USA community updates thread - virus related

Stocks soar on Wall Street as Congress nears stimulus deal

RELEASE: U.S. stocks soared after the opening bell on Wall Street Tuesday morning, as federal lawmakers appear to be closing in on a major coronavirus economic rescue package. The Dow Jones Industrial average immediately gained more than 1,000 points after the bell and had risen by almost 1,500 points by 10:30 a.m. EDT, and back above the 20,000 mark.

The S&P 500 was up 160 points and the Nasdaq was up more than 400 points. The gains reflected optimism that U.S. Senate and House negotiators would soon pass a stimulus package, which was again rejected Monday by Senate Democrats who felt it favored U.S. corporate interests more than those of most Americans.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck said late Monday a deal was close. The Dow fell nearly 600 points on Monday, its first day of all electronic trading after the New York Stock Exchange closed the trading floor to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

Trump weighs scaling back social distancing guidelines

RELEASE: With lives and the economy hanging in the balance, President Donald Trump was weighing Tuesday how to refine nationwide social-distancing guidelines to put some workers back on the job amid the coronavirus outbreak. The White House is eyeing ways to ease the advisories that have sidelined workers, shuttered schools and led to a widespread economic slowdown. The U.S. is now more than a week into an unprecedented 15-day effort to encourage all Americans to drastically scale back their public activities.

The reassessment comes as the White House is encouraging lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass a roughly $2 trillion stimulus package to ease the financial pain for Americans and hard-hit industries. “Our people want to return to work,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM!”

Trump was set to make the case publicly as he participates in a live 90-minute virtual town hall Tuesday afternoon hosted by Fox News from the Rose Garden. Appearing before the president at the virtual town hall, Vice President Mike Pence said Trump has asked for recommendations from the White House coronavirus task force for how he can send people back to work while minimizing the public health risk. He said Trump wants to find a way “to open America back up.”

Trump’s enthusiasm for getting people back to work comes as he takes stock of the political toll the outbreak is taking. It sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told WMAL on Tuesday that Trump has always heeded his recommendations. “The president has listened to what I have said and to what the other people on the task force have said, when I have made recommendations he has taken them. He’s never countered or overridden me, the idea of just pitting one against the other is just not helpful,” Fauci said.

Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, told reporters Tuesday that “public health includes economic health.” “That’s the key point. And it’s not either-or. It’s not either-or, and that’s why we’re taking a fresh look at it,” he said.

During a private conference call with roughly 30 conservative leaders on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence reinforced Trump’s eagerness to lift coronavirus-related work and travel restrictions “in a matter of weeks, not months”

Pence said there would be no formal decisions made until the current 15-day period of social distancing was complete when pressed on a specific timeline for lifting restrictions, according to a conference call participant who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the private discussion. Pence told the group that accommodations would need to be made for the highest-risk populations if and when restrictions begin to be lifted.

Report: Restaurant in China celebrated U.S. coronavirus outbreak

RELEASE: A restaurant in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang is under fire for what appears to have been a celebration of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. The restaurant, located on Taiyuan Shopping Street in the heart of Shenyang, had raised an anti-U.S. banner on Sunday evening, local news service Pengpai and other Chinese news sources reported.

The restaurant's manager with the surname Hui had raised an arched red banner; China has slowly begun to lift restrictions that were put in place following the outbreak of COVID-19, which began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. According to Chinese news services, the banner read, "Congratulations to the United States for the outbreak of COVID-19."

The banner also included an anti-Japanese message. "We hope the infections moves smoothly into little Japan and continues forever after that."

The images went viral on Chinese social media, reports say. Local Shenyang police arrived on the scene the same evening. Hui is under investigation by China's public security.

Chinese paper Beijing News said the restaurant made a mistake. "COVID-19 is a disaster, and the common enemy of mankind regardless of race, geography or nation," the paper said. "We must act in unison with hostility against a common enemy and must not be happy to witness the disaster of others."

The paper also criticized the anti-Japanese remarks on the banner. "When COVID-19 first appeared in China, Japanese private donors sent supplies, including masks," Beijing News said. "This is an act of ingratitude that does not know how to repay foreign assistance."

The parent company said the restaurant manager had placed the banner out front without notifying the head office, reports say.

