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At The White House
THIS TOOK A TURN: Coronavirus is officially a pandemic. The Dow Jones industrial average has reached bear-market territory. Large gatherings around the country and the world have been put on hold. New modeling for how quickly the outbreak will spread is looking grim.
President Trump, who has dragged his feet on sounding the alarms, finally escalated the federal government's response to the virus that has so far infected 1,200 people in the U.S. and caused more than 30 deaths.
In a prime time address from the Oval Office last night, Trump announced his most sweeping measure yet: the sharp restriction of travel to the U.S. from Europe (except the United Kingdom) for 30 days, starting Friday at midnight. The State Department quickly issued a “global level 3 health advisory,” urging U.S. citizens to reconsider international travel plans.
- Trump also called on the Treasury Department to defer tax payments without interest or penalties for businesses “negatively impacted” by the virus.
- He appealed to Congress to provide “immediate payroll tax relief” and to give the Small Business Administration an extra $50 billion to provide low-interest loans for small businesses “to overcome temporary economic disruptions caused by the virus.”
- Trump also said health insurance companies will waive co-payments for treatment for the virus and “extend insurance coverage to these treatments.”
As Asian markets and oil prices slumped from the announcement, Trump and his administration were forced to issue multiple clarifications about the policy shortly after the speech:
- Trump tweeted that the “restriction stops people not goods”: “Very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe,” he said.
- That's in the text of the order released by the White House: And yet, “although he read from a prepared script as he delivered a rare prime-time televised address to the nation from the Oval Office, Trump incorrectly described his own policy,” our colleagues Phil Rucker and Anne Gearan report. “The president said in his speech that the travel restriction from Europe would apply to cargo and trade as well as passengers.”
- And while Trump said all travel would be banned, “this does not apply to American citizens or legal permanent residents or their families,” acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli tweeted.
- Health companies also offered their own corrections: “Trump's claim tonight that health insurers ‘have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments’ seems to be news to them,” Politico's Sarah Owermohle tweeted. “'For testing. Not for treatment,' a spokesperson for the major insurance lobby AHIP says.”
- Democrats noted what Trump left out: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement: “Alarmingly, the president did not say how the administration will address the lack of coronavirus testing kits throughout the United States.”
Experts – and even Trump's former advisers – panned his travel ban as a measure to contain coronavirus: “It’s entirely unwise,” Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University, told our colleague William Wan in our live blog. “First of all, it violates [World Health Organization] recommendations and treaties that the U.S. has signed on to.
- More: “But it doesn’t even do anything to impact the epidemic,” Goston said. "Many of the countries in Europe besides Italy have just as many cases or less than the United States. The idea this would reduce transmission here is not based on evidence. The reality is, germs don’t respect borders.”
- From the WHO: “In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions. Furthermore, restrictions may interrupt needed aid and technical support, may disrupt businesses, and may have negative social and economic effects on the affected countries.”
Then there's this from Trump's former homeland security adviser, who called it a “poor use of time and energy" at this point:
There’s little value to European travel restrictions. Poor use of time & energy. Earlier, yes. Now, travel restrictions/screening are less useful. We have nearly as much disease here in the US as the countries in Europe. We MUST focus on layered community mitigation measures-Now!— Thomas P. Bossert (@TomBossert) March 12, 2020
Trump continued to downplay concerns even as the pandemic is expected to worsen.
- “This is not a financial crisis,” he said. “This is just a temporary moment in time that we will overcome as a nation and a world.”
- Countering the warnings from public health officials, Trump once again claimed that the risk of the virus to most Americans is “very, very low."
- “The stately Oval Office setting underscored the gravity of the crisis, but Trump’s demeanor made clear how hemmed in he has become,” Phil and Anne write. “Trump turned in a laboring performance — one intended to project calm competence that instead seemed to reveal uncertainty. Seated behind the Resolute Desk, the president struggled at moments to read the words on the teleprompter. He clasped his hands and twiddled his thumbs. He spoke with a curious affect, his voice sounding raspy and his delivery lacking the passion typically evident in his speeches.”
COMMUNITY SPREAD IS THE THING TO WATCH: The situation is only “going to get worse,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told members of Congress yesterday. Here's what “worse” might look like, according to some projections that vary widely:
- One forecast developed by former Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden found that in a worst-case scenario, half of the U.S. population could be infected by the covid-19 and “more than 1 million people would die,” according to our colleagues Joel Achenbach, William Wan, and Lena H. Sun.
- “His team put together a simple table that looks at various scenarios using case fatality ratios ranging from .1, similar to seasonal flu, to .5, a moderately severe pandemic, and 1.0, a severe one. The infection rate ranged from 0.1 percent of the population to 50 percent. That put the range of deaths at 327 (best case) to 1,635,000 (worst case). The deaths would not necessarily happen over a month or a year, but could occur over two or three years, he said.”
- Or it could be hundreds of thousands: Another forecast “produced last month by Professor James Lawler of the University of Nebraska Medical Center on behalf of the American Hospital Association, for example, put the potential death toll at hundreds of thousands if efforts to mitigate the epidemic fail,” per Joel, William and Lena.
- Or… 70-150 million people affected?: Congress's in-house doctor told Capitol Hill staffers at a closed-door meeting this week "that he expects 70-150 million people in the U.S. — roughly a third of the country — to contract the coronavirus,” per Axios's Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene.
More than 43 states now have confirmed cases:
On The Hill
HOUSE TO VOTE TODAY ON VIRUS PACKAGE: House Democrats are quickly moving forward on their broad coronavirus-related relief package that “will include expanded unemployment insurance, paid sick leave and food security assistance,” our colleagues Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report. The final price tag was unclear, but our colleagues report it “was expected to be in the tens of billions of dollars at least.”
- More on paid leave: The bill would provide up to three months of emergency paid leave benefits to all workers affected by the virus. The paid sick leave would replace two-thirds of wages for most workers up to a $4,000 a month plan. The proposal also extends legibility for unemployment insurance.
- It would provide more funding for food security programs: The package is expected to include $1 billion in emergency appropriations to expand access to food security programs including food stamps, Meals on Wheels and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
- Along with free coronavirus testing and a possible 8 percentage point increase in the federal share of Medicaid.
Details were shared with the White House, but don't expect a deal before the vote. Pelosi spoke twice with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but she told reporters the bill would not include White House priorities such as the payroll tax cut.
- The Senate may not have time to vote before it goes on recess anyway: The chamber is scheduled to recess next week. “A number of Republican senators indicated openness to at least some elements of the House plan and said it was important to act quickly,” our colleagues write.
THE CAPITOL GOT ITS FIRST CORONAVIRUS CASE: “A Washington staffer for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, in what’s believed to be the first confirmed case of covid-19 on Capitol Hill, her office announced Wednesday night,” our colleague Timothy Bella reports.
- The staffer has been in isolation since starting to have symptoms and had no known contact with the senator or other members of Congress, per a public notice from the office. “On the advice of the Attending Physician, the senator has closed her Washington, D.C. office this week for deep cleaning and staff will be teleworking.”
- Separately: The U.S. Capitol is now closed to public tours.
Outside the Beltway
State and local officials issued their own dire warnings throughout the day as they implemented more draconian measures to try to mitigate the outbreak. Gatherings of more than 250 people are either temporarily banned or set to be banned in California and Oregon.
- From Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who placed limits on mass gatherings in his state: “We’re going to fight this epidemic as much as we can, and the reason is, we do not want to see an avalanche of people coming into our hospitals with limited capacity,” Inslee said. “We may need critical care for thousands of people as we go forward.”
- “The penalties are you might be killing your grandfather if you don’t do it,” Inslee said of people who break the ban on mass gatherings.
- Here's Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R):
We are doing the things we are doing because we have the potential to become like Italy. We are taking the actions we are taking now to try to avoid that. The situation will get bad before it gets better, but it is in our hands to determine what the outcome will be.— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) March 11, 2020
AND ON THE 2020 TRAIL… Former vice president Joe Biden canceled planned events in Florida and Illinois, both states that vote next week, in favor of “virtual” events, adding a modern twist to the front porch presidential campaigning of the late 1800s, our colleague Colby Itkowitz reports.
- The Trump campaign mocked Biden for canceling his rallies early Wednesday morning before following suit last night.
- “Shortly after the president spoke, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham announced that ‘out of an abundance of caution’ Trump would not travel to Nevada and Colorado as planned later this week for campaign fundraisers and a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition,” per Phil and Anne.
Joe Biden tomorrow will be giving an address on the coronavirus at 1 p.m. in Wilmington, Del. Expect it, in many ways, to be different from the address just given from the Oval Office.— Matt Viser (@mviser) March 12, 2020
📉📉📉: The economic fallout has further revealed the discord in the Trump administration over how best to stimulate the economy:
- By the numbers: “The Dow Jones industrial average lost 1,465 points, or 5.9 percent, Wednesday with every sector slumping after the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus a pandemic. The Dow closed in bear market territory, meaning it had shed more than 20 percent from its high less than a month ago," our colleagues Abha Bhattarai, Heather Long and Rachel Seigel report.
- The layoffs have begun: “Airlines, hotels, travel agencies and event companies have all been suffering, but interviews with more than two dozen firms and workers reveal that the pain is now translating into layoffs in a wider circle of industries, including a bakery and a chain restaurant,” per Abha, Heather and Rachel.
- Trump's reaction: “President Trump, in an explosive tirade Monday, urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to encourage Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell to do more to stimulate the economy, three officials familiar with the exchange said, revealing the president’s mounting fury as his administration struggles to corral economic fallout from the novel coronavirus,” our colleagues Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey, Jeff Stein and Ashley Parker report.
- “If the Trump administration and Congress can’t get it together quickly and put together a sizable and responsible package, then a recession seems like a real possibility here,” Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, told the New York Times's Ben Casselman. “He said he saw a roughly 50 percent chance of a recession in the next year,” per Casselman.
- Jarring: One of the nation's largest exchanges in Chicago will have no traders on its floor.
Wall Street executives met at the White House with Trump yesterday in an attempt to reassure and stabilize the markets, per our colleague Renae Merle:
- “This is not a financial crisis. ... The banks and the financial system are in sound shape,” Michael Corbat, the chief executive of Citigroup, said during the meeting.
- “All of us are providing relief to any customer that has an issue of being out of work for the virus,” said Brian Moynihan, the chief executive of Bank of America. “We’re here to help small businesses, medium-sized businesses, the core American economy run, and to help our consumer clients really weather the storm in case they’re directly affected by this.”
THE TIPPING POINT?: We've started seeing impacts to other staples of modern American life – pop culture and sports.
- The NBA suspended its entire season, an unprecedented step for a major sports league, after one player tested positive.
- The March Madness college basketball tournament will be closed off to the public for the first time in it's over 80-year history.
- Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they have tested positive for the virus: The 63-year-old Oscar winner is currently in Australia for the pre-production stage of an Elvis Presley biopic.
- And late-night television hosts in New York will try find the humor in it all — but soon will have no audiences to laugh at their jokes.
Social distancing: Many health care experts now say the goal isn't to stop the virus, but to slow down the spread, our colleagues Carolyn Y. Johnson, Lena H. Sun and Andrew Freedman report. The best way to do this is through social distancing, as inconvenient and disruptive as it can be, they say.
- And yes, this can really work: A study of the 1918 influenza pandemic “provided powerful evidence that cities that implemented interventions early — such as closing churches, schools, theaters and dance halls and forbidding crowding on street cars and banning public gatherings — experienced much lower peaks in the death rates than ones that did not,” our colleagues write.
HEARTBREAKING SITUATION IN ITALY: Italian doctors are now being forced to make moral choices akin to wartime triage. “There are now simply too many patients for each one of them to receive adequate care,” Yascha Mounk writes in the Atlantic of the nation that has the most coronavirus cases outside of China.
- Italy's cases exploded too rapidly to keep up: “Two weeks ago, Italy had 322 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. One week ago, Italy had 2,502 cases of the virus,” Mounk writes. Today, Italy has almost 12,500, or nearly 10,000 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in less than a week. There simply are not enough doctors, nurses and ventilators to go around.
The nation is taking virtually unprecedented efforts to combat further spread: Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte expanded the country's national lockdown to allow “only the most essential parts of society will continue to function” by limiting virtually all commercial activity to grocery stores and pharmacies, our colleagues Chico Harlan and Loveday Morris report from Rome.
ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD:
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel warns more than two-thirds of Germans could get infected: If there continues to be no vaccine or treatment options, 60 to 70 percent of people in Germany could be infected, Merkel said, per our colleagues. Right now, Germany has just under 2,000 confirmed cases.
- Ukraine has closed all of its schools for three weeks: Kyiv has also banned all gatherings of more than 200 people until early next month. So far, Ukraine only has one confirmed case of coronavirus, our colleague Robyn Dixon reports.
- Australia announces massive stimulus plan: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a $11.4 billion package to mitigate the virus and help businesses get through any disruptions, our colleague Anna Fifield reports.