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Trump reaches aid deal with Democrats as cases mount

Here are the latest updates from around the world.
Image: Servpro workers file in to begin a third day of cleaning at Life Care Center of Kirkland
Servpro workers begin a third day of cleaning Friday at Life Care Center of Kirkland, Wash., a long-term care facility linked to several confirmed coronavirus cases. Lindsey Wasson / Reuters

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, the most significant move yet by the U.S. government to head off the coronavirus outbreak, and House Democrats and the White House later reached a deal on an aid package.

Trump's declaration came as many public and private institutions have taken action — including canceling major events, temporarily banning large gatherings, closing schools and telling people to work from home — in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled, soared, and then closed with a gain of 1,900 points after the emergency declaration. Wall Street had reeled Thursday afternoon after coronavirus fears drove the markets to their worst day since the Black Monday crash in 1987.

The United States as of Friday afternoon had surpassed 2,000 confirmed or presumptive cases of the coronavirus, and the death toll climbed to 41.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

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Apple closing all stores outside China

Apple is closing all its retail stores outside China until March 27 in order to protect workers and help stop the spread of the coronavirus illness COVID-19, the company announced early Saturday. The company is also committing $15 million to help with the worldwide response to the crisis, CEO Tim Cook said. 

Apple’s stores in China have already re-opened. The company said it learned lessons about best practices and the situation in China, which is where the coronavirus outbreak began.

“One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimize risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance,” Apple said.

"All of our hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operations," Apple said.

Montana has first presumptive cases

Four people in Montana have presumptively tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the governor said Friday.

The four people – three men and a woman, in Gallatin, Yellowstone, Silver Bow, and Lewis and Clark counties – appear to be the first reported within the state. They were described as being in their 40s and 50s.

Montana’s health department previously said that a Montana resident had tested positive but that the patient got the coronavirus illness COVID-19 out of state and has not yet returned.

Tests are considered presumptively positive until they are confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Montana's cases mean that 49 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, have reported confirmed or presumptively positive cases, according to an NBC News count of reports. As of Friday, West Virginia's health department has not reported any positive cases, but said tests were pending for five people.

President's doctor says Trump doesn't need to be tested

The president does not need to take a test to determine if he's positive for coronavirus because two interactions he had with known patients were "low risk," a White House doctor said in a memo released Friday.

The memo was made public hours after Trump said he would be tested.

"Not for that reason, but because I think I will do it anyway," the president said Friday when asked about his interaction at his Mar-a-Lago resort last weekend with an aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Fabio Wajngarten, who turned up positive.

Physician to the president, Sean P. Conley, argued that because Trump's interaction was minimal, including a handshake, and because Wajngarten and another patient were not exhibiting symptoms at the time they socialized with the president, Trump's unlikely to get the virus.

Read more here. 

Pentagon halts all domestic travel starting Monday

In response to the global coronavirus pandemic, the Pentagon is imposing new travel restrictions on employees, including service members and their families. The limits will start Monday, the Department of Defense announced Friday night.

All domestic travel will be stopped as of next week. This includes domestic travel, permanent change of station and temporary duty. Civilian hiring at Department of Defense installations will also be halted.

Read more here.

Roundup of coronavirus coverage

They survived the coronavirus. Then they tested positive again. Why? [The Los Angeles Times]

Why do we touch strangers so much? A history of the handshake offers clues [National Geographic]

Las Vegas books scramble for content day after sports stopped [Las Vegas Review-Journal]

Social distancing: This is not a snow day [Medium]

Everybody ready for the big migration to online college? Actually, no [The New York Times]

The coronavirus is creating a huge, stressful experiment in working from home [The Atlantic]

Denver moves to limit police contact with public

Denver police will limit contact with the public when possible in order to limit the spread of coronavirus, the mayor announced Friday.

Mayor Michael Hancock said residents with low-level complaints would be directed to make them online or over the phone "to further reduce person-to-person interactions." 

 "To be clear, this change will not impact the dispatching of officers to high-priority emergency incidents," he said.

In a statement, the city said low-priority reports could include a property crime that previously occurred, theft, vandalism, lost property or identity theft. It said the policy would begin "immediately on a small scale."

D.C. Metro reduces subway, bus service starting Monday

D.C. Metro announced Friday that services on subway and bus lines will be reduced to weekend schedules to help slow the spread of coronavirus starting Monday. 

Trains will run every 12 minutes Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, trains will run every 15 minutes.

Click here for more details.

NCAA to extend eligibility of spring sports athletes

The Associated Press

The NCAA is planning to extend the eligibility of athletes on spring sports teams by one year to make up for the season lost to the new coronavirus.

The details of how the extra eligibility will work are being ironed out.

All three NCAA divisions would potentially allow another year for athletes in the 14 spring sports, which include baseball, softball, lacrosse and golf. The decision comes after the NCAA announced Thursday that its winter and spring championships would be canceled as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

Some, but not all, conferences have announced that their spring sports teams would not continue their regular seasons.

Sixth death reported in California

Santa Clara County, California, health officials on Friday announced a second death from the coronavirus illness COVID-19, bringing the state's death toll to six. 

Nationwide, there have been at least 50 deaths, according to an NBC News count of official reports.

The latest Santa Clara County death was a woman in her 80s who was hospitalized Monday, the county health department said.

Santa Clara County has had at least 79 cases of coronavirus as of Friday afternoon. The county’s health department on Monday announced the first COVID-19 death in the county, an adult woman in her 60s who had been hospitalized for several weeks. 

Puerto Rico confirms island's first cases

Puerto Rico announced its first three cases of coronavirus, including a 68-year-old woman and her 70-year-old husband. 

A 71-year-old man not related to the couple also tested positive for COVID-19. 

Biden shows no symptoms, hasn’t been tested

 Joe Biden will not be tested for COVID-19 as he is not showing any symptoms, according to a statement by his presidential campaign team. 

"Biden has no fever, no cough, no shortness of breath or other symptoms consistent with coronavirus, and the campaign has not been informed of or become aware of any relevant contact with an individual who has tested positive," the campaign said in a statement.

The former vice president will continue to campaign and follow safety and health recommendations from public officials.

Washington Monument to close

One of D.C.'s most popular attractions is closing starting Saturday.

Elevator access to the Washington Monument will no longer be available as of March 14. Visitors can continue to walk through the grounds, according to the National Park Service.

HBO, Netflix, Disney pause productions on several shows, movies

HBO, Netflix and Disney announced Friday that production will pause on several shows and films starting next week.

A spokesperson for Netflix said all scripted TV and movie production in the U.S. and Canada will be postponed for two weeks to comply with travel and other coronavirus-related restrictions imposed by the two countries.

