Coronavirus Live Updates: Senate Passes $484 Billion Aid Package

The Four Percent


Senate passes the $484 billion relief package.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief package that would replenish a depleted loan program for distressed small businesses and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing, approving yet another huge infusion of federal money to address the public health and economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

The measure was the product of an intense round of bipartisan negotiations between Democrats and the Trump administration that unfolded as the small business loan program created by the stimulus law quickly ran out of its initial $349 billion in funding. The program ran dry before many companies were able to have their applications approved, collapsing under a glut of applications from desperate businesses struggling to stay afloat.

The money is just a fraction of the amount that Congress will consider in the weeks to come, as lawmakers contemplate spending another $1 trillion or more on a sweeping government response.

The Senate passed the measure by voice vote — a necessity since most senators were not present because the chamber had been in a prolonged recess — though two Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, spoke against it beforehand.

Mr. Paul, a libertarian, said he had returned to Washington “so that history will record that not everyone gave in to the massive debt Congress is creating” with the multiple rounds of coronavirus relief it had enacted over the past six weeks.

The agreement would provide $320 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers guarantees for forgivable loans to small businesses if a majority of the money is used to retain employees.

While the funding passed, it did not signal more comity between Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s unfortunate that it took our Democratic colleagues 12 days to agree to a deal that contains essentially nothing that Republicans ever opposed,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said before the vote. “I’m glad we are now poised to move ahead.”

In fact, the compromise measure included several concessions Democrats had demanded as a condition of agreeing to replenish the small-business loan program and Republicans had rejected, arguing that they were extraneous proposals that belonged in a future bill. It included a requirement that the Trump administration prepare a national coronavirus testing strategy. The administration had resisted the idea, and Republican leaders had pushed states to take charge of their own testing, wary of placing the political onus on the administration.

About a fifth of the funding for the small-business loan program, $60 billion, would be set aside for smaller lenders, in line with Democrats’ request to steer resources to businesses that typically have trouble accessing loans.

The bill would also add $60 billion for the Small Business Administration’s disaster relief fund — divided into $50 billion in loans and $10 billion in grants — and farms and other agriculture enterprises would be made eligible. There would also be $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing.

“All of us want to help our small businesses,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader. “But this emergency demands we take action on many fronts”

The House is expected to pass the bill on Thursday, and President Trump has indicated he will sign it.

The federal aid has not been sufficient to keep more than 22 million Americans from filing for unemployment. And the first round of loans issued through the small business program bypassed many smaller businesses, who watched their larger competitors get help.

Small restaurants have been particularly hard hit. Now in the second month of compulsory closings, many owners of independent restaurants and bars across the country are starting to despair of getting the help they need to come back.

Shake Shack and Harvard University came under fire this week for taking millions of dollars of stimulus money that was meant to help small businesses. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he was pleased that Shake Shack had announced that it would be returning its loan, and Mr. Trump called on Harvard to do so as well.

“Harvard’s going to pay back the money,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Harvard, which has a $40 billion endowment, received $8 million in loan money. After a public uproar, Shake Shack said it would return its $10 million loan.

Mr. Mnuchin said it appeared that there was some ambiguity in the rules surrounding the loan program that made big companies think they were allowed to apply for the Small Business Administration loans.

“The intent of this was for businesses that needed the money,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “The intent of this money was not for big public companies that have access to capital.”

Mr. Mnuchin said that Treasury would release new guidance explaining the certification requirements for the loans and that companies that did not meet those requirements would have the opportunity to repay them. Those that fail to do so will face “severe consequences,” Mr. Mnuchin said without elaborating on what the penalties would entail.

President Trump said on Tuesday that he would order a temporary halt in issuing green cards to prevent people from immigrating to the United States, but he backed away from plans to suspend guest worker programs after business groups exploded in anger at the threat of losing access to foreign labor.

Mr. Trump, whose administration has faced intense criticism in recent months for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, abruptly sought to change the subject Tuesday night by resuming his assault on immigration, which animated his 2016 campaign and became one of the defining issues of his presidency.

But it comes as the United States economy sheds its work force at a record rate and when few employers are reaching out for workers at home or abroad. More than 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in the economic devastation caused by the virus and efforts to contain it.

Mr. Trump said that his order would initially be in effect for 60 days, but that he might later extend it “based on economic conditions at the time.”

“By pausing immigration, we will help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens. So important,” Mr. Trump said. “It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American worker.”

Lawyers at the Department of Justice were still studying whether the president had the legal authority to unilaterally suspend the issuance of green cards, an order that caught officials at the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security off guard, according to people familiar with the announcement.

The decision not to block guest worker programs — which provide specific visas for technology workers, farm laborers and others — is a concession to business groups, which assailed the White House on Tuesday.

Jason Oxman, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade group, said in a statement earlier in the day that “the United States will not benefit from shutting down legal immigration.”

As late as Monday night, after Mr. Trump’s tweet, top White House officials said they believed the president’s order would apply to some of the guest worker programs while exempting others.

By Tuesday afternoon — amid the business backlash — officials conceded that designing an order that applied to some guest workers but not others would be overly complicated, and they abandoned it.

Mr. Trump said that his “pause” in immigration “will not apply to those entering on a temporary basis,” a reference to the worker visas, though he hinted that could change. “We want to protect our U.S. workers,” he said, “and I think as we move forward, we will become more and more protective of them.”

The futures contract for West Texas Intermediate crude to be delivered in May fell on Monday into negative territory — a bizarre move that has never happened before. In other words, some traders were willing to pay buyers to take oil off their hands.

But other benchmarks of the price of crude remained much higher (closer to $20 per barrel), suggesting that the negative price was partly a result of how oil is traded, with different prices set for crude that will be delivered at different points.

The rest of the oil market also crashed on Tuesday. The West Texas Intermediate contract for June delivery sank more than 50 percent to below $10 a barrel, and Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down about 21 percent.

Refineries are unwilling to turn oil into gasoline, diesel and other products because so few people are commuting or flying, and international trade has slowed sharply. Oil is already being stored on barges and in any nook and cranny companies can find. One of the better parts of the oil business these days is owning storage tankers.

“I’m just living a nightmare,” said Ben Sheppard, the president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, which represents shale oil companies in the area of Texas and New Mexico that became the world’s largest oil field last year.

The sell-off in oil sharpened after the Texas Railroad Commission declined on Tuesday to force oil producers in the state to cut production. While one commissioner wanted to cut production by 20 percent, the other two members of the commission said they needed more legal advice before acting. The commission used to regularly manage oil production but hasn’t done so since the early 1970s.

Stocks on Wall Street fell for a second straight day. The S&P 500 dropped about 3 percent, its biggest daily decline in three weeks. Major European markets were 3 percent to 4 percent lower.

The two-day slump was yet another shift in sentiment for the stock market as it searched for a clear path forward during the crisis.

A plan by Georgia’s governor to begin reopening the state faced widespread criticism on Tuesday as public health experts — backed by some elected officials in both parties — warned that the virus had not leveled off enough to ease restrictions that were imposed to curb its spread.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday that he would allow certain businesses, including gyms, nail and hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors, to begin operating as soon as Friday. Under Mr. Kemp’s approach, which he said he approved because he believed the situation had sufficiently stabilized, dine-in restaurants, theaters and other entertainment venues could resume operations on Monday.

But some Georgia mayors, barred from issuing their own restrictions, urged residents to ignore the reopenings and stay at home.

Mr. Kemp is not alone among governors in seeking to relax restrictions. South Carolina is pressing ahead with a partial reopening on Tuesday — two weeks after restrictions were put in place — of retail shops that had been deemed “nonessential,” such as sporting goods, book and craft stores. Beaches were also allowed to reopen in the state, which has recorded nearly 4,000 cases and more than 100 deaths.

