Federal Health Officials Recommend Restrictions on Social Gatherings
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Monday urged all older Americans to stay home and everyone to avoid crowds and eating out at restaurants as part of sweeping guidelines meant to combat an expected surge of coronavirus cases.
President Donald Trump and the coronavirus task force released the guidelines as the U.S. government moved to try to blunt the impact of the virus, racing to bolster testing and aid even as financial markets fell and Americans scrambled to reorder their lives.
Among the new recommendations: Over the next 15 days, Americans should not gather in groups of more than 10 people, schooling should be at home and discretionary travel and social visits should be avoided. If anyone in a household tests positive for the virus, everyone who lives there should stay home.
The president, in an appearance in the White House briefing room, when asked when the pandemic would subside, said that “if we do a really good job” the crisis could pass by July or August, a far less optimistic take than in his earlier predictions that it could be over within weeks.
“We will rally together as one nation and we will defeat the virus,” Trump said. “We can turn the corner and turn it quickly.”
The president also, for the first time, acknowledged that the virus, which has battered the global markets, may send the nation’s economy into a recession, a potentially brutal blow for an incumbent in an election year. He also, without providing details, said of the administration, “we’re going to back the airlines 100%,” a note of reassurance for an industry crippled by travel bans and fears of spreading the virus.
Trump, who adopted his most somber tone yet when discussing the crisis, acknowledged that it was “not under control” in the United States or globally but said he did not yet plan to call for domestic travel restrictions. He said the U.S. will probably be dealing with this pandemic until July or August.
The administration did not immediately define what an an older American was in terms of the recommendation to stay home.
The U.S. government moved Monday to try to blunt the impact of an expected surge of coronavirus cases, racing to bolster testing and aid even as the financial markets fell and Americans scrambled to reorder their lives.
In a capital resplendent in cherry blossoms but awash in anxiety, Congress convened to try to finish an aid package and consider another one behind it. The Supreme Court postponed oral arguments for the first time in over a century. Many people in the capital, as around the country, sought safe distance from each other.
President Donald Trump and other leaders of the Group of Seven countries spoke in a video teleconference about coordinating their responses to the virus. This, after some European leaders were upset by Trump’s decision last week to impose a travel ban without consulting them.
Trump has implored Americans not to hoard groceries and supplies, saying there is no need to do so, as the White House works to get diagnostic testing much more widely available after lagging on that front for weeks. It was not considering enacting or recommending a nation-wide curfew, nor enacting limits on domestic travel, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to address spiraling rumors.
The U.S. surgeon general said Monday that the United States is about where Italy was two weeks ago in the coronavirus struggle, a sign that infections are expected to rise.
“We are at a critical inflection point in this country, people,” Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Fox News. “When you look at the projections, there’s every chance that we could be Italy.” Yet he said the U.S. has opportunities to mitigate the pandemic.
Two weeks ago, Italy had 1,700 cases of coronavirus and had reported 34 deaths. Now, Italy is reporting an estimated 25,000 cases and more than 1,800 deaths. About 3,800 cases have been reported in the United States and so far, more than 65 people have died from coronavirus. Although the numbers may not be directly comparable, the trajectory is, as Adams sees it.
The administration also alleged that a foreign disinformation campaign was underway aimed at spreading fear among Americans already spooked by the pandemic.
On Sunday, federal officials began confronting what they said was a deliberate effort by a foreign entity to make Americans think the government was going to impose a nationwide quarantine. Agencies took coordinated action Sunday evening to assure Americans that the government was not planning to do that.
And on Monday, national security officials said there had been a cyber attack involving the computer networks of Health and Human Services, but the networks were operating normally. They didn’t detail the nature or scope of the problem or identify the foreign entity.
On Fox News, Adams claimed the U.S. has “turned the tide” on testing, a critical part of tracking and containing pandemics, but whether that is true remains to be seen.
