Experimental coronavirus vaccine reaches advanced trial stages

By Keir Simmons, Linda Givetash and Laura Saravia for NBC News

LONDON ⁠— An experimental vaccine for COVID-19 under development at Oxford University hit a milestone Friday with researchers announcing it will be progressing to advanced stages of human trials.

It will be tested in 10,260 volunteers across the United Kingdom to determine how effective it is at preventing infection, the university said in a statement. If successful, it could be on the market as early as September, according to British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, which partnered with the university in April to manufacture and distribute the vaccine.

“We’re thrilled,” Adrian Hill, one of the researchers leading the project, told NBC News.

Image: Professor Adrian Hill speaks to members of the media at The Jenner Institute in Oxford, England.
Professor Adrian Hill speaks to members of the media at the Jenner Institute in Oxford, England.Eddie Keogh / Reuters file

The company agreed to produce at least 400 million doses and secured total manufacturing capacity to produce 1 billion doses by the end of 2021, with first deliveries this September.

The Oxford study is one of the many racing to find an effective and safe vaccine for the coronavirus alongside efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.

It uses a weakened version of a common cold virus that normally causes infections in chimpanzees but has been genetically modified so it can’t replicate in humans.

The effectiveness of the vaccine is still to be determined. Earlier tests conducted in monkeys showed success in moderating the severity of the virus, but not preventing infection.

Researchers are still monitoring the first 1,000 volunteers who either received a dose or were part of the control group in the first phase of the current study to see if they develop antibodies or become infected with the coronavirus.

Government approval is now allowing researchers to move ahead with the second and third phases of testing, which will see more people across a wider age range — including older adults and children — tested. The second phase begins June 1 in the U.K. and researchers hope to launch clinical trials in the United States in the coming weeks.

Health care professionals are among the volunteers in the trial because of their exposure to the virus.

On its chances of working, Hill said, “We still think they’re fairly high but not guaranteed. But we’re doing our best to show that it works over the next few months.”

Researchers hope to have results from the thousands of new participants by the end of August.

While the trials are moving quickly, Hill said, safety has not been compromised.

Although the prospect of a vaccine provides hope for bringing an end to the pandemic, Hill added that in the meantime people should continue to heed social distancing measures.

“Nobody really wants to get infected with this virus and there are lots of things you can do to reduce your chances of that,” he added.Keir Simmons

Keir Simmons is a London-based foreign correspondent for NBC News.

Linda Givetash is a London-based producer for NBC News. Laura Saravia

Laura Saravia is a producer based in London.

Spike in South Korea coronavirus cases prompts alarm and a new crackdown

By Linda Givetash and Stella Kim of NBC News and Reuters

After being lauded for its success in containing the coronavirus, a spike in cases in Seoul has prompted South Korean officials to tighten social distancing measures so as to curb a second wave of the pandemic.

The 79 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday was the highest number seen in nearly eight weeks. It comes just weeks after the country eased stringent social distancing policies, which coupled with extensive tracking and tracing, has kept the total number of infections to 11,344 in the country of 51 million.

“If we fail to eradicate the spread of the virus in the metropolitan area at an early stage, it will lead to more community infections, eventually undermining school reopenings,” Park Neung Hoo, minister for health and welfare, said in a news briefing.

On Wednesday, the latest move in a phased reopening of the country allowed more than 2 million children to return to class.

Image: People suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus wait to receive tests at a coronavirus screening station in Bucheon, South Korea
South Korean’s suspected of being infected with the coronavirus wait to receive tests at a screening station in Bucheon.Yun Hyun-tae / AP

The “strengthened” measures now being enforced in major metropolitan areas for the next two weeks will see tougher quarantining policies, a plea to businesses to enforce staggered working hours and the shutting of public facilities like museums. Businesses such as bars, clubs and sporting venues are being advised to close.

Religious establishments are being urged to maintain strict distancing measures and even close in some areas, while the public generally is being asked to remain vigilant about personal hygiene and avoiding large gatherings.

“But basically, I don’t expect huge changes made to the infection prevention policy direction,” Park said.

While measures are being tightened in cities, Park said they would continue to be eased for the rest of the country.

But he warned that officials would be forced to return to an “intense social distancing scheme” if the virus spread was not brought under control by June 14.

The at least 82 new cases this week have been linked to a cluster of infections at a logistics facility operated by Coupang Corp., one of the country’s largest online shopping companies, in Bucheon, west of Seoul, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some 4,100 workers, including 603 delivery people, at the warehouse were believed to have not followed social distancing and protective measures properly, including wearing masks, KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing.

Coupang said the Bucheon center went through daily disinfection and all employees wore masks and gloves and had temperatures checked.

The latest wave appears linked to an outbreak that emerged in several Seoul nightclubs and bars in early May, the KCDC said.

Health officials said they would be conducting on-site inspections of logistics centers across the country, to develop better policies for preventing outbreaks at such facilities.

Coupang, backed by Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank Group, said it closed the Bucheon facility on Monday.

Linda Givetash is a London-based producer for NBC News. 

Stella Kim is an NBC News freelance producer based in Seoul.


Ga. senators worried about law enforcement furloughs

By James Salzer for Atlanta Journal-Constitution via PoliceOne

ATLANTA — Georgia senators expressed concern Wednesday over budget plans that would force state troopers and GBI agents to take nearly five weeks off without pay in the coming year.

The GBI and Department of Public Safety — like much of state government — are personnel-heavy. So there was no way for agency leaders to develop required plans to cut spending without eliminating jobs or furloughing staffers. For GBI staffers and state troopers, agency proposals would require up to 24 furlough days in fiscal 2021, which begins July 1.

“It was a very difficult decision,” DPS Commissioner Gary Vowell told a Senate budget subcommittee. “We’re counting nickles and dimes and looked everywhere we can and been as innovative as we can without laying people off.

“I am open for recommendations, but with 14% (in cuts), I don’t see any other way.”

Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, the chairman of the subcommittee, told Vowell: “I certainly have grave concerns about the 24 furlough days. You were undermanned before this all started.”

Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, a member of the subcommittee, told the DPS commissioner, “We want to do what we can to make sure you have the resources to do your job on a daily basis.”

The hearing Wednesday came a day after Senate subcommittees began reviewing budget proposals for the upcoming year. The 2020 session was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and lawmakers will restart it next month.

The leaders of the House and Senate budget committees and the Office of Planning and Budget sent letters to state agencies May 1 requesting plans to cut spending 14% — or more than $3.5 billion — in the upcoming fiscal year because of the coronavirus recession.

Under budget plans submitted last week, more than 1,000 filled jobs would be eliminated and tens of thousands of state employees would be furloughed.

The Department of Corrections said it would close several facilities. It currently houses 51,000 inmates.

While some agencies — including the Corrections Department — have said they could cut 14% without furloughing employees, other, such as the GBI and the Georgia State Patrol, said they couldn’t. Both agencies also said they would eliminate or freeze vacant jobs.

The state crime lab, for instance, would freeze vacant scientist and lab technician positions.

GBI Director Vic Reynolds said up to 28 agent positions would be left vacant, and that “boots-on-the-ground” officers would take furloughs like everyone else.

“We’ll probably have to be more circumspect about the kind of cases we get involved in around the state,” Reynolds said.

“It will probably lend itself to violent crime, gang-related crime, human trafficking,” he said. “I don’t envision in the future the bureau responding to assist in burglary calls or nonviolent property crimes the way the situation is today.”

The DPS would delay a new trooper class a year and freeze vacant positions, in addition to the furloughs. The agency currently has about 500 troopers working Georgia roads.

Harper indicated that lawmakers would work to reduce the number of furlough days for law enforcement agencies.

“Obviously, public safety is one of the more important duties the government provides for the safety and security of its citizens,” he said.

What that could mean is that some agencies that said they could get by without furlough days, or with very few, may be asked to take deeper cuts.

Included in the budget plans submitted last week was a $3.6 million spending reduction for accountability courts.

The courts, which were greatly expanded by then-Gov. Nathan Deal, allow defendants to avoid prison time if they stay sober, get treatment, receive an education and find a job. The courts are set up for drug addicts, drunken drivers, the mentally ill and veterans who’ve been charged largely with nonviolent crimes and low-level offenses, and they have been highly popular with lawmakers.

Hall County Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin, the head of the courts’ council, said the spending cuts would mean the elimination of eight to 12 courts throughout the state. She said about 1,900 fewer people would be able to participate in the programs.

“That will be 1,900 folks who are currently working,” she said. “They have continued to work during the pandemic. They are working in fast-food restaurants, they are working in chicken plants in Gainesville, they are working on construction sites and they are mowing our lawns.

“Those are people who will likely wind up in either local jails or prisons if they don’t have the opportunity to do this,” she said.

The budget proposal said the state would lose almost $35 million in savings it would have received by keeping those people out of prison.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said the program has been highly successful in his city.

He added: “These are painful cuts. The (funding) pie is only so big, and we have to cut the slices.”

At the end of the hearing, Albers announced he would donate his $17,000 legislative salary this year to “first responders and people in need.” Lawmakers are also likely to consider a Senate bill to cut their salaries, since furloughs will mean pay cuts for rank-and-file state employees.McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hong Kong police arrest hundreds and fire pepper pellets amid fresh unrest

From the BBC

Police in Hong Kong have arrested about 300 people and fired pepper pellets amid new anti-mainland unrest.

Protesters were rallying against a bill on China’s national anthem and Beijing’s planned introduction of a national security law.

Police said most arrests were on suspicion of unauthorised assembly.

Protesters oppose the anthem bill, which would criminalise insulting it, and the security law, which they fear will strip Hong Kong of basic freedoms.

Meanwhile in the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he has certified to Congress that Hong Kong no longer merits special treatment under US law.

“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” he said in a statement.

How did the protests play out?

The initial call by demonstrators had been to gather at the Legislative Council (Legco) building in the Central district. But it had been surrounded by riot police and blocked off by water-filled barriers and large protests there failed to materialise.

MPs there have been debating the second reading of the national anthem bill.

A number of protesters in Causeway Bay were detained
Image caption from BBC: Protesters were rallying against a bill on China’s national anthem and a national security law

Protesters took to the streets, blocking traffic in both Central and Causeway Bay. Police said on a Facebook post they had arrested 180 people there.

They later added that another 60 had been arrested in the Mongkok district for blocking traffic, and 50 more in Wan Chai.

Other arrests were made for suspicion of possessing offensive weapons, including petrol bombs.

Marches and protests have taken place in a number of other districts.

One protester in Central told the South China Morning Post: “We want to protect our freedom of speech. It will no longer be Hong Kong, but will become just another Chinese city.”

Another demonstrator told Reuters: “Although you’re afraid inside your heart, you need to speak out.”

What is the anthem bill?

If it becomes law, anyone who misuses or insults China’s national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, would face a fine of up to HK$50,000 (£5,237; $6,449) and up to three years in prison.

If it passes the second reading in Legco on Wednesday, it could go to a third reading and a vote early next month.

Hong Kong does not have its own anthem and so the Chinese anthem is sometimes played at events like football matches.

In recent years, the anthem has been booed frequently. A 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifier, for example, saw thousands booing.

