Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday ordered all schools closed for the rest of the academic year, along with additional closings and restrictions for businesses and gatherings of more than 10 people, in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
The shutdown of schools, public and private, and the closing of recreational and entertainment businesses such as theaters and gyms comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Virginia climbed to 254, an increase of 35 from Sunday, with seven deaths.
Among the confirmed cases is a Richmond police officer, the first known case for a city employee.
“These numbers, unfortunately, will continue to rise,” Northam said at a briefing Monday afternoon, adding that Virginia is moving into “a period of sacrifice” that could last months.
With restaurants and many other businesses already closing down, the number of unemployed Virginians also has soared. About 40,000 Virginia residents applied for unemployment benefits last week, Northam said.
“Our priority is to save lives,” Northam said. “We have a health crisis, and we have an economic crisis. But the sooner we can get this health crisis under control, the sooner our economy will recover.”
Additional business restrictions ordered
The restrictions on businesses go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
Essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, manufacturing plants and distribution centers, as well as transportation hubs like airports and bus depots, will remain open.
“You will still be able to buy food and necessary supplies for you and your families,” Northam said.
His order closed all businesses that center on recreation and entertainment, like movie theaters, fitness centers and bowling alleys, while allowing other businesses to remain open under some restrictions.
All businesses deemed nonessential by the state will be allowed to remain open as long as they follow sanitation guidelines and keep the number of patrons in their business under 10.
Restaurants, while considered essential, will be allowed to stay open only for carry-out and delivery. Included in that category are breweries, wineries and bars.
The order is less strict than what was announced Monday by officials in Maryland, where all nonessential businesses were ordered closed. Nevertheless, it represents the most stringent guidance from Virginia officials in the state’s fight to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Northam described the state’s approach as “very aggressive” and said he would continue to look at the data and re-evaluate the state’s restrictions.
Monday’s order will remain in place for at least 30 days.
At the same time, Northam said that “social distancing is the only path forward,” and acknowledged the impact of restrictions on Virginia businesses.
“Many businesses are closed already because their owners have done the responsible thing,” Northam said. “I thank them for the tremendous sacrifice they have made. There is more ahead and things are changing fast.”
Northam also addressed gatherings at state and local parks, which swelled during a spell of warmer weather last week.
Parks will remain open, but Northam urged the public to maintain social distancing guidelines limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people in a concentrated area. He said local law enforcement officials were encouraged to issue reminders wherever gatherings grew past the limit.
“We’re not out there to penalize people. We certainly are not out there to put people in jails,” Northam said. “But, we are working with our localities, and for example, if a person from the sheriff’s department sees a congregation on the beach of 10 or more, they will be reminded that is not accepted.”
254 cases in 40 Va. localities
The Virginia Department of Health reported on its website Monday that 254 people in Virginia have tested positive for COVID-19.
That’s an increase of 35 cases, or 16%, from the 219 reported at noon on Sunday, and an increase of 102, or 67%, from the 152 reported on Saturday. A week ago, on Monday, March 16, state health officials reported there were 51 cases in Virginia.
There have been seven deaths. The latest was a Virginia Beach man in his 70s who died Monday from acute respiratory failure after testing positive for COVID-19, one of 18 cases in the state’s largest city.
The man had underlying health conditions, according to a news release from the state Health Department.
The man is the first COVID-19-related death reported by the Virginia Beach Health Department, which is conducting a “contact investigation” and is trying to identify the source of transmission.
Dr. Demetria Lindsay, health director for Virginia Beach, said that several recent cases there “may represent the first indications of potential community transmission, the extent of which would be determined by the outcome of the investigation.”
There are coronavirus cases in 40 Virginia cities and counties, and 3,697 people have been tested in the state, according to the VDH numbers.
In Richmond and the three closest counties there are 30 cases: 11 in Henrico, nine in Chesterfield, eight in Richmond and two in Hanover.
On Thursday, state health officials said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers, and figures on the VDH website might not be the same as numbers reported by individual localities or local health districts.
The state has a 5 p.m. cutoff for tabulating daily numbers, so the numbers reported on the website at noon each day are 19 hours old.
