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How Coronavirus Is Disrupting Cultural And Economic Life

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Of course, the cancellation of South by Southwest is just one of many cancellations announced this weekend - another reminder of the power of the virus to disrupt both cultural and economic life. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: It was a south by north by - I don't know what direction we're headed on Wall Street this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than a thousand points each on Monday and Wednesday only to sink on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday as investors tried to make sense of how much damage the coronavirus might do. At the White House yesterday, President Trump signed legislation setting aside more than $8 billion to help public health officials cope with the virus. He paused during the signing ceremony to note a better-than-expected jobs report.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Job numbers just came out. And they're incredible. The job numbers were tremendous.

HORSLEY: U.S. employers added 273,000 jobs last month. But that was before the surge in coronavirus cases outside of China. Investors are now worrying about this month and next. Dock workers in California have seen a steep drop in cargo shipments from China. Ray Familathe (ph), who heads a longshoreman's union, says that means his members have 25% less work.

RAY FAMILATHE: Obviously, the coronavirus has really hit us hard.

HORSLEY: Transportation and warehousing were among the weak spots in yesterday's jobs report. There's concern that, like the virus, that economic weakness might spread.

FAMILATHE: That affects truck drivers, warehouse workers, everybody along the supply chain.

HORSLEY: On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates by half a percentage point in a preemptive move designed to cushion the virus's economic blow. But the market was not reassured. Congressional Democrats are now calling for additional measures, including paid sick leave for tens of millions of workers who don't have it. So far, the White House is downplaying the threat posed by coronavirus to both public health and the economy. The president's economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC any government effort to pump up the economy should be narrowly targeted.

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LARRY KUDLOW: Let's think about individuals who might lose paychecks because they had to stay home if they get the virus. Let's think about small businesses that might get hurt by this.

HORSLEY: The administration is also weighing tax breaks for airlines, cruise ships and other travel companies that have seen a sharp drop in demand. After bouncing up and down like a yoyo, the stock market closed Friday slightly above where it began the week. Major stock indexes are still down more than 12%, though, from their highs last month before widespread worry about the coronavirus took root. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.