3 Key Developments As Coronavirus Cases Top 400K

By Andrew Kragie
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Law360 (April 8, 2020, 11:06 PM EDT) -- As the number of U.S. coronavirus cases exceeded 400,000 — with deaths approaching 15,000 — the White House held a 105-minute pandemic briefing, with guidance on essential workers exposed to infected people, optimism about flattening the curve and a push for $250 billion more for small businesses.

When Essential Workers Get Exposed

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for workers in critical industries who are exposed to infected people, including family members and roommates.

"Under certain circumstances, they can go back to work if they are asymptomatic," Dr. Robert Redfield said. "They can go back to work if they do several things: take their temperature before they go to work, wear a face mask at all times and practice social distancing when they're at work."

The CDC said its interim guidance applied to workers in "critical infrastructure" jobs that range from law enforcement to food service and agriculture to energy and transportation. Employees should be asked to wear masks for 14 days after exposure, the agency said.

Optimism About the Curve, Uncertainty About the End Date

Trump suggested that the nation was approaching a plateau, even as Johns Hopkins University's tracker documented another day with more than 30,000 new confirmed cases — threatening to set a new record for a single-day increase in the U.S. He also called for people to continue the drastic measures that public health experts say have helped to moderate the pandemic.

"We're seeing signs that our aggressive strategy to slow the spread is working. The number of new cases is stabilizing," Trump said. "Soon we'll be over the curve, over the top. ... If every American continues to strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines, we can defeat the invisible enemy."

Dr. Deborah Birx, who coordinates the White House response, pointed to the lowered prediction of a University of Washington statistical model, which now forecasts 61,000 U.S. deaths, nearly 30% lower than an earlier prediction.

"That's still a big number," Trump said, suggesting that he would hold off on easing restrictions until the mortality projections decline further.

In response to a question about how the government would know when people can return to normal routines, Trump did not suggest any particular date, in contrast with late last month, when he envisioned reopening the country for Easter this coming Sunday. He said that had been "just an aspiration."

"We have to be on that downside of that slope and heading to a very strong direction that this thing is gone," he said, looking toward his top medical advisers. "We could do it in phases [because] some areas are much less affected than others. But it would be nice to be able to open with a big bang and open up our country, or certainly most of our country, and I think we're going to do that soon."

Pushing for Small-Business Funding, Hoping for Infrastructure

Senate Republicans announced plans Tuesday to approve another $250 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, an element of the CARES Act relief law that started with $350 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses that keep paying their employees during the pandemic. Trump threw his weight behind the proposal for quick action, which would require consensus in both chambers of Congress.

"To protect millions of American jobs, I'm asking Congress to pass additional funding for the program — this week, as soon as possible," he said. "And I think we have a pretty good understanding with the Democrats. Hopefully it's going to be bipartisan."

However, congressional Democrats said earlier Wednesday that they wanted half of the new funding "channeled through community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, family, women, minority and veteran-owned small businesses and nonprofits in rural, tribal, suburban and urban communities." They also want another $100 billion for health care, $150 billion for state and local governments, and a 15% increase in the maximum food stamps benefit.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an NPR interview Wednesday that "the bill that they put forth will not get unanimous support in the in the House, it just won't." That leaves uncertainty about whether Congress will pass any measure this week.

Trump said other priorities could wait for the next broad relief bill, while this week's measure would just "be an expansion of what we've already done." He also reiterated his hope for massive infrastructure spending as stimulus, an idea also backed by House Democrats. But Trump and Democrats have for years agreed on the goal of a major infrastructure bill but failed to reach a deal.

... And 'Tiger King'

A New York Post reporter asked the president about his son Donald Trump Jr. raising the possibility of a pardon for Joe Exotic, the former zookeeper convicted of attempting murder-for-hire who is featured in a hit Netflix show. The president jokingly surveyed a pair of reporters about whether the man merited a pardon and said he "will take a look."

--Editing by Breda Lund.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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