Coronavirus Live Updates: Officials Meet on Capitol Hill After $600-a-Week Lifeline for Jobless Expires
Coronavirus Live Updates: Officials Meet on Capitol Hill After $600-a-Week Lifeline for Jobless Expires
Top officials work to break impasse over jobless benefit that helped keep afloat millions of unemployed Americans.
Hours after unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans lapsed, administration officials arrived on Capitol Hill on Saturday morning for a rare meeting with top congressional Democrats to discuss a coronavirus relief package and work to break an impasse over new aid as the American economy continues to shudder.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who hosted the meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York in her Capitol Hill suite, said she hoped that “we’ll make progress and I think we will.” She again dismissed the prospect of a short-term deal, which administration officials have pushed this week.
“We’re just hopeful that they’re willing to really negotiate today and if they are, we’re prepared to make a deal on behalf of the American people,” Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, said as he entered Ms. Pelosi’s office with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary. (Mr. Mnuchin observed it was “just another working day in the Capitol.”)
Among the largest sticking points in the discussion is a $600 weekly federal jobless benefit that became a lifeline for tens of millions of unemployed Americans, while also helping prop up the economy. The aid expired at midnight as officials in Washington failed to agree on a new relief bill.
Joblessness remains at record levels, with some 30 million Americans receiving unemployment benefits. More than 1.4 million newly filed for state unemployment benefits last week — the 19th straight week that the tally had exceeded one million, an unheard-of figure before the pandemic.
Nearly 11 percent of Americans have said that they live in households where there is not enough to eat, according to a recent Census Bureau survey, and more than a quarter have missed a rent or mortgage payment.
The benefit’s expiration will force Louise Francis, who worked as a banquet cook at the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans for nearly two decades before being furloughed last spring, to get by on just state unemployment benefits, which for her come to $247 a week.
“With the $600, you could see your way a little bit,” said Ms. Francis, 59. “You could feel a little more comfortable. You could pay three or four bills and not feel so far behind.”
The aid lapsed as Republicans and Democrats in Washington remained far apart on what the next round of virus relief should look like.
Democrats wanted to extend the $600 weekly payments through the end of the year, as part of an expansive $3 trillion aid package that would also help state and local governments. Republicans, worried that the $600 benefit left some people with more money than when they were working, sought to scale it back to $200 per week as part of a $1 trillion proposal.
At a White House news conference on Friday, Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff, accused Democrats of playing “politics as usual.” At the Capitol, Ms. Pelosi said administration officials “do not understand the gravity of the situation.”
As the deadline neared, Republicans proposed continuing the $600 benefit for one week while talks continued. Democrats rejected the short-term extension.
“When you have a six-day, one-week extension on a provision, it is usually — has always been — to accommodate a legislative topic if you’re on the verge of having an agreement,” Ms. Pelosi said. “Why don’t we just get the job done? Why don’t we just get the job done?”
Across the United States, there is a deepening national sense that the progress made in fighting the pandemic is coming undone and no patch of the country is safe. Instead, the United States is riding a second wave of cases, with the seven-day average for new infections hovering around 65,000 for two weeks.
Progress in some states has been mostly offset by growing outbreaks in parts of the South and the Midwest — and in cities from Mississippi to Florida to California that believed they had already experienced the worst of it.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker sounded an unusually somber note this past week as he delivered a warning that reverberated across the state: Even though residents had battled an early flood of coronavirus infections and then managed to reduce the virus’s spread, their successes were fleeting. As of Thursday, the state was averaging more than 1,400 cases a day, up from about 800 at the start of July.
“We’re at a danger point,” Mr. Pritzker said in Peoria County, where the total number of cases has doubled in the last month.
Many states have traced new outbreaks to the loosening of the economically costly restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
In California, which has had more than 500,000 coronavirus cases, more than any other state, the reopening has proved disastrous. When the pandemic was ravaging the Northeast in March and April, California kept its daily case count around 2,000. The state is now averaging 8,500 a day.
On Friday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, told Congress he was cautiously optimistic that a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine would be available by the end of the year or early 2021, though the federal government’s ability to speedily immunize most Americans was unclear.
The Rio Grande Valley in Texas is suffering through perhaps the worst current outbreak in the country, with hundreds of new cases and dozens of deaths a day. In more than half of states, outbreaks continue to grow. In Missouri and Oklahoma, cases have grown to alarming levels, with both states now averaging more than 1,000 each day.
Across the country, deaths from the coronavirus also continue to rise. The United States was averaging about 500 a day at the start of July. Over the last week, it has averaged more than 1,000 daily, with many of those concentrated in Sun Belt states.
Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country, has been adjusting to a new normal where the only thing certain is that nothing is certain. After cases and hospitalizations seemed to level off and even decrease in recent days, Harris County on Friday broke a single-day record with 2,100 new cases.
“I think to a certain extent, we saw a spike because people were fatigued over it,” said Alan Rosen, who leads the Harris County Precinct One constable’s office. “They were fatigued over hearing about it every day. They were fatigued about being cooped up in their house and being away from people.”
An estimated 17,000 Germans packed the heart of Berlin on Saturday, defying public health requirements to maintain a safe distance from one another, or cover their noses and faces, before Berlin police moved to break up the demonstration against the country’s efforts to fight the spread of coronavirus.
The protest, under the motto “Day of Freedom” — a title shared by a 1935 Nazi propaganda film by Leni Reifenstahl — was supported by known neo-Nazi groups and conspiracy theorists, along with Germans who say they are fed up with the government-imposed restrictions on public life. Germany enforced a strict lockdown from mid-March that has been lifted in stages since the end of April, but large public gatherings are still banned and requirements for wearing masks on public transportation and in all stores remain.
A majority of Germans support the measures, but public health officials worry that people are becoming more lax, as the past weeks have seen a rise in new infections. On Saturday, 955 new cases were reported, compared with 580 two weeks ago.
Protesters at the demonstration blew whistles, heckled and jeered anyone wearing a mask, and carried the red, white and black flag of the 19th-century German Empire. They also carried signs equating the government-imposed restrictions to the Nazis’ forcing Jews to wear yellow stars. One banner, emblazoned with images of Chancellor Angela Merkel, her health minister and leading German public health officials, as well as Bill Gates, demanded: “Lock Them Up Already!”
South Korea arrests the leader of a church where the virus spread rapidly.
The leader of a secretive religious sect in South Korea was arrested early on Saturday on charges of embezzling church money and conspiring to impede efforts to fight the coronavirus.
The rapid spread of the virus this winter among worshipers of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, a city in the southeast, briefly made South Korea home to the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak outside China. As of Friday, more than a third of the 14,300 coronavirus cases known to the government were members of Shincheonji or their contacts.
Prosecutors say that Lee Man-hee, the church’s founder, failed to fully disclose the number of worshipers and their gathering places. Seven church officials were indicted last month on the same charge.
Mr. Lee, 88, has also been accused of embezzling 5.6 billion won, or $4.7 million, from church funds to build a luxurious “peace palace” north of Seoul. The church has broadly denied all the charges against him. He could face years in prison if convicted.
Intense criticism from the South Korean public forced Mr. Lee to apologize in March.
In a statement on Saturday, the church said that Mr. Lee had never intended to hamper efforts to control the epidemic, and that he had only expressed concern over the scale of government demands for worshipers’ data.
“He has emphasized the importance of disease control and urged the church members to cooperate with the authorities,” the church said. “We will do our best to let the truth be known through trial.”
But parents who accused the church of luring and brainwashing their children with its unorthodox teachings welcomed his arrest on Saturday, calling Mr. Lee a “religious con artist.”
Here are some other developments from around the globe:
Kuwait on Saturday began to resume some commercial flights after a five-month suspension. It announced that flights would remain suspended from 31 countries, including India, China and Brazil. Flights are also still barred from some countries that were once major hot spots, such as Spain and Italy, but not the United States, which remains a global epicenter. Kuwait, with its relatively small population, has one of the highest infection rates in the world. Its 1,618 cases per 100,000 people is the sixth highest globally, according to a New York Times database.
As of Saturday morning, Mexico’s confirmed death toll of 46,688 was the world’s third highest behind the United States and Brazil. Britain ranked fourth, with 569 fewer deaths. The number of new reported infections in Mexico has been climbing since May and topped 8,000 on Friday, bringing the country’s caseload to nearly 425,000.
An outbreak of the coronavirus in Vietnam claimed a third victim on Saturday, a 68-year-old in the central city of Danang who also had late-stage leukemia. The country, which reported its first virus death on Friday, went more than three months without a case of local transmission before the new outbreak began spreading from Danang in late July. It now has 558 cases, although many are returnees in quarantine.
On Saturday, Japan announced 1,579 new cases, breaking a record set the day before. The country now has more than 1,000 deaths related to the coronavirus, reporting 1,011 on Saturday.
The main physicians’ organization in the Philippines, the College of Physicians, appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday to lock down the Manila metropolitan area for two weeks. The appeal was made shortly after two Manila hospitals were closed temporarily because so many staff members were infected. On Friday, the country reported 4,063 new cases, its highest daily total so far.
A school opened in Indiana. It had to quarantine people within hours.
One of the first school districts in the United States to reopen did not even make it a day before it had grapple with the issue facing everyone trying to get students back into classrooms: What happens when someone comes to school infected with the coronavirus?
Hours into classes on Thursday, a call from the county health department notified Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana that a student had tested positive.
Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days. It is unclear whether anyone else got infected.
“We knew it was a when, not if,” said Harold E. Olin, superintendent of the Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation, but he was “very shocked it was on Day 1.”
Hundreds of school districts across the country have reversed course on reopening plans in recent weeks in response to rises in infections. Of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, all but six have announced they will start remotely. Despite strong objections from teachers’ unions, some in places like Florida and Texas are hoping to open classrooms after a few weeks if infection rates fall.
Florida’s Atlantic coast braced for the arrival of Hurricane Isaias on Saturday after the storm raked parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and has begun to batter the Bahamas.
Preparations for the storm were complicated by the state’s battle with the coronavirus, which could make evacuating homes and entering community shelters especially risky. Friday was the third consecutive day that Florida set its record for the most deaths reported in a single day, according to a New York Times database.
Mr. DeSantis has said that the division of emergency management had been working at its most active level since March, “allowing them to actively plan for hurricane season even while responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Early in the pandemic, he added, the division created a reserve of protective equipment for hurricane season, including 20 million masks, 22 million gloves and 1.6 million face shields.
A hurricane watch was in effect early Saturday morning from Hallandale Beach to south of Boca Raton, and a hurricane warning from Boca Raton to Brevard County. There could be storm surges up to four feet high.
The storm is then expected to weaken and be off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina on Monday.
Mr. DeSantis said on Saturday that he had declared a state of emergency in every coastal county up the state’s east coast, including Miami-Dade County, which has been among the hardest hit in terms of new cases of the coronavirus per capita, as well as deaths.
Mr. DeSantis said he had also received approval for federal assistance through FEMA from President Trump.
The Serum Institute, which started out years ago as a horse farm and is exclusively controlled by a small and fabulously rich Indian family, is doing what few other companies in the race for a vaccine are doing: mass-producing hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine candidate that might not even work.
But if it does, Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive and the only child of the company’s founder, will become one of the most tugged-at men in the world. He will have what everyone wants, possibly in greater quantities before anyone else.
Mr. Poonawalla’s vaccine assembly lines are being readied to crank out 500 doses a minute, and his phone rings endlessly.
National health ministers, prime ministers and other heads of state (he wouldn’t say who) and friends he hasn’t heard from in years have been calling him, he said, begging for the first batches.
“I’ve had to explain to them that, ‘Look I can’t just give it to you like this,’” he said.
The Serum Institute finds itself in the middle of an extremely competitive and murky endeavor. To get the vaccine out as soon as possible, vaccine developers say they need Serum’s mammoth assembly lines — each year, it churns out 1.5 billion doses of other vaccines, mostly for poor countries, more than any other company.
Half of the world’s children have been vaccinated with Serum’s products. Scale is its specialty. Just the other day, Mr. Poonawalla received a shipment of 600 million glass vials.
But right now it’s not entirely clear how much of the coronavirus vaccine that Serum will mass-produce will be kept by India or who will fund its production.
Europe has a bad reputation with investors. For years, asset managers and bank strategists have characterized the region by its anemic growth rate and shaky political union.
Now a crisis has turned into an unlikely investment opportunity, as the region appears to have handled the pandemic better than some other parts of the world. In the past few months, European assets have staged a comeback.
The euro this week rose to its highest level in more than two years against the U.S. dollar, and the region’s benchmark index, the Stoxx 600, is set for a second straight month of gains greater than those of the S&P 500 index, in dollar terms, according to data from FactSet.
The most important reason for this upswing, analysts say, is that Europe is recording far fewer new cases of the coronavirus. There are still occasional spikes in Europe, and there are some early signs that the infection rate is starting to level off in the United States. But there are about 65,000 new cases each day in the United States, compared with fewer than 10,000 across the Atlantic.
Another significant reason for the increase is politics. When European leaders reached an agreement last week on a 750 billion euro, or $888 billion, recovery fund, it wasn’t the size of the deal that impressed investors, but the fact that it happened after four long nights of negotiations.
The decision to raise money collectively and give grants to the countries hit hardest by the pandemic indicated that there is some political will left to further the project that created the euro two decades ago, despite the exit of Britain from the European Union, budget fights with Italy and concerns about the dismantling of democracy in Hungary.
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Reporting was contributed by Julie Bosman, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Melissa Eddy, Manny Fernandez, Thomas Fuller, Johnny Diaz, Jeffrey Gettleman, Jason Gutierrez, Shawn Hubler, Mike Ives, Zach Montague, Liliana Michelena, Eshe Nelson, Matt Phillips, Kai Schultz and Eliza Shapiro.