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The Coronavirus Newsletter: 9 Dead In Washington State

In today's edition: A disastrous lack of testing in the US, the growing economic impact, and the pope tests negative.

Posted on March 3, 2020, at 5:14 p.m. ET

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This is the second edition of our new daily newsletter covering the coronavirus outbreak. If you find it useful, you can sign up for it here. And please pass it along to anyone else who you think might appreciate it!

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the coronavirus outbreak. This newsletter will do its best to put everything we do know in one place each day. We’re not about sensationalizing things, freaking people out, or speculating about how bad it’s going to get. Do you have questions you want answered? You can always get in touch. And if you're someone who is seeing the impact of this firsthand, we’d also love to hear from you (and you can reach out to us via one of our tip line channels).

And with that, here’s what we know as of Tuesday, March 3.

Coronavirus in the US

As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been 108 confirmed cases and 9 deaths in the US. These numbers were accurate when we sent this out; you can get the latest figures from our live tracker.

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The Washington state outbreak may have been spreading for weeks
Nine people have died and 19 have tested positive, but the total number might be much higher, according to scientists who studied two separate coronavirus cases there. The genetic similarities between the two suggest the virus has been jumping from person to person in Washington for some time. If it has been spreading this way, rather than just being brought back from abroad by infected people, “it is going to be a lot harder, if not impossible, to contain this virus,” says Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen.

One of the biggest failures in the US response has been the lack of testing
China has likely tested millions of people, South Korea can do 10,000 tests per day. So far, the US has done just hundreds of tests, and scientists say it’s a major failure by federal authorities. Without more tests, it’s very hard to know where the outbreak is spreading and make plans to contain it.

The CDC is taking most of the blame for the failure so far, but according to Politico, people within the CDC and the White House are “increasingly pointing the finger at one leader: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who they say failed to coordinate the response.”

The economic impact is becoming clear
The Federal Reserve announced the first emergency interest rate cut since the financial crisis today, saying that while the US economy is still strong, there are “evolving risks to economic activity” due to the outbreak. We’re keeping a running list of all the conferences and events that have already been canceled, and here’s an explainer of why the stock market keeps tanking. And here are images of the supermarkets being emptied by panic shopping across the country.

Handout / Reuters

What we’re reading and watching

What to do if you think you have coronavirus
Vice has a nice, straightforward guide for what to do if you start feeling sick and are worried it might be coronavirus. First things first: Don’t panic. Most people who’ve been infected experience only mild symptoms, don’t need aggressive treatment, and quickly make a full recovery.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it! If you’re experiencing the symptoms — a fever, a cough, and shortness of breath are the most common ones, the CDC says — call a clinic and ask what to do; you can’t just show up and ask to be tested. They’ll talk you through what to do next.

Tip of the day
Seriously, try to train yourself to stop touching your face all the time. It’s really hard, but along with regularly washing your hands, it’s “the one behavior that would be better than any vaccine ever created,” one doctor told the Washington Post. “Just stop this simple behavior. Stop picking, licking, biting, rubbing — it’s the most effective way to prevent a pandemic.” And not just with coronavirus — it’s also a pro move in flu season in general.

Quote of the day
“This is going to destroy the marriages of the rich. All these husbands and wives who travel will now have to spend time with the person they’re married to.”
Mitchell Moss, who studies urban policy and planning at New York University, in “How the Rich Are Preparing for Coronavirus (Bloomberg)

The other quote of the day
“To keep ground beef and chicken breasts moving, meat companies need to continually turn over their inventory, which has a limited shelf life even when frozen. “It’s the sell it or smell it principle,” said Christine McCracken, protein analyst for agricultural lender Rabobank.
—“Meat Stockpiles Surge as Coronavirus Epidemic Curbs Exports (WSJ)

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Coronavirus around the world

As of Sunday, March 1, there have been 92,808 confirmed cases and 3,159 deaths globally. These numbers are changing by the hour; you can get the latest figures from our live tracker.

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Iran has reported the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world outside of China, and today the deputy speaker of its parliament released a stunning detail: 23 Iranian MPs have already tested positive, meaning almost 10% of the country’s parliament is infected. The virus appears to have spread through the country’s upper leadership in a way unlike anywhere else in the world.

In China, the country's most popular messaging app, WeChat, has been censoring messages containing keywords related to the outbreak, according to a new report. It's likely that the censorship had a real impact on the ability of doctors and others to share information in the early days of the outbreak.

In the United Arab Emirates, schools will shut down for four weeks beginning on Sunday, the government announced today. Emirates, one of the world’s largest airlines, is based out of Dubai and has asked staff to volunteer for unpaid leave as it struggles with extensive cancellations.

In Rome, the Vatican confirmed that the pope does not have coronavirus. And in London, the Queen was photographed wearing an uncharacteristically long pair of gloves at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace today. It’s “a sensible precaution” for a woman who greets a lot of guests and turns 94 this year, one royal watcher told Sky News.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

What happens next

A spending package for the US response to the coronavirus is being negotiated right now in DC and could be passed through Congress in the coming days. Chuck Schumer has proposed as much as $8.5 billion, far higher than the $2.5 billion requested by the White House.

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