Senate passes $2 trillion spending bill

WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly passed a massive stimulus package late Wednesday night meant to soften the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic for American workers and businesses.

The bill includes billions of dollars in credit for struggling industries, a significant boost to unemployment insurance and direct cash payments to Americans. The fate of the bill now rests with the House, which House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said would not vote until Friday.

The final vote was 96-0.

Read the full story.

Trump speaks to China's Xi about coronavirus

President Donald Trump tweeted early Friday that he had a "very good conversation" with China's President Xi Jinping, and that the two leaders discussed the coronavirus pandemic and are working closely together.

State-run Xinhua reported that the two leaders had spoken. 

Trump has repeatedly called the coronavirus the "Chinese virus," even though the World Health Organization in 2015 said that diseases should not be named based on geographic locations. The outbreak began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Trump this week seemed to back off from the term. Trump was asked about the change in language Thursday and said that the virus did come from China but "I think it was time" and that "I don't have to say it, if they feel so strongly about it."

Montana governor latest to tell residents to stay home to slow spread of virus

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued a stay-at-home directive Thursday, which his office says requires residents to remain in their homes as much as possible and for nonessential businesses to temporarily close in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Montana has 90 cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19, many of them in Gallatin and Yellowstone counties, which is where Bozeman and Billings are located, respectively. The order goes into effect Saturday.

Bullock also announced Thursday that the state has seen its first death related to the illness.

Like other orders around the country, essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open and residents are allowed to leave to go shopping, take walks or other outdoor exercise or to walk dogs, and to care for loved ones, among other activities.

Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy to arrive in Los Angeles Friday

The Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy is expected to arrive in Los Angeles on Friday to support medical systems amid the coronavirus epidemic.

President Donald Trump on March 18 said two hospital ships — the other is the USNS Comfort, which departs Virginia for New York City on Saturday — would be deployed to help in the outbreak.

The Mercy set sail from San Diego this week. The Defense Department says the ship can hold up to 1,000 hospital beds, which will reduce the burden on regular hospitals that have to handle COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus. In Los Angeles County, the number of cases grew to 1,216 Thursday, including 21 people who have died, the health department said. There had been 559 new cases confirmed in the past 48 hours, and the department said the large increase was in part due to greater testing capacity that is allowing officials to identify cases.

Patient says goodbye to Life Care Center

Judie Shape, 81, who had been diagnosed with coronavirus disease and was a resident at Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility linked to confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, leaves the center with her daughter, Lori Spencer, in Kirkland, Washington, on Thursday.David Ryder / Reuters

House members race back to Washington amid fears the $2 trillion coronavirus bill could be delayed

WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican leaders are scrambling members of Congress back to Washington late Thursday night because they suddenly believe the $2 trillion economic relief packagemight not pass by the voice vote planned for Friday and could be delayed if at least 216 members don’t show up to vote on the floor.

Members are now racing to get back to D.C. by Friday morning — in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic — because leaders fear at least one member, likely Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., will demand a recorded vote.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., wrote on Twitter Thursday evening: “The CARES Act is historic legislation, which is why I'm driving back to DC to help get this thing over the finish line.” The drive from his Kalamazoo-area district is nearly 10 hours back to Washington.

Ultimately, passage isn’t in jeopardy — but it could be delayed for as long as it takes for 216 members to arrive in Washington. The House gavels in at 9 a.m. on Friday and is expected to have two hours of debate.

Click here for the full story

4 Massachusetts medical schools to allow early graduation for fourth-year students

Four Massachusetts medical schools will allow their fourth-year classes to graduate a month early to aid hospitals with an anticipated jump in coronavirus cases. 

Deans from Boston University, Harvard, Tufts and the University of Massachusetts accepted the state’s recommendation that students who would graduate in mid-May will now graduate in mid-April and be free to work in hospitals one month earlier than expected. 

“We may need every physician we can get based on what has happened in Wuhan and Italy, and what is happening in New York,” said Karen Antman, dean of Boston University’s School of Medicine.

The announcement came after NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine said Wednesday that it would let its fourth-year students graduate early to work and volunteer in hospitals.

