WASHINGTON: The United States has deployed the National Guard for the first time during the novel coronavirus crisis to help contain the spread of the disease from an infection-hit suburb.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday (Mar 10) deployed National Guard troops to contain a COVID-19 "hot zone" in New Rochelle, a suburb in New York.
A one-mile radius "containment zone" will be set up around New Rochelle, and all facilities in the zone that hold large gatherings, such as schools and temples, will be closed for two weeks beginning Thursday.
"We're also going to use the National Guard in the containment area to deliver food to homes, to help with the cleaning of public spaces," Cuomo said.
There have been 173 confirmed cases in New York state, including 108 in Westchester County, home to New Rochelle where the majority of infections have been detected.
Cuomo told reporters that businesses in the containment zone will remain open and that people will be free to come and go as they wish, insisting there is no quarantine.
"You're not containing people, it's facilities," he said.
"It is a dramatic action, but it is the largest cluster in the country. This is literally a matter of life and death," Cuomo added.
"MAKES PEOPLE NERVOUS"
"People are scared, it's an unusual situation to be in," Miles Goldberg, who runs a New Rochelle bar, told AFP.
"It makes people nervous to be around others, it makes people nervous to get inside into businesses and such," he said.
Tim Eble, who manages a gym, said he intended to keep the facility open but take "extra precautions to keep things clean".
The area is centred on a synagogue in New Rochelle – a city of 80,000 inhabitants just north of New York City – that was attended by a man who was the state's first case, a lawyer working in Manhattan.
His wife, Adina Lewis Garbuz, posted Tuesday on Facebook that it had taken health officials "days" to figure out he was infected.
"As many have asked, of course he went to the doctor and did so many times. No one figured it out and it even took the hospital days to figure it out," she said, reporting that the rest of her family was in good health.
At least one of the employees at the hospital where her husband was treated contracted the virus, and others, including doctors, were under quarantine, according to The New York Times.
At least 35 of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia have confirmed COVID-19 cases, with more than 1,000 cases in the country and at least 30 coronavirus-related deaths reported. Washington state's governor warned of tens of thousands more cases without "real action".
READ: More passengers leave coronavirus-hit cruise ship in California as Trump praises operation
The United Nations said it would close its headquarters in New York to the public until further notice.
As the outbreak spreads, daily life in the United States has been increasingly disrupted, with concerts and conferences cancelled and universities telling students to stay home and take classes online.
READ: As COVID-19 concerns bloom, performing arts world fears major hit
Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders both cancelled rallies in Ohio on Tuesday night, citing warnings from public health officials, as six states voted in the party's nominating contests.
The Democratic National Committee said its presidential debate in Arizona on Sunday would be conducted without a live audience because of health concerns.
AVERTING ECONOMIC MELTDOWN
The rise in the number of US cases has concerned health officials and spurred calls within Congress for action to expand testing and avert an economic meltdown.
The White House and Congress negotiated measures on Tuesday to bolster the US economy and Americans' paychecks against the outbreak's impact, although there was no immediate sign of a deal.
"We had a good reception on Capitol Hill. We're going to be working with Republican and Democratic leadership to move a legislative package," Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House's coronavirus task force, told a White House briefing.
US stocks rebounded in their largest daily gain since late 2018 on hopes that a government stimulus package was in the making.
A central feature of the administration's legislative proposal is payroll tax relief, although the extent and duration of the proposal were unclear.
White House officials have also said the administration could undertake executive action to help small businesses and workers, including those who do not receive paid sick leave.
Trump met with Republican lawmakers and again downplayed the risks from the coronavirus. "It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away," he said.
READ: Italy's transport links in chaos amid travel restrictions to contain COVID-19
A senior Senate Republican aide said Trump’s payroll tax proposal got “mixed reviews” among Republican senators who attended.
Some Senate Republicans said a potential deal could include US$300 billion in payroll tax relief that could help people make rent and mortgage payments, or pay medical bills if family members' work hours are reduced during the outbreak.
Democrats accused Trump of being more focused on soothing Wall Street's nerves than on protecting the public from the health and economic fallout of the fast-spreading epidemic. The White House has been accused of inadequate preparation for the outbreak and a slow rollout of coronavirus testing.
"President Trump and his administration should be putting people before corporations, and they should be focused on taking appropriate steps to keep the American people and their economic security safe," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.
Democrats are pushing for paid sick leave, expanded and free testing for the coronavirus and other measures.
More than 116,000 people have contracted the coronavirus worldwide since it surfaced in China late last year, according to the World Health Organization. More than 4,000 people have died.
Italy, which has the highest death toll outside of China, has put its entire population of 60 million on virtual lockdown.