White House grapples with new coronavirus guidelines as markets plummet

(WASHINGTON) — The White House on Monday delayed a news conference on the novel coronavirus as markets plunged and a top health official promised additional guidelines on how the nation should respond to the crisis.

President Donald Trump was silent on the plummeting markets, which had briefly caused trading on Wall Street to temporarily pause, although his top economic adviser said he had been with the president Monday morning and that Trump “was very calm about the market.”

“It is what it is,” the adviser, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, said. “We think it is going to get better, but we’ll see how that goes.”

Officials also denied reporting that the administration was discussing encouraging a nationwide “curfew,” even as a leading U.S. health official, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, said he supported a more aggressive nationwide shutdown.

Fauci told reporters at a White House briefing Sunday that “you’re going to see some advanced and updated guidelines tomorrow,” after he was asked what Americans should do as the impact of the outbreak hits their daily lives, airports, restaurants and other places.

“They’re going to address some but not all of the questions and concerns,” Fauci said.

Fauci would not say if the federal government would recommend shuttering bars and restaurants. In a series of TV interviews earlier that day, he had said he supported more intense measures, like a 14-day shutdown across the country.

Later Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance recommending that, for the next eight weeks, “large events and mass gatherings” that draw 50 or more people should be canceled or postponed, excluding those at more critical institutions like businesses, schools and institutions of higher learning. Such types of events include “conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies,” the CDC said.

It was unclear if those were the guidelines Fauci had promised or if the administration would release more Monday.

On Monday morning, officials denied a CNN report that the administration had been discussing encouraging a “curfew” for non-essential businesses across the country. White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere called the story “not true,” while the vice president’s press secretary, Katie Miller, said it was “not correct.”

Members of the president’s coronavirus task force had been scheduled to brief reporters at the White House at 10:30 a.m., but just over an hour before the news conference was supposed to start, the White House postponed the briefing until 3:30 p.m.

It did not give a reason for the delay, although the postponement came as markets opened sharply down.

The Federal Reserve on Sunday announced that it was slashing interest rates to near zero and announced $700 billion in quantitative easing program, but that did not prevent trading on Wall Street from being temporarily halted soon after markets opened amid the worldwide ripple effect of the coronavirus outbreak.

Over the course of his presidency, Trump has repeatedly called for the Federal Reserve to cut rates and had been effusive in his praise of the move Sunday.

He has also repeatedly cited stock market gains as he pitches his reelection, but he was silent Monday morning as the markets plummeted.

Kudlow, the economic adviser, declined to directly say whether he believed the economy was heading into a recession.

“We are going to be challenged, no question about it,” Kudlow said. “I don’t need to have labels on this, we’ll take it one step at a time.”

Meanwhile, Trump and Pence had promised that Google would soon finish a website that anyone in the country could visit, input their symptoms, and find out if they needed to be tested for the coronavirus. If the answer was yes, they said, the website would tell them where to go.

Pence, on Friday and Saturday, promised a “specific” timeline for the site by Sunday evening.

But it immediately became clear that they wildly misrepresented what Google was actually doing.

In reality, a research arm of Google’s parent company, Verily, said later that day it was “in the early stages of development” of such a site, that it would be rolled out in the San Francisco Bay Area and that the company had the “hope of expanding more broadly over time.”

Google said Sunday it was pushing out information from the CDC and the World Health Organization via the Google homepage, and that it was “partnering with the U.S. government in developing a website dedicated to COVID-19 education, prevention, and local resources nationwide.”

It said that website — whose description did not include the interactive features previewed by the White House — would come late Monday.

Even so, as late as Sunday evening, Pence was still promising the interactive site would be coming “at some point, early in the week.”

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