HBO Max, the new streaming services offered by HBO, announced that its show "Full Frontal with Samatha Bee" will go on hiatus next week. The decision to halt production came after HBO learned that the CBS production office where Bee tapes her show had been compromised. Last week, two CBS employees tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Disney, meanwhile, is hitting the pause button on the "Tamron Hall Show" beginning Monday. 

New Zealand ceremony marking 2019 mosque attack canceled

A national remembrance service planned for Sunday to mark the anniversary of an attack on two mosques that killed 51 people has been canceled over fears of the spread of coronavirus, the Christchurch City Council said in a statement.

The March 15, 2019, attack was carried out by a white supremacist who has been charged with terrorism, murder and attempted murder counts. 

“Tomorrow, we can still reflect on the incredible ways the community came together in response to the events of that tragic day, and think of ways that we can build on the compassion and unity that was so poignantly shown in our city, across the country and throughout the world,” Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said in a statement Saturday local time.

New Zealand has five confirmed coronavirus cases and two probable cases, according to the Ministry of Health

NBA players pitch in to help sport's hourly workers

Ahiza García-Hodges

NBA players are helping the hourly workers who work in arenas that host pro basketball.

An outpouring of donations has come after games were suspended for at least 30 days when two players tested positive for the coronavirus.

Among a growing list of players who have already pledged donations are the Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love, Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans, the Detroit Pistons' Blake Griffin and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.

In an Instagram post on Thursday, Love said he was donating $100,000 to help "arena and support staff that had a sudden life shift due to the suspension of the NBA season."

Read more here.

Patagonia shutting down operations, will continue to pay employees

Outdoor outfitter Patagonia announced Friday that all stores, offices and other operations will shut down temporarily starting Friday. 

Employees will continue to receive their regular paychecks during this break. The company will reassess and post an update on March 27, according to a statement by CEO and president Rose Marcario.

"Over the years, as our Patagonia community has been faced with challenges, I have always been inspired by how we emerge stronger and with an even deeper sense of purpose. We will persevere through this challenge, too,"  Marcario said.

Instagram posts spread conspiracy theory about Bill Gates

A video touting an unfounded conspiracy theory that Bill Gates is behind the coronavirus outbreak has gone viral on Instagram with the help of the accounts of celebrities such as Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and Derrick Lewis, a mixed martial artist.

The video has been viewed more than 2.2 million times, according to data from social media analyst CrowdTangle. It was reposted by 20 verified Instagram users, and more than 50 other users.

"Bill Gates either predicted or planned the coronavirus outbreak," text on the video reads.

An Instagram spokesperson said the videos had been sent to its fact-checking partners for review.

Read the full story here.

Boston public schools to close until late April

NBC News

Boston public school will close starting Tuesday until April 27. School will be in session Monday, according to the school district.

Yelp reports rise in searches for delivery versus eating out

People searching for food on Yelp are turning more of their attention to delivery, in another sign of Americans taking up social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The search app has been tracking a number it calls the dine in/out ratio: the number of U.S. restaurant searches seeking delivery availability against the number seeking reservations or wait lists. Yelp doesn’t release the exact ratio, but Yelp Data Science Editor Carl Bialik said that the ratio was up 7.7 percent Thursday from a day before and up 31.1 percent since March 1. 

The ratio has risen for 11 consecutive days, Bialik said in an email. “It’s higher than at any time this past winter, including much colder periods.”

Reservation app OpenTable said it was seeing a 30 percent drop-off in total seated U.S. diners from a year earlier, with the decline as high as 45 percent in Seattle.

Opinion | Coronavirus is killing the campaign rally. Here's why that helps Biden.

Steve Rabinowitz

You know it’s bad when President Donald Trump is canceling campaign rallies. The massive gatherings of loyal devotees are events he feeds off and are central to his re-election strategy: Whip up the base to make sure they vote and get as much free media attention as possible while doing it.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., takes a similar approach to rallying the masses, even turning his large crowds into rock concerts to jack up the energy and attract new eyeballs. He purports to be leading a revolution, after all, so he needs to use the power of his personality and bully pulpit to realize that.

Sanders purports to be leading a revolution, after all, so he needs to use the power of his personality and bully pulpit to realize that.

Which means that both Trump and Sanders stand to lose much more by the coronavirus shutting down large public campaign activities than their shared opponent, Joe Biden. The former vice president is more comfortable with a teleprompter than speaking extemporaneously; his trademark is an avuncular one-on-one connection with voters rather than issuing a rabble-rousing call to arms in a cavernous arena.

Read more here.

Cruise lines suspend voyages

President Trump tweeted Friday evening that Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC Cruises agreed to suspend outbound cruises for 30 days at his request. All of these companies had already announced suspended voyages earlier in the day.

The country’s biggest cruise companies announced a spate of suspensions throughout Friday afternoon. Royal Caribbean said it will halt all U.S. voyages for 30 days beginning Saturday. Carnival Corporation said it will stop dozens of voyages, and its subsidiary Princess Cruises will suspend its cruises through April 30. Norwegian said it suspended its ships until April 11. MSC Cruises canceled all its U.S. cruises through April 30.

Idaho reports state's first patient

Idaho officials Friday announced the state's first case of coronavirus.

The patient, a woman older than 50, recently returned to the southwestern part of the state after traveling to New York City for a conference, where three people reported they were positive for the virus, said state health administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch.

"Fortunately this individual is doing well," she said. "They’re at home. They’re recovering from mild symptoms that did not require hospitalization."

Earlier in the day, the governor signed a "proactive emergency declaration." 

Utah public schools close for 2 weeks

All Utah public schools will close for a two-week period starting Friday. After that time, the state will reassess conditions and decide whether students can return to the classroom.

Researchers: Blood of recovered patients could be used in treatment

A pair of Johns Hopkins University researchers says harvesting virus-fighting antibodies from the blood of previously infected patients could help some of those suffering from COVID-19.

The method of using "convalescent serum" dates back more than a century but has not been used widely in the United States in decades.

In a paper published Friday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Drs. Arturo Casadevall and Liise-anne Pirofski argued that collecting blood serum or plasma from previously infected people might be the best hope for treating severe cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, in the absence of vaccines or antiviral drugs.

Read the full story.

House Democrats and White House reach deal on coronavirus aid package

+2

Alex Moe

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Dartunorro Clark

Alex Moe, Rebecca Shabad and Dartunorro Clark

House Democrats and Trump administration have reached a deal on a coronavirus aid package that includes free testing, paid emergency leave and other resources intended to help stem the crisis and stabilize the financial markets, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday.

