Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

We finally have a stimulus deal. Here’s what to expect.

Amelia Nierenberg


Hundreds of dollars in direct payments could begin reaching Americans as early as next week, after Congress overwhelmingly passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package on Monday night.

President Trump has yet to sign the long-sought agreement, which is less than half the size of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed in March. But few doubt the coming stroke of his pen: Without this bill, as many as 12 million Americans would lose access to expanded and extended unemployment benefits days after Christmas.

Admittedly, there’s a lot in the bill that has nothing to do with the pandemic. Somewhere in its nearly 5,600 pages, the agreement extends tax deductions for corporate meals, bans most surprise medical bills and establishes two Smithsonian museums. But there’s a lot of direct relief, too. Here’s a breakdown of some key points.

  • One-time stimulus payments. The government will provide $600 in direct payments to millions of adults and children. Adults with an adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 in 2019 will receive $600 and a couple earning up to $150,000 a year would get $1,200. (People with higher salaries will get less money moving up the income bracket.) Some parents get $600 for each dependent child. How quickly the money reaches your pocket will depend on several factors, though.

  • More unemployment benefits. The agreement revives supplemental federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week for 11 weeks. That’s half the amount provided by the first pandemic relief package.

  • Funding for virus mitigation. A total of $69 billion will go to vaccine distribution and more than $22 billion will flow to states to conduct testing, tracing and coronavirus mitigation programs.

  • Extend essential benefits. The package provides $13 billion in increased nutrition assistance, $7 billion for broadband access and $25 billion in rental assistance. It extends an eviction moratorium, which would have expired at the end of the year.

  • Resources for education. The bill will provide $82 billion for education: about $54 billion for K-12 schools and $22.7 billion for colleges and universities. That falls short of what both sectors say they need to blunt the effect of the pandemic, which has crippled school budgets and left their most vulnerable students in dire academic and financial straits.

  • Small business help. The agreement contains $285 billion for additional loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, a popular federal loan program for small businesses, after it lapsed over the summer, and extended it to nonprofit organizations, local media and others. It also allocated $15 billion for performance venues, independent movie theaters and other cultural institutions.

The package “has probably spared millions of Americans from a winter of poverty and kept the country from falling back into recession,” our economics reporters wrote in an analysis. Still, there will be lasting effects and damage to many families and businesses.

There are calls for more relief. President-elect Joe Biden said he will urge Congress to pass more aid when he takes office. “Congress did its job this week,” Mr. Biden said. “I can and I must ask them to do it again next year,” he added, referring to more congressional stimulus spending to combat the coronavirus.

The Trump administration and Pfizer are close to a deal that could bring tens of millions more doses of the vaccine to American adults next year.

The pharmaceutical company has signaled that it should be able to produce at least 70 million more doses if it can access more supplies and raw materials. Under the agreement, which could be announced as early as Wednesday, the government would help Pfizer get those manufacturing supplies by invoking the Defense Production Act.

As of right now, the U.S. faces a looming vaccine shortage. The vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna — the only two companies that have a greenlight to distribute their vaccines in the U.S. — both require two doses. And the companies have already contracted out most of their existing doses to the U.S. and other governments.

Without the deal, that supply would only cover 150 million Americans out of the roughly 260 million who are eligible at the moment to be vaccinated. If Pfizer provides another 100 million doses — which is what the U.S. government requests — that would leave only about 60 million eligible Americans uncovered in the first half of 2021.

  • Antarctica is no longer the last continent free from the coronavirus: 36 people stationed at a Chilean research base tested positive.

  • Taiwan reported its first case of local coronavirus transmission in eight months on Tuesday. The island has avoided major lockdowns and had only a handful of Covid deaths so far.

  • California’s hospitals face a staffing crisis as they fill up. The state is scrambling to build field hospitals.

  • Here’s a tool to check how full your local intensive care units are.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

  • Britain and France reopened their border to some travelers, after France restricted arrivals over fears of the spread of a new and possibly more transmissible variant of the coronavirus in Britain.

  • France is fast-tracking citizenship applications for 700 foreign workers who were exposed to the coronavirus in health care, child care and other frontline services.

  • New York City has been hit harder by the economic crisis set off by the pandemic than most other major American cities. But no age group has had it worse than young workers.

  • Christmas will be in May this year for one ballet academy in Chicago. About two weeks before opening night, Illinois closed all theaters to cope with a surge of Covid-19 cases.

  • Our colleagues on the Travel desk looked at nine ways the pandemic may change travel in 2021. Some main ones: proof of vaccination, rigorous testing and a return to major cities.

  • This spring, a Brooklyn funeral home allowed more than a dozen bodies to decompose in two U-Haul trucks parked outside. Our colleagues on the Metro desk took a closer look at the episode, an extreme example of a city unable to handle a deluge of bodies.

It’s been said that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. So this year for Christmas my three daughters who live across the country, across the state and across the street are getting amaryllis bulbs. As they bloom we will share the progress via texts, emails and maybe some Zoom Flowers update meetings. Anything to feel connected during these disconnected times.

— Jeff Dickerson, Mount Tabor, N.J.

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Amelia Nierenberg