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President Trump has signed into law a bill to ensure paid leave benefits to many Americans, part of a broader aid package to fight the effects of the pandemic. The legislation also promises free coronavirus testing to anyone who needs it, including the uninsured; increases health funding around the country; and supports nutrition programs such as the food stamp system.

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. 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.

Two members of Congress, Reps. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), said Wednesday they had tested positive for coronavirus.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Italy’s coronavirus death toll increased by 475 on Wednesday, the largest daily increase recorded in any country.
  • New York state has more confirmed cases than all but 10 countries in the world.
  • The White House coronavirus plan aims to send $2,000 to many Americans, includes $300 billion for small businesses, as markets continue to drop. The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to ensure paid leave benefits to many Americans as coronavirus upends the labor market. It will now go to Trump for enactment.
  • The U.S. Air Force’s National Guard unit has transported 500,000 nasopharyngeal swabs for coronavirus tests from Italy to Memphis, Pentagon officials said.
  • Confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus have topped 200,000 worldwide, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
March 19, 2020 at 11:08 AM EDT
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Amazon confirms first case in N.Y. warehouse employee

By Teo Armus

An Amazon warehouse employee has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Atlantic, raising concerns about package delivery as millions of people quarantined inside their homes rely on the tech giant to receive basic goods.

Rena Lunak, a spokesperson for Amazon, confirmed to the magazine late Wednesday that someone who works at the company’s facility in Queens had tested positive for the rapidly spreading virus. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“We are supporting the individual who is now in quarantine,” another Amazon spokesperson later told The Post. “In addition to our enhanced daily deep cleaning, we’ve temporarily closed the Queens delivery station for additional sanitation and have sent associates home with full pay.”

The spokesperson added that the company has increased cleaning at its facilities, established social distance between workers and increased space between drivers and customers when making deliveries.

Two office workers at the company’s Seattle headquarters previously tested positive for the virus, but the Queens employee is the first confirmed case among Amazon’s hourly warehouse workers, who make up the bulk of its workforce.

Jonathan Bailey, an employee who sorts packages at the Queens facility, told the Atlantic management had not notified workers about the test result and that some believed they were still expected to work at the warehouse — a claim Amazon disputed.

March 18, 2020 at 10:18 PM EDT
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Twitter cracks down on coronavirus misinformation

By Hannah Knowles

Twitter is cracking down on coronavirus content that contradicts health authorities, as several tech giants try to combat misinformation about the pandemic.

The social media platform will work with “trusted partners” such as governments and “public health authorities” to review information, it said in a Wednesday blog post. Facebook, which said back in January that it would remove dangerous claims about the virus, also on Wednesday announced a coronavirus news and resources portal for its billions of users.

Examples of tweets that will now be deleted, as outlined in the blog post, include: denials of expert guidance, such as the declaration that “social distancing is not effective”; promotion of actively harmful coronavirus treatments and remedies that are ineffective; unverified claims that spawn mass panic, such as a false statement that food shipments will end for two months.

Twitter said it is also creating a “global content severity triage system” — prioritizing the violations it addresses first by the harm they present. The company says it’s trying to reduce users’ burden to report problematic content.

The tactics against virus misinformation could evolve, Twitter says.

“As we’ve said on many occasions, our approach to protecting the public conversation is never static,” the company wrote. “That’s particularly relevant in these unprecedented times.”

March 18, 2020 at 9:57 PM EDT
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China reports zero domestic infections for the first time since coronavirus outbreak began

By Anna Fifield and Teo Armus

China on Thursday said there had been no cases of domestic coronavirus infections in the country the previous day, for the first time since the outbreak began.

All 34 infections diagnosed on Wednesday were in people arriving into China from abroad, the National Health Commission said, in another sign the impact of the outbreak appears to be waning.

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.

The new infections bring the total number of cases in China to more than 80,900, including upward of 3,200 deaths, Chinese health officials said. Eight deaths were reported in the past 24 hours.

Earlier this week, China said it had fewer cases of the virus than the rest of the world, for the first time since the outbreak was detected.

Still, some experts have warned that based on the patterns of previous pandemics, China could face further waves of infections.