What is the security law about?

Beijing has proposed imposing it in Hong Kong.

It would ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion and China says it is needed to combat violent protests that have grown in the territory.

The anti-mainland sentiment was fuelled last year by a proposed – and later scrapped – bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to China.

Pro-democracy supporters shout slogans in the Central district
Image caption from BBC: Pro-democracy supporters shout slogans in the Central district

Critics say the security law is a direct attempt to curtail the freedoms given Hong Kong in the mini-constitution that was agreed when sovereignty was handed back to China in 1997.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has denied that the law, which is set to go to a vote this week and could be in force as early as the end of June, will curtail the rights of Hong Kongers.

A group of 200 senior politicians from around the world have issued a joint statement criticising China’s plan.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said the US would announce a “very powerful” response to the proposed legislation before the end of the week. China’s plans had already been condemned by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who described them as a “death knell” for the city’s freedoms.

The UK, Australia and Canada have also expressed their “deep concern”.

Minnesota violence: Clashes over death of black man in police custody

From the BBC

Tear gas fired in Minneapolis
Image caption from BBC: Protesters marched on the precinct where the officers were thought to have worked

There have been violent clashes between police and protesters in the US city of Minneapolis following the death of an unarmed black man in police custody.

Police fired tear gas and protesters threw rocks and sprayed graffiti on police cars.

Video of the death shows George Floyd, 46, groaning “I can’t breathe” as a policeman kneels on his neck.

Four police officers have been fired, with the mayor saying that being black “should not be a death sentence”.

The incident echoes the case of Eric Garner, who was placed in a police chokehold in New York in 2014. His death became a rallying call against police brutality and was a driving force in the Black Lives Matter movement.

What happened at the protests?

They began in the afternoon on Tuesday, when hundreds of people came to the intersection where the incident had taken place on Monday evening.

Organisers tried to keep the protest peaceful and maintain coronavirus social distancing, with demonstrators chanting “I can’t breathe,” and “It could’ve been me”.

Protester Anita Murray told the Washington Post: “It’s scary to come down here in the middle of the pandemic, but how could I stay away?”

A crowd of hundreds later marched to the 3rd Precinct, where the officers involved in the death are thought to have worked.

Squad cars were sprayed with graffiti and protesters threw stones at the police building. Police fired tear gas, flash grenades and foam projectiles.

Protester in Minneapolis
Image caption from BBC: One of the protesters in Minneapolis

One protester told CBS: “It’s real ugly. The police have to understand that this is the climate they have created.”

Another said: “I got on my knees and I put up a peace sign and they tear-gassed me.”

Police said one person had suffered non-life-threatening injuries after being shot away from the protest area but gave no further details.

What happened to George Floyd?

Officers responding to reports of the use of counterfeit money had approached Mr Floyd in his vehicle.

According to police he was told to step away from the vehicle and physically resisted officers.

Screen grab of video posted on Facebook
Image caption from BBC: Video of the incident in Minneapolis was posted on social media

A police statement said: “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

The video taken at the scene does not show how the confrontation started.

It shows a white officer using his knee to pin Mr Floyd to the ground by the neck.

George Floyd
Image caption from BBC: George Floyd repeatedly told the police officers who detained him that he could not breathe

Mr Floyd groans “please, I can’t breathe” and “don’t kill me” as bystanders urge officers to let him go.

He ceases to move and an ambulance arrives to take him to hospital where he later died.

What was the official response?

Mayor Jacob Frey said it was the “right call” to fire the officers.

He said: “Being black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes we watched as a white police officer pressed his knee into the neck of a black man. For five minutes. When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help.”

The FBI is investigating the incident and will present its findings to the Minnesota state’s attorney for possible federal charges.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar urged a thorough outside investigation, saying: “Justice must be served for this man and his family, justice must be served for our community, justice must be served for our country.”

There have been calls from some for the officers to be charged with murder.

The Minnesota police handbook states that officers trained on how to compress the neck without applying direct pressure to the airway can use a knee under its use-of-force policy. This is regarded as a non-deadly-force option.

What’s the backstory here?

By Jessica Lussenhop in Minneapolis

The most surprising thing about the response to the in-custody death of George Floyd was the swiftness with which the four police officers involved were sacked. This is almost always the first demand made by protesters – a demand that is often never met.

While Minneapolis is a very liberal city, it is also very segregated and the region has seen several controversial police killings.

In 2017, Justine Damond was killed after she called to report a possible sexual assault in her alley. The officer was tried for murder and sentenced to 12.5 years in prison. During a 2016 traffic stop, Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer who was tried and acquitted of manslaughter. Jamar Clark was killed by Minneapolis officers in 2015, and charges were never brought.

All three incidents sparked large protest movements.

It seems plausible that city officials hoped their decisive action would prevent mass protests in the middle of the pandemic, but thousands took to the streets.

Demonstrators later smashed a police precinct door, and police used tear gas and non-lethal rounds, making it all but certain that these demonstrations will continue.

Why is the case so sensitive?

Allegations of police brutality have been constantly highlighted since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. It began after the acquittal of neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American Trayvon Martin in February 2012.

The deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York in 2014 sparked huge protests.

“I can’t breathe” became a national rallying cry as Garner, an unarmed black man, uttered the phrase 11 times after being detained by police in a chokehold on suspicion of illegally selling loose cigarettes.

The New York City police officer involved in Garner’s arrest was fired five years later, but no officer was charged.

Recent allegations of police wrongdoing include the shooting of a black woman in her home in Louisville by three white Kentucky policemen and the shooting of a man by an officer in Maryland.

Police in Georgia are also accused of trying to cover up the killing of black jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, allegedly by the son of a retired law official.

Paige Fernandez of the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the latest case in Minnesota: “This tragic video shows how little meaningful change has emerged to prevent police from taking the lives of black people.”

The nurses risking it all on the frontline of Britain’s coronavirus outbreak

By Ivana Kottasová, CNN

London (CNN) It gets really, really hot inside the protective gear Sean White has to wear most of the time. His skin is sore from the tight-fitting face mask and two pairs of gloves worn almost non-stop for 12 hours at a time.

White is a critical care nurse at a major teaching hospital in London and — like nurses in almost every country around the world — he couldn’t be any more frontline in the battle against coronavirus. His hospital is currently treating several hundred Covid-19 patients in the city at the epicenter of the UK outbreak, which has so far claimed more than 7,000 lives.

When coronavirus patients end up in hospital, it’s nurses who care for them most of the time and who are responsible for making sure they receive the right treatment.

“There is still this view that nurses, you know, are washing patients, feeding them and just being these compassionate, caring souls… which is exactly what nurses are, but there is this other layer of things that nurses do now,” said Laura Duffell, a matron nurse at the King’s College Hospital in London.

White spends his working days taking care of people who are fighting for their lives. Patients are often on ventilators, suffering from multiple organ failure, sedated, with number of tubes attached to them. It’s a high-pressure job, but he knows what he is doing — he has been doing it for years.But in this crisis, White says even he is at his limits.

“We’re having to prioritize things, not do some of the other things that we normally do, we make changes to our normal practice,” he said.

White checks patients’ oxygen levels, adjusts ventilators, runs blood tests, cleans wounds, replaces dressings, monitors tubes and takes care of sick people’s mouths and eyes. Once every four hours, he moves them to prevent bed sores. He also reassures them when they wake up in a scary and unfamiliar environment.

At normal times, each nurse looks after one patient at a time. But these are not normal times. White has been deployed to other intensive care units (ICUs) and is now regularly juggling two patients. The plan is to go up to four if necessary, he says.

“These are demanding patients,” said Rosana Josep Zaragoza, a nurse working at Guy’s Hospital in London, of ICU coronavirus cases. “They might have eight infusions attached to their bed and you have to make sure they are not running out, that they are working properly, and you are dealing with a breathing machine and sometimes a kidney machine,” she added.

At the same time, the nurses are very aware of the risk they themselves are facing. White said that he and his colleagues are wondering “when, rather than if” they catch the virus. “We’re hoping that it will be like a cold, but we keep hearing all the time of people who don’t necessarily have health problems who have died,” he said.

From left to right: Sean White, Rosana Josep Zaragoza and Laura Duffell are among the nurses on the frontline of this crisis.
From left to right: Sean White, Rosana Josep Zaragoza and Laura Duffell are among the nurses on the frontline of this crisis.

Nursing exodus

The coronavirus crisis has hit the UK at the time when its public health system, the National Health Service, was already highly stretched because of the country’s aging population and the spending cuts that followed the 2008 financial crisis.

Before the outbreak, a combination of tough conditions and low pay was leading to many nurses leaving the profession, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). There are over 40,000 nurse vacancies across the UK, 10,000 of which are in London, says the RCN. At the same time, fewer young people are joining the pipeline because of cuts to training funding, it adds.

In the UK, nurses’ pre-tax salaries start just below £25,000 ($30,000) a year. That’s £5,000 below the country’s median salary. With more experience, pay for most can rise to around £37,000 ($45,535) a year, depending on seniority. The RCN said most nurses’ paychecks falls into that region. Nurses with advanced training — such as a master’s degree — can make up to £44,503. Only matrons, chief nurses and specialized consultant nurses earn more than that.

For comparison, doctors start at £28,200 to £32,691 during the first two years after medical school, when they are still training. After that, their basic salary rises to £38,693 to £49,036 during specialist training. Once fully qualified and with years of experience, doctors in the public system can earn as much as £107,000.

White has been a frontline healthcare worker for a decade, and spent a big chunk of this time in critical care. He is planning to leave nursing after the coronavirus crisis has passed and work on building up his own business in medical aesthetics. While he will continue to work shifts in critical care to maintain his skills and fill in where the need is, his main focus will be elsewhere. A better work-life balance and the desire to do new things are among the reasons for his move, but money is also a factor.

Even though nurses based in London get extra cash to cover the city’s higher cost of living, most end up living on very tight budgets. According to a RNC survey published in January, 26% of nurses in London said they were financially struggling and further 42% said they were just about able to meet essential living costs, but wouldn’t be able to cope with any unexpected costs.

Long-term staff shortages are making the current crisis worse. There also aren’t currently enough coronavirus tests for healthcare workers in the UK. This means that any time a hospital employee or a member of their household shows symptoms, they have to self-isolate and stop work — even if they don’t actually have the disease. The government has been trying to ramp up testing and as of Wednesday, 20,000 UK health workers and their family members have been tested, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

Duffell said the high cost of living in places like London forces people to live with roommates, further exacerbating the situation.”Many nurses will live with other healthcare professionals, partly because of the shift patterns and the understanding … and then … it means that if someone is then symptomatic, the whole household have to isolate, which means we have four [or] five nurses who are all off at the same time,” Duffell said.

‘It’s a hideous situation’

The coronavirus pandemic also means many nurses are being redeployed to departments they don’t normally work in, including intensive and critical care.

Josep Zaragoza, the Guy’s Hospital nurse, has found herself exactly in that position. She expects to start working in ICUs this week. And while she has worked there in the past, she hasn’t done so in four years.

“I am scared,” she said. “I have been doing something completely different now, and obviously, ICU … it’s a really specialized area and the patients are very sick, so you have to know what you’re doing, the pressures are enormous,” she said.

