By Doina Chiacu and Maria Caspani
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, March 17 (Reuters) - The Trump
administration on Tuesday pursued a massive $850 billion
stimulus package to buttress a U.S. economy reeling from the
coronavirus threat, while the streets of major American cities
emptied in response to stepped-up warnings about the pandemic.
Millions of Americans hunkered down in their homes instead
of commuting to work or school as New York and other major
cities escalated "social distancing" policies by closing
schools, bars, restaurants and theaters. The number of reported
U.S. cases of the respiratory illness surged and U.S. deaths
from the coronavirus climbed to at least 89.
In one of the most restrictive policies enacted in the
United States to date, officials in six San Francisco Bay Area
counties ordered residents to stay at home beginning on Tuesday
for all but the most crucial outings until April 7. The order
applies to some 6.7 million people.
The six counties account for about 30% of the output in
California's economy, the biggest in the United States.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN he would consider
imposing a similar shelter-in-place directive for the most
populous U.S. city.
It was St. Patrick's Day but the mood was sober, not joyous,
after traditional parades and parties celebrating the Irish
heritage of many Americans were canceled across the country and
usually crowded pubs were shuttered.
Even so, de Blasio used the occasion to rally his city,
hailing the "indomitable spirit" of America's Irish immigrants,
many of whom have settled in New York.
"New York City's streets may be empty this St. Patrick's
Day, but thanks to that very same spirit, our hearts are full,"
he wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday planned to
discuss the proposed $850 billion stimulus package when he meets
with Senate Republicans at the Capitol, according to a U.S.
government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The
package would include $50 billion for airlines - hard hit by the
pandemic - and $250 billion for small business loans.
The Senate on Tuesday prepared to weigh a
multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill passed by the House
of Representatives on Saturday.
Wall Street's main indexes rose on Tuesday, a day after
recording their biggest tumble since the crash of 1987 over
fears of the economic toll of the fast-spreading outbreak. The
broad S&P 500 was up 4% in late morning trading
The coronavirus also affected politics as three states hold
primary elections on Tuesday in the state-by-state process of
selecting a Democratic candidate to challenge President Donald
Trump in the Nov. 3 U.S. election.
Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders square
off in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, but Ohio officials
canceled that state's primary due to coronavirus fears hours
before the vote was to begin.
The tally of confirmed U.S. cases has multiplied quickly
over the past few weeks as testing increased, surpassing 4,600
and prompting fears American hospitals might soon be
overwhelmed, as Italian medical centers have been strained to
the breaking point by the pandemic.
New York, Washington state and California have the most
confirmed cases with Washington accounting for the majority of
fatalities, many linked to an outbreak at a nursing home in the
The United States has lagged behind other industrialized
nations in its ability to test for the novel coronavirus.
After previously downplaying the danger and declaring the
situation under control, the White House urged Americans on
Monday to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and called for
closing bars, restaurants and other venues in states where local
virus transmission exists.
Trump's change in tone followed newly urgent messaging from
governors and mayors across the country who have taken their own
drastic measures to slow the virus' spread.
The states of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut struck a
regional agreement to close all movie theaters, casinos and gyms
on Monday. Restaurants and bars in the three states - where more
than 22 million people live - will serve takeout and delivery
Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator,
would not say whether the Trump administration was close to
issuing some sort of domestic travel restriction.
"We're looking very carefully at the data every day and
that's why you see this escalation in guidelines from the
president," she said on Fox News.
Integrating data and understanding how the new outbreaks are
occurring - from travel between states, or within states - is
crucial to formulating the response and updating guidelines,
"As we track down these outbreaks, if we see that that is
happening from flight travel, then I think the president will
react, but we don't have enough information right now to suggest
that," she said.
Asked if people were getting sick on airplanes, Birx said,
"We don't know."
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Maria Caspani in
New York. Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Lisa Lambert,
David Shepardson and Susan Heavey, Joseph Ax, Gabriella Borter,
Barbara Goldberg, Brendan O'Brien; Writing by Will Dunham;
Editing by Bill Berkrot