Pelosi and Trump Reach Deal on a Relief Package

Pelosi and Trump Reach Deal on a Relief Package

Congress and the White House struck a deal on Friday on a sweeping relief package to assist people affected by the outbreak of the coronavirus, moving to confront a growing pandemic that has upended lives and wreaked havoc on financial markets.

The House was set to vote on the plan on Friday evening, after a roller-coaster day of negotiations that threatened to veer off track as President Trump criticized the plan during a White House Rose Garden news conference in which he declared a national emergency.

Instead, by dusk, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to House Democrats saying, “We are proud to have reached an agreement with the administration to resolve outstanding challenges.”

Not long after, even as congressional and administration aides negotiated the final legislative language of the compromise, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, confirmed it would move forward.

“We have an agreement that reflects what the president talked about in his speech the other night,” Mr. Mnuchin said on Fox News. He said Mr. Trump was focused on making sure “hard-working Americans don’t lose their compensation because they have to be home.”

The measure includes two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave, enhanced unemployment benefits, free virus testing including for those who lack insurance, additional food aid and federal funds for Medicaid.

The deal is a product of an intense round of talks that unfolded between Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Mnuchin as financial markets swung wildly amid uncertainty about the spiraling crisis.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States have climbed to more than 2,100, even with sparse testing, and the death toll has risen to at least 48. West Virginia was the only state yet to report a known case of the virus by Friday evening. The United States is facing the prospect that those numbers could grow exponentially, as they did in China, Italy, South Korea and other countries.

Mr. Trump on Friday afternoon officially declared a national emergency that he said would give states and territories access to up to $50 billion in federal funds to combat the spreading coronavirus epidemic.

In a live address in the White House Rose Garden, he also gave broad new authority to the health secretary, Alex Azar, who he said would now be able to waive regulations, giving doctors and hospitals more flexibility to respond to the virus, including making it easier to treat people remotely.

“I am officially declaring a national emergency, two very big words,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “I’m urging every state to set up emergency operations centers effective immediately.”

Mr. Trump said he was waiving interest on student loans, and that with oil prices low, the government would buy large quantities of crude oil for the nation’s strategic reserve.

His comments marked the first time he has addressed the coronavirus as a problem within the country’s borders, not just something that needed to be kept out with travel restrictions. But the optics of the address offered a contrast to the social distancing that many experts recommend: Mr. Trump and the top advisers he invited to speak crowded together around the lectern and shared a microphone.

Mr. Trump, who has been accused of downplaying the crisis, said that millions of virus testing kits would become available, but added that he did not think so many would be needed.

“We don’t want everybody taking this test,” he said. “It’s totally unnecessary.”

“This will pass, this will pass through, and we will be even stronger for it,” the president said.

Asked if he would be tested for the coronavirus because of his contact at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, with an infected Brazilian official, he said, “most likely, yeah,” countering earlier White House statements that he would not be tested.

“I think I will do it anyway,” he said. “Fairly soon.”

Stocks rallied on Friday, rebounding from their worst day in more than 30 years after Mr. Trump said leaders of private U.S. companies had agreed to help with efforts to test for the coronavirus and declared a national emergency that would free billions in funding for states and territories.

The S&P 500 rose more than 9 percent, with most of the gains coming as government officials and business executives spoke at a news conference at the White House. The chief executives of Walmart, Target and Walgreens all said they are making facilities available for testing.

Financial markets have been nothing if not inconsistent for the past three weeks, plunging and then rising, and then plunging again. Each day brought new measures to contain the outbreak and new worries that the economy, workers and businesses would take a hit as a result of them.

The Trump administration moved on Friday to drastically speed up coronavirus testing, rushing to catch up with surging demand for tests.

The government gave the Swiss health care giant Roche emergency permission to sell its three-and-a-half-hour test to U.S. labs, and said it was awarding over a million dollars to two companies to accelerate development of one-hour tests.

Testing has lagged in the country, infuriating the public, local leaders and members of Congress. Sick people across the country say they are being denied tests. Administration officials have promised repeatedly that enormous numbers of tests would soon be available, only to have the reality fall far short.

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” President Trump said in response to a reporter’s question on Friday, “because we were given a set of circumstances and we were given rules, regulations and specifications from a different time.”

While South Korea is testing 10,000 people a day, overall U.S. state and federal testing has yet to log even 15,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi highlighted the urgency on Friday, while discussing an emergency spending package she said the House would pass later in the day, saying, “The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing.”

On Friday, the federal government said that it would allow New York State’s public health department to authorize local labs to perform coronavirus tests.

By next week, New York could be conducting 6,000 tests a day, the governor said. On Friday, the state opened a “drive through” testing facility in New Rochelle, a city north of New York City that has been at the center of the state’s epidemic.

