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Americans face dramatic limits on public life as schools, theme parks, events shut down

The crisis continues to unfold across the globe as the World Health Organization uses the term "pandemic" for the first time.
Medical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco on March 12, 2020.
Medical workers at Kaiser Permanente French Campus test a patient for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at a drive-thru testing facility in San Francisco on Thursday.Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images

The United States on Thursday surpassed 1,600 confirmed or presumptive cases of the coronavirus, and the death toll climbed to 41. Kansas reported its first death Thursday.

Wall Street recorded historic losses as fears intensified over the economic fallout from the pandemic, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling by 10 percent, and the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 both down by 9 percent.

It was the worst point drop ever for the Dow and its worst performance since the market crash in 1987.

Disruptions in the sports world continued, with March Madness canceled, the suspension of MLB's spring training and a pause on the National Hockey League season.

Health and government officials continue to call for the end of large gatherings, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suspended public gatherings worldwide, the Smithsonian announced it will close indefinitely all museums in Washington, D.C. and New York City and Broadway theaters canceled performances through April 12.

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Romney criticizes Trump's Europe travel ban

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, criticized President Donald Trump's restrictions on travel from Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Romney, who announced yesterday that he is closing his Capitol Hill office as a precautionary measure, told reporters ahead of a Senate briefing Thursday that he’s not sure what a travel ban would do and that the U.S. response should focus on community spread, defined as a transmission within the community without a known source. Romney added that there is a need for more testing kits.

Pence defended the president in an interview with CNN on Thursday, saying that Trump took a "historic step" in restricting travel from Europe and that the administration's health experts agreed with the decision. 

"The truth is, we learned yesterday, 70 percent of all the new cases for coronavirus in the world happened in Europe," Pence said. "We're not doing a travel ban as our strategy. The suspending all travel for 30 days from Europe is a part of the strategy. The other part is an aggressive mitigation strategy."

After rush on airports, American Airlines is the first to cap prices on flights

American Airlines is placing price limits on U.S.-bound flights from Europe as people rush to return home in response to the President Donald Trump’s restrictions on overseas travel, the company confirmed to NBC News on Thursday.

“We are placing caps on our fares for all cabins on flights from Europe to the U.S. that are affected by the government-imposed travel restrictions,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The move comes after Trump announced in an Oval Office address on Wednesday night that he would be “suspending all travel from Europe” as of midnight on Friday. The White House later clarified that Trump’s comments did not refer to U.S. residents or permanent citizens and only "suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States."

Sen. Tom Cotton closes Hill office, calls outbreak the 'Wuhan virus'

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has temporarily closed his office in Washington, D.C., to protect the health of his staff, who will continue to work from home, his office announced Thursday.

Cotton has been calling the coronavirus the "Wuhan virus," referring to the Chinese city that initially became the epicenter of the outbreak — a term that some critics worry could contribute to anti-Asian bias. Cotton has been on TV in recent weeks suggesting without evidence that the virus came from a secret Chinese lab in Wuhan.

"Since I first heard reports of an unknown virus spreading in central China in early January, I have endeavored to protect you and your family from this menace," Cotton said in the news release announcing his office's closure. Cotton referred to news that a staff member in another Senate office had tested positive for the virus in announcing his plans.

Sen. Maria Cantwell's office announced Wednesday that the Washington Democrat would temporarily close her Capitol Hill office for cleaning after a staff member tested positive for the virus, saying staff would work remotely.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also said Thursday that he was closing his Senate office in response to another senator's aide becoming infected — an apparent reference to Cantwell's staffer. Cruz had self-quarantined  at his home in Texas because of contact with an infected person; his office said that he was ending his self-quarantine Thursday.

International exchange programs paused, State Department says

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) will temporarily pause all of its programs that involve travel to and from countries with heightened travel advisories, the State Department said in a statement Thursday. 

As a result, the Fulbright Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program, which "cultivates lasting relationships" between "emerging foreign leaders" and their American counterparts, will likely be affected. 

The ECA has already evacuated or offered voluntary departure for U.S. citizen exchange participants from countries where there are elevated warning levels, like in China, Italy, and South Korea.

Love in the time of coronavirus

A couple kiss at the airport in Barcelona airport, Spain, on Thursday. Travelers scrambled to rebook flights and markets reeled on Thursday after President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from Europe, hitting battered airlines and heightening global alarm over the coronavirus.Emilio Morenatti / AP

Biden's coronavirus speech provides him a contrast moment with Trump

What transpired Wednesday night in the two hours after President Trump’s remarks to the nation on the coronavirus was some of the most disruptive and unsettling news we can remember — at least in a 120-minute span.

The NBA suspended the season. Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, tested positive for the coronavirus. Dow futures dropped. A staffer in the D.C. office of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., tested positive.

The disease, the disruption and the fear are spreading fast. And at 1 p.m. ET, Democrat Joe Biden gets a contrast moment with President Trump, when he delivers remarks on the coronavirus from Delaware.

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White House, Capitol tours canceled, officials say

The White House and Capitol Building are being closing to the public in response to the coronavirus outbreak, officials have announced.

“Out of an abundance of caution and until further notice, White House tours have been canceled,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said Thursday.

In an advisory to congressional offices, the House and Senate sergeants at arms said the Capitol Building, including its Visitor Center, also will stop holding public tours and will allow only limit access to those on official business until April 1, according to congressional sources.

Trading halted on NYSE for second time in one morning

Trading was halted on the New York Stock Exchange just minutes after the opening bell on Thursday after President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus epidemic led to a massive sell-off that triggered a circuit breaker, which stops all trading for a 15-minute period.

The S&P 500 plunged by 7 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 1,700 points.

The sell-off came after Trump’s Oval Office address Wednesday night failed to satisfy traders who were hoping for more concrete steps to stanch any economic slowdown from the viral outbreak.

It was the second time trading was temporarily halted on Thursday morning, after all three major averages sank below the 5 percent "limit down" marker in premarket activity.

Trump's proposals: Executive action vs. congressional approval

In his Oval Office address Wednesday night, President Donald Trump laid out various proposals to try to boost the economy in the face of the coronavirus outbreak — some are executive actions, which Trump can take unilaterally, and others must be approved by Congress.

As far as executive actions, Trump called on the Small Business Administration to provide loans to firms that have been affected by the coronavirus. While Trump can do that himself, another of his requests — that funding for the agency be increased — requires congressional approval.

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Trump also instructed the Treasury Department to defer tax payments for three months without penalties for some individuals and businesses that have been affected by the outbreak, which a White House official said could be done by executive action. The president did not detail how such deferments would be allocated, however.

Of the proposals that need congressional action, Trump has asked Congress to pass a payroll tax cut through the end of the year, but Democrats and some Republicans oppose the idea. 

Lawmakers from both parties say Congress should act on relief measures quickly with both chambers going into recess next week. House Democrats are expected to pass an aid package unveiled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday.