Those $1,200 stimulus checks were inching closer to America’s mailboxes, U.S. deaths surged past 1,000, and jobless claims smashed a record Thursday as coronavirus tightened its grip on America.

Late Wednesday, the Senate passed a $2 trillion emergency aid proposal, described by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “a wartime level of investment into our nation.” It passed by a vote of 96-0. The House is scheduled to vote Friday, then the package goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The agreement comes as confirmed cases in America closed in on 70,000, with more confirmations expected as the U.S. ramps up testing. The global death toll was more than 21,000, with total confirmed cases approaching 500,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard.

Record 3.3 million people apply for unemployment benefits

Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week – more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982 – amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

The pandemic has set off the most abrupt near-shutdown of the U.S. economy in history. Many restaurants, shops, movie theaters, sports arenas and other gathering spots across the country suddenly closed their doors or scaled back service last week to contain the spread of the virus.

– Paul Davidson

Senate passes historic $2 trillion stimulus package amid coronavirus

The Senate approved its largest emergency aid package in modern history that will offer $2 trillion to help Americans, hospitals and businesses weather the effects of the coronavirus. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced that the House will vote on the bill Friday.

“We expect the bill to pass by voice vote,” he said.

Among the provisions offered in the measure are one-time $1,200 checks to individuals, $367 billion in loans and grants to small businesses, over $130 billion for hospitals and community health centers and financial help to airlines and other industries hit hard by the virus. Additionally, unemployment insurance benefits will be expanded, increasing the maximum benefit by $600 a week for up to four months. In addition, programs for food assistance and for helping low-income households avoid eviction would get a boost. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said checks could go out about three weeks after final passage, although that could be delayed.

– Christal Hayes, Maureen Groppe and Ledyard King

13 die in 24 hours at one NYC hospital

At least 13 patients died in the span of 24 hours at one hospital in New York City, the currently the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. Elmhurst Hospital, part of the city’s public hospital system, said the 13 deaths were consistent with the number of intensive care unit patients the hospital was treating at the time, local media reported.

The deaths occurred from Tuesday to Wednesday at the Queens hospital. The city has confirmed over 20,011 cases, leading to 280 deaths. “Elmhurst is at the center of this crisis,” hospital spokesperson Christopher Miller told the New York Post. “It’s the number one priority of our public hospital system right now.”

– Ryan W. Miller

WHO: World ‘squandered first window of opportunity’ to curb outbreak

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus scolded world leaders for wasting precious time in the fight against the virus. He called it “public enemy No. 1” and asked countries to follow a series of protocols, including expanding training and deployment health care workers.

“The time to act was actually more than a month ago or two months ago,” he said. ”We squandered the first window of opportunity …  this is a second opportunity, which we should not squander and do everything to suppress and control this virus.”

Prince Charles self-isolating with ‘mild symptoms’

Britain’s Prince Charles, heir to the throne, has tested positive for the coronavirus, his official royal residence said in a statement. The statement said Prince Charles, 71, has “been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health.” His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, does not have the virus, a test showed.

“In accordance with government and medical advice, the prince and the duchess are now self-isolating at home in Scotland,” the statement said.

It was not immediately clear whether Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, or her husband Prince Philip have been tested. The queen has canceled a number of diary events “as a sensible precaution” amid the outbreak, but as late as last week she was still holding “audiences” with members of the public. Britain’s monarch is 93.

– Kim Hjelmgaard

Waffle House closes more than 400 locations during coronavirus crisis

Waffle House, known for weathering many a natural disaster, said it’s closing 418 of its restaurants. The chain posted a map on social media showing the closed restaurants, while another 1,574 across the southeastern U.S. remained open.

The posts also featured the hashtag “#WaffleHouseIndexRed. The initial Facebook post drew almost 1,000 comments, most of them reflecting alarm, such as “Oh geez, now we can worry” and “It’s getting real sir.” The chain has its own “Waffle House Index” used during natural disasters to assess damage. If a store is closed, it’s likely in an area with significant damage.

Woman’s ‘twisted’ coronavirus prank wrecks Pennsylvania grocery store

A grocery store in northeastern Pennsylvania had to throw away an estimated $35,000-worth of products after a woman went through the store coughing on food in what the store’s co-owner called a “twisted prank.”

The incident happened Wednesday at the Gerrity’s Supermarket in Hanover Township, according to a post on the small chain’s Facebook page. Co-owner Joe Fasula said a the woman “came into the store and proceeded to purposely cough on our fresh produce, and a small section of our bakery, meat case and grocery.”

Fasula said the estimated value of the lost food is “well over $35,000,” adding that efforts are being made to have the woman tested for coronavirus. The Hanover Township Police Department confirmed it was investigating the incident in a Facebook post late Wednesday.

– Jordan Culver

Student loan borrowers catch a break

Many student loan borrowers far behind on their payments will see the federal government easing collection efforts as part of its response to the financial uncertainty as the coronavirus spreads.

The federal government will no longer withhold portions of borrowers’ tax returns and Social Security payments, the Education Department said. And borrowers whose paychecks were garnished will be entitled to their full wage. Private collectors working for the government have also been told to stop collection calls and letters.

– Chris Quintana

Contributing: The Associated Press

John Bacon and Lindsay Schnell
USA Today