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As virus deaths rise, Congress agrees on $8.3 billion to fund public response

The novel coronavirus has claimed more lives in the U.S., with a total of 10 deaths in Washington state and one in California. As the number of infections also continues to rise, the House and Senate have agreed on a bipartisan, multi-billion dollar emergency spending measure to fight the outbreak. The bill includes money for vaccine research, medical supplies and more. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United States now has 11 deaths from the virus, 10 in Washington state, and the first one in California. That word came today as Congress moved to provide emergency funding.

    William Brangham has our report.

  • William Brangham:

    As the number of infections in the U.S. continues to rise, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an $8.3 billion emergency spending measure to fight the outbreak.

    The bill includes $3 billion for increased research into a vaccine and other treatments, $2.2 billion for public health prevention and response, including a boost for the CDC, $1 billion for medical supplies, like masks and protective gowns, and $300 million to help low-income people afford a potential vaccine.

    It would also provide potentially billions in loans to small businesses hurt by the outbreak. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue:

  • President Donald Trump:

    We are, I think, doing a very effective job.

  • William Brangham:

    President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with top industry officials, including airline CEOs. The president urged the country not to be afraid to fly.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Large portions of the world are very safe to fly. So, we don't want to say anything other than that. And we have sort of closed certain sections of the world, frankly, and they have sort of automatically closed them also.

  • William Brangham:

    But some airlines are worried it will get worse. United Airlines announced it will cut international flights by 20 percent and domestic flights by 10 percent next month. It's also implementing a hiring freeze and may trim flights even more.

    Meanwhile, confirmed cases of COVID-19, which in the U.S. are still relatively low in number, are growing. Los Angeles declared a public health emergency today, in response to six new confirmed infections.

    L.a. Mayor Eric Garcetti tried to calm the public.

  • Eric Garcetti:

    This is important. We're not saying that the situation in Los Angeles is dramatically worse. What we're saying — and this echoes what the CDC is saying — the potential public health risk is elevating and significant.

  • William Brangham:

    Elsewhere, officials have taken a more drastic approach to controlling their outbreaks. Italy's education minister said today, schools and universities will be closed starting tomorrow for at least 10 days.

    This comes as infections in Italy rose to more than 3,000. Public health officials warned Italians, if you want to help stop this spread, consider dialing back your typical touching and kissing.

    But, for some, that's too much to ask.

  • Antonio Pierranti (through translator):

    We are Sicilians. We love each other, and we need physical contact. We will continue to do this as long as we can.

  • William Brangham:

    In Iran, with nearly 3,000 confirmed cases, soldiers and firefighters were mobilized to spray city streets and buildings.

    Iranian officials also canceled the highly attended Friday prayers for the second week in a row.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wall Street watched the continued spread of the virus today, and bet that central banks will react with more cuts in interest rates.

    Investors also read the Super Tuesday wins for Joe Biden as a positive. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 1,170 points to close at 27090. The Nasdaq rose 334 points, and the S&P 500 was up 126.

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