coronavirus uslockdown

Lockdown to counter coronavirus, officially Covid-19, in the U.S. has created political controversy in the country. Political leaders are exchanging tirades, threatening measures considered beyond constitution, and groups of people protesting while armed militiamen are joining the anti-lockdown protest.

Cuomo extends New York lockdown in coordination with other states

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended his state’s social-distancing measures to May 15, along with unspecified “other states,” while claiming his policies have worked to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The stay-at-home directives, social-distancing guidelines and closures of “non-essential” businesses that comprise the governor’s “New York Pause” executive order have been extended a further two weeks, Cuomo revealed during his daily coronavirus press conference on Thursday. The order was previously due to expire on April 30.

Cuomo cautioned against relaxing any of the stringent regulations that have brought his state’s economy to a standstill and forced most of its population to work from home – assuming they still have jobs.

He refused to speculate on when businesses might reopen, stating only that there would be “a phased return to a new normal.”

Contact-tracing and widespread tracing will be required before the economy can reopen, Cuomo explained, calling on the federal government for assistance. The state will also have to strengthen its healthcare system, he said.

Trump unveils 3-phase plan for reopening from lockdowns

Some Americans might come out of lockdown by May 1, under a gradual easing of Covid-19 restrictions across the US envisioned by the White House and dubbed  “Opening Up America Again.”

U.S. President Donald Trump announced the plan in a White House press conference on Thursday evening. The three-phase roadmap is supposed to be implemented by state governors and regional authorities, with federal support.

“America wants to be open and Americans want to be open,” Trump said, noting that a national shutdown is “not sustainable and long-term solution.” He said: “We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time.”

The proposal was presented on a conference call with state governors earlier in the day, at which point it was obtained by several media outlets, including the New York Times, Reuters and CBS News, which posted screenshots and details on Twitter.

The outline is “based on up-to-date data and readiness; mitigates risk of resurgence; protects the most vulnerable,” and is “implementable on a statewide or country-by-country basis at governors’ discretion,” according to the document.

Before a phased reopening, a state or region has to record a decrease in total Covid-19 cases and positive tests as measured over a 14-day period and ensure “robust testing” for healthcare workers.

The first phase of the reopening envisions the continuation of “social distancing” in public and gatherings of no more than 10 people, while vulnerable individuals would still have to shelter in place. “Non-essential travel should be avoided.”

Employers are urged to encourage telework and phase in physical work, while closing off common areas and enforcing “strict social distancing protocols.” Schools and bars would remain closed, and senior living facilities would not allow outside visitors.

Sit-down restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues, worship sites and gyms will be allowed to reopen only if they can enforce “strict social distancing” and sanitation protocols.

Bars, schools, travel and gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed in the second phase, while large venues will have to observe “moderate” social distancing.

Even in phase three, everyone is supposed to minimize time in crowds and public interactions. Large venues, bars and gyms will have to cope with the “biggest changes” compared to a time before Covid-19. All of this is conditional on the number of infections not rebounding significantly, according to the outline.

Stay-at-home order sparks scattered protests

A Lansing (U.S.), April 17, 2020 datelined report by AFP said:

There have been scattered protests in several US states this week against lockdown measures aimed at halting the spread of the highly contagious virus.

A handful of stay-at-home opponents gathered outside the Virginia state capitol in Richmond on Thursday, but the largest protest so far was on Wednesday in Michigan, where the virus has killed 1,900 people, the third-highest death toll of any U.S. state.

About 3,000 protestors, some of them armed, descended on the Michigan state capital Lansing in defiance of the strict stay-at-home order imposed by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The protest – dubbed Operation Gridlock” and organized by a coalition of right-wing groups calling themselves “Michiganers Against Excessive Quarantine” – caused a massive traffic jam around the state capitol building.

Among the organizations that backed the protest were the Michigan Conservative Coalition, the Michigan Freedom Fund and gun-toting members of the Michigan Militia.

“We Want to Work” and “End the Lockdown” read signs that protesters carried.

Others compared Whitmer, the governor, to Adolf Hitler.

A number of protestors wore red pro-Trump “Make America Great Again” hats and waved “Trump 2020” flags.

Whitmer imposed a stay-at-home order on March 24 and has since extended her “Stay Home, Stay Safe” directive until April 30.

She is the target of at least two lawsuits claiming her order infringes constitutional rights.

Grocery stores remain open in the industrial state, heart of the US auto industry, but businesses deemed non-essential have been forced to close.

Whitmer, whose name has emerged as a potential running mate for Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, shrugged off the protests, saying they looked “more like a political rally.”

“It’s OK to be angry,” the governor said in an interview with CNN. “If it makes you feel better to direct it at me, that’s OK.

“I’ve got thick skin,” she said, “and I’m always going to defend your right to free speech.”

Whitmer said she understands that “people are getting a little stir crazy being at home, worried about work, worried about paying the bills, worried about their businesses.

“A small segment of the state is protesting, and that’s their right,” she said. “The sad part is that the more they’re out and about, the more likely they are to spread COVID-19.”

Despite the protest, Whitmer’s handling of the virus crisis has been met with a generally favorable response.

