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HeadlinesApril 20, 2020

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U.S. Fatalities Top 40,000; Nursing Homes Hit Hard as Death Tolls Soar

Apr 20, 2020

Over 40,000 people in the U.S. have now died of COVID-19 — almost double last week’s death toll — with over three-quarters of a million confirmed cases of the virus. Globally, there are over 2.4 million confirmed cases and over 165,000 known fatalities. True numbers of deaths and infections, both in the U.S. and around the world, are unknown due to lack of testing, issues around reporting and tracking data, and an unknown number of asymptomatic cases.

At least 7,000 of those deaths have been linked to nursing homes across the country, including long-term care facilities for veterans. Tens of thousands of residents and employees have contracted the infection. At the Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, at least 55 people have died. Nursing care workers at some homes have stopped coming in to work, and many report a dire shortage in protective equipment.

Trump and Governors at Odds over Coronavirus Testing as Uneven Reopening of States Commences

Apr 20, 2020

President Trump and state governors continued to clash over the weekend over plans to roll back lockdowns and other protective measures as some states have already begun easing restrictions. Texas is reopening state parks today and later this week will allow retailers to open for delivery. In Florida, people descended on newly reopened beaches in several counties Friday, with images showing beachgoers flouting social distancing guidelines. But many governors say they can’t reopen their states without sufficient testing. Trump said Sunday he would invoke the Defense Production Act to order the production of more testing swabs, but administration officials continued to claim there is sufficient testing capability around the country. Trump is placing the responsibility for testing on governors.

President Donald Trump: “You must remember that the governors wanted to have total control over the opening of their states. But now they want to have us, the federal government, do the testing. And again, testing is local. You can’t have it both ways. Testing is a local thing, and it’s very important. It’s great, but it’s a local thing.”

Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan pushed back on Trump’s statements on CNN Sunday.

Gov. Larry Hogan: “To try to push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren’t doing our job, is just absolutely false. Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting and clawing to get more tests.”

Meanwhile, new reports reveal the extent of the Trump administration’s inaction in the earlier stages of the coronavirus outbreak. A report published in The Times of Israel revealed that U.S. intelligence informed NATO and Israeli authorities of the risk of the outbreak as early as November. The White House reportedly did not deem the intelligence report “of interest.”

Right-Wing Groups Organize Anti-Lockdown Protests Around the Country

Apr 20, 2020

Thousands of anti-quarantine protesters continued to defy social distancing orders to protest around the U.S. over the weekend. Protests took place in Texas, Indiana, New Hampshire, Nevada, Maryland, Utah, Wisconsin, Washington and Colorado. In Olympia, Washington, 2,500 people defied a ban on large public gatherings. Hundreds more ignored stay-at-home orders to protest at the Colorado state Capitol in Denver. Protests also took place in San Diego.

One of the far-right activists organizing the protests online is so called gun-rights activist Ben Dorr and his two brothers, who run the group Minnesota Gun Rights. The trio has attacked the National Rifle Association as too soft on gun rights and has set up Facebook pages to organize protests in several states with names like “Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine.”

Meanwhile, last week’s anti-quarantine protest in Lansing, Michigan, was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which is founded by two prominent Trump supporters and was promoted by the Michigan Freedom Fund, whose founder Greg McNeilly is linked to the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In a series of tweets Friday afternoon, President Trump issued an online call to ”LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia — all states where protesters targeted Democratic governors last week.

New Deal on Relief for Small Businesses Could Be Imminent But May Lack Key Democratic Provisions

Apr 20, 2020

Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration say they could reach a deal today on $370 billion in new funding for loans to small businesses suffering from the devastating economic crash. The package would also include $100 billion for hospitals and testing but reportedly does not include increased funding for local governments, hazard pay for frontline workers, or a freeze on rent and housing payments.

The $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program in the first coronavirus relief package passed last month ran out of money less than two weeks after it was launched, as many small businesses say they did not get funds — or even a response to their applications — as much larger and more profitable businesses successfully obtained loans. The restaurant chain Potbelly Sandwich Shop received $10 million, while Ruth’s Chris Steak House got $20 million. Shake Shack said Sunday it is returning the $10 million loan it received to the program.

