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Senate and White House Reach Agreement on $2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill

Mar 25, 2020

U.S. Senate leaders have reached a deal with the White House on an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus package to battle economic freefall caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate deal would send $1,200 checks to most American adults, with another $500 per child. It would create a half-trillion-dollar program to loan money to U.S. corporations and municipal governments, overseen by an inspector general and an oversight board. Another $367 billion would go toward a small business loan program. Hospitals would receive $130 billion, and state and local governments would get $150 billion in assistance.

Progressive critics are calling for grants — not loans — to small businesses and warn that the bailout’s centerpiece, the $500 billion loan program, could become a “slush fund” for corporate America. This is New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, speaking on MSNBC

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “If we do not get this right, we risk small businesses across the country shutting down and big businesses experiencing a total pay day with lack of accountability, further consolidating our economy. And that will create a generational issue. If we think income inequality is bad now, we really need to make sure that we get this right to prevent the worst possible outcome.”

An unemployment provision added to the Senate bill by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders would see laid-off workers receive 100% of their salary up to $75,000 a year, with tipped and gig economy workers covered. Economists at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs estimate the U.S. gross domestic product could plummet by 30% next quarter, driving unemployment to nearly 13%.

NY Governor Blasts Trump’s Coronavirus Response, Asking “Where Are the Ventilators?”

Mar 25, 2020

Here in New York, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Governor Andrew Cuomo blasted the Trump administration Tuesday for failing to respond to the magnitude of the crisis. Governor Cuomo says hospitals are already encountering shortages of equipment, including ventilators crucial to keeping patients alive when COVID-19 cases peak — which officials now predict could come in as little as two or three weeks.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo: ”FEMA is sending us 400 ventilators. Four hundred ventilators? I need 30,000 ventilators. You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators? What am I going to do with 400 ventilators, when I need 30,000? You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators!”

After Cuomo’s criticism, Vice President Mike Pence said the federal government was sending 2,000 ventilators to New York. Speaking on Fox News, President Trump hinted that more federal aid might be contingent on Cuomo — and other governors — ending their criticisms of the White House.

President Donald Trump: “No, I think we’re doing very well. But, you know, it’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well also.”

New York has more than half of total confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., though that’s partly due to a massive increase in the number of tests carried out in recent days. Almost half the cases in New York are among people less than 45 years in age.

Two Georgia Medical Workers Die of COVID-19 Amid Critical Shortage of Protective Gear

Mar 25, 2020

Across the United States, doctors and nurses report a critical lack of personal protective equipment — or PPE — endangering their health and safety. The hashtag #GetUsPPE trended on social media, with medical workers reporting they’ve been forced to reuse a single N95 protective mask throughout the day, or even for days at a time — against standard protocol of changing masks for each patient.

In Georgia, state officials say two healthcare workers who died late last week tested positive for COVID-19. 

California Seeks to Add 50,000 Hospital Beds Ahead of COVID-19 Peak

Mar 25, 2020

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom said his state is 50,000 hospital beds short of what will be needed when COVID-19 cases reach their peak. Newsom says California is looking to procure more than 500 million masks and 1 billion gloves. In Los Angeles, where confirmed coronavirus cases reached 660 Tuesday, a 17-year-old has died from COVID-19, becoming the first known minor to die in the U.S. 

Washington to Inspect Nursing Homes After 37 Die of Coronavirus at Life Care Center

Mar 25, 2020

In Washington, officials are inspecting infection controls at nursing homes statewide after finding the Life Care Center of Kirkland failed to identify and protect sick residents, failed to alert health officials about an outbreak of respiratory illness and had no backup plan after the center’s primary doctor fell ill from COVID-19. The outbreak at the long-term care center killed at least 37 people.

New Jersey, which is second to New York among known coronavirus cases in the U.S., reported its biggest single-day jump in confirmed cases, with 3,700, as New Jersey’s death toll reached 44. 

Minnesota Lt. Gov.'s Brother Dies of COVID-19; Sen. Klobuchar's Husband Hospitalized

Mar 25, 2020
Image Credit: Good Morning America

In Minnesota, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan reported her brother, Ron Golden, died in a Tennessee hospital over the weekend after contracting COVID-19. And Minnesota Democratic senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar says her husband, John Bessler, remains hospitalized on the East Coast with serious COVID-19 symptoms. Senator Klobuchar spoke to “Good Morning America” on Tuesday.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “Well, today he’s still on oxygen. The reason he was hospitalized is he had pneumonia, he was coughing up blood, and his oxygen levels were dangerously low. So he’s been there for a few days now.”

Defying Medical Advice, Trump Calls for Return to Normal and “Packed Churches” on Easter Sunday

Mar 25, 2020

As U.S. coronavirus cases continued to grow on an exponential curve Tuesday — with the number of known cases topping 54,000 — President Donald Trump said he hoped to reopen the U.S. economy and end restrictions aimed at slowing the spread by Easter Sunday — less than three weeks from now.

