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U.S. coronavirus cases top 50,000, wartime law goes into effect, Senate approves $2 trillion

Christian Fernsby |
The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States topped 50,000 as of 3 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Tuesday (1900 GMT), according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

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Topics: U.S.    CORONAVIRUS   

The fresh figure reached 50,206 with 606 deaths, the CSSE said.

Another report says a total of 163 people died Tuesday, bringing the U.S. death toll past 700, as the WHO warned the country could be the next epicenter of the coronavirus with over 50,000 cases of infection.

The state of New York has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, with 25,665 cases reported. New Jersey and California have reported 2,844 and 2,267 cases, respectively, according to the center.

The Trump administration uses the Defense Production Act (DPA) for the first time, to procure some 60,000 test kits to aid against the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a senior emergency management official.

Peter Gaynor, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN that the administration had decided to use the law, which President Donald Trump recently said he would invoke, because "there's some test kits we need to get our hands on."

Gaynor said the federal government is also going to insert "DPA language" into "mass contracts that we have for the 500 million masks."

Trump signed an executive order on March 18 to invoke the DPA but has since been under pressure from state governors to actually take action. He tweeted Tuesday morning that the law "is in full force, but haven't had to use it."

Passed by Congress in 1950 as a response to the Korean War, the DPA gives the president the authority to ask private companies to ramp up production of national defense-related items.

By invoking the law, Trump now has the authority to direct companies to boost production of medical supplies such as respirators, gowns and ventilators, as well as control the distribution of those items.

The president, however, was reportedly faced with pushback from business leaders who opposed him executing the wartime power, citing concerns over loss of profit as a consequence.

He resisted calls to use the law at a White House news briefing Sunday, saying "the concept of nationalizing our businesses is not a good concept." The DPA, however, does not authorize the government to take ownership of companies or industries.

The country is scrambling to fill the gap in the supply of critical medical equipment such as masks.

Gaynor said during CNN's "State of the Union" program Sunday that he could not give the number of medical masks the federal government could provide for hospitals. "When it comes to supplies, we have been shipping from the national stockpile for weeks."

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar testified before senators in late February that the country has "30 million N95 respirators in the strategic national stockpile," and that it needs 300 million for healthcare workers.

In another development, Trump signed an executive order Monday using the authority he is given under the DPA to prohibit price gouging and hoarding of medical supplies deemed vital amid the spread of COVID-19.

The president told reporters at the White House on Monday that the HHS will designate certain items as "scarce," making it a crime to excessively stockpile items that are so designated.

The White House and Senate leaders reached a historic deal after midnight Wednesday on a $2 trillion economic relief package for the coronavirus outbreak, putting an end to weeks of a heated argument between Democrats and Republicans.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are done," White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland announced as he left the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

“We have a deal."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the package will enable companies to get through the pandemic and help American families.

The package includes a direct payment to Americans and a half-trillion-dollar fund for U.S. corporations, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The full details have yet to be released.

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