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HeadlinesApril 23, 2020

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ACLU Warns Spread of Coronavirus in Jails Could Add 100,000 Deaths to U.S. Toll

Apr 23, 2020

The known death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped 184,000, with the United States continuing to lead the world in confirmed cases and fatalities. According to Johns Hopkins researchers, 46,785 U.S. residents have died of COVID-19; more than 10,000 of the deaths have occurred at nursing homes and other long-term care centers.

In New York, where the death toll from COVID-19 has passed 15,000, six prisoners have died in state prisons — four of them at the notorious Sing Sing prison north of New York City.

In Chicago, six prisoners and one guard have died of COVID-19 at the Cook County Jail, where hundreds are sick.

In Ohio, a federal judge has ordered the release or transfer of hundreds of elderly or vulnerable prisoners held at the Elkton prison, where six people have died of COVID-19.

This comes as the American Civil Liberties warns U.S. models for the spread of coronavirus may be underestimating future deaths by nearly 100,000 unless counties take immediate steps to reduce jail populations. And the ACLU notes those figures don’t even account for state and federal prisons and immigration detention centers. The ACLU warns, “Unequivocally, keeping people out of jail saves lives — both inside the jail and in the surrounding community. Lives are at stake. The time to act is now.”

Government Scientist Claims Reprisal for Opposing Trump’s Unproven Coronavirus Treatment

Apr 23, 2020

A top scientist at the Department of Health and Human Services says he was removed from his job after resisting President Trump’s promotion of an untested coronavirus treatment. Dr. Rick Bright directed the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, until he was abruptly removed from his post this week and reassigned to the National Institutes of Health. In a scathing statement released Wednesday, Dr. Bright wrote, “Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit. While I am prepared to look at all options and to think 'outside the box' for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public.” Bright has hired lawyers with the firm Katz, Marshall & Banks, which represents whistleblowers. He added in his statement, “I will request that the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this Administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merit.” 

As Coronavirus Reached the U.S., Trump Admin Tapped Ex-Labradoodle Breeder to Lead Task Force

Apr 23, 2020

Reuters reports Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar tapped Brian Harrison, a longtime dog breeder with minimal public health experience, to head the U.S. coronavirus task force just as the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the U.S. in late January. Before he joined HHS in 2018, Harrison ran a company called Dallas Labradoodles. 

President Trump “Disagrees Strongly” with Governor’s Plans to Reopen Georgia

Apr 23, 2020

At the White House, President Donald Trump reversed course Wednesday and criticized Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp — a major ally of the president — after Kemp promised to reopen nonessential businesses on Friday. 

President Donald Trump: “The spas and the beauty parlors and barber shops, tattoo parlors, I love ’em, but they can wait a little bit longer, just a little bit, not much, because safety has to predominate. We have to have that. So, I told the governor, very simply, that I disagree with his decision, but he has to do what he thinks is right.”

More than 700 people have died of the coronavirus in Georgia, which has one of the slowest testing rates in the U.S.

Governors in Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina are also reopening parks, beaches and nonessential businesses, over the strong objections of public health officials, who say reopening now will lead to a second wave of new infections and deaths.

Scientists Skeptical of Reports of High Rates of Coronavirus Antibodies in California Residents

Apr 23, 2020

In California, a pair of scientific teams reported this week that blood tests found antibodies for the coronavirus in people at dozens of times the known rate of infection. The findings appear to suggest that most cases of COVID-19 are mild, making the disease’s mortality rate much lower than previously reported. But many researchers are skeptical, warning the findings were first presented to the press and haven’t been peer-reviewed; they’re also based on new serology tests that have an unknown rate of false positives. 

Funeral Directors Association Warns U.S. COVID-19 Deaths Are Underreported

Apr 23, 2020

In New Jersey, the director of the State Funeral Directors Association believes COVID-19 has claimed far more lives than officially reported, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 15 ordered changes in how likely deaths due to the disease are reported. In Britain, a review by the Financial Times found U.K. coronavirus deaths are likely more than double the official figure — with 41,000 deaths so far likely caused by the virus. 

