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3.3 million jobless claims, Senate passes stimulus: Thursday’s coronavirus news

What you need to know today.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 18, 2020.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

The US Senate passed a massive, $2 trillion stimulus package late Wednesday night, with a vote of 96 to 0. The Senate’s approval of the largest economic relief package in American history came as the Labor Department reported that jobless claims for last week approached a record 3.3 million.

The House of Representatives is expected to approve the economic bill this Friday, in an attempt to stave off the unfolding economic crisis. It comes as the Covid-19 public health catastrophe continues in the US. The country has now confirmed more than 69,000 cases as of March 26.

New York City remains the epicenter of nation’s outbreak. On Wednesday, 88 deaths were reported across the five boroughs, the highest single-day toll yet.

Here’s what you need to know today.

A record week for unemployment claims

It’s an astounding figure: nearly 3.3 million jobless claims for the week ending March 21, according to preliminary statistics for the Department of Labor. It’s the most claims ever made in a single week in the US. The previous record, in October 1982, was 695,000.

This is likely just the beginning as America faces an unprecedented challenge, with entire sectors of the economy practically shut down as people are ordered to remain in their homes.

It is also likely to revive the debate that President Donald Trump has framed as not letting the “cure be worse than the problem,” with some clamoring to reopen the economy before the virus is fully under control, in defiance of public health officials’ recommendations. Trump has tried for days now to set April 12, Easter, as the reopening date for the country. But even his current place of residence, Washington, DC, has imposed a stay-at-home order until at least April 24.

Congress rushes to provide economic relief

Congress, though, has acted pretty rapidly to push through this $2 trillion stimulus relief package. The Senate passed the legislation that will include direct payments of $1,200 to most Americans making under $75,000, with more money for those who have children.

It also includes a $500 billion loan program for big businesses, more than $360 billion for small businesses, and billions for hospitals and state and local governments fighting the coronavirus. The House is expected to take it up Friday, after which it will head to Trump’s desk. The question now is whether it will be enough.

New York City flounders, as the US coronavirus crisis escalates

The US is now approaching 70,000 coronavirus cases. Hospitals are worried about their capacity to treat ill patients. Doctors and nurses are pleading for help — for protective equipment, for more respirators and ventilators.

The catastrophe is unfolding most acutely in New York City. On Wednesday, 88 people died, the most in a 24-hour period so far in the city. And the death toll in New York City is more than 280, with more than 21,000 confirmed cases. Hospitals are setting up refrigerated trucks outside hospitals, in case morgues are overwhelmed. More than 200 Army field hospital workers from Kentucky are headed to New York this week, and an emergency hospital is being built in the Javits Center, the convention center on Manhattan’s far west side.

“It’s apocalyptic,” Ashley Bray, a general medicine resident at the Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, told the New York Times.

And some good news

Museums and cultural centers are shut down because of the coronavirus, including the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. And without any visitors, Tim, the head of security, got put in charge of the museum’s social media accounts.

And my god, he is good at it.

It’s just a pure and fun thing on the internet right now, and actor Sam Elliott even makes an appearance. There is nothing not to like.

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