Richmond police officer tests positive
A Richmond police officer is the first known case of a city employee testing positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from the city on Monday.
The officer, a woman in her 40s, is now at home in isolation and in stable condition, the statement said.
She had traveled to New York before the onset of her illness, according to the city, and a colleague who had been in close contact with the officer is also self-quarantined.
The police department and city’s health district are investigating if she had any potential close contact with residents during the performance of her duties.
“My first concern is for her and her family and the extended family of her co-workers,” Police Chief William Smith said. “We have taken precautions to limit exposure to our staff and to the community we serve. It is extremely important that we all continue to do our part in controlling the spread of the virus through the recommended protocols.”
Three local malls close
Three Richmond-area malls have closed temporarily to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Stony Point Fashion Park is closed until April 6, the mall said on its website. The South Richmond mall suspended its hours after it closed at 7 p.m. Monday, noting it took the steps in the interest of public health.
Dillard’s, one of Stony Point’s anchor tenants, has chosen to remain open, the mall said.
Regency mall and Virginia Center Commons have temporarily closed with plans to reopen March 30, those malls said on their websites.
Short Pump Town Center and Chesterfield Towne Center continue to operate between noon and 7 p.m. daily, except for Sunday, when hours vary.
Henrico lab begins testing
A Henrico laboratory has developed a way to test nearly 10 times the number of potential COVID-19 kits as prior testing sites and shorten the turnaround time for those results, according to GENETWORx lab director Sarah Jacobs-Helber.
“By helping identify cases faster, that will help with containment and the spread of the virus,” she said.
The laboratory in the Innsbrook Corporate Center began shipping the virus test kits Monday.
It follows the same kit developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which could typically test about 100 samples per day with results taking between five to seven business days.
But the Henrico laboratory has an instrument capable of testing between 800 and 1,000 samples per day, Jacobs-Helber said. Results can be provided within 24 hours.
In a statement Monday, the laboratory said it could test up to 150,000 samples in April, which is more than the nearly 100,000 people tested in the United States to date.
The lab, which until recently focused on genetic and pharmacological testing, has been developing its testing capability since February, when only the CDC was confirming cases. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration put out guidelines opening the testing to commercial labs.
“We want to do our part in contributing our expertise to help in the nation’s battle against the coronavirus,” said William Miller, CEO of GENETWORx and a 20-year veteran of the molecular diagnostic laboratory testing industry, in a statement.
Jacobs-Helber said they had to validate that their test was just as accurate and sensitive as the CDC’s.
The lab will not only accept samples from Virginia hospitals and private doctors, but also those from New York. It is certified in all states, so that number could grow.
“At a time when a lot of people are staying home, the people on my team are here doing important work,” Jacobs-Helber said.
In a show of political unity, Northam released a joint statement Monday night with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser to call on the federal government to “provide additional financial support to help our jurisdictions maintain the health and safety of the region and the federal workers who serve the American people.”
Northam’s cautious approach to managing the crisis has drawn public criticism, especially in comparison with Hogan’s more forceful approach in ordering restrictions on business and schools in Maryland to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In their joint statement, the leaders cited their “unique responsibility to keep the federal government operating” in a region that is home to more than 360,000 federal employees in the three jurisdictions.
“No other region in the country bears this responsibility,” they said.
Northam, Hogan and Bowser also emphasized that they “are working closely together to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
“Together, we are promoting social distancing and encouraging all of our residents to stay at home and avoid crowds and gatherings,” they said. “In each of our jurisdictions, we will be enforcing crowd control measures and social distancing standards.”
Bishop tests negative
Bishop Barry C. Knestout, the head of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, was told on Monday by his health care provider that he doesn’t have the coronavirus.
The bishop entered self-quarantine on Wednesday based on a doctor’s recommendation after experiencing coldlike symptoms.
“I want to thank the health care professionals and our first responders for their courage and sacrifice as they place themselves in harm’s way to care for our communities throughout the diocese,” Knestout said in a statement Monday.
“I am also very grateful to all of you who have kept me in your prayers or who have sent me well wishes and notes of encouragement.”
