Coronavirus: U.S. Urges Americans To Home-School; The WHO Says: 'Test, Test, Test'

Mar 16, 2020
Originally published on March 16, 2020 3:27 pm

Updated at 5 p.m. ET

The United States has now begun its first week of widespread school closures and restrictions on restaurants, bars and other businesses, with the COVID-19 pandemic remaking daily life for millions of Americans. And the White House added new recommendations Monday, calling for millions of people to work from home and to home-school their children if that's possible.

People who work in service industries now face the prospect of weeks without pay, while others are working from home. Businesses are watching for ripple effects of unexpected slowdowns and cancellations — and hoping to weather what will likely be a prolonged disruption to normal life.

"This is the defining global health crisis of our time," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday. "The days, weeks and months ahead will be a test of our resolve, a test of our trust in science and a test of solidarity."

Tedros added, "Crises like COVID-19 tend to bring out the best and worst in humanity."

Trump announces new guidelines

President Trump's administration laid out several new recommendations for dealing with the coronavirus Monday, calling on families to keep their children home from school if they can and urging people not to congregate in groups larger than 10 people. The new guidelines also urge people nationwide to avoid eating and drinking in restaurants and bars, and to cut out discretionary travel.

Unlike a similar news conference on Friday, Trump's appearance did not spark a rally in U.S. stock markets. Several key indexes endured losses of more than 10% on Monday, making it one of the worst days on Wall Street in years.

The White House guidelines are to be in effect for 15 days. As he unveiled them, Trump stressed that they apply to everyone — even young and healthy people who aren't the most at-risk for complications from the virus.

"If everyone makes this change, or these critical changes and sacrifices now, we will rally together as one nation," Trump said in a news conference at the White House. He added, "And we will defeat the virus and we're going to have a big celebration all together."

"With several weeks of focused action, we can turn the corner and turn it quickly," the president said, adding, "A lot of progress has been made."

The work to develop a vaccine, he added, is ongoing, with clinical trials now under way.

After Trump announced the guidelines, he was asked how long it would be until the U.S. turns a corner in controlling COVID-19. Trump said he has frequently asked health experts that question, himself.

"It seems to me that if we do a really good job... people are talking about July, August – something like that. So it could be right in that period of time, where it, I say it washes through," he said, making a wave gesture with his hand.

When the president was asked if the restrictions on public life will remain in place until mid-summer, he replied, "We'll see what happens, but they think August — could be July, could be longer than that."

Quick coronavirus updates

The New York Stock Exchange plummeted minutes after opening for business Monday, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average felly by more than 2,000 points and triggered automatic circuit breakers that halted trading for 15 minutes. The Dow did even worse later, closing at a loss of 2,997.20 points, or about 13%. The Nasdaq Composite index lost more than 12%, narrowly better than the S&P 500 index, which was down by nearly 12%.

Millions of students are idled for weeks in districts across the nation, kept away from their schools in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. In areas where schools are on hiatus, parents are scrambling to find child care and figure out ways to keep up with their kids' educations. Counties and schools are rushing to provide food for children to ease the burden on families whose schools are shut down.

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised an eight-week halt to gatherings of more than 50 people, targeting "conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies." The advisory does not apply to the daily operation of schools or businesses, the CDC said.

The hashtag #QuarantineLife was trending on Twitter on Monday, as Americans share their take on a new normal. The tag was used for everything from sharing tips on working from home to acknowledging the difficulties of staying productive while in isolation.

Idris Elba announces positive coronavirus test

British actor Idris Elba is the latest celebrity to announce a positive coronavirus test, issuing a tweet Monday that set off thousands of replies of support.

"I feel ok, I have no symptoms so far but have been isolated since I found out about my possible exposure to the virus," Elba said.

Urging people to stay home and "be pragmatic," the actor concluded a video message that accompanied the tweet by saying, "Stay positive. And don't freak out."

The revelation comes days after Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, also tested positive for the coronavirus. The couple is currently in isolation in Australia, where they had been visiting as Hanks, 63, prepared to perform in an as-yet untitled film about Elvis Presley. Hanks was signed to play Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

U.S. guidelines 'well thought-out,' Fauci says

The Trump administration's new guidelines might be inconvenient or seem like an overreaction to some, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But he added, "They were well thought-out."

"When you're dealing with an emerging infectious diseases outbreak, you are always behind where you think you are, if you think that today reflects where you really are," Fauci said.

Because of the lag in getting results that show the true spread of a disease, Fauci added, the new policies are commensurate with what is "actually going on in reality."

Canada closes border; U.S. citizens exempted

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his country's borders will be closed to nearly all non-Canadians, with the exception of U.S. citizens.

"We will be denying entry to Canada to people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents," Trudeau said at a briefing outside his house in Ottawa.

Exceptions will be made, he added, "for air crews, diplomats, immediate family members of Canadian citizens, and, at this time, U.S. citizens."

Trudeau is currently observing a 14-day period of self-isolation, after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mexico's president embraces supporters, despite warnings

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is being criticized for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic – including his continued practice of embracing and even kissing his supporters. The president has held large rallies and posted videos of himself hugging people, despite international health experts' advice to avoid large public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic. His government has also held off on trying to restrict social contacts.

"Attributing the criticism to political adversaries, Lopez Obrador says taking drastic measures now in Mexico is not necessary since, unlike other countries Mexico is still in an early phase of the pandemic," NPR's Carrie Kahn reports. She adds, "A huge musical festival drew more than 100,000 people in the capital over the weekend. The government says it will not implement more restrictive policies to control the virus until next week."

Mexico currently has at least 53 coronavirus cases; no one in the country has died from the respiratory disease.

"I wish with all my soul that the coronavirus doesn't affect us, I want that,"President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a news conference Monday. "They are going to say that I'm an idealist, a romantic dreamer, a Quixote, irresponsible."

López Obrador also warned that if he were to say Mexico's economy would be harmed by COVID-19, his country would be harmed.

"I want the dreams to turn into reality and I dream that our people will not suffer ... this is what I want, for this to become reality, I want our people to be happy, happy, happy."

WHO Urges: 'Test, Test, Test'

The WHO's Tedros praised public officials Monday for escalating social distancing policies, through closing schools and canceling many public gatherings. But he also urged them not to ignore what he says is the backbone of the response to COVID-19: testing, isolation and contact tracing. Those elements are at the heart of any response that can prevent infections and break the chains of transmission, he said.

"You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don't know who is infected," Tedros said at a briefing in Geneva. He added, "We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case."

Testing kits for the virus that causes COVID-19 are in high demand; the WHO has sent nearly 1.5 million of them to some 120 countries, Tedros said.

Reiterating his call to test anyone suspected of having the coronavirus, the WHO leader said, "This is a serious disease. Although the evidence we have suggests that those over 60 are at highest risk, young people, including children, have died."

Maryland shuts down restaurants and bars

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is ordering restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters statewide to cease nearly all operations at 5 p.m. ET Monday. For restaurants, only drive-thru, delivery and takeout service will be allowed, he said. The state is also forbidding any gathering of 50 or more people, in line with CDC guidelines.

The emergency orders will be "strictly enforced," Hogan said.

Maryland currently has at least 37 coronavirus cases, the state health department says. Twenty-five of those cases are in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which abut Washington, D.C.

"We should continue to expect the number of cases to dramatically and rapidly rise. We have never faced anything like this before," Hogan said. "This is going to be much harder, take much longer, and be much worse than almost anyone is currently understanding."

Hogan added that "far too many people" have ignored warnings against crowding into bars and restaurants, putting themselves and their wider communities at risk.

The deadly COVID-19 disease requires leaders at every level to take "drastic actions right now that may seem scary, they may sound extreme; they will be terribly disruptive," Hogan said. "But they are also absolutely necessary to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans."

Hogan sought to maintain social distancing as he announced the order, holding a briefing outside of Maryland's Government House and with a small media contingent present. Late last week, Maryland began requiring thousands of state employees to telework.