Josep Zaragoza said her hospital has been providing nurses like her with refresher training and simulation days. She said she will likely get to spend two days at the ICU observing and working alongside other nurses before starting to take care of patients on her own.”I think it should be at least a week … but I understand that they need nurses up and running as soon as possible,” she added.

Josep Zaragoza can rely on past experience, but many of her colleagues are being redeployed into jobs that are completely new to them. “I can’t imagine how nervous people are going into such a specialized area which they have never worked in,” she said. A spokesperson from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said the hospital has asked “all clinical teams to be prepared for the potential redeployment,” adding that temporarily redeployed staff “will receive appropriate training and support if necessary.

“Other major hospital are experiencing the same problems. A spokeswoman for Barts Health NHS Trust, the body that oversees the Royal London Hospital, said the hospital was “working hard to while ensuring the safety of patients, staff and visitors.” The spokeswomen referred to the hospital’s peak operating plan, which says that “large number of staff” will be retrained and redeployed.

Duffell manages a team of around 50 to 60 nurses and healthcare assistants across several children’s wards. Some of them are now being reassigned to positions in critical care, despite not having the training that is normally required for these roles. In a statement on the King’s hospital website, Sarah Dheansa, the acting head of nursing for neurosciences and a member of the hospital’s Covid-19 response team, described the situation as challenging, but added the hospital had good processes in place.

Duffell added: “You’ve got a junior nurse in a flood of tears because she feels like she’s putting people at risk and you have to have that conversation that actually, you’re doing your absolute best, you rely on your knowledge and you know what you’re doing.”It’s a hideous situation and unfortunately, I think there are going to be a huge number of nurses that are going to be quite traumatized.”

This story has been updated to correct the name of the hospital where Laura Duffell works.

CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite contributed reporting.

Coronavirus: UK authorises anti-viral drug remdesivir

By Michelle Roberts, Health editor at BBC News online

A drug treatment called remdesivir that appears to shorten recovery time for people with coronavirus is being made available on the NHS.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began.

Remdesivir is an anti-viral medicine that has been used against Ebola.

Experts warn remdesivir shouldn’t be seen as a “magic bullet”.
Photo by REUTERS, Caption by BBC

UK regulators say there is enough evidence to approve its use in selected Covid-19 hospital patients.

For the time being and due to limited supplies, it will go to those most likely to benefit.

The US and Japan have already made similar urgent arrangements to provide early access to the medicine before they have a marketing agreement.

The drug is currently undergoing clinical trials around the world, including in the UK.

Early data suggests it can cut recovery time by about four days, but there is no evidence yet that it will save more lives.

It is not clear how much stock pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences has available to treat UK patients.

Allocation of the intravenous drug will be based on the advice of doctors.

Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell said: “This shows fantastic progress. As we navigate this unprecedented period, we must be on the front foot of the latest medical advancements, while always ensuring patient safety remains a top priority.

“The latest, expert scientific advice is at the heart of every decision we make, and we will continue to monitor remdesivir’s success in clinical trials across the country to ensure the best results for UK patients.”

Dr Stephen Griffin from the University of Leeds Medical School, said it was perhaps the most promising anti-viral for coronavirus so far.

He said patients with the most severe disease would be likely to receive it first. “Whilst this is clearly the most ethically sound approach, it also means that we ought not to expect the drug to immediately act as a magic bullet.

“We can instead hope for improved recovery rates and a reduction in patient mortality, which we hope will benefit as many patients as possible.”

Other drugs being investigated for coronavirus include those for malaria and HIV.

Testing of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has been halted in some trials because of safety fears.

The World Health Organization says the temporary suspension is a precaution, after a recent medical study found the drug might increase the risk of death and heart rhythm complications.

In the UK, the Recovery trial looking at using this drug in patients remains open, but another one, using it in frontline NHS staff to prevent rather than treat infections, has paused recruiting more volunteers.

Mass. trooper rescues ducklings from storm drain

Gayla Cawley
Daily Item

NAHANT, Mass. — For some families — even those of a different species — a small act of kindness can make “all the difference in the world.” 

On Saturday morning, State Police Trooper Jim Maloney worked with local and state partners to rescue eight ducklings trapped in a storm drain in the Nahant Beach parking lot, state police said. 

Following the rescue, the eight ducklings were reunited with the mother duck who was waiting anxiously nearby, state police said.

“It’s a state trooper’s most fundamental mission to help others in a time of crisis and danger,” state police said in a Facebook post. “Sometimes, those in danger cannot speak for themselves. And sometimes they are a different species.

“So, when Massachusetts State Trooper Jim Maloney came across some baby ducks who had fallen through the grate of a storm drain in the parking lot at Nahant Beach Saturday morning, he fulfilled that mission to help others, with some assistance from our state and local partners.”

Shortly before 9:30 a.m., Maloney noticed eight ducklings were trapped in the water under a heavy grate. The ducklings’ mother and another baby sibling who had not fallen through were waiting nearby “because Mama would not leave her trapped babies,” state police said. 

Maloney contacted the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the beach, and asked for someone to respond with a crowbar. Backup from DCR, Nahant’s Department of Public Works and an Animal Control officer from Lynn soon arrived and the rescue was underway, state police said. 

A Nahant DPW crew member pried open the gate, Lynn’s Animal Control officer fished out the ducklings with a net and the ducklings were placed in a cardboard box in Maloney’s cruiser until the mother duck came out of the grass to claim her ducklings, state police said. 

By 10 a.m., the mother duck had emerged from the brush, and was rewarded with the ducklings being taken out of the cardboard box and placed at the edge of the grass to entice a reunion, state police said.

“The mother immediately went to them, and together she and her nine babies — the family fully reunited — walked back into the grass,” state police said. “A small act amid the enormity of the ongoing health crisis, perhaps, but for one mother duck and her tiny babies, it made all the difference in the world.” McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Forecasters Predict Busy Atlantic 2020 Hurricane Season

By FREIDA FRISARO Associated Press via FireFighterNation

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — With forecasters predicting another intense Atlantic hurricane season with as many as 13 to 19 named storms, disaster preparedness experts say it’s critically important for people in evacuation zones to plan to stay with friends or family, rather than end up in shelters during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Shelters are meant to keep you safe, not make you comfortable,” said Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA.

FILE – In this May 15, 2020, photo, the Miami skyline is shrouded in clouds as a cyclist rides along Biscayne Bay at Matheson Hammock Park, in Miami. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, said Thursday, May 21, 2020, that six to 10 of the storms could develop into hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 mph. They’re also predicting that three to six of those could develop into major hurricanes. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

“Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters, and more,” Castillo said. “With tornado season at its peak, hurricane season around the corner, and flooding, earthquakes and wildfires a risk year-round, it is time to revise and adjust your emergency plan now.”

Six to 10 of these storms could develop into hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or more, and three to six could even become major hurricanes, capable of inflicting devastating damage.

“It is not possible to predict how many will hit land,” said Neil Jacobs, acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. The agency will update the forecast in August as the Atlantic region heads into its most active months.

The region has been a “high activity era” since 1995, with warmer ocean temperatures and stronger West African monsoons causing above-average activity, NOAA forecaster Gerry Bell said.

An average Atlantic season has 12 named storms, but last year was the fourth consecutive season to have more, with 18 named storms, including three intense hurricanes — Dorian, Humberto and Lorenzo. The only other period on record that produced four consecutive above-normal seasons was 1998-2001.

The season officially extends from June through November, but Tropical Storm Arthur jumped the gun last week off the eastern U.S. coastline.

“As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe.”

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Coronavirus: Chile’s president says healthcare system ‘very close to the limit’

From the BBC

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed Chile’s healthcare system “very close to the limit”, according to President Sebastián Piñera.

Covid-19 patients have been moved from the capital to relieve strain on intensive care units there. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images/Caption Courtesy of BBC

“We are very conscious of the fact that the health system is under a lot of pressure,” he said on Sunday.

Almost 70,000 cases of the virus have been recorded in Chile and more than 700 people have died.

The capital Santiago, which is under a strict lockdown, is at the centre of the country’s outbreak.

“We are very close to the limit because we have had a very large increase in the needs and demand for medical attention, and for intensive care unit beds and ventilators,” Mr Piñera said at the opening of a new field hospital in the capital on Sunday.

There has been unrest over the coronavirus restrictions in Santiago in recent days, with clashes between protesters and police over food shortages during the lockdown.

Over the weekend, the government announced it was bringing forward the payment of a planned emergency basic income to help around a quarter of Chileans deal with the economic impact of the pandemic.

Almost 1.8m people would receive the payment from Saturday, the president said, with a further three million people expected to be paid on 10 June.

The benefit will last for three months.

Ga. man steals emergency response vehicle, leads police on pursuit

Shaddi Abusaid for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via PoliceOne

ATLANTA — A man is in custody after stealing one of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s yellow HERO units and leading police on a chase through Atlanta, authorities said.

The incident began about 12:45 p.m. Thursday when Atlanta police responded to a crash on a ramp leading to the Downtown Connector, spokesman Sgt. John Chafee said. 

While investigating the wreck, an officer learned that one of the vehicle’s occupants, 19-year-old Vandale Fluker, had a warrant for his arrest, police said.

Before they could arrest him, police said Fluker jumped out of the car, ran across the interstate and got into the unoccupied emergency response unit.

The operator of the truck, a 20-year-old who had been on the job only about five months, tried to stop the man but ended up being dragged by his own vehicle, authorities said. He was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

After commandeering the HERO unit, Fluker got onto I-20 East, weaving in and out of traffic as several state troopers joined in the chase, police said. During the pursuit, police said Fluker used the emergency vehicle to crash into seven patrol cars. 

The chase came to an end when he exited the interstate at Columbia Drive in DeKalb County and was pinned in by police.

Chafee said Fluker was wanted on a fraud charge in DeKalb and a larceny charge in Cherokee County. Officers who responded to the initial crash recovered a firearm and a bag of marijuana that he allegedly threw to the ground while running, Chafee said.

The 19-year-old is charged with obstruction, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, possession of marijuana, aggravated assault, pedestrian on closed access highway, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and theft by taking, according to police.McClatchy-Tribune News Service

T-Mobile launches free 5G for first responders

By Laura French via PoliceOne

BELLEVUE, Wash. — T-Mobile has announced that it will provide free 5G access to public and nonprofit first responder agencies for 10 years. 

T-Mobile President and CEO Mike Sievert said in a video published Thursday that the “Connecting Heroes” program is expected to save fire, EMS and police departments across the U.S. billions of dollars.

“When we’re at our most vulnerable, first responders are there for us … and they are under more pressure today than ever before. Connecting Heroes is one way we’re saying ‘thank you’ in this critical time,” Sievert said. “People who save lives shouldn’t have to choose between life-saving equipment and wireless service. And with Connecting Heroes, they won’t have to. We’re not limiting this program to a few months or a year … first responders can get free service including 5G access, for a full decade.” 

T-Mobile estimates the program would save a total of $7.7 billion over the next 10 years if all eligible agencies opted in, according to a news release.

