March 20 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Joshua Berlinger, Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Steve George and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 9:27 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020
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3:20 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

US has fewer hospital beds than Italy per capita

From CNN's Michael Nedelman

Workers construct a temporary hospital on a soccer field for people infected with COVID-19 on Thursday, March 19,  in Shoreline, Washington. The 200 bed facility will increase hospital capacity in the Seattle area and serve as a place where people infected can isolate and recover.
Workers construct a temporary hospital on a soccer field for people infected with COVID-19 on Thursday, March 19, in Shoreline, Washington. The 200 bed facility will increase hospital capacity in the Seattle area and serve as a place where people infected can isolate and recover. Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The novel coronavirus outbreak in Italy — whose health care system has more hospital beds per 1,000 people than the United States — could signal a lack of preparedness on the US front, according to commentary published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Though Italy’s health system is highly regarded and has 3.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people (as compared with 2.8 in the United States), it has been impossible to meet the needs of so many critically ill patients simultaneously," Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, wrote in the perspective piece published Wednesday.

Despite hospitals in Italy canceling elective surgeries and turning operating rooms into temporary intensive care units, the country has seen limited capacity in treating an influx of COVID-19 patients, Rosenbaum said. And doctors have had to ration care.

Experts, including US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, have widely cautioned that the US could "become Italy" as the outbreak worsens stateside.

3:20 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

2 individuals linked to Pentagon test positive for coronavirus

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne

Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images
Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images

An Air Force service member and Air Force contractor who had been in the Pentagon within the last three weeks have tested positive for the coronavirus in what is believed to be the first cases involving Pentagon personnel.

 “An active duty member who works for Defense Health Agency, Falls Church, Va. tested positive for Covid-19. Although his duty station was in Falls Church, the individual was last in the Pentagon on March 16 for less than an hour and has since received medical treatment and self-quarantined at home,” the US Air Force said in a statement Friday.

"Military public health and local civilian public health officials have notified those in which the individual came in contact. All have been asked to adhere to Center for Disease Control guidance,” the statement added.

Additionally an Air Force contractor has also tested positive for coronavirus and has been in quarantine for nearly two weeks. 

“A defense contractor who works for the Air Force in the Pentagon has tested positive for Covid-19. The last time the infected member was in the Pentagon was March 2. The individual has received medical treatment and has been self-quarantined at home since March 7,” the statement said.

The individual also attended a symposium at a Joint Base Andrews in early March but the statement said, “The Virginia Department of Health has provided a 'low risk rating' based on the individual being asymptomatic at the symposium.”

 

2:39 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Florida governor orders all restaurants to provide takeout and delivery only

From CNN's Hollie Silverman and Lindsay Benson

A man sits outside a closed restaurant at a deserted Ocean drive in Miami, on March 18.
A man sits outside a closed restaurant at a deserted Ocean drive in Miami, on March 18. Chandan KhannaAFP via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order mandating all restaurants and food establishments in the state to suspend all food and alcohol consumption on site Friday.

Restaurants will only be allowed to provide delivery or takeout, the executive order said.

The order also allows restaurants to provide alcohol to delivery and take out customers who provide identification.

Gyms and other fitness centers were also ordered to be closed.

2:36 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

US businesses will suffer a $4 trillion decline due to coronavirus, hedge fund predicts

From CNN's Cristina Alesci

Scott Sonner/AP
Scott Sonner/AP

Famed hedge fund Bridgewater predicts the coronavirus will lead to $4 trillion in lost corporate revenue for both public and private businesses in the US, according to a report the firm published Friday.

“That is a very dangerous decline, and if not mitigated, it will lead to a long-lasting ripple,” said the Bridgewater team who authored the research report.

In Bridgewater’s model, companies will have a shortfall of $2 trillion “concentrated in energy and travel and leisure, and about equally divided between large and small companies.”

The firm projects a 6% decline in US GDP for 2020, with the biggest hit during the second quarter.

The firm also estimates a decline of $12 trillion for global businesses in 2020.

“Since this hit to revenues is happening throughout the world, the total hole globally will be roughly three times that—about $12 trillion. Governments are responding, of course, but in most cases these responses will just mitigate some of the ripple. Governments’ capacities to deal with this hit vary greatly and will be a major driver of markets going forward," the report stated.

“Many companies will try to fill this gap by drawing credit lines, increasing their debt positions,” said the investors.

If government policies don’t help fill the gap, companies are likely to dramatically cut spending, which would result in meaningful cuts in employment.

Ray Dalio, who founded Bridgewater, is famous for predicting the 2008 financial crisis.

2:26 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

World Health Organization has distributed 1.5 million coronavirus lab tests around the world

From CNN’s Amanda Watts and Mallory Simon

World Health Organization Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan talks during a press briefing in Geneva on March 11.
World Health Organization Health Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan talks during a press briefing in Geneva on March 11. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has distributed 1.5 million coronavirus lab tests around the world and they will need 80 to 100 times that, according to Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization health emergencies program.

Speaking at a WHO briefing on Friday, Ryan said, “If we look forward in this epidemic, and we project ourselves forward a number of months, and the amount of testing that is going to be needed, we need to scale that up approximately 80 to 100 times.” 

