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White House Ramps Up Outbreak Guidelines to Slow Spread

Older adults urged to stay home, stay away from people as part of 15-day coronavirus plan

A waiter cleans a table at a bar

Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

A waiter in a Columbus, Ohio, restaurant cleans a table after Governor Mike DeWine issued an order closing all bars and restaurants in Ohio.

En español | The White House Monday urged Americans to follow a “15-day” plan to slow the spread of the coronavirus that is centered on individuals avoiding groups of more than 10 people. As of March 16, there were more than 4,100 confirmed cases in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking reports and confirming them with local health departments.

President Donald Trump doubled down on Americans’ need to distance themselves from each other. Just 24 hours earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged organizers throughout the U.S. to cancel or postpone events of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks, including conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events and weddings.

The new White House guidance also recommends that if someone in your household tests positive for the coronavirus then everyone in the home should stay put and not go to work or school. And, they should contact their medical provider. It also says that “if you are an older person, stay home and away from other people.”

The uptick in COVID-19 cases has Americans adjusting to a new normal. Over the weekend, a number of states enacted their own social restrictions and more were announced on Monday. California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked an estimated 5.3 million residents over the age of 65 to isolate themselves at home. Early data show older adults and people with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and lung ailments, are at highest risk for severe cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Newsom also requested that bars, nightclubs, wineries and brewpubs in California — one of the states hit hardest by the coronavirus — close for the time being, and that restaurants socially distance patrons and reduce their occupancy by half.

Bars and restaurants in several other states, including Ohio, Illinois, Washington and the District of Columbia, have been ordered to close temporarily, while some states such as Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts have moved to takeout-only options for food service businesses. Puerto Rico has implemented a strict 9 p.m. overnight curfew for its residents, and casinos, movie theaters and school districts have closed their doors in many areas around the country.

Appearing on several news programs over the weekend, Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, emphasized the need for precautions related to the pandemic, telling Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press that Americans “should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.” All the while, pictures of crowded bars and restaurants flooded social media on Friday and Saturday in a handful of cities with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Health experts suspect the coronavirus is spread by respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes, which is why the CDC recommends people maintain a distance of about 6 feet from others. Distance can help reduce the introduction of the virus into new communities and slow its spread in areas that are already affected, the agency says.

Social distancing can also protect people at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and relieve pressure on the health care system so sick individuals can get the care they need, Anne Schuchat, M.D., principal deputy director of the CDC, told AARP.

“You can imagine if 100 people were going to get sick over 100 days you would have a certain kind of pressure on the health care system. But if 100 people get sick all in the same day, it’s a different kind of pressure,” Schuchat explained.

Regions around the world that have experienced a surge in the number of people infected with the coronavirus have instituted “lockdowns” as a way to curb the number of new cases. Fauci, over the weekend, was hesitant to call for such drastic measures in the U.S. as of now, but said he thinks “we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting.” 

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