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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

This live coverage has now ended. Continue reading April 23 coronavirus news.

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:

Download the NBC News app for latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak.

951d ago / 4:52 AM UTC

Vegas workers push back after call to reopen casinos, hotels

After Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman called Wednesday for the swift reopening of hotels and casinos, many who earn livelihoods in such establishments said they were afraid to return unless strict safety measures were introduced for themselves and guests.

Although Goodman said the businesses should reopen, she did not provide any guidelines on how they should handle social distancing and other safety measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

"I want us open in the city of Las Vegas so our people can go back to work," Goodman said in a CNN interview. She was asked how that could be accomplished while prioritizing employees' safety by implementing social distancing.

Read the full story here

951d ago / 4:22 AM UTC
951d ago / 4:16 AM UTC

Yale says it will not seek relief funds, wants it to go to others

Yale University said Wednesday that although it is eligible for $6.9 million in coronavirus relief funding passed by Congress, it will not seek the money.

The money would come from the "higher education emergency relief fund" that was part of the CARES Act, which also provides direct payments to Americans and expanded unemployment benefits.

Yale said in a statement that while it is "experiencing great budgetary pressure as a result of the pandemic," it hopes the government will use its share to support other colleges and universities in Connecticut that are having their existence threatened by the epidemic.

"We wish to reassure Yale students that this decision will in no way diminish our financial support for them at this critical time," Yale said. 

Harvard drew criticism from President Donald Trump this week regarding funding from the CARES Act. Harvard said Wednesday that it was allocated higher education emergency relief fund dollars it never sought or received and that it will now not accept the money.

On Tuesday Harvard in tweets suggested it would accept that funding, pledging that all of it would be used "to provide direct assistance to students facing urgent financial needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

951d ago / 3:08 AM UTC

Hot Pockets heiress wants to serve prison sentence at home

An heir to the Hot Pockets fortune who was sentenced to five months in prison in the college admissions bribery scheme asked a judge Wednesday to allow her to serve her punishment at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawyers for Michelle Janavs, who is supposed to report to prison next month, said in a legal filing that she has a health condition that makes her particularly vulnerable if she were to get the virus behind bars. Instead, she should spend five months in home confinement, her attorneys said.

“If Ms. Janavs were to surrender to (Bureau of Prisons) custody, she is highly likely to become infected with COVID-19. And because of her underlying health condition, she faces a much higher risk than others of serious complications, hospitalization, or death from the virus,” her lawyers wrote.

Read the full story here

951d ago / 2:49 AM UTC
951d ago / 2:42 AM UTC

Texas ends ban on abortions during pandemic

Texas’ ban on abortions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic has ended, and clinics said they were resuming services.

State lawyers on Wednesday said that less restrictive health care rules were in effect. In a filing in the U.S. Western District Court of Texas, the lawyers cited an executive order Gov. Greg Abbott issued last week that said health care facilities could remain open if they reserved a quarter of their beds for COVID-19 patients and didn’t request personal protective equipment from the government.

“There is no case or controversy remaining,” the lawyers said.

Texas' Attorney General Ken Paxton last month had sought to halt all abortions that were not "immediately medically necessary," citing the need to preserve medical resources to coronavirus patients. 

The order was challenged in court, and one of the Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center, of Dallas, said on its website Wednesday that it had resumed scheduling all services. Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of another plaintiff, Whole Woman’s Health clinics, told the Dallas Morning News that the order allows abortion providers to “resume both medication and procedural abortions.”

951d ago / 2:22 AM UTC

Los Angeles County to offer tests to essential workers who don't have symptoms

Los Angeles County will begin offering COVID-19 tests to grocery store workers, first responders and health and government workers even if they don't have any symptoms, the Los Angeles mayor announced Wednesday.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said the expanded testing starts Thursday and is "a very important milestone on the road to reopening." 

People with no symptoms can have COVID-19 and can spread it, health experts say.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said that the expanded testing could be a relief for officers who have come in contact with suspicious people, but who did not show symptoms. Because of availability, testing has had to be prioritized but will now include those members, he said.

"I know that that's going to relieve a lot of our men and women who are worried about going home and potentially infecting their family," Moore said. He said a police detective had the virus but had no symptoms and was unaware of it, and his wife came down with COVID-19 around two weeks ago and died.

