Nearly one in four Americans were under orders to close up shop and stay at home on Saturday, as lawmakers in Washington neared a deal that could pump a record $1 trillion into the economy to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus.
New Jersey’s governor followed four other states – California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut – that have imposed unprecedented public-health restrictions to slow the spread of infections, which have risen exponentially.
As of midday Saturday, 286 deaths and more than 22,000 cases had been reported.
Life will not return to normal any time soon, officials warned.
“I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks. I believe it is going to be a matter of months,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Saturday.
Federal authorities briefly stopped flights arriving at New York City-area airports after a trainee at an air traffic control center tested positive.
Meanwhile, the global pandemic closed in on the highest levels of power in the nation’s capital.
Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives have tested positive, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said he and his wife would be tested after an unidentified aide was diagnosed with the virus. Pence staffers said the aide had mild symptoms and had not had close contact with Pence or President Donald Trump.
Trump tested negative for the virus, his doctor said last week, after dining with a Brazilian delegation that included at least one member who later tested positive.
In Congress, Republican and Democratic leaders said they were closing in on a stimulus bill that would pump $1.4 trillion into the economy, adding to the hundreds of billions of fiscal and monetary stimulus that has already been deployed to prop up the world’s largest economy.
Hard-hit airlines were pressing for billions in cash, along with loans, to avoid layoffs.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote for Monday.
State and local officials, meanwhile, were clamoring for tests to diagnose the disease, and protective gear to slow its transmission, and medical equipment to treat those who have contracted it.
In New York, Cuomo said the state had identified 6,000 ventilators but needed 30,000. He said the state was sending 1 million N95 respirator masks to New York City, where more than 6,000 cases have been diagnosed.
“We are literally scouring the globe for medical supplies,” he said.
At a White House briefing, officials said they were getting more tests to those who need them. The number of cases is expected to skyrocket as testing becomes more widely available.
SOCIAL DISTANCING GOES STATEWIDE
New Jersey became the latest state on Saturday to adopt a statewide directive requiring residents to remain indoors except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”
Stay-at-home orders now apply to 84 million people in states that account for a third of the nation’s economy.
The state directives were for the most part issued without strict enforcement mechanisms to back them up.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said police would “admonish” people violating the order to go home.
“That’s what we hope is the end of any kind of contact that anyone might have with the police department,” she said at a briefing on Saturday.
Cuomo said there will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance.
Even before the flurry of statewide stay-at-home orders, the pandemic had virtually paralyzed parts of the U.S. economy and upended lifestyles over the past week, as school districts and colleges canceled classes and many companies were shuttered, either voluntarily or by local government mandates.
Washington state, which documented the first known U.S. coronavirus case in January and now accounts for the greatest number of deaths – 83 as of Saturday – has closed bars, restaurants, recreation venues and entertainment facilities, while banning all gatherings of more than 50 people.