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

April 02, 2020 - 8:04 PM

'We need help': Economic, health crises grow as cases top 1M

NEW YORK (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak has thrown 10 million Americans out of work in just two weeks in the swiftest, most stunning collapse the U.S. job market has ever witnessed, and the public health crisis deepened in New York City, where a funeral home in a hard-hit neighbourhood had 185 bodies stacked up Thursday — more than triple normal capacity.

The dire news of a record-shattering 6.6 million new unemployment claims, on top of last week's unprecedented 3.3 million, came as economists warned unemployment could reach levels not seen since the Depression.

Competition for scarce ventilators, masks and other protective gear seemed to grow more desperate and deaths mounted with alarming speed in Italy, Spain and New York, the most lethal hot spot in the United States, with nearly 2,400 lives lost.

Worldwide the number of confirmed infections hit another gloomy milestone — 1 million, with more than 50,000 deaths, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. But the true numbers are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, many mild cases that have gone unreported and suspicions that some countries are covering up the extent of their outbreaks.

The mounting economic fallout almost certainly signals the onset of a global recession, with job losses that are likely to dwarf those of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

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What you need to know today about the virus outbreak

More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — doubling a record high set just one week earlier — in a sign that layoffs are accelerating in the midst of the new coronavirus, which has now infected more than 1 million people worldwide.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is resisting calls to issue a national stay-at-home order to stem the spread of the coronavirus despite his administration's grim projections of tens of thousands dying. But the administration planned to recommend most Americans wear face coverings.

States are increasingly pushing shutdowns: Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania have all added or expanded stay-at-home orders.

Here are some of AP’s top stories Thursday on the world’s coronavirus pandemic. Follow APNews.com/VirusOutbreak for updates through the day and APNews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak for stories explaining some of its complexities.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY:

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'Surreal': NY funeral homes struggle as virus deaths surge

NEW YORK (AP) — Pat Marmo walked among 20 or so deceased in the basement of his Brooklyn funeral home, his protective mask pulled down so his pleas could be heard.

“Every person there, they’re not a body,” he said. “They’re a father, they’re a mother, they’re a grandmother. They’re not bodies. They’re people.”

Like many funeral homes in New York and around the globe, Marmo’s business is in crisis as he tries to meet surging demand amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed around 1,400 people in New York City alone, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. His two cellphones and the office office line are ringing constantly. He’s apologizing to families at the start of every conversation for being unusually terse, and begging them to insist hospitals hold their dead loved ones as long as possible.

His company is equipped to handle 40 to 60 cases at a time, no problem. On Thursday morning, it was taking care of 185.

“This is a state of emergency,” he said. “We need help.”

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You've just lost your job? Here's what you need to know

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 10 million Americans have lost their jobs and applied for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks — a stunning record high that reflects the near-complete shutdown of the U.S. economy.

Job losses related to the coronavirus are sure to rise further in coming weeks, with economists saying the U.S. unemployment rate could reach as high as 15%, well above the 10% peak during the Great Recession. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was just 3.5%, a 50-year low.

For those who have suddenly lost jobs, it's a frightening time. Bill need to be paid. Do they qualify for unemployment benefits? How fast will the money arrive?

Here are some questions and answers:

HOW CAN I GET UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS?

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Trump admin moves toward promoting broader use of face masks

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face coverings in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, as the president is aggressively defending his response to the public health crisis.

The recommendations, still being finalized Thursday, were expected to apply to those who live in areas hard-hit by community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force's discussion said officials would suggest that non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth when outside the home — for instance, at the grocery store or pharmacy. Medical-grade masks, particularly short-in-supply N95 masks, would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed guidance before its public release.

President Donald Trump, who was tested again for coronavirus Thursday using a new rapid test, indicated he would support such a recommendation. “If people wanted to wear them, they can," he said.

“It’s not a bad idea, at least for a period of time,” Trump had said earlier in the week.

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Spanish hospital personnel must improvise in a makeshift ICU

BADALONA, Spain (AP) — The tension is palpable. There is no non-essential talking. An orchestra of medical monitors marks the tempo with an endless series of soft, distinct beeps.

Never have so many people been inside the library of the Germans Trias i Pujol hospital in northeastern Spain. But the health care workers in improvised protective gear aren’t consulting medical books. Instead, they’re treating patients in critical condition suffering from pneumonia caused by the coronavirus.

