• The Star Staff

Biden signs stimulus bill


By Jim Tankersley, Michael D. Shear, Thomas Kaplan and Katie Rogers


President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion economic relief package on Thursday afternoon, ushering in an aggressive infusion of federal aid in a far-reaching effort to address the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.


“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Biden said, “and giving the people of this nation, working people, the middle class folks, people who built the country a fighting chance.”


Biden had originally been scheduled to sign the bill on Friday, after it had been reviewed again and printed. But the president and his advisers, aware that low- and middle-income Americans are desperate for the round of direct payments that the bill includes, moved up the timeline to Thursday afternoon.


Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, wrote on Twitter earlier on Thursday that the enrolled bill arrived at the White House on Wednesday night and that the president would sign it a day earlier than planned because they wanted “to move as fast as possible.”


But he added, “We will hold our celebration of the signing on Friday, as planned, with Congressional leaders!”


The president signed the measure in the Oval Office hours before he was set to deliver a prime-time televised address on Thursday night, kicking off an aggressive campaign to inform voters of the benefits that are coming to them through the relief package.


The campaign includes travel by the president and Vice President Kamala Harris across multiple states, events that will feature a wide range of Cabinet members emphasizing the legislation’s themes, as well as endorsements from Republican mayors, according to administration officials.


At press time, it was reported that Biden would “talk about what we’ve been through as a nation this past year.”


“But more importantly, I’m going to talk about what comes next,” he continued. “I’m going to launch the next phase of the COVID response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people.”


The address, which is taking place around the midpoint of Biden’s first 100 days in office, is shaping up to be one of the biggest moments for the new president since his inauguration.


It took place during a week of forward momentum for the new administration, not just from the passage of the aid plan but also from progress in filling out the president’s Cabinet. On Wednesday alone, the Senate confirmed three of his picks: Merrick Garland as attorney general, Marcia Fudge as secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Michael Regan as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.


The White House’s decision to go out and sell the aid package after its passage reflects a lesson from the early months of the Obama administration. In 2009, fighting to help the economy recover from a crippling financial crisis, President Barack Obama never succeeded in building durable popular support for a similar bill and allowed Republicans to define it on their terms, fueling a partisan backlash and the rise of the Tea Party movement.


Biden starts with an advantage: The legislation is widely popular in national polling. And it will deliver a series of tangible benefits to low- and middle-income Americans, including direct payments of $1,400 per individual, just as the economy’s halting recovery from the pandemic recession is poised to accelerate.


Biden will headline a week long public relations effort. He is set to visit the Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday, and he and Harris are scheduled to travel to Atlanta next Friday.


A global takeover


By the end of 2020, the coronavirus had invaded the last place on Earth believed to be infection-free — Antarctica — and had disrupted or delayed seemingly sacrosanct rituals everywhere else. The U.N. General Assembly did not assemble. There was no Oktoberfest in Munich in October.


In June, 131 days after Lopez’s death was reported in the United States, Fauci, by then a household name, looked back. He said the coronavirus had turned out to be “my worst nightmare” — a brand-new, highly contagious and potentially fatal respiratory infection. One aspect, he said, was surprising: “How rapidly it just took over the planet.”


In the United States, it took 31 days for the death toll from the coronavirus to exceed the number of people killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks — 2,997. But the winter was worse: On eight days in December, there were more deaths than on Sept. 11. The seven-day average from Jan. 8 to Feb. 3 was much the same, except for Jan. 19, when it dipped to 2,992.


Two hundred thousand was the number the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had discussed in March in internal documents as a low range for a worst-case scenario. Before that, in the same month, some estimates suggested that fewer than 500 people would die over the course of the pandemic. “More like 60,000,” Fauci predicted in April. “Anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people,” Trump said in May. The U.S. reached the milestone of 100,000 deaths on May 27.


Of the 527,000 deaths, about a third were reported between Nov. 3 and Jan. 20, when Trump was preoccupied with efforts to “stop the steal,” not stop the virus, after states did not certify him as the winner of an election he had lost. But the winter surge was so devastating that if another month is added to that time table, stretching it to the end of President Biden’s first month in office, it covers fully half the deaths of the pandemic.


By then, the death toll in the United States stood in troubling contrast to the trend in other high-income countries. Italy, an early epicenter, kept its seven-day average below its April peak during a surge in November and December. Germany did not fare so well. Its highest single-day death toll in the spring was 294 on April 19. It passed that point on Nov. 17, and on Jan. 13, the country reported more than four times as many deaths.


As for case counts, more than 29 million Americans have now been infected with the coronavirus. Devastating as that figure is, it probably presents an incomplete picture. Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Trump administration, said in June that the number of Americans who had been infected with the coronavirus was probably 10 times the number of cases reported.


A lonely death


Lopez, the first person whose death was attributed to the virus, died as it was beginning to bring the world to a halt. He died seven weeks after the first death was reported in China — where the virus had emerged in late 2020 in Wuhan — and roughly a week after the first coronavirus death was reported in Europe.


It was a time of growing uncertainty, when experts were scrambling to figure out how far the virus had already spread, whether it was treatable — and how bad the looming outbreak might be. Lopez had been a patient at EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland, Washington, where a long-term nursing home nearby was the center of an outbreak. (Weeks later, the Feb. 6 death of a 57-year-old auditor in San Jose, California, was reclassified as a coronavirus death, making her the nation’s first known victim. The auditor, Patricia Dowd, had developed flulike symptoms and died at home, in her kitchen. In King County, Washington, where Lopez died on Feb. 26, two deaths from Feb. 26 were later recategorized. Under cause of death, each was listed the way his was: COVID-19.)


Lopez had lived with kidney disease and had needed dialysis for several years, his brother David said last week. One of Ignacio’s legs had been amputated several years ago and he had been fitted with a prosthetic, David Lopez said. Ignacio had worked in restaurants owned by relatives, his brother added, and had collected old appliances, selling them for recycling. He had also worked as a carpet installer.


David Lopez said no one in his family knew where or how the coronavirus had found his brother.


“It is what it is,” David Lopez said. “We’re still faced with the loss. But he’s going to be in the memory books forever.”


By the numbers


31Days for the death toll from the coronavirus to exceed the number of people killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks — 2,997.


528,500Deaths so far, about half of which were reported between Nov. 4 and Jan. 20.


29.2 million Americans who have so far been reported as infected with the coronavirus. Experts say the real number of cases could be 10 times as high.


4 millionPeople who left the workforce entirely from February to November, meaning they are neither working nor actively seeking a job.


364Days since the last shows on Broadway. Smaller venues will be allowed to reopen next month, but Broadway will remain shut for now.


74%Decline in international tourism arrivals in 2020, an estimated drop to 381 million, down from 1.461 billion in 2019.


$1.3 trillion Drop in global export revenue in 2020 from the decline in tourism, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. That’s 11 times the dropin 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis.


4.5%Economic growth this year predicted by economists who were surveyed last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.