On Folly Beach, a seven-mile-long barrier island outside Charleston with a single access bridge, Mayor Tim Goodwin was struggling with the implications of the governor’s plan. Like most beach towns in the area, he said, Folly Beach planned to keep its roadblock to nonresidents but open beaches to people who live or work on the island. Mr. Goodwin and mayors of neighboring islands may let in nonresidents, but he said he would base his decision on advice from scientists.

Mr. Goodwin said he and the other mayors recently shared a photo of the fictional Mayor Larry Vaughn from “Jaws,” who faced intense pressure to reopen beaches despite obvious warning signs — with the result that visitors died in the teeth of the shark. “Every time they talk about reopening something here, I hear that theme music from ‘Jaws’ in my head,” Mr. Goodwin said.

The governors of Ohio and Tennessee have also taken early steps toward reopening their states. Mr. Kemp, though, was the target of some of the most ferocious criticism on Tuesday.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, the capital and the site of a recent surge in cases, told ABC News that she would keep asking “people to continue to stay home, follow the science and exercise common sense.”

On CNN, Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. of Augusta, Ga., said that he had been caught off guard by the governor’s decision and questioned the wisdom of it.

He pointed out that gyms, barbershops and salons were “places where we’re all in close proximity to one another,” adding, that “without a series of educational efforts to those industries, it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to continue to flatten the curve.”

Mr. Kemp, who has been keen to help alleviate the economic anguish created by the statewide restrictions, said that stores were not reopening for “business as usual,” noting that social distancing rules would still be enforced and that businesses should check employees’ temperatures for fevers and ramp up sanitation efforts.

“We respect Georgia’s right to determine its own fate, but we are all in this together,” Mr. Graham wrote. “What happens in Georgia will impact us in South Carolina.”

Georgia has recorded more than 19,000 confirmed cases and more than 770 deaths, with many concentrated in the counties making up the Atlanta area, which have a combined total of more than 6,000 cases and 200 deaths.

As other states moved to ease restrictions, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican, said Tuesday that schools in his state would remain closed through the end of the school year. “It’s the right thing to do considering the facts on the ground associated with the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

“I’ve had a very good relationship with him,” Mr. Trump said at a White House briefing on Tuesday. “If he is in the kind of condition that reports say, that the news is saying, that’s a very serious condition, as you know.”

He added, speaking directly to Mr. Kim, “Good luck, good luck.”

Mr. Kim, the 36-year-old dictator who has spent much of Mr. Trump’s presidency making and then walking back pacts to dismantle his country’s nuclear arsenal, has been largely out of sight in recent days.

Mr. Kim’s absence from a celebration for his grandfather’s birthday, a major event in North Korea, has led to rampant rumors about his failing health but no confirmed reports.

Over the course of their negotiations, the two leaders have traded fawning letters. The White House confirmed in March that Mr. Trump had sent Mr. Kim a letter offering assistance with handling the coronavirus outbreak.

But this week, North Korean officials denied that Mr. Kim had sent Mr. Trump a letter of his own after the president said he’d received a “nice note” from him recently.

Leaders of Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature on Tuesday filed a lawsuit seeking to block a statewide stay-at-home order issued by the Democratic governor, who closed schools and businesses.

The legal fight adds a new note of partisan rancor in a roiling national debate that has seen Mr. Trump, conservative protesters and some states lawmakers push for a faster reopening of shuttered state economies. Wisconsin’s Republican leaders filed the lawsuit after Gov. Tony Evers’s administration extended a statewide stay-at-home order through May 26, citing a need to prevent increases in coronavirus cases.

Robin Vos, the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, and State Senator Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader, said in a statement on Tuesday that the governor’s orders had exceeded his legal authority and churned up “immense frustration.”