Virginia schools will stay closed for the rest of the academic year, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered Monday, a step only one other state has taken in hopes of mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
Northam’s announcement came four days before his first round of mandated school closures was set to expire, on March 27. His decision, which applies to all K-12 public and private schools, is the latest step in Virginia’s escalating response to a virus that’s already killed seven people in the state.
“School closures are necessary to minimize the speed at which COVID-19 spreads and protect the capacity of our health care system,” Northam said, adding: “We are essentially fighting a biological war right now in this country.”
Kansas is the only other state to have shuttered physical school buildings for the rest of the school year. Most states have opted for a more gradual approach, according to Education Week. North Carolina, for example, announced Monday that its schools would stay closed until at least May 15.
All but four states — Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa and Maine — have mandated some degree of school closure.
Virginia’s closures are likely to lead to massive upheaval in the lives of families, students and educators, with sports canceled, meals uncertain and routines suspended as roughly 1.5 million students and 100,000 teachers move forward unsure when they’ll be together inside a school building again.
That community universally mourned Northam’s order and the lost three remaining months of the school year, which spoils staples such as graduation and prom, but accepted the decision.
“As disruptive as this will be for students, families and staff, I believe it’s the right decision given the health care crisis we’re facing,” said Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras.
All four Richmond-area school districts already had extended school closures through mid-April and are acclimating to the tumult.
Robert Dunham, a teacher at Richmond’s Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, said it’s hard to watch the progress that his students have made be “washed away.”
“The connection I have with my students is like no other and not being able to see their smiles, listen to their stories, eat lunch with them, and see them grow academically is what I’ll miss the most about in-person school,” he said. “As a parent I understand because we need to do everything possible to keep our children safe and healthy, but as an educator I have mixed emotions.”
The city school system has pushed virtual learning and is using buses to bring grab-and-go meals to 34 spots across Richmond, along with 10 distribution sites at schools.
No Kid Hungry Virginia, the state affiliate of a national organization aimed at ending childhood hunger, is launching a service it normally offers in the summer. Families can text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877 to find free food distribution sites organized by school districts and other community organizations.
Henrico County Public Schools Superintendent Amy Cashwell said she was “stunned and saddened” by the decision, but agrees it’s necessary.
In a message to families and staff, Hanover County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Gill asked for “continued patience, kindness, and understanding as we navigate this new territory together.”
Merv Daugherty, the schools chief in Chesterfield County, called it a necessary decision and a historic day.
“Unfortunately, it is not the history that you or I probably care to be a part of,” he wrote in a message to families and staff. “We join you, our students and school divisions across Virginia in the disbelief that our schools are closed to traditional learning opportunities.”
Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston said the teachers union supports the decision but remains concerned about the well-being of teachers and their students.
“Even if you saw this coming — some of us did, some did not — it still feels like a gut punch and it, in many ways, takes your breath away,” Livingston said on a Facebook Live video reacting to the news Monday afternoon.
The news sent shock waves through the teaching community as educators came to terms with the fact that the school year has been cut short.
Mark Seidenberg, an Advanced Placement psychology and girls tennis coach at Mills Godwin High in Henrico, had already filed his papers to retire at the end of the school year. Monday’s announcement meant his career of entering a high school classroom each morning is effectively over.
“I’ll never be in front of one of my classes again,” Seidenberg said. “I’m incredibly disappointed that I’m not going to get back and teach the rest of the year knowing it’s my last. But I understand, safety first.”
The season never really got started for the Godwin girls tennis team. The Eagles had practiced some but hadn’t played their first match, and Seidenberg believed they had a good shot at the Class 5 state championship.
“We hardly got to know our team,” he said.
Seidenberg missed most of the first semester after suffering an aortic dissection in the fall. He returned at the end of January, but school closed just six weeks later.
If school had remained in session, Seidenberg would have spent much of his time preparing students for the AP test. Students can still take the AP psychology test, he said, but it’s an abbreviated version taken from home.