March 18, 2020 at 9:31 PM EDT
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Trump signs into law coronavirus aid bill to ensure paid sick leave

By Hannah Knowles and Heather Long

President Trump has signed into law a bill to ensure paid leave benefits to many Americans as the coronavirus upends the labor market, part of a broader aid package to fight the pandemic.

The legislation also promises free coronavirus testing to anyone who needs it, including the uninsured; increases health funding around the country; and supports nutrition programs such as the food stamp system.

It went to Trump, who had already expressed his support, after passing the Senate on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had urged reluctant fellow Republicans to “gag and vote for it anyway," tweeted shortly after the 90-8 Senate vote that legislators are “already working on additional bigger and bolder legislation to combat this crisis."

“The House and Senate are already hard at work on the third bill in the House’s Families First agenda, which will take bold, historic action on behalf of America’s workers and families,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) echoed in a statement Wednesday.

About a quarter of U.S. workers currently get no paid sick leave at all. Many are low-wage workers who live paycheck to paycheck. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which overwhelmingly passed the House on Saturday, aims to give paid leave to workers who did not have it and extend paid leave for workers who got only a few days. These benefits are not forever. They would apply only to workers stuck at home because of the coronavirus.

The measure will grant two weeks of paid sick leave at 100 percent of the person’s normal pay, up to $511 per day. It also will provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave at 67 percent of the person’s normal pay, up to $200 per day.

After the House passed the bill, it was changed to allow more companies to get out of the two weeks’ paid sick leave requirement and limit eligibility for the 12 weeks of paid family leave.

March 18, 2020 at 9:18 PM EDT
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Police in India choreograph a dance for hand-washing

By Ruby Mellen

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, experts say maintaining good hygiene is one of the best ways to be safe and healthy.

That includes washing your hands, a sentiment the official state police of Kerala in southern India decided to spread Tuesday in a fun choreographed dance video.

“Let’s put everything to work, including humour,” wrote the state’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, in a tweet that included the video.

The video depicts masked uniformed police personnel scrubbing their hands in a synchronized fashion as they sway back and forth to an uplifting Bollywood song.

“Let’s all work together. No panic, be alert. Kerala police with you,” the Kerala police office wrote on Facebook.

India has reported more than 150 confirmed cases of covid-19 and three deaths.

In the video, which has received more than 1 million views, text appeared with specific instructions on how to wash hands properly. “Soap the back of your hands,” it says. “Wash up to your wrist.”

March 18, 2020 at 8:47 PM EDT
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Second congressman tests positive for coronavirus

By Michael Brice-Saddler

Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) has tested positive for the coronavirus, he confirmed in a statement late Wednesday. He was the second member of Congress to announce a positive test.

McAdams said he developed “mild cold-like symptoms” after returning home from Washington on Saturday evening. He immediately went in isolation, where his symptoms — including a “fever, a dry cough and labored breathing” — got worse. A local testing clinic confirmed the symptoms were a result of covid-19.

“I am still working for Utahns and pursuing efforts to get Utahns the resources they need as I continue doing my job from home until I know it is safe to end my self-quarantine,” McAdams wrote. “I’m doing my part as all Americans are doing to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate the coronavirus outbreak.”

Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said he had tested positive for the coronavirus and also began feeling symptoms Saturday. In his statement, McAdams urged his constituents to take the coronavirus serious and follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC.

March 18, 2020 at 8:30 PM EDT
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More than 8 million Californians are living under a shelter-in-place order

By Samantha Pell

More than 8 million people living in California are being ordered to shelter in place as authorities continue to try to curb the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Wednesday, following the lead of 10 other California counties in the San Francisco Bay area and Central California, residents in Yolo and Napa counties joined San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sonoma, San Benito, Monterey, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Santa Cruz as the latest California counties requiring residents to stay home.

Approximately 20 percent of the state’s population is now under one of the orders, which direct everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as they can, except in the case of essential functions, like shopping for groceries and visits to the doctor, among other things.

Yolo’s shelter-in-place order will start Thursday and last through at least April 7. Businesses not defined as essential must also temporarily close. Napa’s order will go into effect on Friday and last through at least April 8.

The orders originated when six Bay Area counties, plus Santa Cruz County, ordered residents to stay home whenever possible, starting on Tuesday, before the order started to spread across varying counties. Solano is the last Bay Area county that has not issued an order.

Asking people to stay home except in the case of essential functions has been among the most drastic measures being taken across the country, as the number of cases continue to rise in California. Authorities in Southern Californian counties have not directed any shelter-in-place orders but have instead implemented sweeping restrictions.

In Ventura County, health officials announced Tuesday there would be a shelter-in-place order that applies only to older residents. The city of Fresno also announced Wednesday it would be asking residents to do the same. The Fresno order goes into effect on Thursday and will last through the end of the month.

March 18, 2020 at 8:15 PM EDT
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CDC report: Staff who worked with symptoms, limited resources helped virus’s deadly spread at Washington nursing home

By Hannah Knowles

More than half of Washington state’s coronavirus deaths to date have struck a single Seattle-area nursing home, a testament to the virus’s threat to the already-frail elderly. A new government report captures the devastation at Life Care Center of Kirkland in grim numbers and sheds light on what went wrong.

By March 9, the virus had also spread to at least eight other nursing and assisted living centers in King County, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paper released Wednesday. Staff members who continued working while they had symptoms and who worked in multiple facilities helped the outbreak’s deadly progress, the report states.

So did short supplies of personal protective gear and items such as hand sanitizer; lack of familiarity with standards; limited testing; and “difficulty identifying persons with COVID-19 based on signs and symptoms alone,” investigators write.

The report does not name the facility, but a spokesman for Life Care Center of Kirkland, Timothy Killian, confirmed to The Post that it refers to their nursing home.

Killian said staff have been working closely with the CDC on the analysis and now meet all the standards the agency urges. He said there was no policy encouraging employees to keep working while sick and emphasized that some symptoms popped up quickly, while people were on the job. The Kirkland center is not aware of staff who went on to work at other facilities, he said.

“This is a completely unprecedented situation,” Killian said, saying that staff “had to learn on the fly” without the guidelines now offered and struggled to get crucial testing resources.

“If there is some good that can come out of our experience, we’re grateful that the CDC has been able to publish this report,” he added.

The authors of the report advise long-term care centers to be “proactive” about identifying staff and visitors who may be infected and keeping them away, including by halting visits outside “compassionate care situations.” Centers should try to spot covid-19 patients as early as possible, they say.

Investigators found 129 covid-19 cases linked to the facility: 81 residents, 34 staff and 14 visitors, according to the CDC report, which covers the period from Feb. 27 to March 9. The death toll has already climbed by a dozen since then, to 35, according to state health authorities.

As of March 9, afflicted residents at the nursing home averaged 81 years old and had a death rate of about 27 percent. Visitors averaged about 63 years old and had a much lower fatality rate of 7 percent, while no staff members — who tended to be younger — had died.

March 18, 2020 at 8:09 PM EDT
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Small businesses worry they’ll run out of cash before emergency federal loans come through

By Jeanne Whalen

Some entrepreneurs hurt by the coronavirus shutdown say they’re facing delays in tapping emergency loans from the Small Business Administration, even as the White House calls for billions more in funding for small businesses.

The SBA announced a coronavirus disaster loan program last Thursday, offering up to $2 million per business to help small firms overcome lost revenue.

SBA cautioned at the time that each state must seek and receive a disaster declaration from the SBA before the agency can start lending. Entrepreneurs in Indiana, New York and Tennessee told The Post that that process, required by law, is holding things up.

A few days’ delay wouldn’t matter to a large corporation but can make or break a small business, they said.

“People are still taking bills out of my account and I don’t have money coming in,” said Jason Smith, who employs seven people at M&M Car Care Center in Merrillville, Ind. “It’s going to get tight really quick.”

Smith said his wife called the SBA on Monday and was on hold for an hour and 40 minutes before getting disconnected. Later that day he visited the SBA site and found Indiana hadn’t yet been granted the disaster zone status.

The SBA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. On Tuesday, the agency said it was easing the program requirements to enable states to receive emergency declarations faster.

Governors from Indiana and Tennessee announced Wednesday they had requested disaster declarations. New York didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration is now working with congressional Republicans on an emergency stimulus package that would devote an additional $300 billion toward helping small businesses avoid mass layoffs, The Post reported Wednesday.

Read more here.

March 18, 2020 at 8:06 PM EDT
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Facebook launches new tool to help provide coronavirus updates

By Elizabeth Dwoskin

Facebook on Wednesday announced a portal that aims to be a one-stop shop for its more than 2.5 billion users to find news and resources about the novel coronavirus, something it said was a step in an effort to combat falsehoods and provide accurate information in the face of a fast-moving pandemic.

