New York became the latest state to introduce stricter social distancing rules on Wednesday, as new infections in the country surged above 100,000 for an eighth consecutive day.
The blue-chip Dow was pulled down by industrial and financial companies sensitive to economic growth, with Boeing and Goldman Sachs each down more than 2 per cent.
Airlines and cruise operators, among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, also fell.
Even after Thursday’s drop, the S&P 500 has gained almost 2 per cent this week, buoyed by positive vaccine trial data that increased expectations of a quick economic recovery.
Stocks have also benefited from expectations that a divided Congress will keep President-elect Joe Biden from enacting tax hikes that would hurt corporate profits.
“The reality is that we don’t know what the new normal is going to look like, even when we do recover from the coronavirus, and that is still a ways away,” said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at Globalt Investments in Atlanta.
“It’s the classic between the market discounting something that is nine to 12 months out, and then ‘undiscounting’ it because it has not happened yet.”
New data showed US jobless claims fell to a seven-month low last week, but the pace of job recovery slowed as fiscal stimulus waned and further improvement could be limited by a raging pandemic.
Unofficially, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 358.48 points, or 1.22 per cent, to 29,039.15, the S&P 500 lost 38.94 points, or 1.09 per cent, to 3,533.72 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 84.98 points, or 0.72 per cent, to 11,701.45.
Among the biggest boosts to the Nasdaq was a surge in the US-listed shares of Chinese e-commerce company Pinduoduo Inc after it reported strong quarterly revenue.
Rival JD.com’s shares also climbed.
The S&P 500 energy index and financials both fell sharply.
Moderna rallied after the drugmaker said it had enough data for a first interim analysis of the late-stage trial of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine. It did not say when it plans to release the data.
Walt Disney and network gear maker Cisco Systems each slipped ahead of their quarterly results due after the close.