- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Senate approved an emergency bill that provides $8 billion for the coronavirus fight Thursday, clearing the way for President Trump’s signature as Vice President Mike Pence crisscrossed the country to thank responders and pledge federal support.

It passed 96-1, following a similarly lopsided vote in the House on Wednesday.

The measure sets aside billions for vaccine and treatment research, boosts state, local and overseas efforts and provides low-interest loans to small businesses reeling from the emerging outbreak.

It is about three times the $2.5 billion amount that Mr. Trump proposed for the fight, although the president said he’ll sign what Congress sends him.

“In situations like these, no expense should be spared to protect the American people – and in crafting this package, none was,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, said.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, voted “no” after his attempts to pay for the measure by trimming foreign aid were rejected.

Senators blessed the bipartisan deal as Mr. Pence stopped in Minnesota to thank the 3M Company for producing N95 respirator masks that protect health workers on the front lines of the coronavirus epidemic.

“Your company plays such an important role,” Mr. Pence told CEO Mike Roman. “We couldn’t be more grateful for the efforts of American business leaders and companies like 3M who are coming alongside and ensuring that our nation has the resources, has the support to be able to deal with the coronavirus in every respect across the country.”

Mr. Pence said everyday Americans should not buy masks unless they are sick. That way, there will be more available to health workers.

The coronavirus was discovered in Hubei Province, China, in December. It causes an illness that is mild in many people but can cause respiratory distress, organ failure and death, especially in older persons or those with preexisting medical conditions.

As some nations battle thousands of cases, the CDC is tracking more than 100 infections in the U.S.

Nearly 50 of the cases are in patients who were repatriated from China and Japan, yet an increasing number of states are reporting cases with no known origin, heightening fears of rapid transmission from coast to coast.

Federal officials say the average American’s risk of infection remains low but that it’s important to protect the elderly and people with preexisting conditions in places with local transmission.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the virus is permeating all aspects of American life, joking her party will have to “elbow bump” whoever emerges from the Democratic nominating fight for president.

“We’re not embracing anybody,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Thursday that the Pentagon is crafting a comprehensive plan to handle a potential coronavirus outbreak inside the building, which is one of the largest office complexes in the world.

Mr. Esper said the plan will include both a focus on simple mitigation steps — such as the disinfecting of copy machines, doorknobs, and other items — and a broader plan to ensure the Pentagon remains open for business if coronavirus cases arise.

“We’re fully confident we can continue to perform the functions the Pentagon needs to perform if we have some type of outbreak in the building,” he said.

Later Thursday, Mr. Pence is scheduled to stop in Washington state, which has recorded 10 deaths from the outbreak. Many of the fatal cases are linked to a nursing home in Kirkland, King County.

The vice president will coordinate federal and state efforts with Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, in Olympia.

Beyond Washington state, California is being hit especially hard.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and investigators are screening passengers of a cruise ship, the Grand Princess, that’s being held off the coast of San Francisco.

One person died in Placer County, California, after taking the ship on a San Francisco-to-Mexico leg. The ship later sailed for Hawaii before returning to California.

Officials are hoping to avoid the fate of the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that docked in quarantine off Yokohama, Japan, and recorded over 700 cases in passengers and crew. Six people died from their infections.

“That was a bad quarantine. That was not a successful quarantine,” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary at Homeland Security, told senators on Thursday. “The lessons we learned there were negative lessons.”

• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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