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US debates economic relief and universities go remote: Wednesday’s coronavirus news

Here’s what you need to know.

Abandoned toys are seen at the Westchester Day School on March 10, 2020. Westchester County in New York is being placed under containment after officials determined it is the site of a “cluster” of new coronavirus infections.
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

The number of novel coronavirus cases worldwide has jumped to more than 120,000 as of Wednesday morning, with more than 4,300 deaths recorded. The largest increases in cases came outside of China, with Italy surpassing 10,000 cases and Iran reporting around 9,000. The US now has more than 1,000 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As the outbreak continues, governments are increasingly trying to mitigate and slow the coronavirus’s spread. Italy instituted a country-wide quarantine Tuesday, and the US has begun employing more aggressive quarantine and social distancing measures in places like Washington state and New York. At the same time, officials are trying to figure out how to dull the economic pain, both personal and nationwide, that this virus is causing. Italy has proposed a $28 billion stimulus plan. Lawmakers in the United States are debating the best way to ease the economic effects.

Here’s what you need to know Wednesday about the latest in coronavirus news.

There will probably be some financial relief in the US. What that is, is another story.

Stock markets around the world are going haywire. The airline and cruise industries are floundering. And with the coronavirus spreading in the US, the hit to workers and businesses is nearly inevitable.

The White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill want to provide relief, but they still can’t agree on what that looks like. The Trump administration is proposing a payroll-elimination tax through at least November that would cost some $700 billion and, according to the New York Times, be on par with the financial bailout in 2008.

Overall, both Republicans and Democrats are wary about the president’s proposal and instead are looking for more targeted measures. House Democrats are eager to pass a package that includes things like sick leave, free coronavirus testing, and expands benefits like federal unemployment insurance, as Vox’s Ella Nilsen and Li Zhou have reported. Republicans, too, are looking for more “surgical” ways, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) put it, to help industries, such as airlines, and individuals who are going to absorb that brunt of the economic pain. Exactly what form that assistance would take is not yet clear, however.

Wednesday, it was reported the Trump administration was considering another idea: extending the tax deadline from April 15 or waiving late fees or penalties for those affected by the coronavirus.

Congress has worked on a fairly bipartisan basis in its coronavirus response so far — for instance, it has approved an $8.3 billion aid package specifically to shore up health departments as they combat the outbreak. As the number of cases ticks up in the US — which they will, especially as testing becomes more widely available — Congress and Trump are likely to agree on some sort of financial package meant to help individuals. Right now, though, they’re still a bit far apart.

New York state established a one-mile “containment” zone

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a one-mile “containment” zone in the city of New Rochelle, in Westchester County. It’s the epicenter of the outbreak in New York, with 108 of the state’s total 173 cases.

“It is what they call a cluster, the numbers have been going up, the numbers continue to go up, the numbers are going up unabated,” Cuomo said at a press conference Tuesday. “And we do need a special public health strategy for New Rochelle.”

The “containment” area is an attempt to stop community spread in New Rochelle, and covers a one-mile radius in just part of the suburb. Schools, churches and synagogues, and other gathering areas in the containment zone will be closed, though businesses can remain open. The National Guard will deliver food and help clean public areas, including schools. The order will last from Thursday, March 12, until Wednesday, March 25.

“This is the single greatest public health challenge we have in the state right now,” Cuomo said Tuesday.

This is one of the most dramatic steps a US state has taken to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but it is likely not to be the last. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington is expected to announce a ban of gatherings of 250 people or more in the Seattle metro area, though it wasn’t clear how long it might last. Federal, state, and local officials are urging people, especially elderly and at-risk people, to avoid public transport and large crowds, when necessary. Expect this to be just the start of more measures to come.

School’s out for the — well, who knows

Hong Kong, Japan, and Italy are among the places that shut schools as the coronavirus outbreak advanced. The United States has no such order in place, but schools, particularly universities, are rapidly adopting those measures on their own.

Dozens of universities across the country are moving classes online this spring, with the end dates unclear in many cases. That includes colleges and universities in Washington and those in California like Stanford and UCLA, and those on the East Coast, including Duke in North Carolina and Princeton in New Jersey.

Harvard University will begin online classes as of March 23 and has asked students not to return to campus after spring break — an order that generated chaos as enrollees figured out last-minute plans. “It’s devastating,” Sanika Mahajan, a third-year student, told the Washington Post. “Everyone is reacting pretty quickly and emotionally.”

And, the entire Ivy League canceled its conference basketball tournament over coronavirus fears for fans and for student athletes.

Forbes has tallied a total of 55 colleges and universities that have moved classes online, but that number is sure to expand. As for high schools and elementary schools, closings have been more ad hoc, usually racing to shut down after a parent or someone close to a student has tested positive for the virus. Still, at least 115 public and private schools in Washington state have closed since February 27. And schools are canceling events; parent-teacher conferences in New York City have been moved to phone and video chats.

For many municipalities, closing schools is the option of last resort, given what it means for everything from child care for working parents to homeless students. But there’s a lot that can happen — sports and after school activities canceled, for example — before they get to that point.