Pelosi said earlier the House is expected to vote on the bill Friday, which would send it to the Senate for a vote as early as Monday.

The deal was struck after numerous conversations over the last two days between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing,” Pelosi said Friday outside the speaker’s balcony on Capitol Hill.

Read what's in the deal.

Italians break into song during quarantine in moving video

Alexander Kacala

As Italy enters its first weekend under a countrywide lockdown, residents in the city of Siena found a new way to connect with one another: through song. 

In a Twitter video that already has more than 1.5 million views, Italians singing from their balconies in unison. “E mentre Siena dorme” (“And While Siena Sleeps”), is a traditional folk song for the people of Siena, usually sung to show local pride. 

"In Siena, the city to which I am very attached, you stay at home but you sing together as if you were on the street," wrote one of the Twitter users who shared the video. "I was moved."

The Bureau of Prisons is suspending inmate visits at all federal correctional facilities

The Bureau of Prisons is suspending inmate visits at all 122 federal correctional facilities for at least 30 days, the agency announced Friday.

The directive applies to friends and family members of prisoners, as well as lawyers. But exceptions will be made to attorneys on a case-by-case basis, the agency said.

The move is the most dramatic yet taken by the federal prison system to combat the spread of the coronavirus. 

Several state correctional departments announced on Thursday a suspension of inmate visits. The nation’s prisons and jails are especially vulnerable to outbreaks, experts say, due to the close confinement of inmates and often grimy conditions.

Senator tweets letter he sent Trump about pandemic team more than 600 days ago

Trump says he will probably get tested soon for the coronavirus

President Donald Trump said Friday that he would "most likely" get tested for coronavirus but denied it was because he interacted with a man who later tested positive.

Trump was asked about the testing issue in the White House Rose Garden, where he declared a national emergency.

"Not for that reason, but because I think I will do it anyway," Trump said, when questioned by a reporter about standing next to an aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at his Mar-a-Lago resort last weekend. Later, the aide, Fabio Wajngarten — who is seen in photos with Trump on social media — tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Read the full story here.

'I didn't do it': Trump claims no knowledge of White House pandemic unit's disbanding

President Donald Trump said Friday that he did not know anything about the elimination of jobs addressing global pandemics at the White House National Security Council.

Veterans of past disease outbreaks have said the downsizing of staff at the NSC's Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense — a unit sometimes referred to as the White House pandemic office — in 2018 was likely to hamper the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus.

"I didn't do it," Trump said when asked about the unit at a news conference to announce a national emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus outbreak. "We have group of people. I could ask perhaps — my administration — but I could perhaps ask Tony [Fauci] about that because I don't know anything about it." He added, "It's the administration, perhaps they do that. You know, people let people go." 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stood alongside Trump and other administration and business officials during the new conference. Fauci commented at a House hearing this week on the scrapping of the NSC unit, saying, "We worked very well with that office. It would be nice if the office was still there."

University of Texas president in isolation after wife tests positive

The president of the University of Texas' main campus said Friday he was in isolation after his wife tested positive for coronavirus.

Gregory L. Fenves said in a statement that the Austin, Texas, institution was closed and classes have been canceled after the first case of the virus was reported in "our UT community."

"It is difficult for me to write this because the person who tested positive is my wife Carmel," he said. "And a second member of my family (who works at UT) is presumed to have COVID-19 as well. I have now been tested for the virus, and the three of us are in self-isolation."

Fenves said he and his wife recently traveled to New York City for alumni and student events and returned Saturday.

Boston archdiocese suspends Catholic masses

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, suspended all weekend masses in the city until further notice. 

The directive is effective as of 4 p.m. Saturday and applies to all archdiocesan parishes, missions and campus ministries.

Baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals will be allowed to go on as planned with attendance limited to only immediate family, according to the Archdiocese of Boston.

People are encouraged to participate in daily mass via broadcast using the Catholic TV channel. Click here for more details.

Europe now 'the epicenter of the pandemic,' WHO says

More coronavirus cases are reported each day outside of China than China reported at the peak of its epidemic, the World Health Organization said Friday.

"Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said during a media briefing.

Read more here.

Washington's statewide school closures extended until end of April

NBC News

 

Colorado announces first death

Colorado announced its first coronavirus death on Friday, bringing the national death toll to 43.

The patient was a woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions who lived in El Paso County.

The state now has 72 cases. 

Movie theaters remain open, but AMC cuts capacity

Associated Press

With few exceptions, movie theaters across North America are remaining open while Broadway theaters, sports arenas and museums close their doors to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

While Hollywood studios have canceled most upcoming films, this weekend is going forward with a slate of new releases and holdovers. The largest chains, AMC, Regal and Cinemark, are all operating, though some theaters are taking extra precautions.

AMC Theaters announced Friday that it would cut audience capacity by 50 percent starting Saturday through April 30. The chain based in Leawood, Kansas, said it would do so by capping ticket sales.

It also said it would limit its larger theaters to a maximum of 250 people. "AMC is taking aggressive, nationwide steps to provide additional space between guests within all its U.S. theatres," the company said in a statement.

Alabama records its first patient, a resident who traveled out-of-state

Alabama officials Friday announced the state's first coronavirus case.

A Montgomery County resident tested by the state Bureau of Clinical Laboratories was positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, the state Department of Public Health said in a statement.

The patient, who had traveled outside the state recently, was in isolation, officials said.

"Health officials urge anyone experiencing symptoms to first notify their healthcare provider so that proper precautions can be taken," the department said.

Handshakes optional at the White House

Image: Donald Trump
Bruce Greenstein of LHC Group, a home health care services company, bumps elbows with President Donald Trump during a news conference about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden at the White House on Friday. Trump shook hands with several business leaders as he introduced them at the lectern — a breach of best practices recommended by public health experts across the U.S.Evan Vucci / AP

U.S. cases surpass 2,000

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 Friday, a twofold increase since Tuesday.

The majority of the cases are in four states: California (247), Massachusetts (123), New York (421) and Washington (457).

There have been 42 deaths.

Trump says he doesn't support House Democrats' aid package

Dartunorro Clark

Dartunorro Clark and Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump said Friday that he does not support the House Democrats' coronavirus aid legislation. 

"We're negotiating," the president said during Rose Garden remarks to announce he was declaring a national emergency. "We thought we had something, but all of a sudden they didn't agree to certain things they agreed to. So, we could have something, but we don't think they're giving enough. They're not doing what's right for the country."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on a call with his members on Friday that the chamber's Republicans also don't support the Democrats' legislation in its current form. Provisions in the bill on paid family and sick leave, as well as abortion, have been sticking points during the negotiations.