A recent poll found that 71 percent of the voters in Michigan, which narrowly voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, approved of the job she is doing.

While the largest demonstration was in Michigan, there were smaller protests in other U.S. states this week.

Some 100 protestors took to the streets in the North Carolina city of Raleigh on Tuesday, and about the same number gathered outside the state capitol in Kentucky on Wednesday chanting, “We want to work!”

A similar demonstration took place in the Midwestern state of Ohio on Wednesday.

South Dakota Gov. Noem, who opposed stay-home order, now faces coronavirus hot spot

NBC News reported on April 16, 2020:

Despite an outbreak in South Dakota’s biggest city and criticism that there is no statewide shelter-in-place order, Gov. Kristi Noem said Wednesday the state is doing better than expected and “bending the curve.”

“We have cut our peak, and that’s a good thing, and that is encouraging to all of us,” Noem said at a news briefing. “Our health care system can handle what’s coming at us.”

Noem, a Republican, made her remarks as the number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state rose to 1,168, in large part because of a cluster of cases stemming from a meat processing plant in Sioux Falls. There have been six deaths in the state.

Scott Gottlieb, President Donald Trump’s former head of the Food and Drug Administration, expressed concern about the state’s numbers.

“South Dakota has become one of the fastest growing hot spots in U.S., even as other parts of nation see their epidemics start to level off or slow. South Dakota has a doubling time now of about 4 days. In the setting of the ongoing national epidemic, every state is vulnerable,” he tweeted.

Over 500 employees at the Smithfield pork-processing plant have tested positive for the virus, and the factory, which employs 3,700 people, was shuttered until further notice over the weekend. Over 100 nonemployees in the area have gotten sick after having come into contact with the plant workers, the Argus Leader newspaper reported, citing data from the state Health Department.

The cluster is now the largest in the country, putting a bigger spotlight on Noem, who’s advocated for residents to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings but has not issued a statewide shelter-in-place order.

Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken, a Republican, asked the governor to issue at least a countywide shelter-in-place order for the area in and around Sioux Falls, but Noem has refused.

“I don’t believe it’s appropriate considering the data, the facts and the science that we have,” Noem said Tuesday.

TenHaken is now pushing the Sioux Falls City Council to sign off on an ordinance to require people to shelter in place within the city limits, which is a longer process.

Noem said the public has been doing a good job of following the guidelines without a formal order — and an order would not have affected Smithfield because it’s an essential business.

Noem said Wednesday that she’s working with federal officials “on a plan to safely reopen the plant.”

She also insisted that the state’s voluntary mitigation efforts are working. While modeling initially showed that as many as 5,000 hospital beds would be needed in the state of about 900,000 residents, it now shows that about 2,500 beds will be needed.

“We need to stay the course,” Noem said.

22 million unemployed, homebuilding collapses

A Reuters report datelined Washington said:

A record 22 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits over the past month, with millions more filing claims last week, almost wiping out all the job gains since the Great Recession and underscoring the toll on the economy from extraordinary measures to control the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The deepening economic slump was also amplified by other data on Thursday showing manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region plunged to levels last seen in 1980 and homebuilding tumbling by the most in 36 years in March.

The reports followed dismal reports on Wednesday of a record drop in retail sales in March and the biggest decline in factory output since 1946. Economists are predicting the economy, which they believe is already in recession, contracted in the first quarter at its sharpest pace since World War Two.

A total of 22.034 million people have filed claims for jobless benefits since March 21, representing about 13.5% of the labor force.

In a separate report on Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department said housing starts plunged 22.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.216 million units last month. That was the largest monthly decline in starts since March 1984.

Economists are estimating the economy contracted as much as 10.8% in the first quarter, which would be the steepest drop in gross domestic product since 1947. They say the massive fiscal package will likely provide little cushion for the economy.

Economists say the economy entered recession in March.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, the private research institute regarded as the arbiter of U.S. recessions, does not define a recession as two consecutive quarters of decline in real GDP, as is the rule of thumb in many countries. Instead, it looks for a drop in activity, spread across the economy and lasting more than a few months.

Nurses push back on pressure to work without right equipment

AN AP report said on April 16, 2020:

Nurse Mike Gulick was meticulous about not bringing the coronavirus home to his wife and their 2-year-old daughter. He would stop at a hotel after work just to take a shower. He would wash his clothes in Lysol disinfectant. They did a tremendous amount of hand washing.

But at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, Gulick and his colleagues worried that caring for infected patients without first being able to don an N95 respirator mask was risky. The N95 mask filters out 95% of all airborne particles, including ones too tiny to be blocked by regular masks. But hospital administrators said they weren’t necessary and didn’t provide them, he said.

Then, last week, a nurse on Gulick’s ward tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. The next day, doctors doing rounds on their ward asked the nurses why they were not wearing N95 masks, Gulick said, and told them they should have better protection.

For Gulick, that was it. He and a handful of nurses told their managers they would not enter COVID-19 patient rooms without N95 masks.

“I went into nursing with a passion for helping those who are most vulnerable and being an advocate for those who couldn’t have a voice for themselves, but not under the conditions we’re currently under,” Gulick said.

