Trump Calls for Calm on Virus and Expands Travel Restrictions
Trump aims to calm public by announcing new travel restrictions.
President Trump sought on Saturday to more aggressively address the coronavirus after weeks of confusion over his administration’s response, urging public calm and issuing new foreign travel warnings and restrictions.
At a White House news conference, Mr. Trump acknowledged the first death recorded in the United States, in Washington State. Vice President Mike Pence said the administration was issuing its highest-level warning, known as a “do not travel” warning, to areas of Italy and South Korea most affected by the virus.
The United States is also barring all travel to Iran, and barring entry to any foreign citizen who has visited Iran in the last 14 days. There will also be screenings of travelers coming from Italy and South Korea.
Speaking later Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mr. Trump also suggested the United States was ready to help Iranians amid an outbreak there.
“If we can help the Iranians, we have the greatest health care professionals in the world,” he said, adding that “we would love to be able to help them.”
“All they have to do is ask,” he said.
Aiming to calm the public after the worst week for the stock market since 2008, the president, flanked by top federal public health officials, appealed to “the media and politicians and everybody else involved not do anything to incite a panic, because there’s no reason to panic at all.”
In response to a question, Mr. Trump also said he was “very strongly” considering new travel restrictions along the southern border to contain the coronavirus. But he later walked back the possibility, saying “this is not a border that seems to be much of a problem right now.”
He also denied that he had referred to the coronavirus as a “hoax” during a Friday night political rally in South Carolina. “The ‘hoax’ was used with respect to Democrats and what they were saying,” Mr. Trump said. At the rally, the president had said of Democrats: “This is their new hoax,” drawing swift condemnation from his political rivals.
The outbreak is clearly becoming part of the presidential race. Michael R. Bloomberg’s campaign released a three-minute prerecorded address on the coronavirus outbreak, which it is paying to broadcast on network television Sunday night.
A person near Seattle has become the first coronavirus patient to die in the United States, health officials said Saturday. The person was a patient at a hospital in Kirkland, Washington.
In referring to the death at a news conference, President Trump said the victim was a “wonderful woman” in her 50s, but local officials later said the patient had been a man in his 50s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later clarified that the patient was, in fact, a man, and that the agency’s director had also misstated the patient’s sex at the president’s news conference.
Washington State health officials also announced two cases of people tied to a nursing facility near Seattle and said more than 50 people in the facility had begun to show symptoms, a possible sign of an outbreak among a particularly vulnerable population.
A health-care worker and a resident at the facility, Life Care Center of Kirkland, had both tested positive for the virus. There are 288 staff and residents at the facility.
Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency, directing state agencies to do everything reasonably possible to assist affected communities. The proclamation allows the use of the Washington National Guard, if necessary.
Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the C.D.C., said there was no evidence that the person had traveled recently or had contact with someone known to have the virus.
Experts warn that cases of unknown origin are a worrying sign that the virus is spreading in this country. Similar cases also reported on Friday involved a high school student from north of Seattle; an employee of a school near Portland, Ore.; a woman in Santa Clara County, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley; and a man in southeastern England.
The global total: Nearly 87,000 cases.
Of the nearly 87,000 coronavirus cases recorded globally as of Sunday, fewer than 7,200 were outside of mainland China.
The Chinese authorities reported 573 new cases. That brings the country’s total to 79,824 since the outbreak began, a figure that includes people who have recovered or died. China also reported 35 new deaths on Sunday, a drop from the previous day’s toll of 47.
The virus has now been detected in at least 59 countries. Qatar confirmed its first case on Saturday, a 36-year-old Qatari citizen who had been in quarantine since recently returning from Iran, the country’s health ministry said.
Iran, which has been at the center of the virus’s spread in the region, confirmed an additional 205 cases on Saturday, bringing its official total to 593. The death toll rose by nine, to 43 — a number many public health experts say indicates a wider spread than officials have acknowledged.
South Korea, which has the largest coronavirus outbreak outside China, reported 376 new cases on Sunday, bringing its total to 3,526.
Italy, the center of the outbreak in Europe, now has a total of 1,128 confirmed cases and 29 deaths. France has reported 100 cases and two deaths. Australia, which has 25 confirmed cases, reported its first death from the virus on Sunday.
Which is worse, coronavirus or flu?
The coronavirus and the flu are often compared these days. But what are their basic similarities and differences?
So far, the coronavirus seems to be deadlier. On average, the seasonal flu strain kills about 0.1 percent of people who become infected. Early estimates of the death rate in the coronavirus outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan, China, have been around 2 percent, though at least one medical journal claims it’s as low as 1.4 percent.
The rate could fall if it turns out that many cases aren’t detected because they are so mild or even symptom-free.
As with influenza, the coronavirus is most dangerous to people over the age of 65, or who have chronic illness or a weak immune system.
And so far, the flu has sickened more people than the coronavirus. In the United States, there have been 32 million cases of flu, several hundred thousands hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths, according to the C.D.C. By contrast, just 70 people in the United States have been infected with the new coronavirus, and there has been one death, which was reported on Saturday.
One area where the two ailments diverge is treatment. There is no approved antiviral drug for the coronavirus, but several are being tested. For those infected with any viral illness, doctors recommend rest, medicine to reduce pain and fever, and fluids to avoid dehydration. For the flu, doctors can offer four prescription medicines.
There are no coronavirus vaccinations available, but one may be available in a year or two. Flu vaccines are widely available and generally 40 percent to 60 percent effective.
Australia’s first death from the virus is a Diamond Princess passenger.
A 78-year-old man died of the coronavirus early Sunday at a hospital in Perth, Australia, the first known death from the illness in that country, officials said. He had been a passenger aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where a large concentration of coronavirus infections emerged last month as it was docked in Japan.
His death was announced by Andrew Robertson, chief health officer at the Western Australia Department of Health.
The man’s wife, who had also been on the cruise ship and was later diagnosed with the virus, was in stable condition, Mr. Robertson said.
Australia has so far reported 25 confirmed cases of the new virus, nine of which were associated with the Diamond Princess. Fifteen of these patients have recovered.
“We still need to make the point very clear that there isn’t community spread within Australia,” Mr. Robertson said. “This very tragic case is still related to the Diamond Princess.”
“The public shouldn’t be panicking at this stage,” he said.
F.D.A. allows new coronavirus tests. Some are already in the works.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Saturday that it was authorizing American laboratories to develop their own coronavirus tests, which should significantly increase the country’s testing capacity.
The effect could be rapid. Some labs and private companies have applied for emergency approval for tests they have already created. If they have submitted evidence that the tests work, the labs and companies will be able to use them immediately, rather than wait for the F.D.A. to complete reviews and issue approvals.
“This action today reflects our public health commitment to addressing critical public health needs and rapidly responding and adapting to this dynamic and evolving situation,” the F.D.A.’s commissioner, Stephen M. Hahn, said in a statement.
Experts have been frustrated with the limited availability of coronavirus tests in the U.S., which until now could only be provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Broader testing will enable more rapid detection and isolation of people who have the coronavirus to help contain the spread of disease.
The U.S. is more prepared than most countries for an epidemic. But is it enough?
Across the country, educators, businesses and local officials are beginning to confront the logistics of enduring a possible pandemic: school closings that could force millions of children to remain at home, emergency plans that would require employees to work remotely, communities scrambling to build up supplies.
In plausible worst-case-scenarios given the pattern of the outbreak thus far, the country could experience acute shortages in ventilators, and also the health workers to operate them and care for patients; hospital beds; and masks and other protective equipment.
On Saturday, the surgeon general warned the public against buying masks to keep the supply available to health care professionals.
“Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” the surgeon general, Jerome M. Adams, said in a tweet on Saturday morning. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
A federal 2005 projection forecast that a severe influenza pandemic would require mechanical ventilators for 740,000 critically ill people. But only about 62,000 full-featured ventilators were in hospitals across the country, a 2010 study found, and even if more have been added, most are in use.
“Even during mild flu pandemics, most of our I.C.U.s are filled to the brim with severely ill patients on mechanical ventilation,” said Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an expert on health care preparedness.
“I hope and pray Covid-19 turns out to be a moderate pandemic, but if not, we’re in serious trouble,” he said, referring to the name given to the disease caused by the virus.
The virus is spreading among Iran’s elite.
Iran’s state media reported on Saturday that five members of Parliament had tested positive, adding to the coronavirus’s reach into the top tiers of the country’s politicians.
Over the past week, Iran reported that seven government officials, including one of the country’s vice presidents, were infected. The country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, attended a meeting last week with at least one of them.
Also infected is the son of a prominent politician who advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The son, Faridedin Hadad Adel, who is also related to the ayatollah by marriage, tweeted that he had gotten the virus after visiting a school in the holy city of Qom, which is an epicenter of the virus in Iran.
State media reported that an Iranian parliament member had died from respiratory failure after being admitted to a hospital with flulike symptoms, raising questions about whether that was also a coronavirus case. The member, Mohamad Ali Ramezani, was from Gilan Province, which has emerged as a second epicenter of the epidemic within Iran, after Qom.
