with Mariana Alfaro

With Mariana Alfaro

A trillion here, a trillion there and soon you’re talking real money.

The national debt has surged from $20 trillion to $23 trillion since President Trump took office, even though the economy was at or near full employment, despite his campaign promises in 2016 to eliminate it altogether if he’s elected to two terms.

The $1.5 trillion tax cuts in 2017, which the GOP passed on a party-line vote and overwhelmingly benefit the biggest corporations and the richest individuals, made trillion-dollar federal deficits the new normal – long before the novel coronavirus sent lawmakers scrambling for emergency spending.

Many companies that are now seeking lifelines from taxpayers, especially the airlines, used the windfall from those tax breaks to buy back their own shares, which increased share prices and therefore boosted executive compensation.

The Trump administration outlined a $1 trillion stimulus plan on Wednesday to respond to the pandemic, including $500 billion in cash payments to individuals and $300 billion toward helping small businesses, as well as $50 billion for bailing out airlines and $150 billion for other unspecified sectors. This will likely include hospitality, in which the president has a significant personal financial stake. “We’re coming up with numbers,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “Haven’t gotten there yet, but certainly the hotel industry, cruise ship industry, the airlines — those are all prime candidates.”

President Trump and the coronavirus task force discussed on March 18 the administration’s ongoing efforts to deal with the growing health crisis. (The Washington Post)

A few hours later, the Senate approved and Trump quickly signed the House-passed bill that would spend some $100 billion on paid leave, unemployment insurance and free testing to people affected by the coronavirus fallout. That’s on top of the $8.3 billion emergency spending package that passed earlier this month. And it’s distinct from the $46 billion emergency funding request the White House sent Congress yesterday for “ongoing preparedness and response efforts” by various agencies.

All told, between the various packages and other actions the government is taking, a senior administration official said the White House is pushing an economic plan that is “over $2 trillion and counting” to stop the coronavirus from wrecking the economy. Compare that to the $800 billion stimulus package enacted under Barack Obama and the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program enacted under George W. Bush to respond to the Great Recession.

The tea party movement on the right and the Occupy Wall Street movement on the left stemmed from animosity to the bailouts for Wall Street. Conservatives spent the entire Obama era loudly decrying him for supposedly trying to “pick winners and losers.” In 2012, Trump himself accused “Obama's auto bailout” of “ruining American industry.” Now he promises to help Boeing specifically in the White House briefing room – and few in his party balk. 

When aides presented Trump with a $850 billion stimulus proposal earlier this week, he encouraged them to go bigger and ask for $1 trillion, Bob Costa and Phil Rucker report. “Trump ‘doesn’t give a [expletive]’ about how his rescue plan affects the federal debt, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be frank. ‘It’s all about the markets and the economy for him. It’s all about the jobs numbers.’ … One adviser who has discussed the matter with Trump said the president does not believe voters will be concerned about adding to the debt.”

There is certainly some political sensitivity inside the Trump administration to the optics of bailouts for big companies. When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met with Senate Republicans on Tuesday, he pleaded with them not to use the word “bailout” to describe the proposed bailout for Boeing, one of many large corporations that stands to get a windfall from the administration’s plan. “One senator raised a hand and asked if they should instead call them ‘freedom payments,’ which prompted laughter,” per Bob and Phil.

A bailout by any other name is still a bailout. And corporate lobbyists are rushing to get their hands in the cookie jar. “When the banks that were saved in 2008 paid out $140 billion in executive bonuses in 2009, voters on both sides erupted,” David Lynch and Jeff Stein report. “Today, Democrats — who lost the House in 2010 amid a conservative rebellion over bailouts — demand strict conditions on aid. And many Republicans, including National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow — who wrote in 2008 that such programs make ‘a mockery of free-market capitalism’ — have ditched their objections. … Asked Tuesday whether the bailouts would carry any restrictions, the president looked to the vice president, saying: ‘I think I’m going to ask Mike. Answer that question, please.’ Pence parried, saying only that the industry aid package is ‘a work in progress.’

Democrats see the administration’s bailout requests as potential leverage in negotiations about the spending package. On a conference call with party members, [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer highlighted the industry bailouts as an opportunity to secure increased spending on programs such as Medicaid and unemployment insurance. But Democrats may face their own divisions. Members representing states such as casino-rich Nevada and Florida, home to many cruise operators, might break with the party’s united front.”

