Trump admits COVID-19 severity as White House tightens guidance

In a coronavirus briefing today at the White House President Trump warned that the COVID-19 outbreak could last until July or August, and said the virus was "really bad," a noted change in tone from the president's earlier remarks on the virus.

"We're announcing new guidelines for every American to follow over the next 15 days," Trump said, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the coronavirus task force.

The guidelines, "15 Days to Slow the Spread," are meant to promote social distancing in America. The guidelines say gatherings should be limited to 10 people or fewer, and bars and restaurants should be avoided, as should all non-essential travel. No visits to nursing homes, and limits to shopping malls, are also mentioned.

Most important, the task force said everyone in a household should stay home if any family member is sick.

Plea to limit travel

Deborah Birx, MD, the coronavirus response coordinator, said the recommendation came from the latest modeling studies. She also issued a personal plea to millennials, the largest population demographic in the United States, composed of young adults aged 25 to 40. Though that population is not at great risk for severe complications from the virus, they are the most mobile in society and the most likely to spread the virus to vulnerable populations.

In states and cities with known community spread, the task forces suggests, gyms, bars, restaurants, and any public places where people congregate should be closed.

"It will always seem that the best way to address it would be to be doing something that looks like it might be an overreaction. It isn't an overreaction. It's a reaction we feel is commensurate with what is actually going on in reality," said  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) director Anthony Fauci, MD, of the recommendations.

During the press conference, Trump also clarified comments made earlier today on a call with state governors. Trump reportedly told the governors to obtain respirators, ventilators, and other necessary medical equipment themselves. The president said he did so because that may expedite getting the critical care machines into the hands of local hospitals.

Yesterday during an appearance on CNN, Fauci said the United States had 12,700 ventilators in the national stockpile.

Phase 1 trial of Moderna vaccine starts

Fauci also said during today's press conference that the first phase of a trial on a COVID-19 vaccine began in Seattle on 45 healthy individuals ages 18-55. The vaccine was prepared in just 65 days, a speed Fauci called record breaking.

The trial will measure the safety and immunogenicity of Moderna's vaccine candidate. Participants will be given two doses, 28 days apart, and three doses of the vaccine will be tested. Follow-up will last at least 1 year, Fauci said.

Also today, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization to Thermo Fisher Scientific's COVID-19 diagnostic test.

San Fran announces first US lockdown

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed issued the first total lockdown on the city's 6.7 million residents today. According to the San Francisco Examiner, the city will prohibit residents from leaving their homes except to meet basic needs including visiting the doctor, or buying groceries or medicine, until at least April 7. The lockdown starts tonight at midnight.

"The most important thing you can do is remain home as much as possible," tweeted Mayor Breed. "There is no need to rush out for food or supplies, as these stores will remain open. We'll meet this challenge and we'll get through it together."

The lockdown area includes Santa Clara County, the site of the first community transmission in the United States. That county has 114 cases of the virus.

Over the weekend mayors and governors announced bar closures, curfews, and other measures meant to keep crowds celebrating St. Patrick's Day to a minimum.

In New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, governors issued a joint regional action to reduce the spread of the virus. Crowds will be kept to 50, bars and restaurants will only be open for takeout or delivery, and gyms, cinemas, and casinos will be closed.

CDC: No gatherings of more than 50

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late yesterday evening published new recommendations on social gatherings, saying gatherings should be capped at 50 people over  the next 8 weeks.

"This recommendation is made in an attempt to reduce introduction of the virus into new communities and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus," the CDC said. "Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals."

The CDC said the recommendations extend to schools, businesses, or institutes of higher learning — though through the weekend and today Americans across the country were subject to hourly announcements from stores, while school districts announced closings of 14 to 30 days in an effort to prevent community transmission of COVID-19.

The efforts coincided with an op-ed published in the USA Today, signed by 16 healthcare leaders urging Americans to #StayHome to save lives.

"STAY AT HOME as much as possible. It may be in your community now or it may be soon. Until you hear otherwise from health care officials, even if you have no symptoms. That means avoiding play dates, sleepovers, bars, restaurants, parties or houses of worship. Avoid all crowds," said the letter.

US cases surge past 4,000

According to the Johns Hopkins University online COVID-19 map, officials in the United States have confirmed 4,392 cases as of this afternoon. New York had 964 cases, and Washington had 769 cases. West Virginia remains the only state without a confirmed case.

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