951d ago / 2:09 AM UTC

Judge rejects California churches' efforts to hold in-person services

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A federal judge on Wednesday said he will deny a bid by three Southern California churches to hold in-person church services during the pandemic, saying that government’s emergency powers trump what in normal times would be fundamental constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal in Los Angeles said he will reject the temporary restraining order the churches sought against Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials. They argued that the state’s stay-at-home orders violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion and assembly.

“During the state of emergency the executive powers are in effect, in that they are empowered to provide for emergency remedies which may infringe on fundamental constitutional rights,” Bernal said at the end of the hourlong hearing. He said he will soon issue a formal ruling.

Many churches have been holding online services. California officials on Friday said religious organizations can have drive-in services so long as congregants don’t have personal contact.

951d ago / 1:15 AM UTC

Top health official says he was ousted for pushing back on Trump's 'game changer' drug

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A top official at Health and Human Services says he was ousted from his job this week for pushing back on demands that he sign off on a coronavirus treatment that was advocated by the president.

"I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit. I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way," Dr. Rick Bright said Wednesday in a statement issued by his lawyers.

 

“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 said in the statement, which was first reported by the New York Times.

Trump had repeatedly touted the drug as a potential "game changer" in treating coronavirus patients. A preliminary nationwide study, however, found the drug was ineffective in treating the virus and there were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care.

Click here for the full story 

951d ago / 1:02 AM UTC

Seven more big cats at Bronx Zoo test positive for coronavirus

Nadia, a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Nadia, a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York, has tested positive for the coronavirus.JULIE LARSEN MAHER / AP

Seven more big cats have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo, the facility said Wednesday.

The zoo said in a statement that three tigers and three African lions that developed a cough were found to have the disease. A fourth tiger with no symptoms also tested positive, the zoo said. The tests were conducted using fecal samples.

The zoo said earlier this month that a 4-year-old Malayan tiger, Nadia, had tested positive for the virus after she was anesthetized and her nose, throat and respiratory tract were swabbed.

The cats, which were infected by a staff member who wasn’t showing symptoms of the disease, were eating well and behaving normally, the zoo said. None of the zoo’s other big cats were showing symptoms of the disease.

951d ago / 12:55 AM UTC

Trump campaign hits local TV station with cease-and-desist over coronavirus ad

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has sent a cease-and-desist letter to a TV station in Michigan over a Democratic super PAC ad that they say misleadingly accuses Trump of being soft on China at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump’s campaign earlier this month sued a Wisconsin TV station and sent cease-and-desist letters to other swing-state TV stations over an ad from a different Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA. The latest cease-and-desist letter, obtained by NBC News, targets WOOD, an NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and demands the station stop running “a false, misleading, and deceptive advertisement” produced by an offshoot of the Democratic group American Bridge. 

The ad, which Trump also attacked in a tweet, accuses Trump of trusting China even though, the narrator says, “everyone knew they lied about the virus.” And it suggests the Trump administration shipped 17 tons of medical supplies the U.S. now needs to China in the early days of the outbreak, before it was widespread in the United States.

The Trump campaign said the State Department merely helped manage logistics for the shipment of medical supplies by using chartered planes that were bound for China to repatriate Americans and would have flown empty otherwise. Instead, the planes carried goods donated by a group of charities and businesses.

American Bridge, however, noted how the Trump administration publicly touted the shipment and pointed to Trump's repeated praise for China’s response to the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic. In response to Trump's criticism, the group said it would put an additional “six figures” behind the ad to run it on digital platforms.

“We will not be intimidated by his gang of lawyers, and we will not relent in our mission to make sure voters have the facts straight on Donald Trump," American Bridge President Bradley Beychok said.

951d ago / 12:46 AM UTC

Trump at briefing says CDC director was 'misquoted.' CDC director at same briefing says quote was accurate.

Image: CDC Director RObert Redfield
CDC Director Robert Redfield speaks during the daily briefing on the coronavirus at the White House on April 22, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

President Donald Trump began his Wednesday press conference by asking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield to explain how he was "misquoted" in recent coverage of a Washington Post interview in which he said next winter might be "more difficult" than the past two months.

