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Trump warns of potential recession and issues new guidelines on coronavirus

The novel coronavirus pandemic is dominating the country. As confirmed U.S. cases reached 4,300, with 78 deaths, fears of medical and economic disaster drove dramatic consequences Monday. Stocks plummeted, cities implemented curfews and near-lockdowns and President Trump warned the crisis could linger into the summer. William Brangham reports and Yamiche Alcindor joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Stark headlines tell our top story again tonight, the pandemic dominating the United States and the world.

    U.S. coronavirus cases have now reached 4,300, with 78 deaths. Officials are advising against gatherings of more than 10 people, as more businesses are shuttering.

    And Wall Street crashed again, with the Dow Jones industrials falling — freefalling nearly 3,000 points, or 13 percent, the most in 30 years.

    Amid all this, President Trump warned that the crisis could linger into July or August.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • William Brangham:

    In much of the country today, daily life is shutting down. Huge parts of the country are doing their part to try and slow the spread of this coronavirus.

    New York City's Times Square was eerily quiet. Florida's theme parks were virtual ghost towns. Businesses, restaurants, and bars from coast to coast closed their doors, as governors in multiple states ordered full closures or drastically cut-back hours.

    Seven counties in and around San Francisco today asked all their 6.5 million residents to shelter in place, no leaving home, except for crucial tasks, until at least April.

    And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the unprecedented move yesterday to call for the cancellation of all gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

    Despite the evidence that measures like these can slow the spread of the virus, some people remain unsure:

  • India John:

    I do want us to all be safe and healthy, but I'm really concerned about how I'm going to pay my bills.

  • William Brangham:

    Food distribution operations, like this one in Houston, are helping those in need.

    The U.S. surgeon general warned today that, in terms of this epidemic, America is roughly two weeks behind Italy, a country that, in places, is overrun with infections, where hospitals are overflowing, and over 2000 people have died.

    And despite the surgeon general's warning for Americans to maintain social distancing, some elected leaders advised the opposite.

    Here's what Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of California said yesterday on FOX News:

  • Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.:

    There's a lot of concerns with the economy here, because people are scared to go out.

    But I will just say, one of the things you can do, if you're healthy, you and your family, it's a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.

  • William Brangham:

    But the president today reiterated the message that public health officials have been urging for days:

  • President Donald 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 at bars, restaurants and public food courts.

  • William Brangham:

    There's also reports the Trump administration believes a foreign disinformation campaign is under way to sow fear of a coming nationwide quarantine, a rumor that White House officials denied.

    Still, the closures and cancellations continue. The U.S. Supreme Court postponed arguments in scheduled cases, including one over subpoenas for President Trump's financial records. It's believed to be the court's first such recess since the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

    Meanwhile, there are some glimmers of progress. Testing is being ramped up to prioritize medical workers who might work with infected patients and senior citizens, who are most at risk.

    President Trump told governors on a conference call today to get their own respirators and ventilators, and not wait for the federal government to provide them.

    Some hospitals have erected tents outside their facilities to prepare for the increased demand in care. Most patients infected with coronavirus have recovered without any repercussions.

    In order to limit human contact, more than 10 states also now offer drive-through viral testing.

    U.S. researchers in Seattle today also administered the first experimental coronavirus vaccine. But health officials have warned it will take at least a year before any vaccine is ready for widespread use.

    Elsewhere around the world, numerous other countries announced strict new policies on the movements of tens of millions of people. Canada announced today it was closing its border to any non-citizen or resident.

    French President Emmanuel Macron ordered all citizens to remain at home for two weeks, except for essential activities. And Spain, the nation with the fourth highest infection rate, has been on a national lockdown since Saturday.

    The Peace Corps also temporarily suspended its operations, as it evacuates all of its volunteers from dozens of countries.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we turn now to our Yamiche Alcindor, who continues to track the White House response to all of this.

    So, Yamiche, there was a briefing this afternoon. The president seemed to take a different tone today.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That's right, Judy.

    President Trump was completely different in his tone and in the way that he was approaching the coronavirus. He was much more serious, much more somber. In the past, he has really downplayed the virus. He said at one point that a miracle might wash away the virus and that there might be cases that go down to zero in the United States.

    Today, he said there might be a recession because of the coronavirus. He also said that the U.S. hospital systems might be overwhelmed. He said that this is going to last possibly all the way until August, maybe even longer.

    And he was also telling people, you need to be vigilant. And the White House, of course, issued those new guidelines, three big things that they want people to do. One, homeschool your children, if you can. Two, stay away from bars and restaurants, if you can.

    And the third was, please don't gather, the president said, in gatherings of more than 10 or more people, and that's in public or in private. So, if you have a large family, you still have to separate, even if you're in the same home.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know the president was there with members of the task force he's appointed to oversee the coronavirus response, Yamiche.

    What were they saying today about the status of testing and about the situation with regard to the ventilators, which are going to be so necessary if people become very sick?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president and health officials today said that we are entering a new phase in testing.

    This week, they said they're going to roll out 1.9 million new tests. They're still focusing on testing people who show symptoms of COVID-19, which, of course, is the infection caused by coronavirus.

    And the president said that he also has ordered a lot of ventilators. Now, on a call today, he did get criticized afterwards because he told governors that they should be relying on their own ventilators and not the White House.

    I talked to a White House official about that. That person stressed that the president was saying that the federal government's resources should be a last resort for states, so that, yes, they are looking at medical equipment for states, but that states should not be looking at the White House right now for the first stock in ventilators or respiratory equipment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one other thing, Yamiche.

    We know people have been looking to the White House for how they're going to handle the financial, the economic fallout from this virus. We saw what happened to the markets today. What are they saying about that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It was remarkable to hear the president say that we might be going into an economic recession. But he said that very clearly.

    And he also said that the markets might take care of themselves. But the White House has been saying today that they are preparing and have announced up to $800 billion in economic aid. That's also to individuals, but also to companies.

    The president said that we're going to have the airline industries backed specifically, but they're also looking at helping out cruise industries.

    I should also note that the Senate majority (sic) leader, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, he said that he's preparing a bill for $750 billion focused on the coronavirus and more response.

    So, what we're seeing is billions and billions of dollars being put into the coronavirus response. So, Democrats and Republicans, it seems, are on the same page when it comes to the amount of money. But they, of course, are still figuring out how this is going to work, because the White House really does want a payroll tax cut.

    Democrats have not got on board for that. But there is going to be another bill coming. Even though there is a bill, of course, that the House has passed, there's going to be a third bill coming that the president will also be looking at and negotiating on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So much to keep track of.

    Yamiche Alcindor, reporting from the White House, thank you, Yamiche.

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