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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday night unanimously passed a $2.2 trillion emergency relief package designed to flood the U.S. economy with money, as households and businesses continue to reel from the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The vote was 96-0. The measure now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on Friday. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said there would be a voice vote “to protect the safety of Members and staff and prevent further spread of COVID-19 through Members’ travel." Covid-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The bill would extend $1,200 to most American adults and $500 for most children, and create a $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities and states and a $367 billion employee retention fund for small businesses. It would direct $130 billion to hospitals and provide four months of unemployment insurance, among other things.

Lawmakers and the White House were bombarded with lobbyists and special interest groups seeking assistance during the negotiations, and the price tag rose from $850 billion to $2.2 trillion in just a matter of days.

Meanwhile, for the first time since the outbreak reached the United States, state health departments around the country reported more than 200 coronavirus-related deaths in a single day on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday evening, more than 900 people in the country had died from complications of the virus, according to tracking by The Washington Post. Upward of 13,000 new cases were reported since Tuesday, bringing the nationwide total to more than 67,000 cases.

Here are some other significant developments:

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that several major banks have agreed to delay mortgage payments for as long as three months for those affected by the outbreak.
  • In two interviews late Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed optimism about the Senate’s $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, but criticized Republican lawmakers who opposed its expanded unemployment benefits.
  • The national death toll in Spain surpassed 3,400, making it the world’s hardest-hit country after Italy.
  • More than 435,000 people around the world have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But it is not mutating significantly as it circulates through the human population, according to scientists who are closely studying the pathogen’s genetic code. That relative stability is encouraging news for researchers hoping to create a long-lasting vaccine.
3:58 a.m.
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Senate approves $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill after landmark agreement with White House

The Senate on Wednesday night unanimously passed a $2.2 trillion emergency relief package that was designed to flood the U.S. economy with money, as households and businesses continue to reel from the coronavirus outbreak.

The vote was passed 96 to 0. The measure now heads to the House, which is expected to vote on Friday. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the vote would be a voice vote “to protect the safety of Members and staff and prevent further spread of COVID-19 through Members’ travel.”

The bill would extend $1,200 to most American adults and $500 for most children, create a $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities and states, and a $367 billion employee retention fund for small businesses. It would direct $130 billion to hospitals and provide four months of unemployment insurance, among other things.

Lawmakers and the White House were bombarded with lobbyists and special-interest groups seeking assistance during the negotiations, and the price tag rose from $850 billion to $2.2 trillion in just a matter of days.

Read more here.

3:08 a.m.
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Mississippi governor allows many stores to remain open, causing uncertainty for some mayors

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) issued unusually lax guidelines on social distancing Wednesday, a move that, according to some, could override local governments from shutting down many businesses.

In an executive order signed Wednesday afternoon, Reeves limited gatherings of more than 10 people and told residents to avoid visiting hospitals and other health facilities.

But his order also appeared to declare that many Mississippi businesses are “essential” and would not be shut down under the state’s social-distancing requirements.

As written, Reeves’s directive appeared to supersede any conflicting orders by mayors, some of whom have issued far more sweeping restrictions. Late Wednesday, those officials were scrambling to receive clarity on the order, according to Mississippi Today.

The Jackson Free Press reported that Reeves’s statewide order excludes both “hygiene and fitness providers” and “non-food service entertainment venues.” These two categories include stores and services that have been shut down in most other parts of the country: salons, gyms, massage parlors, movie theaters, bookstores and some clothing outlets.

“The uninterrupted delivery of essential services and functions is vital to infrastructure viability … and is crucial to community resilience,” the order said, “even as the nation limits human interaction and engages in social distancing.”

Still, mayors in the cities of Oxford, Tupelo and Vicksburg told Mississippi Today that they believed the governor’s order allowed them to continue defining “essential services and functions” much more strictly than at the state level.

“This establishes statewide parameters that local leaders on the front lines can build on to make decisions that are in the best interest of their communities,” a spokeswoman for Reeves said in a statement to the online news site.

2:06 a.m.
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Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman says he turned $27 million into $2.6 billion during coronavirus crisis

While markets plummeted amid coronavirus fears, billionaire investor and hedge fund manager Bill Ackman said his clients cashed out.

His firm generated $2.6 billion in proceeds, compared to $27 million in premiums and commissions initially paid, from hedging against the economy, he wrote to investors in a letter on Wednesday.

“That’s about the most bullish thing we’ve done,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “We are all long. No shorts, you know, betting on the country.”

Now, Ackman said he is “encouraged” by the federal response, and as of Monday, he bet on recovery. This is despite Ackman writing to investors that he believes there should be a federally mandated nationwide shutdown over the next 30 days, as opposed to states locking down. He also said more antibody blood screening tests, in which his foundation has invested, should be offered.

“We became increasingly positive on equity and credit markets last week,” he wrote to investors, “and began the process of unwinding our hedges and redeploying our capital in companies we love at bargain prices that are built to withstand this crisis, and which we believe will flourish long term.”

1:40 a.m.
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Texas abortion providers file lawsuit against governor for stopping procedures

SAN ANTONIO — A group of Texas abortion providers filed an emergency federal lawsuit against the state after the attorney general declared that an emergency executive order halting elective surgeries and procedures included abortion services.

The Planned Parenthood Federation, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project said in a statement Tuesday that Gov. Greg Abbott (R) “inserted politics into what should be medical decisions” when he issued the order Sunday. The directive postpones elective surgeries that are not immediately medically necessary so as not to deplete limited health-care resources.

Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) issued a news release the day after interpreting the order to say that all types of abortion should cease and warning that violators would be prosecuted. Ohio’s top lawyer issued a similar decree, and Mississippi’s governor is also calling for an abortion ban during the pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed in Texas’s Western District, argues that medical experts have long considered abortion a necessary procedure that cannot be delayed without risking the life and health of the patient. Advocates say adding unnecessary barriers puts women — particularly vulnerable women of color — in more danger.

Texas abortion providers have been turning away patients since the order, scrambling to find appointments outside the state. But many women may run out of time, the lawsuit said, depriving them of constitutionally protected access to abortions.

“The last thing that Black women in Texas need to worry about is whether they can get the essential care they need during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center in Dallas, said in a statement. “This is a time when we should all be pulling together to fight this virus, not infusing political agendas to score points at the expense of women accessing necessary health services.”

1:36 a.m.
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Bernie Sanders says he supports Senate stimulus bill, though there is much he dislikes

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) updated supporters on the coronavirus legislation in the Senate, saying Wednesday evening that although the bill has problems, it will also help address the effects of the pandemic in important ways.

The package is “not the bill that I or I think anyone in the progressive community would have written. There is much in it that I dislike very much,” Sanders said in an address streamed live online by his campaign.

But he added that the country needed to “prepare for the worst,” and must understand the limits of what Democrats could accomplish given the power Republicans hold, a notable posture for a lawmaker long disinclined to compromise.

“Elections matter. Donald Trump is the president of the United States and Republicans do hold the majority in the U.S. Senate. And under that reality, I cannot imagine that there is any bill that could get through the Senate and the White House that fully represents the needs of working families,” he said.

He then ticked through many of what he sees as the helpful elements of the bill.

Keane Bhatt, a spokesman for Sanders, said earlier in the day that Sanders supports the bill in its current form. But Sanders has warned that he will try to stop Republicans if they follow through with proposed changes that he said would hurt workers.

Twice during his remarks, Sanders coughed into his hand, going against CDC guidance to cough into an elbow or sleeve.

The senator also encouraged Americans to reflect on the moment and the broader problems facing the country that have exacerbated the effects of the crisis. Among them, he said, is a lack of universal health care.

Sanders said he expected that the current measure would not be the last bill Congress brings forth to address the pandemic.

1:36 a.m.
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Two passengers from Grand Princess cruise ship die after getting virus

Two passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship that had cases of the coronavirus on board later died after contracting the virus, officials said Wednesday.

These appear to be the first known coronavirus-related deaths involving this voyage of the cruise ship, which ended up stalled off the California coast for days this month after infected passengers and crew were found aboard. After the ship docked, hundreds of Americans passengers were taken to U.S. military bases for 14-day quarantines, some of which began ending Monday.

Both passengers died “due to complications from the coronavirus,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which has overseen quarantining the travelers on the bases. HHS also said that more than 100 passengers who had been on the ship and went to bases wound up testing positive for the virus.

Read more here.

1:21 a.m.
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Pinkeye may be an early symptom of coronavirus, ophthalmologists warn

Red, itchy and teary eyes could be an early symptom of having the novel coronavirus, the American Academy of Ophthalmology cautioned eye doctors.

Patients with conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, who have other symptoms including fever and respiratory problems, could be infected with the coronavirus, according to an alert the professional medical association released Wednesday. Pinkeye is an inflammation of the thin, clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye.

The academy cited a recent study that found about 1 out of every 30 coronavirus patients in China reviewed had pinkeye.

A nurse at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., which has since been tied to 129 cases, told CNN she noticed the residents who became sick first developed red, puffy eyes beforehand.

