The Internal Revenue Service announced the first stimulus payments meant to ease economic fallout of the pandemic had been deposited into taxpayers’ bank accounts as many businesses are closed and most churches have canceled in-person services on Easter.
The good news about stimulus payments comes as the U.S. hit a number of grim milestones in its fight against COVID-19.
All 50 states are simultaneously under a disaster declaration for the first time in history, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said Saturday. Hours before, the U.S. surpassed 2,000 coronavirus deaths in a day for the first time, and also became the country with the most coronavirus deaths, passing Italy’s death toll.
President Donald Trump had previously set what he later described as an “aspirational” goal to reopen the country by Sunday but has since abandoned that position.
“Though we will not be able to gather together with one another as we normally would on Easter … I ask all Americans to pray that god will heal our nation,” Trump said in an Easter message.
As of Sunday morning, the U.S. had 530,006 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 20,600 deaths. Worldwide, there are at least 1.7 million cases and 109,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 409,000 people have recovered worldwide.
Our live blog is being updated throughout the day. Refresh for the latest news, and get updates in your inbox with The Daily Briefing. More headlines:
• Your guide for COVID-19: What you need to know about safety, health and travel.
• Can’t expect nurses to be miracle workers’: Nurses reach their breaking point.
• States are restricting Easter gatherings. But churches and lawmakers push back
• ‘SNL’: (Not) Live From New York, but great to have show back remotely
• What stores are open Easter Sunday 2020? Here’s the list of who is open
Pope Francis celebrates Easter Mass in solitude
The cobblestone piazza of St. Peter’s Square was empty Sunday as Pope Francis celebrated Easter Mass in solitude inside the basilica in Italy.
It was an unusual scene on the holiest day of the Christian calendar, one that will likely be repeated in churches all over the U.S. as states are cracking down on religious gatherings to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
During his traditional Easter address, Francis called for political leaders to give hope and opportunity to laid-off workers, asking specifically for sanctions relief, debt forgiveness and cease-fires, according to the Associated Press. He prayed for the sick, the dead, the poor, elderly and refugees, as well as doctors and nurses who have worked to the point of exhaustion and put their own health at risk.
“This is not a time for self-centeredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons,” he said.
Stimulus money begins rolling out
Following weeks of uncertainty, the IRS announced Saturday the first stimulus payments of up to $1,200 had been deposited into eligible taxpayers’ bank accounts.
“#IRS deposited the first Economic Impact Payments into taxpayers’ bank accounts today. We know many people are anxious to get their payments; we’ll continue issuing them as fast as we can,” a Saturday tweet reads.
Eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2019 or 2018 and chose direct deposit for their refund will automatically receive a stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples and $500 for each qualifying child, the IRS said.
Individuals who receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits or who receive Railroad Retirement benefits but didn’t file a return for 2019 or 2018 will automatically receive a payment in the “near future,” the agency said.
The government is prioritizing the first few waves of payments in the coming weeks toward low-income Americans and Social Security beneficiaries, according to Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant at TurboTax.
Some Americans were confused following conflicting reports from different corners of the government in recent weeks. The IRS said at the end of March stimulus payments would start being distributed within three weeks.
– Jessica Menton and Joel Shannon
Easter gathering restrictions prompt pushback
States are cracking down on religious gatherings to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, but some lawmakers and religious leaders are challenging the social distancing measures.
While most churches nationwide were expected to be closed for in-person Easter services, some are still planning to hold large gatherings.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Friday that anyone who goes to a mass gathering – including religious services – may have their license plates recorded. That information will be used to identify attendees, whom local health officials will contact and require to self-quarantine for 14 days.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie slammed the announcement. “Taking license plates at church?” Paul tweeted late Friday. “Quarantining someone for being Christian on Easter Sunday? Someone needs to take a step back here.”
In Kansas, that battle has reached the Supreme Court. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly filed a lawsuit Thursday after a Republican-dominated legislative panel overturned her executive order banning religious and funeral services of more than 10 attendees during the coronavirus pandemic.
– Grace Hauck
USA TODAY investigations
• Could more lives have been saved? Emails obtained by USA TODAY show health officials sounded the alarm in February.
• Golf, handshakes and a Mar-a-Lago conga line: President Trump has claimed he “always” knew the serious threat of coronavirus to the U.S. But he squandered a vital week by golfing, fund-raising, partying and shaking so many hands.
• Black Americans are dying of the coronavirus at much higher rates compared with others in some major cities, but most federal officials and states are not keeping track or releasing racial data on coronavirus victims. Here’s what we found.
• Trump’s support of hydroxychloroquine could slow the race for a cure.
Survey: Americans increasingly pessimistic about the economy
As unemployment numbers continue to rise because of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans’ perceptions of the economy are worsening and almost a quarter say they’ve had difficulty paying rent or their mortgage, according to a new survey.
Sixty-five percent of Americans believe the economy is getting worse – a 40 percentage point jump from four weeks earlier, when only 25% believed it was getting worse, according to the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project with USA TODAY.
In the four weeks between surveys, the economy ground to a near-halt as much of the country was put under stay-at-home orders and non-essential businesses were forced to close. Since then, millions of people have been laid off or furloughed. The Labor Department reported Thursday that about 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment benefit claims for the first time last week, bringing the three-week total to more than 17 million.
Amid the economic turmoil, Americans also are having difficulty paying bills like student loans or car payments. Those surveyed are also showing an increase in loss of income and job losses compared to roughly this same time two years ago.
– Rebecca Morin
Americans are ‘starting to need a haircut,’ Walmart CEO says
Consumer buying habits are going through a variety of stages as the country adjusts to life under lockdown, and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon says it’s clear many people are now in need of a haircut.
McMillon told the Today Show that paper goods and hand sanitizer are continuing to sell out, with the retailer selling enough toilet paper in less than a week for every American to “have their own roll,” he said.
Those products were a part of buyers’ first wave of purchases as the nation adjusted to widespread lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. Next, McMillon said Walmart saw a spike in puzzle and game purchases.
Now, other types of essentials are seeing a surge of interest: “Lately, we’ve seen more grooming products. People are starting to need a haircut, so you’re starting to see more beard trimmers and hair color and things like that.”
Another sign that consumers are paying attention to their appearance: An uptick in use of photo editing programs.
– Joel Shannon
Florida nursing homes ask governor for immunity from lawsuits
Florida’s largest advocacy group for long-term care providers is requesting protection from lawsuits for health care professionals engaged in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Florida Health Care Association sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month requesting “immunity from any liability, civil or criminal” under certain conditions for nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities.
The group is the most recent in a series of health care associations seeking legal immunity amid the pandemic, when hours are long and staffing and equipment are short.
Brian Lee, executive director of Families For Better Care, a non-profit group advocating for nursing home residents, said the letter was the equivalent of “asking for forgiveness in advance.”
A recent USA TODAY analysis of federal inspection data found that a majority of U.S. nursing homes (75%) have been cited for failing to properly monitor and control infections in the last three years – a higher proportion than previously known.
– Grace Hauck
More coronavirus news and information
• When will we reopen the country? Antibody testing may help officials decide, experts say
• How ventilators work: Why COVID-19 patients need them to survive
• Household essentials: Where to buy hand sanitizer, toilet paper and more
• Her daycare was already on the brink. Then coronavirus struck.
• Mapping coronavirus: Track the pandemic in your state
• Is pink eye a symptom of coronavirus? We checked the facts, and it’s true.
• Virus might spread much farther than 6 feet in the air. CDC says wear a mask in public.