New COVID-19 relief: More stimulus checks and unemployment benefits
Lawmakers struck a nearly $900 billion COVID-19 relief deal including another round of stimulus checks and jobless benefits for struggling Americans.
Staff video, USA TODAY
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In the headlines:
►Pfizer and BioNTech announced a second agreement with the U.S. government to supply an additional 100 million doses of the companies’ vaccine. This agreement brings the total number of doses to be delivered to the U.S. by July 31 to 200 million.
►President Donald Trump denounced a sweeping COVID-19 relief package he had been expected to sign, asking Congress to increase the “ridiculously low” $600 to $2,000. It was not immediately clear whether he would veto the bipartisan deal.
►California is on the brink of surpassing 2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus. With 1.95 million infections, recording a half-million in just two weeks, state officials said the state could see 100,000 hospitalizations in January. As of Tuesday, the state has a 1.4% ICU capacity and 22,900 deaths.
►Arkansas will build two facilities that will provide over 100 additional hospital beds in case the state runs out of capacity in the near future, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday. “We have to be ready for whatever comes in January,” the governor said of a possible spike following the Christmas holiday.
►Long-term care facilities are preparing to distribute the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to its residents as early as next week as part of a partnership between the CDC and CVS Health, Hawaii Public Radio reported. CVS Health began vaccinating long-term care facility staff and residents on Monday in 12 states. The pharmacy plans to extend its plan to 36 more states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 18.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 322,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. It was only eight days ago the country reached 300,000 COVID fatalities. The global totals: More than 77.9 million cases and 1.71 million deaths.
Here’s a closer look at today’s top stories:
Managers at New Jersey’s veterans homes not only barred employees from wearing protective masks during the first weeks of the outbreak, they devised a series of penalties with the help of Gov. Phil Murphy’s office against nurses who wore the homes’ masks without permission. More than 190 residents have died from COVID-19 in the state’s veterans homes. Emails obtained by The Record and NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network, show that at least one worker had to return home because management wouldn’t let him wear a mask — even though he had a doctor’s note saying he suffered from asthma.
“If they had done just the bare minimum, they could have saved lives,” said Tony Agosto, CEO of Virgo Medical Services. “They could have stopped a lot of this.”
– Scott Fallon, NorthJersey.com
Congress has passed a COVID-19 relief bill that could provide a second round of stimulus checks to millions of Americans as soon as next week. But the truly rich won’t get richer off these checks. Individuals earning up to $75,000, and couples making less than $150,000 will receive the full amount – currently $600 but President Donald Trump is pushing for more. The plan calls for the check to drop by $5 for every $100 of income above those income thresholds. It will phase out completely at $87,000 for individuals and $174,000 for couples.
Many students also don’t qualify, and neither do immigrants who don’t have a Social Security number. Some elderly and disabled people won’t get a check either.
– Jessica Menton
For hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans, the annual pilgrimage to Mexico in December to visit parents and family is a sacred ritual that even a global COVID-19 pandemic and U.S. border restrictions to stem the spread of the virus have been unable to stop.
Many “paisanos” have already traveled or are finalizing plans to make their trip home, altering holiday plans and taking new precautions, despite pleas from U.S. and Mexican officials that they stay home this year. Under current border restrictions, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are free to travel through land ports of entry.
Last month, more than 5 million Americans defied similar government recommendations to stay home and traveled through U.S. airports the week of Thanksgiving, a holiday rooted in the tradition of sharing a meal with family and friends. Health officials blame that travel increase for the December surge in coronavirus cases. For the extensive Mexican diaspora in the U.S., the draw of spending Christmas in Mexico is equally strong.
– Rafael Carranza and Lauren Villagran, Arizona Republic
Most stores this holiday season will be open similar hours compared to Christmas Eve 2019 with the majority of major retailers closing by 6 p.m. with some exceptions. Best Buy stores close at 7 p.m. and Target stores close at 8 p.m., two hours earlier than last year.
But amid the coronavirus pandemic, the longest lines might be outside stores either in parking lots for curbside pickup or in front of stores as many are limiting the number of shoppers inside. Same-day delivery is expected to also be a more popular option in 2020 with shipping delays between winter weather and vaccine shipments.
To help plan your last-minute shopping, here are Christmas Eve store hours for department stores, discount retailers and grocers.
– Kelly Tyko
For months, the hundreds of scientists and researchers who live in Antarctica have inhabited the only continent in the world without a reported case of COVID-19. But now the virus has reached even there.
Three dozen people at a Chilean base have tested positive, the country’s army announced Monday. On Tuesday, a regional health minister in Chile said there are 21 infections involving people aboard the Chilean navy’s Sargento Aldea supply vessel. Passengers on that ship, which sailed to Chile from the Antarctic Peninsula, tested positive for COVID-19, the Chilean Antarctic Institute informed The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs on Friday, according to a statement emailed to USA TODAY.
Another case has been reported at an Antarctic village where that ship docked, according to regional health secretary Eduardo Castillo. No other country with a presence in Antarctica has yet publicly reported cases.
– Joel Shannon
Contributing: The Associated Press