Read the full story here.

Norwegian Cruise Line suspends all voyages through April 11

Norwegian Cruise Line announced Friday it is suspending all cruise voyages embarking through April 11 across its three cruise brands to help contain the spread of coronavirus. The company has not experienced any confirmed cases of the novel virus.

Norwegian also saw its stocks briefly halted Friday afternoon after shareholders announced a class action lawsuit alleging the company misled travelers with false information about the novel coronavirus that endangered their lives. 

The complaint alleged the company downplayed the severity of the virus and assured potential travelers that the virus’ danger was exaggerated. The lawsuit claims shareholders lost more than $100,000 as a result of these misleading statements.

Wyoming, Iowa parties reconsider their caucuses

Wyoming Democrats are suspending the in-person portion of their April 4 caucus as well as their county conventions to prevent the spread of pandemic, state party chair Joe Barbuto announced in a statement Friday. Voters are instead encouraged to cast their caucus vote by mail. 

In Iowa, the parties are divided: state Democrats said they were postponing their March 21 county conventions, while Republicans said they would continue with theirs, scheduled for Saturday.

“In the event IDPH modifies its guidance for public gatherings, we will make necessary changes,” the state Republican Party said in a release, urging anyone who feels unwell to stay home.

 

 

Empty shelves in Virginia

Empty shelves normally stocked with hand wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper at a Target store in Arlington, Va.
Empty shelves normally stocked with hand wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper at a Target store in Arlington, Va. on Friday.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Trump declares national emergency, authorizes waiving laws and regulations

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday to help the country combat the rapidly spreading coronavirus — a move he said will empower his administration to waive certain laws and regulations and will free up to $50 billion to help fight the pandemic.

"To unleash the full power of the federal government … I am officially declaring a national emergency," Trump said in a nationally televised address from the White House Rose Garden. Trump said the action would "open up access" to up to $50 billion "for states and territories and localities in our shared fight against this disease."

He also said he was ordering every state to set up emergency operation centers to help stem the spread of the disease, and announced that he was empowering the secretary of Health and Human Services to waive certain laws and regulations to ensure the virus can be contained and patients treated. The president said that could allow for easier admission to nursing homes and end limits on the length of hospital stays and the number of beds available. He also said there were plans to allow "drive-through" virus tests.

Read the full story here.

Dow tumbles, soars as President Trump declares a national emergency

Wall Street tumbled and then soared Friday afternoon as President Donald Trump announced he was declaring a national emergency and implementing a series of "decisive" measures to address the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had surged by around 1,200 points earlier in the day, sank by around 500 points as the president addressed the nation from the White House Rose Garden, flanked by health officials and members of the coronavirus task force.

The blue-chip index then soared to a gain of more than 1,000 points as key details of the White House response were revealed, including a close collaboration with companies such as Walmart, Target, and Google.

Missouri to declare state of emergency

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was expected to declare a state of emergency over coronavirus Friday.

The governor has scheduled a 5 p.m. news conference to make the announcement.

Missouri will become the 33rd state to declare an emergency over the virus. 

St. Louis County declared a state of emergency Friday. The declaration prohibits gatherings of more than 250 people, with the exception of schools and religious institutions.

Cities turn to a new model of coronavirus testing: Drive-throughs

New York state opened its first drive-through coronavirus test site Friday in New Rochelle, the city that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said has the biggest cluster of coronavirus cases in the country.

With 158 cases in Westchester County, many of them in New Rochelle, the city has become a hot spot not just for the outbreak but also for unique ways to track and minimize the spread of the virus. Earlier this week, Cuomo implemented a "containment zone" around a one-mile radius of the city as an emergency measure to limit movement in the area and shut down schools, houses of worship and other gathering places.

Read more here.

Sen. Rick Scott calls for checking temperatures of students, those boarding mass transit

Dartunorro Clark

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who is under self-quarantine for coronavirus after potential exposure, called on the federal government Friday to adopt several measures to combat the rise in cases, including screening students and would-be transit riders.

Scott's plan includes checking the temperatures of those boarding mass transit and all students before school each day. Under his plan, if students have higher-than-normal temperatures, they would be required to stay home.

Scott also proposed ramping up production of personal protective gear for health care workers, releasing an hourly public service announcement giving safety tips to Americans, and implementing a hotline for Americans to call to get information if they believe they are experiencing symptoms. 

Scott also recommended the federal government help to expand drive-up testing sites, and he introduced legislation Thursday that would reimburse states for the cost of setting up such mobile sites. 

National Guard mobilizes to help states

Mosheh Gains

The National Guard has mobilized to help state governments respond to COVID-19, according to the guard.

On Friday, 400 Air and Army National Guard members in Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island and Washington were providing personnel to support governors' response to the virus, guard public affairs said in a statement. So far, most of that number was in New York.

As other states request support, the numbers of National Guard members assigned to the response is likely to reach 1,000, officials said. Thirty-three states have declared emergencies in response to the spread of coronavirus.

The National Guard response includes identifying and preparing its own facilities for use as isolation housing, and compiling state medical supplies, officials said.

House to vote Friday on Democrats' coronavirus relief package

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will vote on a bill Friday to provide economic relief to communities affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but remained mum on whether that legislation is backed by the White House.

“The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing,” Pelosi said outside the speaker’s balcony on Capitol Hill Friday.

Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been negotiating in recent days in order to strike a deal around the relief package, which was unveiled Wednesday night.

The speaker did not indicate Friday whether any agreement with the White House had been reached, but referred to the imperative of "working together" to confront the pandemic.

Read the full story here.

Paris' Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum closed until further notice

Nancy Ing

Major Parisian landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum have been closed down until further notice in the French capital, as authorities try to halt the spread of coronavirus. 

Disneyland Paris will also shut from Sunday and the Chateau de Versailles will close its gates and gardens to the public. 

The announcements came after French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron declared that all gatherings of more than 100 people would be banned.  

Wall Street rallies, but traders are still waiting for a stimulus package

Hopes of a sweeping economic relief package pushed Wall Street back into the green on Friday afternoon, just one day after the worst market plunge since Black Monday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged by around 600 points, with gains on the S&P and Nasdaq hovering at around 3 percent each.

The boost in stocks came after lawmakers and the White House appeared closed to finalizing an economic relief package, and news that the Group of Seven governments would work together to create a coordinated economic response to the viral pandemic.

Why New York's public schools remain open as coronavirus outbreak deepens

At least six states and several large school districts, including those in Los Angeles and San Diego, have closed public classroom doors for at least the next two weeks because of the widening coronavirus outbreak. But the nation's largest school district — New York City — along with New York state have yet to pull the trigger.

