Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Basketball, baseball and hockey seasons suspended. Theaters and museums shuttered. Concerts scrapped. A sober-toned speech from the Oval Office. Travel plans upended. One plunge after another on Wall Street. Well-known athletes, preachers and politicians infected — and even Tom Hanks.

The coronavirus outbreak is feeling a lot less distant today for many Americans, even if they live far from any reported case. That was especially true for those on a JetBlue flight to West Palm Beach, Fla., from New York after one passenger learned in midflight that his coronavirus test had come back positive.

The outbreak even seemed to be circling closer to President Trump. A senior Brazilian official who visited Mar-a-Lago and was in proximity to Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence has tested positive. A White House spokeswoman said Thursday that the president and vice president would not be tested.

The Brazilian official was part of a delegation led by President Jair Bolsonaro, who is waiting to hear if he has the virus, too. Two Republican senators who met with Mr. Bolsonaro or were at Mar-a-Lago — Rick Scott of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — put themselves in isolation.

Mr. Trump’s 30-day travel ban on people from most of Europe didn’t go down well on the Continent. Stocks tanked, travelers scrambled and tempers rose. The European Union complained that it had not been consulted or even warned, and said that tackling the pandemic “requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”

The ban doesn’t apply to Americans returning from Europe, but even so, many raced to book flights home before it kicks in Friday at midnight. By dawn there were chaotic scenes at major airports, and European leaders were firing back at Mr. Trump’s claim that they were to blame for letting the virus spread.

Christian Drosten, a top German virologist, called the ban “pointless” and the blame misguided. “It is clear that testing in the U.S. started too late, and as a result, they don’t even know how many cases they have,” Dr. Drosten said. “So he can easily point the finger.”

About 22,000 cases of infection and 943 deaths have been reported across Europe, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. That includes Britain and Ireland, which are exempt from the travel ban.

Italy, the hardest-hit European country, is in almost total lockdown; practically everything is closed except grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and hospitals. But our Rome-based correspondent Jason Horowitz writes that the lockdown did not come in time to spare one of Europe’s best health care systems from being strained to breaking.

Swamped hospitals are filling hallways with beds or setting up inflatable shelters to serve as wards. There are reports of some patients with little chance of survival being left to their fate so that others with more hope can be treated. A photo of a hospital nurse who collapsed from exhaustion, her mask still on, has become a symbol of an overwhelmed system.

Three countries with large numbers of infections — China, South Korea and Italy — have taken very different approaches to the virus. On today’s episode of “The Daily,” Donald G. McNeil Jr., our infectious disease reporter, explains which have worked and which have fallen short.

What they did: People who think they might be sick report to a fever clinic, instead of a hospital or doctor’s office. They get a variety of tests, including a CT scan, and are kept in isolation to await the results.

“There is no home quarantine in China,” Donald said. That’s because 75 to 80 percent of all cases were in family clusters.

How it’s going: New cases have fallen from 3,500 a day in late January to just 24 on Tuesday.

What they did: Early cases centered around one very large church, where it “spread like wildfire,” Donald said. So the country is tracing and quarantining the contacts of more than 200,000 church members. As in China, people with symptoms go to isolation centers instead of staying home.

And to find infected people before they become ill, the country is testing on a huge scale — more than 10,000 a day. That’s about how many the U.S. has tested in total.

How it’s going: New infections have been slowing, and just 66 deaths have been reported out of 7,800 total cases.

What they did: In the beginning, officials refused to take drastic steps. “They wanted to keep the clubs open into the evenings,” Donald said. “They didn’t want to play soccer games without fans in the stands. They didn’t want to shut down movement.”

The government was also resistant to the idea of social distancing, and wanted to manage mild cases at home instead of in isolation centers.

How it’s going: About 15,000 reported cases, more than 1,000 deaths, a struggling health care system, and the whole country on lockdown. “They’re in real trouble,” Donald said.

The outbreak here is lagging a few weeks behind Italy’s, and the situation has not yet gotten as dire. But Donald said the countries might be on similar paths: Testing in the U.S. has been extremely limited — among the lowest per capita rates in the developed world — and large gatherings are only now being shut down.

Aggressive steps are much more difficult in a democracy, Donald acknowledged, but “when the threat is big enough, America can get organized.”

“We’re used to enjoying our civil liberties,” he said. “But if what you’re hoping for is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you have to preserve life, or the other two just aren’t there.”

  • States are banning large gatherings: California, with more than 1,200 cases and 38 deaths, has banned gatherings of 250 people or more; Oregon has imposed a similar ban; and in New York, the governor banned gatherings of more than 500 people, which includes shutting down Broadway shows.

  • In Lebanon, employees at the main hospital treating coronavirus patients went on strike, citing “harsh conditions.” The country has reported 61 cases and 2 deaths.

  • Satellite imagery shows vast burial trenches being dug in Iran soon after its government disclosed the outbreak there, The Washington Post reports.

  • El Salvador, with no reported cases, has barred all foreigners from entering for 30 days.

  • Cuba announced its first three cases: Italian tourists who developed symptoms on the island.

  • Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, is in self-quarantine with his wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, after she began to show “mild flu-like symptoms” after a trip to London.

Should I stop making 401(k) contributions? The short answer: Absolutely not! The fall in the market means that stocks are on sale now, with time and room to grow over the long term.

Here are resources for teaching children about the coronavirus, including writing prompts, short documentaries, learning ideas and critical thinking exercises.

Can the government force you into quarantine? Yes. The federal government can impose quarantines to prevent the spread of disease into the country or between states. And state and local governments can order you to stay home or in a health facility.

Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. That splash-under-water flick won’t cut it anymore. The rest of the best advice on preventing the virus is still the same: Practice social distancing, stay home if you’re feeling sick, and if you’re going to stock up on supplies, go easy on the toilet paper.

  • U.S. stocks plunged in their biggest daily drop since the 1987 Black Monday crash. The Federal Reserve intervened when it saw “highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets.”

  • There was a glimmer of hope in the negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration over a bipartisan virus relief package. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, canceled a one-week recess, and the U.S. Capitol closed to visitors until April.

  • Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, tested positive for the coronavirus in Australia, where, unlike in the United States, testing is free and readily available.

  • Is this the biggest coronavirus worry? The U.S. doesn’t have enough ventilators and intensive-care beds to meet a significant surge of new cases, and the health system could become overwhelmed.

  • Suspended seasons, canceled games and tournaments held without fans. Here’s how the coronavirus is disrupting sporting events around the world.

  • A teenager in Britain was sent home from school for selling squirts of hand sanitizer for 50 pence a hit, the BBC reports.

  • The outbreak has given birth to a new word in Japanese — “on-nomi,” or “online drinking” — the Asahi Shimbun reports.

We are in our late 60s and mid 70s. Even though we are both in good health, we are concerned. We no longer engage in casual contact at church and other places. On the positive side, one of us is helping set up some folks in our congregation with a link to watch church services streamed live at home, and teaching other folks how to set up online shopping accounts, etc., so they can have food and other goods delivered.

— S Nelson, East Central Kentucky

Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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Adam Pasick, Lara Takenaga, Jonathan Wolfe and Tom Wright-Piersanti contributed to today’s newsletter.

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