“My guess is there are thousands and thousands of cases walking around the state of New York,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Friday, underscoring that the official count of 421 cases, even as it inches up, is not representative of total spread of the virus in the state.

Nearly every sport has been affected; the Boston Marathon and the Masters golf tournament were called off on Friday.

Verily, a life sciences unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is working on a way to direct individuals with a high risk of coronavirus infection to testing sites. But the program will not be as sweeping as President Trump suggested in his public remarks.

“I want to thank Google,” Mr. Trump said from the Rose Garden. “Google is helping to develop a website, it’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past, to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location.”

Google’s shares surged, to a gain of more than 9 percent, as Mr. Trump spoke.

Late Friday, Carolyn Wang, a spokeswoman for Verily, said that the aim was to make a website that helps triage people for virus screening available by Monday, but that it would be limited to testing sites in the Bay Area. If the pilot goes well, Verily aims to deploy the project nationwide, but there is no timetable for a national rollout.

The website was originally intended only for health care workers, Ms. Wang said, but Mr. Trump’s statement prompted the company to plan to make it available to the public.

Trying to answer that question, epidemiologists arrived at some terrifying estimates of what would happen if — and this was a very big “if” — nothing was done to stop the spread: more than a million Americans could die, and hospitals would be swamped with many times more patients than beds.

Last month, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and experts from around the world conferred quietly about the range of possibilities, with what was known then about the virus. The agency presented a range of possibilities based on variables that remain hard to pin down, like how contagious the virus is, and how severe the resulting illnesses are.

A key, unknown factor is how quickly the virus would spread, which could determine whether a medical system with fewer than a million hospital beds could handle the wave of patients.

The estimates were 160 million to 214 million people in the United States infected, or nearly half to two-thirds of the population; 2.4 million to 21 million people needing hospitalization; and 200,000 to 1.7 million dead. The results were not publicized, but have been reviewed by The New York Times.

Those figures represented the worst-case scenario, with no organized intervention, and clearly government at all levels is intervening, as are private organizations and individuals. But they give an idea of the potential seriousness of the disease.

“There is a lot of room for improvement if we act appropriately,” said Lauren Gardner, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering who models epidemics.

Today, we look at how the places you interact with daily are ensuring they stay safe while still being able to function, including how gyms should be disinfecting their equipment, new guidance for building managers, and how needed changes may affect workers.

Local officials in Washington State recently settled on two locations to house people exposed to the coronavirus who may have no safe place to isolate themselves: a former Econo Lodge Motel in the city of Kent, south of Seattle, and another location in an unincorporated part of the county, both of which serve mostly lower-income neighborhoods.

The plan quickly ran into trouble. Kent’s mayor, Dana Ralph, said that neither of the two communities had experienced any cases of the virus before the new facilities opened, and that residents of her town have wondered if their city was chosen to protect wealthier neighborhoods around Seattle.

Residents and political leaders circulated petitions, complaining that their communities were becoming sacrifice zones for the coronavirus and warning that businesses could suffer and neighbors could become infected.

Then on Friday some of their fears were confirmed: One of the first residents at the converted motel, a homeless person who was awaiting the results of a coronavirus test, ignored the instructions of a security guard and wandered away, eventually taking a northbound bus, King County officials said in a statement.

The bus was taken out of service for cleaning and sanitation; the community was still reeling.

A County Council member, Girmay Zahilay, said that even in a health crisis, the county has an obligation to all of its residents.

“During this unprecedented crisis, we have to make sure that the consequences of our decisions don’t fall on the most vulnerable and marginalized communities,” he said. “That’s how we all get through this together.”

An employee who works in a Washington State prison tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokeswoman for the state prison system said on Friday, in what appeared to be the first reported case of the virus in a person tied to a prison.

The employee last worked at the Monroe Correctional Complex, about 45 minutes from Seattle, on Sunday, and the test came back positive on Thursday. A day earlier, Brad Burkhart, the sheriff in Hancock County, Indiana, said a staff member at the local jail had tested positive for the virus and was quarantining at home, as are two other staff members who had contact with the employee.

The revelation comes as the Bureau of Prisons, which runs the federal prisons that hold more than 175,000 people, suspended all visits to prisoners for 30 days, including most by lawyers. The bureau said the densely packed nature of prisons “creates a risk of infection and transmission for inmates and staff.”

Many state prison systems and local jails, where the vast majority of imprisoned people are held, also suspended visits this week. A jail in Santa Clara County, Calif., placed inmates in quarantine after a visitor later tested positive for the virus, The Mercury News reported.

Advocates have sounded alarms over whether U.S. correctional facilities are adequately prepared to stop an outbreak within their walls. Much of the advice given by the C.D.C. — such as staying away from sick people and disinfecting surfaces — can be nearly impossible to follow in prison.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said on Friday that public schools would remain open, even as three more schools closed for the day after coronavirus cases were reported there.

