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BREAKING: Democrats drop paid family and medical leave from safety net bill

WHO declares COVID-19 disease to be a pandemic

The coronavirus crisis continues to unfold across the globe as the World Health Organization uses the word for the first time.
Image: Slovakia
A worker wearing protective clothes disinfects the inside of a public bus in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Wednesday.Vladimir Simicek / AFP - Getty Images

For the first time, the World Health Organization called the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic. Meanwhile, the United States now has more than 1,000 people infected with the coronavirus — but testing in the country is still ramping up, meaning that number could continue to climb.

WHO defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease for which most people do not have immunity.

On Wednesday, the governor of New York questioned the number of people who have been tested for the virus in the U.S.

“When they do the retrospective on this one, they are going to say, 'Why did it take the Unites States so long to bring up the testing capacity?'” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on "TODAY." On Tuesday, Cuomo announced that he was implementing a "containment area" around a one-mile radius in the city of New Rochelle, home to one of the largest clusters of coronavirus cases in the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that more than 8,500 specimens have been tested for the coronavirus across the U.S. Because multiple specimens are required from each individual, the number of actual patients who have been tested is likely far lower.

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Hundreds of coronavirus self-test kits sitting in U.S. awaiting FDA approval

Ivy League cancels spring athletics

The Ivy League, the athletic conference of eight universities including Harvard University and Princeton University, said Wednesday that it has decided to cancel all upcoming competitions and practices. 

The schools will be able to decide whether to participate in postseason competitions.

"With further developments in the outbreak of COVID-19, the Ivy League Presidents are announcing their unanimous decision to cancel all spring athletics practice and competition through the remainder of the academic year," the league said in a press release.

American on coronavirus lockdown in Italy: 'It's surreal. It's dystopian.'

For nearly two weeks, Cristina Higgins, an American who lives in Italy, has traveled no farther from her apartment building than the driveway. Her days begin at the breakfast table with her husband and three children before the kids log online to do their schoolwork from home. The family spends their evenings playing Monopoly in their apartment.

Throughout the day, Higgins looks at the news for updates on the growing number of coronavirus cases in the country and checks in on friends. Each night, overwhelmed with anxiety over the spread of the virus, she finds it hard to sleep.

Read more here.

At the Italian border

A medical worker measures the body temperature of a motorist Wednesday at the Slovenian-Italian border crossing near Nova Gorica, Slovenia, after Slovenia's government announced it would close its border with Italy, hard hit by the outbreak of the new coronavirus.Jure Makovec / AFP - Getty Images

Why you might start hearing 'flatten the curve' more

A mantra has emerged among public health professionals calling for aggressive action on the coronavirus outbreak: “Flatten the curve.”

What does the catchy phrase mean? It refers to a so-called epidemic curve that is commonly used to visualize responses to disease outbreaks. The chart shows how public and individual efforts can help avoid a sharp uptick in new cases over a short time in order to make sure healthcare systems and their limited resources are not overwhelmed.

Flattening the curve slows the infection rate, leaving healthcare systems better placed to treat people, which can save lives. Containment efforts, such as banning large gatherings and encouraging people to limit their exposure to others, are crucial parts of the process. 

Read the full story here.

Italy confirms almost 200 deaths in 24 hours

Almost 200 people died from the coronavirus in 24 hours, Italy's Civil Protection Agency confirmed Wednesday — the highest daily increase in absolute terms registered anywhere in the world since the respiratory illness emerged in China at the end of last year.

In response, the country's prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, told reporters the government would allocate 25 billion euros ($28.3 billion) to help mitigate the impact on the fragile economy. Only a week ago, he estimated it would need just 7.5 billion. 

From Tuesday to Wednesday, 196 people died, bringing the total number of deaths to 897, the Civil Protection Agency said in a statement. Confirmed cases across the country rose to 12,462 from a previous 10,149.   

After an initial lockdown in the north failed to prevent the spread, the government on Monday banned all nonessential travel and public gatherings throughout Italy until April 3, halted all sports events and extended a shutdown of schools.

Dow plunges by 1,500 points, edges closer to a bear market

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by more than 1,500 points on Wednesday afternoon, edging into a bear market.

The Dow is currently trading below 23,641, the point at which U.S. will officially be in a bear market if the 30-stock index remains at or below that number when the closing bell rings. 

A bear market indicates a 20 percent decline from the Dow's 52-week high.

The market meltdown was a response to the continued lack of concerted policy action from President Donald Trump's administration, which has been criticized for its mixed messaging about the best ways to address and contain the virus.

Hoyer: House expected to vote on coronavirus economic relief bill Thursday

The House is expected to vote Thursday on a Democratic bill to provide economic relief to U.S. communities amid the coronavirus outbreak, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday. 

The bill hasn't been released yet, but NBC News reported some of its likely provisions Wednesday morning. 

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have released their own version of an economic relief bill. Several Senate Republicans appear to be changing their tune about immediately passing such a measure. Several have said that they are open to acting on legislation sooner than later and willing to entertain ideas that are expected to be wrapped into the House bill.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., for example, said of paid sick leave, which is likely the centerpiece of the House bill: “That’s very practical, very significant help to folks.” Others are a bit more wary, with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., not dismissing a relief measure outright but saying he "wants to see it."

College Basketball Invitational calls off tourney, could March Madness be next?

The College Basketball Invitational, one of the sport's four post-season championship tournaments, cancelled its competition on Wednesday, citing uncertainty about the coronavirus.

The tournament is on the third tier of men's college basketball competitions, behind the NCAA Tournament and National Invitation Tournament, and alongside the Postseason Tournament. 

Organizers of the NCAA Tournament, widely known as March Madness, said earlier this week they're "consulting with public health officials ... and will make decisions in the coming days."


Warriors to play Nets in first NBA game with no fans

The Golden State Warriors tweeted on Wednesday that they would be playing Thursday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Chase Center — but without fans.

The move comes after the city of San Francisco instituted a ban on gatherings of 1,000 or more people in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Fans with tickets to the game will get a refund for the amount they paid. All events at Chase Center through March 21 will be cancelled or postponed.