Officials Warn Against Gatherings of 50 or More as Virus Spreads

An entire section of meat and poultry is left empty after panicked shoppers swept through in fear of the coronavirus at a local grocery store in Burbank, Calif., on Saturday. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

(CN) – Government officials across the country ordered the closure of restaurants, bars and other public places Monday in a last-ditch effort to slow the coronavirus outbreak affecting thousands of people in 49 states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations on Sunday urging the cancellation of all events of 50 or more people for the next two months to control the spread of the virus. State and city leaders on both coasts followed suit and ordered bars and restaurants closed.

“You see a whole hodgepodge of efforts across the country,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters Monday morning in a joint press briefing with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut. “It’s chaos. It feeds the feeling that the country is out of control.”

In a rare moment of praise across the aisle, Cuomo offered kudos to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their responsiveness on New York’s requests for quicker testing, and said now similar drastic action needs to happen for the state health care system as New York moves to what he called a virus  “mitigation phase.”

Cuomo said that in the absence of federal involvement, he would work with private developers, building unions, and the national guard “to find existing facilities that could most easily be adapted to medical facilities,” like dormitories and former nursing homes. New York City alone could need 5,000 or more additional hospital beds, Cuomo said, which he called a conservative estimate.

But he said he’d need help from the feds, which he called for in an editorial over the weekend for The New York Times.

“This is exactly what they do: deploy the Army Corps of Engineers to come work with states to build temporary medical facilities,” he said. “Get us backup beds so when the hospital is overwhelmed, we can have some of the people who are in the hospital beds go to a backup medical facility.”

Though 86% of New York’s schools are already closed, Cuomo and his secretary Melissa DeRosa confirmed they will shutter the remaining 14% by Wednesday.

A sign hangs on the window Monday at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Woodmere Village, Ohio. All bars and restaurants in Ohio will be closed until further notice, said Gov. Mike DeWine, who is taking a tough stance on trying to stem the coronavirus, saying, “if we don’t take these actions now, it’ll be too late.” (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cuomo and the other governors announced closures of not just restaurants and bars, but also casinos, gyms and movie theaters.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy went a step further and announced a statewide 8 p.m. curfew. Washington, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts issued similar rules.

“I tried earlier this week to appeal to everyone’s good judgment to stay home, to avoid bars, not to congregate in crowds,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said at a press conference Sunday. “It’s unfortunate that many people didn’t take that seriously. The time for persuasion and public appeals is over.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, recommended those closures but stopped short of an order. Some cities took action on their own. On Sunday night, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered bars to close and restaurants to only offer take-out service.

LA County Superior Court said late Monday it would close for just three days, from Tuesday to Friday, though all civil and criminal trials had already been suspended for 30 days.

Some of the country’s largest retail chains and corporations took their own measures as well. Starbucks removed seating in its coffeeshops nationwide. Apple closed all U.S. stores until the end of the month. Several clothing store chains will close, including Nike, Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch. Grocery stores like Walmart and Publix shortened their operating hours.

Walt Disney World in Florida closed Monday for the rest of the month after a huge celebration on Sunday night that attracted thousands. Some Florida mayors also closed beaches.

“We cannot become a petri dish for a very dangerous virus,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said. “Spring break is over. The party is over.”

In Washington state, where there are 772 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 42 deaths, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the mandatory shutdown of bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and houses of worship – anywhere people might gather in groups larger than 50.

Inslee said the “central premise” of his press conference was the idea that “normal is not in our game plan.”

He said that while younger people have a low risk of dying from coronavirus – under 0.4% – for those over 80, the mortality rate jumps to 14.8%. To people age 60 and over and those with underlying health conditions, Inslee had a direct message:

“You need to self-isolate, starting right now,” Inslee said. “You are in substantial risk because of this virus.”

Jeff Duchin, health officer for public health for King County, said the state’s hospital system is in danger of being overwhelmed by the virus.

“We expect cases to double every 5 to 7 days unless we take action,” Duchin said. “The only way to do this is to delay the peak and spread out infections over time.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine said everyone should stay home.

“It is time right now for people to assume that they and everyone they meet has been exposed and might be infected,” said Dow Constantine, executive of Seattle’s King County.

“I understand this is hard,” Inslee said. “We are social animals. I’ve spent 69 years offering my hand to anybody I meet. But we can’t do that anymore.”

Meanwhile, Oregon Governor Kate Brown on Monday announced the mandatory closure of all restaurants and bars, except for takeout. She ordered the cancellation of events and gatherings larger than 25 people. And she urged people to avoid gatherings of 10 people or more.

The order will take effect March 17 and will last for four weeks. Those found in violation could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, Brown said. Oregon has 39 confirmed cases, and one death.

“In a global pandemic, days are like weeks and every hour counts,” Brown told press in Portland on Monday.

Anthony Fauci, an epidemiologist and director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday that a 14-day nationwide lockdown is not out of the realm of possibility.

“The worst is yet ahead for us,” he said.

A Johns Hopkins University tracker shows 3,813 coronavirus cases in the U.S. and 69 deaths as of noon Monday. The virus has spread to every state except West Virginia.

The stock market plummeted again Monday morning after the Federal Reserve announced Sunday it would lower the interest rate from as high as 1.25% to as high as 0.25%, the lowest rate since 2015. The central bank also said it would purchase $500 billion worth of treasuries and $200 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities.

A lobbying group for 10 U.S. airlines on Monday asked the federal government for more than $50 billion in financial assistance as the industry deals with declining sales due to uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Airlines for America asked for $30 billion in grants for passenger and cargo carriers, and another $25 billion in unsecured loans and tax relief.

“This is a today problem, not a tomorrow problem. It requires urgent action,” said Nicholas E. Calio, president and CEO of the lobbying group.

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