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President Trump played down the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic Monday, emphasizing the need for the country’s economy to get back to normal.

“America will again — and soon — be open for business,” Trump said in a news conference. Experts warn that ending social distancing too soon would lead to a spike in cases, potentially overwhelming hospitals and leading to more deaths.

U.S. states on Monday reported more than 100 deaths from the novel coronavirus, pushing the country’s total death toll past 500 and marking the first time single-day fatalities have risen into the triple-digits nationwide.

Here are some significant developments:

  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a news conference that all nonessential shops will close, travel will be restricted, and police will enforce social distancing if necessary.
  • President Trump is weighing calls from some Republican lawmakers and White House advisers to scale back steps to contain the coronavirus. Yet senior U.S. health officials, including Anthony S. Fauci, have said the worst of the pandemic has yet to be felt in the United States.
  • The nation’s governors are getting far better marks for their handling of the coronavirus outbreak than President Trump, according to a new Monmouth University poll. Fifty percent of Americans say Trump has done a good job handling the crisis, while 72 percent say governors have done a good job — regardless of party affiliation or severity of outbreak in a particular state.
  • Michigan, Ohio, Louisiana and Oregon became the latest states to announce stay-at-home orders. The governors of Maryland and Massachusetts ordered nonessential businesses to close, and Virginia’s governor said schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
  • Virus-ravaged Italy marked 608 coronavirus deaths Monday, bringing its total to 5,476 — more than any other country. Spain extended its lockdown for another 15 days as the national death toll surged more than 25 percent. Spain now has more than 33,000 confirmed cases, and the prime minister warned that “the worst is yet to come.”
March 23, 2020 at 11:52 PM EDT

Trump slams Pelosi, Democrats over lack of stimulus deal

President Trump took to Twitter late Monday to criticize Democratic lawmakers, accusing them of trying to use negotiations over an economic stimulus package to push their own political agenda.

While congressional leaders had hoped to pass a nearly $2 trillion aid package by Monday to blunt the downturn sparked by the pandemic, Democratic leaders said the bill did not focus enough on unemployed workers.

But Trump shot back by saying they were trying to use the package for measures that have little to do with the virus or the economy.

“Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town from her extended vacation,” Trump said on Twitter late Monday. “The Democrats want the Virus to win? ... They want Open Borders & Green New Deal. Republicans shouldn’t agree!”

His administration seemed to inch closer to reaching a bipartisan agreement with Senate leaders late Monday evening on a massive stimulus bill that could inject $2 trillion into the economy.

By Teo Armus
March 23, 2020 at 11:39 PM EDT

Asian markets jump following unprecedented Fed measures

Asian stocks and U.S. futures climbed Tuesday morning as officials increased relief measures to fight the crippling economic effects of the novel coronavirus.

Japanese stocks led gains among major markets in the region, as its benchmark Nikkei 225 index surged 6.41 percent in morning trade. Market indexes in Australia and Hong Kong each jumped more than 2 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi also climbed 6.42 percent.

Earlier on Monday, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced unlimited bond purchases in a historic move aimed at keeping money flowing as the U.S. economy threatens to contract. Germany is also set to unveil major relief measures.

But U.S. lawmakers have failed to agree on bipartisan stimulus measures, so policy responses around lowering taxes or increasing handouts remain pending.

By Teo Armus
March 23, 2020 at 11:10 PM EDT

Tourists remaining in Cuba to be quarantined

Any tourists remaining in Cuba will be quarantined in a hotel as the country goes into lockdown Tuesday, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said Monday evening, according to an Associated Press report.

Cuban citizens will also be barred from exiting the country, while those abroad can come back if they enter a 14-day quarantine after returning.

Cuba last week announced a ban on all foreigners entering the country as of Tuesday. Thousands of tourists subsequently left in recent days to avoid the looming lockdown, but 32,574 remained as of Monday evening, Marrero said.

The president said remaining tourists would still be able to leave, though he offered no further details on the matter, according to the AP.

International travel between countries and continents has become extremely complicated — and in some cases impossible — in recent days as airlines cut routes amid flight bans and border closures.

