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St. Jude limits visits, cancels events; Trump to ask Congress for payroll tax relief

Associated Press • Mar 10, 2020 at 3:12 AM

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis is limiting visits, calling off conferences and campus tours, and restricting patient and family events after the new coronavirus was confirmed in the county in which it’s located.

The children’s cancer research hospital released a list of virus-related policies after Shelby County health officials said Sunday that one person who traveled out of state but not out of the country had contracted the new coronavirus.

The patient is undergoing treatment in isolation at a hospital. Officials said the patient was in good condition. Three other cases have been confirmed in Middle Tennessee, including one announced Monday by the state, which is no longer distributing county information for coronavirus cases out of privacy concerns, Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Hodgen Mainda said.

Also Monday, the state insurance department requested that Tennessee insurance carriers waive coronavirus testing costs and refrain from using preauthorization requirements as a reason for not providing testing and treatment.

The state has confirmed four people have tested positive for the coronavirus out of 49 tests performed so far, with at least 165 additional tests available and more supplies coming in, state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Monday.

In a statement sent to The Associated Press on Monday, St. Jude said only invited visitors who have been screened for travel history and evidence of a possible infection will be allowed to enter the campus.

The hospital is barring visitors who have traveled to the Seattle or Tacoma, Washington, metropolitan area during the last 14 days. Parents of patients are still allowed in the facility, as long as they meet the guidelines.

“Do not come on campus if you are sick,” the hospital’s statement said.

St. Jude also has canceled patient and family events involving non-employees in the hospital or in housing facilities. It also canceled a handful of symposiums and conferences.

St. Jude is considered a leading researcher of cancer and other life-threatening diseases that affect children. Families with children who are patients at the hospital never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

HAPPENING IN WASHINGTON

President Donald Trump says his administration will ask Congress to pass payroll tax relief and other quick measures as a public health and economic maelstrom brought on by the coronavirus drew closer to him personally.

Intending to calm the fears of financial markets over the impact of the epidemic, Trump told reporters Monday he is seeking “very substantial relief" to the payroll tax. Trump also said he was seeking help for hourly wage workers to ensure they’re “not going to miss a paycheck” and “don’t get penalized for something that’s not their fault."

The fears fanned by the virus sent Wall Street stocks tumbling Monday to their biggest drop since 2008, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 7.8%. Global oil prices suffered their worst percentage losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War.

Trump stepped forward with the contours of an initiative after markets’ sharp drop. He said he would hold a press conference Tuesday to outline the proposals, saying his administration and Congress would be "discussing a possible payroll tax cut or relief, substantial relief, very substantial relief, that’s big, that’s a big number. We’re also going to be talking about hourly wage earners getting help so that they can be in a position where they’re not going to ever miss a paycheck.”

Meanwhile, several Trump confidants in Congress disclosed they were isolating themselves after potential exposure to the virus. One traveled with the president from Florida on Air Force One on Monday. Another was his just-tapped new chief of staff.

As Trump grappled with an epidemic whose consequences he has repeatedly played down, the White House asserted it was conducting “business as usual.” But the day's business was anything but normal. Lawmakers pressed for details on how the Capitol could be made secure, handshakes on the Hill were discouraged and a Pentagon meeting was broken into sub-groups to minimize the number of people in the same room.

The president himself dove into handshakes with supporters earlier in the day, when arriving to headline a fundraiser in Longwood, Florida, that raised approximately $4 million for his reelection campaign and the Republican Party.

On his flight back to Washington he was accompanied by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who later went into a voluntary quarantine. Gaetz was one of several GOP lawmakers who were exposed to a person at last month's Conservative Political Action Conference who tested positive for the virus. His office said he was “mid-flight” on Air Force One when CPAC informed his staff that he had been in contact with the attendee who had the virus.

Once the plane landed, Gaetz was immediately tested.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., named Friday as Trump’s incoming chief of staff, went into self-quarantine as well.

Also among those at the CPAC gathering was Republican state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Tennessee. Adam Kleinheider, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s office in Nashville, said Crowe does not require quarantine because he has shown no symptoms since attending the conference.

The U.S. Capitol’s attending physician said Monday that “several” members of Congress were in good health after having contact with the person who attended CPAC and subsequently developed the coronavirus.

Vice President Mike Pence, who also spoke at CPAC, said he has not been tested for the virus. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Trump has not been tested because he has not had “prolonged close contacts” with any patients and “does not have any symptoms.”

CRUISE SHIP DOCKS IN CALIFORNIA

The cruise ship forced to idle for days off the California coast because of a cluster of coronavirus cases aboard arrived in port Monday, and dozen of passengers began to leave for military bases where they would be quarantined or to return to their home countries.

The Grand Princess pulled into the Port of Oakland with more than 3,500 people aboard, 21 confirmed to be infected with the new virus. Passengers lining the balconies waved and some left the cabins where they had been in isolation to go on deck.

Twenty-three people who needed acute medical care had been taken off the ship by late Monday afternoon, but it was not clear how many of them had tested positive for the virus, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.

Officials have said the unloading will take up to three days.

Many of the nearly 240 Canadians on board left the ship after the critically ill and stood outside two tents displaying Canadian flags. Canada and the United Kingdom were among the countries sending chartered flights to retrieve their citizens.

U.S. passengers will be flown or bused from the port — chosen for its proximity to an airport and a military base — to bases in California, Texas and Georgia for testing and a 14-day quarantine. The ship is carrying people from 54 countries, and foreigners will be whisked home.

About 1,100 crew members, 19 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere after passengers are unloaded, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said.

The Grand Princess had been held off the coast since Wednesday because of evidence that it was the breeding ground for more than 20 infections tied to a previous voyage.

Passengers from the previous voyage have tested positive in California and other states. Six Canadians who were on the Grand Princess from Feb. 11-21 were also confirmed to have the virus.

The State Department warned against travel on cruise ships because of “increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment."

WORLDWIDE EFFECTS

Italy expanded its travel ban to the entire country, Israel ordered all visitors quarantined for 14 days just weeks before Passover and Easter, and Spain closed all schools in and around its capital in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.

"Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "The great advantage we have is the decisions we all make as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals can influence the trajectory of this epidemic."

More than 113,000 people have been infected with the virus and about 4,000 have died from COVID-19. Most of the cases are in China, but its proportion is shrinking as the caseload grows elsewhere. More than 62,000 people have already recovered. But Italy's intensifying struggle to halt the virus' spread emerged as a cautionary tale.

"There won't be just a red zone," Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, in announcing that a lockdown covering about 16 million people in the north would be expanded to the entire country starting Tuesday.

Italian doctors celebrated one small victory after the first patient diagnosed with the illness, a 38-year-old Unilever worker, was moved out of intensive care and began breathing on his own.

Italy's 9,172 cases and 463 deaths are the second most in the world. China on Tuesday recorded just 19 new cases over the previous 24 hours, its lowest total since it began reporting national figures on Jan. 20.

In Ireland, all St. Patrick's Day parades were canceled, including one in Dublin that typically draws half a million to its streets.

All schools in and around Madrid will close for two weeks. The rising number of cases around Spain's capital "imply a change for the worse," the country's Health Minister Salvador Illa said.

Iranian state television reported another 43 deaths, pushing the official toll to 237, with 7,161 confirmed cases. But many experts fear the scope of the illness in Iran is far wider than reported. South Korea reported 35 more cases, bringing its total to 7,513.

After earlier closing its land borders, Saudi Arabia cut off air and sea travel to and from Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, South Korea, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. All Saudi schools and universities closed beginning Monday.

Qatar cut off travel to 15 countries and said it would shut down schools and universities beginning Tuesday.

Organizers of the annual Holocaust remembrance march in southern Poland postponed it this year because of coronavirus fears.

Infections were reported in more than half the world's countries.

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