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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Las Vegas mayor offers up city as 'control group' for easing coronavirus restrictions

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman speaks during the debut of Circa Resort & Casino in downtown Las Vegas on Jan. 10, 2019.Denise Truscello / Getty Images file

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on Wednesday offered up her 650,000 constituents as a "control group" against shutdown orders while bitterly complaining that her tourism-reliant city is being economically ravaged.

"How do you know until we have a control group? We offered to be a control group," Goodman told CNN, when asked if lifting shutdown orders would lead to a spike coronavirus deaths. "I did offer, it was turned down."

Goodman said her proposal, to measure the public health impact of opening Las Vegas for business again, was turned down because too many people in town at any given moment are from outside city limits — thus making a proper statistical analysis impossible.

The mayor's proposal didn't set well with late-night host and Las Vegas native Jimmy Kimmel, who tweeted: "Carolyn Goodman should resign before lunch arrives today. She is an embarrassment to my hometown."

 

Oklahoma to start reopening businesses starting Friday

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt in Oklahoma City on Feb. 13, 2020.Nate Billings / The Oklahoman via AP

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced plans to reopen businesses across Oklahoma beginning on Friday, using the three-phase plan issued by the White House as its guide. 

The state has met all the necessary criteria laid out by the plan from President Donald Trump's administration, including a downward trend of cases, according to an announcement from Stitt Wednesday.

Oklahoma will begin allowing state parks and "personal care" businesses, such as hair salons and barbershops, to reopen beginning April 24. Other businesses, including restaurants and movie theaters, can begin reopening on May 1. 

"These businesses must maintain distance between customers and encourage customers to wait in their car until it is time for their appointment to avoid congestion in the lobbies or entrances," the governor's announcement said. 

In sickest COVID-19 patients, underlying conditions are common, large study finds

A nurse fills out paperwork on a COVID-19 patient at St. Joseph's Hospital in Yonkers, New York.John Minchillo / AP

People with obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are at greater risk for complications from the coronavirus, according to a large study of patients hospitalized with the illness it causes.

The findings, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, confirm what physicians nationwide have noted anecdotally.

Read the full story here. 

No money, but rent is due: In Colorado, few eviction protections as coronavirus spreads

Unlike more than 30 other states, Colorado does not have a statewide moratorium on evictions during the coronavirus outbreak. That's left many tenants fearing they could soon be without homes. 

Kendra Tallant, 41, was furloughed from her job at a resort where she took reservations, and now she's struggling to pay rent on the Colorado Springs apartment she shares with her fiancé and 23-year-old son, who are also out of work. She tried to negotiate with her landlord, but the company hit her with nearly $300 in late fees and began taking steps toward eviction.

“I was just flabbergasted,” Tallant said. “We were forced to not work by no fault of our own. These places are just not working with us, and we’re having to choose between whether we can eat or pay rent.”

Read the full story here. 

Ohio man who disparaged lockdown measures on Facebook dies of coronavirus

Social media posts of an Ohio man who disparaged coronavirus lockdown measures are now circulating online after he died of COVID-19, the disease associated with coronavirus.

Screenshots of Facebook posts have surfaced online just days after John W. McDaniel, 60, died of coronavirus on April 15. One screenshot of a post dated March 13 included an accusation that the virus was a "political ploy."

"If you're paranoid about getting sick, just don't go out," another post allegedly said. "It shouldn't keep those of us from Living Our Lives. The Madness has to stop."

Read the full story here.

A wedding in the age of social distancing

Apu Gomes / AFP - Getty Images

Clerk Recorder Erika Patronas officiates Natasha and Michael Davis' wedding ceremony at the Honda Center parking lot on April 21, 2020 in Anaheim, California. The County of Orange Clerk Recorder employees implemented a variety of social distancing techniques to safely issue licenses and marry couples during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Former pharmacy worker accused of stealing malaria drug

A former Los Angeles-area pharmacy technician was expected Wednesday to face allegations in court that he stole drugs previously touted by President Donald Trump as possibly effective in treating COVID-19.

Christopher Mencias Agustin was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Los Angeles state court based on a case filed Monday. He has not been jailed, according to local sheriff's records.

Prosecutors' criminal complaint alleges that between March 31 and April 9, Mencias concealed or withhold stolen property that included hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, and azithromycin, an antibiotic. The combination of the two has previously been promoted by the president as a possible coronavirus treatment.

He's been charged with two felony counts of second-degree burglary "during an emergency" and one felony county of concealing or withholding stolen property exceeding $950, the office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney said in a statement.

Other drugs were taken, too, the District Attorney's office alleged, and the total value of the thefts was estimated to be $6,700. NBC News reached out to a possible attorney for the defendant but did not get an immediate response.

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.