Image: In this March 12, 2020, file photo Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., walk together as they head to a lunch with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Conroe, Austin, and Washington, D.C., April 9 – Montgomery County suffers from 153 active COVID-19 cases, with 53 recoveries, and 4 total deaths from the disease. 29 individuals are hospitalized among the 153 active cases. There are seven (7) fewer active cases of COVID-19 in Montgomery County now than there were yesterday at this time.
Texas has had 9,353 positive test results for the Chinese disease and 177 deaths.
Congress headed toward showdown over virus aid
The outline of the next potential coronavirus aid package is taking shape as President Donald Trump seeks $250 billion for small businesses and Democrats propose tacking on another $250 billion for small communities, protective gear and food stamps.
The question now is whether and how quickly Congress and the White House can agree to it.
Vice President Mike Pence was convening private conference calls Wednesday with House Republicans and Democrats, in separate sessions with the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin administration’s coronavirus task force, as all sides appear to agree that more aid is needed.
In the morning call with Republicans, Pence and the GOP leaders made a push for the small business Paycheck Protection Program and ensuring it receives all necessary additional funds, according to a Republican aide unauthorized to discuss the call and granted anonymity.
The GOP leaders were in agreement about quickly approving more funding for the program, the aide said.
At the same time, Mnuchin also spoke by phone to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who told the secretary about Democrats’ “very reasonable and needed” proposal, said Schumer’s spokesman, Justin Goodman.
“We hope our Republican colleagues will support this ‘Small Business Plus’ proposal tomorrow in the Senate,” he said.
The pandemic crisis is ransacking communities large and small, and Washington is poised to go beyond the $2.2 trillion package approved just two weeks ago. Similar calls with senators are expected to follow.
Despite the urgency of action, Congress appears headed for a showdown ahead of a vote Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to rush Trump’s request for small business aid to a vote, with just 48 hours notice and without input from Democrats, threatened a fragile alliance for bipartisan action.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer swiftly outlined their own priorities in a Wednesday statement.
“The heartbreaking acceleration of the coronavirus crisis demands bold, urgent and ongoing action from Congress to protect Americans’ lives and livelihoods,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “The American people need to know that their government is there for them in their time of great need.”
The Democrats say they support the $250 billion in assistance to small businesses, but want $125 billion of that channeled through community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, families, women, minorities and veterans.
They’re also calling for an additional $100 billion for hospitals and community health centers to provide testing supplies and protective equipment like masks and gowns. They are seeking another $150 billion for state and local governments to manage the coronavirus crisis
They also want a 15 percent increase to the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamp benefits. The joint request reflected input from committee chairs and a broader swath of Democrats, with lawmakers representing districts with large minority populations being particularly concerned about whether the benefits of the small business subsidies are reaching their communities.
Republicans swiftly countered that Democrats were blocking fast action on the small business aid. Many of the Democratic requests revisited behind-the-scenes battles from the round of talks that produce the CARES Act two weeks ago.
“Senate Democrats should drop their shameful threat to block this funding immediately,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of GOP leadership. “Our small businesses desperately need help — now.”
McConnell spokesman David Popp declined to comment.
On the call with Pence, Republicans also expressed concerns the small business assistance would be held up by the Democrats’ push for additional aid, said another Republican unauthorized to discuss the call and granted anonymity.
Mnuchin requested an additional $250 billion for a just-launched small businesses payroll program, which has been swamped with applications.
Part of the sweeping $2.2 trillion package that became law just two weeks ago, the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program has been flooded as businesses rush to apply for up to $10 million in forgivable loans to keep paychecks flowing amid the stay-home shutdown.
With Congress all but shuttered amid the virus outbreak, passage of any measure will require bipartisan cooperation.
The House and Senate could deploy procedures that would allow a simple voice vote, without a roll call, or leaders could try to approve the package with unanimous consent.
Consent, though, seems unlikely, as Democrats push for add-ons and fiscal hawks criticize the cost. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., objected to the earlier package, forcing lawmakers to return to Washington for a vote.
One leading Democrat, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has also raised alarms about equity reforms that she said need to be made swiftly amid the rocky rollout of the small business program.
Millions of small business owners “have been put through hell over the past two weeks as they scrambled to try to get access to the money they desperately need,” Warren tweeted.
Minority-owned businesses and others are facing setbacks in applying for the aid, Democrats said.
“Congress also needs to dramatically simplify PPP so it actually works,” Warren tweeted. “Ensure that banks provide equal access to all borrowers — and do it NOW.”
Even as virus deaths mount, governments eye exit strategies
Even as coronavirus deaths mount across Europe, New York and other hot spots, the U.S. and other governments are beginning to envision an exit strategy and contemplating a staggered and carefully calibrated relaxation of the restrictions designed to curb the scourge.
“To end the confinement, we’re not going to go from black to white; we’re going to go from black to gray,” top French epidemiologist Jean-François Delfraissy said in a radio interview.
At the same time, politicians and health officials emphatically warn that while deaths, hospitalizations and new infections may be leveling off in places like Italy and Spain, and even New York has seen encouraging signs amid the gloom, the crisis is far from over, and a catastrophic second wave could hit if countries let their guard down too soon.
