- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2020

U.S. stocks tumbled yet again Friday as coronavirus fears persisted, capping the worst week on Wall Street since the financial crisis over a decade ago.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 350 points, or 1.39%, while the S&P500 dropped 0.8% and the NASDAQ finished about flat as the week’s selloff frenzy continued.

Things could have been worse Friday, though stocks rebounded a bit after Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell said the Fed would act “as appropriate” to help the economy amid the outbreak.

President Trump said that would be a good idea.

“I hope the Fed gets involved and I hope it gets involved soon,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he left for a rally in South Carolina.

Mr. Trump said American patients are recovering “rapidly” and took credit for preventing widespread infections by restricting travel from China.

“There have been no deaths in the United States at all,” Mr. Trump said. “A lot of that’s attributable to the fact that we closed the border very early. Otherwise, it could be a different story.”

The president said he’s looking at “a couple” of countries that have a disproportionately high number of cases and whether they should face restrictions.

“We’re going to make that decision very soon,” Mr. Trump said.

Investors, however, are worried about the virus’ spread in places beyond China and what it means for the global economy and supply chain.

They don’t appear to be listening to White House aides like Larry Kudlow, who earlier Friday said the markets had “gone too far.”

“I just think everybody, whether you’re an investor or whether you’re an ordinary mainstream person, people should not overreact,” Mr. Kudlow, who serves as President Trump’s chief economic adviser, told reporters.

He said the administration has taken “unprecedented actions to thwart an emergency or “further deterioration.”

China has reported nearly 79,000 cases, including almost 2,800 deaths from the virus that began in Hubei Province in December.

Outside of China, 49 countries have reported over 4,300 cases and 67 deaths.

Cases in South Korea surged to over 2,300 and Italy is up to nearly 900.

Denmark, Estonia, New Zealand, Nigeria and Romania reported their first cases Friday, underscoring the reach of the virus that causes an illness known as COVID-19.

As a result, the World Health Organization on Friday elevated its risk assessment on the virus’ spread to “very high” across the globe.

“This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready,” said Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s emergencies program. “This virus may be on its way, and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready.”

The U.S. has seen 62 cases on its soil — 47 of them were repatriated from China and Japan, while 14 were discovered among known travelers or their spouses in America.

It’s unclear how another patient, a woman hospitalized California, contracted the disease.

Federal and state officials say it appears to be the first instance in which the virus spread within a U.S. community.

“We don’t know how or why this person became infected,” said Nancy Messonnier, a top CDC official with expertise in infectious diseases.

CDC’s investigators are trying to track down answers, and “we expect that we will find additional people who did have contact with this patient,” adding Dr. Messonnier.

She said family members or health workers who cared for her would be of particular concern.

CDC also said it is trying to streamline its testing. States, for instance, may test directly instead of funneling efforts through federal labs.

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who is now leading the response, have tried to calm jitters by pointing to the relatively low numbers of cases and success of early efforts to restrict travel from China.

Mr. Kudlow downplayed reports that all communication on the disease must be funneled through Mr. Pence, saying the vice president is just trying to coordinate things.

“No one’s being stifled. No one’s being told what to say,” Mr. Kudlow said. “There’s a big difference between stifling and coordinating.”

The White House told Democrats this week to resist political gamesmanship as Congress mulls a multibillion-dollar package to deal with the virus.

Yet Democrats have questioned whether Mr. Trump and his team are up to the task.

Two senior Democrats asked Health Secretary Alex Azar on Friday to explain what happened in the lead-up to flights that brought over 300 Americans to California from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan.

The formerly quarantined ship was battered by COVID-19 infections, and over a dozen Americans tested positive as they were set to board State Department planes.

Members of the administration reportedly overruled experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who said the infected passengers should remain in Japan. The infected passengers were segregated into a separate part of the plane.

“We are concerned the expertise of public health officials may not have been given necessary and appropriate weight, resulting in the potential exposure of uninfected passengers to this highly contagious disease,” Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Gary Peters of Michigan said in a letter to Mr. Azar. “We therefore seek your assurance that public health considerations are driving decision-making around the response to COVID-19 and to understand how disputes within your department and between your department and other departments are being resolved.”

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