US Coronavirus Cases Top Globe, Aid Payments Coming Soon The $2 trillion economic recovery package is now law, as the number of COVID-19 cases in America approaches 100,000 and deaths near 1,500. A Johns Hopkins scientist weighs in on the idea of relaxing social distancing in select locations and the importance of more testing for coronavirus. And we explain when Americans could expect to receive federal stimulus money.

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Trump Signs Aid Package, Epicenter Is Now The U.S.

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Trump Signs Aid Package, Epicenter Is Now The U.S.

Trump Signs Aid Package, Epicenter Is Now The U.S.

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/822427487/822595179" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The United States now has more cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus than any other country. The number of confirmed cases here is approaching 100,000. Today alone, in this country, at least 340 people have died.

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NANCY PELOSI: This is an emergency, a challenge to the conscience as well as the budget of our country. And every dollar that we spend is an investment in the lives and the livelihood of the American people.

MCEVERS: The House today voted to pass the more than $2 trillion economic rescue package that was approved by the Senate, and the president signed it.

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MCEVERS: Coming up, information about how millions of Americans could get their money, plus an encouraging sign about the possibility of developing a vaccine. I'm Kelly McEvers. This is CORONAVIRUS DAILY from NPR. It's Friday, March 27.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hello, everybody. Hello. Thank you very much.

MCEVERS: At the White House yesterday, the president, as he has increasingly this week, sounded impatient.

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TRUMP: We have to get back to work. Our people want to work. They want to go back. They have to go back.

MCEVERS: In a letter to state governors yesterday, Trump said his administration was in the process of developing new guidance for some parts of the country to relax social distancing.

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TRUMP: We may take sections of our country, we may take large sections of our country that aren't so seriously affected and we may do it that way, but we've got to start the process pretty soon.

MCEVERS: Trump's letter said any new guidance would be based on science. Here's a scientist - epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo from Johns Hopkins.

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JENNIFER NUZZO: To be able to say, here is where people do not have to worry about getting the virus - we just don't have that kind of data.

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MCEVERS: NPR's Rob Stein talked to Nuzzo, and he says increased testing is starting to help officials identify hot spots. The U.S. has done more than 500,000 tests, and the number done each day is now growing quickly. But that is still a small share of a very big country. And, Nuzzo says, it would be bad right now to give any one place a false sense of security.

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NUZZO: Telling places that aren't yet hard hit, don't worry, you're essentially sort of inviting chaos and stress.

MCEVERS: And as testing surges, other problems can follow. In some places, supplies like swabs, materials to transport the samples, even the chemicals needed to process the tests, have not kept up with the increased demand. Joanne Bartkus, who heads the state public health lab in Minnesota, said think of it like making a batch of cookies.

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JOANNE BARTKUS: We've got enough flour to make, you know, 24 cookies, but the host has just invited 500 people to our party, and now we're going to be short of sugar. And then we get sugar in, and then the eggs are gone, and then we're running out of other supplies as well.

MCEVERS: Joanne Bartkus talking to NPR's Rob Stein.

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MCEVERS: So researchers have uncovered a little good news about this virus. Even as it spreads, changes in its genetic makeup are rare, and that is encouraging for developing treatment and a vaccine. NPR's Pien Huang reports on that.

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PIEN HUANG: Viruses change up small parts of their genetic codes all the time. Vineet Menachery, a virologist at The University of Texas Medical Branch, says the coronavirus is no different.

VINEET MENACHERY: Yes, viruses are mutating. It doesn't mean that they're going to become more virulent or more deadly.

HUANG: When a virus infects someone, it uses their cells to make copies of itself. Those copies spread to more cells and can be coughed out to infect other people. All viruses make small changes when they replicate, but Menachery says that the coronavirus is actually mutating pretty slowly.

MENACHERY: Their genomes are relatively stable. You know, the mutations that they incorporate are relatively rare.

HUANG: And that's a good thing. Other viruses, like flu, change much more quickly, making them harder to prevent through vaccines. Justin Bahl is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Georgia. He says the small changes researchers are seeing don't seem to affect how the virus functions.

JUSTIN BAHL: At this point, the overall genetic diversity, I think, is actually pretty low. The viruses themselves are not actually under much pressure to change.

HUANG: Bahl says its stability and slower mutation rate are good news for researchers working on treatments for the disease and on vaccines to keep people from getting coronavirus.

BAHL: Within the next year or two, I don't think that the mutations will occur fast enough to drift away from the vaccines.

HUANG: So once a vaccine is developed, it would likely protect people for a couple years at least. Ewan Harrison, a microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, says the small genetic changes the coronavirus is making actually help researchers figure out where the virus is spreading.