Meanwhile, observers warn the first $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package is being spent with very limited oversight, as the Treasury’s inspector general post remains unconfirmed by the Senate and the two panels set up to oversee the funds are understaffed.

Immigrant Prisoners at Otay Mesa Launch Hunger Strike, Denounce Inhumane Treatment

Apr 20, 2020

Dozens of immigrant prisoners at the privately owned Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego began a hunger strike this weekend over mounting concerns about their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Otay Mesa now has the largest coronavirus outbreak of any immigration jail in the United States. Last week, reports emerged of Otay Mesa guards pepper-spraying a group of women in one of the holding units for refusing to sign a contract reportedly protecting CoreCivic from liability if immigrants became sick, in exchange for face masks. This is a phone call between an activist with the immigration rights group Pueblos Sin Fronteras and a woman detained at Otay Mesa held in the unit that was pepper-sprayed.

Asylum seeker: “They are throwing pepper spray at us! They do not respect us. We are human, not animals. Help! They want to force us to sign documents so that we throw away the masks. They want to charge us for T-shirts we used to make the masks.”

In more immigration news, dozens of people held a rally outside a prison for immigrant youth in Chicago Saturday demanding they release detained children. The Heartland Alliance facility houses nearly 70 children separated from their parents on the U.S.-Mexico border, and as of last week confirmed some 37 children have tested positive for COVID-19. In recent days, images have emerged of youth inside displaying signs at the facility’s windows that read ”HELP.”

Michael Cohen to Be Released from Federal Detention as Prisoners Nationwide Face Mounting Coronavirus Risk

Apr 20, 2020

Calls continue to mount for the release of prisoners as cases explode at jails around the country. In Florida, a person locked himself to two concrete barrels in front of the mansion of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, protesting the governor’s refusal to release incarcerated people during the coronavirus pandemic. In Ohio, over 2,400 prisoners at the Marion Correctional Institution have tested positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen is being released from prison to serve the remainder of his three-year sentence under house arrest. Some 21 staff and prisoners at the Otisville prison in upstate New York have tested positive for COVID-19, but the facility is not considered a coronavirus hot spot.

Italy Records Lowest Daily Death Toll in a Week; Spain & France Also Show Signs of Progress

Apr 20, 2020

In Europe, Italy recorded its lowest daily death toll in a week as leaders weigh whether they will start significantly lifting restrictions in two weeks, when the current lockdown order expires. Italy has recorded the highest number of deaths after the U.S., at over 23,000. France and Spain also continued to show some signs of progress, even as they continue to suffer devastating daily losses. France reported close to 400 deaths Sunday, but hospital admissions have been trending downward. Spain registered its biggest daily drop in fatalities in almost a month with 410 new deaths. Germany has allowed some small businesses to reopen starting today.

Report Reveals Boris Johnson Skipped Early Gov’t Meetings About Coronavirus Threat

Apr 20, 2020

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is recovering from his own battle with COVID-19, is coming under increasing scrutiny for his early handling of the crisis, after a report by The Sunday Times said Johnson skipped key government meetings in February and March about the growing threat. The Johnson government also suggested early on they might adopt a “herd immunity” strategy to combat the disease. British healthcare workers say they still lack critical personal protective equipment as they struggle to contain the virus.

Fire Rips Through Packed Greek Refugee Camp After Protest over Death of Iraqi Asylum Seeker

Apr 20, 2020

In Greece, flames tore through a massive refugee camp on Chios island, destroying the shelters of hundreds of residents. The fire followed a protest over the death of an Iraqi asylum seeker, who camp dwellers suspect succumbed to COVID-19, though officials say she tested negative for the disease, and had been sent back to the camp from the hospital. The camp houses around 5,000 people, though it was only designed to accommodate 1,000.

Thousands in Tel Aviv Protest Against Netanyahu’s Coronavirus Response

Apr 20, 2020

In Israel, thousands of demonstrators staged a protest in Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling out the government’s approach to tackling the public health crisis, which includes tracking cellphones. Protesters, who wore masks and stood at least two meters apart from one another, urged Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party not to join in a power-sharing deal with Netanyahu. Netanyahu is under criminal indictment in three corruption cases.

