Friday morning news – March 20, 2020

U.S. crosses 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases » The United States now has more than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. And the U.S. death toll now stands at about 170.  

Across the country, states and cities are stepping up efforts to slow the spread of the disease. 

California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom last night announced a “shelter in place” order for the entire state. Though, he stressed that does not mean Californians will be locked inside their homes. 

NEWSOM: You can still walk your dog. You can still pick up that food at one of our distribution centers, at a restaurant, at a drive-thru. 

Meantime, in Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott declared a public health disaster and announced new restrictions.

ABBOTT: Simply put, there will be no dining in at bars and restaurants and gyms will be closed. 

Public gatherings of more than 10 people are also prohibited in the Lone Star State. That means schools will remain closed.

And in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, also announced new measures.  

WOLF: We began to enforce mandatory closures of restaurants, bars, and soon we will extend that enforcement action to non-life-critical businesses.

Businesses considered “life-critical” include grocery stories, gas stations, and farms. 

Meantime, the Trump administration has issued a new alert—upgrading its travel warning to “level four.” That’s unprecedented for any global warning. The State Department urged Americans not to travel outside of the country for any reason and to return home if they are already abroad unless they plan to remain there.

Italy surpasses China death toll » That warning comes as the coronavirus continues to spread globally. That’s especially true in Europe. In Italy, the death toll from the coronavirus overtook China’s reported total on Thursday. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Italy, with a population of 60 million, recorded at least 34-hundred deaths. That’s roughly 150 more than the reported death toll in China—a country with a population more than 20 times larger.

Italy reached the bleak milestone the same day that Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged three months ago, recorded no new infections. That appears to be a sign that China’s draconian lockdowns were effective in containing the scourge.

On Thursday, a visiting Chinese Red Cross team criticized Italians’ failure to properly quarantine themselves and take the national lockdown seriously.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin. 

McConnell unveils GOP coronavirus relief plan » Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a sweeping economic rescue plan Thursday. It would send $1,200 checks directly to taxpayers. 

MCCONNELL: Senate Republicans want to put cash in the hands of the American people. Chairman Grassley and a number of our colleagues are finalizing a structure that will get assistance to individuals and families as rapidly as possible. 

The government would send the one-time $1,200 stipends to individuals—$2,400 for couples—phased out at income thresholds of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 per couple. Additionally, there would be $500 payments for each child.

Individuals and families could also make penalty-free withdrawals of up to $100,000 from their tax-deferred 401(k) retirement funds. The plan would also loosen tax rules on charitable giving.

Additionally, it would deliver $300 billion in aid to small businesses. That’s intended to cover critical business expenses and keep paychecks coming to idle workers. It also provides roughly $200 billion in loans to airlines and other industries.

Senate GOP leaders and the White House will soon meet with Senate Democrats to finalize what the Senate’s calling its “phase 3” relief measure. 

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday… 

SCHUMER: We believe that whatever proposal emerges, and it will be bipartisan, it must be a workers-first proposal. 

Amid the pandemic, the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits soared last week by 70,000, to the highest level in more than two years. 

Work continues on possible treatments for COVID-19 » At the White House Thursday, President Trump said work continues on possible treatments for COVID-19. He said health officials are highly encouraged by the potential of several options. And he said his administration is moving to cut red tape at the Food and Drug Administration that could unnecessarily slow down the approval process of certain drugs that can help.

TRUMP: If treatments known to be safe in Europe, Japan or other nations  are effective against the virus, we’ll use that information to protect the health and safety of the American people. Nothing will stand in our way as we pursue any avenue to find what best works against this horrible virus. 

Trump and FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn cited the malaria drug chloroquine, along with remdesivir, an experimental antiviral from Gilead Sciences, and possibly using plasma from survivors of COVID-19.

But Hahn stressed that the FDA will not recklessly approve any treatment. 

HAHN: FDA’s responsibility to the American people is to ensure that products are safe and effective. 

The first clinical trial of a vaccine began earlier this week, though a final product is likely at least a year away. 

Gabbard drops out, endorses Biden » The battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is now officially a two-person race. 

GABBARD: So today, I’m suspending my presidential campaign and offering my full support to Vice President Joe Biden in his quest to bring our country together. 

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard heard there on Thursday, suspending her presidential campaign.

Gabbard said “it’s clear that Democratic primary voters have chosen” Biden to take on President Trump in November. The four-term congresswoman added, “Although I may not agree with the vice president on every issue, I know that he has a good heart, and he’s motivated by his love for our country and the American people.”

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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