One person briefed on internal White House deliberations, who was not authorized to speak to reporters, told David and Jeff: “Every industry is affected. Every restaurant is affected. How are you going to draw the line between who gets government aid and who doesn’t? It becomes a real corporate welfare scramble.”

This is part of a pattern: Trump campaigns like a populist but, for the most part, governs like a plutocrat.

Church of the Highlands, Alabama’s largest megachurch, hosted drive-through coronavirus testing at one of its parking lots in Birmingham on March 17. (Church of the Highlands)

Companies are playing a central role in shaping the government response. Consider the special group of private industry representatives that Jared Kushner has enlisted in what’s being likened to a shadow coronavirus response task force. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser has added another layer of confusion and conflicting signals within the White House’s disjointed response to the crisis, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report: “Kushner, who joined the administration’s coronavirus efforts last week, is primarily focused on attempting to set up drive-through testing sites with the help of technology and retail executives, as well as experts in health-care delivery. … Kushner regularly briefs the president separately from the rest of the task force … Some members of Kushner’s team are working out of offices on the seventh floor of Health and Human Services headquarters — one floor above the office of HHS secretary Alex Azar — while others are working out of an office in the West Wing of the White House … They include representatives of companies such as UPS, FedEx and Flatiron Health … 

Two senior officials said some government officials have become increasingly confused as they have received emails from private industry employees on Kushner’s team and have been on conference calls with them, unsure what their exact role is in the government response. Several people involved in the response said the involvement of outside advisers — who are emailing large groups of government employees from private email addresses — also raises legitimate security concerns about whether these advisers are following proper government protocols. ‘We don’t know who these people are,’ one senior official said. ‘Who is this? We’re all getting these emails.’ … 

“Kushner defended his role in an interview, saying his team’s goal was to bring ‘an entrepreneurial approach’ to the crisis. … One potential conflict for Kushner is the fact that Oscar, a health insurance company co-founded by Kushner’s younger brother, Joshua, last week launched its own digital portal that helps direct people to virus testing centers and assess their own risk of becoming infected. A spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment, including about whether Oscar plans to seek a government contract.”

To be sure, there are good reasons for the government to spend heavily to avert a depression. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 1,339 points on Wednesday, or 6.3 percent, after plunging 2,300 points earlier in the day. It opened on Thursday down more than 150 points. Most of the equity gains seen during Trump’s presidency have evaporated. No sector has been spared. “The lamps are going out all across the economy,” JP Morgan Chase says in a report that forecasts a 14 percent decline in gross domestic product in the second quarter.

The Federal Reserve announced at 11:30 last night that it’s establishing a special backstop for money market mutual funds, which typically serve as risk-free places for investors to store cash. This morning, the Fed announced more “swap lines” with other central banks around the world to ensure they have sufficient U.S. dollars.

“More than a million workers are expected to lose their jobs by the end of March, economists say, a dramatic turnaround from February when the unemployment rate was near a record low,” Heather Long and Abha Bhattarai report. “Ball State University economist Michael Hicks predicts this month could be the worst for layoffs in U.S. history. … The Labor Department reported Thursday that 281,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week, up 33 percent from the prior week.”

But perhaps that’s a reason why Republicans, who think of themselves as fiscally responsible, should have listened to the experts and the Congressional Budget Office projections when they voted for the tax cuts. Only eight Republican senators voted yesterday against the $100 billion package, mostly citing concerns about its largesse: Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), James Inhofe and James Lankford (Okla.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Tim Scott (S.C.). “My counsel to them is to gag and vote for it anyway, even if they think it has some shortcomings, and to address those shortcomings in the bill that we’re in the process of crafting,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday.

Fear is a motivating factor for many. For the past three years, GOP lawmakers have often fallen in line because they’re afraid of Trump’s wrath. Now they’re afraid of the economy collapsing and worst-case scenarios that show millions of Americans dying. Last night, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ben McAdams (D-Utah) became the first members of Congress to announce that they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus, which adds to the sense of anxiety.

A few other GOP senators, including Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Rick Scott (Fla.), have warned that they don’t think the trillion-dollar package being negotiated, being referred to as Phase Three, should include bailouts for big businesses. “The people that need help the most are small businesses, hourly workers, people who rely on tips, and gig economy workers like Uber and Lyft drivers,” said Scott. “The federal government should be a safety net for those who need it most. But even in times of crisis, we can’t forget about fiscal responsibility. … The proposals being debated in Congress right now include giveaways to big corporations, mandates that will shut down small businesses, and policies that I fear won’t help the people that need it most.”