Connecting Heroes went live Thursday following T-Mobile’s merger with Sprint on April 1. 

Honolulu police rearrest 47 inmates released due to COVID-19

By Kevin Dayton for The Honolulu Star-Advertiser via PoliceOne

HONOLULU — Honolulu police already have rearrested 47 people who were released from jail in recent weeks as part of the effort to reduce the inmate population to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state correctional system, lawmakers were told Wednesday.

Acting City Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto also told the House Public Safety Committee that inmates who have been released under court orders that mention COVID included a number of violent offenders, including one who was charged with second-degree assault for allegedly attacking a 74-year-old man with a golf club.

Another case where the threat of COVID infections was cited in the release order involved a suspect who allegedly attacked a victim with a sword, cutting her face, arm and hands, Nadamoto said. Another involved a suspect who violated a protective order and began swinging a bat at the female victim, and was later convicted of burglary and terroristic threatening.

Still another case involved an inmate convicted of seven counts of second-degree sexual assault in a case involving a victim who was less than 14 years old.

Another involved an inmate convicted of violation of privacy for taking pictures of people urinating, he said.

Nadamoto went on to tick off a list of other cases where people were accused of robbery, assault, burglary, possession of more than an ounce of methamphetamine or “ice,” smashing the windshield of a car while people were inside, sexual assault and theft.

“All these people were released due to COVID,” he said. “The motion (to release) said COVID, the order said COVID.”

There have actually been no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the correctional system so far, and Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth warned that the push by defense lawyers and judges to reduce the state jail population in response to the COVID threat has created a “dangerous situation.”

The state Supreme Court on April 15 issued an order instructing the state Public Defender’s Office to file motions with the circuit courts proposing the release of hundreds of jail inmates. Each court was then supposed to determine if the prisoners could be safely released to prevent the spread of the disease in Hawaii’s overcrowded jails.

The high court specified that “release shall be presumed, unless the court finds that the release of the inmate would pose a significant risk to the safety of the inmate or the public.”

The courts on Oahu then considered 866 public defender motions for release of inmates because of COVID by the court-imposed deadline of April 28, and 503 prisoners were actually released, according to Daniel Foley, a former Intermediate Court of Appeals judge who was appointed special master to oversee the process.

But since then both public defenders and private lawyers have continued to file motions asking that their clients be released to avoid the risk of COVID infections, lawmakers were told.

“We’ve had people with domestic violence who were doing their sentences having their sentences cut short because of motions,” said Roth. Other cases involved sex assault defendants and alleged burglars released, he said.

“We’ve had some situations where when you do the balancing test, we have tipped the scales to something that I don’t think the chief justice had desired, or anybody else,” Roth said. “At the current time, we’re hearing from victims that are not wanting to participate in the system because they don’t believe we can protect them.”

State Attorney General Clare Connors said the 47 new arrests of inmates who were released because of COVID might not seem like a large number, but “that’s kind of a big number if you’re a victim of one of those crimes.”

“We don’t have a case of COVID-19 in our prison system, and that’s good, but many individuals have been released over the objections of prosecutors, we have had re-offenses, and we do think that it’s time for this effort to stop,” she said.

Foley told the committee that the various parties are now engaged in mediation to try to resolve the prosecutors’ concerns over the releases, but “all the parties, and myself of course as the mediator, are not at liberty to discuss what’s going on in mediation, whether it will be successful, where it’s heading, what’s being discussed, but that’s currently ongoing.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Pakistan jet with 98 aboard crashes near Karachi airport

By Adil Jawad for the Associated Press

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A jetliner carrying 98 people crashed Friday in a crowded neighborhood near the airport in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi after an apparent engine failure during landing. Officials said there were at least three survivors from the plane, and it was unknown how many people on the ground were hurt, with at least five houses destroyed.

The pilot of Pakistani International Airlines Flight 8303 was heard transmitting a mayday to the tower shortly before the crash. of the Airbus A320, which was flying from Lahore to Karachi. Video on social media appeared to show the jet flying low over a residential area with flames shooting from one of its engines.

The plane came to rest about 2:39 p.m. in a narrow alley in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony between houses smashed by its wings. Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so ambulances and firetrucks could move through the .

As darkness settled over the crash site, flood lights illuminated the wreckage, where crews were still recovering bodies. A portable morgue was set up.

Three passengers survived, said Meeran Yousaf, Sindh provincial Health Department spokeswoman. Two passengers have been identified by their DNA and returned to their family, she added.

At least three people on the ground were injured.

Pakistan had resumed domestic flights earlier this week ahead of the Eid-al Fitr holiday marking the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Pakistan has been in a countrywide lockdown since mid-March because of the coronavirus.

Southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, is the epicenter of the virus infections in Pakistan. The province has nearly 20,000 of the country’s more than 50,000 cases.

Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar initially said all aboard died, but two civil aviation officials later said that at least two people survived. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.

Local TV stations reported that three people sitting in the front row of the aircraft survived and showed video of a man on a stretcher they identified as Zafar Masood, the head of the Bank of Punjab. They reported that at least 11 bodies were recovered from the crash site.

Pakistan’s civi aviation authority said the plane carried 91 passengers and a crew of seven. Earlier, the airport in the northeastern city of Lahore had said 107 were on board. Civil aviation authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the discrepancy was due to confusion in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.

A transmission of the pilot’s final exchange with air traffic control, posted on the website LiveATC.net, indicated he had failed to land and was circling to make another attempt.

“We are proceeding direct, sir — we have lost engine,” a pilot said.

“Confirm your attempt on belly,” the air traffic controller said, offering a runway.

“Sir, mayday, mayday, mayday, mayday Pakistan 8303,” the pilot said before the transmission ended.

In one of the radio communications, at least one exchange from the flight sounded like a warning alarm was going off in the cockpit.

A resident, Abdul Rahman, said he saw the jet circle at least three times, appearing to try to land before it crashed.

Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “Shocked & saddened by the PIA crash… Immediate inquiry will be instituted. Prayers & condolences go to families of the deceased.”

Airbus did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the crash. The flight from the northeastern city of Lahore typically lasts about an hour and a half.

Airworthiness documents showed the plane last received a government check on Nov. 1, 2019. PIA’s chief engineer signed a separate certificate April 28 saying all maintenance had been conducted. It said “the aircraft is fully airworthy and meets all the safety” standards.

Ownership records for the Airbus A320 showed China Eastern Airlines flew the plane from 2004 until 2014. The plane then entered PIA’s fleet, leased from GE Capital Aviation Services.

Perry Bradley, a spokesman for GE, said the firm was “aware of reports of the accident and is closely monitoring the situation.”

Airbus said the plane had logged 47,100 flight hours and 25,860 flights as of Friday. The plane had two CFM56-5B4 engines.

Airbus said it would provide technical assistance to investigators in France and Pakistan, as well as the airline and engine manufacturers.


Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kathy Gannon and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, and Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

Canadian maritime provinces with few COVID-19 cases float travel bubble but public health experts urge caution

From the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Two Maritime premiers are interested in building a travel bubble like one introduced in Europe to help restart their provincial economies reeling from COVID-19, but it’s a move public health experts say needs to be donecautiously.

In a travel bubble, anyone who has not travelled in the past two weeks, is not infected and has not been in contact with somebody who has tested positive for the disease may travel freely to other countries or regions participating in the bubble.

After months of travel restrictions, people living in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can move freely by land, air and sea within the region as part of the European Union’s first travel bubble. 

Border guards continue to ask screening questions but there’s no mandatory two-week quarantine period to ensure travellers don’t develop symptoms of COVID-19.

“We had a little celebration here because the border is now open again,” Estonian police and border guard officer Martin Maestule said after a cake-cutting late Friday.

Infectious disease trackers say every country or region participating in a travel bubble must have a low infection rate for the bubble to hold.

More than 400 people marched against New Brunswick’s travel restrictions on Tuesday on the bridge that separates the communities of Campbellton, N.B., and Pointe-a-la-Croix and Listuguj First Nation in Quebec. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

In the Baltics, the three countries combined have reported fewer than 150 deaths from COVID-19, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Canada’s northern territories, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I. have reported no new cases for at least a week.

The low infection rates have led both New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and P.E.I. Premier Dennis King to raise the possibility of eventually forming a regional travel bubble involving the two provinces.

“It’ll be a few weeks out, two months I would say, probably the end of June, July,” Higgs said in a CBC News virtual town hall last week.

Risk looms

Since new cases could occur at any time, public health officials want to ensure testing, contact tracing and physical distancing are maintained before travel bubbles are considered.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said a travel bubble could only happen once outbreaks are under control and there are no active cases. Even then, the risk looms of travel-related cases imported from outside the province.

“If you were to include a province that had their numbers under control, then you would treat them like a citizen of your own province,” Russell said.

“I think we would only really consider relaxing the border measures in jurisdictions that have similar numbers or similar controls like ours right now.”

New Brunswick’s Restigouche River is a popular spot for tourists. Travel may be restricted to within Maritime provinces this summer amid COVID-19 precautions. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Currently, Russell said those coming from outside New Brunswick, with few exceptions, have to self-isolate for 14 days, the incubation period for COVID-19. 

Eventually, Russell said, if N.B. and P.E.I. form a travel bubble, it could extend through the Maritimes if Nova Scotia’s case count drops and the common criteria are met. 

For now, New Brunswick’s emergency declaration bans all non-essential travel into the province to prevent COVID-19 spread. 

Border protest

On Tuesday, some Quebecers protested at a bridge linking to New Brunswick, arguing against the Maritime province’s travel restrictions barring entry for reasons other than to go to work. They’re advocating for travel for essential goods such as groceries, as well as family reunification.

Travel bubbles may sound good in principle, but experts say they’re harder to implement.  

Craig Jenne, an associate professor in microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, said the low case burden and ability to restrict travel through New Brunswick to other Maritime provinces could help in establishing a travel bubble for that region.

“The safest is still a quarantine, even if you’re screening everybody.” 

Jenne would like to see more random screening done in Maritime communities before a travel bubble forms to ensure officials have a representative sample of what’s happening more broadly. He’s concerned people in remote areas of the region may not have timely access to diagnostic testing.

‘Virus does not ride the wind’

“A virus does not walk around on its own. The virus does not ride the wind from one part of the world to another. It comes with us,” Jenne said.

In Australia and New Zealand, there are also discussions about creating a travel bubble involving the two countries in an effort to stimulate their economies. On Wednesday, Vietnam’s tourism board also expressed interest in joining when it is safe.

Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, N.Z., called the idea of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand “aspirational.”

Baker said despite active discussions by politicians in both countries and low rates of transmission, there are open questions about how low they need to be to permit people to cross the border without a quarantine.

“It could be something along the lines of two weeks. I say four weeks with no cases at all,” Baker said. “It’s quite a high bar.”

With files from CBC’s Christine Birak and Reuters.

More than 300 attacks on UK emergency staff prosecuted during COVID-19 lockdown

From Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 300 prosecutions were carried out for attacks on police and other emergency workers during the first month of the lockdown in Britain to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the Crown Prosecution Service said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Workers and residents of Beane River View Care Home applaud with NHS workers, Police officers and Firefighters during the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Hertford, Britain, April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Couldridge

The 313 attacks usually involved officers and emergency staff being coughed or spat at by people claiming to have the virus, while there were another 62 prosecutions involving assaults on shop workers, the CPS said.

