WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – Shutdowns swept across the United States, with nearly 7 million people in the San Francisco area all but confined to their homes Tuesday, even as spring break crowds flooded a Florida beach and dozens lined up to pose for pictures in front of the world-famous "Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.
The official reaction to the coronavirus emergency varied dramatically from place to place in the U.S., despite new, more urgent warnings from the Trump administration, which called on Americans not to gather in groups of more than 10 and advised older people to stay home.
The number of infections in the U.S. climbed to nearly 4,500. Worldwide, more than 7,100 have died. The death toll in the U.S reached at least 88, with more than half of the victims from Washington state.
With the U.S. economy shuddering to a near-halt, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted nearly 3,000 points Monday, or 13%, its biggest one-day percentage loss since the Black Monday crash of 1987.
The rapid work stoppage had Americans fretting about their jobs and their savings, threatened to overwhelm unemployment benefit programs, and heightened fears the country could plunge into a recession.
The president acknowledged for the first time that the outbreak may send the economy into a recession and suggested that the nation may be dealing with the virus until July or August.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans were holed up at home, with
many thrown out of work until further notice as the list of businesses forced to close across the U.S. extended to restaurants, bars, gyms and casinos.
Comparing crowded U.S. jails to "ticking time bombs,” defense lawyers are urging law enforcement officials to release more defendants on bail while they await trial amid the coronavirus pandemic - an approach that has already been adopted by San Francisco and Philadelphia.
The Federal Defenders of New York, which represents defendants who cannot afford a lawyer, wrote in a letter that prosecutors should not engage in "business as usual” when deciding whether to recommend jail for defendants awaiting trial.
"Absent extraordinary circumstances, namely cases that involve an imminent threat of violence, it does not advance public safety to add more people to our local jails,” the organization’s director, David Patton, wrote in the letter to federal judges and prosecutors in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
"I truly believe the jails are ticking time bombs,” Patton said.
Law enforcement officials debate how to limit the spread of the coronavirus among the millions of people in jails, prisons, immigrant detention centers, and other facilities around the country.
Sales of guns and ammunition are soaring across the U.S. as fears of possible social unrest amid the coronavirus crisis are prompting some Americans to turn to firearms as a form of self-protection.
On the west coast, long lines of customers were queueing up outside gun stores to stock up on deadly materials. At the Martin B Retting gun shop in Culver City, California, the queues stretched round the block throughout the weekend.
One customer told the LA Times: "Politicians and anti-gun people have been telling us for the longest time that we don’t need guns. But right now, a lot of people are truly scared, and they can make that decision themselves.”
Larry Hyatt, owner of one of the country’s largest gun shops, Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, North Carolina, told the Guardian that the scenes of mass buying at his store were virtually unprecedented. "This is only the second time in my 61 years of business that we’ve seen anything like this,” he said, adding that the first occasion was the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut in 2012.
"We are experiencing a massive rush to buy guns and ammunition as people feel the need to protect themselves and their families.” Hyatt said that the type of guns being bought was reflective of the fear prevalent among customers. There was almost no interest in hunting rifles. Instead, people were opting for target guns and there was big demand for AR-15 semi-automatic assault-style rifles. Asked why he thought the spike was happening, Hyatt replied: "Financial meltdown, pandemic, crime, politics … you throw it all into the pot, and you have one hell of a mess.”
A major online dealer of ammunition, Ammo.com, has put out figures for sales from 23 February to 4 March that give an indication of the scale of the surge. In that 11-day period sales increased 68% compared to the 11 days up to 23 February.
Sales were especially pronounced in North Carolina and Georgia, which experienced a leap of 179% and 169% respectively. Other states with large increases included Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New York.
In a statement, Ammo.com’s marketing manager, Alex Horsman, said: "We know certain things impact ammo sales, mostly political events or economic instability when people feel their rights may end up infringed. This is our first experience with a virus leading to such a boost in sales.”
Apart from general anxiety surrounding coronavirus, some gun sale spikes appeared to have specific causes. The Trace reported that in Washington state and California, locations of early outbreaks of the virus, gun sales increased acutely propelled by Asian Americans fearful that they could face xenophobic and racist violence against their families given that the original source of coronavirus was China.
"People are panicking because they don’t feel secure. They worry about a riot or maybe that people will start to target the Chinese,” David Liu, a Chinese-American gun dealer outside Los Angeles, told the Trace.
Firearms are already the second most prevalent killer of children in the US after car crashes. In the 14- to 17-year-old bracket, gun injuries are the highest single cause of death, according to research from the University of Michigan school of public health.
Calling the highly contagious virus an "invisible enemy,” Trump said the worst of the outbreak could be over by July, August or later and warned a recession was possible.