Stocks Hit Hard as Coronavirus Spreads Across US

A trader watches the numbers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

(CN) – The U.S. stock market plunged Monday as the coronavirus outbreak continues to sink economies around the world, while the number of infected Americans swelled over the weekend to more than 550 in at least 34 states.

Concerns over the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, caused the stock market to plunge by 7% early Monday morning, triggering an automatic market-wide “circuit breaker” that halted trading for 15 minutes.

As of Monday afternoon, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down by more than 1,600 points, or 6%. The S&P 500 recovered slightly but was still down more than 5%.

Huge market swings prompted the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates by a half percentage point last week. On Monday, the New York Federal Reserve Bank announced it will increase its daily infusions of cash into the market by $50 billion to $150 billion to alleviate fears.

The additional funds will “support smooth functioning of funding markets as market participants implement business resiliency plans in response to the coronavirus,” the New York Federal Reserve Bank said in a statement.

Uncertainty over how the virus will impact supply chains and consumer spending are fueling investor selling. In addition, oil prices dropped by 30% – the largest decline in two decades – due to a price war between Saudi Arabia and other crude oil producing countries. Saudi oil producers wanted to raise oil prices, expecting travel to decrease dramatically in the coming weeks as the virus continues to spread, but Russia walked away from negotiations.

The U.S. State Department is urging Americans to avoid cruises for the foreseeable future. Government health officials are also telling elderly Americans or those with compromised immune systems to avoid long flights or large gatherings.

Over the weekend, two members of Congress quarantined themselves after shaking hands with an infected person at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference 10 days ago.

The swell of COVID-19 cases – which now total 565, according to Johns Hopkins University – has renewed worries over the highly contagious virus while government officials seek to quell the public’s panic.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly praised his administration’s handling of the health crisis.

In a Monday morning tweet, Trump blamed the news media and Democrats of inflaming the situation “far beyond what the facts would warrant.” He also referenced remarks of U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams over the weekend to several media outlets that characterized the virus as being “contained” in certain areas of the country.

So far, 34 states and Washington, D.C., have confirmed positive cases of COVID-19. Washington state, the epicenter of the disease, has 128 cases, followed by 142 in New York and 114 in California. Florida has 12 cases and two deaths.

According to Johns Hopkins University and state health departments, confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S exceed 525. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, however, that the confirmed number of cases in the U.S. is 423, more than 100 fewer than reported by Johns Hopkins University.

“In the event of a discrepancy between CDC cases and cases reported by state and local public health officials, data reported by states should be considered the most up to date,” the CDC said.

States have repeatedly asked the federal government for more test kits after the initial batch proved faulty.

“Our testing capacity is not currently adequate, and we need more and we need it as soon as we can have it,” Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention for Johns Hopkins Health System, told congressional staffers in a Friday briefing.

The coronavirus has spread from Wuhan, China, to more than 100 countries. The number of cases surpassed 100,000 on Friday. COVID-19 has so far killed more than 3,800 people.

Although a vaccine is still months away, scientists are making rapid headway into understanding the virus and how it spreads.

In Seattle, the number of infections has doubled about every six days, according to Trevor Bedford, a professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Genome Sciences.

In his March 2 analysis, Bedford wrote researchers with the Seattle Flu Study and the University of Washington sequenced the virus genome of the first U.S. patient. With subsequent testing of other patients, the work is hoped to show how that individual infected hundreds of other people.

Bedford blamed the narrow criteria of testing at the beginning stages of the epidemic.

“This lack of testing was a critical error and allowed an outbreak in Snohomish County and surroundings to grow to a sizable problem before it was even detected,” he wrote.

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