International Baccalaureate, another credit-bearing program, canceled its May examinations, the Geneva-based foundation announced Monday. Students can still receive IB diplomas or course certificates based on a student’s “coursework and the established assessment expertise, rigor and quality control” already built into the programs, according to a news release.
The Virginia Department of Education is expected to issue guidance Tuesday on graduation requirements and virtual learning, among other things.
The agency plans on appealing to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver so Standards of Learning testing, which is mandated under the main federal education law, can be canceled this year. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Friday that the U.S. Department of Education would accept applications for waivers.
Tori Pierson, who teaches English as a second language at Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School in Richmond’s South Side, was on Instagram Live with some of her students when she got the news, which she then broke to them.
“They are devastated to not be returning to see their friends and teachers,” Pierson said Monday, adding that the students are already asking if they’ll be given laptops or other technology, whether they’ll have to repeat a grade or how they will be ready for next year. “I know a million questions are flying around right now and we’re all just searching for some certainty.”
She added: “What’s heartbreaking is that my students are so upset about missing school. That shows me how valuable that community is to them and reminds me how meaningful our work is as educators.”
Pierson didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her classes. For now she hopes her teacher account on Instagram, on which she receives messages just about every day from students who want someone to talk to, and a class conducted over video will keep them connected.
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Being alone in a foreign country is an adventure all its own, but being there at a time of a pandemic is, well, something else entirely.
I reached my neighbor Hunter Mitchell last Wednesday in South Korea, one of the world’s early hot spots in the COVID-19 outbreak and where he’s been since December, teaching English and geography to young Korean students. In more recent times, he was quarantined for a couple of weeks, though he tested negative for the coronavirus.
It’s been quite the experience, he said: people in hazmat suits at a hospital taking his temperature (he had no fever or other symptoms for that matter, but his school insisted on the test after he took an early February trip to Japan to pick up a Korean work visa, which has to be secured from outside the country) and late-night bicycle rides, while wearing a mask, on mostly empty streets to an uncrowded convenience store to get food and supplies.
All the while, he’s been holding his breath that he doesn’t get sick in a place where he is not covered by health insurance.
Despite all that, his philosophy remains steadfastly grin-and-bear-it. Stuff happens, he said (sort of).
“I’m in no control of what happens,” he said from his apartment in Cheongna International City, just west of Seoul, “but I can try my best to adapt to it.”
Mitchell, 23, is someone my wife and I have known for a long time. He and our son, Jack, used to play together when they were little, and they would spend hours digging trenches in our backyard. “Environmental excavation,” as my wife fondly remembers it now.
“When I was a kid, I thought I could dig a tunnel from my backyard to yours,” he said with a laugh. “It kept us busy and out of the house.”
Mitchell graduated from Hermitage High School in 2015 and then last May from Penn State, where he majored in environmental geography with a focus in landscape ecology. (Maybe all that backyard digging paid off.)
Like a lot of his well-traveled generation, Mitchell is a seasoned explorer. During college, he went to Tanzania and South Africa for ecology projects (at a time when the Ebola virus was a serious concern in Africa). He also has spent time in Senegal, the Philippines, Japan, Dubai “and the Beijing airport.”
“I don’t know if Canada counts,” he said.
He wound up in Korea because he wanted to teach and travel before he embarked on graduate school. He was familiar with Japan, but he was impressed by what he saw of Korea when he visited there last fall: He liked the feeling of community though the individual expression was very strong; he liked how the nation’s transportation system is conveniently stitched together by rail, bus and bicycle trails; and he liked that Korea seemed to have a high demand for English teachers.
He arrived in December and was hired by a private school to teach English and geography to a variety of ages. One class was for 3- and 4-year-olds. He enjoyed their enthusiasm; they referred to him as “Hunter Teacher.”
But on Jan. 20, South Korea confirmed its first case of COVID-19. Since then, there have been more than 8,400 confirmed cases of the disease, including 84 deaths, though the country has won praise for its aggressive testing — more than 250,000 people have been tested — and has been cited by the World Health Organization as an example for other countries to follow. New cases have started to decline.