“There are three pillars to protecting this city and the long-term health and safety of our people: Our schools, our mass transit and our health care system,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Those three are interrelated deeply. You take one out of the equation and it affects the others. My goal is to keep all three of those going.”

New York is the country’s largest school system, with 1.1 million students, about 114,000 of them homeless. Closings could have a severe effect on parents who will need to find child care, and on the many students who depend on schools for food and shelter.

The Los Angeles and San Diego school districts said they were canceling school beginning on Monday, affecting more than 750,000 students in Southern California. The decisions were the latest in a slew of similar moves across the country affecting more than six million students.

All public schools, and many if not all private schools, in Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, Washington State, Oregon, Kentucky, New Mexico and Puerto Rico were told to close beginning next week. The Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in Texas, also said it was closing for two weeks.

In Washington State, where more than 30 people have died from the virus, more than anywhere else in the country, public health officials have escalated through most of a 13-step strategy checklist for controlling infectious outbreaks and now have only a few remaining options: closing workplaces, restricting people to their homes and cordoning off targeted areas to help control the spread of infection, measures that have already been put in place in other parts of the world.

The possibility of more draconian measures if the outbreak continues to escalate has become a rising subject of conversation among public health officials across the country, forcing them to confront difficult questions about how much pain to endure — in their local economies and in civil liberties — to save more lives.

Political leaders are considering their options, alarmed over research that suggests 400 people in the Seattle area could die in the coming weeks if the trajectory of the outbreak cannot be altered. The research shows that if policymakers could reduce the transmission rate by 75 percent — primarily through what is known as “social distancing” — then the number of deaths could be reduced to only about 30 in that period.

One official said that none of the options were off the table, but that officials were mindful of the tremendous burden that such restrictions could impose on families and businesses.

Even as governments around the world struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic, many officials are themselves falling victim to the pathogen, undermining global efforts to address the crisis.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada put himself in isolation after his wife tested positive, and senior officials from Britain to Iran to Australia were confirmed to be infected. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil said on Friday that he tested negative, after one of his aides tested positive.

There is, though, rising concern that President Trump and members of his staff and cabinet might have been exposed in meetings with different officials from overseas, including with Mr. Bolsonaro’s aide.

In a closely connected political world where officials crisscross the globe as they take part in frequent meetings with heads of state and other policymakers, the cases vividly illustrate how no one is immune from a virus that does not distinguish between the powerful and everyone else.

The risk is that entire cabinets or senior government officials could be sidelined at once, potentially undermining an already complex response.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said on Friday he would extend his self-quarantine to March 17 after learning he had come into contact with a second individual who has tested positive, though he still had no symptoms. Two other Republican senators, Rick Scott of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have also preemptively isolated themselves after exposure to others.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain said on Friday that the country would be placed under a state of emergency for 15 days, which could allow his government to restrict the movement of citizens, ration goods and impose other measures to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

The decision came as Spain’s caseload rose to about 4,200 cases, the most in Europe after Italy’s more than 17,600. The Spanish death toll reached 120 on Friday.

European caseloads overall jumped to more than 35,000 on Friday, nearly double the number three days earlier. France’s case count rose by 800, reaching more than 3,600. Germany’s rose by a similar number to more than 3,100.

Catalonia, a region of 7.5 million people in northeastern Spain, announced a broad lockdown late Friday, saying it would start to “restrict entrances and departures.” It did not offer details.

In a brief televised address, Mr. Sánchez said that the state of emergency would come into force on Saturday, and that it was designed to use “all the resources of the state to protect better the citizens, especially those who are most vulnerable to the virus.”

Louisiana will postpone its April 4 primary election for two months, becoming the first state to adjust its elections in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The presidential primary will now be held on June 20, and municipal elections on July 25.

Concern for public health, and particularly the health of poll workers — whom are mostly senior citizens — led officials to decide on postponing the primary. The state’s decision to postpone elections after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a precedent, the secretary of state, R. Kyle Ardoin, said at a news conference.

Read the latest developments in the coronavirus outbreak here. This briefing is no longer updating.

Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Ernesto Londoño, Melissa Eddy, Aurelien Breeden, Constant Méheut, Elisabetta Povoledo, Ivan Nechepurenko, Davey Alba, Raphael Minder, Karen Zraick, Andy Newman, Steven Erlanger, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Steven Lee Myers, Andrew Higgins, Damien Cave, Farah Stockman, Hannah Beech, Heather Murphy, Gillian Wong, Jorge Arangure, Bhadra Sharma, Emily Cochrane, Jeanna Smialek, Jim Tankersley, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Nick Corasaniti, Mike Baker, Miriam Jordan, Jason Horowitz, Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Annie Karni, Katie Benner, Sarah Mervosh, Patricia Mazzei, Neil Vigdor, Rick Gladstone, Linda Qui and Dai Wakabayashi.

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