For some parents and officials, who are worried about children catching the virus or spreading it to others, that decision has caused dismay and strong criticism. But other parents and officials want schools to remain open and don't want to shut down programs like school lunches and other social services. They expressed concern that many parents will be unable provide child care for students stuck at home.

Read the full story here.

New roadblocks emerge to coronavirus testing

Doctors’ offices are telling private labs they are running low on supplies needed to take specimens from patients for coronavirus testing, including “swabs, N95 respirators, viral transport media, masks, [and] gloves,” according to the American Clinical Laboratories Association, which represents commercial and hospital labs.

“Just being able to locate, gowns, gloves, or goggles is a challenge,” said Dr. Stephen Ezeji-Okoye, chief medical officer for Crossover Health, a large primary care provider with clinics in California, New York and Texas.

Testing also takes up other resources, he added. After a patient is tested, the room needs to be vacated for two hours and undergo a thorough cleaning. Crossover Health is also still abiding by the CDC’s strict guidelines for testing, which prioritize certain groups over others.

And while the Trump administration has now sent out millions of test kits, labs are still scrambling to acquire enough of the other equipment essential for testing. “They don’t have enough of the machines necessary to process these kits,” said Andy Slavitt, who served as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid under the Obama administration. “They’re running into a bottleneck at a time.”

(Disclosure: Crossover Health operates a clinic at NBC News headquarters in New York.)

Votes will go on Tuesday in primary states, officials say

Voting will proceed as planned in four states holding primaries on Tuesday, election officials said in a joint statement Friday.

While Louisiana announced Friday that it would postpone its April 4 primary due to the coronavirus outbreak, election officials from Florida, Arizona, Ohio and Illinois said their March 17 primaries would proceed as planned — but with some extra precautions.

The four secretaries of state said they "are working closely with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe."

"Further, guidance from voting machine manufacturers on how best to sanitize machines, guidance from CDC on best practices for hand washing, and guidance from our respective state health officials is being provided to every polling location," the statement said.  

Virginia closing K-12 schools for at least two weeks

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered all K-12 schools across the state to close for a minimum of two weeks, the governor's office announced Friday.

“We are taking this action to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible, and to minimize exposure to COVID-19,” Northam said in a statement. “I recognize this will pose a hardship on many families, but closing our schools for two weeks will not only give our staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities, it will help slow the spread of this virus. 

Sanders: ‘We are always as safe as the least insured person in America’

Sanders called for additional medical resources to combat the coronavirus, before urging the nation to consider how "Medicare for All" would affect fighting this crisis.

“As we begin to see the failures and vulnerabilities of the current health care system, my guess is those numbers and the demand for universal health care will only go up,” Sanders said on Friday in Burlington, Vermont.

He called for more test kits, medical facilities and personnel, and protective equipment, arguing that the country needs paid family leave and the ability to see a doctor without charge to adequately combat the crisis.

“We are always as safe as the least insured person in America,” the Democratic presidential candidate said.

Social distancing at the Pentagon

Image: US Central Command Gen. McKenzie Briefs Media On Response To Rocket Attack In Iraq
The Pentagon is exercising social distancing by keeping reporters' chairs four feet apart from each other during briefings. Here, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, talks to journalists about the military response to rocket attacks that killed two U.S. and one U.K. service members in Iraq during a news briefing at the Pentagon on Friday. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

ESPN turns to rolling news, documentaries after sports cancellations

Claire Atkinson

With just about all major sporting events suspended, ESPN is taking things a day at a time.

The cable news company is revealing its scheduling on a daily basis for now, sharing updates on Twitter. The primary ESPN channel is showing rolling news coverage from SportsCenter, while its sister network, ESPN 2, is carrying episodes of the documentary franchise “30 for 30.”

A spokesperson for NBC Sports, part of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, said its channels would show "encore presentations of events, specials and feature programming."

The mass cancellation and postponement of sports events across the U.S. and overseas is leaving TV sports networks to scramble for programming ideas. Basketball games from major college conferences had been scheduled for Friday.

Ultimate Fighting Championship, one of the few leagues not to suspend its operations, is still slated to air on ESPN on Saturday.

CNBC: Disney pausing production on all live-action movies

Correction: CNBC has since updated its reporting after Disney said that production on "some" of its live-action movies will be suspended "for a short time" amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Italy records 250 deaths in one day

Associated Press

Italy recorded 250 deaths in the space of 24 hours, the country's Civil Protection Agency said Friday. 

The 25 percent rise — the largest rise in absolute terms since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy— brought the total number of dead to 1,266, it added. 

The total number of cases in the country, the worst hit in Europe, has gone up by 17 percent, from 15,113 to 17,660, it said. 

West Virginia closing schools starting Monday

The state of air pollution

Separate the sick from the healthy: Why social distancing works

In the past 48 hours, America has stepped closer to lockdown: Several states have closed schools, professional sports leagues have suspended their seasons, and companies across the U.S. have asked employees to work from home. These measures are all intended to limit social interactions, and hopefully, slow the spread of the coronavirus.

And while the response may seem extreme, one of the best methods in public health to slow the spread of a virus and minimize its effects on the most vulnerable populations is this very strategy, called social distancing.

Read more here.

Massachusetts governor announces ban on large gatherings

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

The office of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has issued a recent order that will prohibit large gatherings of 200 people or more in the state, effective immediately. The annual Boston Marathon that was slated to take place in April has been postponed until mid-September. 

Similarly, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that he is also instituting a ban on gatherings of 500 people or more starting Friday at 5 p.m. ET. 

Louisiana becomes first state to postpone election due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON — Louisiana became the first state Friday to postpone an election due to the coronavirus outbreak, saying it will push back its April 4 primary, in which Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will face off, until June 20.

The action comes as election officials across the country are taking steps to mitigate voters' exposure to the virus in upcoming votes in the Democratic presidential primary and local races.

 "The two-month delay of this election will continue to allow our office to procure necessary supplies to put our state in best possible posture for the time when this election is conducted," Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said at a press conference Friday, adding that municipal general elections, previously scheduled for May 9, will now take place on July 25.

Ardoin said the decision was made especially with local election commissioners in mind. Over half of them are 65 or older, he said, a population that is at heightened risk for the COVID-19 disease.

Click here to read more.

WHO head says Europe is now epicenter of coronavirus outbreak

Europe is now the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday.

Tedros said that Europe is more reporting more cases on a daily basis than China reported at the height of its outbreak. 

Italy has been particularly hard hit by the virus, while Spain, Germany and France have also confirmed thousands of cases. 

Afternoon roundup of coronavirus coverage

The coronavirus is creating a huge, stressful experiment in working from home [The Atlantic]

Some kids in New York’s coronavirus containment zone are worried their 'Corona Break' will set them back [BuzzFeed News]

Movie theaters battle to stay open despite shelved films, but for how long? [The Hollywood Reporter]

Miami mayor tests positive

Miami mayor Francis Suarez said Friday he has tested positive for coronavirus and is in isolation to protect his family and contacts. "I feel completely healthy and strong," the 42-year-old mayor said in a statement,

 "If we did not shake hands or you did not come into contact with me if I coughed or sneezed, there is no action you need to take whatsoever. If we did, however, touch or shake hands, or if I sneezed or coughed near you since Monday, it is recommended that you self-isolate for 14 days, but you do not need to get tested."

Suarez provided contact information for guidelines on testing for Florida residents: Floridahealth.gov or the state health department at 866-779-6121 or Miami’s COVID-19 call center, 305-960-5027.

 

Cases ramping up in Africa as six new countries confirm infection

Associated Press

Cases of the new coronavirus are ramping up in Africa, with six new countries announcing confirmed infections in the past 24 hours.

Across Africa, 18 of the continent's 54 countries have now registered COVID-19 cases. The majority of these cases are imported, authorities say.

On Friday, Kenya, Guinea and Ethiopia reported their first cases, while Gabon and Ghana did so late Thursday. Sudan also reported its first case, a person who had already died.

Experts warn that on the booming continent of more than 1.3 billion people, containment is key as Africa's already strained health systems could likely lead to a higher mortality rate and deeper crisis that would have global impact.

Canada moves to restrict travel, suspend House of Commons

Canada has moved to reduce the number of airports accepting overseas travelers, increased screenings of travelers, advised against non-essential foreign travel and suspended cruises until July in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The country's House of Commons will also be suspended.

"The agreement we reached with other parties to suspect the House gives us the flexibility to do the things we need to do in order to protect Canadians," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from Rideau Cottage, where he is in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for coronavirus. Trudeau said he is not symptomatic. 

He urged Canadians not to worry about the economy as officials are planning to unveil a "significant fiscal stimulus package" in the coming days.  "These are significant steps, and we will do more," Trudeau said. "We are pulling out all the stops." The Canadian government has also allocated $1 billion to fight the spread of the virus. 

Los Angeles, San Diego closing public schools to 750,000 students for two weeks

Los Angeles and San Diego unified school districts will close for instruction to their combined 750,000 students for two weeks beginning Monday to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced Friday morning. 

Beutner had forestalled making the decision, citing the district's high rate of families living in poverty. "Our schools provide a social safety net for our children," Beutner said in an email to parents announcing the closing. "The closing of any school has real consequences beyond the loss of instructional time. This is not an easy decision and not one we take lightly."

Los Angeles' school district announced a partnership with two local public television stations, PBS SoCal and KCET, to offer educational programming during the closure, and Beutner said family resource centers would be open beginning Wednesday.

Norwegian Air lays off half its staff after Trump travel ban hits transatlantic flights

Low-cost international airline Norwegian Air announced Thursday it was canceling over 4,000 flights and  temporarily laying off almost half its workforce.

The move follows President Donald Trump’s announcement this week that the U.S. is restricting visitors from certain European countries.

“This is an unprecedented situation and our main priority continues to be the care and safety of our customers and colleagues,” Jacob Schram, CEO of Norwegian, said in a statement. “We urge international governments to act now to ensure that the aviation industry can protect jobs and continue to be a vital part of the global economic recovery.”

The cutbacks will last until the end of May, the announcement said.

Broadband companies offer price cuts on internet service

Claire Atkinson

David Ingram and Claire Atkinson

Internet service providers are beginning to advertise temporary discounts, including for students whose schools are closed because of the coronavirus. 

Charter Communications said Friday it would offer free broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 or college students who do not already have a broadband subscription. Cox Communications said it was offering one month free to new customers of its low-income service beginning Monday, and increasing the service’s speed beginning Tuesday. 

AT&T said Thursday it was waiving internet data overage fees for customers who did not already have unlimited home internet access. Comcast said it would give its Internet Essentials service away for free for 60 days (Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News).

Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, parent company of NBC News, made a number of new customer commitments late Friday, including opening its Xfinity WiFi hotspots to anyone around the country that wants to use them free of charge.

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday that Chairman Ajit Pai was “calling on broadband and telephone service providers to promote the connectivity of Americans impacted by the disruptions caused by the #coronavirus pandemic.”

U.K's Johnson postpones English local and mayoral elections for a year

The U.K.'s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has postponed May's local and mayoral elections in England for a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

His office made the announcement after Britain's Electoral Commission watchdog said the polls should be put off until the autumn to "mitigate" the impact of the virus.

The elections were due to appoint some 120 English local councils, eight directly elected mayors including in London and 40 police and crime commissioners in England and Wales.

Ten people have died with the virus in the U.K. and 798 cases have been confirmed across the country.  

New Rochelle lockdown

Image:
Medical personnel wait for motorists at a drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at Glen Island Park on Friday in New Rochelle, N.Y. State officials have set up a "containment area" in the New York City suburb, where schools and houses of worship are closed within a 1-mile radius of a point near a synagogue where an infected person with coronavirus had attended events.John Minchillo / AP

 

Sign of the times, cont'd

Schumer: Trump 'must not overstep his authority'

New York Public Library to close through the end of month

The New York Public Library announced Friday that it would be closing through at least March 31, starting Saturday.

New York City's library system, which services Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, is a vital resource for the city's most vulnerable populations including the elderly and homeless, especially during the coldest and hottest months of the year.

"While we have been proud to stay open to serve the public amid storms and other emergencies, the best way we can serve our patrons now is to help contain the virus, especially as our patrons include many seniors and others at high risk," it said in an email sent out to library card holders.

'Make-or-break days' in U.S. fight against coronavirus, Los Angeles mayor says

These are "make-or-break" days in America's fight against the new coronavirus, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday.

The mayor of the country's second-largest city spoke to MSNBC on Friday, a day after announcing stringent protective measures such as banning all events or conferences for more than 50 people on city-owned properties.

Garcetti said he is impressed by state and local officials across the country taking similar steps to try to slow the spread of the virus.

They "know that these are the most critical days we have. We will look back on this period and this will be the make-or-break days," the mayor said.

The novel coronavirus has killed 41 people in the United States and surpassed 1,700 confirmed or presumptive cases as of Friday morning. Los Angeles County has 32 confirmed cases and 1 death so far from coronavirus. A total of four people have died from the virus in California.