The latest on the coronavirus response and fallout

Trump’s ban on fetal tissue research is undermining scientific efforts to combat the virus.

“A senior scientist at a government biomedical research laboratory has been thwarted in his efforts to conduct experiments on possible treatments for the new coronavirus because of the Trump administration’s restrictions on research with human fetal tissue,” Amy Goldstein reports. “The scientist, Kim Hasenkrug, an immunologist at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, has been appealing for nearly a month to top NIH officials, arguing that the pandemic warrants an exemption to a ban imposed last year prohibiting government researchers from using tissue from abortions in their work. According to several researchers familiar with the situation, … such experiments could be particularly fruitful. 

Just months ago, before the new coronavirus began to infect people around the world, other U.S. scientists made two highly relevant discoveries. They found that specialized mice could be transplanted with human fetal tissue that develops into lungs — the part of the body the new coronavirus invades. These ‘humanized mice,’ they also found, could then be infected with coronaviruses — to which ordinary mice are not susceptible — closely related to the one that causes the new disease, covid-19. Outside researchers said the scientists who created those mice have offered to give them to the Rocky Mountain Lab, which has access to the new virus that causes covid-19, so the mice could be infected with the source of the pandemic and experiments could be run on potential treatments. Candidates include an existing drug known to boost patients’ immune systems in other circumstances, as well as blood serum from patients recovering from covid-19. …

“Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes NIH, said, ‘no decision has been made’ about Rocky Mountain’s request. … Hasenkrug has been forbidden by federal officials to talk publicly since the administration began to reconsider fetal tissue funding rules in the fall of 2018 at the prodding of social conservatives … The fetal tissue is donated by women undergoing elective abortions, and critics say that it is unethical to use the material and that taxpayer money should not be used for research that relies on abortion.” 

Irving Weissman, a leading stem cell researcher at Stanford University, said “it’s stupid not to try” this approach, even if we don’t know what it will yield. “When I hear the vice president saying [they’re] doing everything they can to find vaccines [and treatments], I know that is not true,” another scientist familiar with the situation told Amy. “Anything we do at this point could save hundreds of thousands of lives. If you wait, it’s too late.”

More lifesaving ventilators are available, but hospitals can’t afford them. 

“Hospitals are holding back from ordering more medical ventilators because of the high cost for what may be only a short-term spike in demand from the coronavirus epidemic, supply chain experts and health researchers say, intensifying an anticipated shortage of lifesaving equipment for patients who become critically ill,” Chris Rowland reports. “Mechanical ventilators, which help patients breathe or breathe for them, are considered critical to the nation’s effort to contain the worst effects of the pandemic and avoid a crisis like the one Italy is facing. Depending on how bad the coronavirus pandemic gets in the United States, individual cities could come up thousands of ventilators short as patients flood hospitals. … Ventilators range from $25,000 for a basic model to $50,000 for a machine used in the most advanced intensive care units. … 

Other governments have rushed to stock up on ventilators. The United Kingdom has asked Rolls-Royce Holdings, which makes jet engines, and other heavy manufacturers to make ventilators. Germany ordered 10,000 ventilators with Dragerwerk AG, … the company’s largest order ever. In the United States, Trump told state officials on a conference call that states and local governments should procure their own equipment. ‘Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,’ Trump told the governors … The Trump administration has barely begun to release up to 13,000 older ventilator models cached around the country in the federal Strategic National Stockpile, saying state officials have not requested them.”

Shortages of face masks, swabs and other basic supplies pose a challenge to testing. 

“At major hospitals in Seattle and Washington, D.C., mask shortages had already become so acute that doctors and patients were being asked to reuse the masks, not dispose of them as previous, traditional CDC protocol requires, even after contact with infected patients," Carolyn Johnson, Brady Dennis, Steven Mufson and Tom Hamburger. "Many laboratories have complained about shortages and back orders of reagents, chemical solutions that are key components of testing kits. The reagents are used to isolate the genetic material from the virus.” The president said he will invoke the Defense Production Act to expand production of medical supplies. 

