The Latest COVID-19 Updates (March 26)

Staff Writer

6:30 p.m. -- WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that federal officials are developing guidelines to rate counties by risk of virus spread, as he aims to begin to ease nationwide guidelines meant to stem the coronavirus outbreak. In a letter to the nation's governors, Trump said the new guidelines are meant to enable state and local leaders to make “decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other measures they have put in place.” States and municipalities would still retain authority to set whatever restrictions deem necessary.

4:45 p.m. -- NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks marched higher for a third straight day Friday as a massive coronavirus relief bill gets closer to passing Congress and Wall Street took some historically bad unemployment figures in stride. The S&P 500 rose 6.2%, bringing its three-day rally to 17.6%. The Dow industrials have risen an even steeper 21.3% since Monday. Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, easily shattering the prior record set in 1982, as layoffs and business shutdowns sweep across the country. Analysts said the market shot higher Thursday because Wall Street knew the bad news on unemployment was coming. The gains earlier this week came as Capitol Hill and the Federal Reserve promised an astonishing amount of aid for the economy and markets, hoping to support them as the outbreak causes more businesses to shut down by the day.

3 p.m. HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania state legislature approved a $50 million infusion into state's healthcare system, Gov. Tom Wolf announced during Thursday's installment of the daily COVID-19 press conference.
Wolf said the administration is now working to get that money moving as quickly as possible.
"The reality is we're just seeing the beginning of this crisis," he said. "We don't know how bad the surge will be or when this pandemic will end, so we must prepare ourselves mentally and physically to be in this for the long haul. We're not fighting a battle here, we're fighting a war."
An administration press release elaborated on the approved funding. It will be deposited into a restricted account under the governor's jurisdiction. The money will be used if there are insufficient funds available from the disaster proclamation to buy medical equipment for healthcare entities to address surge demand.
Wolf said these steps are being taken to make sure healthcare professionals have the necessary personal protective equipment and don't have to make tough decisions about which patients to save because supplies are running low. He thanked those same professionals for being on the front line of the defense against COVID-19, and said residents can show their gratitude by staying home and reducing the number of patients healthcare workers receive.

1 p.m. WASHINGTON — The Navy says an outbreak of COVID-19 infections aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific has forced it to divert to Guam so that all 5,000 aboard will undergo testing.
The acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, told reporters that the carrier remains “operationally capable.” Even so, other officials said the number of infected sailors has risen sharply, from three reported initially to “dozens” as of Thursday.
Modly said the carrier, which is the first U.S. Navy ship to have a reported outbreak while at sea, had about 800 COVID-19 test kits aboard and more were being delivered. He said the initially reported cases were sailors with relatively mild symptoms.
The Navy said earlier this week that the Theodore Roosevelt’s most recent port call was in Vietnam.
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SOAVE, Italy (AP) — Italy has become the first western developed nation to idle most of its industry to halt the spread of the coronavirus, a potential cautionary tale for other governments, such as the Trump administration, that are resisting such drastic measures.
After more than two weeks of a nationwide lockdown, the Italian government decided to expand the mandatory closure of nonessential commercial activities to heavy industry in the eurozone's third-largest economy, a major exporter of machinery, textiles and other goods.
The move by Italy, which is leading the globe in virus deaths, is more in line with draconian measures taken by China than with declarations coming out of other democratic partners, who are at least a week or two behind Italy’s rate of virus infections.
The industrial closures put in stark contrast concerns over protecting lives in a country with an especially vulnerable aging population against fears of hurting an economy that already was on the brink of recession.
The industrial lobby Confindustria estimates a cost of 70 billion to 100 billion euros ($77 billion-$110 billion) of national wealth a month if 70 percent of companies are closed, as anticipated. Though some big companies had already suspended activities, thousands of smaller manufacturers had continued after adopting new safety regulations, and will now shut down.
“We are entering a war economy,’’ said Confindustria President Vincenzo Boccia.

Noon. The Pennsylvania Department of Health officially confirmed what Indiana Regional Medical Center reported in a release yesterday — that one case of COVID-19 has been detected in Indiana County. There are two cases in Clearfield County, and none yet in Jefferson County. There are 1,687 known cases throughout the state.

11:30 a.m. WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the massive $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic relief bill approved by the Senate will pass the House on Friday with “strong bipartisan support.”
Pelosi spoke to reporters at the Capitol on Thursday a day after the Senate unanimously approved the measure.
The package comes to the House as fresh evidence emerges that the economy is in a recession. The government reported 3.3 million new weekly unemployment claims, four times the previous record.
"We will have a victory tomorrow for America's workers," Pelosi said, praising the bill's expansion of unemployment benefits. She encouraged companies battered by the pandemic to keep paying their workers, even those who are furloughed.
“Tomorrow we'll bring the bill to the floor,” she told reporters. “It will pass. It will pass with strong bipartisan support.”
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a TV interview the economy “may well be in a recession.”
The unanimous Senate vote late Wednesday came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike any it has faced.

