communist nation’s fight against the coronavirus, Kim’s sister said Sunday. The letter, which also expresses a desire to improve diplomatic relations, shows the strong “personal relations” between Trump and Kim, said Kim Yo-jong, first vice department director of the Central Committee of the North’s Workers’ Party, in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Hawaii, New Jersey enact strict measures 

Hawaii’s governor will institute a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine starting for all people traveling to the state and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ordered residents to stay at home as more states tightened restrictions aimed at curtailing the outbreak.

Murphy also canceled gatherings of any number, including parties, weddings and religious ceremonies. Said Murphy: “We have to change our behaviors.”

Illinois required residents to stay home as much as possible. New York plans to ban all nonessential travel beginning Sunday evening, following California’s lead, which began Friday. Connecticut and Oregon were preparing to do the same. Hawaii Gov. David Ige said his order applies to returning residents as well as visitors. It applies to all arrivals at Hawaii airports.

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In Chicago, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’

Under stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus outbreak, people scattered throughout the Chicago metro area belted out Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” at 7 p.m. Saturday night, standing at windows, in yards and on balconies in freezing weather. Chicagoans shared dozens of videos capturing the citywide sing-along to social media. At least one Chicago radio station played the song at the designated hour. The song’s co-writer,Jon Bon Jovi, gave Chicago a shout-out on Instagram. “Sing it out, baby. We’re all going to come through this together. Be strong,” Jon Bon Jovi said in a post.

David Bryan, Bon Jovi keyboardist and a Tony Award-winning composer, said he tested positive for the coronavirus but is “feeling better each day.”

– Grace Hauck

Fund providing $75 million for NYC social service nonprofits

A group of foundations, corporations and individuals banded together to provide a NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund to support New York City-based social services and arts and cultural organizations struggling with the coronavirus crisis. The $75 million fund will provide grants and interest-free loans to small and mid-size nonprofits to help them respond to emerging needs, the group said in a statement.

“The coronavirus pandemic threatens to cripple New York City’s nonprofit organizations and the vitally important services they provide,” said Patricia E. Harris, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies. She said the join initiative will “help ensure that many of our city’s nonprofits can withstand this crisis and continue to serve all New Yorkers.”

Italy coronavirus cases, deaths spike

For the second day in a row on Saturday, Italy registered a record number of deaths and new cases of coronavirus. Italy reported almost 800 coronavirus-related deaths and 6,557 new cases Saturday, the highest daily count yet in the nation’s health crisis. The latest figures raised Italy’s death toll from the virus to 4,825 as of Saturday evening.

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Defense Protection Act: Trump not requiring companies to produce medical equipment

President Donald Trump clarified Saturday that he has not required private companies to produce extra medical equipment under the Defense Production Act. That’s because, he said, he hasn’t had to.

“Because we have so many companies making so many products,” he said. “We have the act to use in case we need it.”

Trump offered mixed signals on the point Friday, suggesting he had mandated companies to produce equipment and then later suggesting he hadn’t. Trump and White House aides have signaled that signing the executive order invoking the Korean War-era Defense Production Act has spurred private companies to act on their own, without a direct order from Washington. Trump mentioned clothes maker Hanes as one of the companies that has voluntarily agreed to retrofit its plants to manufacture masks.

– John Fritze

United Airlines reinstates some international flights

A day after Friday’s announcement that it would reduce international flights by 95% for April because of the government’s coronavirus-induced travel advisories, United Airlines said it is reinstating a handful of international flights to Asia, Australia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe “in an effort to get customers where they need to be” and “help displaced customers who still need to get home.”

The reinstated routes will be in effect through the end of the month and include outbound flights between Newark and Amsterdam, Munich, Brussels and Sao Paulo; Washington Dulles to London; San Francisco to Frankfurt; and San Francisco to Seoul. 

– Rasha Ali

Fauci: Efforts at containing coronavirus are working

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Saturday that efforts to contain the spread of the virus are working, but Americans need to continue to follow the 15-day guidelines for containing the disease. “I think we’re getting to the solution that everybody in the country is looking for,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We know we are clearly having an effect,” Fauci said.  “We will get through it, I promise you.”

Fauci encouraged Americans who do not have symptoms to not get tested. Doing so, he warned, would make it harder for health care workers to prioritize the highest risk Americans. It would also use up highly needed personal protective equipment.

“When you go in and get tested you are consuming personal protective equipment masks and gowns,” Fauci said. “Those are high priority for the health care workers who were taking care of people who have coronavirus disease.”

– Michael Collins, John Fritze, Richard Wolf

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