Coronavirus updates: With US death toll at 69, health officials set to ramp up testing; CDC offers new guidance; Fed cuts rate to zero – USA TODAY

The race to get home was in full swing Sunday for Americans abroad while millions of students at home were facing a Monday without school as the coronavirus crisis continued its dangerous spiral around the world.

The U.S. death toll rose to 69 across 12 states on Sunday, with the total number of confirmed cases surging to 3,774. The worldwide death toll topped 6,500.

Anxiety and action were on the rise. Thousands of schools for kindergartners to doctoral candidates will be closed nationwide, and no one knows for sure when they will reopen. Stores and supermarkets were curbing hours or shutting down altogether. Cities and states were recommending or requiring mass closure, even mass self-isolation.

The CDC on Sunday issued further guidance, encouraging social distancing and recommending against gatherings of 50 or more people for the “next eight weeks.”

At a Sunday evening press briefing at the White House with members of the Coronavirus Task Force, health officials said they are planning to ramp up coronavirus testing by tens of thousands of additional people a week, beginning this week. 

“We are working closely with the governors of our country’s great states, which are a very big factor,” President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday. “They are working hard, along with us, to get the job properly done.”

Today’s quick read on coronavirus headlines is as follows:

  • Some 2,000 labs coming online across the nation to process tests and high throughput tests that can be used for drive-through or walk-up test centers.
  • The Federal Reserve cut short-term interest rates to zero, renewed its crisis-era bond purchases to lower long-term rates and encouraged more bank loans to households and businesses.
  • California ordered home isolation for people age 65 and older and those with chronic diseases, and Gov. Gavin Newsom closure of bars, wineries, nightclubs brewpubs and similar businesses across the state.
  • United Airlines will cut flights by 50% in April and May and extend cuts into the peak summer travel season,
  • There are long lines and frustrated travelers at airports like Chicago’s O’Hare, New York’s JFK, Dallas-Fort Worth as Trump travel restrictions hit hard.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci told Americans to get ready to ‘hunker down’ and doesn’t believe a 14-day nationwide shutdown would be overreacting.
  • Parents are bracing to have their kids home on an extended break as schools across the U.S. close their doors this week. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told CNN: “It would not surprise me at all if schools didn’t open again this year.”
  • US service members — and their families — are dealing with the reality of not being able to travel domestically. That means they can’t move to new bases, as many had planned.
  • Google updates its homepage. ‘Do the five’ delivers coronavirus-related information to the masses. 

Refresh this page for the latest updates on coronavirus.

Health officials say coronavirus tests will ramp up nationwide this week

Vice President Mike Pence and other health officials said two factors will allow them to increase testing capacity dramatically in coming days: Some 2,000 labs coming online across the nation to process tests and high throughput tests that can be used for drive-through or walk-up test centers. 

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services, said gear and federal health care workers would being shipping out Monday. 

Health officials said they were focusing those tests on two groups: Healthcare workers and first responders as well as those who are 65 and older with a respiratory symptom and a fever of at least 99.6 degrees. The officials implored Americans to help prioritize those two groups. 

– John Fritze and David Jackson

CDC recommends against gatherings of 50+ people for eight weeks

The CDC issued on Sunday issued new guidance recommending against gatherings of 50 or more people “for the next eight weeks,” saying those who have already planned events with that many people should cancel or postpone. 

“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 wrote on its website. “This recommendation is not intended to supersede the advice of local public health officials.”

The guidance notes it “does not apply to the day to day operation of organizations such as schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses,” however those types of organizations are closing nationwide. 

“Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing,” the CDC wrote. “When feasible, organizers could modify events to be virtual.”

– Jordan Culver

United Airlines to cut flights by 50% in April and May amid coronavirus crisis

United Airlines will cut flights by 50% in April and May and extend cuts into the peak summer travel season, President Scott Kirby and CEO Oscar Munoz wrote in a memo to employees late Sunday.

Even with a severely reduced number of flights, the airline said it still expects planes to be less than a third full.

