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

March 19, 2020 - 8:04 PM

California governor orders statewide stay-at-home order

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered the state's 40 million residents to stay at home, restricting non-essential movements to control the spread of the coronavirus that threatens to overwhelm the state's medical system.

“This is a moment we need to make tough decisions,” Newsom said. "We need to recognize reality.”

His move came after counties and communities covering about half the state's population already had issued similar orders. He said the restriction is "open-ended," and it could raise false hopes if he predicted how long the order might last.

People may still leave their homes for walks and exercise and for essential needs such as food and medical care. Restaurant meals can still be delivered to homes.

The Democratic governor also announced that he is mobilizing 500 California National Guard troops to help with food distribution, but said they will be in place only for humanitarian reasons.

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Governors raise alarm as coronavirus taxes health systems

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — In a day of dizzying developments, governors across the U.S. sounded a perilous alarm about the rapid spread of the new coronavirus and warned of dire consequences for their health care systems.

The governor of California issued a statewide stay-at-home order, Pennsylvania's governor ordered more than 150 types of businesses to close, the governor of Texas closed schools for more than 5 million students and the Louisiana governor delivered a grim assessment of his state to President Donald Trump.

U.S. governors told the president Thursday that their states are in immediate need of federal help as they expand measures to contain the new coronavirus. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said his state's health system could be overwhelmed in a week.

"Our trajectory is basically the same as what they had in Italy. And if there’s anything I said today that ought to get people’s attention, it is that," the Democratic governor said. “If we are not going to look like Italy in 10 days or two weeks, it will only be because of these mitigation measures.”

In a conference call with other governors, Edwards warned Trump of the “worst-case scenario” modeling. But he also told reporters that Louisiana was on track for that “sobering” reality if the state's residents don't actively work to decrease contact with others — staying home more and distancing themselves from people.

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Italian death toll overtakes China's as virus spreads

ROME (AP) — Italy's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak eclipsed China’s on Thursday as the scourge extended its march across the West, where the United States and other countries increasingly enlisted the military and improvised at every turn to get ready for an onslaught of patients.

In the U.S., the Army prepared mobile military hospitals for deployment in major cities. In Madrid, a four-star hotel was turned into a hospital. Medical centres around the United States set up drive-thru testing sites that drew long lines of motorists waiting for nurses to swab their nostrils.

As the outbreak spread westward, it infected at least one European head of state: Monaco's 62-year-old Prince Albert II, who continued to work from his office. And it appeared to be opening an alarming new front in Africa, where health care in many countries is already in sorry shape.

At the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world is “at war with a virus” and warned that “a global recession, perhaps of record dimensions, is a near certainty.”

“If we let the virus spread like wildfire — especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world -- it would kill millions of people,” he said.

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Most renters will not receive protections under WH proposal

NEW YORK (AP) — Most Americans who rent their home, many of whom have lost their jobs in the sudden economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak, will not be eligible for eviction protections, despite what President Donald Trump said this week.

Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s plan released Wednesday, foreclosures and evictions would stop for 60 days on single-family homes with loans through the Federal Housing Administration. That would apply to roughly 8 million units, according to HUD. Only FHA homes lived in for at least a year can be rented out.

That’s compared with the roughly 43 million households who rented in 2019, according to the U.S. Census. Roughly half of renters rent their home from an individual investor, while the other half rent from a business or multi-unit property owner. The ones renting from a business will not receive any protections according to HUD’s proposal.

"That’s the problem with (HUD's proposal). It only impacts a very small amount of people. We need big-scale solutions," said Andrea Shapiro of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a New York-based housing advocacy organization.

Furthermore, HUD has no power to protect renters in public housing authorities located across the country. HUD Secretary Ben Carson said this week on Twitter that the agency is working with Congress to get that authority to protect renters in public housing authorities.

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Trump focuses attention on possible coronavirus treatments

President Donald Trump focused attention on possible treatments for the new coronavirus on Thursday, citing potential use of a drug long used to treat malaria and some other approaches still in testing.

At a White House news conference, Trump and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn cited the malaria drug chloroquine, along with remdesivir, an experimental antiviral from Gilead Sciences, and possibly using plasma from survivors of COVID-19, the disease the new virus causes.

Those treatments are among several being tested that might ease symptoms but do not stop the virus from spreading.

Also on Thursday, Swiss drugmaker Roche said it was working with the U.S. government to start a study of Actemra, a drug used now for rheumatoid arthritis and some other conditions, against the coronavirus.

"We're looking at drugs that are already approved for other indications" as a potential bridge or stopgap, Hahn said, while also doing rigorous studies to see if the drugs truly make a difference versus usual care, and if they are safe when used for a new purpose.

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Coronavirus gathering bans raise religious freedom questions

NEW YORK (AP) — On the first Sunday after the coronavirus began upending American life, some religious institutions – including two churches whose pastors are close to President Donald Trump – held in-person services amid public health worries over the pandemic. That picture already looks different this week.

Pastor Robert Jeffress, a stalwart evangelical ally of Trump, held services at his First Baptist megachurch this past Sunday in accordance with Dallas-area limits on gatherings of more than 500 people but said in an interview that this week, he would hold online-only worship. The Florida church where Paula White, Trump’s personal pastor and a White House adviser on faith issues, invited congregants to in-person services this past Sunday will also shift to online-only status this week, according to a spokeswoman.

Jeffress, who had called for “a fearless church,” said on Tuesday that Christians should take “common-sense approaches” to protect their health.

“Every pastor needs to use wisdom, and it is very obvious that the government’s motivation in this is to protect the well-being of individuals,” he said.

Churches and other religious institutions that have chafed at public health experts’ calls to fight the virus by avoiding gatherings are under heightened scrutiny as those experts’ pleas become edicts from government officials, including Trump. In a nation where faith can be as politically polarized as any other part of life – and where freedom to worship has become a rallying cry on the right – some conservative religious institutions are acknowledging that the government’s word comes first during a pandemic.

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Joe Biden, nominee-in-waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the three weeks since his blowout win in the South Carolina primary, Joe Biden has emerged as the Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting. But, amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, put the emphasis on waiting.

Biden holds an essentially insurmountable delegate lead over his last remaining rival, Bernie Sanders, yet the Vermont senator remains in the race. And with several states delaying their primaries to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Biden can’t reach the required majority of pledged convention delegates until May or June.

The former vice-president, who proudly calls himself a “tactile politician,” can’t chase those votes in public because he’s essentially confined to his Delaware home like any other American in a quasi-national quarantine. His new campaign manager and her staff are working from home, too.

For now, Biden’s campaign has little choice but to embrace an unprecedented political purgatory.

“Three weeks ago, we were on the verge of collapse as a campaign, so this is a very recent phenomenon,” said Biden senior adviser Anita Dunn, insisting that the 77-year-old candidate remains focused on playing a productive role in the coronavirus response and sewing up a nominating fight that he doesn’t see as finished.

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Business Fallout: Airlines lobby for funds, Domino's hiring

It was less than 11 weeks ago that the first cases of pneumonia were detected in Wuhan, China. The speed at which what would soon be named COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, knocked the global economy askew is unparalleled in our lifetimes.

Following are developments Thursday related to the outbreak, the efforts by governments to stabilize their economies, the companies that must navigate through an altered landscape, and the millions of people whose lives have been upended.

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NATIONAL ECONOMICS: Mass disruptions have spread across the globe as nations simultaneously try to slow the spread of the coronavirus and limit damage to the economy.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits surged last week by 70,000, indicating that the impact of the coronavirus was starting to be felt in rising layoffs in the job market. The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for benefits, a good proxy for layoffs, rose by 70,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 last week.

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$10 toilet paper? Coronavirus gouging complaints surge in US

One store advertised hand sanitizer at $60 a bottle. Another was accused of hawking it at $1 a squirt. Chain stores offered $26 thermometers and face masks at the “everyday low price” of $39.95 a pair, while a convenience store touted toilet paper at $10 a roll next to a sign reading: “This is not a joke.”

Across a country where lines are long, some shelves are empty and patience is thin, authorities are receiving a surge of reports about merchants trying to cash in on the coronavirus crisis with outrageous prices, phoney cures and other scams. An Associated Press survey of attorneys general or consumer protection agencies nationwide found reports already exceeded 5,000, with hundreds more arriving daily.

“Greed is a powerful motivator for some people,” said Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, where the number of reports jumped from 72 to 131 one day earlier this week. “It is inexcusable to prey on people in a vulnerable time to make a quick buck.”

AP’s 50-state survey is the most comprehensive look so far at the emerging problem. In all, 41 states responded with numbers that included both tips and formally filed complaints against mom-and-pop stores and big-box retailers alike.

AP’s count is certainly low also because it only includes cases in which someone went online or called to register a grievance. Many others went to the court of social media to vent their outrage.

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NBA shuttering facilities, as more teams face positive tests

The number of known coronavirus cases within the NBA doubled to 14 on Thursday, when Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics pleaded with people to take social distancing more seriously and the league ordered all teams to shutter their training facilities indefinitely.

Smart revealed that he tested positive and the Los Angeles Lakers said two of their players tested positive as well, bringing the number of players who have acquired the virus to 10. The Philadelphia 76ers said three members of their organization tested positive and the Denver Nuggets said someone within their franchise was positive as well.

The 76ers and Nuggets did not say if the affected people were players, coaches or other staff.

“I’ve had no symptoms and I feel great,” Smart said on Twitter. “But the younger generation in our country MUST self distance. This is not a joke. Not doing so is selfish. Together we can beat this, but we must beat it together by being apart for a short while.”

The league wants its teams to keep distance as well. Earlier Thursday, the NBA sent a memo to teams telling them to close their training and practice facilities to all players and staff — plus recommending that players “take aggressive measures to avoid contact with others and remain home as much as possible, leaving only for essential activities."

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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