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Travel ban expanded; coronavirus cases in Massachusetts increase

President Donald spoke at the White House on Saturday before getting his test results.
President Donald spoke at the White House on Saturday before getting his test results.Al Drago/The New York Times

President Trump on Saturday broadened the European travel ban to include Britain and Ireland and said he was considering imposing restrictions on travel even within the United States to areas hardest hit by the fast-moving coronavirus.

As anxiety about the pandemic spread, Trump also revealed that he had been tested for the virus Friday night; the test came back negative, the White House said Saturday evening.

In Spain, the government ordered residents to stay home, with exceptions for work, grocery shopping, and medical visits. France shut down all “non-indispensable” businesses, including restaurants and movie theaters.

And in Massachusetts Saturday, the state announced 15 new cases of the coronavirus, increasing the total statewide to 138. Nineteen of those cases are confirmed, and 119 are presumptive, the state said. The vast majority can be traced back to a Biogen conference held at the Long Wharf Marriott late last month.

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The new numbers came as Governor Charlie Baker established a command center aimed at expanding virus testing capacity and responding quickly to the needs of communities across the state.

But as Baker sought to project calm during a State House press conference, he also acknowledged that the state had tested just 475 residents to date — and indicated the federal government deserved much blame.

“We’ve said for the past several weeks that we are deeply concerned about the lack of a response from Washington to make it possible for states like ours to dramatically expand our testing criteria and our testing capacity,” he said.

The governor noted Saturday that the state had made significant changes intended to speed up coronavirus testing. “Far more people are going to get tested over the next several weeks,” Baker said.

Meanwhile, Thermo Fisher Scientific, the Waltham-based laboratory equipment firm, won federal approval to provide high-speed tests to hospitals and laboratories that will be able to diagnose the coronavirus in up to 5 million people a week.

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The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the test, which can provide patient results within four hours of a sample being received by a lab, Thermo Fisher said late Friday.

Early Saturday evening, the State Police announced that the body of a 59-year-old Worcester man who had died on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Boston on Friday would be tested for the virus out of an abundance of caution. Officials said the man had been sick with gastrointestinal problems for several days prior to his death but did not have any preexisting medical conditions. The flight manifest appears to indicate 322 passengers and 18 crew members were aboard the plane, a Boeing 777, according to State Police.

The news came amid a growing list of shutdowns and restrictions on normal life across the region.

At a rare weekend meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, officials temporarily closed the state’s three casinos. Gaming floors will close just before 6 a.m. Sunday, with entire facilities to follow by midnight. They will be shut down for at least two weeks.

Northeastern University asked students to vacate their dorms no later than Tuesday evening. “This decision has been made in accordance with public health guidance to reduce density on campus, and due to the likelihood of further travel restrictions in the coming days,” the school said in a notice to students.

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Saturday evening, in response to surging customer demand, Stop & Shop, the state's largest grocery chain, announced it will decrease hours, starting Monday, at most of its stores.

"We are adjusting our hours to 7:30a.m.-8:00p.m. at most stores beginning Monday, March 16, until further notice,” Stop & Shop said in a press release.

The adjusted hours will allow employees to unload deliveries and stock shelves, among other measures according to the release

The chain will also suspend online ordering indefinitely and address delays to its home delivery service, the release said.

Massachusetts trial courts announced a range of measures to reduce the number of people congregating in courthouses, relying increasingly on video and telephone conferences.

Local hospitals announced severe restrictions on visitors. Brigham and Women’s Hospital will limit patients to one healthy adult visitor per day. Massachusetts General Hospital announced a similar policy Friday. Boston Children’s Hospital will institute limits of two adult caregivers per day on Monday. Tufts Medical Center will prohibit all visitors for adult patients; pediatric patients will be allowed one immediate family member visit.

Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Saturday that the new restraints on public life have already led to job losses in that state, which has seen a rapid increase of people filing for unemployment.

“It’s inevitable that people will be laid off," Raimondo said. “We are working with businesses to minimize this.”

Retailers across the region seemed nearly desperate to get shoppers in the door. “COME IN,” read a sign outside the clothing store Bonobos at the Prudential Center. “WE HAVE HAND SANITIZER."

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Along with the relentless bad news, there were also new efforts to help those hit by the economic dislocation.

The Boston Foundation said Friday it has established the Covid-19 Response Fund to support nonprofit organizations that serve elders and other vulnerable populations. The City of Boston and other supporters are working in partnership with the Boston Foundation to maximize the fund’s reach and effectiveness, according to a press release.

Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation, said in a statement: “This fund is designed to give added support to those organizations on the front lines of caring for and assisting vulnerable populations, and those communities where the loss of jobs and benefits, or the closure of institutions, are creating a significant new burden for community members and the social service organizations that provide a safety net for them.”

The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the Merrimack Valley established a fund specifically dedicated to providing cash assistance to families hit hard by the crisis. One-time grants of up to $2,000 will be made to help families meet their basic food, child care, or housing needs.

“In Massachusetts, two in five workers lack sufficient savings to withstand a sudden loss in wages,” said United Way chief executive Michael K. Durkin. “With public events, schools, and workplaces shuttering as the pandemic unfolds, hourly, low-wage workers will experience unprecedented financial hardship. The problem is acute for hospitality workers, retail workers, and other hourly workers, many living paycheck to paycheck, with no clear options for recouping lost wages.”

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The US House, too, approved legislation to provide direct relief to Americans suffering physically, financially, and emotionally from the pandemic — a proposal the president has endorsed. The Senate still must vote on the package.

The news — from Washington and from across New England — came as local families were scrambling to figure out what to do with their children during a wave of school shutdowns, in some cases announced with little notice. In many suburban districts, the schools will be closed for two weeks. In Boston, starting Tuesday, the schools will be closed for six weeks.

“I think we’re all in complete and total shock. We don’t even know what this looks like yet,” said Lynn Higgins, the mother of a freshman and a fifth-grader in Boston public schools.

Boston school officials have said they would have more detailed information for families on Sunday.

Baker, at the State House on Saturday, sought to put the crisis into perspective, even amid all the worry.

“There is no shortage of food or dry goods at our stores,” he said. “Some shelves in some stores have been bare . . . but guess what, they weren’t bare the next morning."

He cautioned against hoarding. “Filling your basement with two years worth of canned soup just means your neighbors . . . will have to go without,” the governor noted.

Meanwhile, as many residents hunkered down at home, some ventured out to the St. Patrick’s Day weekend parties near TD Garden.

At the Harp on Saturday, more than 100 partiers dressed in Celtics jerseys and felt leprechaun hats sipped on green aluminum bottles of Bud Light. The bar was half-empty, but drinkers crowded close by the bar to be heard over the collective din.

“For the first few minutes, we were like, ‘Let’s keep our distance. Let’s not touch people,’ ” said Marco Espinoza, a reveler from Raleigh, N.C., in a green motorcycle jacket, said. “But after a few beers we were hugging people and getting too close.”

Tonya Alanez, Jonathan Saltzman, Stephanie Ebbert, Amanda Milkovitz, John Hilliard, and Kevin Paul Dupont of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Max Jungreis and Lucas Phillips contributed to this report.