President Donald Trump: “So, I think Easter Sunday, and you’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it would be a beautiful time.”

Trump’s Easter Sunday deadline defies the advice of all of his medical advisers. In Virginia, Christian evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. defied calls for the closure of Liberty University, where he serves as president, welcoming thousands of students back from spring break and ordering faculty members to report to campus. Falwell is one of President Trump’s most prominent supporters.

In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis asked people over 65 and anyone who has traveled from New York state over the last three weeks to self-isolate for 14 days. Governor DeSantis has not ordered a statewide lockdown, and some Florida beaches remain open.

U.S. Immigration Agencies Quarantine Asylum Seekers

Mar 25, 2020

In immigration news, documents obtained by The Nation magazine show Immigration and Customs Enforcement has quarantined nine prisoners and is monitoring at least 24 others across 10 immigration jails for symptoms of COVID-19. The documents also show Customs and Border Protection is working to convert several of its major border facilities into quarantine sites. This comes as BuzzFeed reports an immigrant held at an immigration jail in New Jersey has become the first person under ICE custody to test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, the Trump administration says it will delay all hearings scheduled for the next month for asylum seekers who’ve been forced to remain in Mexico. Meanwhile, all three immigration courts in New York are now temporarily closed, after a court employee tested positive for COVID-19. 

Rikers Island Jail to Release 300 Nonviolent Prisoners Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Mar 25, 2020

In more news from New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio says at least 300 nonviolent prisoners will be released from Rikers Island. This comes as over 60 Rikers prisoners and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

In Alden, New York, dozens of corrections officers working at the Wende Correctional Facility are now in quarantine, fearing exposure to the coronavirus after transferring two prisoners, including convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

U.S. Becoming Global Epicenter of Pandemic, as India Orders Lockdown for 1.3 Billion People

Mar 25, 2020

In Geneva, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday the United States is becoming the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with over 12% of the world’s 435,000 documented cases — though the true number of infections both in the U.S. and worldwide is certain to be far higher. Across Africa, finance ministers are demanding the International Monetary Fund and World Bank suspend debt payments to free up $44 billion in funds to fight the pandemic. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered the entire nation of 1.3 billion people to remain at home for the next three weeks. 

COVID-19 Deaths Accelerating Across Europe as Prince Charles Tests Positive

Mar 25, 2020

Italy recorded another 743 deaths over a 24-hour period, reversing a trend that saw daily deaths decline slightly. Over 6,800 people have died from COVID-19 in Italy.

France reported its nationwide death toll has topped 1,000, as a top medical official warned the true toll is probably higher, with those dying at home or in retirement homes left uncounted.

Spain has recorded over 3,400 deaths among some 47,600 COVID-19 infections. Among suspected cases is Baltasar Garzón, the 64-year-old jurist who’s defended WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange and in 1998 ordered the arrest of Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet on torture and genocide charges. Garzón is currently hospitalized with respiratory failure that’s believed to be due to the virus. (Click here to watch a 2011 interview with Judge Baltasar Garzón.)

The British government is calling for a quarter-million volunteers to help battle the pandemic, as authorities in London began converting the ExCeL exhibition center into a field hospital where as many as 4,000 people will be treated. Among the infected is Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, who is reportedly self-isolating with mild COVID-19 symptoms. 

Brazilian President Bolsonaro Blasts Coronavirus “Hysteria” as São Paulo Locks Down

Mar 25, 2020

In Brazil, the governor of São Paulo state ordered 46 million residents to shelter in place Tuesday, with all nonessential services closed. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro blasted the order, urging Brazilians to get back to work. 

President Jair Bolsonaro: “The livelihoods of families must be safeguarded. We must return to normality. There are a few state and municipal authorities that must abandon scorched-earth policies such as a ban on transportation, closing businesses and mass confinement.”

A close ally of President Trump, Brazilian President Bolsonaro has dismissed COVID-19 as a “little flu” that he could easily survive because of his athleticism.

In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has defied calls to lock down the nation to slow the spread of the coronavirus, declaring, “We’re going to keep living life as usual.”

Locust Swarms in South Sudan Further Threaten Food Supply as COVID-19 Fears Mount

Mar 25, 2020

In South Sudan, massive swarms of locusts are devastating food crops across the country, further endangering a population that already faces the highest rate of food insecurity in the world. The desert locusts have swarmed across East Africa in numbers not seen since the early 2000s, with some climate scientists warning that worsening heat waves and tropical cyclones are making the swarms worse. This is South Sudanese farmer Lotok Joseph Okuera.

Lotok Joseph Okuera: “We are worried a lot, because this year if the government or NGOs fail to help us to destroy this thing, we will really be in big problem of hunger.”

Aid groups say increased hunger will only worsen problems for more than 200,000 people living in cramped United Nations camps who are now at risk of COVID-19 infection.

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