Sewing group making fabric face masks for facilities, people in need

Jessy Broughton Gillespie started the Sew You Care project last week for seamstresses to collaborate on sewing fabric face masks to donate to facilities and people in need nationwide.Jessy Broughton Gillespie

People across the United States are pitching in to help sew fabric face masks to donate to hospitals, first responders and other people in need as the country grapples with a shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE. 

"Everybody just felt the same," said Jessy Broughton Gillespie, who started the group Sew You Care. "These are our people, this is our community. We should protect them."

Gillespie launched the group on Facebook last week, and it now has more than 3,000 members working to sew masks and ship them to facilities and people who have reached out asking for donations. To be safe, she said, the group is asking members to wash their fabric and use sterile equipment. They also tell recipients that the masks are handmade and should be washed before use. Gillespie said they've made up to 8,000 masks this week and won't stop until they're no longer needed. 

"We have to remember that the American spirit is amazing," she said. "In unprecedented times, we really do have unprecedented answers, and this is one of those."

Homemade face masks are not considered PPE, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but might be used by health care personnel as a last resort. CDC guidance says homemade masks "should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face." 

Idaho reports first 3 deaths linked to COVID-19

Idaho health authorities on Thursday announced the state's first deaths related to the coronavirus illness COVID-19, a day after the governor issued a stay-at-home order.

The deceased were three men, all over age 60, the state health department said. Two were from Blaine County, and the third was from Canyon County. The Canyon County man had underlying health issues but it was not clear if the other two had any, the health department said in a statement.

There have been 189 cases in the state, according to the department. On Wednesday, Gov. Brad Little announced a stay-at-home order for Idaho in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

3 more escapees from South Dakota jail in custody

A total of 155 inmates are under observation at a South Dakota jail where another prisoner tested positive for the coronavirus, and state officials announced three more inmates who escaped this week are back in custody.

The two inmates still missing from the minimum-security unit of the Pierre Community Work Center were identified as Philomene Boneshirt, 25, and Sylvia Red Leaf, 25, the state Department of Corrections said.

The inmate who tested positive for COVID-19 remains in isolation, and no other inmates in the state system have tested positive, the department said.

But the 155 are under observation because they had potential exposure to that inmate, the department said. Nine inmates escaped from the facility on Monday, but six have been returned to custody.

NYU dean sends 'tone deaf' dancing video to students

A video sent by a New York University dean in an email upset multiple students, some of whom called it “tone deaf.” Dean Allyson Green of Tisch School of the Arts at NYU inserted a video of herself dancing to R.E.M. in an email she sent to all Tisch students with campus updates regarding coronavirus. The email included the information that students would not be receiving tuition refunds.

Green argues in her email that refunding tuition would be challenging for the university because remote learning is costing millions of dollars. She also argues the university has to pay for facilities.

“But we are still paying for these whether or not they are empty for the rest of the semester. We are also continuing to support payments to our valued colleagues, and we just won’t let them down,” the email said.

Neither Green nor the university immediately responded to a request for comment.

Students took issue with the juxtaposition of the carefree video and the bad news on tuition.

“There’s a feeling amongst the students, Tisch specifically, that we are being cheated out of something, so everyone thought it was really ridiculous and tone deaf,” said Tisch senior Michael Price. “She’s not answering any of our questions and it’s just her dancing to ‘Losing my Religion.’”

John Miller, NYPD counterterrorism expert, hospitalized

John Miller, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism and intelligence, is in a hospital with the coronavirus, four law enforcement officials said.

Miller had had not been feeling well for a couple of days and went to the hospital, the officials said.

Two other law enforcement sources said Miller had a low fever and went to the hospital as a precaution, and that he is alert and in good spirits and has been taking calls from family and friends throughout the day.

New York City had more than 23,000 coronavirus cases as of Thursday night. There have been 365 deaths in the city related to the illness, according to the health department. The police department said Wednesday that 100 sworn members and 29 civilians have tested positive for the coronavirus illness COVID-19.

Also on Thursday, the department reported its first death from the disease, Custodial Assistant Dennis Dickson.