The outbreak has brought life to a standstill in Iran. Officials have temporarily shut down schools, universities and canceled all public gatherings, according to state media.
Masoumeh Aghapour Alishahi, one of the parliamentarians who has tested positive, released a video message asking Mr. Rouhani to shut down all education centers until the crisis is contained.
The Center of Human Rights in Iran, a research and advocacy group based in the United States, has expressed concerns over reports that prisoners in the country are not being protected from the virus and lack access to medicine, hygiene and sanitary products.
Asadollah Abbasi, a member of Parliament who acts as the body’s spokesman, was quoted in state media as saying that the five positive cases had emerged from testing 100 lawmakers. He said other lawmakers would be tested in their own hometowns or in the capital, Tehran. Iran’s Parliament has 290 representatives.
The country’s death toll rose to 43 from 34 on Friday and the number of infected was up to 593 from 388, according to officials cited in state media. Health experts have said that multiplying each death by 50 is offers a rough estimate of the true number of cases, and experts say the real number of cases is likely much higher than what is being reported.
American faces thousands in unexpected medical bills after quarantine.
A mandatory quarantine by the U.S. government resulted in nearly $4,000 in medical bills for a man and his 3-year-old daughter, who were both evacuated from Wuhan, China.
“I assumed it was all being paid for,” Frank Wucinski said. “We didn’t have a choice. When the bills showed up it was just a pit in my stomach, like how do I pay for this?”
Mr. Wucinski and his daughter Annabel were among dozens of Americans the government flew back and put under quarantine in February. His wife, who is not a U.S. citizen and remains in China, developed pneumonia that doctors think resulted from Covid-19, the disease caused by the respiratory virus.
Mr. Wucinski and Annabel spent two weeks in quarantine and both repeatedly tested negative for the virus.
After being released from quarantine, the pair received a pile of medical bills: $3,918 in charges from hospital doctors, radiologists and an ambulance company.
A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to comment on whether it would pay the bills of patients kept in mandatory isolation.
Mr. Wucinski received a document upon leaving quarantine that directed him to contact a government email address with any medical bills, but he has yet to receive a response. However, a Rady Children’s Hospital spokesman said that the bill from their physicians had been sent in error and that the family would not be held responsible for the charges.
U.N. conference on women is asked to downscale.
The leader of the United Nations has recommended sharply reducing attendance at the March 9-20 annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women at the world body’s New York headquarters because of concerns about the coronavirus epidemic.
If the commission approves the recommendation on Monday, as expected, it will be the latest major gathering to be canceled or curtailed because of the coronavirus epidemic.
The annual meeting is ordinarily attended by more than 7,000 people, including top ministers and diplomats from among the 193 member states of the United Nations. This year’s session was considered especially significant as a venue to assess the progress on gender equality — or lack of it — that has been made in the quarter-century since the 1995 Beijing Declaration, a United Nations document that asserted “women’s rights are human rights” and committed to achieving women’s empowerment in all facets of life.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary General António Guterres, said in an email that Mr. Guterres had suggested that the commission “hold a scaled-down meeting, limiting participation to New York-based representation,” which would sharply reduce the size and scope of the meeting and likely lead to the cancellation of numerous side events.
Such moves are growing increasingly common. France is banning gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces and all gatherings in Oise, its region most affected by the coronavirus, the country’s health minister said on Saturday.
There are signs that the epidemic could do meaningful economic damage.
Stock markets had their worst week since 2008, with the S&P index falling 11.5 percent, and bond yields already suggest that the outbreak could halt the longest expansion on record — 11 years — and even possibly send the nation into recession.
While the economy is on an upward trend, many economists believe that the underlying fundamentals remain strong and that growth will continue, helping to insulate the country from a big shock.
While the Federal Reserve may be considering interest rate cuts, it cannot replace the goods that would have been made by factories closed to keep workers from getting sick. President Trump said Saturday the Fed needed to move swiftly.
A recession that lasts longer than a few months hasn’t occurred in the United States in more than 10 years.
“Supply shock,” a reduction in the economy’s capacity to make things, is at the center of the economic problem emerging from the coronavirus. And American companies that rely heavily on Chinese suppliers might begin facing shortages of key goods in the coming weeks, said Nada Sanders, professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University.
Reporting and research were contributed by Mike Baker, Michael Crowley, Peter Eavis, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Choe Sang-Hun, Thomas Fuller, Sheri Fink, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Raphael Minder, Amy Qin, Sui-Lee Wee, Vivian Wang, Katie Rogers, Raymond Zhong, Apoorva Mandavilli, Peter Robins, Derrick Taylor, Norimitsu Onishi, Motoko Rich and Makiko Inoue.