- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2020

President Trump implored Americans Monday to avoid groups of 10 or more and enjoy takeout instead of stepping foot in restaurants, bars and food courts for the next 15 days, as the U.S. tries to avoid the fate of China or Italy in the fight against the coronavirus.

His guidelines, which rely on public cooperation, say Americans should avoid discretionary travel and stay home if they are sick. Mr. Trump also wants everyone to learn or work at home, where possible, to disrupt chains of transmission.

“We’d much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it,” Mr. Trump said.

It’s a sudden shift in tone from Mr. Trump, who in late February predicted the U.S. would tackle all of its cases swiftly. He now says the outbreak may last well into the summer.

The White House guidelines are stiffer than ones the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released less than 24 hours earlier and come as governors and mayors enforce mandatory rules, such as shuttering schools, delaying primary voting and ordering restaurants, gyms and theaters to close outright.

San Francisco and six area counties took the most stringent measures to date, saying residents can only leave home for necessities for the next three weeks, starting Tuesday.

The lockdown applies to San Francisco, Marin, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties and the city of Berkeley.

The federal, state and local moves reflect a more urgent phase in the fight against the coronavirus that’s sickened more than 4,000 in the U.S. and killed over 70, although nationwide testing is just getting started.

The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It infected tens of thousands in the surrounding Hubei Province before the epidemic shifted to other nations. It’s now spreading on six continents, particularly Europe.

Authorities in Italy and Spain have locked down their entire populations, except for trips to work or grocery stores. France joined them on Monday.

“We are at war,” French President Emmanuel Macron told the nation.

Mr. Trump said he is not considering a nationwide lockdown because parts of the country aren’t seeing widespread transmission.

“At this point, they shouldn’t worry,” Mr. Trump said. “We may look at certain areas, certain hotspots. We’ll be looking at that.”

Mr. Trump said parts of New York, notably the suburb of New Rochelle, should be “tamped down even more” after Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, ordered a mile-wide lockdown in the town because of rapid transmission.

Earlier Monday, Mr. Cuomo suggested the administration was at fault for not being explicit about quarantine measures. He said a patchwork of state-by-state rules is unworkable.

“If the federal government isn’t going to do what it should do, then the states have to try their best,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference in Albany.

He also called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to step in and retrofit buildings like college dorms and surplus property to function as hospitals in his state.

He said there are 50,000 hospital beds and 3,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds in New York, and they might be overwhelmed.

“You look at any of these projections and you see that coming,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Mr. Trump said he told governors Monday to get things like ventilators through their own supply chains if they can get them faster than the federal government.

In some ways, the press conference marked a pivot for Mr. Trump, as he highlighted health measures and the virus itself, instead of the financial fallout and Wall Street.

He said markets would take care of themselves, and that airlines losing revenue would be taken care of at a later date.

“We have an invisible enemy, we have a problem a month ago nobody thought about,” Mr. Trump said. “This is a bad one. This is bad in the sense of it’s so contagious. Sort of record-setting type contagion. My focus is really on getting rid of this problem, this virus problem. Once we do that, everything will fall into place.”

Yet Mr. Trump continued to buck responsibility for hiccups in the response.

He said he’d rate his efforts “a 10,” though a lack of testing has been an embarrassing blind spot in the U.S. response. Administration officials said they are entering a “new phase” of testing that taps commercial labs and makes it more available, with some areas opening drive-through service.

The World Health Organization on Monday said testing is one of the most critical parts of the fight.

“The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate,” WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said. “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.”

The U.S. made progress in another critical area Monday — the race for a vaccine to the new coronavirus.

The National Institutes of Health said it administered an investigational vaccine to a person as it kickstarts a phase-one trial at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

Scientists plan to enroll 45 healthy adults ages 18 to 55 and try out various dosages of the vaccine, dubbed mRNA-1273.

It was developed by scientists at the infectious-disease arm of the National Institutes of Health and biotech company Moderna, Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with [the new coronavirus] is an urgent public health priority,” said Anthony S. Fauci, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “This Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal.”

The vaccine model uses what’s known as messenger RNA and has shown promise in animal studies, but hasn’t been used on humans. This trial will test various dosages of the investigation vaccine.

There is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19, and scientists say it could take a year to a year and a half before there is a shot for widespread use.

While the world waits for an antidote, officials are imploring Americans to disrupt the spread of the disease through “social distancing,” in which people stay home when possible or six feet apart in public.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine pushed to delay in-person voting from Tuesday to early June, saying it couldn’t in good conscience expose poll workers or invite crowds to its primary election.

“I’m making this recommendation because we must also look out for our poll workers,” the Republican tweeted. “I believe when we look back on this, we’ll be happy we did this. The votes that have already been cast will still be counted — and this recommendation would allow others to vote in the future.”

Governors across the northeast, meanwhile, decided to temporarily shutter bars, theaters and other public places late Monday, saying a lack of federal direction and public indifference to local transmission gave them no choice.

Mr. Hogan defended his sweeping measures, saying he couldn’t afford to wait.

“While these measures may seem extreme, if we do not take them now, it could be too late,” the governor said.

Cancellations also rolled across official Washington on Monday.

First lady Melania Trump said Monday she decided to scrap the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on April 13 out of an “abundance of caution.”

“The health and safety of all Americans must be the first priority, especially right now,” Mrs. Trump said. “I deeply regret this cancellation, but we need to make difficult decisions in the short-term to ensure a healthy country for the long-term.”

The Supreme Court announced Monday it would postpone its next sitting for oral arguments due to the COVID-19 spread, saying it would look at the calendar to reschedule at a later time.

The court was expected to hear cases from March 23 through April 1 but decided to put off the challenges for now.

“The Court will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances,” a spokesperson announced in a press release.

Some of the most eyed cases that were scheduled during that period were disputes over Congress’s authority to subpoena banking documents and other private financial records from Mr. Trump’s businesses, as well as a challenge over the validity of a subpoena out of New York to obtain the president’s tax returns.

The justices were also set to hear a case involving Google, which weighs the issue of copyright protection. There was also a First Amendment dispute scheduled to be argued involving employment discrimination cases brought against religious employers.

Moving the hearings is quite rare, though it has happened in the past.

The court postponed arguments in 1918 during the Spanish flu epidemic. The press release also noted calendars at the court were changed in August 1793 and in 1798 over yellow fever.

• Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.

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