The new coronavirus information center will roll out over the next 24 hours and will go at the top of users’ Facebook news feeds, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on a media call. He stressed that the most important service Facebook can provide right now is authoritative information — while removing hoaxes and other falsehoods that could cause immediate harm to public health.

“The top priority and focus for us has been making sure people can get access to good information and trusted sources during the pandemic,” he said.

Facebook and its other platforms, Instagram and WhatsApp, have struggled to police coronavirus-related misinformation since the outbreak began.

Read more here.

March 18, 2020 at 7:10 PM EDT
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First member of Congress tests positive for coronavirus

By Michael Brice-Saddler

Rep Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) on Wednesday said he tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first member of Congress to test positive for the virus.

According to a statement, Diaz-Balart said he decided to self-quarantine in Washington after votes on Friday, opting not to return to South Florida because his wife has preexisting health conditions “that put her at exceptionally high risk.” Diaz-Balart developed symptoms on Saturday and was recently notified that he has tested positive, according to the statement.

“I want everyone to know that I am feeling much better. However, it is important that everyone take this extremely seriously and follow CDC guidelines in order to avoid getting sick and mitigate the spread of this virus,” he wrote. “We must continue to work together to emerge stronger as a country during these trying times.”

March 18, 2020 at 6:57 PM EDT
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Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi permits use of phones during Sabbath

By Jesse Dougherty and Miriam Berger

The Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel ruled Wednesday that observant Jews can use their cellphones on Sabbath to receive developments and alerts regarding the coronavirus.

“There is no doubt that everyone who has been tested for coronavirus must leave a cell phone available on Shabbat in order to answer,” Yitzchok Yosef wrote in a letter. “If they see the phone call coming from the health care provider, then they can be updated on their condition and where they should go. And even if there is doubt that the call is from the health care provider, it must be answered.”

“Even those who haven’t been tested for coronavirus should leave a cellphone available,” Yosef continued, “so that if it is found that they were near a confirmed sick person and must go into isolation, they can be notified.”

The Orthodox denomination of Judaism is very strict about not allowing the use of electricity during the Sabbath, or Shabbat, which stretches sundown to sundown every Friday and Saturday. But the one exception to the electricity rule is Pikuach nefesh, or saving a life.

Yosef has decided that, amid the coronavirus outbreak, Pikuach nefesh applies to permit phones as a critical safety measure. Judaism does not have a universal spiritual leader — like Catholicism does with the pope — but a sector of Jews will look to Yosef for guidance.

In the letter, Yosef also calls for synagogues within hospitals to be closed, since they are often small spaces and people cannot stay two meters apart, as the country’s ministry of health has recommended.

March 18, 2020 at 6:38 PM EDT
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FDA suspends most domestic inspections of food, drug, device makers

By Laurie McGinley

The Food and Drug Administration on announced Wednesday it postponed until further notice most U.S. inspections of manufacturers of food, drugs, biologics, devices and other products, citing the safety of its employees and industry concerns about visitors.

Earlier this month, the agency postponed through April most inspections of foreign facilities.

The inspections in question are routine “surveillance” ones that are conducted every few years based on a risk analysis.

“For cause” inspections, which occur when the FDA is worried about a specific problem, will “be evaluated and will proceed if mission-critical,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

The agency also directed all eligible FDA employees to begin teleworking.

Hahn said the agency is evaluating additional ways to conduct inspections that won’t jeopardize public safety or will protect staff and the firms, including evaluating records in lieu of conducting on-site inspections.

March 18, 2020 at 6:30 PM EDT
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Trump administration’s ban on fetal tissue research is blocking some experiments on possible coronavirus treatments

By Amy Goldstein

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 aborted fetuses in their work.

According to several researchers familiar with the situation, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive internal dispute, 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. In addition, the Montana NIH site has a biosafety lab equipped with high-level protections for experiments with dangerous microbes.

“It isn’t clear if this added layer of urgent investigations will find more effective” treatments for people infected in the pandemic than other approaches being tried, said Irving Weissman, a leading stem cell researcher at Stanford University, “but it’s stupid not to try.”

Read more here.