Mitchell has been impressed by the government’s transparency and by the way it has set up accessible testing facilities and sends out daily alerts about the latest cases, letting people know areas to avoid and how to prevent the spread of the virus, and has made masks available at neighborhood pharmacies. Hand sanitizer is everywhere, including elevators in apartment buildings. Businesses have curtailed their hours, but most have stayed open. Online shopping is big, he said, as is restaurant takeout and delivery.
“Grocery stores are still stocked with meat, produce and even toilet paper,” he said.
Mitchell was quarantined away from his students beginning more than a month ago, even though his COVID-19 test came back negative. The school shut its doors a short time later and has not reopened. Koreans working for temporarily shuttered businesses continue to be paid a portion of their salaries, but non-Korean workers, such as Mitchell, don’t qualify for the payments. He also is not covered by Korean health insurance.
“It’s a hard time being a foreigner here,” he said.
So he’s left his job at the school and lost his apartment, which was arranged by the school. He will spend this week surfing couches among friends — and social distancing from the greater public — until a flight back to the United States on Saturday.
Are you sure, I asked, you want to experience the height of a pandemic in two countries?
“Good point,” he said, but added: “I reckon I feel a little safer to experience hysteria with my health insurance and our local Lidl.”
But he would like to go back. He tentatively hopes to return to Korea in late May — if the coast is clear by then, viruswise — and continue teaching. His original plan was to live there until the summer of 2021.
If Korea doesn’t work out, he might try Japan or Singapore.
His long-term career goal is to be a professor of geography.
“So I think,” he said, “the experiences I have now, both good and bad, are integral to that goal.”
Virginia’s top finance official says the state is likely to lose $1 billion in revenue in each year of the pending two-year budget — and that’s the best scenario, assuming significant aid from the federal government for workers and business owners who have lost their livelihoods because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne shared the outlook with 140 state legislators in a conference call Friday, the day before Congress stalemated over a proposed $1.8 trillion emergency aid package. Critics said the measure would do too little to help state and local governments cope with economic damage of the ongoing public health emergency.
Layne based his estimate on a pessimistic scenario considered and rejected by the Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates in the fall when state revenue growth appeared to be robust.
The pessimistic alternative would reduce state revenues by about $1 billion in the first year and $2 billion in the second, compared with the standard economic outlook adopted by the advisory group of business leaders and legislators.
The finance secretary hopes to limit the revenue loss to $1 billion a year, as the state attempts to recover from the economic damage it expects the coronavirus crisis to inflict in the coming months.
“That’s probably the most realistic option for us right now,” he said in an interview on Monday. “That’s probably the best case.”
However, Layne and other state officials are counting on substantial help from the federal government, especially direct financial aid to affected workers and businesses.
“We’ve got to prioritize our public health and core services,” he said. “A lot of it depends on what we get from the feds.”
Layne added, “I favor direct payments to workers.”
Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, chairwoman of the Finance and Appropriations Committee, said her panel is working closely with the Northam administration and the House Appropriations Committee to identify how to absorb the revenue loss without damaging core state services.
“We’re making all kinds of contingency plans and looking at programs that could be cut that do the least harm to people,” she said in an interview on Monday.
Howell said Virginia is in a better position than some states because it has close to $2 billion in combined reserves, thanks to the response of the General Assembly and governor to a warning shot from S&P Global Ratings three years ago about the state’s low reserves.
Northam has already delayed the deadline for state income tax payments from May 1 to June 1 and waived any penalties. Virginia also has deferred remittance of sales tax revenues collected the previous month.
Although some legislators have called for a special session to deal with the economic fallout of the health crisis, Howell sees no sense in physically convening in Richmond amid a fast-spreading pandemic.
“I don’t think there’s any gain for us to get together and give the disease to each other,” she said.
As the assembly nears the scheduled date for its one-day veto session on April 22, “we’ll have to make some difficult decisions,” she said.
At the end of the extended legislative session on March 12, Howell argued against delaying action on the two proposed budgets — one for the current fiscal year and the other for the next two years — as some Republican budget negotiators had urged.
However, she said Monday that she remains committed to working closely with GOP colleagues on the budget conference committee to plan for the expected drop in revenues.
Howell also is saddened by the sudden change in fiscal outlook in her first year as head of the finance committee.
“I came home so proud of the budget,” she said ruefully.
WASHINGTON — Senate leaders and the Trump administration appeared closer to reaching bipartisan agreement Monday evening on a massive stimulus bill that could inject $2 trillion into the economy to blunt the impacts of the coronavirus.
The developments came as President Donald Trump on Monday said that he is considering scaling back steps to constrain the spread of the coronavirus in the next week or two due to concerns that the impact on the economy has become too severe, despite the internal warnings of senior U.S. health officials who have said that the United States has not yet felt the worst of the pandemic, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations.
Trump said at a news conference Monday night that at some point soon the damage being done to the economy could be worse than the threat of the virus spreading further. He said the decision could be based geographically, with areas of the country with a low number of positive cases moving back to a normal routine while areas such as New York remain under restrictions.
“America will again — and soon — be open for business,” he said. “Very soon, a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting. A lot sooner. We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”
When asked whether he would make the decision to loosen social distancing recommendations even if it went against the advice of federal public health officials, Trump said: “If it was up to the doctors they might say shut down the entire world.”
Trump later said he would consider the advice of public health officials before making a decision.
After a day of partisan rancor and posturing on Capitol Hill, the outlook grew markedly more positive later in the day, when offers and counteroffers were exchanged. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., convened Democrats on a conference call and told them he was hopeful of striking a deal, according to a person familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal details.
Schumer was very upbeat, according to another Democrat, who listened to the call and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe it. Some senators encouraged Schumer to announce a deal in principle Monday evening, but several issues remained unresolved so that appeared unlikely.
At the White House, Trump told reporters that a deal was near.
“They have to get together and just stop with the partisan politics, and I think that’s happening,” Trump said. “I got a call a little while ago I guess they are getting closer. It should go quickly, and it must go quickly. It’s not really a choice. They don’t have a choice. They have to make a deal.”
Overall, the legislation is aimed at flooding the economy with capital to revive businesses and households that have been knocked off course by fears about the virus’s rapid spread. Though details remained fluid, the legislation would include direct payments of $1,200 to many American adults, $500 to children, and create roughly $850 billion in loan and assistance programs for businesses, states, and cities. There would also be large spending increases for the unemployment insurance program, hospitals, and other health-care providers that are being overwhelmed by the crisis.
Democratic concerns have focused on the $500 billion funding program for loans and loan guarantees Republicans want to create, which some Democrats are labeling a “slush fund” because the Treasury Department would have broad discretion over who receives the money. There is little precedent for a program with a similar size and scope. But Republicans have countered that the funding would be handled appropriately and that a cash infusion of this scale was necessary to address a major economic crisis.
The situation remained in flux and several issues were unresolved Monday evening after four straight days of attempts to finalize a deal — including two procedural votes that Democrats blocked — it was possible that any provisional agreements would fall apart, senators and aides said. But some key players were sounding increasingly positive.
“We are getting there. We are very close,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said as he exited a late-afternoon meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., which had been preceded by a meeting with Schumer.
Unresolved issues included several under the jurisdiction of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, related to student loans and other issues, according to one Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. And negotiators were working on how to tailor large sums of money that was to be disbursed to the airline industry, state governments, and others.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, while leaving a Senate GOP leadership meeting Monday evening, said McConnell gave a positive report about the state of talks, suggesting some Democratic demands had been dropped or addressed.
“I understand the wish list is not getting bigger, it’s getting shorter,” Cornyn told reporters, explaining that Tuesday would be the earliest the emerging package could be voted on. “Even if they got a deal late [Monday night], there wouldn’t be enough time to get it up and voted on.”
Cornyn mentioned negotiations among the White House, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans and said they were keeping in touch about potential pitfalls that might imperil any final deal.
The upbeat assessments marked a positive turn after Democrats blocked the rescue bill earlier in the day. This was part of a rancorous chain of events with lawmakers venting fury about their failed efforts to address the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy. Even lawmakers who are typically careful and measured erupted in anger at their colleagues because the process kept bogging down.
