- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Americans should postpone unnecessary surgeries because hospitals will need the beds, the U.S. coronavirus coordinator said Tuesday, as Amazon planned to limit its product line, the Outer Banks decided to reject visitors and major department stores closed their doors.

Deborah Birx, an HIV/AIDS expert tapped to organize President Trump‘s team, said ventilators and a hospital’s time and attention will be at a premium, so all need to do their part.

“If you’re a person with an elective surgery, you don’t want to go into a hospital right now,” she told reporters at a White House briefing. “There’s a lot of distraction. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of other things to save people’s lives.”

The administration also loosened Medicare rules so that seniors can see their doctors remotely, through telehealth, at no extra cost.

“They can talk to their doctor via Skype, and they don’t have to risk exposure to the virus,” said Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The moves are part of Mr. Trump‘s broader plea to Americans to stay home and avoid unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.

The U.S. case count rose to 5,900 and the death toll approached 100, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker on Tuesday. Yet testing is still ramping up, meaning the full extent of the domestic outbreak is unknown.

States, localities and businesses continued to close up shop or clamp down on public movements to keep people apart.

The United Auto Workers union pressured Ford, General Motors and Fiat-Chrysler to mimic their European counterparts and shut down their U.S. plants for two weeks to ensure the safety of employees. However the Big Three have remained reluctant to curtail production.

Macy’s said it would close its stores until March 31 and Nordstrom announced a two-week closure.

In North Carolina, tourists were banned from popular Outer Banks destinations such as Nags Head and Kitty Hawk.

As Capitol Hill negotiated ways to prop up workers and businesses, Mr. Trump said he is taking the outbreak very seriously, after suggesting in February that a set of 15 domestic cases “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

“This a pandemic. I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday. “All you had to do was look at other countries.”

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, France and Spain have locked down their populations, except for trips for essential supplies.

Mr. Trump hasn’t gone that far, but he reminded Americans on Tuesday to avoid unnecessary travel and groups of 10 or more for the next two weeks.

“We’ll see what happens after that,” he said. “Our country can be rolling again pretty quickly.”

Mr. Trump said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on standby in case they need to conduct emergency construction.

Those operations could include renovations to expand and retrofit existing facilities or the construction of small field hospitals, or MASH units, to deliver care.

Officials also said mobile testing units are “blossoming” across the country and that states are authorized to approve tests created by the private sector.

Vice President Mike Pence said that as more diagnostics come online, every American must act on Mr. Trump‘s push for “social distancing.”

“You don’t need the results of testing to know what you should do,” Mr. Pence said.

Mr. Trump wants people to use takeout and drive-thru services instead of entering bars and restaurants, saying it’s another way to put the nation closer to victory against the pathogen.

The White House said executives representing Chick-fil-A, Olive Garden, McDonald’s and other restaurants agreed to emphasize those options Tuesday in a phone call with the president.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said many eateries use apps that allow for home delivery or quick handoffs.

“You can order ahead of time,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “They can give it to you with social distancing, and it’s very fast.”

The National Institutes of Health published research suggesting the coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces for some time, including up to four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard and two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

Officials made direct appeals to millennials to avoid partying even if they feel invulnerable, saying they might spread the virus to vulnerable groups on doorknobs and countertops.

“We can’t do this without the young people cooperating,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Amazon, meanwhile, said it is suspending shipments to its warehouses of items other than medical supplies or household staples so it can focus on stocking and delivering things that will be needed amid the outbreak.

Individual states continued to take action. The San Francisco area faces the most stringent lockdown, with 7 million residents told to limit outings to trips for supplies.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state has recorded over 1,300 cases, the most in the nation, though he rejected rumors that New York City would go into total quarantine.

“That is not true,” the Democrat said. “That cannot happen. It cannot happen legally. No city in [the] state can quarantine itself without state approval, and I have no interest whatsoever and no plan whatsoever to quarantine any city.”

Mr. Cuomo compared the situation to a tabletop snowglobe. “Somebody picked up our country and just shook it,” Mr. Cuomo said.

“It is a frightening time on every level. At the same time, it’s this much time,” the governor said, placing his hands slightly apart. “We will get through this much time. Understand what we’re dealing with, understand the pressures that we’re feeling — but we will get through this much time.”

Mr. Trump said he had a constructive conversation with Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday, despite warring tweets over the past two days.

“We’re both doing a really good job,” Mr. Trump said.

The president also deferred to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s judgment in closing the state’s primary polls Tuesday.

“He’s definitely somebody who knows what he’s doing,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump said the best thing the country can do to preserve future elections is to defeat the virus.

• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

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