March 15 coronavirus news

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8:50 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

29 states announce school closures amid coronavirus

From CNN's Shawn Nottingham

Twenty-nine states have closed schools in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The states have announced that they will be closing schools in the coming weeks. The amount of time and conditions under which they will close differ from state to state.

Here are the states that have closed schools so far:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Kansas
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • New York
  • New Jersey
7:29 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Massachusetts suspends schools for three weeks

From CNN's Elizabeth Joseph

Massachusetts public and private schools will suspend operations for three weeks beginning Tuesday until April 6, according to a news release from Gov. Charlie Baker.

“Our administration is taking these rapid steps to protect the health and safety of our residents to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Baker said. “We know that a lot of the measures we are putting into place, including mandatory school closures and prohibiting gatherings of 25 people or more, will cause disruption in people’s day to day lives. With the steps we are taking today, we can ensure residents can still access key state services while taking necessary precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

There are 138 confirmed coronavirus cases in Massachusetts, the state’s health department announced late Saturday afternoon.

8:18 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Interest rate cut will 'take a toll on the economy in the near term,' Fed chairman says

From CNN’s Clare Duffy

After cutting the target interest rate to zero on Sunday to help the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the measures were "essential to contain the outbreak," but will "take a toll on the economy in the near term."

The Fed took a number of actions "to support American families and business and the economy overall and to support the flow of credit" as it is affected by coronavirus, Powell said. 

The Fed expects to maintain the rate until “we are confident the economy has weathered" the current situation, Powell said.

Watch:

7:14 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Lebanon announces two-week lockdown

From Ghazi Balkiz 

Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Lebanon has closed its airport, borders and ports for two weeks starting Sunday until March 29 at midnight to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country, Information Minister Manal Abdul Samad said in a press conference on Sunday in Beirut.

People are obligated to stay in their homes unless there is an "extreme necessity," the minister said.

The government is banning public and private gatherings and government offices will be closed except for security, health and service offices, according to Abul Samad.

All private commercial companies, except for food production-related ones, were also instructed to close, the minister said.

Coronavirus killed three people and infected 100 others in Lebanon as of Sunday.

6:34 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

All New York City hospitals will be required to cancel elective surgeries, mayor says

From CNN's Laura Ly

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that he would sign an executive order on Monday requiring all hospitals in the city to cancel elective surgeries in the coming days.

De Blasio said his power to do so exists under New York's state of emergency and that his executive order would be worded carefully to allow some flexibility to close out some existing elective surgeries, but that all elective surgeries would cease soon.

6:40 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Starbucks switching to a 'to go' model in US and Canadian stores

From CNN’s Richard Davis 

A person places an order at a Starbucks coffee shop in downtown Seattle on March 10.
A person places an order at a Starbucks coffee shop in downtown Seattle on March 10. John Moore/Getty Images

Starbucks announced on Sunday that its US and Canadian stores will move to a “to go” model for at least two weeks to help contain the coronavirus, according to a company news release.

The coffee retail giant said the latest move was intended to encourage social distancing. 

“As we all know, the situation with COVID-19 is extremely dynamic and we will continue to review the facts and science and make the proactive decisions necessary to protect our partners, customers and communities,” wrote Rossann Williams, an executive vice president and head of US retail operations for the coffee chain.

Starbucks said there would be temporary closures in stores with high-social gatherings as well as in communities with high clusters of coronavirus cases.

6:35 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Vice President Pence says more than 2,000 labs will have high-speed testing capability by Monday

From CNN's Nicky Robertson and Jason Hoffman

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the media during a press briefing at the White House on March 15.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the media during a press briefing at the White House on March 15. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

During a White House briefing Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that “more than 2,000 labs” will have high-speed testing capacity by Monday.

Since the declaration of a national state of emergency, Pence said federal public health services have worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and "have reached out to all 50 states to create a process that will enable all Americans who need to be tested to go to a community-based testing site outside of usual health care facilities." 

Pence noted these tests will be focused on those "most in need."

Adm. Brett Giroir with the US Public Health Service outlined how new coronavirus testing will be rolled out. He said there would be 1.9 million tests available this week across the 2,000 labs. Giroir also emphasized that the priority would be placed on those most vulnerable.

Giroir added that there wouldn’t be undue stress put on the acute health care system, meaning emergency rooms or urgent care.

 

6:17 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

Pope walks through Rome's empty streets and prays for an 'end to the pandemic'

From CNN’s Nicola Ruotolo, Livia Borghese and Valentina Di Donato

Pope Francis walks down an empty street in the Rome on March 15.
Pope Francis walks down an empty street in the Rome on March 15. Vatican Media/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis left the Vatican on Sunday to walk through Rome’s empty streets to pray for an "end to the pandemic," according to a Vatican news release.

During his walk the Pope visited "two important pilgrimage sites in Rome to pray for the city and the world," the release said.

The first site is the ancient icon of Maria Salus Populi Romani at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, and the other at the foot of a wooden crucifix that protected Rome from a great plague.

Earlier in the day, the Pope gave his weekly blessing to an eerily empty St. Peter's Square as Italy remains on lockdown.

The Vatican released photos and video showing Pope Francis walking in a desolate Via del Corso. One of the main streets in the historic center of Rome, Via del Corso is normally packed with tourists. 

6:05 p.m. ET, March 15, 2020

New York City public schools will close Monday until at least April 20, mayor says

From CNN’s Laura Ly 

In a decision he described as "extraordinarily painful," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that he is closing the city's public schools on Monday until at least April 20.

The mayor said the city would make every attempt to reopen schools at that point, but that it’s possible schools could remain closed for the rest of the school year.

As part of the school closings, de Blasio announced the following:

  • Remote learning will begin on March 23
  • There will be special sites created for children of crucial health care workers and first responders
  • The city is working to supply technology to children who need it
  • The city is working to provide meals to children who depend on school breakfasts and lunches. This week, schools will be open for grab-and-go meals.