EWAN HARRISON: If it's transmitting at hospitals, if it's transmitting out in the community, what the major hubs for transmission are.

HUANG: Tracking the virus is important because while it's not changing significantly right now, that trend may not continue. It could mutate to become more infectious, but it could also become less dangerous or even peter out. The only way researchers will know is by keeping a close eye on it.

Pien Huang, NPR News.

MCEVERS: So about that money that's going to be sent to Americans, money from the economic rescue package, here's how it's going to work - single people earning less than $75,000 a year will get as much as $1,200, married couples who make less than $150,000 a year will get $2,400, and anyone with kids under 17 will get an additional $500 per child.

It's not super clear how soon these payments will go out. Experts say it could be a matter of weeks, and that's if the IRS has your direct deposit information on file. If they don't, a check in the mail might take a few months - that also goes for people without bank accounts. And if you or someone you know already gets Social Security, you will also get money. Your information is on file with the government.

One last thing the experts are telling us is you probably shouldn't hoard this or any other cash. NPR's Scott Horsley reports that there are real risks to doing that.

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SCOTT HORSLEY: Federal bank regulators are urging customers to calm down.

JELENA MCWILLIAMS: Forget the mattress. Forget hoarding cash. Your money is the safest at the bank.

HORSLEY: Jelena McWilliams is the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which safeguards bank accounts. She understands the anxiety the coronavirus provokes but says there's no need for customers to empty the ATM.

MCWILLIAMS: Just as it is not necessarily rational to hoard toilet paper, it is also not rational to hoard cash.

HORSLEY: Some banks have closed branches or limited hours out of concern for their workers. But ATMS are still operating, with frequent cash deliveries from armored trucks. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin noted this week armored truck drivers and others who work in financial services are considered essential parts of the nation's critical infrastructure. Greg McBride of bankrate.com says because that infrastructure is still functioning, the race to grab cash is misguided.

GREG MCBRIDE: This is not a natural disaster, you know, like a hurricane or an earthquake, where the electricity's out, payment systems are down. This is the opposite in many ways in that if you're holed up at home, having a pile of cash isn't going to do you a whole lot of good.

HORSLEY: McBride says homebound customers are better off leaving their money in the bank so they can pay their mortgage or credit card bills online and where they don't have to worry about loss or theft. Before the coronavirus hit, McBride notes, Americans were steadily moving away from cash, relying more and more on credit or debit cards as well as digital payments.

MCBRIDE: Even the person-to-person payments, that's increasingly done through apps like Venmo or Zelle and not by reaching into your pocketbook, pulling out some green stuff and handing it to your colleague.

HORSLEY: Of course, there are millions of Americans who don't have bank accounts and may have to rely on cash. Some have suggested handling paper money may increase your chances of getting or passing on the coronavirus, although there's little scientific consensus on that. In some cases, people's rush to pull money out of the bank has been stoked by scam artists. McWilliams says the FDIC warned a California gold dealer last week to stop advertising its products with the false claim that consumer bank accounts could be seized in a time of crisis.

MCWILLIAMS: That is absolutely false. It's patently false, and frankly, it's criminal in my opinion.

HORSLEY: The nation's banks came into this crisis in strong financial shape. Even if a bank fails, McBride says, deposits are insured, up to a quarter-million dollars per person.

MCBRIDE: Nobody has ever lost any money that's been protected by federal deposit insurance, and I think that's a point worth underscoring to consumers that are unsettled enough by the events that are going on from a health standpoint.

HORSLEY: So if you need a security blanket in these uncertain times, grab an extra roll of toilet paper, if you can find one, but leave your cash in the bank.

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MCEVERS: That was NPR's chief economic correspondent Scott Horsley.

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MCEVERS: OK, so before we go, we do have a couple of recommendations for your weekend. NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series is introducing Tiny Desk Home Concerts. Check out the episode notes for a link to this one by Tank from Tank and the Bangas.

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TARRIONA BALL: (Singing) No love, no love, no hugs. No love, no love, no hugs. Don't go out to the cookout. Don't go out to the cookout. Don't go out to the cookout.

MCEVERS: And NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast has a whole bunch of books, movies, TV and music to get you through your time indoors. We recommend their recent episode on three things to stream that your whole family can enjoy. Again, there is a link in the notes. For news through the weekend, you can stay up to date with all the news on your local public radio station and on npr.org.

This podcast is produced by Gabriela Saldivia, Anne Li and Brent Baughman and edited by Beth Donovan. You guys are awesome. We will be back next week. I'm Kelly McEvers.

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BALL: (Singing) No love, no love, no hug. No hug, no love, no hug (laughter).

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