Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 22, 2020

Tim O'Donnell
Hospital in Cremona, Italy.
Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

1.

Global coronavirus cases pass 300,000

The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases crossed the 300,000 threshold Sunday as deaths topped 13,000. Italy remains the hardest-hit country after experiencing its biggest day-to-day increase of confirmed infections and nearly 800 new deaths Saturday. Premiere Giuseppe Conte announced he was tightening the country-wide lockdown and shutting down all production facilities except those providing essentials. In the United States on Saturday, New Jersey joined the growing number of states with stay-at-home orders for its citizens in an attempt to subdue the virus' spread, raising the total number of Americans under such restrictions above 80 million. China, meanwhile, said there were 46 new COVID-19 cases in the country after three days of reporting no new infections. [The Associated Press, NBC News]

2.

Senate still working toward coronavirus bill

The Senate on Sunday will continue to work on a bipartisan coronavirus stimulus package that is expected to top $1 trillion. Lawmakers failed to reach an agreement Saturday evening, but consensus reportedly began to emerge on issues like direct tax rebates and unemployment insurance as the chamber now aims to resolve disagreements ahead of a procedural vote scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday. An aide to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), however, said Democrats still have not seen "large parts" of the GOP's draft. Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are expected to meet Sunday morning to negotiate the legislation. [The Washington Post, CNN]

3.

FDA approves rapid 'point-of-care' coronavirus test

The Food and Drug Administration approved the first "point-of-care" coronavirus test which can reportedly relay results in just 45 minutes. The FDA granted California company Cepheid an "emergency use authorization" for the rapid molecular test. Currently, it can be days before results are delivered, but the new development means many people would not have to leave their doctor's office (or wherever the test is administered) before finding out if the test is positive or negative. Fast results could provide a big relief on the health-care system — which is on its way toward being overwhelmed by the pandemic — because doctors will be able to quickly decide which treatments are appropriate for patients. Cepheid plans to begin selling the tests at the end of the month. [The Washington Post, CNN]

4.

Khamenei promotes coronavirus conspiracy theory, rejects U.S. aid

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday refused the United States' assistance to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has been particularly harsh in Iran where tough economic sanctions preventing the sale of crude oil and access to international financial markets remain in place. In his speech, Khamenei not only rejected U.S. aid, but he also echoed a conspiracy theory first touted in China that the virus was man-made by the U.S. government. He said he doesn't know if the accusation is true, but wondered "who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication," when that medication might be "a way to spread the virus more" before suggesting that the real reason U.S. medical personnel might want to come to Iran is to "see the effect of the poison they have produced." [The Associated Press, Reuters]

5.

Trump reportedly wrote Kim a letter offering to help North Korea fight coronavirus

North Korea said Sunday that President Trump sent another personal letter to Pyongyang's leader Kim Jong Un, this time reportedly expressing his willingness to cooperate with the country on "anti-epidemic" work, referring to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Kim Yo Jong, Kim's sister and the first vice department director or the Workers' Party of Korea Central Committee, praised the letter as "good judgment and proper action" and said Trump wrote that he was impressed with North Korea's ability to curb the threat of the virus. North Korea has not reported any COVID-19 cases, but health experts fear the secretive nation is covering up an outbreak. The White House confirmed Trump sent Kim a letter, but did not comment on its contents. [The New York Times, CNN]

6.

Private companies to provide medical supplies for pandemic fight

President Trump said Saturday private companies have agreed to provide medical supplies to address the country's shortage as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases increase across the United States, but he said he would not compel companies to do so. Clothing company Hanes is one corporation that will produce masks. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Saturday the state is enlisting SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple CEO Tim Cook to help manufacture medical equipment, such as ventilators. Musk pledged to procure 250,000 masks, while Cook committed to providing 1 million. Newsom cited a few other instances of the private and nonprofit sectors offering to help, including universities and sports teams offering space. [The New York Times, Politico]

7.

California congressman in critical condition for pneumonia, coronavirus test negative

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) is hospitalized in critical condition for pneumonia which arose more than a week ago after he suffered a traumatic rib fracture when he fell during a run. The congressman, who was admitted to the hospital last week, subsequently tested negative for the novel COVID-19 coronavirus, which is at the forefront of a pandemic and can lead to pneumonia in some cases. DeSaulnier's office said his condition has deteriorated, but doctors "are doing everything they can." The 67-year-old DeSaulnier was elected to Congress in 2014 after previously serving as a California state senator and assemblymember. [Politico, CNN]

8.

Croatian capital rocked by earthquake

A 5.3-magnitude earthquake struck just north of Croatia's capital, Zagreb, on Sunday, damaging buildings, triggering fires, and burying vehicles beneath rubble. Fire and rescue operations are reportedly ongoing, but news outlets are reporting a teenager is in critical condition after a roof collapsed. The spire on the city's cathedral reportedly snapped off. People reportedly ran outside in panic after the tremor, and they were initially told to remain outside at a distance from one another due to dual fears over the novel COVID-19 coronavirus and aftershocks. Eventually, though, Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić told people to return home since most of the city's structures were safe. The quake was the largest Zagreb has experienced in 140 years. [Al Jazeera, BBC]

9.

India observes 14-hour coronavirus curfew

Around 1.3 billion people in India observed a nationwide 14-hour curfew Sunday in an effort to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus. Cities across the country, which is home to the world's second largest population, were largely deserted and only businesses and government establishments providing essential services remained open. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the curfew last week in the hopes of breaking the chain of infections. India so far has more than 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and there have been four deaths in the country attributed to the disease. India is imposing other measures, as well, including halting international flights from landing in the country for a week starting Sunday. [Al Jazeera, BBC]

10.

Marriott plans to furlough thousands of employees during pandemic

Marriott plans to furlough thousands of corporate employees at its headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, as well as multiple other cities across the globe as the hotel company tries to shrink its payroll amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is forcing the company to ramp up hotel closings. Nearly two-thirds of its 4,000 headquarter employees will be furloughed for a period between 60 and 90 days, the company said. During that time employees will receive 20 percent of their salaries. The virus' spread has severely damaged the travel industry — Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said struggles are worse for the business than the 2008 financial crisis and the post-9/11 period combined as the company runs about 75 percent below normal levels. [The Wall Street Journal]