NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. states pleaded with the Trump administration on Monday to mount a coordinated national response to the coronavirus pandemic, as millions of workers and students stayed home to slow the spread of the outbreak.
The unprecedented wave of closures and restrictions, which began to accelerate last week, took on fresh urgency on Monday as New Jersey “strongly discouraged” all non-essential and non-emergency travel between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., starting on Monday.
“This will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. We want everyone to be home – and not out,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a tweet.
In keeping with a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against gatherings of 50 or more people, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut struck a regional agreement to shut all movie theaters, casinos and gyms as of 8 p.m. Monday (0000 GMT), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
Restaurants and bars in the three states — where more than 22 million people live – will serve takeout and delivery only, he said in an address.
Michigan and Maryland, home to the port city of Baltimore and the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C., took similar measures as the confirmed coronavirus U.S. death toll rose to 71.
State restrictions on restaurants and places of leisure, while in line with expert advice to slow spread of the virus through social distancing, will hit many lower-paid workers in the service industry.
Jessica Wilmot, owner of The Ancient Mariner pub in Ridgefield, Connecticut, said that while she feels closing shops is the right move, she worries about her mostly part-time staff who work paycheck to paycheck.
“Personally I’m all for containment,” said Wilmot, noting that her revenues had already fallen about 40% last week from the prior week. “But my business view is, I’m nauseous.”
Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, said efforts by state and local authorities were insufficient to confront the coast-to-coast emergency.
They called for bold federal action involving the U.S. military and Army Corps of Engineers. More than 4,100 people in the United States have been confirmed as being infected with the fast-spreading virus, prompting fears U.S. hospitals will soon be overrun similar to medical centers in Italy.
As traders reacted to drastic weekend measures from the Federal Reserve to stave off a global recession, U.S. stock markets plunged anew on Monday with most indexes off down 6% to 7%. S&P 500 companies lost more than $2 trillion in the first few minutes of business.
President Donald Trump, a Republican, declared a national emergency on Friday and has championed his government’s response. Democratic leaders have criticized him for downplaying the crisis and issuing misleading or false statements.
“This is a national problem. It cannot be done in a piecemeal method. You need federal parameters to stop the national patchwork of density-reduction closures,” Cuomo said.
De Blasio, who has said that a lockdown of New York City was a possibility, told MSNBC the United States should be “put on a war footing where the federal government mobilizes all the resources necessary – and it begins with testing.”
Some 64,000 U.S. schools were closed for classes in at least 33 states, including in the nation’s two biggest public school systems – New York City and Los Angeles.
School closures nationwide were affecting at least 32.5 million students, according to Education Week.
School districts scrambled over the weekend to find a way to provide meals and create lessons plans for the millions of students who are forced to stay home.
Many Americans also had no choice but to work from home, forcing many households to make the best of a difficult situation.
Karen Pisciotta, 52, a business consultant from Maplewood, New Jersey with a home office that will now be shared by her husband and three teenage children, decided humor was the best approach.
“There’s a strange man in my dining room. He’s been on the phone a lot, taking time only to eat my family’s dinner leftovers. He says he’s going to be here all the time starting Tuesday,” Pisciotta posted on Facebook.
GRAPHIC: Tracking the spread of the global coronavirus – here
NOT ENOUGH TESTS
The United States has lagged behind other industrialized nations in its ability to test for the novel coronavirus. In early March, the Trump administration said close to 1 million coronavirus tests would soon be available and anyone who needed a test would get one, a promise it failed to keep.
Asked on CNN whether Connecticut had enough tests, Governor Ned Lamont said: “No.”
“I don’t know where the federal government was. We should have been doing this weeks ago so we could have isolated people earlier on when we found out that they were carriers,” he said.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said it was important to react aggressively to combat the spread of the virus. “We are at a critical inflection point in this country,” he told Fox News.
“We are where Italy was two weeks ago in terms of our numbers and we have a choice to make as a nation: Do we want to go the direction of South Korea and really be aggressive and lower our mortality rates or do we want to go the direction of Italy?”
The Italian outbreak has shown no signs of slowing, with 27,980 cases and 2,158 deaths by Monday.
South Korea has been widely praised for its strict measures to control the virus, such as setting up special zones around infection hotspots targeted with extra protective resources.
The White House is drafting a financial assistance package that is expected to include direct assistance, loans and tax relief in the wake of the steep falloff in U.S. travel demand, officials briefed on the matter said Monday.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney said the U.S. Senate should quickly approve a coronavirus bill that was passed by the House of Representatives and provides free testing and paid sick leave. He suggested sending $1,000 checks to every American adult.
Reporting by Maria Caspani; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Barbara Goldberg, Nathan Layne and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by David Gregorio, Bill Berkrot and Lisa Shumaker