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The Four Percent


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, at a news briefing Wednesday evening at the White House, predicted a $2 trillion rescue package would pass the Senate on Wednesday night and said that Americans would receive stimulus checks “within the next three weeks.”

Under the bill, Americans with incomes up to $75,000 would get $1,200, and Mr. Mnuchin said those payments would come as “direct payments into most people’s deposit accounts.” Those without direct deposit will receive checks.

Mr. Mnuchin said he will instruct commercial banks to begin extended loans next week off the pending deposits.

The president expressed confidence at the White House briefing that things in the country were improving. “America continues to gain ground in the war against the virus,” he said.

But as he spoke, the Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed that New York State has asked the federal government to build emergency morgues as the number of confirmed cases in the state reached more than 30,000. North Carolina and Hawaii also submitted requests for the additional morgue space.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that he was seeing indications that the virus could keep returning as a “seasonal, cyclic thing,” like the flu.

One of the key questions about the virus has been whether its spread would slow or stop in warm weather and return in cold weather, and Dr. Fauci suggested that it may follow that seasonal pattern.

“What we are starting to see now in the southern hemisphere,” he said, referring specifically to southern Africa, “is that we are having cases that are appearing as they go into their winter season. And if, in fact, they have a substantial outbreak, it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared that we will get a cycle around the second time.”

That makes it all the more important that scientists “have a vaccine available for that next cycle,” as well as “a menu of drugs that we have shown to be effective and shown to be safe,” he said.

“Nothing in this bill incentivizes businesses to lay off employees, in fact it’s just the opposite,” said Taylor Foy, a spokesman for Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the Finance Committee chairman.

But the Republican reservations had a cascading effect. Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont and a Democratic presidential candidate, said if Republicans insisted on their objections, he would block the bill for being too lenient on corporations.

The legislation, which is expected to be enacted within days, is the biggest economic relief package in modern American history, dwarfing the Wall Street bailout of 2008 during the financial crisis. The aim is to deliver critical financial support to businesses forced to shut their doors and relief to American families and hospitals reeling from the rapid spread of the disease and the resulting economic disruption.

Senate leaders still hoped to vote on it later Wednesday, and the House was expected to follow suit on Thursday.

Among the items in the bill are:

  • A $1,200 payment for adult with incomes up to $75,000 (or families with incomes of $150,000), and $500 per child. The assistance phases out for people who earn more.

  • $350 billion in loans for small businesses to help cover their expenses for up to 10 weeks.

  • $500 billion in aid to airlines and other large corporations that have been hurt by cratering consumer demand. Much of the money would be used to backstop loans and other assistance that the Federal Reserve said it planned to extend to companies.

As much of the Western United States braces for another fire season, which typically ramps up in the middle of May, some wildland managers find themselves with one less tool in their arsenal to mitigate risk. Prescribed burns, in which firefighters deliberately set lands ablaze with the goal of reducing brush, grasses and other easily ignitable material that can help fuel large fires, have been postponed in all Forest Service regions because of concerns over the coronavirus.

“This decision to temporarily postpone ignitions will prevent any effects from smoke that might further worsen conditions for those who are at risk in our communities,” Imani Lester, the acting National Press Officer for the United States Forest Service said in an email.

Older adults and people with underlying conditions like asthma are especially at risk for suffering adverse reactions to smoke from wildfires, which in recent years have been made worse by climate change. They are also more likely to become more severely ill from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

At Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, Dr. Ashley Bray performed chest compressions Tuesday on a woman in her 80s, a man in his 60s and a 38-year-old who reminded the doctor of her fiancé. All had tested positive for the coronavirus. All eventually died.

Elmhurst, a 545-bed public hospital, has begun transferring patients not suffering from coronavirus to other facilities as it moves toward becoming a facility dedicated entirely to the outbreak. Doctors and nurses have struggled to make do with a few dozen ventilators. Calls over a loudspeaker of “Team 700,” the code for when a patient is on the verge of death, come several times a shift. Some have died inside the emergency room while waiting for a bed.

A refrigerated truck has been stationed outside to hold the bodies of the dead. Over the past 24 hours, New York City’s public hospital system said in a statement, 13 people at Elmhurst had died.

“It’s apocalyptic,” said Dr. Bray, a general medicine resident at the hospital.

All of the more than 1,800 intensive care units in New York City are expected to be full by Friday, according to a F.E.M.A. leadership briefing obtained by The New York Times. Patients could stay for weeks, limiting space for newly sickened residents..

A study in macaques infected with the new coronavirus suggested that once infected, the monkeys produce neutralizing antibodies and resist further infection. But it is unclear how long the monkeys, or people, would remain immune.

Still, even if people become reinfected, the second bout with the coronavirus would likely be much milder than the first, said Florian Krammer, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

The quickest way to assess immunity is a test that looks for protective antibodies in the blood of people who have recovered. Antibody tests are used in a handful of countries, but are just widely coming to market in the West. Before the method can be put into wide use, scientists must address certain safety issues. Some pharmaceutical companies are hoping to sidestep some of those concerns by developing antibodies against the coronavirus in the laboratory.

“As the states become more desperate, someone has to referee the situation,” he said. “The marketplace isn’t set up to do that.”

Pennsylvania would be the sixth state to shift its primary to June 2, joining five other contests already scheduled for that Tuesday.

Even as the calendar shifted, state officials and voting rights advocates were concerend that the $400 million included in the Senate stimulus package to safeguard elections is far less than the amount states will need to implement voting by mail across the nation. The $400 million is one-fifth of the $2 billion that voting experts said was needed and that some Democrats had sought.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran announced new restrictions on travel and public gatherings on Wednesday, in a belated attempt to contain the growing spread of the virus.

The rules will be in effect for nine days starting Thursday and ban travel in or out of cities unless for emergency purposes, the government said. Nonessential private businesses and open public spaces, including parks and gardens, were ordered to shut down. Violations will be penalized, the government warned.

“People must adjust to more difficult circumstances because we have no choice. Saving the lives of people is very important to us,” Mr. Rouhani said.

The majority of the government’s 2.4 million employees would be told to stay home, with exceptions in the health care and banking sectors, a government spokesman said.

The move comes after Mr. Rouhani was criticized for his management of the crisis, particularly for allowing Iranians to travel across the country last week for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Iran’s transportation police estimated that 8.5 million people traveled for the holiday, risking further spread of the virus.

Iran’s health ministry said on Thursday that there were 27,017 cases across the country and that 2,077 people had died, including 43 medical workers.

The ministry has asked Iran’s parliament to continue suspending sessions for two more weeks and to resort to video calls for meetings.

Reporting and research were contributed by Farnaz Fassihi, Michael Cooper, Karen Zraick, Alan Blinder, Lara Jakes, Abby Goodnough, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Katie Thomas, Andrew Jacobs, Neal E. Boudette, Matt Richtel, Nicholas Kulish, Michael Rothfeld, Somini Sengupta, Joseph Goldstein, Mark Landler, Emily Cochrane, Katie Robertson, Andrew Higgins, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Johnny Diaz, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Patricia Mazzei, Julie Bosman, Marc Santora, Megan Specia, Raphael Minder, Anna Schaverien, Ed O’Loughlin, Trip Gabriel, Iliana Magra, Jeffrey Gettleman, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Haley Willis, Robin Stein, Natalie Reneau, Drew Jordan, Matt Phillips, Noam Scheiber, Mike Isaac, Dan Levin, Sheera Frenkel and Apoorva Mandavilli.


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