- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2020

A coronavirus-stricken cruise ship arrived in San Francisco Bay to quarantine passengers on land Monday, New York state made its own hand sanitizer, and Italy put the entire nation on lockdown as democracies waded into uncharted waters to control an outbreak nearing “pandemic” status.

The Grand Princess, which spent several days off the California coast with 3,500 people aboard, arrived at a port in Oakland around midday.

Health officials know about 21 cases of the coronavirus illness, or COVID-19, aboard the ship, but they may find far more as testing continues.

Sicker patients will be taken off first and treated at medical facilities, while California residents will be taken to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, according to Vice President Mike Pence. Naval Air Station Miramar near San Diego is a secondary option.

The rest will be flown to bases in Georgia and Texas. The United Kingdom and Canada have agreed to take their passengers on direct flights home.

Crew members will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which was linked to the novel coronavirus after a passenger who traveled to Mexico on an earlier trip died in California.

“The president made the priority to get the Americans ashore,” Mr. Pence said, although President Trump as recently as Friday said he would “rather have them stay on [the ship].”

The virus has infected more than 600 people in the U.S. and caused at least 25 deaths. Officials in the national epicenter of King County, Washington, reported three more deaths Monday.

Mr. Trump, citing his Jan. 31 decision to restrict travel from China, insisted that the situation is under control.

“We’ve never done that in our country before,” Mr. Trump said. “We would have a situation that would be a lot more dire.

“This blindsided the world, and I think we’ve done a very, very good job,” he added.

Yet the mounting case count and a fight over oil supply between Russia and Saudi Arabia as coronavirus fears reduce demand upended Wall Street, signaling a serious new phase in the economic shocks from the outbreak.

In Europe’s hardest-hit country, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended containment measures, including a ban on public gatherings, to the entire country. People must limit their travel to work and emergencies, and soccer matches and other sporting events will be suspended.

Officials imposed the rules on 16 million people in the hard-hit north over the weekend. Unlike China, the European nation is a democracy and it is not clear whether people will abide by the restrictions.

Italy has reported more than 9,000 cases, including over 460 deaths, making it among the hardest-hit countries outside of China alongside South Korea and Iran.

The coronavirus was discovered in China’s Hubei province in December. It has now infected more than 110,000 people and killed more than 4,000 worldwide.

“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said. “But it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled. The bottom line is, we’re not at the mercy of the virus.”

Washington, California and New York are the hardest-hit states in the U.S., although more than 30 others have reported cases.

In Maryland, which has six reported cases, Gov. Larry Hogan said he is suspending out-of-state travel for state employees and preparing employees for telework. The General Assembly passed a bill that allows the governor to spend $50 million from a reserve fund.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said anyone who attended Christ Church, Georgetown Episcopal, on Feb. 24 and Feb. 28 to March 3 should isolate themselves at home for 14 days because a rector had tested positive.

As cases encroached on the nation’s capital, the White House denied reports it is tightening its protocols.

“Reports that the White House has issued formal guidelines to staff instructing them to limit in-person interactions and meetings are completely false,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. “While we have asked all Americans to exercise common-sense hygiene measures, we are conducting business as usual. I want to remind the media once again to be responsible with all reporting.”

The virus roiled Capitol Hill, however. Several Republican lawmakers said they will remain at home after attending the Conservative Political Action Conference last month and coming into contact with a person who later tested positive.

Mr. Pence, who is leading the U.S. response, said he has not been tested for the coronavirus.

Mr. Trump hasn’t been tested either, because “he has neither had prolonged close contact with any known confirmed COVID-19 patients, nor does he have any symptoms,” Ms. Grisham said. “President Trump remains in excellent health, and his physician will continue to closely monitor him.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed that Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, who has been visiting transit sites such as airports, has tested positive.

“He’ll be working at home,” the governor said.

Mr. Cuomo also said the state will make its own line of hand sanitizer — “New York State Clean” — and provide it to government agencies, schools, prisons and transit authorities. It has 75% alcohol, comes in a variety of sizes and has a “very nice floral bouquet,” the governor said in a moment of levity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used a conference call Monday to focus on the most vulnerable to COVID-19, namely seniors and those with underlying health conditions.

Evidence suggests the risk of serious illness begins at 60 and increases with age. The highest risk is among people older than 80. Those with diabetes, heart disease or lung disease are also at higher risk.

Only 2% of cases of COVID-19 have been discovered in people younger than 19.

“This seems to be a disease that affects adults, and most seriously older adults,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top CDC official in charge of infectious diseases. “I really think it’s important for the American public to understand the risk.”

Officials have told vulnerable people to consider avoiding cruise ships and large crowds.

U.S. officials haven’t proposed the types of mandatory measures that communist China used to bring down the rate of new cases, though they frequently point to moves that barred some travelers from China and required screening of those from South Korea and Italy.

Democrats continued to slam Mr. Trump’s response. They pointed to a hiccup in rolling out an adequate test that would determine the number of cases in the U.S.

“Rather than spend the weekend in Washington to get a grip on the crisis, the president was once again golfing at Mar-a-Lago. I don’t want to guess at the number of times this president has criticized other presidents for doing the same thing,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “The federal government’s initial response to the coronavirus was slipshod at best. It has greatly hurt the country. And it falls at the feet of the president. The buck stops with him.”

Mr. Trump said he will be rolling out economic relief, especially for hourly workers, and his administration said it is cracking down on companies that take advantage of consumers during the outbreak.

The Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission sent warning letters Monday to seven companies for selling products that claim to cure, treat or prevent COVID-19.

“There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said. “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims.”

He said the government is ready to take enforcement actions against companies that “continue to market this type of scam.”

Attorney General William P. Barr said the Justice Department will aggressively prosecute anyone who increases the prices for sterile gloves, face masks or other health essentials in short supply because of the coronavirus outbreak.

People or companies that take advantage of the outbreak by colluding with competitors to rig bids or fix prices could face criminal charges, the Justice Department said in a statement.

“The Department of Justice stands ready to make sure that bad actors do not take advantage of emergency response efforts, health care providers or the American people during this crucial time,” Mr. Barr said. “I’m committed to ensuring the department’s resources are available to combat any wrongdoing and protect the public.”

The department’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force, which coordinates its response to antitrust crimes, is on high alert for potential price gouging.

A lobbying group representing some of America’s best-known consumer products sent the Justice Department a letter requesting aggressive action in the wake of surging demand for public health products.

The Consumer Brands Association — which includes Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-Cola, General Mills and Clorox — warned that prices for personal health products could increase.

“If price gouging continues over the coming months, more and more Americans will become unwilling and/or unable to pay excessive prices for these products,” wrote Bryan Zumwalt, the group’s executive director. “This will decrease the likelihood that individuals will take recommended and necessary preventive actions.

“It is vital that DOJ notify the public that it will work with state and local law enforcement partners to prosecute sellers who engage in this illegal activity,” he said.

• Jeff Murdock contributed to this report.

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