Redfield then tried to explain a difference between "more difficult," "worse," and "more devastating," the latter of which was how his remarks were paraphrased in a Washington Post headline, before saying he was "accurately quoted" in the publication.

Read the full story here. 

952d ago / 11:44 PM UTC

Illinois reports new daily high of over 2,000 cases, peak not projected until mid-May

Illinois reported a new daily high in coronavirus cases on Wednesday as experts project the state has yet to even hit its peak. 

There were a total of 2,049 new cases in the last day, pushing the state's total number of positive tests above 35,000. Officials say the peak in Illinois is now projected to hit in mid-May, later than initially expected. 

The state is under a stay-at-home order until April 30, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he may extend the order. 

952d ago / 11:22 PM UTC

Trump signs executive order temporarily suspending immigration

President Trump said at the White House coronavirus task force briefing that he signed the executive order temporarily suspending immigration to the U.S. as the economy works to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

952d ago / 11:18 PM UTC

Trump reverses course, says 'too soon' for Georgia Gov. Kemp to reopen state

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a news conference in downtown Atlanta on April 1, 2020.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a news conference in downtown Atlanta on April 1, 2020.Alyssa Pointer / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP file

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he "strongly disagrees" with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to allow businesses like barber shops and nail salons to reopen, a day after he praised him during the White House briefing.

"I think it's too soon," Trump said at his daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday. "But at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right."

Asked about the same plan on Tuesday, Trump praised Kemp as "a capable man who knows what he's doing."

The governor’s decision has been widely criticized by mayors in Georgia for being premature.

Read the full story here.

952d ago / 11:15 PM UTC

Hard-hit LA County nursing homes will test asymptomatic residents for COVID-19

Health officials in Los Angeles are changing course in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus at long-term care facilities that account for roughly a third of the 729 deaths in the county due to the virus. 

LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Wednesday that officials had been operating under the assumption that they need to focus on symptomatic residents and employees. But with significant spread among those who are asymptomatic, the county is moving to test all those who are daily in close contact with infected individuals.

The state, which last week reported coronavirus cases at 1,224 different nursing homes, lifted restrictions on testing those who are asymptomatic. LA County will get assistance from the CDC to help with infection control at facilities where there are cases.

952d ago / 11:09 PM UTC

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

Image: Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman
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."

 

952d ago / 10:55 PM UTC

Oklahoma to start reopening businesses starting Friday

Image: Kevin Stitt
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. 

952d ago / 10:34 PM UTC

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

Image: Leslie Bottrell
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. 

952d ago / 10:31 PM UTC

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. 

952d ago / 9:39 PM UTC

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.

952d ago / 9:28 PM UTC

A wedding in the age of social distancing

Image:
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.

952d ago / 9:19 PM UTC

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.

952d ago / 9:11 PM UTC

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."

952d ago / 9:07 PM UTC

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

Wildlife Park Mehlmeisel in Germany.
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.

952d ago / 8:35 PM UTC

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

Image: The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hamburg
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. 

952d ago / 8:35 PM UTC

'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.

952d ago / 8:24 PM UTC

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.

952d ago / 8:06 PM UTC

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.

952d ago / 7:58 PM UTC

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

952d ago / 7:36 PM UTC

Marianne Faithfull discharged from hospital after battling COVID-19

952d ago / 7:17 PM UTC

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.

952d ago / 7:06 PM UTC

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.

952d ago / 6:52 PM UTC

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.

952d ago / 5:58 PM UTC
952d ago / 5:46 PM UTC

McConnell taps brakes on next round of coronavirus aid as state, local governments plead for help

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State and local governments facing dire financial straits due the pandemic will have to wait until at least May before Congress considers further 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 due to objections from Republicans and the Trump administration.

After the Senate passed the bill Tuesday by voice vote, the Kentucky Republican predicted that future relief efforts would not be afforded such expeditious proceedings, citing concerns about the national debt and adding that "until we can begin to open up the economy, we can't spend enough money to solve the problem."

Read the full story here.

952d ago / 5:33 PM UTC

Victoria's Secret buyout may fall through as lockdowns keeps stores closed

The private equity firm buying up lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret has stepped away from the billion-dollar deal, citing store closures and other decisions the retailer made during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Sycamore Partners said Wednesday it is backing out of an agreement made in February to acquire a 55 percent stake in Victoria’s Secret, in a deal that valued the company at $1.1 billion.

L Brands, owner of the racy lingerie retailer, said in a statement it is headed to court to continue the transaction. It believes the termination is invalid.

Shares declined more than 20 percent Wednesday, temporarily halting trading. L Brands and a representative for Sycamore Partners were not reachable for further comment.

952d ago / 5:25 PM UTC

Connecticut town tests 'pandemic drone' to detect fevers. Experts question if it would work.

A Connecticut police department said it plans to begin testing a "pandemic drone" that could detect whether a person 190 feet away has a fever or is coughing.

But an expert on viruses and a privacy advocate question whether such technology can work and, if it does, whether it would help in controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

The Westport Police Department and the town's top elected official, First Selectman Jim Marpe, said the goal is to use the technology as part of a pilot program to "flatten the curve" of the pandemic.

"We know that social distancing is working to flatten the curve and ultimately saving lives," Marpe said in a statement. "In an effort to continue safeguarding the citizens of Westport during the COVID-19 outbreak, and as we position ourselves to gradually return to our routines, we should explore ways to prevent a possible resurgence of the virus."

Read the full story here.

952d ago / 5:22 PM UTC

Senators want to ban U.S. from buying animals from China's 'wet markets' blamed for outbreaks

A bipartisan group of senators is proposing a bill to ban the U.S. from buying animals from the Chinese "wet markets" that have been blamed for outbreaks including the current coronavirus crisis.

The government has previously used animals — including cats and dogs — purchased at those markets in gruesome experiments at a federal lab in Maryland.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said the purchases effectively subsidized the markets, which are believed to be the source of the current crisis as well as the 2002 SARS outbreak. "As Iowans, and all Americans, continue to battle COVID-19, we need to do all we can to ensure something like this never happens again. That includes preventing any more American tax dollars from going to unregulated 'wet markets' in China," Ernst said.

The bill proposed by Ernst and Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V., would ban agencies and government grantees and contractors from spending money at the markets.

For the full story click here.

952d ago / 5:15 PM UTC

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead regional contract tracing effort

Michael Bloomberg has volunteered to help a lead massive regional effort to test and trace the contacts of people infected with the coronavirus in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

Tracing the contacts of people found to be infected with the coronavirus — a public health strategy that's been widely credited for limiting its spread in South Korea — will be done across city, county and state lines around New York, Cuomo said.

"This entire operation has never been done before, so it's intimidating. You've never heard the words testing, tracing, isolate before," Cuomo said. "But I say, 'So what? Who cares that you've never done it?' That's really irrelevant. It's what we have to do now."

Read the full story here.

952d ago / 4:34 PM UTC

Bipartisan group of senators voices concern over cyber threats

A bipartisan group of five senators have written to the heads of the U.S. government's primary offensive and defensive cybersecurity agencies, asking for assurances that hackers won't cripple health care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We write to raise our profound concerns that our country’s healthcare, public health, and research sectors are facing an unprecedented and perilous campaign of sophisticated hacking operations from state and criminal actors amid the coronavirus pandemic," the letter states. 

The letter was sent to CISA, the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity arm, and U.S. Cyber Command, which conducts offensive cyber operations on behalf of the U.S. military. CISA has already released some specific measures that IT staff can use to guard against hackers, like a list of about 2,500 coronavirus-themed domains that are likely malicious or scams. U.S. Cyber Command rarely makes much publicly known about its operations, but is tasked with defending critical infrastructure, which includes health care systems.

Last week, the State Department issued a "zero tolerance" warning against anyone attempting to hack allies' healthcare networks.

952d ago / 4:19 PM UTC
952d ago / 4:10 PM UTC

At least 474 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths in New York state

More than 470 New York state residents were reported dead from COVID-19 in the past day, officials said Wednesday, bringing the state's death toll beyond 15,000. 

Of the 474 confirmed fatalities in the past 24 hours, 446 were at hospitals and 28 at nursing homes,  Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at his daily briefing on coronavirus.

The confirmed death toll in New York state now stands at 15,302. That total does not included  presumptive deaths.

 "At least it isn’t going up anymore and it seems to be on a gentle decline," Cuomo said.

