New stimulus clears Senate as debate heats up over reopening

The Senate approved nearly $500 billion in new coronavirus stimulus money on Tuesday, as U.S. officials and public health experts continued to be at odds over the appropriate strategy to relax the patchwork of stay-at-home orders stifling the economy.

Congress’ recession-fighting money will be voted on by the House on Thursday, while lawmakers are already at work debating the next round of funding. Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to keep hot zones like California and New York shuttered, while a clutch of southern states have begun reopening businesses and public spaces amid much debate and rising opposition.

As of Wednesday, the COVID-19 crisis has claimed nearly 180,000 lives and infected nearly 2.6 million. The U.S. now has more than 826,000 cases and more than 45,000 deaths, as experts grow concerned about how areas that have not seen high infection rates may get hit in coming weeks.

As President Donald Trump weighs a controversial executive order that would halt immigration in what he considers a bid to contain new infections, various reopening strategies have emerged across several cities and states. California is now recommending testing of asymptomatic people, reflecting a potential easing up of testing supply strains.

The U.S. COVID-19 cases keep rising, despite a debate over when to reopen.

Separately, New York is looking at antibody testing and screening at grocery stores, a move Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday is likely to roll out within the week. He also warned that the state needed to brace itself for a possible second wave of infections, as the Empire State’s numbers appear to level off.

However, Florida and Georgia are still battling criticism for relaxing social distancing restrictions, even as both governors acknowledge the risks involved.

“We’re really going to have to be smart about how we open up. We know we have to do it, people want to come back together,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told Yahoo Finance in an interview.

“We want an economy going, but it would be devastating to open up and then precipitously have to close again,” she added.

The debate is taking place against ongoing struggles to deploy mass testing, and new fears about a potential resurgence of the virus later this year.

Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield told the Washington Post that there will be a far more devastating second wave in the country in the Fall, when the flu season kicks back up — something Trump and White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx downplayed.

A long road ahead

The country is only just finding out how widespread the virus has been, and it will be some time, experts say, before studies show the full impact.

A new autopsy report from California released late Tuesday shows the earliest death was actually three weeks earlier that previously reported — on Feb. 3 in the Bay Area, rather than the Seattle nursing home on Feb. 26 that was widely considered a touchstone of the U.S. outbreak.

However, it remains to be seen how long cities and states can remain on pause. New testing options are rolling out, but scale remains an issue — as do COVID-19 treatment options. Hopes abound for a drug being tested by Gilead (GILD), which is due to reveal clinical trial results at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, hydroxychloroquine, a generic drug that was initially touted in a French medical study, continues to be the subject of heated debate. A new non-peer-reviewed report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs suggested the anti-malarial drug could be fatal for some.

[Click here for more of Yahoo Finance’s coronavirus coverage: Personal finance tips, news, policy, graphics & more from Yahoo Finance]

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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