President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, with the outbreak reaching a new watermark of 5,000 deaths, as rising infection rates throttle the world economy and force countries to take dramatic actions in order to stem the spread.
Around the world, more than 135,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported, according to the World Health Organization. Europe — led by surging infections in Italy — is now considered a major hot zone outside of China, with more cases now reported every day than when the outbreak was roiling the world’s second largest economy.
In the United States, officials are bolstering efforts to test more potential cases, which has been “failing” as infection rates soar, and the virus spreads unchecked.
In a press conference on Friday, Trump declared an emergency that would funnel $50 billion to states and localities — and mobilize full resources of the federal government. He also outlined a public-private partnership with key companies intended to accelerate access to testing and treatment.
That includes Google (GOOG), which is building website to help reduce congestion for health facilities by filtering out those who would actually need to be tested for the coronavirus. Other companies at the news conference Friday were Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT), CVS (CVS), Walgreens (WBA), Quest Diagnostics (DGX), Labcorp (LH), Becton Dickinson (BDX) and a number of home health companies.
“No resource will be spared, none whatsoever,” Trump said in his remarks — even as he urged people to not “run out” to get tested if they weren’t overtly showing signs.
“Our overriding goal is to stop the spread of the virus…and this will pass, and we’re going to be stronger for it,” the president added. “All Americans have a role to play” in curbing the pandemic, Trump added.
In addition, HHS Secretary Alex Azar has been given broader powers for health regulations including waiving bed limits for hospitals, waiving license requirements for doctors who want to travel to a hard-hit state to help out, and expanding telehealth use to help alleviate the burden on health facilities.
To offset the lack of available testing in the U.S., businesses, states and localities have implemented social distancing tactics that involve bans on large gatherings, closing schools and allowing employees to work from home — with large, bustling cities starting to resemble ghost towns.
However, social distancing is “not a panacea,” said Michael Ryan, who heads up the WHO’s health emergencies program, in response to a question from Yahoo Finance.
It is a “very costly intervention. It’s costly in economic terms and they have to be used in a time sensitive fashion,” he explained. It only works “where there is not a good handle” on testing and contact tracing, he said.
Investors, meanwhile, suspect that the crisis has yet to reach a peak, with Wall Street struggling to hold gains after its worst day since 1987’s “Black Monday” sell-off. Weeks of relentless, panic-driven selling have entrenched the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq firmly in bear-market territory.
Racing for the vaccine
Swiss health care giant Roche announced Friday it received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration to use its coronavirus test, which may significant increase the U.S. ability to get testing results — within a matter of hours.
The company has been working with the Centers for Disease Control to initially supply hospitals and national reference laboratories, such as Labcorp and Quest, in the hardest hit areas.
Labcorp and Quest also launched their testing capabilities this week, but the turnaround time is currently three to four days. The process involves sending swabs to a small number of labs in the network, but both have said they intend to scale up to other labs within their network.
Meanwhile, the CDC has reported several thousand tests completed in its labs and public health labs around the country. However, health experts contend the U.S. testing rates need to be far higher, something that’s been pivotal in places like South Korea, which has dramatically bent the curve of new infections.
‘Slow motion natural disaster’
Over the course of the week, the crisis has affected people from all walks of life — celebrities and politicians alike.
In the U.S., several high profile officials in the U.S. such as President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, Attorney General William Barr and other presidential aides, have come into contact with potentially infected individuals in the past week, though none have been tested positive.
Meanwhile, speculation surrounds Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro, who is being tested for the virus after his communications director tested positive. Trump and Bolsanaro had a face-to-face meeting just last week.
And all across the global economy, the stakes are getting higher as major cities see dramatically lower foot traffic and implement stiff travel restrictions to slow the virus’ spread.
Several states have already declared a state of emergency, and limited public gatherings — underscored by amusement park closures by Disney (DIS) and Universal Studios (CMCSA). Higher education campuses are closing, and school districts are implementing distance learning around the country.
New York City locked down iconic venues such as Broadway and Madison Square Garden, while a growing list of major venues, sports and entertainment events are canceled or postponed.
“Many parts of the global economy are shutting down,” noted Jefferies macro strategist David Zervos, who predicted major economies have “entered a negative GDP growth period” that is likely to be felt globally.
“For the moment it is like watching a slow-motion natural disaster hit the real economy,” he added.
Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @TeflonGeek