Financial catastrophe looms for state and local governments

The impact of the fiscal crisis "will be even worse than the Great Recession — by a factor of at least two," warned one mayor.
Image: Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip is deserted as casinos and other business are closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, on April 14, 2020.John Locher / AP

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State and municipal governments across the country are clamoring for the federal government to rescue them from what could quickly become a fiscal catastrophe, saying that they may need as much as three quarters of a trillion dollars as the coronavirus pandemic dries up many of their revenue sources.

Without the help, these governments will need to lay off or furlough workers, reduce benefits, cancel projects, defer construction and maintenance and more. The impact of the fiscal crisis "will be even worse than the Great Recession — by a factor of at least two," warned Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio.

But state and local governments like Dayton's will have to wait until at least May before Congress considers further economic relief, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated. The House is set to vote Thursday on an interim round of coronavirus aid aimed at small businesses, and while Democrats sought to include roughly $150 billion in funding to shore up state and local budgets, the money didn't make it into the final bill because of objections from Republicans and the Trump administration.

Here's what to know about the coronavirus, plus a timeline of the most critical moments:

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New Jersey Gov. Murphy: McConnell ‘utterly irresponsible’ to suggest states go bankrupt

New Jersey Gov. Murphy called Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., "utterly irresponsible" for saying that states should declare bankruptcy instead of waiting for a federal bailout. Murphy said the coronavirus pandemic "is no time for bankruptcy," and McConnell is "dead wrong."

AC/DC is helping to keep these animals calm during coronavirus lockdown

Wildlife Park Mehlmeisel in Germany.Courtesy Wildlife Park Mehlmeisel

A small animal enclosure in Bavaria, Germany is playing music to "entertain" its inhabitants during quiet lockdown times.

“We play anything from hard rock, to pop, to classical music to country tunes,” the owner of animal park Mehlmeisel, Eckard Mickisch, told NBC News.

The park uses the individually selected playlists to maintain a noise backdrop that is usually generated by the visitors to the small zoo, which houses between 60 and 100 domestic animals. “We want to make sure that all sound frequencies are played and therefore have songs like ‘Highway to Hell’ from AC/DC on our lists, as well as high pitch classical compositions,” Mickisch said.

The park owner believes that the animals need to be “desensitized” before the visitors return. “The animals get too easily scared, if it is too quiet for a longer period of time,” Mr. Mickisch explained, which could lead to flight behavior, especially among the deer population and other herd animals.

“Our employees get to choose the playlist, as they are the ones who have to listen to this all day as well,” says Mickisch.

'A race against time': Results expected soon on experimental coronavirus drug

A capsule of Remdesivir in Hamburg, Germany on April 8, 2020.Ulrich Perrey / Pool via Reuters

The results of a highly anticipated study on an experimental coronavirus treatment for the sickest patients are expected any day.

Physicians leading the clinical trial for the drug, called remdesivir, say the fast-moving pandemic has compelled them to work with haste, all without compromising the scientific rigor necessary to prove whether the drug really works.

Read the full story here. 

'This virus will be with us for a long time,' WHO director-general says

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization's director-general, on Wednesday said COVID-19 "will be with us for a long time."

It is indisputable that stay-at-home orders and other physical distancing measures have successfully suppressed transmission in many countries, he said at a media briefing, but the virus remains extremely dangerous. 

"Make no mistake: We have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time," he said.

He noted that the organization is seeing different trends in different regions, and even within regions.

"Most of the epidemics in Western Europe appear to be stable or declining," he said. "Although numbers are low, we see worrying upward trends in Africa, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe."

Read his full statement here.

California Gov. lays out plans to expand testing in under-served communities

California Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out more detailed plans Wednesday to ramp up COVID-19 testing across the state, with a  goal of vastly expanding its number of daily tests while also reaching into so-called "testing deserts" in rural and under-served urban communities.

With a population of nearly 40 million people, California went from testing 2,000 people a day on average at the beginning of the pandemic to about 15,000 a day. The state's eventual goal is to administer 60,000 tests daily, with the help from the Trump administration, which is helping secure tens of thousands of testing swabs.

With approximately 250 core testing sites out of a total of 600, Newsom said the state is adding 86 testing sites to better track the virus in rural areas and urban centers, specifically to get a better read on the pandemic's impact on communities of color.

He traveled to a hospital to set up its new computer system. Three weeks later, he died there.

The nurses at the Wisconsin hospital where Chad Capule died were really hoping he would pull through so he could help them better understand the new computer system he had traveled there to install just as he started feeling ill.

But the IT manager, who was 49 years old whose only underlying condition was hypertension, tested positive for coronavirus and was intubated a week after setting up that new system at St. Agnes Hospital. He died there two weeks after that.

Capule's family believes he would have survived had he been tested for coronavirus sooner. He also fell victim to another cruel trick of the virus — starting to feel better right before turning for the worst.

Hours after he was finally tested and found out he was positive, Capule wrote an email to his friends and family to fill them in, striking an encouraging tone."This was somewhat frightening, but am very low risk and not in mortal danger," he wrote in the email that his wife, Anne Starkweather, shared with NBC News.

"I want to assure everyone that the primary symptoms have subsided and I am well on the road to recovery and expect to be back by this weekend in DC," Capule wrote on March 11. Instead, Capule returned home in an urn.

Read the full story here.

Savannah mayor 'absolutely blindsided' by Georgia governor's order to reopen businesses

Marianne Faithfull discharged from hospital after battling COVID-19

Two pet cats test positive for COVID-19

Two pet cats in New York state have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the federal officials. This marks the first time a pet has tested positive for the virus in the United States. 

The cats, who live in separate areas of New York state, presented mild respiratory symptoms but are expected to make a full recovery. 

One cat is believed to have caught the virus from the owner, who was positive for COVID-19. Officials believe the other cat was infected by an asymptomatic or mildly ill household member or through contact with a neighbor.

Read the full story here.

Americans are buying more alcohol during the coronavirus pandemic, but craft brewers are struggling to stay in business

Thousands of craft brewers say they are facing an existential threat during the coronavirus shutdown. Starved of customers and lacking the resources and store distribution deals of larger beer makers, many say layoffs and closures are inevitable.

"This is about the survival of our company," said Gary Fish, founder of Deschutes Brewery in Oregon. Deschutes lost more than a quarter of its business since Oregon issued its stay-at-home order, and Fish said the company has had to lay off two-thirds of its close-to 500-person staff.

"There were some pretty gut-wrenching decisions we had to make," Fish said. "These people are our friends, our family."

Americans are still buying beer. A Nielsen analysis of sales through grocery markets, shops and stores between March 29 and April 4 found that beer and cider sales were approximately one-fifth higher than what they were last year. Broader alcohol sales were up by a quarter, driven by an even higher spike in wine and liquor sales. But a Brewers Association survey found that the spike hasn’t helped most craft brewers, who sell primarily to bars, restaurants, or through their own tasting rooms.

Read the full story here.

Poll: Most Florida voters want social distancing to continue into May

An overwhelming majority of Florida voters don't agree with the loosening of social distancing guidelines and only support the reopening of the state's economy if public health officials agree, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday

The poll was conducted as Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, allowed beaches in his state to reopen over the weekend with the caveat that beachgoers continue socially distancing. Poll participants agreed 72 percent to 22 percent that the state should continue such distancing efforts and most said they're not ready to "drop their guard" if stay-at-home orders expire at the end of April.

In addition, voters in the highly coveted swing state don't appear to have a clear favorite in the 2020 presidential election, with former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrats' presumptive nominee, getting 46 percent of the vote and President Donald Trump earning 42 percent, according to Quinnipiac. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points.