WHO Warns Severe COVID-19 Cases in Africa Could Reach 10 Million

Apr 20, 2020

The World Health Organization is warning the coronavirus may be on the verge of ravaging the African continent, causing a possible 10 million severe cases in the coming months. A worst-case scenario projection by the U.N. says 3.3 million people in Africa could die from COVID-19, and 1.2 billion could become infected. Public hospitals across 41 countries reportedly have fewer than 2,000 ventilators, and 10 countries have no ventilators at all. This is the WHO’s director-general.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “In the past week there has been a 51% increase in the number of reported cases in my own continent, Africa, and a 60% increase in the number of reported deaths. With the current challenge of obtaining testing kits, it’s likely that the real numbers are higher than reported.”

Afghan President Self-Isolates After 40 Palace Employees Test Positive for COVID-19

Apr 20, 2020

In Afghanistan, at least 40 employees of the presidential palace have tested positive for COVID-19 as President Ashraf Ghani moved into self-isolation. It’s not known whether he himself has contracted the infection. Afghanistan has reported around 1,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 30 deaths, though the country has only tested some 7,000 people. Some analysts say that if the disease is not effectively contained, the death toll could be as high as 110,000 people, surpassing the estimated civilian death toll of the 18-year war.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro Coughs into Crowd at Anti-Quarantine Rally

Apr 20, 2020

In Latin America, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro continues to flout widespread guidelines for limiting the spread of the coronavirus, appearing at a packed anti-quarantine rally in Brasília. Bolsonaro can be seen repeatedly coughing into a crowd of protesters as he addressed the rally, where some were calling for a return to military rule. Brazil has over 38,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2,400 deaths.

Meanwhile, Peru reported over 15,000 cases of coronavirus on Sunday, the second-highest count in Latin America after Brazil.

Mumbai to Test Hydroxychloroquine on Some of City’s Poorest Residents

Apr 20, 2020

In India, Mumbai health officials say they will administer hydroxychloroquine to thousands of residents to test the drug’s potential as a preventative treatment for the coronavirus. The anti-malarial drug repeatedly touted by Trump will reportedly be tested in Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, as well as in Worli, the Mumbai neighborhood hardest hit by the virus. Critics are calling out the move to test the unproven and potentially dangerous drug on some of the city’s poorest residents. In other news from Mumbai, at least 200 healthcare professionals have tested positive for COVID-19. India has reported around 16,000 confirmed cases and 500 deaths, but true numbers are likely much higher.

100,000 Bangladeshis Defy Lockdown to Attend Mass Funeral

Apr 20, 2020

In Bangladesh, an estimated 100,000 people defied lockdown orders to attend the funeral of a politician and Islamic preacher, sparking fears of a new outbreak. Around 2,500 cases and 90 deaths have been confirmed in Bangladesh.

South Korean Infections Fall to Single Digits, But Questions Remain over Relapse Risk

Apr 20, 2020

In South Korea, officials said the number of new coronavirus cases fell to single digits — just eight known cases — on Sunday. However, health authorities say they are seeing an increasing number of patients who experienced relapses.

Canada Gunman Kills at Least 16 in Nova Scotia Shooting Rampage

Apr 20, 2020

In Canada, a gunman killed at least 16 people in the province of Nova Scotia Sunday, in the country’s worst-ever mass shooting. The shooter, identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was also killed. The motive for the attack, which took place over 12 hours over several locations, is not yet known. The shooter was dressed as a police officer and disguised his car to look like a police cruiser.

Trump Admin Rolls Back Regulations on Toxic Mercury Emissions

Apr 20, 2020

In environmental news, the Trump administration has rolled back regulations on emissions of toxic mercury and other pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The new rule changes how the Environmental Protection Agency will run cost-benefit analyses for power plants: The perceived health benefits of cutting pollution will be reduced, while the economic costs of curbing pollution will be increased. Mercury is a highly toxic metal that causes brain damage and birth defects.

West Coast and Northern Mexico Headed Toward Record-Breaking Mega-Drought

Apr 20, 2020

In climate news, a new study by Columbia University’s Earth Institute finds the western United States and northern Mexico are entering into a mega-drought worse than any other in over a thousand years. The report in the journal Science finds greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are playing a key role in driving unprecedented dry conditions in southwestern North America.

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