ISIS publishes advice on how to avoid coronavirus

ISIS has issued “advice” to its followers on how to avoid the coronavirus, although the tips are mainly religious as opposed to scientific.

Publishing the guidelines in the 225th edition of its weekly newsletter al-Naba, the terror group urged people to pray to avoid diseases, but stressed “the importance of believing that diseases themselves are not infectious and the everything is destined by God,” according to a translation by global security firm and NBC News analyst, Flashpoint Intelligence.

On a more practical level, it said that people should cover their mouths when yawning or coughing, wash their hands and avoid going into contaminated areas and vice versa.    

Trump plans to declare national emergency to combat coronavirus

President Donald Trump plans to declare a national emergency Friday to allow more direct relief to Americans affected by the coronavirus, two administration officials told NBC News.

The move could help open up tens of billions of dollars to help fight the rapidly spreading pandemic.

Trump announced earlier in the day that he will hold a 3 p.m. press conference Friday afternoon about the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has come under increasing fire in recent weeks over his response to the pandemic while his administration weathered criticism for the lack of coronavirus testing being done compared with other countries.

Click here to read more

Chinese official suggests U.S. Army to blame for outbreak

Chinese officials have sidestepped questions about whether Beijing blames Washington for the coronavirus outbreak after a foreign ministry spokesman suggested it could have been planted by the U.S. Army.

"When did patient zero begin in U.S.? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” Zhao Lijian tweeted in both Chinese and English on Thursday. “Be transparent! Make public your data! U.S. owe us an explanation!"

Read the full story here.

UPS workers see holiday shopping-level volume

Online shopping has risen sharply around the country as people are encouraged to social distance because of coronavirus, say retail analysts. Delivery volume is up around the country and has reached holiday season-levels in some places, according to UPS workers in several states, with one describing it as “like Christmas.” During what they say is normally a slower time of year, UPS drivers and union representatives in Florida, Georgia and New York told NBC News they are seeing volumes they normally only see during the holiday season, with some working 12-hour days or longer to keep up with demand.

“We had a guy this morning go out with an entire truck with just toilet paper on it,” a driver in Wisconsin said.

G7 leaders to meet on videoconference on Monday, Macron says

Why the coronavirus is different from the flu

They spread in similar ways and share many of the same symptoms — but the flu and the coronavirus have key differences.

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly compared the coronavirus to seasonal influenza, experts say the coronavirus can be more insidious for several reasons: It is more contagious; it has a higher mortality rate; and, unlike the flu, currently there is no vaccine for it.

"We have much more capability and expertise to treat and prevent the flu that we don't yet have with coronavirus," said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, an infectious diseases expert and virologist at the University of Utah Health.

Read the full story here.

Rep. Joe Kennedy temporarily suspends Senate campaign activities for a week

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., is temporarily suspending his Senate campaign at close of business Friday, his campaign manager Nick Clemons said in a statement.

"We don't believe it is appropriate or wise to continue political activities given the reality that  Massachusetts families and communities are facing. Our top priority is ensuring our staff, supporters, community, and the general public are safe," Clemons said. 

The suspension, he said, will last a week and they will reassess the situation by close of business on March 20. Kennedy is challenging incumbent Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in the state's primary. 

Sen. Ron Johnson weighing decision to self-quarantine after meeting with Spanish official who tested positive

Dartunorro Clark

A spokesman for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said Friday the lawmaker is deciding if he needs to self-quarantine after meeting with an official who tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Senator Johnson is consulting with doctors about the need to self-quarantine, but he feels healthy and well," the spokesman said. 

Johnson, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, met with a member of the Spanish parliament on March 2, who later tested positive for coronavirus, the spokesman said. His office did not disclose the name of the official. Spain had more than 3,800 cases by Friday morning and at least 84 deaths.

Johnson, who is also chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, regularly meets with European government officials and diplomats in his Washington office, the spokesman said.

How long does coronavirus live on surfaces?

A. Pawlowski

Touching any surface suddenly seems dangerous in the era of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates it could be viable for “hours to days.”

A preliminary study published this week found the virus could be detected in the air for up to three hours after it was aerosolized with a nebulizer, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The newest research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, was conducted by scientists at the National Institutes of Health, Princeton University, the University of California and the CDC.

Read the full story here.

Bitcoin plunges nearly 50 percent in one day amid market sell-off

The price of bitcoin plunged Thursday from about $9,000 per coin to $4,000, with roughly $93 billion wiped from the broader, highly volatile cryptocurrency market within a 24-hour period, according to data from coinmarketcap.com

The price of bitcoin recovered slightly within minutes, and as of late morning Friday the digital currency was trading at about $5,700.

The swift drop occurred around 10 p.m. ET, following a broader market sell-off that saw the stock market enter “bear market” territory, a 20 percent drop from recent highs amid broader pessimism.

Spain declares a state of emergency

Reuters

Image: People take a selfie outside the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, Spain
A couple pose for a selfie outside the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona on March 13, 2020.Joan Mateu / AP

Spain has declared a state of emergency for the next 15 days to better combat the coronavirus, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Friday, in a dramatic increase to the policy response that will allow authorities to confine people and ration goods.

The state of emergency, which Sanchez said will formally be decided by a cabinet meeting on Saturday, will give the government power to take wide-ranging measures including temporarily occupying factories or any other premises except private homes.

"The government of Spain will protect all its citizens and will guarantee the right life conditions to slow the pandemic with as little inconvenience as possible," Sanchez said.

He did not spell out what specific measures the government will take, but schools have already shut down across the country and many cinemas, theatres and playgrounds have also closed. Court cases have also been suspended in several regions as normal life came to a halt in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy.

U.S. general 'fairly certain' North Korea has COVID-19 cases

The Associated Press

The top American general in South Korea said Friday he is fairly certain North Korea has not been spared by the COVID-19 outbreak that began in neighboring China, although the North has not publicly confirmed a single case.

Speaking by video-teleconference from his headquarters in South Korea, Army Gen. Robert Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon that the North had halted military training for a month — including a 24-day hiatus in military flying — but has since resumed.

“It is a closed-off nation, so we can’t say emphatically that they have cases, but we’re fairly certain they do," he said. “What I do know is that their armed forces had been fundamentally in a lockdown for about 30 days and only recently have they started routine training again."

Trump to hold afternoon news conference

Federal agencies encouraged to provide telework flexibilities to vulnerable employees

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

The Office of Management and Budget is encouraging federal government departments and agencies to provide more flexible telework policies for employees who are at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19 and who have weakened immune systems like pregnant women. 

The guidance was released in a memo Thursday by OMB which says that some of the vulnerable people are those who "have chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease or compromised immune systems."