The mood may be slowly shifting in China, where officials claim the pandemic is on the decline. The country could also be turning its attention to the issue of the virus being imported back into the country. Travelers to Beijing, the capital, are required to self-quarantine at their own expense for 14 days if traveling to the city, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Trump order makes it crime to stockpile supplies (Mar 23, yesterday)

RELEASE: President Donald Trump has signed an executive order making it a crime to excessively stockpile personal protective equipment that is needed by medical personnel fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Attorney General William Barr says the Justice Department has already launched investigations into people who are hoarding supplies and price gouging. He says investigators will go after people who are “hoarding these goods on an industrial scale for the purpose of manipulating the market.”

The executive order allows the president to designate some items as “scarce.” Barr says, “If you are sitting on a warehouse with surgical masks, you will be hearing a knock on your door.” No specific items have been identified yet and the Justice Department will work with Health and Human Services to enforce the president’s order.
Washington agrees on unrivaled $2 trillion virus rescue bill

Florida governor’s coronavirus dilemma: health vs. economy

INTRO: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been walking a tightrope for weeks during the coronavirus crisis, trying to protect both residents vulnerable to the virus and the cratering economy in a state of 21 million people. His dilemma is a clear example of the conundrum facing the president of the United States and governors across the nation: His state has both an enormous population — a large percentage of which is old and particularly vulnerable to the virus — and a thriving economy whose collapse could result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The success or failure of the Republican governor’s decisions could have major consequences for the national economic recovery, not to mention the presidential election. No single state is more central to President Donald Trump’s reelection... (MORE)

Stocks wobble as Wall Street downshifts from historic rally

INTRO: Socks are wobbling in tentative trading on Wall Street Wednesday, as a historic, worldwide rally downshifts dramatically after just a day. The S&P 500 drifted up and down in a relatively tight band and was up less than 1% in midday trading, a day after packing a year’s worth of gains into Tuesday as Washington neared a $2 trillion deal to aid the economy. Tuesday’s 11.4% gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average was its biggest since 1933.

The White House and Senate leaders did announce an agreement early Wednesday, with the Senate possibly voting on it in the afternoon. Investors were anxiously waiting for this kind of aid, which will help blunt the blow to the economy as businesses shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But even optimists say the package provides just the second leg of three that markets need to regain lasting confidence. The Federal Reserve and central banks are also offering tremendous aid by cutting interest rates and supporting lending markets, but investors say they need to see the number of new infections peak before they can feel comfortable knowing how deep the looming economic downturn will be.

“There’s a lot of bad news, there’s very little tangible good news and there’s a lot of uncertainty in between,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset. Investors are also still waiting to see the details of Washington’s plan, which will include direct payments to most Americans and aid for hard-hit industries. It’s unclear when the House of Representatives could vote on the plan... (MORE)

Rural America watches pandemic erupt in cities as fear grows

INTRO: The social distancing rules repeated like a mantra in America’s urban centers, where the coronavirus is spreading exponentially, might seem silly in wide-open places where neighbors live far from each other and “working from home” means another day spent branding calves or driving a tractor alone through a field.

But as the pandemic spreads through the U.S., those living in rural areas, too, are increasingly threatened. Tiny towns tucked into Oregon’s windswept plains and cattle ranches miles from anywhere in South Dakota might not have had a single case of the new coronavirus, but their main streets are also empty and their medical clinics overwhelmed by the worried.

Residents from rural Alabama to the woods of Vermont to the frozen reaches of Alaska fear the spread of the disease from outsiders, the social isolation that comes when the only diner in town closes its doors and economic collapse in places where jobs were already tough to come by.

“Nobody knows what to do and they’re just running in circles, so stay away from me is what I’m saying,” said Mike Filbin, a 70-year-old cattle rancher in Wasco County, Oregon, one of the few parts of the state that has yet to see a case of COVID-19. “Right now, we’re pretty clean over here, but we’re not immune to nothin’ — and if they start bringing it over, it’ll explode here.”

To make matters worse, some of the most remote communities have limited or no internet access and spotty cellphone service. That makes telecommuting and online learning challenging in an era of blanket school and work closures, and it eliminates the possibility of the FaceTime card games and virtual cocktail hours that urban Americans have turned to in droves to stay connected.

The routine ways that rural Americans connect — a bingo night, stopping in at a local diner or attending a potluck — are suddenly taboo. “Rural people are reliant on their neighbors and have more confidence and trust in their neighbors,” said Ken Johnson, a senior demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy and professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “Now you have people who are supposed to self-isolate themselves. What does that mean when people you depend on, in order to help you, are going to put themselves and their families at risk? I don’t know what that will do in rural America.”

Neil Bradshaw, the mayor of Ketchum, Idaho, is starting to see the answer to that question in his own community.... (MORE)
Federal judges urged to free thousands of California inmates

INTRO: Attorneys representing California inmates late Wednesday filed an emergency motion asking federal judges to free thousands of infirm and lower-security prisoners to prevent what they predict will otherwise be the catastrophic spread of coronavirus through a vulnerable population. They want the judges to order the release of inmates who are at higher risk for complications from the disease, as well as nonviolent offenders who are within a year of being paroled.

So far, one inmate and nine employees have tested positive. But every day without action is “another lost opportunity to mitigate the effects of what we know is going to be a severe calamity,” said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office and one of the attorneys filing the request.

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it will be reviewing the action and already has taken measures such as halting public prison visits and screening everyone who enters a facility. “Public safety is a top priority for CDCR, as is the health of our community,” said a statement from the department... (MORE)

Out of medication, US woman finally boards flight from Peru

INTRO: In this photo provided by a passenger who requested to be anonymous, passengers get ready before the doors close on a flight departing from Cusco, Peru, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Anna, a 33-year-old American who had run out of life-saving medication while stranded in a Peruvian hotel room, boarded the plane home. She and her husband had been stuck as the South American nation denied landing to planes sent to bring them and others home (Courtesy photo via AP)

A 33-year-old American woman running out of her life-saving medication to treat her auto-immune disease finally boarded a flight home Wednesday after being stuck in Peru for about 10 days, but hundreds of other U.S. citizens remained stranded after the South American nation closed its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I could not be happier,” Anna, who requested that her last name not be made public due to privacy concerns related to her medical condition, said after getting on the plane in Cusco.

At the same time, it was bittersweet. On the way to the airport, Anna and her husband saw a long line of Americans hoping to get on the flight. Her husband told The Associated Press that some people have been “sitting outside the airport for a week.” (MORE)

Newly jobless Americans worry about making ends meet

INTRO: Optician Ali Nelson sent the final few orders of eyeglasses to clients last week before her Washington D.C.-based store closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Without a paycheck indefinitely, Nelson is one of potentially tens of millions other Americans whose livelihoods are now in doubt because of the coronavirus pandemic. The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday is set to offer the clearest evidence yet of the coronavirus’ devastating impact on the economy.... (MORE)

Highlights of Congress’ massive virus economic relief plan

RELEASE: Partial highlights of a roughly $2.2 trillion package to rush aid to businesses, workers and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic. The package, written by Trump administration officials and Democratic and Republican Senate leaders, was released late Wednesday night and unanimously approved by the Senate.

— Loans and guarantees to businesses, state and local governments: $500 billion. Includes up to $50 billion for passenger airlines, $8 billion for cargo carriers, $17 billion for “businesses critical to maintaining national security.” Companies accepting loans may not repurchase outstanding stock; must maintain their employment levels as of March 13, 2020 “to the extent practicable”; and bar raises for two years to executives earning over $425,000 annually. Companies are not eligible for loans if top administration officials, members of Congress or their families have 20% control.

— Small businesses: Includes $350 billion in loans for companies with 500 employees or fewer, including nonprofits, self-employed people and hotel and restaurant chains with no more than 500 workers per location. Government provides eight weeks of cash assistance through loans to cover payroll, rent and other expenses, much of which would be forgiven if the company retains workers. Also $17 billion to help small businesses repay existing loans; $10 billion for grants up to $10,000 for small businesses to pay operating costs.

— Emergency unemployment insurance: $260 billion. Includes extra 13 weeks of coverage for people who have exhausted existing benefits. Also covers part-time, self-employed, gig economy workers. Weekly benefit increase of up to $600.

— Health care: $150 billion. Includes $100 billion for grants to hospitals, public and nonprofit health organizations and Medicare and Medicaid suppliers.

— Aid to state and local governments: $150 billion, with at least $1.5 billion for smallest states.

— Direct payments to people: One-time payments of $1,200 per adult, $2,400 per couple, $500 per child. Amounts begin phasing out at $75,000 for individuals, $150,000 per couple.