Stock prices tank immediately after open

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell some 2,250 points minutes after trading began, as more dire signs of the coronavirus' economic impact emerge. Prices sank more after trading resumed.

The S&P 500 index has fallen by nearly 11% Monday — far surpassing the 7% increment that triggers a pause in trading. Oil prices also continued their dive, crossing below the $30 level.

The market is staggering despite the Fed's aggressive move to cut interest rates to near zero, in an emergency rate cut that was announced late Sunday.

"This decision, taken together with announcements by other central banks, indicates that global monetary authorities will try to do everything in their power to arrest financial stress," Moody's Associate Managing Director Elena Duggar and Vice President Madhavi Bokil said in a statement sent to NPR. "Nevertheless, the ability of central banks to carry the day is quite constrained compared to a decade ago."

Beyond rate policy, Duggar and Bokil say, the business world is seeking "effective communication on other policy measures, including fiscal measures, to offset the health, economic and financial blow that the coronavirus pandemic has dealt."

Colorado: anyone who skied at resorts in past week should self-isolate

Citing concerns that community transmission is increasing, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says anyone who visited areas that include the state's most popular ski resorts, such as Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge, should self-isolate whether or not they have COVID-19 symptoms.

The recommendation applies to the counties of Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison.

"We're seeing extensive outbreaks in these communities," said Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist.

Colorado has at least 131 coronavirus cases; the state says its lab has completed 758 tests since it started testing on Feb. 28.

Colorado is one of the few places in the U.S. where people who are concerned about COVID-19 can get a drive-up test for the virus that causes the disease. But because of high demand, that service is shut down Monday; the state says a similar service will open Tuesday and will require appointments.

U.S. coronavirus cases rise

There are currently more than 4,000 cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in the U.S., according to a dashboard created by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. That number is believed to reflect only a fraction of the total number of sick Americans, and the figure is expected to rise as more cities and states gain the ability to test for the virus.

More than 70 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., including 42 in Washington state, eight in New York and six in California. Florida is reporting five deaths. At least 17 people in the U.S. have now recovered from the viral disease.

The Johns Hopkins dashboard tracks coronavirus data nearly in real time. It has been more up to date than the public tally kept by the CDC, which updates its national map at noon ET each day — using numbers from 4 p.m. the previous afternoon. The CDC maintains a separate count for the nearly 50 infected Americans who were repatriated to the U.S. from Wuhan, China, and Yokohama, Japan.

COVID-19 cases outside China now outnumber those inside

With China reporting 81,000 of nearly 175,000 coronavirus cases globally, the rest of the world now has more cases of the respiratory virus than the country where it was first detected in December.

The inversion comes less than three weeks after the number of new coronavirus cases in the rest of the world first outnumbered the number of new cases in China.

The epicenter of the disease has now shifted to Europe, the World Health Organization says.

"More cases are now being reported [in Europe] every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic," WHO Director-General Tedros said.

The virus has spread most rapidly in Italy, which is now reporting some 25,000 cases and 1,800 deaths. More than 2,300 people in the country have recovered from COVID-19.

Congress considers emergency coronavirus measure

The Senate will convene Monday afternoon to consider a coronavirus relief bill that the House approved late last week, aiming to give new benefits to American workers

"The U.S. Capitol complex is closed to the public. A chief of staff for a Democratic senator told NPR that each office is making up its own policies for how to protect staff," NPR's Susan Davis, Kelsey Snell and Claudia Grisales report.

Coronavirus symptoms and prevention

To prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer if a sink isn't available. The WHO says people should wear face masks only if they're sick or caring for someone who is.

"For most people, COVID-19 infection will cause mild illness; however, it can make some people very ill and, in some people, it can be fatal," the WHO says. "Older people, and those with preexisting medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes) are at risk for severe disease."

The most common symptoms of COVID-19, according to the WHO: fever (in 88% of cases), dry cough (68%), fatigue (38%) and sputum/phlegm production (33%). Shortness of breath occurred in nearly 20% of cases, and about 13% had a sore throat or headache, the WHO said in a report drawing on more than 70,000 cases in China.

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