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The U.S. now has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world

Confirmed coronavirus infections have passed the half-million mark worldwide, with 23,000 deaths. In the U.S., a huge economic relief bill is nearing final approval amid an unprecedented wave of unemployment claims from people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. And hospitals are strained to the point of collapse. Amna Nawaz reports and Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Coronavirus infections have passed the half-million mark worldwide tonight, with 23,000 deaths.

    And the United States now has more than 82,000 cases, more than any other country, including 1,100 deaths.

    Meanwhile, a huge economic rescue bill is nearing final approval in Congress amid a tidal wave of unemployment claims from people thrown out of work.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In one of the first major measures of the pandemic's economic impact, a staggering figure; 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last week alone.

    The head of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, offered this assessment on "The Today Show."

  • Jerome Powell:

    We may well be in a recession, but, again, I would point to the difference between this and a normal recession. This isn't — there's nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy, quite the contrary. The economy performed very well right through February.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The increase in jobless claims is by far the biggest ever in a single week, as more and more businesses are forced to close or shed jobs.

    Stephanie Myers was recently laid off from two restaurant server jobs near Charlotte, North Carolina.

  • Stephanie Myers:

    I have been pretty good at holding it together, and I finally just broke down and cried, because you have to think about what's in that bank account, how you're going to start paying bills.

  • Man:

    On this vote, the yeas are 96, the nays are zero.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Some help for those bill payments is on the way.

  • Man:

    The bill is passed.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Senate last night unanimously passed a massive $2.2 trillion rescue package. Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a House vote for Friday.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    We will have a victory tomorrow for America's workers.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The bill then goes to President Trump to be signed into law. Most Americans can expect to receive payments of around $1,000 or more within three weeks.

    That's according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, speaking with CNBC this morning.

  • Steven Mnuchin:

    We're determined to get money in people's pocket immediately.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The pandemic's economic and health hits go hand in hand.

    According to one study this week, in hard-hit New York City, nearly a third of residents lost a job in their household over the last two weeks. Among Latinos, a devastating 40 percent.

    New York state accounts for more than half of all U.S. cases. Infections here, as across the country, are on the rise, and systems are straining to cope.

    This is how one intensive care doctor in New York described the scene at his hospital:

  • Steve Kasspidis:

    Hell. Biblical. I kid you not. People come in, they get intubated, they die. The cycle repeats.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Farther south, Louisiana now has the third highest number of confirmed cases per capita in the United States. The National Guard has deployed in New Orleans to help run mobile testing sites.

    Local officials fear the city will be inundated with infections by the end of next week. Michigan has also seen a dramatic spike in cases in recent days, especially as it's ramped up its testing.

  • Eric Wallis:

    I have never seen anything like this, and, frankly, our U.S. health care system has never seen anything like this. And so, really, they're dealing with something that this is a first ever kind of event for U.S. health care.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, in another first, to avoid outbreaks in prisons, Attorney General William Barr told the Federal Bureau of Prisons to use more home confinement where possible.

    In other close quarters, 5,000 service members on a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Pacific are being diverted to Guam, after dozens tested positive for the virus.

    President Trump today sent a letter to state governors, alerting them to new White House guidelines soon, classifying counties by risk, high, medium or low, as testing capabilities expand.

    At a press briefing late today, the president defended the national response so far.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And we're sending more every day, and we have got tremendous amounts of equipment coming in. A lot of great companies are making equipment right now. The ventilators, obviously, they take a little longer to make, but we have a lot of companies making them. And we're going to be in great shape.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At a virtual meeting today, World Health Organization officials warned leaders from the G20 nations that the virus spread is now exponential.

    Worldwide, nearly three billion people, more than a third of the Earth's population, are now under severe travel restrictions.

    In Spain, where the death toll is still soaring, Madrid hospitals are stretched past capacity, relying on a daily convoy to carry away the dead to a makeshift morgue in an ice rink.

    Italy maintains the most infections in Europe, and though they leveled off earlier this week, the numbers are rising again in the worst-hit region of Lombardy.

    In China, meanwhile, a new ban, temporarily barring foreigners from entering to prevent inbound infections and ward off a potential second wave of the virus.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hopes for that huge aid plan in Congress helped to push Wall Street to a rally for a third day, despite surging unemployment.

    The Dow Jones industrial average gained 1,350 points, 6 percent, to close above 22550. The Nasdaq rose 413 points, and the S&P 500 added 154.

    Now, to help us understand how the nation's worker force will be impacted by Congress' $2 trillion-plus coronavirus aid package, I'm joined by our own Lisa Desjardins.

    So, Lisa, let's take it one by one. First, with those people who are already — they have already lost their jobs or they're about to lose them, what does this package mean for them? How quickly can they get it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This comes from a close reading of the bill and also talking to sources.

    So, unemployment benefits, this bill increases unemployment benefits by $600 per week for everyone who is able to receive them, and that could be a very wide group. It would add 13 weeks of additional unemployment over what your state allows now.

    And, Judy, that's the key issue. How long will it take for these increased benefits to get to people? It depends completely on the state, and their system, as well as how long it takes each to stand up the kind of administering of this money, which could be significant.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, let's focus on what this means for jobs and people worried about their bank accounts.

    This direct money, it goes to people directly? How does it work?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There are so many questions about this, and I got a lot of information about it today.

    So, a reminder. We're talking about those $1,200 for each individual, checks. (INAUDIBLE) this bill. Now, they go to a very wide group, essentially everyone who has a tax I.D. number. That does include people on Social Security.

    There is a limit. It goes to people, individuals making under $75,000, married couples making under $150,000. Now, if you're single and have a child, your limit is (INAUDIBLE) 500, by the way.

    Now, one other thing to know about this. When could these checks be in our mailboxes or bank accounts? (INAUDIBLE) if you use direct deposit (INAUDIBLE) taxes, I'm told that, in that case, it could be three to four weeks.

    If you do not use direct deposit, it will be longer.

    One other note about these checks, Judy, they are not taxable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, apologies for some of the audio difficulties we're hearing — having. Obviously, everybody knows you're working with a computer there.

    But let's talk about the money that's going to companies, obviously, some of this going to big companies, but what about small businesses? What are they getting, and how is that going to work?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    This is a huge part of this bill, Judy. This is payments that they're going to try and keep workers on the payroll for small businesses. The $350 billion (INAUDIBLE) people should know that money is meant to take care of eight weeks of payroll and rent.

    And that money will also be (INAUDIBLE) to go retroactively to pay back possibly as far as February (INAUDIBLE) up to June 30 (INAUDIBLE).

    This money, Judy, initially, it will be a loan, but it will become a grant if it is used only for workers, and it's going to be a lot of money.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, how fast can these small businesses get this money?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    (INAUDIBLE) question.

    I only had one source who was able to give me an answer on that, because this depends on banks being able to get this money out. They think that they are going to move as fast as possible, but for small businesses, it doesn't look like this loan will get in their bank accounts until April 1.

    They're hoping for maybe around then, but much to be determined on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in brief, what do we know about what — the money that's going to go to the big companies?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    This money could go out more quickly, Judy. That's the $500 billion in loans to large companies. This is because Secretary Mnuchin controls that money. It's all leveraged out of a very large pool of cash the government already has.

    It could happen quickly. One thing, Judy, Mnuchin in this law must notify the public of every transaction within 72 hours. So, once those large loans go out to big corporations, we will hear about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right.

    Lisa Desjardins doing some remarkable reporting on this almost 900-page piece of legislation, which still has to go to the House of Representatives.

    Lisa, thank you so much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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