“This is unbelievable,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, exclaimed at one point.
Ahead of the procedural vote, Senators clashed angrily over delays that had bogged down the giant bill. Some lawmakers had hoped to reach an agreement three days ago, but talks kept breaking down during weekend negotiations.
Democrats have argued that the Senate GOP bill is disproportionately tilted toward helping companies and needs to extend more benefits to families and health-care providers. Republicans have countered that the bill offers unprecedented financial assistance to the entire economy and needed to be passed before more people lose their jobs. Some economists have projected that more than 3 million people were laid off last week as businesses and consumers pulled back, and those numbers are expected to grow.
The vote Monday was 49-46, well short of the 60 vote threshold needed to advance the legislation for a final debate.
“This has got to stop, and today is the day it has to stop,” an exasperated McConnell said. “The country is out of time.”
McConnell accused Democrats of holding up the sorely needed rescue package so they can try to add extraneous provisions sought by special interests and organized labor. Democrats have refused to support the key procedural vote that would have made it easier to pass the bill, with many complaining that the legislation did not include much transparency into which businesses could receive hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency loans.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the bill, which includes a huge $500 billion program for businesses, states, and cities makes the Senate look “more focused on the big corporations and the health of Wall Street than we are on the health care of the people in rural America and Main Street.” The Trump administration would have wide latitude to disburse these loans and loan guarantees, a dynamic that has given numerous Democrats pause. The Senate bill would also include a $350 billion program to help small businesses meet payroll costs, which is meant to stem the rising tide of layoffs.
Speaking on the floor hours ahead of his conference call with fellow Democrats, Schumer insisted that he was continuing to negotiate in good faith with Mnuchin and hoped to secure a deal as long as he could ensure that worker protections are included and that the fund for industries has appropriate controls.
“We have an obligation to get the details right, get them done quickly,” Schumer said. “That doesn’t mean blindly accepting a Republican-only bill.”
Markets fell Monday, and the Senate floor descended into an uproar as Collins sought recognition to speak, which Schumer objected to, prompting Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to exclaim, “This is bullshit!”
The fiery developments reflected rising tensions among lawmakers over the nation’s predicament and what’s happening in the Senate; Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Sunday that he has COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and four other GOP senators are quarantined. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., disclosed Monday that her husband is infected with the virus.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., advised everyone to “assume the appropriate distance and take a deep breath.” Several hours later, signs of optimism appeared from both major parties and White House officials.
As senators were clashing on one side of the Capitol on Monday, on the other side House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was holding a news conference to announce House Democrats’ version of the stimulus bill. Pelosi’s $2.5 trillion-plus bill would send $1,500 to individual Americans, pump money into the health-care system, unemployment insurance and schools and — according to a draft circulating Monday — require airlines and other companies that receive aid to pay a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
“Democrats take responsibility for our workers,” Pelosi said. “We require that any corporation that takes taxpayer dollars must protect their workers’ wages and benefits — not CEO pay, stock buybacks or layoffs.”
But if the House charts its own course on a competing piece of legislation, it could take longer to arrive at a bipartisan consensus that can pass both chambers and get signed into law.
The $500 billion in loan programs in the Senate bill includes $425 billion for companies, states and cities, though it doesn’t prescribe many terms to dictate how the Treasury determines who receives the assistance. Another $50 billion would go to helping passenger airline companies, $8 billion for cargo air companies and $17 billion to help firms deemed important for national security.
At the insistence of Democrats, who were participating in drafting the bill before bipartisan talks broke down over the weekend, more than $100 billion is being included for hospitals and some $250 billion to boost up unemployment insurance. The sweeping economic package is designed to last for 10 to 12 weeks, after which the administration could revisit whether it would seek additional assistance from Congress.
Meeting in Richmond is canceled over COVID-19. Page A2
Inmates making masks for use by offenders and officers. Page A5
Some retailers are hiring and giving raises or bonuses. Page A8
Louisa company shifts to selling directly to the public. Page A8
A first for U.S.
The nation has 100 COVID-19 deaths in a single day. Page A10
Va. high school spring season is canceled. Page B4