President Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan on Thursday in the Oval Office in Washington, D.C. Pool Photo by Doug Mills/UPI | License Photo
March 11 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the declaration of the pandemic and first shutdowns to contain it.
"This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country, and giving people in this nation, working people, middle-class folks, a people who built the country a fighting chance," Biden said in brief remarks before signing the bill a day ahead of schedule.
The American Rescue Plan, one of the largest relief efforts ever passed by the government, includes billions for a third stimulus payment for Americans and money for more vaccinations, vital benefits like unemployment and an increased child tax credit. The measure also helps state and local governments recover.
The Internal Revenue Service is expected to immediately begin sending out $1,400 stimulus payments.
It was on March 11, 2020, that the World Health Organization upgraded COVID-19 from an epidemic to a pandemic.
"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on that day.
At the time, there were just 118,000 coronavirus cases and a little more than 4,000 deaths -- worldwide. The United States recorded more cases and deaths on Jan. 20 of this year alone.
Since the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, the world has recorded almost 120 million cases and 2.6 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the United States, there have been 29.2 million cases and 529,300 patients have died.
On Thursday, Ghebreyesus spoke with diplomats from more than 100 countries about the ongoing global response.
"I was deeply heartened by the strong calls for multilateral support, for WHO and global health security," he tweeted. "Solidarity is key to protecting health and saving lives.
"The most effective and strategic way to suppress transmission and save lives globally from COVID-19 is by vaccinating the most vulnerable people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries. Political commitment to Vaccine equity is critical."
"It was exactly one year ago this morning that I said, 'Things are going to get much worse before they get better,'" Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser told Good Morning America Thursday. "But I did not realize in my mind even anything close to more than half a million people having died in this country."
Thursday also marks the one-year anniversary of several other significant coronavirus events.
On March 11, 2020, then-President Donald Trump suspended all air travel from Europe to the United States, the Pentagon restricted travel for military personnel and their families, cruise ship operators fully halted operations, the NBA suspended its season after two Utah Jazz players tested positive, the NCAA canceled both March Madness tournaments for the first time in history, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 1,400 points, E3 2020 was canceled and actors Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson announced they'd tested positive for COVID-19.
Also exactly a year ago Thursday, Democrats in the House introduced one of the first sweeping pieces of relief aid, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, that would ultimately become law and required that companies provide American workers with COVID-19-related paid sick leave through the end of 2020.
Congress, however, continues to offer a tax credit for employers that voluntarily provide pandemic-related paid sick leave. Biden's American Rescue Plan Act will extend that credit until October.
National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar (L) announced that the United States is declaring the virus a public health emergency and issued a federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo