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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

March 20, 2020 - 8:04 PM

Imports of medical supplies plummet as demand in US soars

The critical shortage of medical supplies across the U.S., including testing swabs, protective masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitizer, can be tied to a sudden drop in imports, mostly from China, The Associated Press has found.

Trade data shows the decline in shipments started in mid-February after the spiraling coronavirus outbreak in China led the country to shutter factories and disrupted ports. Some emergency rooms, hospitals and clinics in the U.S. have now run out of key medical supplies, while others are rationing personal protective equipment like gloves and masks.

The United States counts on receiving the vast majority of its medical supplies from China, where the coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 3,200. When Chinese medical supply factories began coming back on line last month, their first priority was their own hospitals.

The government required makers of N95 masks to sell all or part of their production internally instead of shipping masks to the U.S.

The most recent delivery of medical-grade N95 masks arrived from China about a month ago, on Feb. 19. And as few as 13 shipments of non-medical N95 masks have arrived in the past month — half as many as arrived the same month last year. N95 masks are used in industrial settings, as well as hospitals, and filter out 95% of all airborne particles, including ones too tiny to be blocked by regular masks.

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US virus testing faces new headwind: Lab supply shortages

WASHINGTON (AP) — First, some of the coronavirus tests didn't work. Then there weren't enough to go around. Now, just as the federal government tries to ramp up nationwide screening, laboratory workers are warning of a new roadblock: dire shortages of testing supplies.

The shortages are the latest stumble in a botched effort to track the spread of coronavirus that has left the U.S. weeks behind many other developed countries. Dwindling supplies include both chemical components and basic swabs needed to collect patient samples.

There are "acute, serious shortages across the board" for supplies needed to do the tests, said Eric Blank, of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, which represents state and local health labs.

Late Friday, Blank's group and two other public health organizations recommended that testing be scaled back due to “real, immediate, wide-scale shortages.” The groups said only patients with COVID-19 symptoms who are elderly, have high-risk medical conditions or are medical staff should be tested.

“Testing for individuals who are not in these three groups is not recommended until sufficient testing supplies and capacity become more widely available,” said the joint statement, issued with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.

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The Latest: Canadian who was on cruise ship in Japan dies

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 271,000 people and killed more than 11,000. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 87,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— 70-year-old Canadian man who was on Diamond Princess cruise ship dies

— South Korea reports 147 new infections of coronavirus and eight more deaths

— Some stores in Wuhan allowed to re-open after no new virus cases for third straight day

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`Accept it': 3 states lock down 70 million against the virus

Illinois and New York state joined California on Friday in ordering all residents to stay in their homes unless they have vital reasons to go out, restricting the movement of more than 70 million Americans in the most sweeping measures undertaken yet in the U.S. to contain the coronavirus.

The states' governors acted in a bid to fend off the kind of onslaught that has caused the health system in southern Europe to buckle. The lockdowns encompass the three biggest cities in America — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — as well as No. 8 San Diego and No. 14 San Francisco.

“No, this is not life as usual,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as the death toll in the U.S. topped 200, with at least 35 in his state. “Accept it and realize it and deal with it.”

Cuomo said that starting Sunday, all workers in nonessential businesses must stay home as much as possible, and gatherings of any size will be banned in the state of over 19 million people. California likewise all but confined its 40 million residents on Friday, and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a similar order set to take effect on Saturday for the state's 12.6 million people. The governor of Connecticut, New York's neighbouring state, said he also was poised to issue a comparable directive.

Exceptions were made for essential jobs and errands, such as buying groceries and medicine, as well as for exercise.

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Returning troops denied water, bathrooms under quarantine

WASHINGTON (AP) — It wasn’t the welcome home that U.S. soldiers expected when they returned from war zones in the Middle East in the past week.

When their planes landed at Fort Bliss, Texas, they were herded into buses, denied water and the use of bathrooms, then quarantined in packed barracks, with little food or access to the outdoors. “This is no way to treat Soldiers returning from war,” one soldier told The Associated Press in an email.

The soldiers posted notes on social media about the poor conditions. Their complaints got quick attention from senior Army and Pentagon leaders. Now changes are under way at Fort Bliss and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where the first soldiers placed under quarantine also complained of poor, cramped conditions.

Quarantining troops on military bases is becoming a greater challenge for military officials. While continuing missions and training, they also have to try to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus by enforcing two-week quarantines of soldiers who have spent months overseas.

In one of Bragg's remote training areas, large white tents have popped up over the past few days to house hundreds of 82nd Airborne Division troops returning to the base from Afghanistan and Middle East deployments. The tent city, being called Forward Operating Base Patriot (FOB Patriot), materialized almost overnight, after commanders realized the limits of the barracks when troops began arriving on Saturday.

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US tourists stranded abroad don't know when they'll return

Linda Scruggs and Mike Rustici trained for months to hike the winding trails leading to Machu Picchu's complex of Inca ruins. So they were thrilled when their flight landed last Friday in the Peruvian capital.

They managed to do part of their trek but now they are trapped in a Lima hotel room and do not know when they will make it back to the U.S. The couple, like thousands around the world, are trapped after nations closed their borders to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Peru confirmed its first case of the virus on March 6. By the time Scruggs and Rustici arrived a week later, it was spreading. Days after the hikers landed, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra declared an emergency, ordering the country’s borders closed and for Peruvians to stay home.

There is no official count of how many Americans or citizens of other nations are stranded outside their home countries, but the couple’s plight offers a window into the lives of tourists trapped abroad as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.

Scruggs and Rustici, both in their 40s and from Nashville, Tennessee, told The Associated Press in telephone interviews they were given about 24 hours notice to leave Peru, but couldn’t find a flight.

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Trump vs Fauci: President and doctor spar over unproven drug

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an extraordinary exchange, President Donald Trump and the government's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, publicly sparred Friday on whether a malaria drug would work to treat people with coronavirus disease.

The scene played out on national television during the daily White House briefing on the outbreak. Anxious for answers, Americans heard conflicting ones from a just-the-facts scientist and a president who operates on gut instinct.

Reporters asked both men — first Fauci then Trump — if a malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine could be used to prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. A day earlier, when Fauci wasn't with him at that briefing, Trump had called attention to the drug.

On Friday, Fauci took the reporter's question and got right to the point.

“No,” he said. “The answer ... is no.

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Dow drops more than 900 points, ending worst week since 2008

Wall Street ended the week the same way it began: in full retreat from the coronavirus.

Stocks fell sharply and the price of oil sank Friday as federal and state governments moved to shut down bigger and bigger swaths of the nation’s economy in the hope of limiting the spread of the outbreak.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid more than 900 points, ending the week with a 17.3% loss. The index has declined in four of the last five weeks.

The latest sell-off wiped out the gains from a day earlier and capped the market’s worst week since the financial crisis of 2008.

Investors are worried that the coronavirus will plunge the U.S. and other major economies into deep recessions. Steps to contain the spread of the outbreak are causing massive disruptions and layoffs. Optimism that emergency actions by central banks and governments to ease the economic damage has waned as investors wait for the Trump administration to deliver on legislation that will pump billions of dollars into hurting households and industries.

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The drive-in, relic of yesterday, finds itself suited to now

NEW YORK (AP) — The drive-in theatre, long a dwindling nostalgia act in a multiplex world, is experiencing a momentary return to prominence.

With nearly all of the nation’s movie theatres shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, some drive-in owners think they’re in a unique position to give moviegoers a chance to do something out of the house while keeping distance from others. This weekend, some drive-ins aren’t the only show in town. They’re the only show in the country.

The Showboat Drive-In Theater in Hockley, Texas, about a 30-minute drive outside Houston, normally sees ticket sales go down about 40% on a weekend when they don’t have any new movies. Last weekend, they saw a 40% increase, says the theatre’s owner, Andrew Thomas. Usually open weekends, Thomas has kept screenings going through the week.

“Obviously this isn’t the way you’d want it to occur, but I’m excited for the idea that there may be a new generation of people that will get to experience going to a drive-in theatre and — I was going to say catch the bug,” said Thomas, laughing. “Maybe some other turn of phrase.”

There are just over 300 drive-ins left in the country. They constitute a small, oft-forgotten flicker in today’s movie ecosystem that hardly competes with the megawatt glare of the megaplex and the nation’s 5,500 indoor theatres. But through decades of disruption and change in American life, they have managed to survive. They’ve somehow clung to life as relics of past Americana only to find themselves, for a brief moment anyway, uniquely suited to today

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Top Flyer: Dayton's Obi Toppin leads AP All-American team

The college basketball season came to an emphatic, dramatic end with the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament. The dream of playing under the bright lights of March Madness, of possibly hoisting a national championship trophy, wiped out by the coronavirus.

For a handful of players, earning a post-seasonhonour offers a glimmer of happiness amid the uncertainty.

“Getting these awards, it brings brightness to my life right now,” Seton Hall's Myles Powell said. “To have it end so quickly was just like ... man.”

Powell added to his load Friday when he joined Dayton's Obi Toppin, Iowa's Luka Garza, Marquette's Markus Howard and Oregon's Payton Pritchard on The Associated Press All-America first team.

Toppin was the lone unanimous choice, receiving 65 votes from a nationwide media panel after averaging 20 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 63% in a breakout season. The 6-foot-9 sophomore helped the third-ranked Flyers match the program's highest ranking and be on track for a potential No. 1 seed before the NCAA Tournament was shelved. He is Dayton's first first-team AP All-American.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
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