“It is disgraceful that hard-working essential workers continue to be abused during a health emergency and I have warned repeatedly that anyone doing so faces serious criminal charges,” said Max Hill, the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Hill has warned that anyone coughing or spitting at emergency workers who said they had the novel coronavirus would face assault charges and possibly two years in jail.

On Sunday, police said they had quizzed a suspect over the death of a rail worker who died of COVID-19 after being spat at by a man who said he had the virus.

Britain announced the lockdown on March 23 and the CPS figures cover prosecutions up to the end of April.

Reporting by Michael Holden, Editing by Kylie MacLellan

LA sheriff voices support for bill criminalizing the sharing of crime scene photos

From Mercury News via PoliceOne

LOS ANGELES — Sheriff Alex Villanueva voiced support Wednesday for legislation that would bar first responders from taking personal photos at crime scenes — a bill prompted by images snapped by deputies at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant.

Assembly Bill 2655 would make such photographs a misdemeanor crime, with a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

“This is a very important piece of legislation,” Villanueva said Wednesday. “It arose out of the helicopter crash in Calabasas, and it provides something very important: it’s peace of mind for the families, next of kin and those who perished in an accident.”

Villanueva said his department has policies against taking and sharing photos from crime scenes, but those policies alone have proven insufficient.

The issue arose in the weeks following the January helicopter crash that killed Bryant and eight other people. Following reports that a sheriff’s deputy had shows graphic photos of the crime scene to people at a bar, the department later said as many as eight deputies had taken unauthorized photos at the crime scene.

Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, has filed a damages claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the department over the photos. Villanueva said he ordered the photos to be destroyed.

With AB 2655, also called the Invasion of Privacy: First Responders Act, introduced by Assemblyman Mike A. Gipson, D-Carson, Villanueva said his department will be able to take action against first responders who snap such photos in the future.

The sheriff supported the bill during a press briefing Wednesday, and spoke in support of it Tuesday during an Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing. The committee approved the bill, which will now move to the Appropriations Committee.

“No person, including our first responders, should ever take photos of a deceased person for their own personal gain,” Gipson said in a statement.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Cyclone Amphan kills at least 12 people in India

From CNN’s Manveena Suri in New Delhi

At least 12 people have died in India after Cyclone Amphan made landfall earlier today, authorities said.

All the reported deaths took place in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, according the state chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Banerjee said one of the victims, a girl in the Howrah district, died after a wall from her house collapsed. She did not provide any further details how the rest of the deaths occurred.

Bangladesh Oxfam director, Dipankar Datta, told CNN that thousands of makeshift homes in Bangladesh have been uprooted due to the cyclone. He added that he does not expect the storm to hit the Rohingya refugee camp area in Cox’s Bazaar.

Some background: Cyclone Amphan made landfall near Sagar Island in West Bengal, India, close to the Bangladeshi border around 5 p.m. local time with sustained winds of 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph), according to the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center, making it equivalent in intensity to a category 2 Atlantic hurricane.

Heavy rain is expected to lead to flash flooding across the region through Thursday morning. Once the storm pushes inland, it will weaken significantly and the storm is expected to dissipate by Friday.

Thousands Evacuated as River Dams Break in Michigan

From the Associated Press, via FireFighterNation

Water floods the Midland Area Farmers Market and the bridge along the Tittabawassee River in Midland, Mich. on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Kaytie Boomer/MLive.com/The Bay City Times via AP)

EDENVILLE, Mich. (AP) — Rapidly rising water overtook dams and forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people in central Michigan, where the governor said one downtown could be “under approximately 9 feet of water” by Wednesday.

For the second time in less than 24 hours, families living along the Tittabawassee River and connected lakes in Midland County were ordered to leave home.

The National Weather Service on Tuesday evening urged anyone near the river to seek higher ground following “castastrophic dam failures” at the Edenville Dam, about 140 miles (225.31 kilometers) north of Detroit, and the Sanford Dam, about seven miles (11.26 kilometers) downriver.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said downtown Midland, a city of 42,000 about 8 miles (12.87 kilometers) downstream from the Sanford Dam, faced an especially serious flooding threat. Dow Chemical Co.’s main plant sits on the city’s riverbank.

This photo shows a view of a dam on Wixom Lake in Edenville, Mich., Tuesday, May 19, 2020. People living along two mid-Michigan lakes and parts of a river have been evacuated following several days of heavy rain that produced flooding and put pressure on dams in the area. (Kaytie Boomer/The Bay City Times via AP)

“In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water,” the governor said. “We are anticipating an historic high water level.”

Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Midland County and urged residents threatened by the flooding to find a place to stay with friends or relatives or to seek out one of several shelters that opened across the county. She encouraged people to do their best to take precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as wearing a face covering and observing social distancing “to the best of your ability.”

“This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County,” she said. ”If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now.”

Emergency responders went door-to-door early Tuesday morning warning residents living near the Edenville Dam of the rising water. Some residents were able to return home, only to be told to leave again following the dam’s breach several hours later. The evacuations include the towns of Edenville, Sanford and parts of Midland, according to Selina Tisdale, spokeswoman for Midland County.

“We were back at home and starting to feel comfortable that things were calming down,” said Catherine Sias, who lives about 1 mile (1.61 kilometers) from the Edenville Dam and first left home early Tuesday morning. “All of a sudden we heard the fire truck sirens going north toward the dam.”

Sias, 45, said emergency alerts then began coming on her cellphone and people started calling to make sure she was safe.

“While packing, there were tons of police and fire trucks going up and down the roads,” she added. “As far as I know, all of our neighbors got out.”

A view of the flooded area near the Sanford Dam on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Residents were told to evacuate due to the dams on Sanford and Wixom Lakes no longer being able to control or contain the amount of water flowing through the spill gates. (Kaytie Boomer/MLive.com/The Bay City Times via AP)

While driving along a jammed M-30, the state highway that’s the main road through Edenville and that crosses the river north of town, Sias saw the rushing Tittabawassee River. “It was very dramatic, very fast and full of debris,” she said.

Dow Chemical has activated its emergency operations center and will be adjusting operations as a result of current flood stage conditions, spokeswoman Rachelle Schikorra said in an email.

“Dow Michigan Operations is working with its tenants and Midland County officials and will continue to closely monitor the water levels on the Tittabawassee River,” Schikorra said.

In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the license of the company that operated the Edenville Dam due to non-compliance issues that included spillway capacity and the inability to pass the most severe flood reasonably possible in the area.

The Edenville Dam, which was built in 1924, was rated in unsatisfactory condition in 2018 by the state. The Sanford Dam, which was built in 1925, received a fair condition rating.

Both dams are in the process of being sold.

A view of the flooded area near the Sanford dam on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Residents were told to evacuate due to the dams on Sanford and Wixom Lakes no longer being able to control or contain the amount of water flowing through the spill gates. (Kaytie Boomer/MLive.com/The Bay City Times via AP)

There were 19 high hazard dams in unsatisfactory or poor condition in Michigan in 2018, ranking 20th among the 45 states and Puerto Rico for which The Associated Press obtained condition assessments.

Flood warnings in Michigan were issued following widespread rainfall of 4 to 7 inches (10.2 to 17.8 centimeters) since Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy runoff pushed rivers higher.

The Tittabawassee River was at 30.5 feet (9.3 meters) and rising Tuesday night – flood stage is 24 feet (7.3 meters). It was expected to crest Wednesday morning at a record of about 38 feet (11.6 meters).

The heavy rains early in the week also caused flooding elsewhere in the region. In Chicago, water that flooded some areas downtown was receding Tuesday, but Larry Langford, a fire department spokesman, said that he did not expect power to be restored at the iconic Willis Tower for days because the rains caused the building’s subbasements to fill with as much as 25 feet (7.6 meters) of water. The building was closed to tenants and visitors.

A view of the flooded area near the Sanford Dam on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Residents were told to evacuate due to the dams on Sanford and Wixom Lakes no longer being able to control or contain the amount of water flowing through the spill gates. (Kaytie Boomer/MLive.com/The Bay City Times via AP)

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Local leaders resist Mexico president’s push for reopening

From Al Jazeera News

A man who sells loose cigarettes rides a bike with a Mexican flag attached, as he passes roped-off government buildings in the Zocalo, Mexico City's main square [Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo]
A man who sells loose cigarettes rides a bike with a Mexican flag attached, as he passes roped-off government buildings in the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square [Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo]

Local governments across Mexico pushed back on Monday against President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s call to reopen the economy in some 300 townships that do not have active cases of coronavirus, with leaders saying they preferred to wait until June before resuming normal activities.

Mexico, which has reported nearly 50,000 total cases and some 5,000 deaths, has seen a steep climb in new infections. Front-line doctors fear that a premature reopening could lead to a second wave of infections – a scenario that recently played out in Chile and Guatemala, where governments had to roll back reopening plans.

But Lopez Obrador has been pushing to reactivate the economy. In addition to opening virus-free communities, his health advisers have said that the mining, construction and automotive industries could resume operations as early as Monday.

The country’s lockdown, which began in March, will remain in place, but those industries will be allowed to return to production because Mexico’s top advisory body on the pandemic, the General Health Council, had decided to classify them as “essential activities.”

“Today, productive social activity has already started to open where it was agreed, and they can start classes,” Lopez Obrador said. “We are talking about around 300 townships where there are no infections.”

But in most approved areas, the president’s words did not result in any changes.

In the southern state of Oaxaca, which has more than 200 of the infection-free townships, Governor Alejandro Murat said in a video address Sunday that after consultations with other communities, officials decided to wait until June 1 to begin evaluating whether to resume economic activity.

Murat said students would not return to class Monday even in communities without confirmed cases of the virus.

In neighbouring Guerrero, Governor Hector Astudillo said it remained unclear when students could return to classes.

“We are not going to return to classes on the 18th in any township, and there aren’t conditions to do it June 1 either,” he said. Guerrero had 12 townships on the federal government’s approved list, but Astudillo said that really it was 10, because two were adjacent to communities in Oaxaca with confirmed cases.

The state’s mining and construction sectors were also preparing for a June 1 start, Astudillo said.

The western state of Jalisco was keeping schools closed in its approved communities, but allowing work to resume in some sectors of the economy.

Governor Enrique Alfaro, who has publicly disagreed with some moves by federal health officials, announced that some “non-essential” businesses that do not generate crowds, as well as services such as plumbing and landscaping and beauty salons would be allowed to reopen.

Hugo Lopez-Gatell
Hugo Lopez-Gatell, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Health Prevention and Promotion, speaking at a news conference with Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City, Mexico [Henry Romero/Reuters]

“Here, there are not townships that open and others that don’t,” Alfaro said, noting that the issue should not be for a Mexico City bureaucrat to decide. “It’s a serious mistake this idea of opening some townships and not others. That decision isn’t going to happen in Jalisco, nor be followed.”

The precariousness of the endeavour was displayed Sunday night, when Lopez Obrador’s point man on the virus, Health Under-secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said in the middle of his daily COVID-19 news conference that he was removing a township from the list.