Still, as spring’s allergy season kicks off, it’s worth remembering that itchy eyes might be symptomatic of the pollen rather than the pandemic.

1:19 a.m.
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Rep. Seth Moulton sick with respiratory illness; Reps. Katie Porter and Ayanna Pressley await test results

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) announced that he and his wife, Liz, will be self-quarantining after both became ill with symptoms associated with the coronavirus.

But unlike some in the Senate who were tested even though they had no symptoms, Moulton said he was told by the House’s attending physicians that he does not qualify for testing because his symptoms are relatively minor.

“People with symptoms should be tested, and the fact that tests are not available for Liz and me and far too many other Americans, a month after I wrote to the Vice President demanding more widespread testing, is a major failure of the Administration that I will continue fighting to fix,” Moulton wrote in a statement in which he described having a low-grade fever, sore throat, chest tightness and fatigue.

Moulton said it is likely he will miss votes on the coronavirus relief package when it is taken up in the House.

But he said he “will make very clear my position on those votes ahead of time, and I’ll continue fighting for health care workers who need PPE [personal protective equipment], for the unemployed who still need to put food on the table, for the sick who need respirators and access to care, and for small businesses who are the lifeblood of our economy.”

Two other Democratic House members were able to get tested and are awaiting results.

Rep. Katie Porter (Calif.) revealed on Twitter in the afternoon that she had fallen ill and developed a fever, so she received the coronavirus test and would be self-quarantined until she got results.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) missed a later press call with a liberal group regarding the relief package because she was waiting to take the test, her chief of staff told reporters.

“Today, I had to do what I would urge any of you to do if you’re experiencing flu like symptoms. I called my doctor and I’m actually sitting awaiting a covid-19 test at the moment,” said Pressley in a statement read by her Chief of Staff Sarah Groh. “We will be sure to keep you posted. I am acutely aware that I am lucky in this moment to get a test.”

12:42 a.m.
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Man who plotted to bomb hospital during coronavirus crisis was killed in confrontation with FBI

A man who plotted to bomb a Missouri hospital during the coronavirus crisis was killed during a shooting this week after he went to pick up what he thought was a vehicle rigged with explosives, not knowing he was doing so as the FBI looked on, federal authorities revealed Wednesday.

In a news release, the FBI said Timothy Wilson, 36, was the “subject of a months-long domestic terrorism investigation, which revealed him to be a potentially violent extremist, motived by racial, religious, and anti-government animus.” Authorities said in the release that Wilson had planned to commit a bombing and — because of the pandemic — “decided to accelerate his plan” to use a vehicle bomb to attack a hospital.

The FBI said Wilson “had taken the necessary steps to acquire materials needed to build an explosive device,” though it did not detail what those steps were. Wilson, it seemed, was under the watchful eye of law enforcement.

The FBI said in the release that its Joint Terrorism Task Force “kept close track of Wilson in order to protect public safety,” and authorities were apparently prepared to take him into custody when he came to pick up what he thought was a bomb-laden vehicle in Belton, Mo. The FBI said Wednesday that there “was no actual bomb” but declined to provide any other details.

The FBI described what happened next as an “agent-involved shooting” but declined to say whether Wilson was shot by an agent or someone else or whether he killed himself. The FBI said it would investigate the matter.

The FBI often investigates terrorism suspects using sting operations — setting them up with agents who pretend to be aiding their plots to glean intelligence. Efforts to reach Wilson’s family were not successful Wednesday night.

12:41 a.m.
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Two cruise ships with 30 sick on board will dock in Miami

Two Costa Cruises ships that have had confirmed coronavirus cases, the Favolosa and Magica, will dock in Miami on Thursday with 30 ill crew members on board, the company told the Miami Herald.

Six people tested positive after disembarking the Favolosa, and two cases stemmed from the Magica.

The ships were sailing in the Caribbean when the cruise industry halted voyages, the Herald reported. After passengers disembarked, authorities in Guadeloupe and Martinique wouldn’t let the ships stay, so they sailed aimlessly, being cast away by other Caribbean ports.

At least four American passengers on the Costa Luminosa have tested positive for coronavirus, and results for three of them came back while they were still in flight home, The Post previously reported.

On Monday, Costa, which is headquartered in Italy, announced it would extend its suspension through the end of April.

12:33 a.m.
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Department of Defense issues stop-movement order for nearly all personnel, affecting some deployments

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Wednesday ordered a 60-day stop movement order for nearly all department personnel and their sponsored family members overseas, a move he said was intended to mitigate the spread of covid-19.

Esper said about 90,000 service members scheduled to deploy or redeploy in the next 60 days will be impacted.

