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US sees layoffs, China reports no new local cases: Thursday’s coronavirus news

Here’s what to know today.

Volunteers thank members of a medical assistance team at a ceremony marking their departure after helping with the coronavirus recovery effort, in Wuhan, China, on March 19, 2020.
Stringer/AFP via Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

Congress officially passed a coronavirus aid package that will offer paid sick leave to some American workers, boost funding for states providing emergency food and unemployment benefits, and provide for free coronavirus testing.

It’s just one of the measures Congress is using to try to deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, including potentially delivering $1 trillion in economic stimulus that would include small business relief and potentially give Americans cash directly. With global markets still dipping and jobless claims jumping to a 2.5-year high last week, lawmakers want to act fast. Also, at least two House members have tested positive for the coronavirus, adding to the sense of urgency.

There’s also news out of China about its progress against the coronavirus, and some grim details from a new CDC analysis on how coronavirus is affecting all ages in America.

Here’s what to know in coronavirus news today.

Jobless claims rise as Congress considers economic stimulus

The US Department of Labor said Thursday that jobless claims jumped to 281,000 for the week ending March 14, up 33 percent from the previous week.

This is bad news.

Already, mass layoffs are happening: Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group laid off 2,000 workers Wednesday, a full 80 percent of its workforce. Marriott has begun furloughing tens of thousands of employees. The Metropolitan Opera has laid off all of its union employees, NPR reported on Thursday. Ian Shepherdson from Pantheon Macroeconomics told CNBC Thursday that next week’s claim total could hit 2 million.

Beverly Hills mandated the closure of “non-essential” stores, including the famous retailers on Rodeo Drive, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Trump administration and Congress are trying to offer some relief. The question now is what form it will take. According to the Washington Post, the Trump administration has outlined a $1 trillion stimulus plan that would include up to $500 billion in cash payments to Americans, $300 billion for small businesses, and another $50 billion for airlines and another $150 billion for other businesses completely battered by the coronavirus outbreak.

Now it’s up to House Democrats and Senate Republicans to agree. But expect this package, in some form, to pass pretty quickly. On top of all this, the coronavirus itself has now reached Congress, with at least two lawmakers testing positive. Congress is already trying to social distance, but so far, a petition from lawmakers asking leadership to let members vote remotely has gone unanswered.

China says it has no new local cases of coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, but it has now spread worldwide. As cases rise in places such as Italy and Spain and the United States, China’s numbers have begun to peter out.

Though it has more than 81,000 cases — still the most confirmed worldwide — the Chinese government said Thursday that it had no new cases of local coronavirus transmission, meaning that the only new cases diagnosed came from people who had traveled from elsewhere.

This is a remarkable turnaround, though one that should probably be treated with a degree of skepticism. The Chinese government initially tried to downplay the severity of the coronavirus outbreak and tried to crack down on whistleblowers. It failed to inform the world of how serious the coronavirus spread was, and that silence is likely contributing to the crisis that places like Iran, Europe, and the United States now face.

China’s authoritarian government also allowed it to impose draconian measures that kept its citizens under mass quarantine and to use surveillance tools to monitor people — something that is harder to do in democratic societies, even those like Italy that have adopted strict measures. The real test, then, is what might happen after China lifts these restrictions — and whether the coronavirus will resurge after the country tries to return to normal.

The case for social distancing, for everyone

Coronavirus is a particular threat to the elderly and those with underlying heath conditions. That’s the line that’s been repeated since the outbreak starting to grow in the United States. Based on data from China, the death rate is much higher for people age 50 and up, and increases for each decade.

But that absolutely does not mean it’s not a big deal for younger people. Data from the CDC from between February 12 and March 16 shows that 38 percent of those hospitalized for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, were under the age of 55.

Within that figure, those in the 20- to 44-year-old age group were still hospitalized at a rate of 20 percent. The data shows that the fatality rate remains high for those 85 and older, but hospitalization — and especially what it means for the US’s soon-to-be-overwhelmed health care system — is still a big deal.

The number of coronavirus cases in the US has now tipped past 9,400, with the number only expected to increase as more and more testing takes place. More than 140 people have died.

Which means that even if you’re only looking out for yourself, your spring break is definitely, definitely, definitely not worth it.

And here’s some good (or at least very, very weird) news

Celebrities have made a lot of PSAs about staying home or about their own coronavirus diagnosis, encouraging others to follow safe practices and social distance. And while there’s definitely a question as to why NBA players and other celebrities are easily getting coronavirus tests while lots of Americans are struggling to get access, we’ll leave structural inequality aside for a second and just take a moment to delight in whatever the heck Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing right now.

The former California governor has been making truly wild PSAs encouraging people to stay home. The first video appeared Sunday on Twitter, and showed Arnold sitting at his kitchen table, feeding carrots to and fawning over his mini horse and donkey (?), Whiskey and Lulu.

In the video, he instructs people to stay home and offers some tips. “You’ve got to get along,” he told his pets (?) at one point, “We’re in very small quarters in a very small house. Good girls.”

He followed this up with another PSA on Wednesday, which features him sitting shirtless in a bubbling hot tub wearing a hat that says “SHERIFF” on it and holding a cigar. “Stay away from the crowds, go home, and then we can overcome this whole problem, this whole virus, in no time,” he tells viewers.

Look, Schwarzenegger is not an uncontroversial figure, but this truly bizarre spectacle is hard to look away from in a time when all of us need distractions.

And yes, few of us are spending quarantine with equines (probably a good thing) or in houses with hot tubs (less than ideal if you like hot tubs), but it’s hard not to appreciate the pure wackiness of what is happening.

And what Arnold is saying is legitimately good advice. Before he signed off on Wednesday, he warned: “Put that cookie down.” Tough, but fair.

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