Doctors Report Life-Threatening Blood Clotting in COVID-19 Patients

Apr 23, 2020

In New York, doctors report a large number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are developing high levels of life-threatening blood clots. This is Dr. J Mocco, vice chair of the Mount Sinai Health System.

Dr. J Mocco: “We began to notice, as the curve and peak started to really take off in New York City, that across all of New York City we were seeing a large number of strokes, and that these strokes were extremely concerning, and they were blocking big vessels to the brain. And in treating these patients, they appeared to be very what we call procoagulant, or making lots of clot.”

Some doctors have begun treating patients with high doses of a blood-thinning drug even before they present symptoms of blood clotting. 

More Human Trials of Experimental Coronavirus Vaccines Begin in Germany, U.K.

Apr 23, 2020

In Germany, researchers are beginning human trials of vaccine candidates this week. They join similar trials already underway in the United States, Britain and China. Health officials warn that, even under an accelerated timetable, it may take well over a year before a vaccine becomes widely available — if an effective vaccine is even possible.

In New York state, two cats have tested positive for novel coronavirus, the first confirmed case of transmission to pets. The cats showed mild symptoms and likely caught the disease from their owners. It’s not known if pets can infect humans.

House to Vote on $484 Billion in New Coronavirus Relief; Republicans Object to Remote Voting 

Apr 23, 2020

On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi canceled plans Wednesday to allow lawmakers to cast votes and hold hearings remotely, after Republicans objected. Pelosi has scheduled a vote this afternoon on $484 billion in additional coronavirus relief funding — most of it to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program that provides forgivable loans to small businesses. Lawmakers are expected to take up an even larger “Phase 4” coronavirus package in the coming weeks.

In a letter to congressional leaders, more than 60 progressive organizations are demanding no additional funding for the Pentagon’s $756 billion budget in any future COVID-19 response bills. They write, “The coronavirus pandemic has made it crystal clear that federal spending is dangerously misaligned with our national priorities and actual threats to human security.”

Tyson Foods Idles Iowa Pork Plant as Coronavirus Spreads in Meatpacking Factories

Apr 23, 2020

In Nebraska, meatpacking communities in Hall, Dawson and Dakota counties are seeing coronavirus cases at a rate 15 times higher than the rest of the state and over five times higher than the national average.

In Iowa, Tyson Foods on Wednesday shut down its pork plant in the city of Waterloo — the company’s largest pork plant in the nation — after at least 90% of coronavirus cases in Black Hawk County were traced back to Tyson plant workers.

Trump Admin to Deny Stimulus Checks to Spouses of Immigrants

Apr 23, 2020

President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order suspending the processing of immigrants’ green card applications for 60 days. In related news, the Los Angeles Times reports millions of U.S. citizens will not receive coronavirus stimulus checks because they are married to immigrants who use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number — an ID issued by the IRS to workers who don’t have a Social Security number.

This comes as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is blocking undocumented college students from receiving coronavirus emergency aid. Congress had allocated $6 billion in its stimulus package to help college students cover living expenses such as food and housing. The Education Department then issued a new guideline mandating the money can only be given to students who qualify for federal financial aid, meaning U.S. citizens and some lawful permanent residents.

Cuba Sends Doctors to Honduras; Mexico Forces Deportees to Traverse “Disinfection Tunnels”

Apr 23, 2020

At the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexican authorities are forcing people recently deported from the U.S. to walk through “disinfection tunnels” upon their arrival. Recently there was a large coronavirus outbreak at a shelter in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, after a recently deported person arrived from the U.S. without knowing he was a carrier of COVID-19. Mexico has over 10,000 cases and a death toll of nearly 1,000 people.

In Honduras, Cuba has dispatched another medical brigade to help the country’s fragile health system cope with the coronavirus outbreak. COVID-19 cases in Honduras now top 500, leaving hospitals with already weak infrastructure, scarce medicines and medical staff completely overwhelmed.

