Millions holed up at home as US routines shift profoundly
CHICAGO — Millions of Americans began their work week holed up at home against the coronavirus Monday as the escalating outbreak shifted the nation’s daily routines in ways never before seen in U.S. history.
With wide swaths of the economy shuddering to a halt, stocks nosedived more than 11% on Wall Street in the morning, triggering an automatic 15-minute halt to trading. The sell-off came despite emergency Federal Reserve action late Sunday that cut the key interest rate to near zero.
The best-case scenario for many investors now is that the economic shock will be steep but short, with growth recovering later this year as stores and businesses open back up. Pessimists, though, are preparing for a longer haul.
The U.S. surgeon general, meanwhile, said the number of coronavirus cases in the United States has reached a level comparable to what disease-battered Italy recorded two weeks ago — a signal that infections are expected to rise in America.
"We are at a critical inflection point in this country, people," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Fox News. "When you look at the projections, there's every chance that we could be Italy."
Two weeks ago, there were 1,700 cases of coronavirus in Italy and the country had reported 34 deaths. Now, Italy is reporting an estimated 25,000 cases and more than 1,800 people have died.
The U.S. has recorded about 3,800 infections and at least 65 deaths, two-thirds of them in hard-hit Washington state.
Across the country, health officials, politicians and business leaders talked about "social distancing" and "flattening the curve," or encouraging people to avoid others so as to slow the spread of the virus and keep U.S. hospitals from being overwhelmed with a sudden deluge of patients.
The first participant in a clinical trial for a vaccine to protect against the virus was set to receive an experimental dose at a research institute in Washington state Monday. Public officials cautioned, however, that it will still take a year to 18 months to fully test and approve any vaccine
The wheels of justice slowed too, as the U.S. Supreme Court put oral arguments on hold, including fights over subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s financial records. Many other courtrooms across the U.S. have also shut down.
Over the weekend, governors and mayors closed restaurants, bars, and schools as the nation sank deeper into crisis. Travelers returning home from abroad were stuck in line for hours at major airports for screenings, crammed into just the kind of crowded spaces that public health officials have urged people to avoid.
Around the country, people rushed to line up child care and make arrangements to work from home or tried to figure out how to entertain themselves now that nearly all social gatherings have been banned, canceled or strongly discouraged.
Some people planned to binge-watch TV, catch up on chores such as cleaning out the basement, exercise at home instead of the gym, do more cooking or read more.
"We're catching up on our reading. I just started `Love in the Time of Cholera.' It seemed appropriate,” said Beverly Pfeiffer in Silver Spring, Maryland, of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez classic.
More than 650 members of the National Guard have been called up by governors in 15 states to help deal with the crisis by doing such things as distributing food and sanitizing public areas.