Senate agrees on stimulus bill as COVID-19 cases climb in hot spots

Today the US Senate is set to vote on the country's largest-ever stimulus relief bill, meant to inject $2 trillion into the US economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill promises relief for many US households and small businesses, which have suffered shutdowns and furloughs in the wake of shelter-in-place orders. It is expected to be voted on by the House as soon as tomorrow, and President Trump is expected to sign the bill by the end of the week, Reuters reported.

Included in the stimulus is $150 billion for hospitals treating coronavirus patients, Vox reported. Of that, $100 billion will go to hospitals, $1 billion will go to the Indian Health Service, and the rest will be used to increase medical equipment capacity, Vox said.

Yesterday the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pledged $100 million to US healthcare systems as they prepare for an influx of COVID-19 patients.

"We cannot beat the COVID-19 pandemic without getting America's healthcare workers the training and resources they need to respond to this novel threat, and these funds secured from Congress by President Trump will help make that happen," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a press release.

As of this afternoon, according to the USA Today case tracker, the United States has reported at least 62,873 cases, including 894 deaths.

Some signs of slowing in New York

In New York, which has become the epicenter of US COVID-19 activity, Governor Andrew Cuomo said today there were some small signs that virus transmission was slowing following stringent social distancing mandates.

During his daily briefing, Cuomo said state models showed Sunday that hospitalization rates would be doubling every 2 days, but last night the doubling rate was at 4.7 days.

He also showed encouraging data from Westchester County, which was the first area in the United States deemed a "containment zone" in light of several coronavirus cases. "We have dramatically slowed what was an exponential rate of increase," Cuomo said. "That was the hottest cluster in the United States of America. We closed the schools, we closed gatherings, we brought in testing, and we have dramatically slowed the increase."

As of Wednesday afternoon, New York reported 30,811 cases, including 17,856 in New York City, the most densely populated city in the United States. New demographic data from NYC Health shows 56% of the city’s COVID-19 patients are men, and 56% are also under the age of 50, with 45% of patients ages 18 to 44.

Queens accounts for 30% of the city's cases, followed by Brooklyn (28%), and Manhattan (19%). The death toll in the city is 199.

New York University is allowing qualified medical students to graduate 3 months early and begin practicing medicine in an effort to add more healthcare workers to the state's rosters.

California reports first death in a child

ABC News reported late yesterday that a 17-year-old boy in Los Angeles who tested positive for COVID-19 has died, although there may have been comorbidities. If confirmed, his death would be the first known US death in a teenager.

Also in Los Angeles yesterday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he will shut off power and water to nonessential businesses that are refusing to close in the face of the state's shelter-in-place mandate, which was put in place last week. Garcetti also said he expects Los Angeles to peak in cases in 6 to 12 days, and warned citizens the situation will be bad.

Meanwhile both Georgia and Louisiana reported another increase in case counts, as both Atlanta and New Orleans struggle with an influx of COVID-19 patients. Both states crossed the 1,000-case milestone in the past 2 days.

Louisiana officials have reported 1,795 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths, with more than 800 cases in New Orleans. Some reports on Twitter suggest at least half of the emergency medical services staff in that city are currently quarantined after exposure to cases. The state of Louisiana is under a shelter in place mandate.

Only Atlanta residents have been told to shelter in place in Georgia, where the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported a total of 1,097 cases in the state, including 38 deaths.

In other news, a Holland American cruise ship with 87 passengers onboard with flu-like illnesses is making its way to Florida, Bloomberg News reported. The ship will arrive at Ft. Lauderdale on Mar 30, but the company is sending COVID-19 testing kits to rendezvous with the ship before it docks.

Moderna says vaccine could be in limited use this year

Finally today, Moderna reportedly told investors that its mRNA-1273 vaccine against the novel coronavirus could be ready to be used on frontline health workers this fall but would not be ready for wide commercial distribution until 2021.

Moderna's vaccine launched its phase 1 human trial last week in healthy adults in the Seattle area.

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