U.S. and global news on COVID-19

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The Senate overwhelmingly passed a massive stimulus package late Wednesday night aimed at softening the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic for American workers and businesses. The bill includes billions of dollars in credit for struggling industries, a boost to unemployment insurance and direct cash payments to Americans.

The fate of the bill now rests with the House, which will not vote until Friday, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The U.S. reached a grim milestone as the number of deaths linked to the coronavirus passed 1,000 in the country, according to a count of reports of cases and deaths by NBC News. Globally, the death toll topped 20,000, with nearly half a million reported cases.

Meanwhile at the U.N., the Trump administration is pushing the Security Council to call attention to the Chinese origins of the coronavirus, four diplomats posted to the United Nations told NBC News, triggering a stalemate as the global body seeks to cobble together a response to the pandemic.

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Cuomo slams politicians for not providing financial support to state, local governments

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday slammed politicians in Washington, D.C., for not providing financial support to state and local governments in its $2 trillion aid package. 

"I believe what they did failed to address our governmental need," Cuomo said, adding that he spoke to New York's congressional delegation. "I find it irresponsible. I find it reckless."

"When this is over," he added, "I promise I’m going to give them a piece of my mind."

The public health update

  • Cuomo said as of Thursday 37,258 people tested positive, with 5,327 hospitalized, 1,290 people in ICU, and 1,517 patients discharged.
  • There have been 385 deaths in New York, Cuomo said Thursday — up from 285 the day before.
  • More than 8,600 mental health professionals across the country have made themselves available to New Yorkers.
  • 18,650 tests were conducted on Wednesday.
  • Cuomo highlighted an ongoing push to increase Increasing hospital capacity to 140,000 beds from 53,000. He said he has mandated hospitals increase capacity by 50 percent and try to increase by 100 percent.

New Jersey, the 2nd worst-hit state, declared major disaster

New Jersey on Thursday was declared a major disaster by President Donald Trump as the number of coronavirus cases in the state soared to over 4,400. 

Gov. Phil Murphy said the designation would give the state access to more federal support “to help our residents through this emergency.” 

New Jersey reported 4,402 coronavirus cases as of Thursday, the second highest number after New York, which has 32,741 cases. 

Actors whose shows were canceled to get stimulus help

Actors who had been cast in shows that were canceled due to coronavirus will get unemployment help from Congress' massive spending package.

Normally, a person must have already been working to be eligible for unemployment insurance if they’re laid off. That requirement threatened to leave out thousands of stage and film performers who earn a living gig-to-gig and had booked a job that hadn’t started yet.

The Actors Equity Association, the union that represents professional stage actors and stage managers, lobbied for a provision to help performers in that situation. A provision was added saying that anyone who “was scheduled to comment employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of a COVID-19 outbreak” will be eligible for the unemployment insurance assistance in the stimulus bill.

All Broadway shows in New York have been canceled at least through mid-April.

REAL ID deadline extended to October 2021

The deadline for Americans to comply with the federal REAL ID program has been extended to Oct. 1, 2021.

"The federal, state and local response to the spread of the Coronavirus here in the United States necessitates a delay in this deadline," Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement. "Our state and local partners are working tirelessly with the Administration to flatten the curve and, therefore, we want to remove any impediments to response and recovery efforts."

The REAL ID Act was passed after the 9/11 attacks and sought to make all state-issued identification cards more secure with uniform national standards.

Trump on Monday announced the deadline would be pushed back but did not say until when.

Richard Engel: Italian ICU chief says hospitals must be on ‘war footing’ or collapse

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell says he tested positive for COVID-19

Jeff Shell, the CEO of NBCUniversal, said on Thursday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Shell made the announcement in an email to employees in which he stressed that people will have to work from home "for some time" in order to limit the spread of the virus. 

Shell was named chief executive of NBCUniversal in January.

"The other reason to work from home is that in the event you contract the virus, it will limit the number of your colleagues you inadvertently expose," Shell wrote. "As some of you now know, I myself am in this category. I recently have been feeling under the weather and just learned that I have tested positive for Covid-19. Although the virus has been tough to cope with, I have managed to work remotely in LA and am improving every day."

NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC News.

Store throws out $35K worth of food that woman coughed on in 'twisted prank'

A Pennsylvania grocery story disposed of about $35,000 worth of food after a customer purposefully coughed on it.Gerrity's Supermarkets via Facebook

A woman played a "twisted prank" at a Pennsylvania grocery store Wednesday by purposely coughing on about $35,000 worth of food, which had to be thrown out, the supermarket said.

The co-owner of the Gerrity's supermarket in Hanover Township said authorities were working to get the woman tested for coronavirus. 

The Hanover Township Police Department said it is investigating the incident and that charges would be filed against the suspect, who underwent a mental health evaluation.

Russia to ground international flights

All international flights to Russia will be halted starting Friday following a sharp jump in virus cases in the country this week, Russian government officials announced Thursday. 

A statement on the government’s website said an exception would be made for repatriation flights bringing Russian citizens home, as well as for flights that have received special government permission.

President Vladimir Putin said in a televised meeting Thursday that Russia could defeat coronavirus in less than three months if it imposed tough measures quickly, according to Reuters.

Authorities in the country’s capital of Moscow said they would close all shops apart from essential services starting this weekend as Russia reported its biggest one day rise in cases yet — still a figure much lower than in many other European countries — bringing its official tally to 840 cases.

Many Americans face coronavirus with no water to wash their hands

Valaria Griffin.Courtesy Valaria Griffin

Valaria Griffin has had no running water in her Detroit home since last fall, when it was shut off because of unpaid bills and a broken plumbing valve that she couldn't afford to fix.

Now, as officials urge people to wash their hands to fight the coronavirus, Griffin, 55, is one of many Americans who can't easily do that. She worries her life could be in danger. 

"I'm so stressed out. It's just despair," said Griffin, who relies on donated bottled water. "I'm not able to keep my sanitation level up enough for this virus. I'm not able to keep clean."

Read the full story here. 

Photo: Workers accept confinement to keep making masks

Workers flash peace signs inside a factory where they manufacture medical masks in Kairouan, Tunisia in a photo released on Thursday. One hundred and fifty workers at Consomed, the factory which has become the country's main supplier of protective medical apparel and equipment, have agreed to stay confined at the facility, to keep producing masks.Consomed / AFP - Getty Images