Senate OKs $7.8B in aid, as coronavirus spreads in U.S.

Vice President Mike Pence (C), who is leading federal efforts to contain coronavirus, speaks during a press briefing Wednesday at the White House, surrounded by other federal health officials. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI

March 5 (UPI) — The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favor of sweeping legislation to provide $8.3 billion in aid in response to the coronavirus outbreak, as new cases were reported in New York, New Jersey, Arizona, North Carolina and Tennessee.

The 96-1 bipartisan vote provides $7.8 billion in funding to go directly toward fighting the virus and another $500 million to create a telehealth program.

The final price tag on the bill is more than three times what President Donald Trump requested — $2.5 billion. The House passed the bill Wednesday in a 415-2 vote. The legislation will now head to the Oval Office for the president’s signature.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Thursday update reported 149 cases in the country. John Hopkins University, which is monitoring the outbreak using data from state and local health agencies, reported 177 confirmed cases on Thursday.

Eleven Americans have died from the virus — all but one of them from the Seattle area, where an outbreak has hit residents and staff of a long-term care facility. The one outside Seattle was in Placer County, Calif.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday the number of confirmed coronavirus cases there had increased to 22, with eight in Westchester County and one in Nassau County, just outside New York City, and two in the city.

Texas announced its first case late Wednesday, and New Jersey, Arizona, North Carolina and Tennessee each reported their first cases on Thursday.

Facebook has closed its Seattle office through Monday after a contractor tested positive for COVID-19, the company said in a statement. But employees are encouraged to work from home until the end of March.

Amazon has recommended that its Seattle employees work from home through March after it confirmed earlier this week that an employee tested positive for the virus. Two other Amazon employees were diagnosed in Milan, Italy.

The World Health Organization reported 2,055 new cases of the virus by Thursday, for a total of 95,265 cases worldwide, 80,409 of them in China, where the outbreak began in Wuhan.

Seventy-six countries have reported at least one case, but only a handful — including the United States — have reported community spread, meaning the patients have no known connection to people or places with the virus.

Neither of the new cases in New York — a man in his 40s and a woman in her 80s — have a connection with or history of travel to a known area affected by the outbreak. They also were not among known “close contacts” of any of the state’s previously diagnosed COVID-19 patients.

This suggests that there may be new instances of community spread in New York City, de Blasio said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday. The city’s public health department is tracing the close contacts of both new patients to ensure they are appropriately isolated and tested.


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