Thousands of U.S. citizens have similarly become stuck in countries such as Peru and Honduras, with the U.S. military in some cases chartering planes to fly Americans out. More U.S. citizens, however, remain marooned abroad

Last week, the United States raised its international travel advisory to the highest level and warned citizens not to travel abroad.

By Miriam Berger
March 23, 2020 at 10:36 PM EDT

Washington nursing home with deadly cluster failed to flag illnesses, federal inspectors find

A nursing home in Washington state failed to notify regional authorities that it was experiencing a surge in respiratory infections before it became the site of one of the nation’s deadliest coronavirus clusters, federal inspectors reported on Monday.

The Life Care Center home in Kirkland, which has so far been associated with 37 deaths from covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, also failed to “rapidly identify and manage ill residents” and had no backup plan when its primary clinician became ill, according to the inspectors.

The preliminary findings were reported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which sent a pair of surveyors to review the facility in light of its extraordinary death toll. They were accompanied by state officials from Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services, the agency said.

Read more here.

By Jon Swaine
March 23, 2020 at 10:25 PM EDT

Defense Department battles coronavirus — and conspiracy theories about martial law

The Defense Department’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has expanded to include a growing effort to stamp out conspiracy theories about martial law.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said Monday that President Trump had activated the National Guard in California, New York and Washington state in “Title 32” status, in which governors control the forces but the federal government pays for them.

Esper quickly added that “this is not a move toward martial law, as some have erroneously claimed.”

Other senior U.S. officials also have addressed the issue, and the government has set up a new website titled “Coronavirus Rumor Control.”

The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, said in a phone call with reporters on Sunday night that he had “seen things on Facebook and the like" that depicted military equipment moving on trains, and suggested the Guard was going to launch “some quarantine operation."

“There is just no truth to this rumor that people are considering, that governors are planning, that anybody is conspiring to use National Guard ... to do some sort of a military action to enforce, you know, shelter in place and quarantine," Lengyel said. “I don’t know how to say that any more clearly than that.”

More than 8,000 National Guardsmen were on duty as of Monday to respond to the spread of the virus, with tasks ranging from delivering needed supplies to disinfecting public areas.

By Dan Lamothe
March 23, 2020 at 10:09 PM EDT

‘Remain in Mexico’ hearings postponed

The U.S. immigration courts are postponing all “remain in Mexico” hearings scheduled through April 22 because of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States, a court spokeswoman said in a statement late Monday.

Asylum seekers with a hearing date through April 22 should appear at their assigned border checkpoint on their scheduled hearing date to receive a new hearing notice, the statement said.

Trump administration officials said they are not canceling the program, known officially as the Migrant Protection Protocols, and are “deeply committed to ensuring that individuals ‘have their day in court’ while also ensuring the health and safety of aliens, our frontline officers, immigration court professionals, and our citizens.”

Immigration lawyers and labor unions representing government prosecutors and immigration judges have blasted the Justice Department for keeping the administrative immigration courts open as the novel coronavirus spreads across the United States. Court officials have now postponed all hearings except for those for detained immigrants, according to the court’s website.

The judges, prosecutors and advocates have urged the Justice Department to close “all immigration courts” because of the risks of spreading the potentially deadly disease.

“Keeping the courts open is not only a health risk to everyone who comes to these courtrooms, it is creating a serious health hazard for the broader public. The Immigration Courts should be immediately closed,” Immigration Judge Ashley Tabaddor, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said in a statement Sunday.

Approximately 60,000 migrants from Central America and other regions have been turned back to Mexico after crossing the southern border to await their asylum hearings since the Trump administration launched the program last year to curb mass migration. The Justice Department has estimated that 25,000 are still in Mexico awaiting hearings. Many have returned to their native countries. Some have disappeared or been killed, advocates say.

By Maria Sacchetti
March 23, 2020 at 9:52 PM EDT

Texas lieutenant governor says seniors should ‘take a chance’ on their own lives for sake of grandchildren

Not long after President Trump wrapped up his briefing Monday evening, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) defended the president in an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” casting the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity for older people to make sacrifices for the sake of their grandchildren’s economy.