The hospital suspended him and nine colleagues, according to the National Nurses United, which represents them. Ten nurses are now being paid but are not allowed to return to work pending an investigation from human resources, the union said.

They are among hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health care workers across the country who say they have been asked to work without adequate protection. Some have taken part in protests or lodged formal complaints. Others are buying or even making their own supplies.

One nurse was fired after refusing to remove her own N95 mask and sterile gloves and instead wear a “tissue-paper thin” surgical mask while on duty except for when caring for a known COVID-19 patient.

Dawn Kulach was fired on April 10 by Virtua Health’s hospital in Voorhees, New Jersey, shortly after she recovered from pneumonia caused by the virus and returned to work. Kulach said in an interview that it was unsafe to work without the N95 mask because the virus is circulating in hospital air ducts and there is no way to know which patients have the virus. She also insisted on wearing sterile gloves to use a computer and other shared items at the nursing station.

Virtua’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Reginald Blaber, said in a statement that the hospital now provides N95 masks to staff caring for patients with the virus or awaiting test results, and to staff in high-risk areas like the ICU and ER. Staff in other areas are issued one surgical mask daily.

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not require N95 masks for COVID-19 caregivers, but many hospitals are opting for the added protection because the infection is extremely contagious. The CDC said Wednesday at least 9,200 health care workers have been infected.

Saint John’s in a statement said the hospital had increased its supply and was disinfecting masks daily. “It’s no secret there is a national shortage,” said the statement. The hospital would not comment on the suspended nurses.

Angela Gatdula, a Saint John’s nurse who fell ill with COVID-19, said she asked hospital managers why doctors were wearing N95s but nurses were not. She says they told her the CDC said surgical masks were enough to keep her safe.

Then she was hit with a dry cough, severe body aches and joint pain.

“When I got the phone call that I was positive, I got really scared,” she said.

She is recovering and plans to return to work next week.

“The next nurse that gets this might not be lucky. They might require hospitalization. They might die,” she said.

As COVID-19 cases soared in March, the U.S. was hit with a critical shortage of medical supplies including N95s, which are mostly made in China. In response, the CDC lowered its standard for health care workers’ protective gear, recommending they use bandannas if they run out of the masks.

In Oregon, a March 26 complaint warned that masks were not being provided to nurses working with suspected COVID-19 patients. Another Oregon complaint alleged nurses “are told that wearing a mask will result in disciplinary action.”

Some are taking to the streets.

On Wednesday, nurse unions in New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, California and Pennsylvania scheduled actions at their hospitals and posted on social media using the hashtag PPEoverProfit. PPE, or personal protective equipment, refers to items such as masks and gowns.

Nurses at Kaiser Permanente’s Fresno Medical Center in California demanded more protective supplies at a protest during their shift change Tuesday. The hospital, like many in the U.S., requires nurses to use one N95 mask per day, which has raised concerns about carrying the infection from patient to patient.

Ten nurses from the facility have tested positive, Kaiser said. Three have been admitted to the hospital, and one is in critical care, protest organizers said.

Wade Nogy, a Kaiser senior vice president, denied union claims that nurses have been unnecessarily exposed.

“Kaiser Permanente has years of experience managing highly infectious diseases, and we are safely treating patients who have been infected with this virus, while protecting other patients, members and employees,” Nogy said.

Amy Arlund, a critical care nurse at the facility, said that before the pandemic, following infection control protocols they are currently using would have been grounds for disciplinary action.

“And now it’s like they’ve thrown all those standards out the window as if they never existed,” Arlund said. “It’s beyond me.”

Trump threatens to bypass Senate rules on nominees

Citing the coronavirus, Donald Trump is threatening unprecedented action — adjourning both houses of Congress — to entice the Senate to approve more of his nominees.

“If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress,” Trump said Wednesday during a White House press briefing. “And perhaps it’s never been done before, nobody is even sure if it has, but we’re going to do it.”

Trump complained that Senate Democrats had prevented him from filling important jobs that will become even more necessary as the country tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump says he has had enough and warns that he will seek to adjourn both chambers of Congress if lawmakers do not formally declare a proper recess. That way, he could appoint some nominees without the Senate’s approval. Trump said, “Perhaps it’s never been done before, nobody’s even sure if it has, but we’re going to do it.”

It would be an extraordinary showdown between the two branches of government that have engaged in repeated tests of constitutional powers in the Trump era.

Doug Andres, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said the senator talked with Trump and shared his frustration about the process, but Andres also indicated the current rules regarding adjournments will remain. He said McConnell “pledged to find ways to confirm nominees considered mission-critical to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Senate rules, Andres said, that will require consent from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Whether that will be enough for Trump is unclear. He acknowledged his actions would likely be challenged in court.

“We will see who wins,” he said.

Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor who was a Republican witness during the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, took issue with Trump accusing Congress of “obstructing” his ability to appoint judges and threatening to close both chambers.

It was not clear that a president has the authority to force Congress to adjourn, and Trump would be sure to face fierce opposition to any such move from lawmakers at the Capitol.


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