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Americans are picking health precautions over a rush back to work, for now

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
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Pedestrians in Santa Monica, Calif., on March 24, 2020 in Santa Monica, Calif.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If there is a legitimate political debate between health and wealth during the spread of coronavirus inside the United States, it’s worth pointing out that health is winning by a landslide — at least so far.

A recent online Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 74 percent of registered voters saying they support a national quarantine that prohibits non-essential travel and trips outside of the home.

Sixty-six percent of American adults say they are avoiding large gatherings, according to an online Reuters/Ipsos poll, which is up 10 points from just days earlier in the same survey.

And an online Economist/YouGov poll shows that 64 percent of adults say they are personally worried about the coronavirus.

So for all of the attention on the slight bump for President Trump in some polls, an even bigger story is going on in public opinion: Americans are overwhelmingly prioritizing health over the economy.

And it’s not a close call — at least not yet.

Tweet of the day

The United States isn’t testing more than any other country

First in a tweet yesterday and then in his White House press briefing, President Trump declared that the United States has performed more coronavirus tests than any other country.

“We now are doing more testing than anybody by far,” Trump told reporters.

But that isn’t true — certainly not on a per capita basis.

The United States has now performed 484,000 tests, per the COVID Tracking Project, while South Korea (recognized for its testing success so far) has performed 365,000 tests.

But the U.S. has a population of 327 million, which comes out to about 1,500 coronavirus tests per 1 million Americans.

South Korea has a population of 51 million, which comes out to about 7,000 tests per 1 million South Koreans.

By the way, just two weeks ago — on March 12 – the United States had tested fewer than 10,000 Americans.

As Ed Wong writes in The Atlantic, “The testing fiasco was the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

68,358: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 13,548 more than yesterday morning.)

1,001: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 220 more than yesterday morning).

About 484,000: The number of coronavirus TESTS that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project. (That’s about 116,000 more than yesterday morning.)

“Within three weeks”: That’s when Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says direct payments to Americans making under $99,000 will be sent from the IRS.

50,000: That’s the number of Americans still stuck overseas because of virus-related travel restrictions.

Half: That’s the percentage of New York City’s population that should expect to get coronavirus, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

By 96-0 vote, Senate passes $2 trillion stimulus

After a day of hold-ups and threats, the Senate passed its $2 trillion relief package for coronavirus by a 96-0 vote, NBC’s Capitol Hill team reports.

The fate of the legislation is now in the House’s hands — but President Trump said yesterday he would sign passed legislation as soon as it landed on his desk. "I encourage the House to pass this vital legislation and send the bill to my desk for a signature without delay. I will sign it immediately," he said.

But the House has not returned to session yet to vote quickly. Our Hill team reports that the earliest the House will take up the bill is on Friday when they return. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a letter to his conference that he expects the bill will pass by voice vote – but Speaker Nancy Pelosi made sure to express on Wednesday that this won’t be the last bill and she’s not entirely pleased with the bill’s content. "What is important is for us to recognize the good that is in the bill – appreciate for what it does, don’t judge it for what it doesn’t because we have more bills to come," Pelosi said.

So what are some of the highlights of the Senate bill?

  • An increase in unemployment insurance by $600 per week for up to four months,
  • $100 million grants for states enacting “short-term compensation” programs,
  • U.S. residents making up to $75,000 ($150,00 for married couples), who are not dependents, are eligible for a $1,200 ($2,400 if married) rebate, plus an additional $500 per child. This will be based on 2019 tax returns.

2020 Vision: Biden shuts the door on debating Sanders again

A day after Bernie Sanders’ campaign said it would be willing to participate in another Democratic debate next month, Joe Biden told reporters on Wednesday that there have been “enough debates.”

“My focus is just dealing with this crisis right now,” Biden said in a virtual press conference yesterday, per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor. “I haven't thought about any more debates. I think we've had enough debates. I think we should get on with this.”

In a separate virtual campaign event yesterday — a discussion with young adults — the former vice president talked about being a transitional figure for a new generation, Sotomayor adds.

“I'm also going to be a leader who will help spurt progress forward empowering the next generation of leaders to seize the possibilities that are out there, not to drag us backwards,” Biden said.

“I hope I can just be one of those transition figures that gets to the point where you guys are running the whole show,” he said to the young viewers tuning into his livestream, per Sotomayor.

Ad watch

From NBC’s Ben Kamisar: Washington can work: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is leaning heavily on his work to pass coronavirus relief legislation in a new ad campaign across Kentucky, months before his likely Senate matchup with Democrat Amy McGrath.

The Republican recently launched a new ad that plays up the bipartisan spirit in Washington (a spirit that has been at times threatened during this back-and-forth over the final agreement), highlighting how McConnell is “at the center of the battle to rush aid to Americans.” It goes onto slam McGrath for pushing “false, partisan attacks” while “Mitch McConnell leads.”

There’s been no love lost between the two candidates, as the Courier-Journal pointed out in a deep dive into how the two campaigns are sparring during the coronavirus crisis.

McGrath has been up on the air both with a spot that talks about how her campaign has been volunteering to help at-risk Kentuckians, but also with a spot that questions whether Kentuckians are benefitting from McConnell’s power in the Senate.

The Lid: Trust but verify

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at who Americans do and don’t trust for information about the pandemic.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson’s family says they believe he has died in Iran.

Anti-abortion groups are trying to halt abortions during the pandemic.

Joe Biden singled out Florida’s Ron DeSantis over his response to the crisis.

The former VP’s inner circle isn’t just a boys club anymore, writes the AP.

Brenda Jones will run against Rashida Tlaib again.

The Democratic debate over health care is much more vivid in the age of coronavirus.