February 26 coronavirus news

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6:07 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

At least 1,200 hospital beds prepared in case of a coronavirus outbreak in New York

New York City has prepared at least 1,200 hospital beds in case of a coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced at a news conference Wednesday.

The hospital beds are readily available and won’t compromise other health services, he said.

The city still has no active cases of the virus but officials believe they are well-equipped to handle a possible outbreak, according to De Blasio.

The city has asked for an additional minimum of 300,000 face masks after already distributing about 1.5 million masks. They plan to ask for federal assistance to get that need met from private manufacturers. 

De Blasio is also requesting the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand its testing of travelers beyond China, to include Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.

5:06 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

White House officials weighing appointing coronavirus czar

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite public denials today, White House officials have privately weighed appointing a czar to oversee the administration’s response to the growing coronavirus outbreak.

President Trump has privately expressed frustration with his Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who has taken the lead on coordinating the response so far, and is blaming him for not keeping him updated enough, sources say.

Azar testified Wednesday that he has been in constant contact with the President and the acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. But Trump been particularly irked that he’s finding out about decisions after people complain to him about them, like the one to bring the Americans home from the cruise and the preliminary idea to house some patients at a FEMA facility in Alabama, which both the governor and representatives objected to directly to Trump.

The President has blamed Azar for not keeping him updated and allowing him to weigh in on crucial decisions, and has weighed selecting another point person as alarm about the outbreak is on the rise, though he has not followed through on it yet. 

Lawmakers also called on Trump to appoint someone to oversee the response, which came up during a clash over the administration’s request for more coronavirus funding. Some White House officials accused HHS of requesting disproportionate amounts of money to cover up what one official described as Azar’s “mismanagement."

Deputy press secretary Judd Deere denied reports about adding a czar Wednesday.

"This is not true! The President took decisive action by creating the Coronavirus Virus Task Force a month ago and is pleased with the leadership of @SecAzar to protect the public health."

After the market tumbled early this week, Trump also questioned whether Azar is up to the challenge of handling the crisis.

While testifying Wednesday, Azar insisted a czar wasn’t necessary despite how the Obama administration appointed Ron Klain to oversee the Ebola virus response.

“It’s just the longstanding doctrine that this should be led by HHS with a public health emergency,” he told lawmakers. “The oddity was actually what President Obama did with the Ebola response.”

The President and other officials have also directed their anger at Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the CDC official who has been a public face of the coronavirus response, for what officials claim is overly fatalistic messaging.

“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare, in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said at a news briefing this week. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen.”
4:28 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Your coronavirus questions, answered

Do you have a question about coronavirus?

Ask it here — we'll be answering some of your questions through out the day.

4:43 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Dow logs fifth straight day of declines over coronavirus concerns

A trader works at the New York Stock Exchange on February 25.
A trader works at the New York Stock Exchange on February 25. Scott Heins/Getty Images

US stocks ended mixed on Wednesday, although the losses were more contained than the last few days, as investors assess the spread of the coronavirus.

It was the fifth straight day of declines for both the Dow and the S&P 500. The Dow has lost nearly 2,400 points since last Thursday. Investors are concerned about the economic and financial fallout from the global outbreak.

The Dow finished 124 points, or 0.5%, lower. The S&P 500 closed down 0.4%. The Nasdaq eked out a gain of 0.2%, snapping a four-day losing streak.

4:52 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Oil and energy stocks are getting crushed by coronavirus fears

An oil rig outside Waterford City, North Dakota.
An oil rig outside Waterford City, North Dakota. Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The spread of the coronavirus around the world is sending shockwaves through an oil market ill-prepared for a serious blow to energy demand.

Oil prices plunged deeper into a bear market Wednesday, reflecting fears about the economic repercussions of the rapidly-spreading health crisis. Economists are warning the coronavirus could spark a severe economic slowdown or even recession in the United States and elsewhere.

The outbreak is the biggest shock to demand for oil since the 2008 financial crisis.

US crude dropped another 2.3% on Wednesday to $48.73 a barrel. That's the lowest price since January 2019 and it marks a 23% plunge from the recent peak of $63.27 a barrel on January 6.

"You're seeing the ripple effects of the coronavirus proliferate outside of China. That is what is turning investor sentiment on oil and other risk assets as well," said Michael Tran, director of global energy strategy at RBC Capital Markets.

Read more about this here.

4:57 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Should I be wearing a mask?

A person wearing a surgical mask walks past the New York Stock Exchange on February 3.
A person wearing a surgical mask walks past the New York Stock Exchange on February 3. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

As the number of coronavirus cases increase, reports are showing that there is a growing worldwide mask shortage. This has people asking themselves if they should be wearing one.

Tariro Mzezewa, a New York Times travel reporter, tells CNN the measure is not necessary unless you are sick or are interacting with sick people.

"If you're not interacting with somebody's who's sick or you're not the person who's sick, you don't really need a mask. The people who are sick need those, and you know, there are various kinds of masks. CDC has a whole guide on its side that's breaking down the differences between the kinds of masks and so on. If you're not the sick one, you probably don't really need it," Mzezewa said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend Americans wear surgical masks in public. Surgical masks are effective against respiratory infections but not airborne infections.

3:43 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

First coronavirus case reported in Norway

A person has tested positive for coronavirus in Norway, the country’s Institute for Public Health (NIPH) announced in a statement. This is the first case recorded in the Scandinavian country.

The person has no symptoms but was tested after returning from an area of China affected by the outbreak. The NIPH said it was a “weak positive result."

“The NIPH considers it very unlikely that the person poses an infection risk to others," said Line Vold, director of the Department of Infection Control and Preparedness at NIPH.

As a precaution, the person is undergoing quarantine at their home, Vold added.

3:44 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

It is "highly probable" New York will have cases of coronavirus, governor says

New York state has “explored” 27 cases of coronavirus, and all tests have come back negative except one case that is still pending, NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference. 

Cuomo went on to say that he believes the case that is pending is in Nassau County on Long Island, NY. 

“It is highly probably that you will see a continuing spread of this virus. It is highly probable that we will have people in New York State who test positive,” Cuomo said

Additionally Gov. Cuomo said that he is submitting an emergency supplemental appropriations bill to the state legislature asking for $40 million additional dollars for the New York Department of Health to respond to the virus. 

Cuomo said that New York State is currently in the “containment phase” of dealing with the virus. “Our operating paradigm is always prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth Raske joined Cuomo at the press conference and said that hospitals have been working on preparing for coronavirus for weeks.

He said that the resources that the system has to deal with possible cases are “significant.”

 

3:14 p.m. ET, February 26, 2020

Semester at Sea denied entry to Seychelles due to coronavirus fears

The MV World Odyssey, part of Semester at Sea, an educational cruise program with hundreds of American students on board, was denied entry to Seychelles as it diverted from China due to coronavirus warnings.

“We diverted from China, avoided Malaysia and India, which were on our itinerary. Seychelles is the only country that has denied entry to our ship. We received word from the minister of health there that they were denying visitors from Iran, South Korean, China and Italy," Layne Hanson, vice president of public affairs for Semester at Sea, told CNN.

Hanson added that they were denied despite not having any medical issues on the ship, and despite not having visited any of those countries. 

"We are trying to be as transparent as possible. We suspect that Mauritius which was on our itinerary may do the same thing that Seychelles did so we are voluntary moving away from Mauritius. Our next stop will be Mozambique," Hanson said.