Patrick, who turns 70 next week, made the case for restarting the country’s businesses, telling Carlson, “I’m not living in fear of covid-19. What I’m living in fear of is what’s happening to this country.”

“And you know, Tucker, no one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ ” Patrick said. “And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.”

Patrick added that “that doesn’t make me noble or brave or anything like that. I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me … what we all care about and what we love more than anything are those children.”

Patrick said that he will “do everything I can to live” and that if he gets sick, he will seek medical help. He also echoed Trump’s argument that the coronavirus mortality rate in the United States — so far — is not as alarming as it is in other countries.

“Let’s get back to living,” Patrick said. “Let’s be smart about it. And those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country. … Our biggest gift we give to our country and our children and our grandchildren is the legacy of our country, and right now, that is at risk. … I think we can get back to work.”

By Felicia Sonmez
March 23, 2020 at 9:32 PM EDT

Prominent health expert warns of rapid spread if social distancing ends too soon

As President Trump endorsed putting an end to social distancing “very soon” for the sake of the economy, one expert emphasized the continued need for social distancing, among other dramatic measures, to curtail the spread of the virus.

In a long Twitter thread, Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the United States is nowhere near where it needs to be to most effectively combat the coronavirus.

“Anyone advising the end of social distancing now, needs to fully understand what the country will look like if we do that,” he said. “Covid would spread widely, rapidly, terribly, could kill potentially millions in the year ahead with huge social and economic impact across the country.”

Inglesby cited continued shortages in diagnostics and said many people with the coronavirus are not sick enough to be tested. Health-care workers still lack masks, he added, leaving them at risk of contracting the disease.

“How do we gain time to let hospitals get more supplies and prepare for high number of patients? How do we lower the speed of spread of covid in the U.S.?” he asked. “How do we lower odds that ICUs will run out of vents, hospitals run out of space?”

“The answer for now is large scale social distancing,” he said. He noted that in Asia, social distancing was effective in slowing down the disease, lowering the number of infected people and those who are critically ill.

“These big social distancing measures take time to work,” he wrote. “The impact of big interventions in Wuhan, China took about three weeks to start to reverse things. Then every day the situation got better.”

He cited models that show U.S. health-care systems “will be completely overwhelmed/collapse by the peak of cases if major social distancing is not put in place.”

By Michael Brice-Saddler
March 23, 2020 at 9:15 PM EDT

Washington becomes the latest state to order residents to stay at home

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced a stay-at-home order starting Monday night.

The order bans all gatherings and closes many businesses, aside from grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential businesses. There are more than 2,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington state, and at least 110 people have died from the virus.

“Make no mistake,” Inslee said. This order is enforceable by law. We know that to be socially irresponsible in these times is to risk the lives of our loved ones."

While the first U.S. novel coronavirus case was identified in Washington state, other governors are issued similar orders aimed at flattening the curve as the outbreak crosses state lines and claims lives in its wake.

West Virginia

On Monday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) issued a stay-at-home order effective on Tuesday. The order directs residents to isolate in their homes and limit movements beyond essential need, such as going to the grocery store or medical necessity.

Michigan

On Monday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) ordered citizens to stay home and closed nonessential businesses for at least the next three weeks while the state tries to lower its growing total of positive coronavirus cases.

The order begins at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday. Michigan has recorded 1,232 confirmed cases and 15 deaths as of Monday, Whitmer said in a news conference.

Michigan’s rising caseload will likely cause a severe strain on the state’s health-care system, Whitmer said. Pharmacies, grocery stores, gas stations and banks will remain open, as will delivery and carryout at restaurants. Other nonessential businesses could face fines and closure, she said.

A lack of direction and medical supplies from the federal government has exacerbated the situation in Michigan, Whitmer said. Michigan recently received its allotment from the National Strategic Stockpile, and it was barely enough to cover one shift at a local hospital, Whitmer said.