“Building upon previously enacted movement restrictions governing foreign travel, permanent change of station moves, temporary duty and personal leave, this stop movement order will also impact exercises, deployments, redeployments and other global force management activities,” Esper wrote.

Exceptions will be made in the cases of those who have already initiated travel, as well as travel by patients and medical providers to treat DOD personnel and their families, Esper said. Scheduled deployments and redeployments of U.S. Navy vessels and embarked units, if they are in transit for 14 days and meet restriction of movement requirements, are also an exception.

“Individuals whose TDY ends while this order is in effect are authorized to return to their home station,” he noted.

Esper said other exceptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis. He added that the order is not expected to impact the continued drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

12:21 a.m.
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U.S. reports more than 200 deaths in a single day for first time

For the first time since the outbreak reached the United States, state health departments around the country reported more than 200 coronavirus-related deaths in a single day on Wednesday.

More than 900 people in the country have died from complications of the virus as of Wednesday evening, according to tracking by The Washington Post. There were more than 13,000 new reported cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to over 67,000 cases.

New York is the hardest-hit state, reporting around 33,000 cases with 285 deaths. In a Wednesday evening news conference, Deborah Birx, the White House task force coordinator, said that 56 percent of all cases and also of new cases in the United States are originating in the New York City metro area.

11:35 p.m.
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Pelosi criticizes Republican lawmakers who are opposed to Senate stimulus bill

In two interviews late Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressed optimism about the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill announced by the Senate earlier in the day, noting that congressional Democrats were successfully able to rework the legislation in recent days to make it more favorable.

But despite that, she said, there were holdups.

One snag emerged when a handful of Republican senators Wednesday took issue with a proposed expansion in unemployment benefits, which would offer workers an extra $600 a week for four months, in addition to their benefits under state unemployment programs.

Four Republican senators on March 25 warned they would oppose fast-tracking the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill over a proposed expansion in unemployment benefits. (The Washington Post)

Four Republican senators, Tim Scott (S.C.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Lindsey O, Graham (S.C.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) warned they would oppose fast-tracking the bill.

“Their argument is that people will end up receiving more in unemployment benefits in some instances than they would have earned in their salary, and they’re saying that’s a problem,” Pelosi told PBS NewsHour. “Please don’t resent the lowest-paid workers in America for getting $600, so that they can meet the needs of their families.”

Pelosi said that there were a couple more glitches to resolve but that she hoped the bill would pass through the Senate on Wednesday night, and that the House could vote on the legislation Thursday. She told CNN that the House will not have a vote by unanimous consent but that they were considering a voice vote.

Asked about state leaders such as New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) who have said the federal funds have lagged behind the needs of individual states, Pelosi said their needs probably wouldn’t be met in this bill. She said the current proposal offered $150 billion in state stabilization funds, which she acknowledged wasn’t enough.

“We wanted more money … but this won’t be the last bill,” she told PBS. “[State governors] are taking a big bite of this wormy apple, and they need a lot more resources.”

11:26 p.m.
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Trump says some states’ economies could reopen before others

President Trump said no number of American deaths was acceptable to him even as he continues to press for reopening the economy more swiftly than public health experts recommend.

The president embellished on a tweet he’d sent shortly before the daily White House news conference in which he alleged the media wanted to tank the economy to aid in his defeat come November. Like a political rally, he railed against the “fake news” that want to see him fail even though the White House has done “one hell of a job,” he said.

“And it’s lucky that you have this group here right now for this problem,” he said, with public health leaders Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci standing behind him. “You wouldn’t even have a country left.”

On March 25, President Trump told a reporter "you wouldn't even have a country left" if it weren't for his White House Coronavirus Task Force. (The Washington Post)

Trump dismissed the idea of widespread testing to save more lives, but rejected a question that there was a certain number of deaths that were acceptable to him.

“None,” Trump said.

He went on to say that many states don’t need that kind of robust testing and could reopen now because they are having little spread, indicating that he could call for lifting social restrictions geographically.

“We don’t have to test the entire state in the Middle West or wherever they may be. I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump said. “A lot of those states could go back right now, and they probably will, because at some point in the not-too-distant future, certain states are going to come off the rolls. Maybe New York can’t. And maybe California can’t.”

Trump also defended the inclusion of $25 million in the economic relief package for the Kennedy Center, first claiming that he supported helping the shuttered performing arts center and then saying it was a handout to Democrats. He claimed to be a big fan of the Kennedy Center, but said he hasn’t been there.

I’m a fan of that, although I haven’t spent time there because I’m far too busy,” Trump said. “I’d love to go there evenings, but I’m too busy doing things because that’s more important for me than going there.”