Tuesday morning news – March 17, 2020

Bay area authorities issue “shelter in place” order » Authorities in the San Francisco Bay area are placing six counties on lockdown—issuing “shelter in place” orders for nearly 7 million residents. Effective today, officials are prohibiting non-essential travel and they’re closing down non-essential businesses.  

Santa Clara health officer Dr. Sara Cody emphasized that pharmacies and grocery stores will remain open. 

CODY: Food can be ordered from restaurants for delivery or carryout. Gas stations, banks, and hardware stores will remain open. And essential government services and essential infrastructure will continue to operate. 

There are nearly 300 cases of COVID-19 in the Bay area. Cody said Santa Clara county is the epicenter of the outbreak, and health officials determined the Bay area is reaching a tipping point. 

The “shelter in place” order is the strongest measure yet within the United States. But an increasing number of states and cities have begun to tighten restrictions, such as shutting down dine-in restaurants and bars. 

And in another sign of COVID-19’s impact on the nation, the Supreme Court on Monday postponed oral arguments. That marks the first time the court has delayed arguments over a public health matter since the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. 

White House announces new coronavirus guidelines » President Trump and other top officials again briefed reporters at the White House Monday about the national response to the coronavirus.  

AUDIO: I want to thank everybody for being here today.

The president said in an effort to get ahead of the curve, his administration is announcing new guidelines to help slow the spread of the virus.  

TRUMP: My administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel, and avoid eating and drinking in bars, restaurants, and public food courts. 

The president also conceded that the country could be slipping into a coronavirus recession, but he said his focus right now is on halting the virus. He also speculated that the worst of the coronavirus impact could last until July or August. 

That likely contributed to another horrendous day on Wall Street, which again had its worst day since 1987. The Dow plummeted 3,000 points despite the Fed’s efforts on Sunday to calm the markets.

Congress wrestles with coronavirus relief plans » The coronavirus relief bill just passed by the House faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said he doesn’t think the House bill will pass in the upper chamber.  

COTTON: It doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t cover enough workers and their families. It doesn’t do enough to make sure that we eliminate any financial incentive that anyone may have to be at work or other public places because they’re worried about buying groceries or making the car payment or paying the rent. 

The House bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support over the weekend. It would expand access to free testing, extend sick leave benefits, and provide a billion dollars in food aid.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for a “comprehensive” aid package. He said it should contain “significant” steps to help families and businesses as workplaces shutter, schools send students home, and health systems brace to provide emergency care.

For now, the Senate is stalled, waiting on the House to send its package of sick pay and other resources. That was approved early Saturday with President Trump’s support, but quickly became tangled in technical issues.

That package comes on top of an $8.3 billion in initial aid approved at the start of the month. But all sides, the House, Senate and White House, say it’s not nearly enough to handle what’s coming.

COVID-19 vaccine trial underway as scientists race to find treatment » A COVID-19 vaccine trial is now underway, while scientists also rush to find an effective treatment for the disease. WORLD Radio’s Anna Johansen has more. 

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: The first participants in a clinical vaccine trial have received an experimental dose at a research institute in Washington state. But officials caution that it will likely take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine. The National Institutes of Health is funding the trial, which started Monday at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

Meantime, scientists are also racing to find an effective treatment for COVID-19. They hope to reduce the duration and severity of the disease. Among the possibilities, Gilead Science is testing its antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown promise against other viruses, including one type of coronavirus. 

And Johnson & Johnson is testing its HIV drug darunavir. It cited “unpublished virological and clinical data” that showed some effectiveness in treating the SARS coronavirus.

But it’s still too early to know if those or any other possible treatments could be effective against COVID-19.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen.

Death toll rises from virus » At least 71 people have now died from the coronavirus in the United States. And there are at least 3,700 confirmed cases. But with problems in access to testing, experts fear the virus is much more widespread than those numbers indicate.

Four states to hold elections today despite coronavirus changes » Ohio’s top health official halted the state’s presidential primary over concerns about the coronavirus, hours before voting was to begin today. 

On Monday, Governor Mike DeWine tried to persuade a judge to delay in-person voting until June. He noted recent CDC guidelines warning against any gatherings of more than 50 people. 

DEWINE: It is clear that tomorrow’s in-person voting does not conform and cannot conform with these CDC guidelines. 

Ohio Judge Richard Frye said it’s too late to delay the vote. And he added that there’s no evidence to suggest it will be safer to vote in June. 

But then the state’s top health official Dr. Amy Acton stepped in and issued the order to close polling stations. She said crowds gathering at polling places Tuesday could put people at unacceptable risk.

But officials in three other states scheduled to vote today felt they had done enough to ensure the safety of voters. So elections will go forward in Arizona, Florida and Illinois. However officials in those states have closed some voting stations down and relocated others for safety reasons. 

But another state will postpone its election until June. Kentucky’s Secretary of State Michael Adams made the announcement last night. 

ADAMS: Today, Governor Beshear and I agreed to delay the primary election originally scheduled for May 19th to June 23rd. 

Kentucky joins Georgia and Louisiana as the third state to postpone its primary election.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Vice President Mike Pence holds a information sheet during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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