“We are flattening the curve because we are rigorous about social distancing,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “But it’s not a time to be complacent. It’s not a time to do anything different than we’ve been doing.”
In a sharp reminder of the danger, New York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, for an overall death toll of almost 6,300.
“The bad news is actually terrible,” Cuomo lamented. Still, the governor said that hospitalizations are decreasing and that many of those now dying fell ill in the outbreak’s earlier stages.
In Britain, meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a second night in intensive care but was improving and sitting up in bed, authorities said.
In China, the lockdown against Wuhan, the industrial city of 11 million where the global pandemic began, was lifted after 76 days, allowing people to come and go. The reopening was seen as a positive sign but also reflected the communist state’s extensive surveillance apparatus and powers of coercion.
Wuhan residents will have to use a smartphone app showing that they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus. Even then, schools remain closed, people are still checked for fever when they enter buildings, and masks are strongly encouraged.
In the U.S., with about 13,000 deaths and 400,000 infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was considering changing self-isolation guidelines to make it easier for those exposed to someone with the virus to return to work if they have no symptoms.
Under the proposed guidance, aimed at workers in critical fields, such people would be allowed back on the job if they take their temperature twice a day and wear a mask, said a person who was familiar with the draft but was not authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, said that the Trump administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country and restart the economy amid “glimmers of hope” that social distancing is working to stop the virus’s spread.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to do it right now,” he said on Fox News. “But it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there’s a lot of activity going on.”
The U.S. is seeing burgeoning hot spots in such places as Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Chicago, Detroit, Colorado and Pennsylvania. The New York metropolitan area, which includes northern New Jersey, Long Island and lower Connecticut, accounts for about half of all virus deaths in the U.S.
In Europe, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce in the coming days how long the country’s lockdown will remain in place amid expectations that some restrictions could be eased. Discussions are focused first on opening more of the country’s industries.
Proposals being floated in Italy include the issuing of immunity certificates, which would require antibody blood tests, and allowing younger workers to return first, as they show less vulnerability to the virus.
Italy, the hardest-hit country, recorded its biggest one-day jump yet in people counted as recovered and had its smallest one-day increase in deaths in more than a month. Nearly 18,000 have died there.
In Spain, which has tallied more than 14,000 dead, Budget Minister María Jesús Montero said that Spaniards will progressively recover their “normal life” from April 26 onwards but warned that the “de-escalation” of the lockdown will be “very orderly to avoid a return to the contagion.”
The government has been tight-lipped so far about what measures could be in place once the confinement is relaxed, stressing that they will be dictated by experts
Without giving specifics, French authorities have likewise begun to speak openly of planning the end of the country’s confinement period, which is set to expire April 15 but will be extended, according to the president’s office. The virus has claimed more than 10,000 lives in France.
France’s Delfraissy, who leads the scientific council advising the president, said three things are necessary for people to start leaving home regularly: intensive care beds need to be freed up, the spread of the virus must slow, and there have to be multiple tests to see if people are or have been infected and to trace them. He said the French will also need to wear masks in public.
British government officials, beset with a rising death toll of more than 7,000, said there is little chance the nationwide lockdown there will be eased when its current period ends next week.
The European Union expressed privacy concerns about virus-tracking mobile apps that governments are developing or deploying. Such apps use smartphone data to track virus carriers’ movements in order to alert people they may have infected. The EU said the technology raises questions of “fundamental rights and freedoms.”
The desire to get back to normal is driven in part by the damage to world economies.
The Bank of France said the French economy has entered recession, with an estimated 6% drop in the first quarter compared with the previous three months, while Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, is also facing a deep recession. Expert said its economy will shrink 4.2% this year.
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, could contract by a record 25% this quarter, the highest since gross domestic product began to be tracked in 1955.
Worldwide, more than 1.4 million people have been confirmed infected and over 80,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and concealment by some governments.
For most, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and death. Over 300,000 people have recovered.
Governor Abbott Announces Texas Military Department, Prestige Ameritech Partnership To Increase Mask Production: 24-Hour Operation Will Produce 2 Million Masks Per Week For Health Care Workers
Texas Governor Greg Abbott today held a press conference where he provided an update on the production and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Texas. The Governor announced a new partnership between the Texas Military Department (TMD) and Prestige Ameritech to increase the production of face masks for health care workers. Prestige Ameritech’s 24-hour operation at their headquarters near Fort Worth will be staffed in part by members of the Texas National Guard 36th Infantry Division and will produce 2 million masks per week. The Governor thanked private companies across the state that are manufacturing PPE for Texans serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.
The Governor was joined for the press conference by Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, and Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs of the University of Texas System John Zerwas, MD.
“The State of Texas is continuing to work closely with our public and private partners to ramp up the production and distribution of PPE in Texas,” said Governor Abbott. “This new partnership between TMD and Prestige Ameritech is an important component of our commitment to ensuring our health care workers have the supplies they need to do their important work. I thank these partners for providing this much-needed resource to our health care workers serving our fellow Texans. The Lone Star State remains unwavering in our support for our frontline health care workers as we continue to respond to COVID-19.”