The U.S. effort has been hobbled by a series of missteps, including flaws with the testing kits first distributed by the federal government and bureaucratic hurdles that held up testing by private laboratories. But Trump, who has been sharply criticized for underplaying the severity of the crisis, stuck to his relentlessly optimistic tone about the nation’s response.
“Everybody is so well unified and working so hard,” he tweeted. “It is a beautiful thing to see.”
Such harmony was not apparent after he and his vice president briefed governors Monday. Trump said the tele-conference went well except “Cuomo of New York has to ‘do more.’” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also on Twitter, snapped back: “I have to do more? No — YOU have to do something! You’re supposed to be the President.”
On the crucial question of diagnosing cases, confusion continued. Adams said there will be 30 to 40 new testing sites running in 19 states that could each perform 2,000 to 4,000 tests a week. However, Brett Giroir, a senior health administration official, said community testing sites manned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and members of the U.S. public health service would be capable of testing 2,000 to 4,000 people each day, not every week. He said the federal government would begin deploying these sites on Monday.
Also expected is updated federal guidance on restaurants, bars and other establishments. California and Illinois are among jurisdictions that have ordered restaurants and bars to close to help slow the spread of the virus.
On Capitol Hill, a nearly empty House met to adopt a resolution to make what were described as technical changes to polish off a coronavirus response measure designed to speed testing for the virus and provide sick leave to workers kept home because of it. It went into recess before adopting the measure, however.
The measure is likely to pass the Senate this week, though the timing is uncertain. The 100 senators, with a few exceptions, were expected to gather Monday evening, despite federal public-health guidelines saying there should be no gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
Talks are already underway on another bill to try to blunt the damage the virus is doing to the economy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it will focus on direct financial help to individuals, help for businesses such as the airline industry, and further steps to support the health system.
Nearby, the Supreme Court said it is postponing arguments for late March and early April because of the coronavirus, including a round over subpoenas for Trump’s financial records.
Other court business will go on as planned, like the justices’ private conference Friday and the release of orders in a week’s time. Some justices may participate by telephone, the court said in a statement. Six of the nine justices are 65 and older. That puts them at higher risk of getting very sick from the illness if they are exposed, according to demographic guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The last time oral arguments were postponed was in 1918, due to the Spanish flu epidemic. In 2001, they were relocated, but not postponed, after an anthrax scare.
Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said the White House is working toward $800 billion in fiscal relief, with about half of that having been approved through executive actions and legislation and much of the remainder being sought through a payroll tax cut that has been met coolly by both parties in Congress.
The Federal Reserve said Sunday it was taking emergency action to slash its benchmark interest rate to near zero. But the Fed’s move did not seem to calm markets. Stocks sank at Monday’s opening, triggering a 15-minute halt in trading as investors worry the virus could lead to a recession.
Global stocks also fell sharply Monday after central bank moves to shore up economic growth failed to dispel investor’s fears over virus controls that are shutting global business and travel. European and Asian stock indexes were down as much as 10%, as was the price of oil. Trading in Wall Street futures was halted after they fell by the maximum 5%.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.
The worldwide outbreak has sickened about 175,000 people and left more than 6,700 dead.
Kevin Hassett, a former White House economic adviser said the global economy is sliding into a recession and forecast a “very terrible” second quarter for the U.S., with negative economic growth. Hassett said the April jobs report could show as many as 1 million jobs lost due to the coronavirus.
“I think that the odds of a global recession are close to 100% right now,” Hassett told CNN on Monday.
Trump in recent days has imposed sweeping travel restrictions for much of Europe. On Saturday, he added Britain and Ireland to a list of countries facing travel restrictions over the next 30 days. The State Department on Sunday said it would allow U.S. personnel to leave their diplomatic or consular posts worldwide if they or family members were medically determined to be at a higher risk of falling very ill if exposed to the virus.
Also, the White House said Monday it would cancel the holiday Easter Egg Roll held annually on the South Lawn.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Aamer Madhani, Hope Yen, Darlene Superville, Deb Riechmann and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
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