It was the week that changed everything.
Federal, state and local governments, in the past 72 hours, have taken unprecedented steps to try and slow the coronavirus’ spread, and bolster small businesses, first-responders and hospitals that prepare for an influx of patients exhibiting serious symptoms.
Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who is spending some time in Italy with his wife, Callista, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, wrote in Newsweek that the U.S. should plan for a “worst-case pandemic.” He called for a unified effort with the kind of “intensity of implementation which served us so well in World War II.”
Exhausted Italian nurses have taken to social media to give grim updates about patient care in the country’s northern city of Lombardy. Some health care workers there say hospitals can’t keep up with the demand, and they’re running out of beds.
“It’s as if you were asking what to do if an atomic bomb explodes,” Dr. Antonio Pesenti, the head of Lombardy’s intensive crisis care unit, told the Washington Post. “You declare defeat. We’ll try to salvage what’s salvageable.”
Doctors in Italy had the horrid task of issuing guidelines on which patients should have access to the dwindling supply of ventilators. The young and those with the best chance of survival are prioritized, the Post reported.
President Trump, at a news conference on Sunday, said the U.S. is studying how countries effectively managed the outbreak. South Korea and China are two countries praised for their efforts. Italy, which has a large elderly population, is considered, at this point, to be a cautionary tale.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has sickened more than 162,000 people worldwide and has left more than 6,000 dead, with thousands of new cases confirmed each day. The death toll in the United States climbed to 68, while infections passed 3,200. West Virginia is the only state without a confirmed case.
The coronavirus, for most, 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.
Americans have seen dramatic steps taken that affect their everyday lives, from reduced hours at work, new concerns for an elderly relative or an urgent need for childcare.
But the country has also seen measures that affect our national identity. NBA, NHL, MLB pre-season, NCAA and PGA seasons have been suspended. The Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Memorial and Ellis Island are closed to the public effective immediately. There is going to be an emergency meeting to discuss the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The U.S. Capitol will cease all public tours. Walt Disney World theme parks and the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles will also close.
MGM Resorts announced Sunday that it will suspend operations on Tuesday at famed Las Vegas casinos, including The Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay. No reservations will be prior to May. Fourteen total hotels there are set to close by Tuesday.
Trump on Sunday worked to assuage Americans who’ve seen their schools closed and grocery stores emptied. He said these grocery stores will remain open. The National Security Council took to Twitter late Sunday to deny rumors of a “national quarantine.”
“We’re doing great, it all will pass,” Trump said.
The president has been pushing for calm, but the crisis has evoked the memory of the 9/11 attacks and the financial crisis of 2008. Axios reported that Delta Airlines’ recent decision to cut its flight capacity by 40% went further than in 2001. New York’s hotel market is in its own “state of emergency,” according to Hospitality.net. John Lam, a hotel developer and CEO of the Lam Group, said “this is worse than 9/11.”
“During 9/11 you still had government employees and the Red Cross coming in and staying at hotels. Now no one is coming to New York,” he said.
Perhaps the most troubling aspects of the coronavirus are the uncertainties. China said it will try to slowly get back to normal in Wuhan, the city where medical experts believe the virus originated, but it remains to be seen if the infection rate will increases there once again during the transition. The virus on Sunday, for the first time, officially killed more people outside China than within.
Trump has worked to calm the markets, but the long-lasting repercussions of the virus on business life in the U.S. and the world is anyone’s guess. Biotech companies are working to develop a vaccine, and the first human trials are expected later Monday in Seattle.
Jason Furman, an adviser to then-President Obama during the 2008 financial crisis, told NBC News that the coronavirus is potentially more serious than the financial crisis. He said timing is everything. If the virus is gone in two months, he would not be worried.
“The problem with the economic side is that if it lasts more than a few months, it then takes on its own momentum,” he said. “If you look across the United States and across other countries, the unemployment rate can go up very quickly, but it can’t come back down very quickly. It never has. A business whose balance sheet is in tatters after nine months without revenues might go bankrupt, it might go out of business, or it won’t be in position to hire people back immediately even if demand returns.”
The Federal Reserve, like other central banks, slashed its benchmark interest rate to near zero and promised to buy $700 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds. U.S. futures for the benchmark S&P 500 index responded by falling 5% on Sunday night, triggered a halt in trading.