Schools will remain closed at least through April 13, and state leaders are exploring how people can cast their ballots at home in local elections in May, she said.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) issued a similar order that will take effect from noon on Tuesday until April 7 at noon. Baker said at a Monday news conference that he will also direct the state’s Department of Public Health to issue a “stay at home advisory” that will outline self-isolation and social-distancing protocols.

The order came shortly after city and state representatives pressured him to sign a “stay at home order” in a public letter.

“I do not believe I can or should order U.S. citizens to be confined to their homes for days on end,” he said, saying such an order did not make sense and was not realistic.

Baker’s order will likely be enforced at the local level and carries a graduated set of penalties.

Maryland

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) also ordered all nonessential business shut down at 5 p.m. on Monday following a previous mandate of closing down casinos and racetracks earlier in the month.

Indiana

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) delivered sweeping orders on Monday for Hoosiers to remain inside with exceptions for going out for essentials or for health-care needs.

Holcomb will also close the doors to all state government offices. Orders are effective from March 25 to April 7.

Hoosiers with soon-expiring licenses or registrations will receive an automatic extension from the governor that will prevent law enforcement from issuing citations for expired materials during the state’s emergency.

By Lateshia Beachum and Meryl Kornfield
March 23, 2020 at 9:02 PM EDT

Postponing the Tokyo Olympics is starting to look like an inevitability

Postponement of the Tokyo Olympics appeared increasingly inevitable Monday as a growing number of countries signaled their athletes would not participate if the Games were held as scheduled this summer. The United States advocated for a delay, and Japanese officials conceded for the first time that one was possible.

A whirlwind 24-hour period started Sunday with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach issuing a letter to Olympic athletes, saying the IOC was considering delaying the Summer Games because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Since 1896, the Summer Olympics have taken place every four years except for 1916, 1940 and 1944, when they were canceled because of world wars. Bach said a cancellation had been ruled out and that the IOC would consider different scenarios and make a final decision within the next four weeks.

That long timetable led Canada to call for a postponement Sunday night and say it would not send any athletes to Tokyo if the Games began as scheduled July 24. Australia and Germany followed with similar announcements Monday, and other countries, such as the United States, Britain, Brazil, Norway and Slovenia, either urged a postponement or said conditions must improve if they are to participate.

On Monday night, the United States’ Olympic governing body issued its strongest statement to date, a gentle vote for postponement. In a joint statement, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee chair Susanne Lyons and USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said that after polling 1,780 athletes, the USOPC had concluded that postponement was the best option.

According to the USOPC, 68 percent of the athletes it surveyed did not think the Games could be fairly competed this summer, and 65 percent said their training has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even if the current significant health concerns could be alleviated by late summer, the enormous disruptions to the training environment, doping controls and qualification process can’t be overcome in a satisfactory manner,” Lyons and Hirshland said in the statement. “To that end, it’s more clear than ever that the path toward postponement is the most promising, and we encourage the IOC to take all needed steps to ensure the Games can be conducted under safe and fair conditions for all competitors.”

By Rick Maese, Adam Kilgore and Simon Denyer
March 23, 2020 at 8:59 PM EDT

Trump says America will be open for business ‘very soon’

At Monday’s coronavirus task force briefing, President Trump struck a markedly different tone than the one he had last week, playing down the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic and emphasizing the need for the country’s economy to get back to normal.

"America will again -- and soon -- be open for business," Trump said. "Very soon, a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting."

Trump himself had told reporters one week ago that it would take months for the pandemic to pass.

“People are talking about July, August, something like that … could be longer than that," he said at a briefing last week.

Pressed about whether he is prepared to ignore the advice of public health professionals for the sake of the economy, Trump repeatedly argued that taking steps to prevent the pandemic's spread will end up costing the country more lives than simply letting businesses reopen. He did not offer any data to back up his claim.

"You'll see what happens. ... We can do two things at one time," Trump said. He later added: "If it were up to the doctors, they may say, 'Let's keep it shut down. Let's shut down the entire world,' because, again, you're up to almost 150 countries."

