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Coronavirus live updates: Senate passes historic $2T emergency aid package; US deaths surpass 1,000

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Coronavirus live updates: Senate passes historic $2T emergency aid package; US deaths surpass 1,000

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Most Americans are set to receive $1,200 checks from the government, U.S. deaths surged past 1,000 and the mayor of New York City estimated more than half his city could face infection as coronavirus continued to grip America.

Late Wednesday, the Senate passed a $2 trillion emergency aid proposal, described by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “a wartime level of investment into our nation.” It passed by a vote of 96-0.

The bill will now head to the House for a vote before going to the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it. The agreement comes as confirmed cases in America surpassed 69,100 early Thursday, with more confirmations expected as the U.S. ramps up testing.

U.S. deaths hit 1,000 late Wednesday, nearly doubling from the previous day, and the count was at 1,050 early Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. The global death toll was more than 21,300.

Our live blog is being updated throughout the day. Refresh for the latest news. More headlines:

Senate passes historic $2 trillion stimulus package amid coronavirus

The Senate approved its largest emergency aid package in modern history that will offer $2 trillion to help Americans, hospitals and businesses weather the effects of the coronavirus.

House Majority Leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced that the House will vote on the $2 trillion bill Friday, and that they will convene at 9 a.m.

“We expect the bill to pass by voice vote,” he said.

Among the provisions offered in the measure are one-time $1,200 checks to individuals, $367 billion in loans and grants to small businesses, over $130 billion for hospitals and community health centers and financial help to airlines and other industries hit hard by the virus.

Additionally, unemployment insurance benefits will be expanded, increasing the maximum benefit by $600 a week for up to four months. In addition, programs for food assistance and for helping low-income households avoid eviction would get a boost.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said checks could go out about three weeks after final passage, although that could be delayed.

The massive package aims to offer a financial lifeline to Americans and businesses that are hurting while also offering reassurance to the markets, which have seen some of its worst days in decades due to the virus’ impacts on the economy. Efforts to mitigate its spread has left businesses closed and many Americans out of work.

– Christal Hayes, Maureen Groppe and Ledyard King

Coronavirus deaths continue to rise in Italy, Iran; Spain surpasses China

Italy saw a jump in its daily death toll following two straight days of declines, the nation’s civil protection chief said Wednesday. Tuesday saw 743 deaths, up from 601 on Monday and 653 on Sunday. More than 7,500 have died since the outbreak swept into Italy last month.

In Spain, where an ice rink has been converted into a morgue, 738 more deaths were reported for a total of 3,647 overall, surpassing China’s total.

Iran reported 122 deaths, bringing the total there to more than 2,000. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that U.S.  sanctions are impeding Iran’s efforts to fight coronavirus – and are putting the entire world in danger.

“In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us,” Bachelet said.

Waffle House closes more than 400 locations during coronavirus crisis

Waffle House, known for weathering many a natural disaster, said it’s closing 418 of its restaurants. The chain posted a map on social media showing the closed restaurants, while another 1,574 across the southeastern U.S. remained open.

The posts also featured the hashtag “#WaffleHouseIndexRed. The initial Facebook post drew almost 1,000 comments, most of them reflecting alarm, such as “Oh geez, now we can worry” and “It’s getting real sir.”

The chain has its own “Waffle House Index” used during natural disasters to assess damage. If a store is closed, it’s likely in an area with significant damage.

Woman’s ‘twisted’ coronavirus prank wrecks Pennsylvania grocery store

A grocery store in northeastern Pennsylvania had to throw away an estimated $35,000-worth of products after a woman went through the store coughing on food in what the store’s co-owner called a “twisted prank.”

The incident happened Wednesday at the Gerrity’s Supermarket in Hanover Township, according to a post on the small chain’s Facebook page. Co-owner Joe Fasula said a the woman “came into the store and proceeded to purposely cough on our fresh produce, and a small section of our bakery, meat case and grocery.”

Fasula said the estimated value of the lost food is “well over $35,000,” adding that efforts are being made to have the woman tested for coronavirus. The Hanover Township Police Department confirmed it was investigating the incident in a Facebook post late Wednesday.

– Jordan Culver

Student loan borrowers catch break

Many student loan borrowers far behind on their payments will see the federal government easing collection efforts as part of its response to the financial uncertainty as the coronavirus spreads.

The federal government will no longer withhold portions of borrowers’ tax returns and Social Security payments, the Education Department said. And borrowers whose paychecks were garnished will be entitled to their full wage. Private collectors working for the government have also been told to stop collection calls and letters.

– Chris Quintana

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WHO calls for six measures to halt worldwide spread of coronavirus

In a press briefing Wednesday evening, World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for countries to adopt six measures to aggressively attack the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures ask countries to expand, train and deploy healthcare workers; implement a system to find every suspected case “at the community level”; ramp up production and availability of testing; equip and adapt facilities to isolate and treat patients; develop plans and protocols to quarantine; and refocus the whole of government to suppress and control COVID-19.

“These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission, so that when restrictions are lifted, the virus doesn’t re-surge,” Tedros said. “The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.”

Tedros also welcomed the call made Monday by United Nations secretary general António Guterres for a global ceasefire so that governments can wholly focus on eradicating the virus.

– Lorenzo Reyes

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s warning for NYC: ‘We are going to lose some people’

More than half of New York City’s population can expect to be infected by the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Most will suffer only a “mild experience,” but many will become very sick, and “we are going to lose some people,” he said.

April will be tough and May tougher before the virus crisis eases, he said. The city has seen 192 deaths so far, and there are more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus.

“The world we knew is gone,” de Blasio said in a social media post. “And it’s not coming back, not for the next few months. That’s the blunt truth.” 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom reports 1 million jobless claims in March

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said more than a million unemployment insurance claims have been filed in the state this month, a sign of the widespread shutdowns affecting residents because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He called the expected relief from the stimulus package “very helpful and very timely” but said more such aid will be needed. Newsom also announced at a news conference that several banks have agreed to allow homeowners impacted by the crisis to defer mortgage payments. 

The Labor Department will release national unemployment-claim numbers Thursday morning, and analysts are projecting anywhere from 1 million to 4 million claims.

Prince Charles tests positive, displays ‘mild symptoms’

Britain’s Prince Charles, heir to the throne, has tested positive for the coronavirus, his official royal residence said in a statement. The statement said Prince Charles, 71, has “been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health.” His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, does not have the virus, a test showed.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has canceled a number of diary events “as a sensible precaution” amid the outbreak, but as late as last week she was still holding “audiences” with members of the public. Britain’s monarch is 93.

– Kim Hjelmgaard

First immigration detainee tests positive for coronavirus in New Jersey

A federal immigration detainee in New Jersey is the first to test positive for the coronavirus, spurring renewed warnings from advocates about the safety of those being held. People held in detention centers are “sitting ducks,” said Andrea Flores, a deputy director of policy at the ACLU. Flores urged  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to set more detainees free.

The jail in Bergen County — the epicenter of the New Jersey outbreak —was put under lock down after the positive test. A spokesman for ICE, which pays Bergen and other county jails to house those accused of immigration violations, said the agency has been working with local officials to determine whether any detainees require additional testing.

– Monsy Alvarado and Steve Janoski, Bergen Record

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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