Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 17, 2020

U.S. tightens restrictions as coronavirus cases surge, stocks take their biggest plunge since 1987, and more


U.S. leaders tighten restrictions to slow coronavirus outbreak

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. jumped past 4,600 on Monday, with at least 85 deaths, according to CDC and government data. President Trump told Americans to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, adding the outbreak could continue for months. "It's bad," he said. Cities and states across the country announced increasingly tight restrictions to slow the spread of the flu-like virus. San Francisco area leaders told seven million people in six counties to "shelter in place." Other localities ordered restaurants, bars, and other public gathering spots to shut their doors. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his country is closing its borders for non-citizens with several exceptions, including American citizens. Italy, France, Germany, and Spain all announced harsher social distancing policies and immigration controls.


Stocks struggle to rebound from worst day since 1987

The U.S. stock market on Monday took its sharpest dive since the Black Monday crash of 1987 as President Trump warned the coronavirus pandemic could drag the economy into a recession. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 12.9 percent. The S&P 500 lost 12 percent and is now nearly 30 percent below its record high, set less than a month ago. Trump said the market could rebound strongly once public health officials get the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus contained, but analysts expressed concern about how long that would take. "It's impossible to say when and how we're going to reach bottom," said Quill Intelligence CEO Danielle DiMartino Booth. U.S. stock index futures struggled to rebound early Tuesday, but gave back most of an early 3 percent gain.


Ohio primary left in confusion after state orders polls closed

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Monday ordered the state's health department to keep all polling places closed to prevent the coronavirus from spreading among voters and poll workers in Tuesday's primary elections. DeWine took the unprecedented action after a court denied his last-minute push to postpone the voting until June. Opening polls would pose "an unacceptable health risk," DeWine said. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose will ask the courts to extend voting options so people will be able to cast ballots, DeWine added. Lawmakers and election experts were confused about whether the vote was on or off, with one state representative saying closing the polls created a "constitutional crisis." Ohio, Arizona, Florida, and Illinois all have primaries planned for Tuesday.


Romney proposes sending every U.S. adult $1,000

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Monday proposed giving every working American adult a $1,000 check to help families get through the financial strain of the coronavirus outbreak and stimulate the economy. Romney also said the federal government should make "bridge grants" available to small businesses struggling with lost customers, disrupted supply chains, and other problems caused by the pandemic. He also said student aid should be increased, and college loan payments deferred. Romney said he wanted the economy-boosting measures added to the economic stimulus bill the Senate plans to vote on soon. The House passed its version last week.


Researchers start tests on potential coronavirus vaccine

U.S. researchers on Monday began a first test of an experimental coronavirus vaccine Monday. Doctors injected the arms of four healthy volunteers at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle. The potential vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus was developed in record time following the outbreak in China that ignited the pandemic. "We're team coronavirus now," Kaiser Permanente study leader Dr. Lisa Jackson said just before the test began. "Everyone wants to do what they can in this emergency." Some of the 45 volunteers who will get two doses a month apart said they were glad to be part of the experiment. "We all feel so helpless. This is an amazing opportunity for me to do something," said Jennifer Haller, 43, of Seattle.


U.S.-led coalition moves troops from 3 Iraq bases

The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq announced Monday that it would move hundreds of soldiers from three small bases. The decision is part of an effort to reduce the U.S. troop presence in the country. The movement of the service members comes following a string of attacks from Iran-backed militia groups, although the coalition said the change was not a response to the militia strikes. Some of the forces will be moved from the al-Qaim base in western Iraq within days, and from the northern K1 and Key West bases shortly thereafter. Most of the soldiers will be transferred to bigger bases in Iraq. Some will go to Syria, and others to Kuwait.


DOJ moves to drop Mueller disinformation charges against 2 Russian firms

Federal prosecutors said Monday that they were moving to drop charges against two Russian companies accused of funding a social media campaign to influence U.S. voters in the 2016 presidential election. The companies, Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering, were among three companies and 13 individuals then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged with conspiracy to spread disinformation on social media, one of the main indictments that came out of his team's two-year Russia investigation. The Justice Department has concluded that holding a trial for a corporate defendant with no U.S. presence and no prospect for punishment would needlessly reveal sensitive law enforcement techniques, "potentially undermining their effectiveness."


Hospitals start postponing elective procedures as outbreak spreads

U.S. hospitals have started postponing elective surgeries to make more beds and other resources available for treating coronavirus patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended pushing back elective procedures and outpatient visits as soon as the flu-like virus appears in a community, to keep the health-care system from being overwhelmed by the outbreak and to limit exposure of healthy people. A new Gallup poll released Monday found that 60 percent of Americans are "very" or "somewhat worried" about coronavirus exposure, up from 36 percent in February. The poll, conducted from March 2 to March 13, also found that 61 percent of Americans are "very" or "somewhat confident" in the U.S. government's ability to respond to the pandemic, a drop of 16 percentage points compared to February.


Amazon to hire 100,000 to keep up with online shopping surge

Amazon said Monday it would try to hire 100,000 people across the U.S. to help meet a surge in purchases by customers shopping more online to avoid going out as the coronavirus spreads. The company said it would hike hourly pay by $2 an hour through April for workers at its warehouses, delivery centers, and Whole Foods grocery stores. The employees currently make at least $15 an hour. "We are seeing a significant increase in demand, which means our labor needs are unprecedented for this time of year," said Dave Clark, who oversees Amazon's warehouse and delivery network. The company said that as it ramps up, some deliveries could take longer than the typical two days.


NASA: Greenland, Antarctica ice melting 6 times faster than in 1990s

Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice six times faster than they were in the 1990s, NASA said Monday. A new study using satellite observations found that the regions had lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice over the past three decades. If the trend continues, the melting rate could cause sea levels to rise an additional 6.7 inches by 2100, matching the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's worst-case scenario. That could cause flooding in coastal areas inhabited by hundreds of millions of people. "That's not a good news story," said study lead author Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.


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