Trump reaches aid deal with Democrats as cases mount

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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

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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.

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National Guard mobilizes to help states

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

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

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

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