— Tax breaks: Temporarily waives penalties for virus-related early withdrawals and eases required minimum annual disbursements from some retirement accounts; increases deductions for charitable contributions. Employers who pay furloughed workers can get tax credits for some of those payments. Postpones business payments of payroll taxes until 2021 or 2022.

— Department of Homeland Security: $45 billion for a disaster relief fund to reimburse state and local governments for medical response, community services, other safety measures. Extends federal deadline for people getting driver’s licenses with enhanced security features, called REAL ID, from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021.

— Education: $31 billion. Includes $13.5 billion for states to distribute to local schools and programs, $14 billion to help universities and colleges.

— Coronavirus treatments: $27 billion for research and development of vaccines and treatments, stockpiling medical supplies.

— Transportation: Includes $25 billion for public transit systems; $10 billion for publicly owned commercial airports, intended to sustain 430,000 transit jobs; $1 billion for Amtrak.

— Veterans: $20 billion, including $16 billion for treating veterans at VA facilities; $3 billion for temporary and mobile facilities.

— Food and agriculture: $15.5 billion for food stamps; $14 billion for supporting farm income and crop prices; $9.5 billion for specific producers including specialty crops, dairy and livestock; $8.8 billion child nutrition. Money for food banks, farmers’ markets.

— Defense: $10.5 billion for Defense Department, including $1.5 billion to nearly triple the 4,300 beds currently in military hospitals; $1.4 billion for states to deploy up to 20,000 members of National Guard for six months; $1 billion under Defense Production Act to help private industry boost production of medical gear. Money cannot be used to build President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along Mexican border.

— Social programs: Includes $3.5 billion in grants for child care and early education programs; $1 billion in grants to help communities address local economic problems; $900 million in heating, cooling aid for low-income families; $750 million for extra staffing for Head Start programs.

— Economic aid to communities: $5 billion in Community Development Block Grants to help state and local governments expand health facilities, child care centers, food banks and senior services; $4 billion in assistance for homeless people; $3 billion for low-income renters; $1.5 billion to help communities rebuild local industries including tourism, industry supply chains, business loans; $300 million for fishing industry.

— Native American communities: $2 billion for health care, equipment schools and other needs.

— Diplomacy: $1.1 billion, including $324 million to evacuate Americans and diplomats overseas; $350 million to help refugees; $258 million in international disaster aid; $88 million for the Peace Corps to evacuate its volunteers abroad.

— Elections: $400 million to help states prepare for 2020 elections with steps including expanded vote by mail, additional polling locations.

— Arts: $150 million for federal grants to state and local arts and humanities programs; $75 million for Corporation for Public Broadcasting; $25 million for Washington, D.C., Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

— Congress: $93 million, including $25 million for the House and $10 million for the smaller Senate for teleworking and other costs; $25 million for cleaning the Capitol and congressional office buildings.

US hospitals rush to find beds for surge of virus patients

INTRO: With capacity stretched thin, U.S. hospitals are rushing to find beds for a coming flood of patients, opening older closed hospitals, turning single rooms into doubles and re-purposing other medical buildings.

Louisiana is making deals with hotels to provide additional hospital beds and has converted three state parks into isolation sites for patients who can’t go home. Illinois is reopening a 314-bed suburban Chicago hospital that closed in September.

In New York, the city’s convention center is being turned into a temporary hospital. At Mount Sinai Morningside hospital, heart surgeons, cardiologists and cardiovascular nurses now care for coronavirus patients in a converted cardiac unit. Floating hospitals from the U.S. Navy are heading to Los Angeles and, eventually, New York. Military mobile hospitals are promised to Washington state.

Simple math is spurring hospital leaders to prepare. With total U.S. cases doubling every three days, empty intensive care unit beds, needed by an estimated 5% of the sick, will rapidly fill.

U.S. hospitals reported operating 74,000 ICU beds in 2018, with 64% filled by patients on a typical day. But available ICU beds are not evenly distributed, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data on hospitals that provided a cost report to Medicare in fiscal year 2018.

The AP found more than 7 million people age 60 and older — those most at risk of severe COVID-19 illness — live in counties without ICU beds. AP included ICU beds in coronary units, surgical units and burn units in the count. (MORE)
Don't Dash For Cash: Authorities Say There's No Need To Empty The ATM

INTRO: Toilet tissue isn't the only paper product that Americans are hoarding these days. Paper money is also in high demand. Banks are seeing more cash withdrawals as nervous customers try to protect themselves from the uncertainty of the coronavirus clampdown.

There are reports — especially from wealthy neighborhoods — of people pulling tens of thousands of dollars out of their bank accounts. Demand was so high that one bank branch in Midtown Manhattan temporarily ran out of $100 bills, The New York Times reported. The bank was quickly resupplied the following day.

While stocking your pantry with pasta and canned goods may provide some measure of security, officials say there are risks to keeping too much cash on hand. "Forget the mattress. Forget hoarding cash. Your money is the safest at the bank," said Jelena McWilliams, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which safeguards bank accounts. (MORE)

Record number of Americans file for unemployment
Virus takes toll on US military as it tries to aid civilians

INTRO: The coronavirus is taking a growing toll on the U.S. military, and commanders and senior officials are bracing for worse. From nuclear missile fields at home to war zones abroad, from flight lines to ships at sea, the Pentagon is striving to shield vital missions even as it faces urgent calls for help on the civilian front.

Training exercises big and small, including one of the largest in Europe since the end of the Cold War, have been curtailed. Army recruiting stations have closed. Troops around the globe are hunkering down to confront an enemy unlike anything the world’s most lethal armed forces have encountered before. “It’s unprecedented in my lifetime,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, adding that he believes that “in a period of months” the worst will be over and the force will once again be “fully mission capable.”

Until then, the ramifications of COVID-19 for the military are likely to expand. There are worries, for example, about the defense industry being weakened and key weapons development slowed.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that in a worse-case scenario, the military will lose some of its preparedness for combat and other missions. But the impact is likely to be “moderate to minor to low in terms of its risk” to national defense, he told reporters on Monday. “I’m just not in a place right now where I can give you an accurate description of what that’s going to look like,” he said.

The Pentagon budget also is taking a hit... (MORE)

Trump has megaphone, but states control virus shutdowns

INTRO: President Donald Trump has the biggest megaphone, but it’s governors and local officials who will decide when to begin reopening their economies after shuttering them to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Constitution largely gives states the authority to regulate their own affairs.

Trump has set Easter, April 12, as a goal for reopening the U.S. economy, though he also has said he will be guided by his public health experts. Unless Americans continue to dramatically limit social interaction by staying home from work and isolating themselves, the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system, many health experts have warned.

Some questions and answers about the legal authority for shutting and reopening the U.S. economy.

Q. Does the president have the authority to override state and local orders?

A. No. Under our constitutional system, states have the power and responsibility for maintaining public order and safety. As we’ve seen since the outbreak began, decisions about limiting social interactions by ordering people to shelter in place, closing businesses and shutting schools are being made by governors and local officials. Those same officials will make the call about when to ease up, no matter the vehemence of Trump’s exhortation to have businesses “opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” Trump’s comments “are just advisory,” said John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation.

Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., has ordered all nonessential businesses and schools to close, and he said Thursday on Twitter that he does not see a quick end to the restrictions. “This battle is going to be much harder, take much longer, and be much worse than almost anyone comprehends. We have never faced anything like this ever before, and I continue to urge the people of our state to stay in place at home and stay safe,” Hogan wrote.

Q. But the president has set a 15-day period in which all Americans are being urged to drastically scale back their public activities. Doesn’t that amount to a national order?

A. No. The guidelines are voluntary, and they underscore the limits on Trump’s powers. He can use daily briefings and his Twitter account to try to shape public opinion, and he has not been reluctant to do so. “When Donald Trump selects a narrative and begins to advance it, especially through his Twitter account, it has a remarkable effect on those who trust him. The more the president speaks against more robust forms of social distancing (such as shelter-in-place rules), the more noncompliance we are likely to see on the ground level from citizens sympathetic to the president,” Robert Chesney, a University of Texas law professor wrote on the Lawfare blog.


Q. Still, Trump has invoked some federal laws to address the virus outbreak, hasn’t he?

A. Yes, he has. The Stafford Act allows the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars in emergency assistance. The Defense Production Act allows the president to direct private companies to produce goods or acquire raw materials. Trump has yet to actually order companies to do anything, over the objection of some local officials who have a desperate need for ventilators, masks and other equipment. But Trump can only assert powers that Congress has specifically given him. “There are real limits on the president and the federal government when it comes to domestic affairs,” Berkeley law professor John Yoo said on a recent Federalist Society conference call. At the same time, the federal government has the power, under laws aimed at preventing the spread of communicable diseases, to quarantine people when they arrive in the United States and travel between states.


Q. Is it clear that state and local governments have authority to impose the severe restrictions we’ve seen?

A. Lawsuits already are challenging state actions on religious grounds and as seizures of property for which the government must pay compensation. But for more than 100 years, the Supreme Court has upheld states’ robust use of their authority, even when it restricts people’s freedoms. In 1905, the court rejected a Massachusetts pastor’s complaint that he should not be forced to get a smallpox vaccine or pay a fine, Malcolm noted.
Is this a good time to invade the USA? China's getting over the bug* and their armed forces need something to do. Everybody's pretty much indoors**

* For some reason I'm reminded of one of the worst movies of all time ....Starship Troopers. Fighting the bugs.

** Same goes for The Mouse that Roared . Grand Fenwick declares war on USA so they can lose and then ask for war reparations. They invade with an old boat, no one on the streets because of Nuclear Bomb simulation test and end up winning the war, planting their flag on USA soil. (Peter Sellers of Pink Panther fame ... one of the all-time great comedic actors.)
(Mar 26, 2020 07:58 PM)Zinjanthropos Wrote: Is this a good time to invade the USA? China's getting over the bug* and their armed forces need something to do. Everybody's pretty much indoors**

* For some reason I'm reminded of one of the worst movies of all time ....Starship Troopers. Fighting the bugs.

** Same goes for The Mouse that Roared . Grand Fenwick declares war on USA so they can lose and then ask for war reparations. They invade with an old boat, no one on the streets because of Nuclear Bomb simulation test and end up winning the war, planting their flag on USA soil. (Peter Sellers of Pink Panther fame ... one of the all-time great comedic actors.)

If conventional warfare was compromised for the US as defense, might compel Trump to press the button all the more. Lyndon Johnson worried about his manhood if he turned tail out of Vietnam; similarly, Trump probably wouldn't want to be the first to allow a (successful) invasion on US soil since the early(?) 19th-century. At least not without severe consequences.
Gas prices keep falling amid lower demand during epidemic

RELEASE: Gas prices in New Jersey and across the nation are still falling amid decreased demand with fewer drivers on the road during the coronavirus epidemic. AAA Mid-Atlantic says the average price of a gallon of regular gas in New Jersey on Friday was $2.22, down nine cents from a week ago. Drivers were paying $2.67 a gallon a year ago at this time. The national average gas price Friday was $2.05, down 12 cents from a week ago. Analysts say that as the price of crude oil drops to levels not seen since the early 2000s, gasoline prices are following suit.
Up to 200,000 deaths foreseen in US

INTRO: Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, two of the top members on the White House coronavirus task force, issued serious warnings about the continued spread of coronavirus and the overall impact on the country before numbers start to go down. On CNN’s State of the Union, Jake Tapper asked Fauci how many cases of coronavirus the U.S. will end up with a total of. Fauci said based on the current numbers, he thinks “we’re going to have millions of cases” and potentially between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths.

But again, he cautioned, “I just don’t think that we really need to make a projection, when it’s such a moving target, that you can so easily be wrong and mislead people. What we do know, Jake, is that we got a serious problem in New York, we have a serious problem in New Orleans, and we’re going to be developing serious problems in other areas.”

Birx also specifically talked about New York, saying on Meet the Press this morning, “No state, no metro area will be spared.” (MORE)

Special Interest Items Snuck Into $2.2 Trillion 'Stimulus'

EXCERPT: Lost in Americans' anticipation of coronavirus relief checks are all the favors paid to special interest groups in the $2.2 trillion bill. "Anytime you have this much money, $2 trillion, the most we've ever spent at one time, and any time you're moving this fast, there's going to be waste, fraud, and abuse potential," Rep. Jodey Arrington told Newsmax TV on Friday.

House Democrats held the leverage and they played some cards on some agenda items that had been collecting dust, along with Republicans in the Senate, The Wall Street Journal reported. "It is 'HELL' dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the 'big picture' done," President Donald Trump tweeted. "90% GREAT!"

[...] Among the special interest aide in the package, with some questionable pertinence to a global coronavirus pandemic, according to the Journal:

• "Streamlining the approval process for sunscreen ingredients."
• "Giving tax-preferred treatment to feminine-hygiene products."
• "Temporary repeal of alcohol excise taxes for makers of hand sanitizer."
• Banning "companies that receive federal loans from weighing in on efforts by their employees to form labor unions."
• "Community and regional banks each scored wins on separate measures to allow them to reduce capital requirements so they can make more loans"
• A ban on "the use of any money in the legislation to pay for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico."
• "A measure to promote sexual abstinence."
• "Makers of over-the-counter drugs, such as Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol and Benadryl, won inclusion of a long-sought bill to change the federal approval process for new products."
• "The stimulus legislation provides $300 million to help the U.S. seafood industry, including commercial and charter fishermen."
• "The FDA would be required to begin a new review process that allows for more input from the industry and scientists," you know, just in case things needed for the pandemic response might be rushed along to help people, like FDA standards for hand sanitizer that exceed those of the World Health Organization.

[...] Other curious beneficiaries from the stimulus bill, according to Politico:

• "Casinos will be able to tap government loans for disaster assistance, a payback after casinos were blocked from receiving tax breaks extended to other businesses after Hurricane Katrina in 2005."
• "The ability to apply for $25 billion in loans and loan guarantees reserved for the airlines."
• "The rescue package permits Trump to extend the terms of up to seven senior military leaders: the Air Force chief of staff; the chief of space operations; the chief of the National Guard Bureau; the directors of the Army and Air National Guard; and the chief of the Army and Navy Reserves."
• "A company could pay up to $5,250 of an employee's student loan payments each year on a tax-free basis."
• "Free video conference and phone calls for inmates."
• Harbor dredging: "The provision is a boon for ports that need dredging work, like the one in Mobile, Ala., in Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby's (R-Ala.) home state."

[...] Also, according to the L.A. Times:

• "Aerospace giant Boeing Co., which had struggled long before the coronavirus pandemic hit, appears the chief beneficiary of a $17-billion loan program intended for what the bill calls 'businesses critical to maintaining the national security.'"
• "Small banks won lower requirements for capital reserves, a longtime goal for their lobbyists, on the theory that it would allow them lend more money to struggling businesses."
• "$75 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which give grants to museums and artists."
• "$7.5 million for the Smithsonian Institution and $25 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C."
• "The long-troubled U.S. Postal Service will get a $10-billion loan, though Democrats have warned the agency will need more to stay afloat."

[...] The New York Times also called out the following:

• "If a company owns multiple hotels, even if the overall hotel or restaurant chain has more than 500 employees — the limit to qualify for treatment as a small business — it will still be able to take advantage of the small-business benefits offered in the rescue package."
• "A provision in the bill would allow all colleges to retain federal funds allocated to help educate qualifying students, even if the students in question dropped out because of coronavirus-related emergencies. While the provision applies to all colleges, critics of for-profit colleges contend that, because those schools tend to have higher dropout rates, they would be able to retain more of the money they collect via federal loans to their students than would traditional nonprofit colleges."
(MORE - details)

EXCERPTS: The top infectious-disease expert in the United States is warning that smaller U.S. cities are about to witness the rapid acceleration in coronavirus cases that New York is seeing. Dr. Anthony Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that New Orleans and Detroit are showing signs that “they’re going to take off,” and other, smaller cities are “percolating.”

Fauci’s warning comes a day after President Donald Trump braced the nation for a death toll that could exceed 100,000 people. Trump extended restrictive social distancing guidelines through April 30, bowing to public health experts who presented him with even more dire projections for the expanding coronavirus pandemic. [...]


— As U.S. hospitals brace for a surge in patients who need breathing machines and other resources that could be in critically short supply, health care workers are dusting off playbooks they’ve never before had to implement on how to fairly ration limited resources during an emergency.

— The pandemic that launched a massive, unplanned experiment with distance learning has created extraordinary hurdles for schoolchildren left behind by the digital divide. School districts and governments are now racing to give the millions of U.S. students without home internet a chance to keep up.

— The U.S. surpassed 125,000 cases and about 43% of those are in New York state. Testing is one reason. Doctors can’t detect an infection if they don’t look for it, and New York has been doing more testing than anywhere in the country.

— State and local leaders in the U.S. are struggling to navigate inconsistent federal guidance and fierce political tribalism that is complicating their responses to the coronavirus outbreak.

— An exclusive data analysis from AP finds that more than a third of counties across the U.S. still haven’t reported a positive test result for infection across what are predominantly poor, rural areas.

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