During the presentation, he had received word from Guerrero’s health secretary that one of the approved communities now had an infection case, he said.

By the end of his news conference, a reporter alerted him to another community in Oaxaca that may have to be removed from the list. He said it was going to be a dynamic situation.

“If this happens tomorrow, it will be suspended where cases are detected,” Lopez-Gatell said.

ATF Joins Investigation of Los Angeles Blaze that Injured 12 Firefighters

A Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter climb to the roof of a structure fire Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

By STEFANIE DAZIO and JOHN ANTCZAK Associated Press via FireFighterNation

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Investigators on Monday began combing the wreckage of a fire and explosion at a downtown Los Angeles hash oil manufacturer as six burned firefighters remained in the hospital and two more went home.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is sending in special agents from around the country to help with the criminal investigation. They are expected to help reconstruct the scene, identify where the fire started and determine what caused it.

Capt. Robert Long, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department’s major crimes unit, said his detectives will be working with the ATF and “looking at all aspects of the business to see if all applicable safety rules were followed.”

The blaze began late Saturday afternoon at a one-story commercial building in the city’s Toy District. Firefighters entered the building amid light to moderate smoke and went on the roof, normal procedures to try to quickly knock down any flames, officials said.

One of the firefighters noticed that the pressure from the smoke and heat coming from the rear of the building were increasing. He ordered everyone to get out but a thunderous explosion rocked the building. Firefighters on the roof scrambled down ladders through a fireball, with their protective coats aflame. The wall of flames shot out the building and burned seats inside a fire truck across the street.

At Least 11 Firefighters Injured in Explosion During Los Angeles Fire
Three of 11 Injured LAFD Firefighters in Critical Condition
Drone Over Los Angeles Hash Oil Fire

Eleven were rushed to hospitals, and an additional firefighter was treated for a minor injury. Three were released from the hospital Sunday and two left Monday morning.

The six firefighters who remain in the hospital are considered to be stable but their conditions were not immediately available.

Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas told Fox 11 on Monday the eight firefighters still in the hospital are making “steady progress.”

“I’m happy to report that they’re in good spirits. I visited with many of their families over the weekend and they’re on the right track to recovery,” he said. They have “various degrees of burns and some are minor nature, some are moderate and one is severe, so the timeline for recovery will be different for each one of them,” the chief said.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Trump threatens to permanently pull funding from WHO and ‘reconsider’ US membership

by Paul LeBlanc for CNN

(CNN) President Donald Trump late Monday threatened to permanently pull US funding from the World Health Organization if it does not “commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days.”

In a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Trump said, “It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world. The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China.

“My administration has already started discussions with you on how to reform the organization. But action is needed quickly. We do not have time to waste.”

The threat comes at a remarkable time. The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 90,000 Americans and more than 318,000 people worldwide as of late Monday and, while there are promising signs from some vaccine trials, there is no cure for the virus.

The letter also underscores the extent to which blame aimed at the WHO and China has become a defining part of the President’s response to the outbreak. When many of his predecessors would rely on global institutions to help stem the tide of a pandemic, Trump’s ultimatum is just the latest sign of his distrust toward world entities.

CNN has reached out to the WHO for comment on the President’s threat.Monday’s letter on official White House letterhead, screenshots of which were posted to Twitter, assails the WHO’s stance toward China throughout the pandemic and lists a series of allegations that the organization overlooked warning signs.

“I cannot allow American taxpayer dollars to continue to finance an organization that, in its present state, is so clearly not serving America’s interests,” the President wrote.

Trump specifically criticized the WHO for “political gamesmanship” for praising China’s strict domestic travel restrictions while being “inexplicably against my closing of the United States border.”

He went on to highlight the WHO’s reaffirmation of China’s now-debunked claim that the coronavirus could not be transmitted between humans.

“The move comes after Trump temporarily halted funding to the organization last month.”The US funds $400 million to $500 million to the WHO each year,” Trump said at the time, noting that China “contributes roughly $40 million.”

“Had the WHO done its job to get medical experts into China to objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China’s lack of transparency, the outbreak could have been contained at its source with very little death,” Trump said then.Tedros responded at the time by affirming that the WHO will continue working with other countries and argued that unity is key to fighting the coronavirus.

Trump’s letter on Monday night was quickly criticized by numerous experts who have stressed the need for global cooperation.

“I think the idea of punishing the WHO right now probably also ends up punishing us,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said Tuesday morning on “New Day.” “An infection anywhere is an infection everywhere. And the WHO still, in addition to the clinical trials they’re doing, has best vision on these countries around the world.”

WHO has defended response

Trump is threatening to pull the US out of the WHO. What does that actually mean?
President Donald Trump

Critics have questioned whether the WHO is independent enough, given China’s rising wealth and power. They point to the WHO’s effusive praise of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Agency officials have defended their early actions when it came to fighting the coronavirus, noting that much was unknown about the virus back in January.

“When WHO issued its first guidance to countries, it was extremely clear that respiratory precautions should be taken in dealing with patients with this disease, that labs needed to be careful in terms of their precautions and taking samples, because there was a risk that the disease could spread from person to person in those environments,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, said at a news conference last month.

“All of our guidance that was out before we did that press conference (on January 14) was about limiting exposure to people and to prevent transmission, particularly in health care settings,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO infectious diseases epidemiologist, said last month, noting that the WHO’s guidance issued on January 10 and 11 was about respiratory droplets and contact protection.

Ryan said the WHO alerted the world to the new disease on January 5, allowing health systems around the world, including the US, to begin activating their incident management systems that week.

“In the initial reports, in which there were no mention of human to human transmission, was a cluster of atypical pneumonia or pneumonia of unknown origin,” he said then.

Ryan argued that it was “remarkable” that a cluster of cases was detected in Wuhan, China, because there are “millions and millions of cases of atypical pneumonia around the world” each year and “sometimes it’s very difficult to pick out a signal of a cluster of cases” in the middle of flu season.

The agency has said it intends to conduct an “after-action review” of its handling of the crisis.

Pattern of questioning world organizations

Trump’s decision to temporarily withdraw funding from the WHO follows a pattern of skepticism of world organizations that began well before the coronavirus outbreak. The President has questioned the value of the US funding sent to the United Nations, has withdrawn from global climate agreements and lambasted the World Trade Organization — claiming all were ripping off the US.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has criticized China and global institutions for problems plaguing the US, and the coronavirus pandemic has served as another data point in his attacks.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the WHO as “China-centric” and failing to “objectively assess the situation on the ground and to call out China’s lack of transparency” as the coronavirus death toll increases globally.

His tough comments, however, are a far cry from his past statements on the nation and its leader, Xi Jinping, whom Trump praised for his transparency and management of the outbreak in January.

CNN previously reported that the Trump administration is formulating a long-term plan to punish China on multiple fronts for the pandemic.

Multiple sources inside the administration say that there is an appetite to use various tools, including sanctions, canceling US debt obligations and drawing up new trade policies, to make clear to China and the rest of the world where the Trump administration feels responsibility for the pandemic lies.This story has been updated with additional information from Trump’s letter and background information.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Stephen Collinson and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.

Iran naval exercise accident kills 19 sailors

By Tamara Qiblawi, Mostafa Salem and Ramin Mostaghim, CNN

(CNN) An Iranian naval exercise accident in the Gulf of Oman has killed 19 sailors and injured 15 others, Iran’s state media reported on Monday.

State media initially said that the servicemen were killed in a “misguided missile attack” but later dropped references to the nature of the incident, warning people not to “speculate” about it.

The Konarak, an Iranian naval support vessel, docked in an unidentified naval base in Iran on May 11.
The Konarak, an Iranian naval support vessel, docked in an unidentified naval base in Iran on May 11.

The incident happened near the southern Iranian port city of Jask. Iranian authorities later released photos of the Konorak ship docked at a harbor in an apparent bid to dispel rumors that the vessel had sunk.

The Konorak, a logistical vessel armed with a 20mm-caliber cannon and anti-ship cruise missile launchers, was damaged at night, according official and semi-official media. The Konorak also goes on reconnaissance missions and lays mines. Some 40 people were on board.Iran, which was already buckling under the strain of US sanctions, is also tackling one of the world’s biggest outbreaks of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a tweet last month, President Donald Trump instructed the US Navy to “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats” that harass US ships.The tweet came after the US Navy released video that it said shows Iranian naval vessels repeatedly conducting “dangerous and harassing approaches” towards US Navy warships in the North Arabian Sea. The Navy claimed that one Iranian vessel came within 10 yards of colliding with a US ship.

Denver Firefighters Not Included in Plan to Furlough City Workers

By THOMAS PEIPERT Associated Press via FireFighterNation

DENVER (AP) — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Thursday that thousands of city employees, including himself, will be furloughed for eight days this year to help close what is expected to be a $226 million budget gap caused by the coronavirus, joining mayors across the country that have made the same move or are thinking about it.

Denver Fire Department Logo

“This pandemic is not only a public health crisis, it is also fueling an economic crisis the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression,” Hancock said at a news conference.

Denver has seen steep declines in sales, lodging and other taxes since the pandemic hit Colorado two months ago, and the state is still under a safer-at-home order that has placed restrictions on businesses.

City leaders say the drop in tax revenue is affecting the fund that pays for police and fire services, as well as street maintenance.

American cities, from Puyallup, Washington, to Miramar, Florida, have also furloughed employees to save money in the face of dire economic forecasts.

In April, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti released a spending plan he called “a document of our pain” that includes service cuts and furloughs for nearly 16,000 workers. Under the proposal, city employees would take 26 furlough days, the equivalent of a 10% pay cut, in the coming year.

The spending reductions in Los Angeles are likely to be a sign of what’s to come at city halls across the nation, as jobless lines grow and local treasuries see steep drops in tax revenue.

Denver’s planned furloughs, which do not apply to uniformed employees like firefighters, police officers and sheriff’s deputies, will save the city about $16 million. The city also is reducing travel, hiring and purchases, and it is asking departments to cut 7.5% from their budgets.

About 3,000 of Denver’s 12,000 employees are uniformed workers.

“I want everyone to know that we have worked to exhaust every other tool we had before taking this step,” said Hancock, who repeated his call for lawmakers to include cities in the next federal stimulus package.

“The reality is this: If cities can’t recover, there will be no national recovery,” he said.

Brendan Hanlon, the city’s chief financial officer, said he thought the fallout from the 2008-2009 Great Recession was astonishing, but the current crisis will be harder to address.

“I could have never imagined seeing the numbers that we’re seeing right now and the gravity that it means to the services that we provide to the public every day here in Denver,” he said.

The city last instituted furloughs in 2011.

A survey by the National League of Cities found nearly universal agreement that cities would be hit hard by revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus outbreak, and in many cases furloughs and layoffs would be used to close budget gaps.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

At Least 11 Firefighters Injured in Explosion During Los Angeles Fire

By STEFANIE DAZIO Associated Press via FireFighterNation

Firefighters respond to an explosion in downtown Los Angeles that has injured multiple firefighters and caused a fire that spread to several buildings, Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An explosion Saturday at a hash oil manufacturer in downtown Los Angeles injured 11 firefighters who had gone inside the building after an initial report of a fire.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott said “one significant explosion” shook the neighborhood around 6:30 p.m., and as first responders arrived they saw firefighters emerge from the building with burns and other injuries. He did not provide conditions on the injured.

