The coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip on the world, inching closer toward 500,000 on Wednesday as surging COVID-19 diagnoses put New York City, Italy and Spain on high alert.
Even as investors cheered a $2 trillion stimulus package by sending stocks sharply higher on Wednesday, new infections and deaths continued to rise at an exponential rate, especially in Europe and the United States.
Late Tuesday, the Trump’s administration coronavirus task force issued a chilling warning to travelers fleeing the Big Apple, asking them to self-quarantine for two weeks. New York has become the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with New York City accounting for the lion’s share of the state’s 30,000-plus cases.
In his daily briefing Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the reason the state has seen such a spike is because of its large population, and NYC’s status as a major international hub.
“We welcome people from across the globe. We have international travelers who were in China, who were in Italy and who were in Korea,” he said, touting the state’s more aggressive testing that’s uncovered more infections.
“I have no doubt that the virus was here much earlier than we even know...and much earlier than in any other state,” Cuomo added.
With over 55,000 cases, America’s COVID-19 diagnoses are closing in on Europe’s. The world’s largest economy is nearly completely shut down, which prompted Congress to pass a hotly-debated $2 trillion stimulus. New Jersey has now surpassed California and Washington as second in the country for coronavirus cases, with more than 3,000.
Meanwhile, deaths mounted in Italy and Spain, which have both surpassed the death toll in China. Of the world’s nearly 20,000 deaths, Italy accounts for nearly 6,000 of them.
The virus has also hit a number of high-profile individuals including politicians and celebrities. On Wednesday, the Royal Family announced Prince Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth, has tested positive, although his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, has not.
‘Severe economic challenges’
President Donald Trump and the White House coronavirus task force are weighing the need for a national lockdown as testing ramps up nationwide. Without a clear picture of where the virus has struck, health experts say restricting movement — even in cities where public life has become all but nonexistent — is necessary.
Part of the historic stimulus bill allocated around $130 billion to hospitals. Officials and experts say that amount is sorely needed as case loads surge, threatening to overwhelm hospitals all around the country.
“The crisis is causing severe economic challenges for hospitals, especially those who treat a high number of Medicare and Medicaid and the uninsured,” Meghan FitzGerald, a former nurse and health care policy professor at Columbia University, told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday.
“Our health care workforce is under dire straits right now, so I think the path to recovery is through the hospital system,” she added.
As entire swaths of the economy remain shut down, Trump has voiced eagerness to restart the economy — which is seeing a spike in unemployment claims. Meanwhile, the stock market has seen extreme sell-offs that have dragged major benchmarks into a bear market.
The stimulus money for hospitals “is a good use of funds right now because we need the U.S. [workforce] to be healthy before we think about getting them back to work,” FitzGerald insisted.
In a separate move, Aetna (CVS) announced that it would waive cost-sharing and co-payments for in-network patient admissions related to the coronavirus outbreak. It became the first major insurer to voluntarily forego costs connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has become the most far-reaching infection in decades.
The outbreak is impacting labor markets, primarily through the growing ranks of employees being laid off. Yet even in areas where workers are reporting for duty, businesses are having to adjust to prevent inadvertent coronavirus exposure and/or spreading.
Ralph Izzo, CEO of New Jersey utility PSE&G, told Yahoo Finance that the company has reduced operations for its customer service centers, and all employees who work in the field arrive and conduct meetings in staggered groups.
For employees who can work from home or have been affected in some way, the company has been allowing work from home and is providing paid leave, Izzo added.