Coronavirus Today: Trump declares a national emergency as schools close
Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Friday, March 13. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus outbreak in California and beyond.
Under mounting pressure and growing bipartisan worry, President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak, a move that will free up billions of dollars in federal funds to help states with expenses related to virus response. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also unveiled the beginnings of a massive public-private partnership to set up a new coronavirus testing system.
Earlier in the day, The Times reported that the Trump administration had not taken the necessary steps to loosen the Medicaid rules that would allow states more freedom to expand medical services for low-income Americans, something previous administrations had done following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 swine flu outbreak. Under today’s declaration, states will be allowed to ask the federal government to pay up to 75% of their expenses for emergency workers, medical tests, medical supplies and vaccinations.
Trump’s announcement came in the midst of a wave of school closures in California and several other states. Ohio, Maryland, New Mexico, Louisiana and Michigan have ordered all public schools closed for at least two weeks. Although Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday issued an executive order to provide funding to shuttered California schools, he stopped short of ordering closures statewide. Still, L.A. Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, will shut down its 900 campuses serving more than 670,000 students beginning Monday for at least two weeks, an unexpectedly early start to spring break.
Parents now face the daunting task of finding care for their kids, and keeping them engaged, while potentially juggling working from home or even dealing with the stress of lost jobs as much of the economy grinds to a halt. L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner outlined a plan to open “family resource centers” to provide childcare, educational activities and even packaged meals. As a public health precaution, center visitors will have their temperatures taken upon arrival. The district will also offer televised and online lessons. That’s good, since museums, aquariums and other cultural institutions have closed their doors.
For a glimpse at how these next couple of weeks could go, look to Asia, where nationwide school closures have been in effect for some time. Parents there are stressed, children are bored and refrigerators have been repurposed as blackboards. “I want this to end,” said one 13-year-old from Hong Kong.
If you’re trying to explain the outbreak to kids, a guide from school psychologists and nurses advises you to balance facts with appropriate reassurances: “Give simple examples of the steps people take every day to stop germs and stay healthy, such as washing hands. Use language such as ‘adults are working hard to keep you safe.’”
By the numbers
As of 6:00 p.m. Friday, there were:
— At least six dead (including one non-California resident) and close to 250 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in California. (Here is the breakdown.)
— More than 40 deaths nationwide, most in the greater Seattle area.
— More than 140,000 cases reported globally and more than 5,300 deaths.
Official COVID-19 numbers reported by the California Department of Public Health and Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Where is the coronavirus spreading?
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Santa Clara County has issued an aggressive new ban on public gatherings: an outright ban on all public and private gatherings of 100 or more, with gatherings of 35 or more permitted only if none of the attendees is sick or at higher risk of serious illness.
L.A. county and city officials said Friday they are cracking down on fraud related to the outbreak, including false advertising of alleged coronavirus prevention products, treatments and cures, as well as price-gouging on safety products such as masks.
With dozens of novel coronavirus cases confirmed in the county, residents are swarming supermarkets and emptying shelves of supplies from powdered milk to ramen noodles. “The fact that there’s no toilet paper is insane,” said one exasperated shopper. “I don’t understand how that is going to save you from anything.”
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.
— Know your labor rights, from working from home to paid sick leave. In California, employees who meet certain requirements are entitled to at least three days of paid sick leave; several cities provide more.
— Experts still aren’t sure whether pets can get the coronavirus. Pet owners who contract the coronavirus should isolate themselves from their animal companions out of an abundance of caution.
— Wondering whether you should self-quarantine? Here’s our guide, along with tips on how to stock up in advance. You can also watch our video guide on YouTube.
Around the nation and the world
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin reached a deal Friday on an economic stimulus package to address the coronavirus outbreak, providing paid sick leave for workers and pumping billions of dollars to states for food programs and unemployment benefits. The legislation must now make its way from the House to the Senate.
Is it possible to be reinfected after recovering from COVID-19? Fears have been sparked by the apparent reappearance of coronavirus in recovered patients in China. Experts, however, say testing errors are more likely to blame. Scientists in and outside China agree that reinfection is a highly unlikely explanation for the patients who retest positive. When a person gets sick with any kind of viral infection, their immune system naturally develops antibodies that should protect them from contracting the illness again.
In Iran, videos of medical professionals clothed in white hazmat suits, swirling their hands in the air and twirling in circles, have gone viral on social media, an antidote to the bleak reality of living in the shadow of a pandemic.
For days, Canada dithered on taking action against the coronavirus. But on the news that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife, had contracted the virus, schools announced closures, gyms emptied out, supermarkets were mobbed and the idea that Canada could simply wait out the outbreak was swept away in a matter of hours.
In the heart of Mormon country in Idaho are the disaster preppers, whose houses run on solar energy and whose stockpiles of supplies and home-grown food will last them in emergencies stretching from months to years. That area of the U.S. has some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 infection, but they’re still ready. Their advice? “Learn how to improvise,” and “Be prepared for anything.”
Your questions answered
Today’s question comes from many readers who want to know if they should self-quarantine. From science reporter Deborah Netburn’s highly detailed explainer:
Self-quarantine is when you feel fine, but you separate yourself from others because there’s a high chance you’ve been exposed to the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you self-quarantine if you recently traveled to China’s Hubei province, or you live with someone who’s tested positive and have taken no steps to protect yourself.
People who have a compelling reason to believe they may have contracted the virus should sequester themselves for 14 days to see if they develop the symptoms of COVID-19 — dry cough, fever, shortness of breath. In a study of 181 people who contracted the new coronavirus, most people developed symptoms within six days of becoming infected, and 98% of them had symptoms by day 12.
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. You can find answers to other common questions in our midday roundup.