WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Tuesday pursued a $1 trillion stimulus package that could deliver $1,000 checks to Americans within two weeks to buttress an economy hit by coronavirus, while New York said it might order its residents to stay home.
With the number of reported U.S. cases of the respiratory illness surging past 6,000 and deaths at 104, millions of Americans hunkered down at home instead of commuting to work or school. Major cities escalated “social distancing” policies by closing schools, bars, restaurants and theaters to fight the spread of the virus.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would decide within two days whether to order the 8.5 million residents of the most populous U.S. city to “shelter in place.” The move would largely confine people to their homes but probably allow them to make necessary trips to the grocery or pharmacy.
“It’s a very, very difficult decision,” de Blasio said. “We’ve never been here before. I have never heard of anything like this in the history of New York City.”
Illinois, West Virginia and Kentucky recorded their first coronavirus deaths, and authorities said 22 people had been infected at a nursing home in suburban Chicago.
In Washington state, where 50 people have died, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation approving $200 million for homeless aid and other measures to stop the spread of the virus. In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp signed off on $100 million. Kansas shuttered schools through the end of the academic year.
In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy closed amusement parks and indoor shopping malls as a record number of unemployment applications crashed state computer systems.
In Minnesota, the Mall of America, the nation’s largest enclosed shopping center, said it would close through the end of the month. Sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles were ordered to write more tickets and make fewer arrests, to keep jail crowding to a minimum.
Less than a week after the NBA suspended its season, star player Kevin Durant tested positive for the virus, the Athletic reported.
Vice President Mike Pence said the White House may have the U.S. military establish field hospitals in virus hot zones if requested by state governors, or use the Army Corps of Engineers to add capacity to existing hospitals.
New York, Washington state and California have the most confirmed cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness.
Roughly half of all Americans want the U.S. government to act more aggressively to slow the spread of the coronavirus, such as banning large public gatherings and shutting down all overseas flights, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.
In one of the most restrictive policies already in place, officials ordered residents of the San Francisco Bay area, some 6.7 million people, to stay home for all but the most crucial outings until April 7.
“It’s like living in a ‘Twilight Zone,’” said Rowan Oake, 36, during a jog through San Francisco’s Presidio Park. “You can feel the anxiety in the air.”
President Donald Trump said progress was being made against the fast-spreading pathogen and predicted the U.S. economy would “come roaring back” when it slows.
“It’s going to pop,” said Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3.
The Republican president’s tone on the coronavirus pandemic has changed sharply in the last few days. After initially playing down the threat and focusing on the stock market, his administration has begun pushing for urgent action to stem the disease’s economic and human toll.
His administration sought more than $1 trillion for a stimulus package, including $50 billion for hard-hit airlines facing bankruptcy.
“We’re going big,” Trump said.
‘GAG AND VOTE FOR IT’
The Trump administration is also considering a plan to send checks to individual Americans of $1,000 to help them weather the crisis, though details remain unclear.
High earners might not qualify for payments, which could be sent within the next two weeks, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber would this week pass a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill cleared by the House of Representatives on Saturday, despite concerns from some Republicans.
He said he told them to “gag and vote for it anyway.”
McConnell said the Senate would not leave town until it passes a follow-up package.
The House bill would provide free coronavirus testing, establish paid sick leave for most workers and expand unemployment compensation.
U.S. stocks jumped on Tuesday, a day after their steepest declines since the 1987 crash, as the Federal Reserve took further steps to boost liquidity. The benchmark S&P 500 .SPX closed up 6%.
Mnuchin said the government may shorten trading hours if necessary.
Trump said travel restrictions within the United States are on the table.
“You can do a national lockdown. Hopefully, we’re not going to need that,” Trump said. “It’s a very big step.”
He asked Americans to avoid traveling and urged them to “buy less” when they go to stores after nationwide reports of anxious shoppers emptying grocery store shelves.
“We’re asking our older generation to stay in their homes. … We’re asking the younger generation to stop going out,” said Trump coronavirus adviser Deborah Birx.
It was St. Patrick’s Day but the mood was sober after parades and parties celebrating the Irish heritage of many Americans were canceled around the country and bars were shuttered. Florida’s governor said bars and nightclubs in his state would close for 30 days.
Voters in Florida, Illinois and Arizona were met by gloved poll workers and hand sanitizer as they cast ballots on Tuesday in the state-by-state process of selecting a Democratic challenger to Trump in the November election.
Former Vice President Joe Biden looked to bolster his dominant lead over rival Senator Bernie Sanders. Ohio officials postponed that state’s primary due to coronavirus fears hours before voting was to begin.
Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen in New York. Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper, Jeff Mason, David Morgan, Lisa Lambert, David Shepardson, Susan Heavey, Nathan Layne, Lisa Shumaker, Joseph Ax, Rich McKay, Steve Gorman, Jill Serjeant, Dan Whitcomb, Gabriella Borter, Barbara Goldberg, Brendan O’Brien, Michael Erman and Robin Respaut; Writing by Will Dunham and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall