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Coronavirus Pandemic Death Toll Tops 6,500 Worldwide, About 170,000 Confirmed Cases

Mar 16, 2020

Today, an extended coronavirus global roundup. The coronavirus pandemic death toll has topped 6,500 deaths with about 170,000 confirmed cases worldwide. At least 77,000 people have now recovered from the disease, though some reports suggest it has had lasting health impacts and that reinfection is possible.

Sweeping measures are being rolled out across Europe, which is now considered the epicenter of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Italy remains on lockdown as it reported 368 new deaths Sunday, bringing its death toll to over 1,800.

The Vatican announced it will close Holy Week celebrations to the public.

Spain is now also on lockdown in an attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Spain has the second most cases of the disease in Europe after Italy, and the fifth-highest number worldwide, with 8,000 infections and nearly 300 deaths as of Sunday. Video emerged of people in Spain cheering medical workers in the streets as the country prepared to shut down. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s wife, Begoña Gómez, has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias went into quarantine after his partner, also a minister, was diagnosed with COVID-19. Meanwhile, Ortega Smith and Santiago Abascal of the far-right Vox party have tested positive, and the party announced all lawmakers would work remotely.

In France, the government ordered restaurants, bars and movie theaters shut down. Half of the coronavirus patients in critical condition in France are under the age of 60.

Austria has banned gatherings of more than five people, as well as set a curfew, enforced with fines. Germany and Denmark are closing their borders.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under fire for limiting its recommendation to self-isolate to people over the age of 70. Britain’s chief science adviser also suggested letting a certain number of people get infected to build “herd immunity,” but government officials backed away from the comments, saying it was not the official policy.

Ireland has closed all pubs and bars days before St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
In Iran, the death toll has topped 720, with nearly 14,000 confirmed cases. In the past 24 hours, at least 100 people have died. An official said many of those who died were otherwise healthy. Around 15% of the fatalities were under 40 years of age.

Lebanon is embarking on a two-week lockdown, closing its airport and borders, and ordering people to stay in their homes.

South Africa has declared a national disaster as COVID-19 takes a foothold on the African continent. Kenya said it was closing its border to all nonresidents to curb the spread of the disease. At least 26 African countries are now reporting cases.

In Latin America, Colombia and Panama are blocking entry for nonresidents and citizens, and requiring those reentering the country to self-isolate for two weeks. Guatemala announced the first coronavirus death over the weekend. The 85-year-old man entered the country through Madrid last month.

In mainland China, where the coronavirus first emerged but has steadily declined in recent days, 16 new cases and 14 new deaths were reported Sunday. There are now more confirmed infections outside of mainland China than inside. China has offered to help countries including Iran, Iraq and Italy deal with the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the youth climate strike known as “Fridays for Future” has moved to a digital strike. Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who started the weekly strike, tweeted, “School strike week 82. In a crisis we change our behaviour and adapt to the new circumstances for the greater good of society.”

U.S. Coronavirus Cases Reach 3,600 as True Number of Infections Continues to be Unknown

Mar 16, 2020

Coronavirus cases in the United States have now topped 3,600, though the true number of cases remains unknown due to extremely limited testing — the actual number is believed to be far higher. President Trump held a press conference Sunday.

President Donald Trump: “Relax. We’re doing great. It all will pass.”

Minutes later, at the same press conference, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and top member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, appeared to contradict the president.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: “As I’ve said many times, and I’ll repeat it: The worst is, yes, ahead for us.”

Trump declared a national emergency Friday after intense backlash to his response to the pandemic and the devastating shortage of tests. A reporter asked Trump if he accepted responsibility for the “lag” in testing.

President Donald Trump: “No, I don’t take responsibility at all, because we were given a — a set of circumstances, and we were given rules, regulations and specifications from a different time.”

A Politico reporter told NPR that Trump did not push for testing earlier on because he wanted to keep the official case numbers low. During his remarks Friday, which Trump delivered in the Rose Garden, Trump repeatedly shook hands with officials, and touched the microphone more than 30 times.

In the early hours of Saturday, the House passed an emergency coronavirus bill that was intended to help infected workers by mandating paid sick leave — but the bill only guarantees the paid leave to around 20% of American workers. The bill does not apply to companies with 500 or more employees, and workplaces with fewer than 50 employees can request a hardship exemption.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported the Trump administration isn’t allowing states to expand Medicaid during the coronavirus outbreak, as was done during other crises such as after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 — or swine flu — outbreak.

The Trump administration proposed rules last summer that would loosen regulations around nursing homes, including doing away with a requirement that nursing homes employ at least one specialist in preventing infections. The coronavirus has killed 25 people associated with the Kirkland Life Care Center in Washington state, and dozens of employees were found to have the infection.

Trump Tests Negative for Coronavirus After Being in Contact with Brazilian Official Infected with COVID-19

Mar 16, 2020

The White House said Saturday that Trump has tested negative for COVID-19, after coming in contact with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s press secretary, who was diagnosed with the illness. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has tested positive for the coronavirus after meeting with Bolsonaro and his staffers. Bolsonaro’s son said his father has tested negative, after earlier reports to the contrary. In Brazil, Bolsonaro defied recommendations for curbing the virus, greeting and encouraging rallies of pro-government supporters.

States Across U.S. Ramp Up Measures to Control Spread of Coronavirus, Including Massive School, Business Closures

Mar 16, 2020

As states ramp up measures to stem the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended canceling gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. At least 33 states have announced school closures of some kind. New York City and Los Angeles — the nation’s two largest school districts — are shutting down classes starting today.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the closures Sunday, after intense pressure from teachers, healthcare workers and concerned New Yorkers. De Blasio said it was possible schools might remain closed through the rest of the school year; 1.1 million New York City students and their families will be affected. New York now has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, with at least 730 infections and six deaths. Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state has some 3,000 ICU beds and that 80% are currently occupied.

At least seven states, including New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Ohio, are closing bars and restaurants to eat-in business, but most will remain open for delivery or takeout.

Major retail chains, including Walmart, Kroger and Trader Joe’s, are restricting shopping hours, while Apple closed all its stores outside Greater China. Nike is also closing U.S. stores, and Disney is closing all hotels and retail stores.
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is under fire after he sent out an email to employees saying workers could “donate” accumulated paid time off to fellow employees with medical emergencies or a death in the family during the outbreak.

In Los Angeles, all jury trials are reportedly being suspended, and all new criminal and civil trials are being put off for at least 30 days. The murder trial of real estate heir Robert Durst will be postponed.

In Colorado, the state Legislature has shut down.

The Peace Corps is suspending its operations and evacuating its volunteers around the world.

In media news, the Associated Press had to temporarily shut down its D.C. office after a staffer came into contact with a possible coronavirus patient. Six CBS employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, and Vox closed its offices after an employee tested positive.

The aviation industry has taken a major hit. American Airlines said it would cut international flights by 75% and U.S. flights by 20% through May. Delta Air Lines announced a systemwide 40% capacity cut and plans to ground up to 300 planes.

Trump added the U.K. and Ireland to the coronavirus European travel ban over the weekend. People returning home from overseas in recent days were made to wait hours for screening tests at airports, in some cases in overcrowded spaces. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker tweeted, “The crowds & lines at O’Hare are unacceptable & need to be addressed immediately. @realDonaldTrump @VP since this is the only communication medium you pay attention to—you need to do something NOW. These crowds are waiting to get through customs which is under federal jurisdiction.” He added, “The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW.” Pritzker said Sunday a Trump staffer called and “yelled” at him for the tweets.

Meanwhile, two emergency room doctors — one in New Jersey and one in Washington state — are in critical condition, raising more fears for those delivering frontline services. The Chinese experience supports the fear that healthcare workers are at particularly high risk.

In other medical news, scientists at Johns Hopkins Hospital are developing a treatment option involving using blood serum from recovered patients, which could be just weeks away.

In Puerto Rico, Governor Wanda Vázquez signed an executive order shutting down most businesses and imposing a 9 p.m. curfew on the island. Restaurants that offer delivery or takeout, pharmacies, gas stations and banks will be spared.
In financial news, the Federal Reserve cut the interest rate to near zero, plunging Dow futures by 1,000 points Sunday, triggering a “limit down,” which prevents stocks from dropping further. The Fed also says it will inject money into the markets by buying $700 billion in bonds. Trump congratulated the Fed on the move Sunday.

Federal Judge Blocks Trump Rule That Would Have Thrown 700,000 People Off Food Stamps

Mar 16, 2020

A federal judge has blocked a Trump rule that would have thrown 700,000 people off of food stamps, known as SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The rule would have required affected recipients to work at least 20 hours a week in order to qualify for food stamps beyond the first three months. U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell wrote, “[A]s a global pandemic poses widespread health risks, guaranteeing that government officials at both the federal and state levels have the flexibility to address the nutritional needs of residents and ensure their well-being through programs like SNAP, is essential.”

AOC Confronts ICE Agent at LaGuardia Airport as 6 Migrant Children Detained in Texas Were Relocated to New York

Mar 16, 2020

In immigration news, New York City Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez confronted an ICE agent at LaGuardia Airport who helped transport six immigrant children from Texas to New York amid the pandemic. The congressmember intervened after immigrant rights group New Sanctuary Coalition sounded the alarm on the transportation of the minors.

Sanders, Biden Faced Off in First One-on-One Debate as Louisiana & Georgia Postpone Primaries

Mar 16, 2020

Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in their first one-on-one debate Sunday. The debate took place in CNN’s studio in Washington, D.C., with no live audience. It was originally scheduled to take place in Arizona ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday but was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. The candidates greeted each other with an elbow bump as they took the stage, and sparred over healthcare, climate change, campaign funding, Social Security, their past voting records and how best to fight pandemics like the coronavirus.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper asked the candidates about whether a revolution was the best path forward for the country.

Joe Biden: “We have problems we have to solve now. Now. What’s a revolution going to do? Disrupt everything in the meantime? Look, Bernie talks about — excuse me, the senator talks about his Medicare for All, and he still hasn’t told you how he’s going to ever get it passed. He hasn’t told you how, in fact, there’s any possibility of that happening. He hasn’t told you how much it’s going to cost. He hasn’t told you how it’s going to apply. It doesn’t kick in for four years even after it passes. If we want a revolution, let’s act now. Pass the Biden healthcare plan, which takes Obamacare, restores all the cuts made to it, subsidizes further, provides for lower drug prices, makes sure that there’s no hidden bills, makes sure that we invest what I want to invest, $50 billion in dealing with underlying diseases that are of great consequence — diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer — makes sure that we have a Medicare option that’s in a public option providing Medicare for us. We can do that now. I can get that passed.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders: “If you want to create an economy that works for all, not just the few, if you want to guarantee quality healthcare to all, not make $100 billion in profit for the healthcare industry, you know what you need? You need to take on Wall Street. You need to take on the drug companies and the insurance companies and the fossil fuel industry. You don’t take campaign contributions from them. You take them on and create an economy that works for all.”

Four states are set to vote Tuesday. Ohio, Arizona, Florida and Illinois have all said they plan to go ahead with their primaries despite the pandemic. Louisiana and Georgia have postponed their states’ primaries as part of efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Puerto Rico also said it plans to postpone its primary to next month. In Arizona, officials in Maricopa County — by far the largest county in the state, making up over half of Arizona’s population — announced over one-third of polling stations will be closed due to concerns related to COVID-19. We’ll have more on last night’s debate and the presidential primaries after headlines.

Rockets Strike U.S. Military Base in Iraq Following U.S. Airstrikes on Iranian-Backed Militia Groups Last Week

Mar 16, 2020

In Iraq, rockets struck a base housing U.S. troops Saturday, following U.S. airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia groups last week that Iraqi authorities say killed six people. The U.S. said the attacks last week were in retaliation for a rocket attack that killed two U.S. soldiers and a British Army medic two days earlier. President Barham Salih warned such attacks from the U.S. could cause Iraq to descend into a failed state and hand power to the Islamic State.

2 Men Accused of Assassinating Brazilian Councilmember & Activist Marielle Franco to Face Jury Trial

Mar 16, 2020

In Brazil, the two men accused of assassinating Rio de Janeiro councilmember and activist Marielle Franco will face a jury trial. A Brazilian judge also decided former military police officers Ronnie Lessa and Élcio Queiroz will be tried for the killing of Franco’s driver and the attempted killing of a former Franco aide who were in the car at the time of the ambush. In February, another one of the hitmen suspected of being involved was killed by police. Marielle Franco was assassinated just over two years ago. She was a vocal black LGBTQ rights activist and a longtime critic of police brutality.

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Commemoration for 1st Anniversary of Christchurch Mosque Massacre in New Zealand Canceled Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Mar 16, 2020

In New Zealand, as communities across the country mourn the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque massacre, a commemoration for the victims that was expected to draw large crowds was canceled over the weekend over fears of spreading the coronavirus. A smaller crowd still came together to sing and dance in honor of the 51 dead and dozens wounded.

On March 15, 2019, a white supremacist terrorist attacked Muslim worshipers in two mosques during Friday prayers using an assault rifle. The suspect has since been charged with the murder of 51 people, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge. His trial is expected to start this summer.

Trump Says He’s Considering Pardoning Former Nat’l Security Adviser Michael Flynn

Mar 16, 2020

Amid the national emergency over coronavirus, President Trump tweeted Sunday he is considering pardoning former national security adviser Michael Flynn. “So now it is reported that, after destroying his life & the life of his wonderful family (and many others also), the FBI, working in conjunction with the Justice Department, has 'lost' the records of General Michael Flynn,” Trump said. “How convenient. I am strongly considering a Full Pardon!” It’s unclear what “records” Trump was referring to. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Unhoused Mothers in L.A. Take Over Vacant House, Demand Local Gov’t Use Vacant Properties to House People Immediately

Mar 16, 2020

In Los Angeles, a group of unhoused mothers is trying to take over a vacant house and demanding the local government use all publicly owned vacant homes, libraries, recreation centers and other properties to house people immediately. This comes as the coronavirus is putting unhoused people and other vulnerable communities at a higher risk of infection.

In January, another group of unhoused moms in the Bay Area, known as Moms 4 Housing, were given an offer to purchase the property in Oakland they occupied for months with their children. Click here for our interviews with Oakland’s Moms 4 Housing.

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