Financial markets are careening. Public tours of the very symbols of American political power — the White House and Capitol Hill — are being put on hold while some congressional offices are shuttering altogether. Campaign rallies are being canceled. Pro basketball and soccer games have been suspended. And Broadway is at risk of being shut down.
Each day, more and more employees are working remotely at companies large and small. Even the White House is considering mass teleworking. Schools are being closed or going virtual. And travel is being discouraged — and in the case of foreign visitors from most of Europe, banned. Some cruise lines are even halting voyages on their ships.
America is shutting down as Americans learn to adapt to life amid the coronavirus pandemic, a global health crisis that is straining public health systems and burrowing deeper into advanced economies and societies by the day. The question nobody can yet answer: For how long?
“I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus,” President Donald Trump said on Wednesday evening, announcing a 30-day ban on certain travel from Europe.
Futures markets immediately swooned, and trading was temporarily halted on Thursday morning as investors fled to safety and stock indexes plunged.
Trump told reporters Thursday morning that he hasn’t discussed placing travel restrictions inside the U.S. in states like Washington and California — where 34 combined deaths have occurred — but that it was a possibility “if somebody gets a little bit out of control” or if “an area gets too hot.”
“You see what they’re doing in New Rochelle, which is good, frankly,” the president said, referring to a city in which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo implemented a special “containment area” to manage the outbreak. “It’s the right thing, but it’s not enforced. It’s not very strong, but people know they’re being watched. New Rochelle, that’s a hot spot.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that it’s “kind of shocking to see the challenges that we have and the decisions that have to be made about people coming together.”
Even the typically laconic Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, felt compelled to acknowledge the widespread sense of alarm radiating outward from Washington and New York. “This virus is challenging our nation in ways that feel unfamiliar to us,” he said in a statement. “But our great country is strong, we are equipped, and we have overcome far greater challenges before.”
What began as health officials stressing the importance of washing hands and avoiding handshakes now includes government action against large crowds across the country as the nation races to mitigate the spread of the virus.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has recommended the cancellation of any gatherings of more than 250 people across the state through the end of the month, following the lead of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who announced a similar ban Wednesday in three counties.
The NCAA’s Division I basketball tournaments will be played without fans in the arena. The Big Ten Conference canceled the remainder of its basketball tournament.
The remainder of the NBA’s regular season won’t be played at all, at least for the time being, after the league announced that a member of the Utah Jazz roster tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday. A second Jazz player tested positive Thursday.
The WNBA is not in season, but with its draft a month away and the start of the regular season set for May 15, the league said it will continue planning for different scenarios and release further details later this month.
MLS, meanwhile, will suspend play for 30 days, and the PGA Tour will continue as scheduled but without fans in attendance.
The State Department has urged Americans to reconsider their travel plans and paused its international exchange programs, while the Pentagon has shut down tours of the Defense Department. Meanwhile, the House and Senate sergeant at arms announced the temporary closure of all public tours of the Capitol complex Thursday through the end of March.
“We are taking this temporary action out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public,” House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger said in a joint statement. “We appreciate the understanding of those with planned visits interrupted by this necessary, but prudent, decision.”
The shutdowns, postponements and cancellations are likely to trigger more of the same from companies, campaigns and others as top health officials warn that the coronavirus outbreak will get worse.
The House Oversight Committee resumed a hearing Thursday with Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that was postponed Wednesday due to an “emergency” White House meeting with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
But even a member of the committee argued that it should have been canceled or postponed.
“These gentlemen should be able to go and do their work,” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) said. “There’s a time and battle when you need your frontline men on the front line, not in the rear with the gear.”
Fauci told lawmakers that America’s test system “is failing,” noting that it’s not set up for mass testing like other countries.
“Do I think we should be? Yes,” Fauci said. “But we’re not.”
“That’s the reason why we’re not able to answer the broader questions of how many people in the country are infected right now,” he added. “We hope to get there reasonably soon, but we’re not there now.”
Several members of Congress are self-quarantining. But not even that has prevented the first known case of coronavirus on Capitol Hill. A staffer in Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office has been diagnosed with the virus, news that has forced fellow Sens. Sherrod Brown, Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz to close their Washington, D.C., offices.
There are more than 1,300 cases in the U.S., spread across 40 states, according to an unofficial tally by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. At least 38 people have died.
Trump has canceled upcoming campaign stops in Colorado and Nevada “out of an abundance of caution.” And the White House has scrapped Thursday night’s St. Patrick’s Day party, according to two administration sources.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was planning to hold campaign events in Illinois on Friday and Florida on Monday. But the Democratic frontrunner will instead deliver an address Thursday on the coronavirus pandemic and hold his events virtually.
“Today’s speech will be presidential, not political,” a campaign aide said. “It will be clear-eyed about the challenges we face and offer thoughtful ideas on the path forward.”
A campaign event in Georgia set to be hosted by two Biden surrogates on Thursday has also been replaced by a conference call.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN that even Broadway may be shuttered. “What we’re trying to figure out is there a way to reduce the capacity, reduce the number of people,” he said. “If we cannot strike that balance, of course, we can go to closure. That’s a decision we will be making right away.”
Sarah Owermohle, Danielle Muoio, Victoria Colliver,Quint Forgey,Meredith McGraw and Jake Sherman contributed to this report.
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