“Despite whipping out the big guns,” the Fed’s action is “falling short of being the decisive backstop for markets,” said Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank in a report. “Markets might have perceived the Fed’s response as panic, feeding into its own fears.”
CITIES TAKE ACTION
The coronavirus has prompted some of the largest cities in the country to take swift actions to prevent an overwhelming outbreak.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced late Sunday an executive order that “in an effort to save the lives of loved ones and our neighbors,” the city will limit bars, restaurants, cafes to delivery only. The executive order will call for the closures of all city nightclubs, movie theaters and concert venues. The restrictions are in line with other cities like Washington, D.C. and the state of California.
The mayor announced earlier that the city’s public school system will also close until April 20. The school system will use remote learning beginning on March 23. The school system has about 1.1 million students.
“The notion of having a school year disrupted in this fashion, I have no words for how horrible it is,” he said.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also invoked an executive order and closed all bars, night clubs and movie theaters until March 31. Like de Blasio, he said these restaurants can deliver food.
Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale closed their beaches, where thousands of college spring breakers flocked. The cities also ordered restaurants and bars closed by 10 p.m. and to keep crowds below 250.
“We cannot become a petri dish for a very dangerous virus,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said. “Spring break is over. The party is over.”
The decisions of these major cities to close these establishments follow the recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bar all gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. It added that, at any event, people should take proper precautions, including handwashing and keeping one’s distance.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, said he would like to see a 14-day national shutdown imposed to prevent the virus’s spread.
“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” said Fauci, a member of the White House task force on combating the spread of coronavirus. He heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
There is no indication Trump is considering such a move.
STATES TAKE ACTION
Vice President Mike Pence, who has been tapped to run the president’s coronavirus task force, told a press conference Sunday that the federal government is in contact communication with states and said there’s a need for a “whole-of-America” approach to fighting the virus.
“We couldn’t be more grateful for all of the governors, particularly in areas where we’ve had community spread, for the seamless cooperation that’s taking place,” he said. “And we commend local health authorities and all of those who are literally on the frontlines.”
Governors across the U.S. have also implemented executive orders that they say help prepare their states for a coronavirus case surge.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Democrat, released an executive order last week that includes the authority for the state to take over hotels and motels for medical use for potential coronavirus patients. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Democrat, signed an executive order on Sunday that imposes new restrictions on price gouging. ClickonDetroit reported that the order makes it illegal for someone to resell a product that grossly exceeds its purchase price.
Gov. Henry McMaster, the South Carolina Republican, ordered schools and universities in the state to be closed until at least March 31. The state is working to equip some school buses with WiFi in remote areas of the state to accommodate students who live there, a report said.
Some leaders took a different position on called to self-isolate and maintain a six-foot distance from each other. Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt tweeted a picture of himself and his children at a crowded metro restaurant Saturday night. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes had a similar message on Fox News Sunday and encouraged people to go to local restaurants and pubs.
Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio’s director of the state’s health department, told reporters last week that the virus is “among us, but we can’t see it yet.”
She said that even though there were only five confirmed cases in the state, the more realistic figure is likely about 100,000, since many were not tested and the symptoms could be mild.
“This is certainly an unprecedented time. It is this one in 50 years pandemic that we have been planning for that we talk a lot about in my over 30 years in public health,” Acton said. “We have never seen a situation exactly like this.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders told the New York Times Sunday that it might make sense to suspend primaries during the coronavirus outbreak.
The report pointed out that Louisiana and Georgia have already postponed their primaries, but the states that vote on Tuesday—including Ohio, Illinois, Florida and Arizona—plan to go forward.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose defended his state’s decision to proceed with the primary elections, calling the vote a “sacred thing.”
“And if we can do so in a way that’s healthy based on what the scientists are telling us based on what the PhDs are telling us that we need to move forward with that, to abandon that because of fear or to abandon that because we’re maybe sort of replacing the professional expert guidance with our own would be irresponsible,” he told Fox News.
Sanders said he would hope state officials listen to public health experts and avoid gatherings of 50 or more people.
“I’m thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people, all that stuff. It does not make a lot of sense. I’m not sure that it does,” he said.
Kate Bedingfield, Joe Biden’s deputy campaign manager, wouldn’t weigh in on whether or not Tuesday’s contests should be postponed. But she stressed that “we encourage everybody to follow the guidance of pubic health officials and public officials in their states. We believe that we can uphold the values of our democracy while protecting public health.”
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and the Associated Press contributed to this report