From the outside, this makeshift intensive-care unit in Badalona, near Barcelona, looks nothing like a library. The bookshelves have been removed to make room for up to 20 hospital beds, breathing machines and an array of medical equipment after the longstanding ICU and other areas of the hospital flooded with COVID-19 patients.

With the scarcity of full-body protective suits across Spain, doctors and nurses are employing what they can find, reusing masks, layering oversized surgical gowns with plastic aprons and running through an infinite number of latex gloves.

Like scuba divers, they apply a small dose of detergent to their goggles just before stepping into the sweltering, virus-laden room in the hopes of mitigating the inevitable fogging of their eye protection caused by their own breathing. They’ll be at it for hours, racing from patient to patient, sweating under all the layers.

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States demand ventilators as feds ration limited supply

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two weeks ago, the Pentagon promised to make as many as 2,000 military ventilators available as the federal government strains to contend with the coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday, less than half had been allocated, despite a desperate need across the country.

At the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tasked with co-ordinating the federal response to the outbreak, about 9,000 additional ventilators are also on hold as officials seek to determine where they are needed most urgently.

The combination of scarce supply and high need has sent many states onto the open market, where they are bidding for ventilators from private manufacturers. Their competition in that bidding process: both the federal government and other states.

“It's like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. He urged FEMA to step in and act as a single purchaser of the vital machines.

The slow deployment of ventilators underscores the ways in which the sprawling federal bureaucracy has fallen short in the crisis. Demand for medical equipment far outpaces the current supply, and the stockpiles that do exist aren’t enough for the hardest-hit areas. That undercuts the air of confidence projected by President Donald Trump at his daily briefings.

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Navy fires captain who sought help for virus-stricken ship

WASHINGTON (AP) — The captain of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus on his ship was fired Thursday by Navy leaders who said he created a panic by sending his memo pleading for help to too many people.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the ship's commander, Capt. Brett Crozier “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis. He said the captain copied too many people on the memo, which was leaked to a California newspaper and quickly spread to many news outlets.

Modly's decision to remove Crozier as ship commander was immediately condemned by members of the House Armed Services Committee, who called it a “destabilizing move” that will “likely put our service members at greater risk and jeopardize our fleet’s readiness."

Modly told Pentagon reporters during an abruptly called press conference Thursday that Crozier should have gone directly to his immediate commanders, who were already moving to help the ship. And he said Crozier created a panic by suggesting 50 sailors could die.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, with a crew of nearly 5,000, is docked in Guam, and the Navy has said as many as 3,000 will be taken off the ship and quarantined by Friday. More than 100 sailors on the ship have tested positive for the virus, but none are hospitalized at this point.

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AP-NORC poll: About half of workers lose income due to virus

WASHINGTON (AP) — About half of all working Americans report some kind of income loss affecting themselves or a member of their household due to the coronavirus pandemic, with low-income Americans and those without college degrees especially likely to have lost a job, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Sixty per cent of Americans now say the national economy is “poor,” an alarmingly swift reversal from the 67% who called it “good” in January. The spike in pessimism has followed a stock market collapse and the closures of businesses around the country as regular economic activity has been halted in an attempt to limit the number of COVID-19 deaths to hundreds of thousands instead of millions.

The income losses include pay cuts, unpaid time off and reduced hours, as well as actual lost jobs, with 23% of adults who had work when the outbreak started saying they or a member of their household have since been laid off. A third of those in households making less than $50,000 a year say they or a household member have lost their job.

“It’s terrible and it’s going to get worse," said Bill Ardren, 75, a retired community college vice-president from Minnesota. "The stock market is down. Unemployment is up. Stores are shutting down. I don’t see any bright lights in the economy right now.”

The new AP-NORC survey results come as the Labor Department said Thursday a record 6.6 million Americans sought jobless benefits last week, a doubling of the previous record set just the prior week. Those figures suggest the United States lost about 6% of its 152 million jobs in half a month.

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Can you fix ventilators? A fuel cell engineer figures it out

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — It was late when engineer Joe Tavi’s boss called with an odd question: Could their company, which makes fuel cells, learn how to fix a ventilator?

California had a bunch of broken ones, and the governor had asked if San Jose-based Bloom Energy could repair them so coronavirus patients could breathe.

Tavi, an engineer who grew up taking apart the family vacuum cleaner to see if he could put it back together, said he would sleep on it.

But he didn't sleep. Instead, he made a pot of coffee and downloaded the more than 300-page manual for the LTD 1200, the type of ventilator state officials said they needed repaired.

At 4:45 a.m. the next day, coffee still in hand, his boss called again.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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