Earlier this week, the country surpassed the case totals in China and Italy. The number of known cases has risen rapidly in recent days, as testing ramped up after weeks of widespread shortages and delays.

On Friday, President Trump signed into law a $2 trillion measure designed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Under the law, which creates the largest economic stimulus package in modern American history, the government will deliver direct payments and jobless benefits for individuals, money for states and a huge bailout fund for businesses battered by the crisis.

Mr. Trump signed the measure in the Oval Office hours after the House approved it by voice vote, and less than two days after the Senate unanimously passed it. Mr. Trump thanked “Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first.”

The legislation will send direct payments of $1,200 to millions of Americans, including those earning up to $75,000, and an additional $500 per child. It will substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits, and for the first time will extend the payments to freelancers and gig workers.

The measure will also offer $377 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and establish a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies reeling from the crisis, including allowing the administration the ability to take equity stakes in airlines that received aid to help compensate taxpayers. It will also send $100 billion to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic.

Faced with a torrent of criticism from cities and states that have been pleading for help, President Trump announced on Friday that the federal government would buy thousands of ventilators from a variety of makers, though it appeared doubtful they could be produced in time to help American hospitals that are now overwhelmed.

His announcement came shortly after he authorized the government to “use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act,” a Korean War-era authority allowing the federal government to commandeer factories and supply chains, to produce ventilators.

It was the latest example of Mr. Trump’s mixed messages about how to ramp up production to meet the crisis. Just 24 hours before, he had dismissed the complaints of mayors and governors who said they were getting little of the equipment they needed for an expected onslaught of serious cases. And this week he praised companies that — General Motors included — were rallying to help provide necessary equipment.

But he turned on G.M. on Friday, accusing it of “wasting time” and seeking to “rip off” the government. “Our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” the president said.

It was unclear whether Mr. Trump’s use of the law would make much difference. He was essentially ordering the company to do something it had already arranged to do: G.M. announced earlier on Friday that it was moving forward with an emergency joint venture with a small manufacturer, even in the absence of a federal contract. Company executives seemed stunned by the president’s effort to command them to carry through with an effort they had initiated.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, experts have started to question official guidance about whether ordinary, healthy people should protect themselves with a regular surgical mask, or even a scarf.

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to state that masks don’t necessarily protect healthy individuals from getting infected as they go about their daily lives.

The official guidance continues to recommend that masks be reserved for people who are already sick, as well as for the health workers and caregivers who must interact with infected individuals on a regular basis. Everyone else, they say, should stick to frequent hand-washing and maintaining a distance of at least six feet from other people to protect themselves.

But the recent surge in infections in the United States, which has put the country at the center of the epidemic, means that more Americans are now at risk of getting sick. And healthy individuals, especially those with essential jobs who cannot avoid public transportation or close interaction with others, may need to start wearing masks more regularly.

While wearing a mask may not necessarily prevent healthy people from getting sick, and certainly doesn’t replace important measures such as hand-washing or social distancing, it may be better than nothing, said Dr. Robert Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine.

“For weeks now it has been evening,” Pope Francis said Friday on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives.”

The pope spoke alone, before a vast and empty square, its rain-slicked cobblestones reflecting the blue lights of the police locking down Rome. “We find ourselves afraid,” he said. “And lost.”

A new anxiety has seized Vatican City, which has about 600 citizens and a population of about 246 people behind the Vatican walls. About 100 of the residents are young Swiss Guards, but the others include the pope, a handful of older cardinals, the people who work in their households, and some laymen, making it in some ways as vulnerable as a nursing home to a virus that can be devastating to the old.

This week, the Vatican confirmed cases of the coronavirus inside its walls, and on Wednesday reports emerged that an official who lives in the pope’s residence had tested positive and required hospitalization. Now the Vatican, which has also essentially canceled all public participation in Easter ceremonies, is testing scores of people and considering isolating measures for the 83-year-old pope, who had part of a lung removed during an illness in his youth.

Top Vatican officials said Francis has had negative results to two separate tests and has said privately he doesn’t have the virus.

Some of those catering to the well-off stress that they are trying to be good citizens. Mr. Michelson emphasized that he had obtained coronavirus tests only for patients who met guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rather than the so-called worried well.

Still, a kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.

For the millions of Americans who found themselves without a job in recent weeks, the sharp and painful change brought a profound sense of disorientation. They were going about their lives, bartending, cleaning, managing events, waiting tables, loading luggage and teaching yoga. And then suddenly they were in free fall, grabbing at any financial help they could find, which in many states this week remained locked away behind crashing websites and overloaded phone lines.

In 17 interviews with people in eight states, Americans who lost their jobs said they were in shock and struggling to grasp the magnitude of the economy’s shutdown, an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Unlike the last economic earthquake, the financial crisis of 2008, this time there was no getting back out there to look for work, not when people were being told to stay inside. What is more, the layoffs affected not just them, but their spouses, their parents, their siblings and their roommates — even their bosses.

“I don’t think anyone expected it to be like this,” said Mark Kasanic, 48, a server at a brasserie in Cleveland who was one of roughly 300 workers that a locally owned restaurant company laid off last week. Now he is home-schooling his children, ages 5 and 7, one with special needs.

Julian Bruell was one of those who had to deliver the bad news to hourly employees like Mr. Kasanic. Mr. Bruell, 30, who helps run the company with his father, said that only about 30 employees were left running takeout and delivery at two of its five restaurants. He has not been earning a salary, his goal being to keep the business afloat through the crisis.

On Thursday, he was planning to file for unemployment himself.

“I don’t think there has ever been more human ingenuity devoted to a single scientific problem than the one we’re facing right now,” he said.

We could be learning crucial lessons. Years from now, if a deadlier virus emerges, we may find that today’s innovations and procedures have prepared us for it. “What we’re facing is unprecedented, and I don’t want to downplay its seriousness, but it’s not the worst-case scenario,” said Malia Jones, a researcher who studies infectious diseases at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

“I hope the takeaway here is that we’ll be better prepared to deal with the next pandemic,” Dr. Jones said. “This is a good practice run for a novel influenza pandemic. That’s the real scary scenario.”

source: nytimes.com

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