10 a.m. BROOKVILLE — The Jefferson County commissioners’ office is asking residents not to call 9-1-1 or the Department of Emergency Services to report a business that is not complying with Gov. Tom Wolf’s order for non-life-sustaining businesses to close during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Commissioner Jeff Pisarcik is urging people to call their local law enforcement agency or the Pennsylvania State Police to report these issues, while allowing staff at the Department of Emergency Services to deal with the ongoing issues and response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“People can go to the governor’s website or call 2-1-1 to have questions answered regarding the closures,” Pisarcik said. “We need everyone to take the precautions seriously and not to expose yourself to this virus by staying out of public places and limiting your social activities.”
“We have to take care of our first responders first to make sure they can respond to your calls for help. Our core mission of processing 9-1-1 calls and getting police, fire and EMS to those scenes is paramount,” director of emergency services Tracy Zents said.
Commissioners Pisarcik, Jack Watson and Herb Bullers are asking everyone to do their part to keep the spread of COVID-19 down. “If everyone does their part to keep the spread down, we can better respond to this crisis, keeping all of our healthcare workers, 9-1-1 and EMA staff and first responders safe to continue to be our front line of defense,” they said in a statement.
For inquiries on business closures, visit the governor’s website at www.governor.pa.gov. For human needs services, visit the Northwest 2-1-1 website at pa211nw.org or by calling 2-1-1. Refrain from calling 9-1-1 except in emergency situations only.

9:30 a.m. NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are opening broadly higher on Wall Street after the Senate approved a $2.2 trillion bill to provide economic relief for damage done by the coronavirus outbreak. Major indexes were up more than 2% in early trading Thursday, following their first back-to-back gains since a dramatic sell-off took hold of markets five weeks ago. Investors were relieved that a massive surge in unemployment applications, despite busting records at 3.3 million, fell short of the worst forecasts. The outbreak has happened so suddenly that the jobless report is one of the first points of data showing how much economic pain it’s creating.

9 a.m. Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982 — amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.
The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is doing to the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.
The pace of layoffs is sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms, and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have close factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they're cutting jobs to save money.
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MADRID — Spain has become the country in Europe where the coronavirus outbreak is expanding fastest. It's second only to the United States in the number of new cases reported.
Spain’s Health Ministry reported 8,578 new infections and 655 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total infections to 56,188 and more than 4,000 fatalities.
Italy's initial steep rise in confirmed cases has started to level off more than two weeks into a nationwide lockdown. On Wednesday, the country reported 5,210 new cases and 683 deaths.
The outbreak is straining Spain’s health care system, with medical staff struggling to treat the infected amid a shortage of protective gear and enough ventilator machines and other medical equipment.
One out of 10 of the country’s COVID-19 fatalities have been recorded in nursing homes.
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BEIJING — China is strongly pushing back on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's insistence on referring to the deadly novel coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic as the "Wuhan virus" after the city in China where it was first detected.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that it was an effort to "stigmatize China and discredit China's efforts in an attempt to divert attention and shift responsibilities."
"He has a very sinister motive," Geng told reporters at a daily briefing.
Geng also defended China's efforts at tackling the virus and denied it was seeking to place responsibility for the outbreak elsewhere. China has been accused of trying to squelch information about the outbreak during its early stages, and some of its diplomats have openly suggested that the virus may have been brought to China from the United States.
Pompeo's call for the virus to be identified by name as the “Wuhan virus” at a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 7 leading industrialized countries resulted in their opting against releasing a group statement.
The World Health Organization and others have cautioned against giving the virus a geographic name because of its global nature, and even President Donald Trump has steered away from those terms as critics have said they foster discriminatory sentiments and behavior against Asians and Asian Americans.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The contrast could hardly be more stark. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has said that if all of his sweeping, expensive measures to stem the coronavirus saved one life, it would be worth it. President Donald Trump has another view: The costs of shutting down the economy outweigh the benefits, frequently telling Americans that 35,000 people a year die from the common flu.
Though it may seem crass, the federal government actually has long made a calculation when imposing regulations, called “the value of a statistical life,” that places a price tag on a human life. It has been used to consider whether to require seat belts, airbags or environmental regulations, but it has never been applied in a broad public health context.
The question is now an urgent one given that Trump in recent days has latched on to the notion that the cure for the pandemic should not be worse than the disease and argued that “more people are going to die if we allow this to continue” if the economy remains closed. He has targeted a return to a semblance of normalcy for the economy by Easter Sunday, April 12.
Critics say he’s presenting the nation with a false choice at a moment when deaths and infections from the virus are surging.
“We’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable,” said Cuomo, whose state has seen far more infections and deaths from COVID-19 than any other state. “And we’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life.”

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