“The governor has denied the people a voice through this unprecedented administrative overreach,” they said. “Wisconsinites deserve certainty, transparency and a plan to end the constant stream of executive orders that are eroding both the economy and their liberty.”

Two new studies using antibody testing to assess how many people have been infected turned up numbers higher than some experts had expected.

Both studies were performed in California: one among residents of Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, and the other among residents of Los Angeles County. In both cases, the estimates of the number of people infected countrywide were far higher than the number of confirmed cases.

In the Santa Clara County study, researchers tested 3,330 volunteers for antibodies indicating exposure. Roughly 1.5 percent were positive. After adjustments intended to account for differences between the sample and the population of the county as a whole, the researchers estimated that the prevalence of antibodies fell between 2.5 percent and a bit more than 4 percent.

That meant that between 48,000 and 81,000 people were infected in Santa Clara County by early April, the researchers concluded.

In Los Angeles County, researchers conducted antibody tests for two days at six drive-through test sites in early April and estimated that between 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent of the county’s adult population carried antibodies. If accurate, that would mean that 220,000 to 442,000 residents have been exposed.

By comparison, only 8,000 cases had been confirmed in the county at the time the testing was done.

Antibody studies in other countries have produced similar numbers, noted Dr. John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and an author of the paper on Santa Clara County.

If the numbers proved accurate, he said, the virus might be much less deadly than originally expected, with a fatality rate more closely resembling that of a bad flu strain than an especially lethal pandemic.

Neither report has been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, and both pieces of research have been met with criticism. Both relied on volunteers, which may have skewed the results, and the investigators say they are now examining their data to see how significant this bias may have been.

But they maintain that so-called participation bias would not alter the data enough to negate the overall conclusions.

For vulnerable people, like those in nursing homes, the virus is a terrible new threat, the researchers said in interviews. But the new data suggest most adults will experience milder to asymptomatic infections.

Little is known about the transmissibility of the virus from asymptomatic adults, however; that may complicate scientific understanding of the virus’ spread.

Still, with better estimates of the virus’s prevalence, it may be possible to reopen society in a rational manner, said Neeraj Sood, the vice dean of research at the University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy and an author of the Los Angeles County report.

“We can model the scenarios,” he said. “We should not make decisions just based on I.C.U. mortality.”

He added, “I would want whoever makes the decision to make it holistically and based on the best evidence.”

Public health experts fear the situation could leave the island uniquely vulnerable once it attempts to reopen. Puerto Rico has one of the strictest lockdowns in the country, which has kept hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with patients but has also required much sacrifice from Puerto Ricans enduring the 14th year of an economic recession.

“Everything has been delay and disorganization,” said Dr. Carlos Mellado, a physician in San Juan, the capital, who has been treating patients. “We’re still under a complete lockdown. People are starting to get desperate.”

The health department, which is being led by its third secretary since March 13, has been double-counting some test results. It is also embroiled in a $38 million contracting scandal over antibody tests that never materialized. Federal agencies are investigating.

It is not likely to be the last.

“The department stores, which have been failing slowly for a very long time, really don’t get over this,” said Mark A. Cohen, the director of retail studies at Columbia University’s Business School. “The genre is toast and looking at the other side of this, there are very few who are likely to survive.”

At a time when retailers should be putting in orders for the all-important holiday shopping season, stores are furloughing tens of thousands of corporate and store employees, hoarding cash and desperately planning how to survive this crisis. The specter of mass default is being discussed not just behind closed doors but in analysts’ future models. Whether that happens, no one doubts that the upheaval caused by the pandemic will permanently alter both the retail landscape and the relationships of brands with the stores that sell them.

With testing in the spotlight, Trump and Cuomo met at the White House.

The president and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, two New Yorkers who have alternately praised and quarreled with each other during the pandemic that has ravaged their mutual home state, met in person on Tuesday to try to resolve their differences on testing and financial relief.

