Hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus a global pandemic, President Trump on Wednesday unveiled sweeping actions to control the virus' spread in the United States, including a 30-day ban on most travelers from Europe.
About the global pandemic
Reports of the new coronavirus first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China. As of Thursday morning, officials reported more than 127,800 cases of COVID-19 globally. Officials said as of Thursday morning there had been at least 4,718 deaths linked to the new coronavirus, and all but 1,546 occurred in mainland China.
In China, the number of newly reported cases of COVID-19 has slowed, reaching new lows over the past week. However, the number of newly reported cases outside of China "has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled" over the past two weeks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The increase has caused some countries to implement strict containment measures. For example, Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday announced strict travel restrictions throughout the entire country, essentially locking down the country's 60 million residents. Italy as of Thursday morning reported 12,462 cases of COVID-19 and 827 related deaths—meaning Italy now has reported the most cases and deaths of any country outside of mainland China. According to the New York Times, China, India, Iran, Israel, and Japan also have imposed strict travel limits in an effort to curb the virus' spread.
The coronavirus' spread in America
In the United States, state and federal officials as of Thursday morning reported 1,289 confirmed or presumed positive cases of COVID-19, up from 231 on Friday. So far, 37 U.S. deaths have been linked to the new coronavirus.
CDC as of Wednesday said at least 75 of the cases stemmed from human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus in the United States. According to the Washington Post, many COVID-19 cases in the United States have occurred among Americans who contracted the virus while traveling abroad.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on Wednesday told lawmakers he expects the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States will continue to grow.
"How much worse we'll get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country," Fauci said. He added, "If we are complacent and don't do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up and be involved in many, many millions."
Similarly, Axios reports that Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, told staffers during a closed door meeting this week that he expects between 70 million and 150 million Americans, or about one-third of the country's population, could contract COVID-19. According to Axios, that projection "is in line with other projections from health experts."
Trump announces travel ban, other proposals to address pandemic
Wednesday night, Trump during a public address from the Oval Office announced that, starting at midnight on Friday and lasting for 30 days, the United States will not permit most travelers from Europe to enter the country. Trump said the new policy will not apply to travelers from the United Kingdom or Americans who receive "appropriate screenings," but he said the ban would "apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo" and "various other things as we get approval." Trump added, "Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing."
However, Trump and officials from his administration later clarified that the ban will not apply to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and will not apply to European goods. Trump in a tweet posted after his address wrote, "[T]rade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods."
According to the Times, the 30-day travel ban will apply to "foreigners who have been in the 26 countries that make up Europe's Schengen Area in the previous 14 days." The Associated Press reports that the Department of State after Trump's address also updated its travel guidance, warning Americans to "reconsider travel abroad."
Trump during his public address also highlighted efforts to address recent economic downturns in the United States linked to the pandemic. For instance, Trump called on Congress to approve legislation that would cut payroll taxes and direct the Small Business Administration to disperse low-interest loans to small businesses affected by the outbreak. Trump also directed the Department of the Treasury to defer up to $200 billion in tax payments without implementing penalties or charging interest for Americans and certain businesses affected by the new coronavirus. In addition, Trump vowed to provide aid to workers who are affected by the virus.
House Democrats unveil legislative package to address COVID-19
Following Trump's address, House Democrats unveiled a broad, multibillion-dollar legislative package intended to help Americans affected by the COVID-19 outbreak that includes measures that would ensure workers have access to paid family, medical, and sick leave. The package also would make testing for COVID-19 available nationwide at no cost to patients and includes measures intended to boost states' ability to provide unemployment and nutrition benefits.
The Democrat-controlled House is scheduled to vote on and likely approve the package on Thursday, but the Republican-controlled Senate likely will seek changes to the legislative package, the AP reports (Zezima et al., Washington Post, 3/11; New York Times, 3/12; Chappell, "Goats and Soda," NPR, 3/11; Baker, New York Times, 3/12; Smith et al, New York Times, 3/12; CDC website, 3/11; Chappell, "Shots," NPR, 3/11; Forgey et al., Politico, 3/11; Swan/Treene, Axios, 3/11; Alper/Bloom, Reuters, 3/11; Colvin et al., Associated Press, 3/12; Stolberg et al., New York Times, 3/11).