The U.S. faced mounting pressure Sunday to mimic Europe and stop crowded bars and public spaces as Americans from coast to coast become sick with worry and the new coronavirus that is taxing the nation’s hospitals, economy and political leaders at an unprecedented scale.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Sunday said organizers should postpone or cancel events that consist of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks — an aggressive marker that would upend mass gatherings in the U.S.
It said events of any size should include hand washing and proper distancing while recognizing the vulnerability of certain groups to the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19. It said the guidance does not apply to the day-to-day operations of schools, colleges or businesses, though it was unclear why.
“This recommendation is made in an attempt to reduce introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus,” the CDC said. “This recommendation is not intended to supersede the advice of local public health officials.”
Indeed, some of them may go further.
Governors in Illinois and Ohio said they are exploring ways to lock down bars and restaurants, and the nation’s top authority on infectious diseases endorsed a 14-day “national shutdown” to slow the outbreak as young people jammed into bars in New York City, the District of Columbia and elsewhere.
“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Dr. Fauci said limits on public movement in China and South Korea helped slow the spread of COVID-19. Although it is hard to predict how long the virus that causes the disease will be a threat, the U.S. should prepare for the burden to last for several weeks or a few months.
“What we should be doing is absolutely much, much different. Not business as usual. Just chill down,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
Similar warnings from voices as disparate as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the liberal Democrat from New York, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich capped a whirlwind weekend in which President Trump declared a national emergency, called for a day of prayer Sunday and refused to take responsibility for diagnostic delays as his own test came back negative.
The U.S. recorded over 3,200 cases and 60 deaths from COVID-19 as of late Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
Though the domestic outbreak is not as bad as those in other places, the U.S. is undergoing vast changes, including closed schools and workplaces and store shelves that are empty of toilet paper and other sundries.
Mr. Trump said people need to “relax” and not hoard groceries amid the pandemic. He said store executives assured him that supply chains are intact and can operate efficiently if people buy normal amounts of goods.
“You don’t have to buy so much. Take it easy, just relax,” Mr. Trump said.
The president didn’t address the lack of testing for COVID-19 or whether Americans should stay at home. He left it to Vice President Mike Pence and Cabinet members to face loud questions from the press corps.
Hoping to slow transmission, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Sunday that city bars and restaurants can no longer admit more than 250 people at a time and must eliminate bar seating, limit tables to six people and ensure tables are 6 feet apart.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Sunday that casinos, racetracks and other betting facilities will no longer be open to the public during the outbreak.
The emergency order will take effect at midnight Monday and does not have a firm end date. Mr. Hogan previously banned gatherings of more than 250 people. He said public establishments must abide by the executive order.
“Anyone who hosts or is part of the crowds in bars this weekend is jeopardizing the health of others,” he said.
The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It infected tens of thousands in the surrounding Hubei province before spreading to other nations. It is now invading Europe — Italy and Spain are locked down, while other nations are ramping up closures — and flaring up in parts of Washington state, California and New York.
Governors in multiple states have banned large gatherings. The major sports leagues have suspended play, and New York City’s Broadway theaters and Metropolitan Opera have gone on hiatus.
Dr. Fauci said widespread lockdowns allowed cases to dwindle in China and flatline in South Korea.
“I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction we see in restaurants and in bars,” Dr. Fauci told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Young people are not immune. There are going to be people who are young who are going to wind up getting seriously ill.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a former bartender, told young people in New York City who think they are impervious to the virus to stop jamming into public spaces because they might be transmitting the pathogen to vulnerable people.
Calls to avoid watering holes and crowding in public spaces created a natural tension with concerns over the economy. Even as Washington scrambles to provide stimulus and cut interest rates, businesses that run on tight margins, people who cannot telework and workers who rely on tips face major financial hits.
“Each one of these [lockdown] decisions has consequences to them that are not just about the pandemic,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, told “Meet the Press.” “They’re also about people’s livelihoods. So we’re actually looking hard at that decision-making today. We obviously saw what happened in Europe. Nowhere in the United States really has there been a lockdown on bars and restaurants, but it’s something that we’re seriously looking at.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said Washington needs to step in to provide relief, including a universal basic income.
“Tax credits & unemployment insurance does not help many of these workers — that’s a huge segment of our economy. We need emergency UBI, now,” she tweeted.
Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said the Treasury Department should give Americans a 90-day extension on their annual tax filings. “The last thing that families need to be worried about is the taxman’s deadline” of April 15, he said.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Sunday that schools in his state could remain closed for the rest of the year, underscoring the sweeping upheaval to the education system and family life.
“You know, this may not peak until the latter part of April or May. So we’ve informed the superintendents, while we’ve closed schools for three weeks, that the odds are this is going to go on a lot longer, and it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year,” the Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Later, Mr. DeWine ordered all sit-down restaurant and bars closed across the state effective at 9 p.m. Sunday, though delivery and carry-out services will be unaffected.
Ohio is one of several states across the country that have moved to shut down public schools to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Many universities also have closed campuses and moved to online classes.
The U.S. numbers are still far below those of Spain, with over 6,000 cases; Iran, with nearly 13,000; and Italy, whose 21,000 cases and over 1,400 deaths make it the hardest-hit place behind China.
Italy on Sunday announced a one-day rise of 368 deaths, exceeding China’s worst day at the height of its ordeal.
Mr. Gingrich, whose wife, Callista, is the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said he has seen Italy’s quarantine measures firsthand and it’s time for the U.S. to think ahead.
“The streets are almost empty. These steps are not an overreaction,” the Republican wrote in Newsweek.
“We should be planning for a worst-case pandemic and using the kind of intensity of implementation which served us so well in World War II,” he added. “Getting enough ventilators, masks, intensive care units, treatment medications and aggressive communitywide testing are the minimum steps to saving lives and stopping the pandemic.”
The former speaker said Mr. Trump was wise to shut down travel from China and take similar steps with Europe last week.
Yet a lack of testing has been a weak spot in the U.S. response.
Mr. Pence said more than 2,000 labs will offer “high speed” testing as of Monday. He said 10 states offer drive-through testing services and major retailers will be offering tests soon. The vice president suggested that people without symptoms make testing available to those who do show signs of COVID-19.
Adm. Brett P. Giroir of the Public Health Service said nearly 2 million tests will be available this week — a “game-changer” that allows a “new phase of testing.”
The increase in testing is expected to reveal far more cases of COVID-19 as infected people come out from the shadows.
“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Dr. Fauci said.
Mr. Trump declared a national emergency Friday, freeing up about $50 billion in federal aid to combat the outbreak in states and localities.
The president is temporarily waiving interest on student loans held by federal entities and directed the Department of Energy to buy up oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Also, his administration will give hospitals and health care centers the flexibility to see patients from afar through telehealth and waive certain licensing requirements so doctors can’t help areas that need them.
On a longer-term response, a government official told The Associated Press that the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle will begin evaluating an experimental vaccine Monday.
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