What else the federal government is doing 
  • ICE will stop most immigration enforcement inside the U.S. (Maria Sacchetti and Arelis Hernández)
  • The White House instructed federal agencies to pare down to “mission-critical” services. It was unclear how quickly and to what degree agencies would curtail services in response. The Census Bureau announced it is suspending all field operations for two weeks until April 1. (Lisa Rein, Kimberly Kindy and Eric Yoder)
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development ordered a 60-day foreclosure moratorium for homeowners affected by the coronavirus. (Renae Merle and Tracy Jan)
  • Trump said a Navy ship would treat coronavirus cases in New York, but it won’t be ready for weeks as it undergoes maintenance in Norfolk, Va. (CNBC)
At a March 18 briefing with the joint staff surgeon, a Pentagon official said that the Comfort hospital ship is still undergoing maintenance in Norfolk, Va. (The Washington Post)
Young adults make up a surprising share of coronavirus hospitalizations. 

A CDC report shows that, while older people have the greatest likelihood of dying, of the 508 patients known to have been hospitalized in the United States, 38 percent were between the ages of 20 and 54. Nearly half of the 121 patients who were admitted to intensive care units were adults under 65. The CDC says 20 percent of hospitalized patients and 12 percent of the intensive care patients were between the ages of 20 and 44, according to the Times

Doctors and nurses fighting the pandemic fear infecting their families. 

“As physicians contend with a burgeoning angst that, for some, has begun to manifest in nightmares, many of them have drawn up wills or placed themselves into makeshift quarantines, sleeping in hotel rooms, garages and basements in hopes that they will not infect their families," John Woodrow Cox, Michael Miller and Peter Jamison report.

Domestic disruptions continue to cascade.
  • Amazon confirmed its first case in a New York warehouse employee. It's probably a smart idea to disinfect any deliveries before bringing them inside your home. (Teo Armus)
  • All of Georgia’s state lawmakers have been urged to self-isolate themselves for weeks after a state senator disclosed that he tested positive. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
  • Restaurant workers face uncertain futures with looming rent payments and plenty of worry. (Emily Heil)
  • Automakers temporarily shut down factories to slow the virus’s spread. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler will halt production in all North American factories for at least two weeks, per Aaron Gregg. Volkswagen Group, the world’s largest carmaker, suspended production in Europe, per Rachel Siegel.
  • The San Francisco Bay Area ordered millions to shelter in place. Elon Musk had his Tesla employees report to work anyway. County officials told the company it could maintain “minimum basic operations.” (Faiz Siddiqui)
  • The New York Stock Exchange will close its floor and move to electronic trading after two floor traders tested positive. (CNBC)
  • In Florida, police have closed a number of popular beaches after thousands continue flocking to them despite warnings. (CBS)
  • More than 100 people tested positive for the virus in two New York City neighborhoods, with officials expressing growing alarm that coronavirus is spreading quickly in tightly knit Hasidic Jewish communities in Brooklyn. (NYT)
  • The effort to develop contingencies for voting in upcoming primaries took on new urgency as the three contests that unfolded on Tuesday showcased what experts described as unprecedented challenges. (Isaac Stanley-Becker and Amy Gardner)
  • For Biden and Sanders, campaigning during the virus is going to be awkward. “Crowds don’t roar when a live-streamed speech is finished. Throngs don’t collapse around stage, hoping for a handshake. Instead, candidates are left to wait, solemn and straight-faced, until a staffer signals the all-clear or beckons them out of the camera shot,” writes Chelsea Janes.
  • Twitter promised to crack down on coronavirus misinformation. Examples of tweets that will now be deleted include: denials of expert guidance, promotion of actively harmful treatments and remedies that are ineffective, as well as unverified claims that spawn mass panic, such as a false statement that food shipments will end for two months. (Hannah Knowles)
  • Experts worry quarantine conditions could be rife for a rise in domestic violence. On top of physical isolation, compounding economic problems and the overall stress of the pandemic are potential triggers for domestic abusers. (Miriam Berger)
Kids are carriers, and grandparents are vulnerable. Parents must make wrenching choices. 

"Against the backdrop of a crashing stock market and emptying grocery store shelves, there are other, intangible losses being calculated by parents: Should a long-anticipated visit be postponed? A family vacation canceled? What to do about upended daily routines, the loss of help with child care, the sudden absence of grandparents whom children have come to depend on?" (Caitlin Gibson)

Note: The virus has ravaged seven members of a family, killing three.

“Grace Fusco — mother of 11, grandmother of 27 — would sit in the same pew at church each Sunday, surrounded by nearly a dozen members of her sprawling Italian-American family. Sunday dinners drew an even larger crowd to her home in central New Jersey,” the NYT reports. “Now, her close-knit clan is united anew by unspeakable grief: Mrs. Fusco, 73, died on Wednesday night after contracting the coronavirus — hours after her son died from the virus and five days after her daughter’s death, a relative said. Four other children who contracted coronavirus remain hospitalized, three of them in critical condition, the relative, Roseann Paradiso Fodera, said.”

Maryland confirmed its first covid-19 fatality, a man in his 60s who had no underlying health issues. 

The Washington region’s total number of confirmed cases grew to 203 on Wednesday, per our live blog.

  • As many as 73 D.C. firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians have self-quarantined after they were potentially exposed to the virus. (Peter Hermann)
  • The Metro, facing a deficit of more than $50 million a month due to the virus, is seeking emergency federal aid. (Justin George)
  • Headline of the day: “Baltimore Mayor Begs Residents To Stop Shooting Each Other So Hospital Beds Can Be Used For Coronavirus Patients.” (WJZ)
  • That's a reminder of a sad reality: The wealthy always do better during a pandemic. It's been this way throughout history. The poor are exposed at greater rates, get sicker because often they aren’t as healthy to begin with and then have higher mortality rates. (Roxanne Roberts)

Quote of the day

“Getting coronavirus is not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population . . . probably far less,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in an interview with his home-state newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways.”

Bruno Bruins, the Dutch health-care minister, collapsed on March 18 during a debate about the government's efforts to tackle covid-19 in the Hague. (Tweede Kamer via Storyful)
The global disruptions continue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the coronavirus presents the gravest crisis to that country since World War II. The country has more than 8,200 cases, and infections are growing exponentially, Loveday Morris, Luisa Beck and Rick Noack report. More from our foreign coverage:

  • In Italy, the death toll surged by 475 to 2,978 – the highest daily rise yet recorded anywhere in the world. Around 40,000 people have been charged for violating terms of the lockdown in the country. (Siobhán O’Grady
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to close all schools in England, as the U.K. death toll hits 104. Infections rose by 676 to 2,626 in 24 hours.
  • The Dutch health care minister collapsed during a debate in the Hague about the government's efforts to counter covid-19.
  • Spain ordered all hotels to close. Cases surged 25 percent there in 24 hours, rising from 13,716 to 17,147 and deaths increased from 598 to 787. (Rick Noack)
  • Hundreds of Americans stuck in Morocco are pleading with Washington for help getting out. Morocco, which hosts around 12 million tourists yearly, ordered hotels, restaurants and entertainment centers to close on Monday. The country has 37 cases and one related death. (Miriam Berger and Siobhán O’Grady)
  • What counts as “essential” during a lockdown? For Belgians, it's fries. For the French, it's wine. (Quentin Ariés and Michael Birnbaum)
  • Australia and New Zealand banned entry to non-citizens and non-residents. (Teo Armus)
  • A 41-year-old diabetic man became the first coronavirus death in Mexico. (Bloomberg News)
  • El Salvador, which has closed its borders and airport, confirmed its first infection. (Reuters)
  • Millions of protesters in Brazil appeared at their windows banging pots and pans calling for President Jair Bolsonaro to step down. It was the biggest protest against Bolsonaro’s government to date, which is dealing with over 500 cases of the virus. (BBC)
Afghanistan is stuck with a divided government, a Taliban insurgency and a spreading virus. 

“Over the past several days, with 22 cases of the coronavirus confirmed nationwide, the impact of the pandemic has begun to hit home. Now, the divided government and its desperately poor health system must grapple with a crisis that is bringing life to a halt in the West — and it must do so while contending with a militant group vying for power across half of the country.” Pamela Constable reports

U.S. sanctions have hindered the Iranian government’s response.

“The death toll in Iran from covid-19 infections surged past 1,000 on Wednesday after the largest single-day rise in the number of deaths since Iran’s outbreak began,” Adam Taylor reports. “Deutsche Welle reported this week that researchers at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran created a computer simulator to analyze scenarios. Under current circumstances, the researchers said, infections would not peak until late May. The death toll could be as high as 3.5 million. That figure might seem enough to stop anyone in their tracks. But this week, the United States announced that it would be expanding its sanctions on Iran, as well as on entities that aided the Iranian government in its trade in petrochemicals and other restricted activities. … The Guardian reported on Wednesday that Britain was privately pressing the United States to ease sanctions on Iran amid the crisis.”