“So, it’s not about doubling the availability of lab tests, it’s not about tripling it, it’s about potentially increasing that 80-fold. Now that’s an extreme analysis, but that’s what we need to aim for,” Ryan warned.

Addressing the impact on health systems, Ryan said, “Look at the intensive care units, completely overwhelmed, the doctors and nurses utterly exhausted. This is not normal. This isn't just a bad flu season. These are health systems that are collapsing under the pressure of too many cases. This is not normal, this is not just a little bit worse than we're used to."

 

2:19 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

World Health Organization urges "looking after your physical and mental health" during pandemic

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

The World Health Organization is urging everyone to maintain healthy habits during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"During this difficult time, it’s important to continue looking after your physical and mental health. This will not only help you in the long-term, it will also help you fight Covid if you get it," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing in Geneva on Friday.

"If your local or national guidelines allow it, go outside for a walk, a run or a ride and keep a safe distance from others. If you can’t leave the house, find an exercise video online, dance to music, do some yoga, or walk up and down the stairs," Tedros said. "Get your information from reliable sources once or twice a day.” 

Tedros recommended to maintain a healthy diet, don't smoke, limit your alcohol intake, avoid sugary drinks and stay physically active. 

"WHO recommends 30 minutes of physical activity a day for adults, and one hour a day for children," Tedros said.

"If you’re working at home, make sure you don’t sit in the same position for long periods. Get up and take a 3-minute break every 30 minutes," Tedros said. "We will be providing more advice on how to stay healthy at home in the coming days and weeks.”

2:08 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Michigan suspends non-essential medical and dental procedures

From CNN's Elizabeth Joseph

Non-essential medical and dental procedures are temporarily restricted across Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office said in a statement Friday.

Non-essential medical treatments include joint replacement, bariatric surgery and cosmetic surgery, “except for emergency or trauma-related surgery where postponement would significantly impact the health, safety, and welfare of the patient," the statement said. 

According to the statement, non-essential dental procedures also include cosmetic or aesthetic procedures, like veneers, teeth bleaching or cosmetic bonding, as well as all routine hygiene appointments.

“Our health care workers are on the front lines every day protecting Michiganders during these extraordinary and difficult times. By postponing all non-essential medical and dental procedures, we expect to reduce the strain on the health care system and protect people,” Whitmer said.
2:09 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

Morocco repatriation flights for US citizens will continue this weekend, State Department official says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood

The State Department anticipates that repatriation flights from Morocco would continue throughout the weekend, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said Friday.

“This is the most important duty that our embassies and consulates perform and I'm continually proud of the work done to ensure the safety and well being of American citizens abroad,” Schenker said in a call with reporters.

Schenker said that the US Mission in Morocco fielded “over 3,000 emails” and a phone bank consular staff answered “hundreds of phone calls.”

He said there were more than 1,000 American citizens in Morocco. A senior State Department official said that in their experience there are usually “several times as many individuals who want to get out than that actually contact us.” 

“So the number actually turns out to be much larger,” they said. That official said the repatriation had been “a large logistical effort” and noted they were expecting “half a dozen if not more flights.” They said they would see what the demand was going forward.

“This is the only country in the region, so far, where we've done this effort and gotten this kind of demand, but we understand in countries like Egypt, there are tens of thousands of American citizens and dual nationals, etc, so we'll be looking at what the demand is and what the request is and how to best serve our fellow countrymen going forward,” the official said.

The official could not provide an estimate for Americans in the region when asked. However, they noted that “we are working 24/7 in the field to handle the inflow of requests of information requests.”

“And mind you, that is in some cases with consular staff that has left on authorized departure for health reasons. So just the volume in this unprecedented situation, it's hard to contend with and we’re doing our best,” they said. “I think our people out in the field are doing an amazing, amazing job.”

The senior official said the State Department staff had “gone dramatically to telework."

2:07 p.m. ET, March 20, 2020

More soldiers needed in Italy's hardest hit region to enforce emergency lockdown, governor says

Members of the military aid with the construction of a field hospital, run by non-governmental organisation Samaritans Purse, in a parking lot in Cremona, Italy, on Friday, March 20.
Members of the military aid with the construction of a field hospital, run by non-governmental organisation Samaritans Purse, in a parking lot in Cremona, Italy, on Friday, March 20. Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The governor of the hard hit region of Lombardy in northern Italy has said it needs more soldiers than it has been allocated to enforce an emergency lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus. 

"I made a series of requests to the Prime Minister, one related to the use of the army to ensure that the measures are strictly applied," Gov. Attilio Fontana said during a news conference on Friday. 

"It's being said that 114 soldiers will be sent to Lombardy, which means practically nothing. I think we need to add a zero (to that number) to seriously start discussing the problem."

Fontana warned that the situation is not improving judging by the newest numbers of confirmed cases and deaths.

The Lombardy region is working with the mayors of the municipalities hit by coronavirus to write a list of requests to send to the government.

Among the region's requests, "limitations to physical activity, to all activities in offices and professional ones, closure of construction sites, further limitation in commercial activities," an assessments of the production chains that can be considered "not essential for our region and the country."