"Agencies do not need to require certification by a medical professional, and may accept self-identification by employees that they are in one of these populations," it says. 

The memo also instructs agencies to consult with public health officials to determine whether to extend telework flexibilities to all eligible workers in areas where the disease has spread.

U.S. Department of Defense shuts schools across Europe

Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Defense says it's temporarily shutting down all schools on continental European military facilities as a precaution against the spread of the COVID-19 virus, affecting tens of thousands of students.

Department of Defense Schools spokesman Stephen Smith told The Associated Press on Friday the closures as of Monday would affect 63 elementary, middle and high schools in Germany, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands, and likely Ankara, Turkey. Three schools in the U.K. will remain open for the time being, he said.

In all, some 27,000 students attend the Defense Department schools in Europe, Smith said, adding that the schools will be closed through the April break and then the situation will be reassessed. 

Starting next week, a distance learning plan, already in use for the students in Italy and Bahrain, will be implemented in Europe, he said. 

Chinese-language media in U.S. are debunking coronavirus misinformation

Chris Fuchs

The warning on Chinese-language social media was dire — unless you want the coronavirus, avoid the Gold City Supermarket in Flushing in the New York borough of Queens.

The report turned out to be false, one in a string of fake news stories shared widely on WeChat, a platform popular with Chinese-language speakers, many of them from mainland China.

It was eventually debunked by Chinese-language media in New York — home to the largest Chinese population of any city outside Asia.

Read the full story here.

Boston Marathon postponed until Sept. 14

The marathon, originally scheduled for April 20, will now be held on Sept. 14, the Boston Athletic Association said in a statement.

“On matters of public health and safety we take our guidance from the officials entrusted with protecting the public in this area,” said Tom Grilk, CEO of the association. “We understand our role, along with our partners, in ensuring a safe environment for all participants, volunteers, spectators, and supporters that meets the standards set by those officials.”

Masters golf tournament postponed

"Considering the latest information and expert analysis, we have decided at this time to postpone the Masters Tournament, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Drive,  Chip and Putt National Finals," said Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.

The Masters had been scheduled for April 9 through 12.

France bans gatherings for over 100

Nancy Ing

France has banned gatherings for more than 100 people to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in the country, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Friday.

The move  comes after French President Emmanuel Macron announced Thursday that schools, daycare centers, and universities would close starting the following Monday.

In a televised interview, Macron called coronavirus the "most serious sanitary crisis France has ever known in a century." The country had more than 1,500 confirmed cases of the virus as of Friday.

Michigan suspends outside visits at state prisons

Michigan is halting in-person visits at its more than three dozen state prisons in an effort to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus, although officials said there have been no cases among its prison population.

The state has at least 12 cases of COVID-19. "This was not a decision we arrived at lightly, as we understand and recognize the importance of family contact with the prison population," Heidi Washington, the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, said in a statement Friday.

Ted Cruz extends coronavirus quarantine

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Friday he was extending his self-quarantine after coming in contact with a second person who later tested positive for coronavirus. 

Cruz was already in self-quarantine after attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland last month, where a person tested positive for COVID-19. The lawmaker said Friday he remains without symptoms and would self-quarantine until March 17. 

“On March 3, I met in my D.C. office with Santiago Abascal, the leader of the Vox Party in Spain," he said in a statement Friday. "We met for about 20 minutes, sitting together at a conference table. We shook hands twice and took pictures together."

“My understanding is that Mr. Abascal tested positive for COVID-19 last night," he said. "His staff have informed us that he was asymptomatic at the time of our meeting and that several days after our meeting he had extended interactions with another individual who has also tested positive."

 

Germany offers 'loans of any size' to struggling businesses

Claire Atkinson

Germany said Friday it is prepared to make loans of any size to help companies get over liquidity issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement released by the finance and economy ministries.

German Finance Minister Olaf Sholz said the country would take on debt to help businesses avoid potential economic breakdown. He also suggested that the government could step in and take ownership stakes in German companies. 

In the U.S., President Donald Trump has promised financial stimulus such as providing loans to small businesses affected by widespread fears of the virus.

Where things stand on coronovirus aid bill

Leigh Ann Caldwell

We left last night with Speaker Pelosi saying that her and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin were “close” to a deal on the coronavirus legislative package. Negotiations continue today as there are still a couple of outstanding issues.

Secretary Mnuchin said on CNBC that “negotiations are going very well. This has been a bipartisan effort,” noting he has spoken to President Trump and GOP leadership several times during this process. “I think we are very close to getting this done.”

In Manhattan, bus cleanings ramp up

Wall Street bounces back after worst day since Black Monday

Wall Street rallied on Friday, bouncing firmly back after the worst day for markets since the Black Monday crash in 1987.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared by around 1,200 points, with the S&P and Nasdaq surging by around 5 percent each.

The boost in stocks came after lawmakers and the White House appeared closed to finalizing an economic relief package to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey prepares for coronavirus

Image: Turkey Prepares For Coronavirus
Workers from Istanbul Municipality disinfect a mosque to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, coronavirus ahead of Friday prayers on Friday in Istanbul, Turkey.Chris McGrath / Getty Images

First Read: Coronavirus response represents watershed week in 2020 campaign

+2

Mark Murray

Carrie Dann

Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

This has been a week that has changed the trajectory of the 2020 election, as well as the trajectory for the entire nation.

The disruption from the spread of the coronavirus — and the political reaction to it — is certainly the biggest part of that change.

An economic recession now seems almost inevitable.

Get the rest of First Read.

Italians adjust to new reality under lockdown

+3

Matt Bradley

Bill O'Reilly

Lidia Sirna

Michele Novaga

Matt Bradley, Bill O'Reilly, Lidia Sirna and Michele Novaga
Image: The deserted Spanish Steps by the Trinita dei Monti church in central Rome
The deserted Spanish Steps by the Trinita dei Monti church in central Rome on Thursday.Alberto Pizzoli / AFP - Getty Images

The local chef did not expect police to swoop in when he paused to take a picture of this city's renowned Spanish Steps, which for once were free of hordes of tourists as a result of Italy's sweeping coronavirus lockdown.

But officers handed Andrea Misseri a fine of between 60 and 80 euros (around $70 to $90) because he didn’t have the correct permission to leave his home.

“The fine now can happen if you're going anywhere without any reason, so at the moment it’s like a curfew,” he told NBC News right after the incident on Thursday. “It’s too strict.”

Italians throughout this country of 60 million are coming to terms with the new reality that has been imposed by the nationwide restrictions on movement aimed at slowing the spread of the deadly disease.

Read the whole story here.

Sen. Susan Collins meets with Maine health officials