As the number of new coronavirus cases topped 500 in the United States as of Monday morning, U.S. officials raised the possibility of regional lockdowns to contain the virus, and the Trump administration issued new guidance recommending that older Americans and those with underlying health conditions avoid crowded places and non-essential travel—particularly on cruise ships.
Epidemic sparks economic turmoil, strict containment measures
Reports of the new coronavirus first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China. As of Monday, officials reported more than 110,200 cases of the virus globally. Officials said as of Monday there had been at least 3,835 deaths linked to the virus, and all but 716 occurred in mainland China.
In China, the number of newly reported cases of from the disease the new coronavirus causes, called COVID-19, has slowed. Chinese officials on Monday reported a total of 40 new cases of the virus, which is the lowest number of new cases the country has reported since officials first started releasing such data on Jan. 20, Reuters reports.
But the number of newly reported cases of COVID-19 outside of China has tripled over the past week, causing some countries to implement harsher containment measures. For instance, Italy—which has reported more than 7,350 cases of COVID-19 and more than 360 related deaths—has implemented strict travel restrictions in much of the northern part of the country, including the cities of Milan and Venice, essentially quarantining nearly 17 million people in the affected areas.
In France, the country's health minister announced a prohibition on gatherings of more than 1,000 people.
The increase in global COVID-19 cases and resulting travel restrictions spurred continued financial turmoil in the global economy. According to the New York Times, oil markets crashed over the weekend and "major stock benchmarks" in Europe were down more than 7% as of Monday. In the United States, the S&P 500 opened down nearly 7% on Monday, triggering a halt in trading for 15 minutes.
US case count surpasses 500
State and federal officials as of Monday morning reported 545 confirmed or presumed positive cases of COVID-19 in the United States, up from 231 on Friday. So far, 22 U.S. deaths have been linked to the virus.
CDC as of Saturday said 49 of the cases involved Americans who contracted the virus elsewhere and then repatriated to the United States, 36 cases involved patients who contracted the virus while traveling abroad and were diagnosed after returning to the United States, and 18 cases involved patients who contracted the virus via human-to-human transmission in the United States. CDC said 110 cases were under investigation.
Officials say US should prepare for more cases
Federal officials on Sunday said the United States likely will see more cases of COVID-19.
HHS on Sunday announced that thousands of passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which authorities have been holding off the coast of San Francisco because of a COVID-19 outbreak aboard the ship, will enter the United States on Monday when the ship docks in the Port of Oakland. According to the Wall Street Journal, at least 21 people aboard the ship have tested positive for the virus.
HHS said it would transport the ship's American passengers to military bases for a mandatory 14-day quarantine, while passengers from other countries will return their countries. HHS in a statement said, "Nearly 1,000 passengers who are California residents will complete the mandatory quarantine at Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Naval Air Station, and residents of other states will complete the mandatory quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia."
In addition, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said about 1,100 of the ship's crew members, including 19 who have tested positive for the virus, will be quarantined and treated on the ship, which will dock elsewhere. "That ship will turn around—and they are currently assessing appropriate places to bring that quarantined ship—but it will not be here in the San Francisco Bay," Newsom said.
Further, the United States likely will see more diagnosed cases of COVID-19 as testing for the condition expands after the federal government last week lifted restrictions on testing patients for the new coronavirus. Vice President Pence last week said HHS designated a lab test for the new coronavirus as an essential health benefit, meaning the test will be covered by private health plans in accordance with the Affordable Care Act, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. CMS on Friday issued a new frequently asked questions and answers document for Medicare providers on how to get reimbursed for the tests and other services related to treating COVID-19.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams during an appearance Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" said federal officials now are looking beyond containing the new coronavirus' spread and turning their focus to mitigating outbreaks of COVID-19 in the United States. "Initially, we had a posture of containment. … Now we're shifting into a mitigation phase, which means that we're helping communities understand, you're going to see more cases. Unfortunately, you're going to see more deaths," he said.
US officials eye lockdowns, issue new travel guidance
Some local officials throughout the country already have taken steps to mitigate outbreaks.
For example, officials in San Francisco and Seattle have shut down schools because of students' possible exposure to the virus.
Adams said other communities should begin thinking about closing schools and cancelling large gatherings, if needed, and businesses should start preparing to allow employees to telework if necessary—like some companies have done in California and Washington.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during an appearance Sunday on "Fox News Sunday" said U.S. officials might implement regional lockdowns similar to Italy's if necessary. "I don't think it would be as draconian as 'nobody in and nobody out … But there'll be, if we continue to get cases … at the community level, there will be what we call mitigation," he said.
CDC on Sunday also issued new guidance recommending that older Americans and those with underlying health conditions avoid crowded places and non-essential travel, and the Department of State in an alert published Sunday advised all Americans against traveling on cruise ships. The department added that Americans in other countries should not rely on the United States to evacuate them if they are ordered into quarantine.
Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, during an appearance on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday similarly said individuals with underlying health conditions should "think very seriously about attending places where there are crowds," but he added that healthy Americans should continue their normal daily activities.
Adams said although the United States likely will see more cases of and deaths from COVID-19, "that doesn't mean that we should panic." He said Americans should do "the things that we know work for individuals to protect themselves," such as frequent handwashing and staying home when sick (New York Times, 3/9; Tahir/Ehley, Politico, 3/8; Lai et al., New York Times, 3/9; Woo et al., Reuters, 3/8; Koh Ping, Wall Street Journal, 3/9; Ansari et al., Wall Street Journal, 3/8; New York Times, 3/9; Brown, Axios, 3/9; Smith et al., New York Times, 3/9; CDC website, 3/7; CMS release, 3/6; Eligon et al., New York Times, 3/9; Rodriguez/Weber, Associated Press, 3/9; Weiland/Haberman, New York Times, 3/9; Klar, The Hill, 3/8).