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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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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.

Congressional doctor expects 70M to 150M people in U.S. will contract coronavirus

The attending physician of Congress and the Supreme Court, Brian Monahan, briefed Senate staff on Tuesday afternoon in a closed-door meeting and said that he expects 70 million to 150 million people in the U.S. will contract the coronavirus, two sources tell NBC News. 

The meeting didn't include any senators but was for administrative staff and personnel from both parties. Monahan briefed staff on how they can keep healthy and ways to prevent the virus from spreading, including not shaking hands, advice that is not being followed by some senators, as we’ve seen this week.

In addition to getting briefed on prevention and treatment, staffers asked questions, including if any travel restrictions should be put in place for members. On international travel, Monahan said members should not go if they don’t have to, whereas for domestic travel, no restrictions have been put in place.

Monahan also told staffers that, right now, coronavirus testing would be administered only to members of Congress, and that staff should go to their doctors if they are experiencing any symptoms.

Monahan also told staffers that ultimately, 80 percent of those who contract the coronavirus will be fine.

Large gatherings banned in San Francisco and Seattle

San Francisco Mayor London Breed tweeted on Wednesday that the city would prohibit all gatherings of 1,000 people or more.

The ban is effective immediately and represents the city’s latest effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. On Friday, the mayor’s office issued new recommendations to fight the outbreak, including advice to those over 60 to limit outings and advice to businesses to suspend nonessential travel.

Washington state is also banning events of 250 people or more in the Seattle region. Governor Jay Inslee said impacts will be “profoundly disturbing to a lot of the ways that we live our lives.” The ban goes through at least March, including the start of the Seattle Mariners season and the ongoing Golden State Warriors season.

The Seattle Mariners announced Wednesday that they would be finding “alternative plans” for their games in late March. They were supposed to take place at T-Mobile Park in Seattle but will now be crediting and refunding tickets.

San Francisco leases RVs to provide coronavirus self-isolation facilities

N.J. store owner charged after homemade spray sanitizer burns youths

7-Eleven store owner Manisha Bharade.Bergen County Prosecutor's Office via AP

A convenience store owner in New Jersey reacting to the coronavirus outbreak created and sold a spray sanitizer that left four children with burns, state and county law enforcement officials said.

Manisha Bharade, 47, of Wood-Ridge, was issued a summons charging her with endangering the welfare of children and deceptive business practices.

Bharade mixed commercially available foaming sanitizer, which wasn't meant for resale, with water and packaged the bottles in her store, authorities said. “An apparent chemical reaction from the mixture caused the burns” to the three 10-year-olds and an 11-year-old, authorities said.

Read the full story here.

Unaccompanied migrant children won't be placed in California, Washington

Unaccompanied migrant children in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services have stopped being placed in California and Washington amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Out of an abundance of caution, children have stopped being placed in those two states, the department's Administration for Children and Families said in a statement Wednesday. As of March 10, "there have not been any suspected or confirmed" cases of the COVID-19 disease among children in its care facilities, the agency said. 

The agency said children with a travel history to places at high-risk of the coronavirus would undergo a risk assessment "to determine appropriate public health actions" and those with symptoms of respiratory disease would be isolated and tested.