- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2020

President Trump highlighted his efforts to seal off the U.S. from the coronavirus by huddling Wednesday with major airlines and musing that domestic tourism will offset losses from canceled flights.

“A lot of people are staying in our country and they’re shopping and using our hotels in our country, so from that standpoint, I think probably there’s a positive impact,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “But there’s also an impact on overseas travel, which will be fairly substantial.”

The visit from CEOs of American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and other carriers is part of the president’s push to show he is taking the outbreak of coronavirus seriously, as cases mount from coast to coast.

“Our airlines are going to play a key role, Mr. President, in preventing the spread of this disease,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the response to the virus.

Mr. Trump said, “You can say the borders are automatically shut down” due to fears of global transmission.

The president is banning foreign nationals who’ve been in China or Iran in the past 14 days and requiring South Korea and Italy to screen passengers for health problems before they head to the U.S.

“We are doing checks not only at the site of takeoff but the site of landing,” Mr. Trump said.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly and Alaska Airlines CEO Bradley D. Tilden both noted they’ve beefed up their cleaning procedures to ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

Mr. Trump got into the details, asking which types of fluids are being used to disinfect the planes.

The U.S. is monitoring well over 100 cases in 13 states, though nearly 50 of them were repatriated from China and Japan.

Washington State has been hit the hardest, with nine dead, though cases are popping up around the country.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced four new cases of the disease known as COVID-19, bringing the state total to six.

The virus spread from a 50-year-old attorney in Westchester County to his wife, son, daughter and a neighbor who drove the man to the hospital.

The patient’s son attends Yeshiva University and his 14-year-old daughter is enrolled in a school in the Bronx. The university canceled classes at its Washington Heights campus and the SAR Academy and High School voluntarily shut down Tuesday and Wednesday.

Also, New York is recalling about 300 students enrolled in the State University of New York and City University of New York systems and studying abroad in hard-hit countries China, Italy, Japan, Iran or South Korea. They will be quarantined for 14 days.

This week, the administration is racing to distribute test kits to all corners of the country after technical problems and stringent criteria allowed cases to go unchecked.

Administration officials late Tuesday said limits have been waived, so doctors can order up tests on anyone.

Anthony Fauci, director for infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said with the virus spreading in communities, it would be difficult to find hidden cases if the government required a nexus to travel or known cases.

“It’s almost inherently contradictory,” he told House appropriators on Wednesday. “Those have been lifted, the FDA has taken the constraints off and now we finally have companies that are going to be making many more tests.”

At the White House, Mr. Trump claimed the Obama administration made decisions that were “very detrimental to what we’re doing and we undid that decision a few days ago” to accelerate testing, though it was unclear what he meant or why his own action wasn’t taken sooner.

Mr. Pence said the change meant that “states now have the ability to conduct the coronavirus test.”

The coronavirus was discovered in China in December. It causes an illness that is mild in many people but can cause respiratory distress, organ failure and death, especially in older persons or those with preexisting medical conditions.

So far, the virus has infected more than 94,200 people around the globe and killed over 3,200, for a death rate of about 3.4%. However, public health systems differ from country to country and can make a big difference in chances of survival.

China’s reported about 80,000 cases, mainly at the outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei Province.

South Korea has recorded more than 5,600 cases, Italy has seen over 2,500 and Iran is approaching 3,000 cases, making them a trio of alarming hotspots around the globe.

Italy on Wednesday ordered schools to close nationwide through March 15 in a bid to prevent the virus’s spread.

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