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Coronavirus Today: Economic anxiety grows

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Monday, March 9. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.

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The coronavirus outbreak indirectly triggered an oil price war that sent already anxious financial markets into chaos Monday. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia cut oil prices and boosted production in an angry response to Russia’s refusal to reduce production in the face of falling demand from China. That, combined with uncertainty over how much the coronavirus outbreak will affect the global economy, sent major U.S. stock indexes dropping by more than 7%. It was the worst day for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and Dow Jones industrial average since late 2008, during the financial crisis.

President Trump, who appeared briefly in the White House briefing room alongside members of his administration’s coronavirus task force, said he would meet with lawmakers on Tuesday about taking “very major” actions to lessen the effects in the U.S., including a possible payroll tax cut.

In California, at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, business is dwindling over the drop in trade with China, which normally accounts for roughly half of containerized goods. One in 9 Southern California jobs are tied to the ports, including people who work on the docks, drive trucks and move boxes in warehouses.

Is the U.S. prepared for the economic turmoil as the coronavirus continues to spread? The answer is yes, says columnist Michael Hiltzik, but it depends on the political will of lawmakers to put forward an aggressive fiscal stimulus to help impacted industries such as travel weather the downturn.

And what does this mean for the average person invested in the financial markets? While many investors are watching on in horror, others are seeing bargains. “The guidance for long-term investors remains intact — do not panic,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “Markets fall sharply but can also rebound quickly.”

By the numbers

As of 4 p.m. Monday, there were:

    — At least 2 dead and 133 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California, excluding the 21 passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship who tested positive for the disease.— At least 22 deaths nationwide, most in the greater Seattle area.
    — More than 110,000 cases reported globally and close to 4,000 deaths.

    Numbers reported by the California Department of Public Health and Johns Hopkins CSSE.

    Where is the coronavirus spreading?

    Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
    Confirmed COVID-19 cases by country as of 4 p.m. Monday. Click to see the interactive map.
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    Across California

    Los Angeles County announced Monday its first case of community spread of the coronavirus, meaning the infected person had not recently traveled nor been in contact with anyone else with a confirmed infection. Santa Clara County announced its first COVID-19 death, a woman in her 60s who was thought to have been infected through community spread.

    As the number of coronavirus cases in California continues to grow, several schools have closed or switched to online-only classes, and state public health department officials have issued guidelines for more closures and for how event organizers should prepare for mass gatherings. While officials did not explicitly instruct the cancellation of any event, they did advise organizers to consider halting events predominantly attended by older or at-risk individuals.

    Riverside County health officials announced three new cases in the Coachella Valley, raising new questions about the Coachella Valley and Arts Festival next month. Already called off over the weekend: the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

    Grand Princess satellite
    A satellite image shows the Grand Princess arriving at the Port of Oakland Monday with support services nearby.
    (Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies/ Lorena Elebee)

    The Grand Princess cruise ship with more than 3,500 aboard — including at least 21 who have tested positive for COVID-19 — finally docked in Oakland Monday, four days after reaching the Bay Area. A massive operation to get the passengers off the boat without jeopardizing public health began Monday. Most passengers will eventually be sent to Travis Air Force Base in nearby Solano County and the Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, while foreign passengers will be flown to their home countries.

    How to stay safe

    Wash your hands for at least 40 to 60 seconds. It’s a better protective measure than a mask.
    — Stop touching your face, and keep your phone clean.
    — Watch for these symptoms of possible infection: fever, cough, shortness of breath.
    — If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic.
    — Experts still aren’t sure if pets can get the coronavirus. Pet owners who contract the coronavirus should isolate themselves from their pets out of an abundance of caution.

    Around the world

    Five U.S. lawmakers have announced their self-quarantine following exposure to someone with the virus, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) who on the same day as his announcement flew on Air Force One with President Trump. The close encounters have raised questions about how Congress will continue to function while under pressure to come up with an economic stimulus plan.

    Italy, one of the countries hit hardest by the spread of the disease, has taken the unprecedented step of imposing a country-wide quarantine starting Tuesday. Israel will require all arrivals to enter a minimum 14-day quarantine, an extreme step that will essentially close off the country.

    World Health Organization officials warned Monday that the coronavirus outbreak will probably soon be declared a pandemic, but that does not mean it cannot be contained. WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Asian nations that have turned the corner on the virus have shown that even countries with huge outbreaks can control the disease’s spread.

    As China’s coronavirus numbers drop, with a slowing rate of daily new infections and deaths, Beijing is pushing the narrative of a Communist Party-led victory. But volunteer groups in and outside of China have begun archiving their own histories of the COVID-19 outbreak, saving and posting Chinese investigations, interviews, personal essays and social media posts, building a people’s narrative of the epidemic captured in screenshots taken faster than the censors can delete them.

    Your questions answered

    Today’s question comes from a few readers who want to know what they should do if they’ve run out of hand sanitizer.

    Hand sanitizers have all but disappeared from shelves and online retailers, as people stockpile supplies in preparation for a prolonged outbreak. It is possible to make your own hand sanitizer, but you might run into certain pitfalls, says consumer columnist David Lazarus in his business newsletter. Only a mixture of more than 60% alcohol is considered effective, and without added moisturizing agents like aloe, it’s likely to dry out your skin, which can actually make you more vulnerable to infections.

    In general, the CDC says, it’s more effective to just wash your hands with soap and water.

    Also, here’s a little bonus video.

    Got a question? Our reporters covering the coronavirus outbreak want to hear from you. Email us your questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them here and in our daily coronavirus briefing streaming live at 1 p.m. PDT on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

    For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times, visit our live updates page, visit our Health section and follow our reporters on Twitter.


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