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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economists are rethinking projections about the broader economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak after a surge of diagnoses and deaths outside Asia and an announcement from a top CDC official that Americans should be prepared for the virus to spread here.

What's happening: The coronavirus quickly went from an also-ran concern to the most talked-about issue at the National Association for Business Economics policy conference in Washington, D.C.

  • Most major economies in Asia are expected to either slow down significantly, halt or shrink outright in the first quarter, according to Reuters consensus polls.

What they're saying: "The CDC warning is a little bit alarming ... they're basically saying, 'It's coming,'" Julia Coronado, president and founder of Macropolicy Perspectives, tells Axios.

  • "The risk that it spills over to consumer confidence is one of the biggest risks, and the other big risk is that you get a major metropolitan area that has to shut down."
  • "The spillover to confidence is a much bigger issue than temporary interruptions to activity that can be made up later."
  • "It's a psychological thing and that feedback loop is an essential element of every recession."

Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida spoke to attendees at the conference and asserted in prepared remarks that the central bank was evaluating the outbreak and did not want to overreact.

  • But he also said that decisions about monetary policy now will be made on a “meeting-by-meeting basis,” a notable change from the Fed's previous stance that it plans to remain on the sidelines for 2020.
  • “If developments emerge that, in the future, trigger a material reassessment of our outlook, we will respond accordingly,” Clarida added.

Between the lines: Fed fund futures prices show traders now see a 62% probability the Fed cuts U.S. interest rates by its April meeting and an 87% chance of a cut by July.

  • In fact, there's a 52% chance of two rate cuts by July.

Don't sleep: The response of the Trump administration also has been a major worry, according to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, and Harvard professor Jason Furman. (Both previously served as chief economists for the Council of Economic Advisers.)

  • "You have to explain in a transparent fashion the nature of the threat that you’re dealing with so people don’t panic. I don’t see enough of that going on," Holtz-Eakin said during a meeting with reporters.
  • "This economy has been held up by household spending, consumer confidence has been high and risen, and anything that dings that up changes the way you think about what’s going on."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Study: Common antidepressant guards against COVID hospitalization

A COVID-19 intensive Care Unit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on May 27, 2021. Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The readily available antidepressant fluvoxamine significantly reduced COVID-related hospitalizations, according to a large study published Wednesday.

Why it matters: The clinical trial suggests that a cheap, readily available drug could dramatically reduce serious illness and death when prescribed early.

By the numbers: Catholics, Biden and abortion

Expand chart
Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

President Biden — the second Catholic U.S. president — will meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday, as some church leaders debate whether to deny Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights.

By the numbers: Overall, two in three U.S. Catholics believe Biden should be allowed to take Communion despite his stance on abortion, according to polling by Pew Research Center.

Texas House probes school library books dealing with race and sexuality

Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Texas state Rep. Matt Krause, chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, announced Wednesday that he's initiating a probe into schools' library books, according to a letter sent to the state's education agency and other superintendents.

Why it matters: The probe focuses on books that discuss race, sexuality or "make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex," Krause wrote in the letter.