He described the business as a maker of “butane honey oil.” Butane is an odorless gas that easily ignites.

The process of making the oil involves extracting the high-inducing chemical THC from cannabis plants to create a highly potent concentrate also known as hash oil. The oil can be used in vape pens, edibles, waxes and other products.

Firefighters were initially called to 327 East Boyd St. in the city’s Toy District for a report of a fire at a one-story commercial building. Firefighters entered the building, and there was nothing unusual until the explosion occurred.

More than 200 firefighters rushed to the scene and dozens of engines, trucks and rescue vehicles clogged the streets. The fire spread to several nearby buildings, but firefighters were able to douse it in about an hour.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Firefighters respond to an explosion in downtown Los Angeles that has injured multiple firefighters and caused a fire that spread to several buildings, Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)
Firefighters and other first responders work the perimeter of an explosion in downtown Los Angeles that has injured multiple firefighters and caused a fire that spread to several buildings, Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

1st COVID-19 case detected in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh

By Julhas Alam for the Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The first coronavirus case has been confirmed in the crowded camps for Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, where more than 1 million refugees are sheltered.

FILE: In this April 15, 2020, file photo, a health worker from an aid organization walks wearing a hazmat suit at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. AP Photo/Shafiqur Rahman, file

The person from the Rohingya community and a local person who lives in the Cox’s Bazar district who also tested positive have been isolated, Mahbub Alam Talukder, the country’s refugee commissioner, said Thursday.

Teams have been activated for treatment of the patients as well as tracing people they may have encountered and quarantining and testing of those contacts, Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, told The Associated Press.

Nationwide, Bangladesh has confirmed 18,863 cases, including 283 fatalities. But the toll is thought to be higher since adequate testing facilities are a challenge in the South Asian nation of 160 million people.

Aid workers have been warning of the potential for a serious outbreak if the virus spread into the densely crowded camps. Donovan said Thursday that 108 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar have been tested for the new coronavirus since the beginning of April.

With about 40,000 people per square kilometer (103,600 per square mile) living in plastic shacks side by side, the 34 camps have more than 40 times Bangladesh’s average population density. Each shack is barely 10 square meters (107 square feet) and many are overcrowded with up to 12 residents.

Donovan last month said radio, video and other messages in Rohingya, Burmese and Bengali languages explained to camp residents how the virus spreads, how people can protect themselves, the symptoms and how to seek care if they became ill. Health workers within the camps had been trained on prevention and control, including the appropriate use of personal protective equipment, she said.

The U.N. and the government said about 1,200 beds for isolating and treating COVID-19 patients were being readied just outside the camps at Ukhiya and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar. A plan was also underway for an additional 1,700 beds in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, UNICEF and Save the Children International.

Aid agencies and rights groups have also been demanding Bangladesh’s government withdraw restrictions on using mobile phones and internet in the camps. Authorities had suspended internet use inside the camps for security reasons, and recent reports said armed groups among the refugees were allegedly involved in kidnapping, smuggling of drugs and seeking ransom.

Daniel P. Sullivan, a senior advocate for Human Rights of the Refugees International, said the restrictions were holding back vital information.

“The lack of access to accurate information is fueling misinformation, and rumors abound in the camps that COVID-19 is always fatal or that the faithful will be safe,” Sullivan said in a statement.

Most of the Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 2017, when Myanmar’s military launched counterinsurgency operations in response to rebel attacks. Security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and burning thousands of homes.

Authorities in Myanmar have long considered the Muslim Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in the Buddhist-majority country for centuries. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights including education.

Tensions rise as Texas governor readies to lift more rules

By PAUL J. WEBER and JIM VERTUNO for The Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Two weeks into the reopening of Texas, coronavirus cases are climbing. New outbreaks still crop up. And at Guero’s Taco Bar in Austin, which offers the occasional celebrity sighting, a log of every diner and where they sat is begrudgingly in the works.

A man wearing a face mask for protection against COVID-19 passes a business that has reopened in San Antonio, Thursday, May 14, 2020. AP Photo/Eric Gay

“It seems like a huge invasion of privacy,” said owner Cathy Lipincott, who is nonetheless trying to comply with Austin’s local public health guidelines by asking, but not requiring, customers to give their information.

Few states are rebooting quicker than Texas, where stay-at-home orders expired May 1. With cases still rising, including single-day highs of 1,458 new cases and 58 deaths Thursday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has defended the pace by emphasizing steadying hospitalization rates and pointing out that Texas’ 1,200 deaths are still behind similarly big states, including California and Florida.

But on the cusp of even more restrictions ending Monday, including gyms cleared to reopen, a political confrontation is growing over attempts by big cities to keep some guardrails. The dispute underscores the gulf between Democrats who run city halls and GOP leaders who call the shots in the capital in Texas, where unlike in other states, the governor’s orders supersede all local mandates during the pandemic.

The renewed tensions comes at a moment when Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned Congress this week of “needless suffering and death” if the U.S. moves too quickly. Nevertheless, Wisconsin’s courts tossed out the state’s stay-at-home orders, throwing communities into chaos as some bars opened immediately while strict local restrictions are kept elsewhere.

In Georgia, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has also expressed unease with the speed that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has reopened the state. Oklahoma lawmakers, irritated by local officials who imposed stricter measures during this health crisis, passed a House bill Thursday that would weaken the power of cities during the next one.

And in Texas, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this week lashed out at the cities of Dallas, Austin and San Antonio over what he called “unlawful” local orders that are tougher than restrictions prescribed by Abbott, and threatened lawsuits if the cities don’t back off. The warning came one day after El Paso pleaded to postpone easing up on any more lockdown measures in light of the number of COVID-19 cases there surging 60 percent over the past two weeks.ADVERTISEMENT

“Unfortunately, a few Texas counties and cities seem to have confused recommendations with requirements and have grossly exceeded state law to impose their own will on private citizens and businesses,” Paxton said.

City leaders said their local orders, which include more stringent emphasis on face coverings in public and restaurant protocols that aren’t strictly enforced, don’t conflict. El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said he made his case to the governor in a phone call, asking for a few more weeks to assess data and reduce cases before more restrictions are lifted, but believes he won’t get an answer until Abbott’s public announcement Monday.

“I’m not fighting his plan, I’m fighting his timing,” Samaniego said. “It looks like it would work for us months from now.”

The spat is a reversal from the early days of the outbreak in Texas, when Abbott gave cities and counties wide latitude to issue restrictions as they saw fit. But Abbott has since taken the reins over how quickly Texas will reboot, which last week included moving up the reopening of hair salons following complaints from conservatives. Testing for most of May has fallen well short of Abbott’s stated goal of 30,000 per day, although testing numbers have surged in recent days, according to state health officials.

Overflow hospitals set up in Dallas and Houston were dismantled without ever being used, which Abbott has pointed to as a reminder that the virus has not overwhelmed Texas. But experts still worry.

“They see the decline going in and they pat themselves on the back and say, ’Look at the good work we’ve done, now we can let this happen and open up things,” said Dennis Perrotta, a retired state epidemiologist in Texas. “And then we get slammed with a second peak.”

In Austin, restaurants have grumbled over recommendations to log dine-in customers for the purposes of contact tracing, coupled with a warning that health officials otherwise might have to publicly out eateries if outbreaks spread. Some restaurateurs saw that as a threat, but at The Peached Tortilla, owner Eric Silverstein says his industry has to do what it takes to reopen.

“We have no choice,” he said. “You kind of have to going back to doing some form of business.”

A few blocks away at Brentwood Social House, a neighborhood coffee shop, owner Suzanne Daniels isn’t so sure. Though her competitors have reopened, her indoor seating remains closed, and she doesn’t know when she’ll feel safe to follow them.

“It feels early,” Daniels said. “In my gut, it doesn’t feel right or good.”


Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City and Cedar Attanasio in El Paso contributed to this report.


Auto workers’ tenuous return a ray of hope in jobs crisis

By TOM KRISHER for the Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Defying a wave of layoffs that has sent the U.S. job market into its worst catastrophe on record, at least one major industry is making a comeback: Tens of thousands of auto workers are returning to factories that have been shuttered since mid-March due to fears of spreading the coronavirus.

Until now, it was mostly hair salons, restaurants, tattoo parlors and other small businesses reopening in some parts of the country. But the auto industry is among the first major sectors of the economy to restart its engine.

With it comes about 133,000 U.S. workers pouring back into assembly plants that will open in the coming week, or just over half of the industry’s workforce before the pandemic, according to estimates by The Associated Press. In addition, parts-making companies began cranking this week to get components flowing, adding thousands more workers.ADVERTISEMENT

Looming in the background is an economy decimated by the pandemic. Nearly 3 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week, raising the total seeking aid to about 36 million. Although some states have begun to let selected businesses reopen, workers are still reporting difficulty getting unemployment benefits. Freelance, gig and self-employed workers are struggling.

Even the auto sector won’t see a full return to normal yet, and if people don’t start buying vehicles again, the workers could be sent home. Yet automakers say there’s enough pent-up demand, especially for pickup trucks, to get factories humming again.

That could help states slow the drain on their unemployment benefit funds. In Michigan, where over one-third of the labor force sought benefits, the fund fell from $4.6 billion before the pandemic to $4.1 billion on April 30, said Jeff Donofrio, director of the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. Some returning auto employees could work part-time and get still some unemployment benefits, but federal programs could cover part of their payments, he said.

At Ford, where about 47,000 U.S. factory workers will return by next week, there’s optimism that consumer demand will accompany them. Chief Operating Officer Jim Farley said the company, using data collected from new Ford models from the past two years, is seeing sales recover.

In Europe, China and the U.S., Ford has found a correlation between the number of trips people take and auto sales, with trips increasing as restrictions eased.

“We started to see in early April a change where people started to take more trips,” Farley said Thursday. “The (sales) decline stopped and our retail sales improved a lot.”

Auto sales in China, where the virus peaked before the U.S., could be harbinger of things to come. China sales fell in 2.6% in April but losses narrowed from the 48% free-fall in March. Production at many plants is nearly back to normal after being shut down in January and February. Volkswagen, Honda, Mercedes and Ford reported no virus cases among employees since reopening. Fiat Chrysler had two, but said the workers never entered factories.

Things are worse in Europe, where sales plummeted 55% in March and some factories are running only at 40% of capacity. The pandemic has affected over 1.1 million European auto industry workers, almost half the sector’s manufacturing jobs. Most are getting paid through government support. A survey of auto parts suppliers shows that a third of executives believe it will take at least two years for the industry to recover.

U.S. sales fell 46% in April as the virus took hold, but analysts are forecasting a smaller decline of 30% in May. Sales have been juiced by huge incentives, with some automakers offering 0% financing for as long as seven years.

Pickup trucks are giving automakers the most hope, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president at LMC Automotive, a consulting firm. Through April, total auto sales were down 21%, but pickups were only off 4%, he said.