Trump also argued that the mortality rate from the coronavirus in the United States is currently low -- although he did not address the issue of what happens when hospitals become overburdened, as has happened in parts of Italy.

“The whole concept of death is terrible, but there’s a tremendous difference between something under 1 percent and 4 or 5 or even 3 percent,” Trump said.

By Felicia Sonmez
March 23, 2020 at 8:56 PM EDT

Denver exempts liquor stores and marijuana shops from stay-at-home order

Are liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries “essential businesses” during a public health emergency?

In Denver, officials learned the hard way that they are.

On Monday, the city of 620,000 became the latest metropolitan area to issue a stay-at-home order for residents as part of its efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. That meant leaving open only the businesses and services deemed critical to the public.

Initially, liquor stores and recreational marijuana shops didn’t make the cut, as the Denver Post reported.

And so, predictably, they were soon swarmed with people looking to stock up on items to help take the edge off the de facto quarantine, which is set to begin Tuesday at 5 p.m. and last until April 10.

Lines at some establishments stretched down the street following Mayor Michael Hancock’s announcement. Social distancing became an afterthought.

Recognizing the public health hazard brewing, the city on Monday evening amended its order to exempt all liquor and marijuana stores. They’ll be able to stay open as long as they have “extreme physical distancing in place," the city government said in a tweet.

Other cities and states where tens of millions of people are under stay-at-home orders have exempted establishments that sell liquor. Cannabis stores have also been deemed essential in some places, including in Los Angeles.

By Derek Hawkins
March 23, 2020 at 8:56 PM EDT

After flight back to U.S., a growing number of Costa Luminosa cruise ship passengers have flu-like symptoms

Helene Goldberg had been feeling unwell for days by the time she gratefully boarded an airplane in France bound for Atlanta on Friday, along with more than 300 other Americans and Canadians who had been stranded on a cruise ship in Europe carrying passengers with flu-like symptoms.

But because her temperature registered as normal when she landed, health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed her to enter an Atlanta airport terminal and a commercial airplane for Phoenix, carrying only instructions to quarantine herself for 14 days when she finally got home.

By the time she landed, her persistent cough had worsened, her fever had spiked and she was taken by ambulance to a hospital. Goldberg, 79, learned Monday that she had tested positive for the coronavirus, her son said in an interview.

Goldberg is one of a growing number of Costa Luminosa passengers who now have coronavirus or flu-like symptoms after flying back to the United States together on a chartered flight — a move that the travelers and their relatives say put others at risk. Many of the cruise ship travelers went on to board commercial flights in Atlanta.

Their experience is a sign that, even as many parts of the nation have entered near total shutdowns in an attempt to slow the outbreak, different standards about how to handle those at risk of being contagious may be allowing the virus to spread.

Read more here.

By Rosalind Helderman
March 23, 2020 at 8:36 PM EDT

White House task force promotes self-swabbing tests for coronavirus

The White House coronavirus task force promoted self-administered tests Monday evening, hoping they will expedite the testing process, help create safer conditions for medical professionals, and reduce the number of times protective gear has to be changed out.

The test requires people to take their own nasal swabs to bring to a clinic or drive-through site.

There was some disconnect on whether those tests will be immediately available. White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx said during Monday’s news conference that they would be available “some time this week.” Vice President Pence, speaking right after Birx, said, “I’m pleased to report that self-collected swabs can now be collected."

“With the current test, that goes pretty significantly up the nasal passage, people have to wear gear and then change out the gear,” Pence said of medical professionals who administer the tests. “This new self-administered test will not require the drain on personal protective equipment.”

Last week, Tom Inglesy, the director of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Health Security, said self-administered nasal swabs can be tough for an untrained person to do effectively. That could raise the risk of false negative results, Inglesby said, adding: “It’s more complicated than spitting in a cup.”

This is another measure to limit close contact between people and medical professionals, joining a push to replace in-person visits with communication through telemedicine apps.

Pence said Monday that self-swabbing is part of the White House’s effort “to meet the supply needs that we have around the country but meet them with conservation, as well.”

By Jesse Dougherty