“In just the last few days, the impact of the coronavirus has really hit home and disrupted the daily routines of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world,” the memo said.

The numbers are alarming: United carried one million fewer passengers in the first two weeks of March compared with a year ago. It expects March revenue to be $1.5 billionlower than March 2019. March is the airline’s busiest month.

– Dawn Gilbertson

CDC: All people should avoid cruise ships

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people avoid traveling on cruise ships, not just the most at-risk for the coronavirus. 

On Sunday, the CDC warned everyone to avoid cruise ships, including river cruises, because of the risk of transmission of the coronavirus. Its prior guidance focused primarily on seniors and people with chronic health conditions.

Major cruise lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Celebrity suspended sailing operations to and from U.S. ports for 30 days because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group, announced Friday.

– David Oliver and Curtis Tate

MGM, Wynn, Encore resorts on Las Vegas Strip to close due to coronavirus

Three major resorts on the Las Vegas Strip are closing in response to the spread of coronavirus. 

Wynn Resorts will close its two luxury hotel-casinos, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, for two weeks starting Tuesday. MGM will cease casino operations on Monday and will completely close its properties on Tuesday. 

“Despite our commitment to dedicating additional resources for cleaning and promoting good health, while making difficult decisions to close certain aspects of our operations, it is now apparent that this is a public health crisis that requires major collective action if we are to slow its progression,” Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, said in a statement.

– Ed Komenda, Reno Gazette Journal

Amtrak to cut Northeast Corridor trains by 60% as demand drops

Amtrak is cutting its frequency on the Northeast Corridor by 60% of its typical weekday schedules between Boston, New York and Washington Monday in response to plummeting demand due to the coronavirus.

Amtrak said Sunday that its Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains would continue to operate but at significantly lower frequencies. The railroad said in an email to employees last week that bookings had dropped 50% while cancellations had soared 300%.

Amtrak had previously only canceled a handful of trains on the Northeast Corridor and instituted a lighter Saturday schedule on other routes in its network. On Sunday, the railroad said that routes in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York and Vermont would operate on a Saturday schedule starting Monday.

– Curtis Tate

California orders extreme isolation for seniors, closes bars across state

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered home isolation for people age 65 and older and those with chronic diseases due to growing public health concerns about the rapidly spreading coronavirus. 

“We are doing so with our eyes wide open at the magnitude of what that means,” Newsom said, speaking from the State Operations Center. About 5.3 million Californians are more than 65 years old.

The announcement comes as nearly 335 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in California, as of Sunday, with six deaths and more than 10,000 people in self-monitoring quarantine. The jump to 335 marks a 14% increase from prior days. The state of California has has conducted 8,316 tests at 19 labs, Newsom said.

Newsom also ordered the closure of bars, wineries, nightclubs brewpubs and similar businesses across the state. Restaurants can stay open, he said, but they need to seat patrons at every other table to create an atmosphere of social distancing.

– Kristin Scharkey and Mark Olalde, Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Sun

Five states close bars and restaurants: ‘We can slow down the s

The governors in five  states — California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington — mandated the closings of bars, restaurants and wineries on Sunday in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Describing coronavirus as “incredibly contagious” at a Sunday news conference, Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters, “If we take decisive steps now and everyone plays their part by following the best medical guidance, we can slow down the spread.”

New York City took similar action late Sunday, ordering all nightclubs, theaters and concert venues to close by Tuesday morning, a dramatic step in the nation’s most populous city. Restaurants and bars in the city will also be limited to serving only takeout and delivery customers, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced.

Also Sunday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all restaurants and bars across five counties (Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery) to close dine-in facilities to help control the spread of the virus, beginning Monday.

– Lindsay Schnell and Jon Campbell, lohud.com

Peace Corps suspends all operations, will evacuate all volunteers

The Peace Corps temporarily suspended all global operations and ordered evacuations of all volunteers late Sunday night.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread and international travel becomes more and more challenging by the day, we are acting now to safeguard your well-being and prevent a situation where Volunteers are unable to leave their host countries,” the Peace Corps said in a statement on its website.