Bodies Fill Mass Graves in Brazilian City Hard Hit by Coronavirus

Apr 23, 2020

In Brazil, the largest cemetery in the city of Manaus has begun digging mass graves to handle 100 burials a day — more than three times the usual rate, suggesting COVID-19 has taken a much larger toll on the city than the official figure of 156 deaths. The public health system in the state of Amazonas has collapsed, with 100% of hospital beds occupied, little safety equipment for medical workers, and ventilators in critically short supply.

Meanwhile, satellite data show deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has accelerated since the pandemic idled environmental enforcement agents.

In Uganda, Pregnant Women Die as Lockdown Cuts Off Hospital Access

Apr 23, 2020

In Uganda, a women’s rights group reports at least 11 pregnant women and several children have died preventable deaths since a nationwide transport ban came into effect as part of a lockdown against the coronavirus. The travel ban has left many Ugandans seeking treatment unable to reach hospitals, with ambulances in short supply. 

South African Troops to Enforce Quarantine in Largest Mobilization Since Apartheid Era

Apr 23, 2020

South Africa has deployed an additional 70,000 troops to enforce a nationwide lockdown, which began four weeks ago. It’s the largest internal deployment of South African troops since the end of apartheid in 1994. At least 65 people have died of COVID-19 in South Africa, which has more than 3,600 confirmed cases. 

In Singapore, Migrant Workers Suffer Most from COVID-19; Detained Chinese Journalist Resurfaces

Apr 23, 2020

In Singapore, about 80% of the country’s coronavirus cases have been linked to migrant workers from South Asia who are forced to live in squalid and crowded dormitories, prompting outcry against the Singapore government for not doing enough to protect them.

In China, a journalist who had gone missing for nearly two months after posting a video from Wuhan has reportedly reappeared, saying he was detained by police and forcibly quarantined. Li Zehua provided critical reporting from the frontlines during some of the worst weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. 

U.N. Chief Warns Authoritarians Are Weaponizing Pandemic to Subvert Human Rights

Apr 23, 2020

At the United Nations, Secretary-General António Guterres warned Wednesday that authoritarian governments are exploiting the pandemic to crack down on human rights.

Secretary-General António Guterres: “Against the background of rising ethnonationalism, populism, authoritarianism and the pushback against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic.”

Secretary-General Guterres has called for a global ceasefire of all warring parties in order to focus on battling the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Accelerates Airstrikes in Somalia Even as Coronavirus Spreads

Apr 23, 2020

In Somalia, the U.S. military has carried out more airstrikes so far this year than it did during all eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. U.S. Africa Command says it carried out 39 attacks in Somalia since January 1, even as the coronavirus continued to spread. Somalia has confirmed 286 cases of coronavirus, but testing remains extremely limited. Somalia’s healthcare system is one of the poorest in the world, with just one doctor for every 100,000 people.

Secretary of State Pompeo Calls Illegal West Bank Annexation “An Israeli Decision”

Apr 23, 2020

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said it was Israel’s decision whether to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions. That’s an Israeli decision, and we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in a private setting.” 

In response, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians “will not stand handcuffed if Israel annexes of any part of our land.” In November, 14 members of the U.N. Security Council rebuked the Trump administration’s announcement that it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank illegal under international law.

Palestinian Tests Positive for Coronavirus in Lebanon Refugee Camp

Apr 23, 2020

A Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon has reported its first coronavirus case. The Palestinian woman has since been reportedly taken to a hospital in Beirut. At least 3,000 other refugees are housed in the Wavel refugee camp. This comes as public health officials and human rights advocates warn of the threat of catastrophic outbreaks in crowded refugee camps around the world that lack sufficient sanitation and medical supplies.

Federal Court Allows Arkansas to Enforce Abortion Ban During Pandemic

Apr 23, 2020

In the United States, a federal appeals court is allowing the state of Arkansas to enforce a ban on most surgical abortions. Arkansas officials have deemed abortions to be “not essential” or urgent during the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, a ban on nearly all abortions in Texas during the pandemic appears to be over, as clinics began to offer the procedure again starting on Wednesday.

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