WASHINGTON – As coronavirus cases passed 13,000 in the United States on Thursday, politicians grappled with how to deal with the rapidly spreading disease.
President Donald Trump, his administration and members of Congress worked to figure out the best way to get aid to Americans and to mitigate the spread of the virus as state officials continued to deal with their new reality.
Here are some of the top quotes from Thursday’s biggest stories on the COVID-19 outbreak and the news people need to know about where things stand.
‘We need to have the American people’s backs’
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY., introduced a massive and historic stimulus package that includes direct payments of $1,200 to individuals and assistance to businesses to deal with the health and economic harm from coronavirus.
“We need to have the American people’s backs,” McConnell said on the Senate floor when introducing the legislation.
Married couples would be eligible for up to $2,400 in assistance with an additional $500 for every child.
Assistance would begin phasing out for individuals earning at least $75,000 and would not be available to those with adjusted gross incomes above $99,000. Assistance for couples phases out after $150,000 and is not available to those with joint incomes of more than $198,000.
McConnell said Republicans would begin discussions with Democrats Friday, along with administration officials.
In a joint statement issued shortly after McConnell’s announcement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the package won’t earn Democrats’ support unless it “prioritizes and protects workers, such as banning the recipient companies from buying back stock, rewarding executives and laying off workers.”
‘There’s no magic drug out there’
During his press conference on Thursday, Trump touted two drugs already prescribed for other purposes that he said have shown “great potential” for combating coronavirus.
However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, contradicted Trump’s comments during an interview on CNN Thursday night. Fauci was missing from Thursday’s press conference.
“There’s no magic drug out there right now,” he said in response to a question about Trump’s description calling the drugs as “game changers.”
“Today, there are no proven safe and effective therapies for the coronavirus,” Fauci said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do everything we can to make things that have even a hint of efficacy more readily available.”
FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn was also more cautious in his comments about the two drugs the president spoke of: hydroxychloroquine, used to treat malaria, and the antiviral drug remdesivir, saying he had “great hope” but not “false hope.”
The malaria drug, Hahn said, can be tested in “compassionate care” cases for very sick patients outside of normal trials. Beyond that, he said, its use for coronavirus needs “a large, pragmatic clinical trial.” On remdesivir, he said, “We need to actually know about the safety and the effectiveness.”
‘We will be discussing all options’
After two lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19, more than a dozen lawmakers went into self-quarantine.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told fellow House Democrats in a letter Thursday that lawmakers would remain on a recess until the next coronavirus emergency aid package was ready and needed to be voted on.
Hoyer acknowledged there were new concerns from lawmakers after Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, announced they tested positive.
Hoyer said changes were being worked out to prevent mass groups from voting at the same time on the House floor.
Hoyer added, “No decisions have been made on exactly what these changes will be, but we will be discussing all options. After consulting with our Members and deciding how we will proceed, we will give notice to Members well in advance of any votes.”
The idea of changing foundational congressional rules to allow voting from remote locations rather than all together has become a serious proposition in a body that prides itself on following time-honored customs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised people older than 60 to avoid large crowds. The average age is 63 in the Senate and 58 in the House.
’56 percent of our population… will be infected’
California Gov. Gavin Newsom projects more than half of the state’s 40 million people could contract coronavirus in the next eight weeks.
“We project that roughly 56 percent of our population —25.5 million people — will be infected with the virus over an eight week period,” Newsom wrote in a letter to Trump, in an attempt to secure federal resources for his state.
In a subsequent letter sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, Newsom said California would likely need more than $1 billion in federal assistance as the number of coronavirus cases in the state continues to multiply.
There have been at least 958 confirmed cases in California, with 19 deaths.
Newsom added that California would need significant federal assistance to deliver health care to people it projects may contract coronavirus, and he asked the US Navy deploy its USNS Mercy Hospital ship “to help decompress [California’s] current healthcare delivery system in Los Angeles,” while comparing the population density to New York City, after the Pentagon announced it’s sending a hospital ship that can hold up to 1,000 beds to New York City’s harbor.
‘I’d shake his hand but I’m not supposed to do that’
Trump introduced FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn during a briefing at the White House Thursday but said his greetings would remain verbal only.
“I’d shake his hand but I’m not supposed to do that,” Trump said.
The new declaration for not shaking hands come days after Trump was heavily criticized for not modeling “social distancing” medical experts have said is needed to contain the contagion.
After declaring a national emergency to combat the coronavirus outbreak last Friday, Trump shook hands with a series of corporate executives after they each made remarks at the White House podium – despite repeated advice from his own public health experts against such contact.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised Americans to avoid shaking hands with other people, as well as to avoid “high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails,” etc.
Contributing: Ledyard King, Nicholas Wu, Christal Hayes, Maureen Groppe, John Fritze, Deidre Shesgreen. Sam Metz, Palm Springs Desert Sun.