March 17 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes and Jack Guy, CNN

Updated 0220 GMT (1020 HKT) March 18, 2020
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9:39 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

Nearly 8 million Northern California residents asked to shelter in place

From CNN's Jon Passantino

A pedestrian crosses an empty street in San Francisco on Tuesday, March 17.
A pedestrian crosses an empty street in San Francisco on Tuesday, March 17. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Sonoma County joined nine other Northern California counties on Tuesday, ordering residents to shelter in place to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, raising the total number of residents under the orders in the region to nearly 8 million.

The order issued by Sonoma County restricts residents’ activity, travel, and business functions to only the most basic and essential needs. It goes into effect at midnight March 18 and will be in place for three weeks until April 7.

“In light of the recent cases of local transmission of COVID-19 in the County, we are taking proactive action to curtail the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County's interim health officer. 

Other counties currently ordered to shelter in place include Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz.

9:08 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

Air traffic control tower at Chicago Midway International Airport is temporarily closed, FAA says

From CNN's Pierre Meilhan

The sun sets behind the air traffic control tower at Chicago Midway International Airport on Tuesday, March 17.
The sun sets behind the air traffic control tower at Chicago Midway International Airport on Tuesday, March 17. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

The air traffic control tower at Chicago Midway International Airport has temporarily closed after several technicians at the facility tested positive for coronavirus, the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday.

The federal agency said the closure is necessary “while we ensure a safe work environment for air traffic controllers and technicians.”

“The airport remains open and operations will continue at a reduced rate until the situation is resolved,” the FAA said in a statement.

The airport is also shifting to "one-in-one-out" flight operations, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

"We have been notified by the FAA that out of an abundance of caution, access to the air traffic control tower at Midway International Airport will be limited, and flight operations will shift to "one-in-one-out," the department said in a statement.

"Subsequently, the FAA has implemented a ground delay program, which applies to any flight bound for Midway that has not yet departed its point of origin. Midway remains open, but operations will be limited until further notice. Travelers are encouraged to contact their airline for the most up-to-date flight information," the department said.

8:27 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

Spanish prime minister announces aid package to address impact of the coronavirus outbreak

From CNN's Mia Alberti in Lisbon

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Tuesday his government has approved a 200 billion euro (almost $220 billion) aid package to help tackle the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The package amounts to about 20% of the country's GDP and is "the biggest mobilization of economic resources in Spain's history," Sanchez said during a news conference.

"We have to fight this virus in the economic front, to win against the virus. We must also protect our jobs, companies, and families with a social and economic shield so that no one is left behind. That's why, today, we approved a very important decree [for an aid package] the biggest that has ever been approved in the history of our democracy", he said on Tuesday.

Of that total amount, 600 million euros ($660 million) will be put into basic social services, with a special focus for health assistance for the elderly and other vulnerable groups. The government is also facilitating the protection of the water, electricity and communication providers "to guarantee essential public services."

"We are also guaranteeing the right to housing for those with more difficulties. Nobody in a touch economic situation will lose their house," the prime minister said.

On the industry front, Sánchez promised that independent workers may receive subsidies if they see their workload reduced. He also appealed to business owners not to fire their employees.

8:18 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

NASA orders all employees to telework until further notice

NASA announced tonight that effective immediately all employees and contractors will telework until further notice after “a limited number of employees have tested positive” for coronavirus.

“Although a limited amount of employees have tested positive for COVID-19, it is imperative that we take this pre-emptive step to thwart further spreading of the virus among the workforce and our communities,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Mission-essential personnel will continue to be granted access onsite.

8:16 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

6.1 million students out of school in California

From CNN's Sarah Moon

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking at a news conference Tuesday, said 6.1 million students are out of school statewide due to closures over coronavirus concerns.

According to Newsom, 98.8% of schools are closed.

He went on to say don't expect schools to open up in a few weeks.

7:53 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

ICE to temporarily reschedule appointments of immigrants who are not in detention, memo says

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement notified congressional staffers Tuesday that it will temporarily reschedule in-person appointments of immigrants who are not in detention and allow those recently released from the southern border to check in at 60 days, instead of 30 days, according to a memo obtained by CNN. 

ICE also reiterated in its memo to staffers that the agency “does not conduct operations at medical facilities, except under extraordinary circumstances.”

8:25 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

Americans should "only purchase enough food and essentials for the week ahead," FDA says

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

A person walks past empty shelves at a supermarket in Saugus, Massachusetts, on March 13.
A person walks past empty shelves at a supermarket in Saugus, Massachusetts, on March 13. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

The US Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Tuesday there are no nationwide food shortages, although some stores may temporarily have low supplies of some items before they can restock.

The agency said it is in close contact with grocery stores and food manufacturers to monitor the food supply chain for any possible shortages. 

“While we are confident that stores will remain open and supply will continue to meet demand nationwide, we ask all Americans to only purchase enough food and essentials for the week ahead," FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement from the agency.

In the statement, the agency said it was relaxing some of its requirements to limit disruptions in the food supply chain.

While grocery stores are “facing unprecedented demand,” the FDA is temporarily waiving its strict supplier verification audit requirements, if the supplier is using other appropriate methods, such as sampling and testing, to make sure food is safe.

With COVID-19 pandemic-related travel restrictions in place, the FDA said it may make some audits “temporarily impractical to conduct.” The FDA said onsite audits will resume when it becomes practicable to do so. 

"The policy released today will help to minimize disruptions so that the food industry can meet the demand while also continuing to conduct supplier verification activities that are designed to ensure food safety and following government travel restrictions and advisories,” Hahn said. 

Watch: Tips for shopping during coronavirus stockpiling

9:12 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

Treasury Secretary warns US could see 20% unemployment rate due to coronavirus, source says

From CNN's Jeremy Diamond

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Republican senators Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic could drive up US unemployment to 20%, a Republican Senate source told CNN.

Mnuchin's comments came as he urged Republican senators to act on economic stimulus measures totaling $1 trillion designed to avert that kind of worst case scenario.

In the same meeting, Mnuchin also said he is concerned the economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic could be worse than the 2008 financial crisis, the source said.

Mnuchin's comments, which were first reported by Bloomberg News, come amid a rising sense of urgency at the White House and on Capitol Hill to confront the increasingly serious threat of the coronavirus pandemic — on both the public health and economic fronts.

Watch: Mnuchin says this is not the time to worry about the deficit

7:26 p.m. ET, March 17, 2020

UN Security Council cancels all meetings this week

From CNN's Richard Roth

United Nations Security Council meetings this week at the UN have been canceled, the Ambassador of China, who is the Security Council President, announced.

Discussions at the UN continue this week, however, and the UN remains open for diplomats and media.