Light at the end of the tunnel?

“China on Thursday said that there had been no cases of domestic coronavirus infections in the country the previous day, for the first time since the outbreak began,” Anna Fifield and Teo Armus report. “All 34 infections diagnosed on Wednesday were in people arriving into China from abroad, the National Health Commission said. It was a significant milestone for the country, where the virus was first reported in mid-November. Among the 34 imported infections, 21 were found in Beijing, where authorities are imposing strict new quarantine rules to try to stop a new outbreak in the sensitive capital, the seat of the Communist Party power. … Still, some experts have warned that based on the patterns of previous pandemics, China could face further waves of infections.” 

But, but, but: China’s initial attempt to cover up the virus made the spread worse.

“Chinese laboratories identified a mystery virus as a highly infectious new pathogen by late December last year, but they were ordered to stop tests, destroy samples and suppress the news,” the Times of London reports. “A regional health official in Wuhan … demanded the destruction of the lab samples that established the cause of unexplained viral pneumonia on January 1. China did not acknowledge there was human-to-human transmission until more than three weeks later. The detailed revelations by Caixin Global, a respected independent publication, provide the clearest evidence yet of the scale of the cover-up in the crucial early weeks when the opportunity was lost to control the outbreak. Censors have been rapidly deleting the report from the Chinese internet.” 

There are lessons the U.S. should heed from other Asian countries. 

“Political will, dedicated resources, sophisticated tracking and a responsible population have kept coronavirus infections and deaths in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore relatively low,” Shibani Mahtani and Simon Denyer report. “South Korea, with more deaths, has led the way in widespread testing. … Experts are urging countries including the United States, France and Spain to use time bought by newly enforced social-distancing measures, lockdowns and quarantines to reset and work out their strategies before it is too late.”

Climate change is still happening

Greenland lost a near-record 600 billion tons of ice last summer. 

The mass loss from Greenland alone was enough to raise global sea levels by 2.2 millimeters, according to a new study based on NASA data. “Between 2002 and 2019, across the full time series of both satellite missions, the study finds Greenland lost 4,550 billion tons of ice, or an average of about 261 billion tons per year,” Andrew Freedman reports

Oil and gas companies want to drill within a half-mile of some of Utah’s best-known national parks. 

“The petitions for the Bureau of Land Management’s September lease sale, some of which come from anonymous potential bidders, could transform a region renowned for its pristine night skies and stunning topography. Some of the parcels are also within 10 miles of Bears Ears National Monument’s current boundaries. … While the BLM can reject nominations as it prepares lease sales for auction in September, Trump administration policy tilts decisions in favor of energy development,” Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears report

A 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck Salt Lake City. 

“The earthquake struck around 7 a.m., its epicenter located about four miles west-southwest of Salt Lake City International Airport. Heavy shaking was felt across north-central Utah west of the Wasatch mountains. There were no reports of any serious injuries, though many people were evacuated from the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for all inbound flights for several hours,” Matthew Cappucci reports. “Within three hours of the initial quake, nearly two dozen aftershocks greater than 3.0 in magnitude struck in the immediate vicinity. … The earthquake was shallow, occurring only about six or seven miles below the surface, which may have maximized shaking at the surface. According to Utah’s Division of Emergency Management, it was the strongest earthquake to strike the state since 1992.”

Social media speed read

Trump has started more frequently referring to the coronavirus as Chinese:

In Israel, a chief rabbi ruled that religiously observant Jews can have access to their phones during Shabbat because of the virus:

And Tuesday's primaries raised more questions about why Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is still in the race:

Videos of the day

Trevor Noah gave a social distancing show: 

Jimmy Kimmel offered what he called “a quarantine minilogue”:

Stephen Colbert addressed fans from the firepit at his house:

Police officers in the Kerala state of India showed off a dance routine to remind citizens of proper hygiene during the pandemic:

Kerala State Police released a video on Facebook March 17 showing off a dance routine to remind citizens on proper hygiene during the coronavirus pandemic. (Kerala State Police)