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Coronavirus updates: Trump ponders return to normal life by Easter as death toll climbs

Here are the latest updates from around the world.
Image: New York City Hospital Adds New Protocols And Triage To Address Coronavirus
Doctors test hospital staff with flu-like symptoms for coronavirus (COVID-19) in set-up tents to triage possible COVID-19 patients outside before they enter the main Emergency department area at St. Barnabas hospital in the Bronx on March 24, 2020 in New York.Misha Friedman / Getty Images

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The number of coronavirus cases continued to accelerate in the United States on Tuesday, and early Wednesday Senate leaders announced they had reached a deal on a massive $2 trillion spending bill aimed at alleviating the economic impact of the outbreak.

The White House coronavirus coordinator asked people who have recently been in New York, where the death toll continues to climb, to quarantine themselves for 14 days, because they may have been exposed before leaving.

President Donald Trump is pushing for the country to get back to business by April 12, Easter Sunday, when he said he would like to see churches full of people.

And after growing international pressure, Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed to postpone the 2020 Tokyo games until next year but said they would happen no later than summer 2021.

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Los Angeles County gun shops drew a barrage of buyers before lockdown

Los Angeles County residents rushed to gun stores as the coronavirus spread across the U.S. last week, forming long lines in a fit of panic-buying, a top law enforcement official told NBC News.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva says the gun buying bonanza came just before a stay-at-home order was put in place. Gun shops, like other nonessential businesses, are now closed across the county.

"You can't shoot a virus," Villanueva told NBC News. “But if we ever get to the point of a foreign invasion or zombie apocalypse, I’ll make sure they are open.”

Transit systems in free fall beg for federal help over coronavirus

An empty New York subway car on Monday.Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images

The nation's public transit systems are asking for federal help as ridership plummets because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As more and more states and major urban centers call upon residents to work from home and shelter in place to slow the spread of the virus, public transit systems around the country are taking a major hit, with declines in ridership of up to 90 percent.

In New York, an epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has seen a 60 percent decline in ridership on its subways, while in San Francisco, where residents have been ordered to stay home, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system has seen a decline of almost 90 percent and is losing millions per week, forcing it to reduce service times.

The steep drops in riders, plus the added costs of safety measures such as disinfecting subway cars and cleaning the stations, could have catastrophic financial consequences for public transit systems even after the crisis is over.

Read the full story here.

Coronavirus cases surpass 50,000 in the U.S.

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States has now risen to more than 50,000. New York has the biggest number of cases by far, at over 25,000. That's largely due to increased testing for the virus. 

California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey and Washington have all reported more than 1,000 cases each.

Nationwide, 637 people have died from the coronavirus. 

Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Jr. welcomes students back

The Liberty University campus in Lynchburg, Va.Julia Rendleman / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Liberty University in Virginia welcomed students back to campus Monday amid criticism of its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for allowing them back during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1,100 students returned Monday following spring break, according to Scott Lamb, a spokesman for the university in Lynchburg. Falwell Jr. said he met with many of them.

At least one professor at the university has criticized the move, writing in an op-ed that "Falwell's lack of concern" about the pandemic puts faculty, staff and others in the city of Lynchburg at risk. In addition, an online petition seeks Falwell's removal over his alleged failure to take COVID-19 seriously.

Read the full story here.

Trump says he wants to ease coronavirus restrictions by April 12

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he wants to have the country getting back to business by the Easter holiday, April 12, saying the country isn’t built to sustain a longterm shutdown.

Public health experts and local and state leaders have cautioned against easing restrictions too early, saying it could put an enormous strain on hospitals and lead to even more deaths and economic damage.

A White House official clarified that the president views Easter as a date by which the economy is speeding again, meaning the loosening of restrictions would happen even sooner. 

Grassroots team launches website to get protective equipment to health care workers

A newly launched website “Get Us PPE” aims to unite medical workers, engineers, marketers, and manufacturers to get frontline healthcare workers the necessary protection they need to stay safe and take care of coronavirus patients.

Over the last couple weeks, hundreds of health care workers across the country have been flooding social media with disturbing accounts of shortages of basic equipment like masks, gowns and hand sanitizer.

Many have responded to their calls offering to donate supplies, sew masks, or retool their factories. Until Tuesday, these real-time donations efforts were decentralized, but now a  “passionate grassroots team” from across the country has unified the effort into one website getusppe.org.  More than 566 hospitals have already asked for supplies and the number is growing, organizers told NBC News. 

Greta Thunberg self-isolates after experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms

Thunberg and her dad experienced coronavirus-like symptoms after traveling in Central Europe and are now isolating themselves for 2 weeks in a separate apartment, the climate activist said in an Instagram post Tuesday.

Last week, Sweden's Public Health Agency stopped testing all possible cases and advised that anyone who experienced symptoms to stay at home and practice social distancing.

Thunberg reported that she did not get tested for coronavirus, but has since fully recovered.

"Follow the advice from experts and your local authorities and #StayAtHome to slow the spread of the virus," she said. "And remember to always take care of each other and help those in need.#COVID #flattenthecurve"

Poland unleashes vodka on the virus

The Polish government has deployed a weapon in the fight against the coronavirus: confiscated black market vodka.

Known locally as “bimber,” some 500,000 liters of the high-powered liquid will be used as a disinfectant, the National Office of the Public Prosecutor said. It's worth noting, however, that vodka is generally not considered an effective killer of microbes.

Vodka was invented in Poland, and the authorities crack down routinely on the hundreds of illegal distilleries operating in the countryside.

Photo: Auto plant workers in Wuhan return to jobs

Employees eat during lunch break at a Dongfeng Honda auto plant in Wuhan, China on Monday. People in central China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus was first detected, are now allowed to go back to work and public transport has restarted, as some normality slowly returns after a two-month lockdown.AFP - Getty Images