After weeks of talking by telephone and through the news media, Mr. Cuomo traveled to Washington to sit down with the president at the White House and press for more federal assistance to expand testing for the virus and to help financially devastated state and local governments.

Mr. Cuomo emerged afterward and called it “a good conversation,” playing down the sporadic disputes between the two men.

“The president is communicative about his feelings and I’m communicative about what I think,” Mr. Cuomo told Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. “But look, for the president and for myself, this isn’t about — this is not about anyone’s emotions, about anyone else. Who cares what I feel, what he feels. We have a tremendous job that we have to get done and put everything else aside and do the job. And that was the tone of the conversation.”

Earlier in the day Mr. Cuomo had announced 481 more fatalities in New York, lower than the daily tolls last week, bringing the overall total to at least 14,828. Total hospitalizations were “basically flat,” he said, and the number of intubations declined. New York would begin to allow elective treatment in hospitals in parts of the state that were less battered, he said.

Mr. Cuomo said that he asked Mr. Trump for help with the supply chain so that he can dramatically expand testing in New York before reopening businesses and everyday life. He said he also made the case for federal aid to states and localities that was not included in the latest legislation working its way through Congress. He said the president was “very open and understanding” about that.

In recent days, Mr. Cuomo has said that one of the main testing obstacles is the availability of the reactive chemicals in test kits known as reagents. He has called on the federal government to help in coordinating supply chains for national manufacturers.

“I stayed focused on what we were there to talk about and for me, the substantive agenda was testing — who does what, how do we get it up to scale — and somebody has to stand up for funding for the states,” Mr. Cuomo said. “You can talk about small businesses and airlines. How about police? How about fire? How about teachers? And how about funding the reopening?”

In a briefing at the White House, Mr. Trump framed the debates around testing in political terms, saying that Democrats who once asked him for ventilators were now only raising the availability of testing “because they want to be able to criticize.”

To make his point, Mr. Trump allowed Vice President Mike Pence, several members of the White House task force and other administration officials to give detailed presentations to reporters about what they said was a surplus of testing capacity. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House response coordinator, displayed a series of slides showing the locations of test centers in various states, and Mr. Trump at one point held up a thick binder that he said contained the locations of 5,000 testing facilities across the nation.

Still, governors continued to express frustration that they did not have the materials they needed to collect tests for analysis, and for now — in part because of shortages of those testing materials — many localities continue to limit testing to people who meet specific criteria.

Mr. Trump’s signature hotel in the nation’s capital wants a break on its rent. The landlord determining the fate of the request is Mr. Trump’s own administration.

Trump International Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House, had been a favored gathering place for lobbyists, foreign dignitaries and others hoping to score points with the president. But like most hotels, it is now nearly empty and looking to cut costs because of the pandemic.

The Trump Organization is current on its rent, according to Eric Trump, the president’s son, but he confirmed that the company had opened a conversation about possible delays in future monthly payments.

The younger Mr. Trump said the company was asking the G.S.A. for any relief that it might be granting other federal tenants. The president still owns the company, but his eldest sons run the day-to-day operations.

“Just treat us the same,” Eric Trump said in a statement on Tuesday. “Whatever that may be is fine.”

Here’s some advice on managing your emotions during the lockdown.

As each week of the pandemic passes, it is not unusual to experience unexpected emotions. Here are some strategies that might be helpful in trying to cope.

Reporting was contributed by Tim Arango, Karen Barrow, Jo Becker, Katie Benner, Alan Blinder, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Emily Cochrane, Michael Cooper, Steve Eder, David Enrich, Lola Fadulu, Dana Goldstein, Jack Healy, Andrew Jacobs, Miriam Jordan, Gina Kolata, Patricia Mazzei, Allison McCann, Matt Phillips, Ben Protess, Alan Rappeport, Katie Rogers, Rick Rojas, Marc Santora, Katharine Q. Seelye, Eliza Shapiro, Michael D. Shear, Katie Thomas and Jin Wu.



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