952d ago / 4:08 PM UTC

More Florida Latino immigrant families, amid coronavirus job losses, seek food donations

MIAMI — Sergio Caon was working in aviation maintenance when he was furloughed. His wife was let go from her job at a banquet hall. Now, they're scraping by and eating less to feed their daughter. Caon says sometimes he feels like eating a snack, but he doesn't.

"We are eating less," he said, speaking from inside his car as he waited at a food distribution event in Doral organized by Farm Share, which partners with other groups to distribute food throughout Florida.

Over 65 percent of Latinos across the country are having difficulty buying or finding necessities such as food and medicine, according to a recent survey by the polling firm Latino Decisions.

In Florida, where unemployment claims are processed slower than anywhere else in the country, workers have less to fall back on. The state has only paid six percent of over 1.6 million claimants, according to the online dashboard of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Click here for the full story.

952d ago / 4:06 PM UTC

House Democrats drop push for vote by proxy

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WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced on a call with party leadership Wednesday morning that the House would no longer consider remote voting by proxy this week, as initially planned.

Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., are instead creating a bipartisan group of lawmakers to review remote voting and how they can reopen the House.

Democrats had proposed a historic rules change earlier in the week that would have allowed for members to designate another member to vote for them on the House floor, allowing lawmakers to go on record without having to leave their districts amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The resolution would also have allowed for virtual committee proceedings and would have created a study to examine the feasibility of remote participation on the House floor.

Republicans, however, were strongly opposed to the resolution and made clear that they were prepared to put up a fight if Democrats moved ahead with the vote this week.

952d ago / 4:03 PM UTC

Tooth Fairy is free to move about country and immune to coronavirus, Fauci says

The Tooth Fairy has some wiggle room when it comes to social distancing, according to COVID-19 expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci shared the fact while chatting with a 7-year-old girl named Ava on Will Smith's new Snapchat series "Will From Home."

"When your tooth (falls) out, you stick it under the pillow, and I'll guarantee you that that Tooth Fairy is not going to get infected and is not going to get sick," Fauci explained.

Click here for the full story.

952d ago / 3:38 PM UTC

U.S. death toll could rise by 100,000 if jail populations aren't reduced, ACLU says

The coronavirus could kill 100,000 more Americans than current projections show if its spread in jails is not curbed by freeing more inmates, according to a new model released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and academic research partners.

The group is advocating for a substantial reduction in jail populations across the country following reports of increasing rates of COVID-19 among inmates, and believes that recent models being used by the federal government that show fewer than 100,000 U.S. fatalities don't accurately account for the spread of the virus in jails.

"We are likely facing massive loss of life — both in jails and in communities around the country — if dramatic steps aren't taken to reduce the incarcerated population in this country," Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU's Justice Division, said in a statement.

The ACLU's model, done in partnership with university researchers from Washington state, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, also found that states that have begun to reduce jail populations are "quantifiably saving lives."

952d ago / 3:36 PM UTC

Tyson Foods suspends its largest pork plant amid Iowa outbreak

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is critical to the nation's pork supply but had been devastated by a growing coronavirus outbreak.

The company said that the indefinite closure of the Waterloo, Iowa, pork plant would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt the nation's meat supply. Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of the mayor and local elected officials.

More than 180 infections had been linked to the plant earlier this week and officials expect that number to dramatically rise. The company said that mass testing of its 2,800 workers would begin later this week.

Read the full story here.

952d ago / 3:29 PM UTC

Protesters hold drive-in rally to voice support for reopening Virginia

952d ago / 3:17 PM UTC

Senators call on HHS, FEMA watchdogs to investigate administration's COVID-19 response

A group of 10 Democratic senators is calling on the inspectors general for the Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA to investigate the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This obfuscation underscores the need for clarity as to how decisions regarding the seizure and redistribution of supplies are being made, and whether or not they are tainted with political interference," the senators wrote in a letter to the watchdogs on Tuesday. 

The letter was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Kamala Harris of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. 

Several of the senators also sent a separate letter to the accountability committee established by the last major coronavirus relief package to oversee the pandemic response, calling on it "to investigate the partisan and political nature of the White House's actions."

“Americans should not have to wonder whether their lives are being put at risk by the President's concern for his political prospects amidst a public health and economic calamity,” they wrote.