Donald Trump tells Americans to stop hoarding groceries: ‘Take it easy’

After speaking to grocers and large food companies on the phone Sunday, President Donald Trump urged Americans to buy a little bit less as canned goods and paper products flew off shelves across the country. 

“You don’t have to buy so much. Take it easy. Just relax. It all will pass,” Trump told reporters during a briefing on Sunday. 

He said the grocers told Trump to ask Americans to “buy a little bit less, please.

“I never thought I’d hear that from a retailer,” Trump said.

– John Fritze    

Fed cuts rate to zero, launches more bond purchases in historic moves

The Federal Reserve unleashed much of its arsenal Sunday to combat the economic damage caused by the coronavirus, cutting short-term interest rates to zero, renewing its crisis-era bond purchases to lower long-term rates and encouraging more bank loans to households and businesses.

Central bank policymakers agreed to lower the Fed’s benchmark federal funds rate by a full percentage point to a range of zero to 0.25% — where it hovered for years during and after the 2008 financial crisis.

“The coronavirus outbreak has harmed communities and disrupted economic activity in many countries, including the United States,” the Fed said in a statement. ““The effects of the coronavirus will weigh on economic activity in the near-term and pose risks to the economic outlook.“

The Fed already had cut its key rate by half percentage point earlier this month. Many economists expected the central bank to agree to a percentage point cut at a two-day meeting that ends Wednesday, but the Fed decided to move early in a historic show of force.

– Paul Davidson

Schools in New York City, Nevada and Arizona to close beginning Monday

Schools in New York City and in Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York will be closed starting on Monday. The 44 districts in Westchester County, the New York’s epicenter for the coronavirus, are expected to announce they will also close for two weeks on Wednesday. 

“Closing the schools is a good idea,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a Sunday conference call with county executives from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. 

New York City Public Schools won’t reopen until at least April 20, but could also be closed for the entire year, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Two western states followed later Sunday, with Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordering all K-12 schools to close Monday until at least April 6 and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announcing a statewide closure through March 27.

“The safest place for children during this time is at home. They should not be cared for by elderly adults or those with underlying health conditions, including grandparents and other family members,” Ducey and schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman wrote in a letter.

Starbucks moves to ‘to go’ model at some stores, closes other locations

The Seattle-based coffee giant announced Sunday that, effective immediately, it is closing some locations and shifting to a “to go” model at thousands of company-owned locations for “at least two weeks to help prevent prolonged social gathering in our cafés,” Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president, president U.S. company-operated business and Canada, said in a statement.

The number of locations that will temporarily close was not immediately available, but the company said in a statement that the locations were in “high-social gathering locations” including malls and university campuses. 

The company also is closing select stores or reducing hours in communities including Seattle and New York which have high clusters of COVID-19 cases. Locations that are staying open are “pausing the use of all seating” including patio seating, modifying the condiment bar and making a change to the “cash handling process.”

– Kelly Tyko

TSA officers at 2 Florida airports test positive for coronavirus

The Transportation Security Administration said Sunday that two officers who work at airports in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, tested positive for COVID-19.

The officer who works at Orlando International Airport is receiving treatment, TSA said. The employees the officer came in contact with during the past two weeks are under home quarantine.

Another TSA officer who works at Fort Lauderdale International Airport tested positive, TSA said. That officer took leave on March 3, TSA said, and was not showing symptoms at the time.

Screening checkpoints at both airports remain open, TSA said.

On Wednesday, TSA said three of its screeners at San Jose International Airport had tested positive for the coronavirus. Another officer at the San Jose airport has since tested positive, bringing the total to six.

– Curtis Tate

Long lines greet Americans returning from abroad

U.S. travelers flying back from Europe were greeted with snaking lines and hours-long waits at major airports as expanded coronavirus screenings required by the government’s new European travel restrictions took effect.

The restrictions ban Europeans from flying here for 30 days and require U.S. travelers to be screened upon arrival. Travelers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, New York JFK and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport took to social media to complain about the waits, with many worried that the resulting crowds would do more harm than good in the fight to contain the coronavirus. The situation was so bad at O’Hare that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker called out the Trump administration on Twitter.

“We are doing very precise Medical Screenings at our airports,” Trump tweeted later. “Pardon the interruptions and delays, we are moving as quickly as possible, but it is very important that we be vigilant and careful. We must get it right. Safety first!”

Get the latest updates on the situation at American airports here.

– Dawn Gilbertson

Parents brace for kids at home; thousands of schools close

Minnesota and South Carolina shut public schools effective Monday as the wave of widespread closings in the U.S. continued to grow. More than 20 states and a number of large urban school districts — including Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest — are shutting down all K-12 schools as part of a sweeping attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington are among states shutting down schools. Major metropolitan districts such as Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, have also shuttered. And a growing number of smaller districts around the country have also chosen to close.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who closed school for three weeks, says he expects confirmed coronavirus cases to rise “dramatically,” suggesting 100,000 could be infected in his state. “While we have closed schools for three weeks, the odds are this is going to go on a lot longer,” DeWine told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year.”

– Erin Richards

‘You can’t Netflix them all day’: Coronavirus closed this school. The kids have special needs.

Fauci: US should brace to ‘hunker down’ even more

A top official in the coronavirus response says the U.S. should be prepared “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” that it is not clear whether the spread of the virus has been blunted.

Asked if he would prefer something like a 14-day national shutdown, Fauci told NBC: “You know, I would prefer as much as we possibly could. I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting.”

Fauci, making the Sunday talk show rounds, told ABC’s “This Week” that domestic travel restrictions have not been seriously considered by the federal task force – yet.

“I do not see that right now in the immediate future,” Fauci said. “But, remember, we are very open minded about whatever it takes to preserve the health of the American public.”

— David Jackson

Spain locks down; Italy death toll surges

The Spanish prime minister, his wife infected with the virus, ordered a national lockdown while Italy reported its largest single-day death toll as Europe continued its struggle for containment. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said people will be allowed to leave their homes only to buy food and medicine, commute to work, go to hospitals and banks, or take trips related to the care of the young and the elderly. All schools and universities were closed, along with restaurants, bars, hotels and other non-essential retail businesses.

Italy, already facing  similar lockdown, reported 368 more coronavirus deaths, a new one-day record. Nationwide the total death toll is more than 1,800, second only to China.

Coming soon: Lifesaving treatments for the coronavirus

Researchers are conducting a full-court press to develop treatments for helping patients suffering from the virus. With no vaccine expected soon, treatments are crucial to saving lives, especially high-risk patients such as the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. 

Robert Kruse, a doctor in the Department of Pathology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, says the quickest option could be the use of antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients. It could turn out that serum from one recovered patient is only enough to save a single sick one, he acknowledged. “It’s a logistical challenge to put it together, but at the very least there are no (federal) hurdles to producing the therapy.”

– Mark Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The race to find a coronavirus treatment: One strategy might be ready soon

Military restrictions slam brakes on moves for thousands of families

The Pentagon has issued new travel restrictions forcing thousands of service members and their families to cancel trips and delay scheduled moves to installations across the nation. The restrictions, which also apply to civilians who work for the Defense Department, halt all change-of-station moves. Spring is usually the busiest time of year for the moves, and the restrictions take effect Monday through May 11 – at least. Some families have signed leases at new locations they now can’t go.

Troops also will be able to travel only locally during their leaves under the restrictions.

Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, said division officials are aware of the restrictions’ consequences. “We’re doing everything we can to help any soldier affected by this new change in policy,” he said.

– Steve DeVane, The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer

Walmart cuts hours at 24-hour stores, some other locations starting Sunday 

Walmart stores normally open 24 hours will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. until further notice, the company said late Saturday. Other stores, which are typically open until midnight, will also have reduced hours.

“This will help ensure associates are able to stock the products our customers are looking for and to perform cleaning and sanitizing,” Dacona Smith, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Walmart U.S., wrote in a blog post.

Grocery store chains including Florida-based Publix, New York-based Wegmans and H-E-B are among retailers closing earlier. Urban Outfitters is among retailers closing all of its stores globally because of the coronavirus. Apple announced it will close all its retail stores outside Greater China until March 27. Changes at more regional and national retailers are expected in the coming days.

– Kelly Tyko

How late is your store open?: Coronavirus cuts store hours at Walmart, Publix, Kroger, H-E-B, and more

Puerto Rico imposes curfew, shuts non-essential businesses

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced announced an island-wide curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to combat the outbreak. Her executive order also shuts down non-essential businesses, with the exception of food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banking or financial institutions and others related to the distribution of food, medicine, medical items or fuel. The order applies to shopping malls, concert halls, theaters, gyms, gaming halls, casinos or other places that encourage group gatherings. Four cases of coronavirus have been confirmed on the island of 3.2 million people.

Google joins the battle

Google’s homepage has added a link urging the masses to “DO THE FIVE: Help stop coronavirus.” Clicking the link, which appears under the “Google search” and “I’m feeling lucky” tabs, sends you to a page that lists five recommendations – wash your hands often, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face, stay more than three feet from other people and stay at home of you are sick.

Click the “more information” tab and it brings you to a World Health Organization page that provides, well, more information on the pandemic. Google provides reach for the message: In October 2019, Google had close to 259 million unique visitors in the U.S., according to an analysis by Statista. 

– Dalvin Brown

‘Do the five’: Google adds coronavirus safety tips to its homepage

Coronavirus tips: What you need to know

Here are some important reads from USA TODAY:

  • Preparing for the coronavirus: Shoppers are finding empty shelves, long lines at stores nationwide.
  • What does the coronavirus do to your body?  Check out this visual guide of the infection, symptoms and the effects of the virus inside the body. We also explain what exactly a virus is. Is it alive?
  • Hand sanitizer: Where to buy it, how to make it. And where you can still buy TP.
  • Not a good time to be on a cruise. What passengers are saying about accessing health supplies.
  • What economists say: The coronavirus relief bill will provide aid to infected Americans, hourly workers and those who lose jobs, but it likely wouldn’t keep the broader economy from slipping into recession. Read more here. 
  • By the way, Trump tested negative. What about other world leaders?
  • Want the latest in your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter.

NJ cases rise, Hoboken orders curfew, closes restaurants

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy suggested a statewide curfew might be implemented and said a school shutdown was imminent after the state added 31 new coronavirus cases, raising the total to 98. Murphy also asked the federal government to open a Special Enrollment Period to allow uninsured state residents to enroll in health coverage.

In Hoboken, Mayor Ravinder Bhalla tweeted that bars and restaurants would no longer be permitted to serve food in their dining rooms. Bhalla did not give an end date for the new policy. The city also is imposing a curfew that will be in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, requiring residents to remain in their homes outside of emergencies or being required to work. In Teaneck, the mayor asked residents to display “personal responsibility” and self-quarantine, though it won’t be enforced. .

– Lindy Washburn and Debbie Waldeyer, Bergen Record

US hospitals will run out of beds if coronavirus cases spike

No state in the U.S. will have enough room to treat novel coronavirus patients if the surge in severe cases here mirrors that in other countries. 

A USA TODAY analysis shows that if the nation sees a major spike, there could be almost six seriously ill patients for every existing hospital bed. 

That analysis, based on data from the American Hospital Association, U.S. Census, CDC and World Health Organization, is conservative. For example, it assumes all 790,000 beds will be empty.

Since two thirds are not, the reality could be far worse: about 17 people competing for each open bed. Read USA TODAY’s full analysis here.

– Jayme Fraser and Matt Wynn

Map: Which states have coronavirus cases?

There have been more than 3,700  confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., with more than 50 deaths, according to a dashboard run by Johns Hopkins University. The majority of the deaths have been in Washington state, while California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey and South Dakota have all reported deaths. 

Here’s a look at which U.S. states have reported cases of COVID-19:

Source: usatoday.com

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