Yet Schuster says automakers could be a little too optimistic about sales overall. “Those consumers who are still unemployed are not likely to be making auto purchases,” he said.

Some U.S. automakers, like General Motors, are restarting slowly, only bringing back workers on one shift in factories, some of which ran around the clock before the pandemic. Others, like Subaru in Indiana, have a full complement of employees.

Although companies are taking precautions, one big virus outbreak at an auto plant could send the industry back into hibernation. And the industry could face parts supply interruptions from Mexico, where the government wants to reopen factories despite rising virus cases.

Automakers in the U.S. are requiring employees to fill out questionnaires daily to see if they have symptoms, they’re taking temperatures with no-touch thermometers before workers enter buildings, and they’re requiring gloves, masks and face shields. They’ve also tried to keep at least six feet between workers, staggered time between shifts so workers don’t interact, and have put up plexiglas barriers when possible.

All the steps were tested on U.S. workers who volunteered to make protective gear and breathing machines while they were laid off. Automakers say they know of no virus cases among workers in the effort.

But Phil Cuthbertson a worker at GM’s transmission plant in Toledo, Ohio, who will return Monday, said he has mixed feelings about it. “I just don’t want the whole thing to be pushed on us to go back if it’s not safe,” he said.

Cindy Estrada, United Auto Workers vice president for Fiat Chrysler, said she’s been impressed by the companies’ safety commitment. But she’s sure some workers, especially in the hard-hit Detroit area, will be fearful because family members or co-workers have had COVID-19. At least 25 UAW members employed by Detroit automakers have died from the virus, although no one is sure if they caught it at a factory.

The union will be watching in case workers get infected, though there’s no magic number for when it will try to close a factory, Estrada said.

“If something looks like it’s becoming a hot spot, then we need to act quickly and make adjustments,” she said. “No one wants to see that happen.”


AP reporters Joe McDonald in Beijing, Carlo Piovano in London, Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tenn.; John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio; Mike Householder in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan; David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan; and Mary Esch in Albany, N.Y.; contributed to this report.

Coronavirus: State of emergency lifted in most of Japan

From the BBC

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at the PM's office in Tokyo on 14 May, 2020
Image caption: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo and Osaka must keep up the state of emergency

Japan has lifted a state of emergency imposed due to the coronavirus in 39 out of 47 prefectures, after a sharp fall in new infections.

The order still applies in Tokyo, Osaka and on the northern island of Hokkaido, where new cases are emerging daily.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan’s rate of infection had reduced to one seventh of the country’s peak.

He urged the public to be vigilant, wear masks, and keep following distancing guidance.

“If possible, before 31 May, we would like to lift the state of emergency for the other regions as well,” Mr Abe said.

Japan faced early criticism for its handling of a mass outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked off the city of Yokohama, but appears to have avoided an epidemic on the scale of those seen in the US or Russia.

There have been 16,049 confirmed infections in the country and 678 people have died with the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Doctors’ warnings in mid-April that Japan’s medical system could collapse under a wave of new Covid-19 cases have not come to pass.

The country’s low level of testing has raised questions, but Mr Abe said its strategy of tracking virus clusters had worked in many areas.

“We were able to contain (the spread of infections) to the level at which it can be prevented with a thorough cluster-focused approach,” he told reporters.

Unlike governments elsewhere, Japan’s leaders have no legal power to enforce a lockdown. While local governors can call on businesses to stay closed and suggest people stay at home, there are no punishments if they choose not to do so. Despite this, mobility data has shown a striking drop in public movement.

Coronavirus: A&E visits in England down to record low

By Nick Triggle, Health Correspondent at the BBC

A&E visits in England have halved since the coronavirus outbreak started, dropping to their lowest level since records began.

Before the pandemic, about two million patients a month were visiting A&E but in April that dropped to 916,581.

NHS bosses are concerned seriously ill patients are being put off seeking treatment.

Drops in cancer referrals and routine operations were also seen as services were scaled back and staff redeployed.

Health experts said it could take months to get the NHS back to normal and tackle the backlog.


‘Come forward for urgent care’

The drop in A&E visits – to just above 900,000 in April – was the lowest since records began in 2010.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, more than 2.1 million patients a month were visiting A&E. In March that dropped to 1.53 million.

There is particular concern that patients who have suffered strokes and heart problems have stayed away because of fears over coronavirus.

NHS England clinical director for stroke Dr Deb Lowe said she and her fellow doctors were “really worried” that the numbers seeking help for stroke care had gone down.

Woman having a mammogram or breast cancer screening
Image caption: Breast screening is just one of many ways of detecting cancer

Data for other areas lags a month behind – so for routine treatments and cancer care NHS England has only been able to publish the data for March. Lockdown was announced in late March.

GPs made 181,873 urgent cancer referrals during March – down from 196,425 on the same month in 2019.

The number of patients admitted for routine surgery and treatment, such as knee and hip operations, dropped by a third to 207,754, down from 305,356 in March 2019.

Hospitals were told to start stopping routine care to free up beds for the coronavirus peak.

Meanwhile, community services have had to be scaled back as staff have been redeployed and face-to-face contact has had to be restricted.

Health visitors, for example, have been having to carry out most of their consultations with new mothers via phone or using video technology.

Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive Lynda Thomas said despite urgent cancer care being prioritised during the lockdown, services were still affected, while she fears some patients were put off seeking help.

“Cancer must not become the forgotten ‘C’ in this pandemic.”

Three leading think tanks – the Nuffield Trust, King’s Fund and Health Foundation – said restoring services was going to take time.

They warned staff were exhausted because they had been working flat out and needed time to recover.

The availability of protective kit, such as aprons and goggles, would need to be improved and expanded, while changes would need to be made to allow for social distancing and extra cleaning.

What is more, capacity would still need to be set aside for a second peak.

The NHS is expected to use the space at the 10 field hospitals – known as Nightingales in England – to provide some of this. Only two of them are currently being used.

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “With the virus still at large there is no easy route back to the way things were before.

“Unfortunately that will mean people waiting much longer and some services being put on hold.”

Typhoon Vongfong rapidly intensifies as it nears the Philippines

By Taylor Ward, CNN Meteorologist

(CNN) Typhoon Vongfong is rapidly intensifying — and the Philippines is in its path.

With typhoons or hurricanes, rapid intensification is an increase in maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph) in 24 hours.From Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon, Vongfong — known as Ambo in the Philippines — easily met that definition, strengthening from a modest tropical storm with winds of 60 mph (95 kph) to the equivalent of a major hurricane. Maximum sustained winds are now up to 120 mph (195 kph) and the storm is still strengthening.

This area of the world is no stranger to rapid intensification. Many storms undergo rapid intensification each year due to the extremely warm sea surface temperatures.But this is the first named storm of the season in the West Pacific.

It didn’t exist until Tuesday, and now it will hammer the Philippines as the equivalent of a category 3 or 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Vongfong’s impact

Weather models had difficulty forecasting the intensity of Vongfong, in part because of the small size of the storm.

Now that the storm has intensified so quickly there is no doubt that it will be more than a rainmaker when it reaches the coast.”Very heavy rainfall, damaging winds, and powerful storm surge are all major concerns with this storm,” CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater said.

“One silver lining with this being a small storm is that the strong typhoon strength winds only extend out about 25 kilometers from the center.”While the damaging winds will only occur right along the immediate path of the storm, heavy rain will have a more widespread impact.

Rainfall amounts of 100 to 250 mm (four to 10 inches) will impact vast areas of the Visayas and Bicol Regions through northern Luzon.

Vongfong will pass just offshore of Samar province Thursday, before making its first landfall in the Bicol region, north of Legazpi Thursday night local time.After hitting the Bicol region, the storm will retain most of its strength and move into northeastern Luzon Friday night.

“There is a possibility that the center of the storm could stay just offshore,” Sater said. “It’s not a great chance, but if the forecast shifts just 50 kilometers to the east, it would keep the worst of the winds and storm surge offshore.”

Slow start to the 2020 typhoon season

The West Pacific typhoon season doesn’t have a defined beginning and end like the Atlantic hurricane season, as storms can form throughout the year.While the peak of the typhoon season is late summer, there are frequently named storms in the winter or early spring due to the warm waters of the Pacific.

typhoons vs hurricanes chad myers_00000000

This is the eighth-latest start to the season since 1950, according to Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University. The last time we had a later start was 2016 when the first named storm of the season didn’t arrive until the first week of July.

The Philippines are located in the prime breeding grounds of the tropical Pacific. In an average year, the region is impacted by eight to nine storms.Late-starting seasons tend to be slightly quieter, but the evidence is weak, according to Klotzbach.

Senegalese engineering students fight coronavirus with inventions


Engineering students in Senegal have joined their country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic with inventions such as automatic sanitiser dispensers and medical robots.

The students attending a top engineering school in the capital, Dakar, have turned their technical skills towards easing pressure on the wards – and they are already in talks with hospitals over some of their innovations.

Senegalese engineering students fight coronavirus with inventions
Students at Dakar’s Ecole Superieure Polytechnique are in talks with hospitals over some of their innovations [Seyllou/AFP]

One example is a small robot, dubbed “Dr Car”, which will be able to measure patients’ blood pressure and temperature, according to students from Dakar’s Ecole Superieure Polytechnique (ESP).

The university is considered one of West Africa’s best for engineering and technology, and is highly selective, with 28 nationalities represented among its 4,000 students.

Lamine Mouhamed Kebe, one of the students who conceived the robot, said the machine would reduce the exposure of doctors and nurses to infected patients and use of expensive protective gear.

“At a certain point … we realised that medical equipment was limited,” the 23-year-old told AFP news agency. “We can do something.”

Guided by a mounted camera and controlled via an app, doctors will also be able to communicate with patients through the robot, Kebe said, potentially allowing them to treat people isolated in hard-to-reach rural areas.

Senegal’s coronavirus outbreak pales in comparison to the situation in virus-stricken Europe and the United States.

But after a slow start, confirmed cases in the nation of some 16 million people are increasing. And as with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Senegal is ill-equipped to handle a large outbreak.

Authorities have recorded more than 1,700 cases to date, including 19 fatalities. Hospital staff in Dakar are also beginning to contract COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Faced with an increased threat, frontline Senegalese doctors are taking the young engineers seriously.

An initial prototype designed by the students was essentially a small mobile trolley, designed to carry equipment or meals to patients.

But Abdoulaye Bousso, the head of an emergency ward in a Dakar hospital, asked to redesign it to include mechanical arms capable of conducting medical tests – an upgrade the students are working on now.

“It’s a whole process,” Bousso said, adding that the robot could cut down on their use of expensive bibs and gowns, which must be thrown away.

senegal students
Gianna Andjembe, a masters student in electrical engineering, demonstrates how an automatic hand-sanitiser dispenser he designed works [Seyllou/AFP]

Ndiaga Ndiaye, an ESP professor in charge of marketing the inventions, said that the university has long emphasised practical projects and entrepreneurship, which meant students were poised to act when the virus broke out.

The robot is “far from being a gadget,” he said, and could be produced at a larger scale once ready.

“We are a public institution. There is one concept that binds us all together, and that is service to the community,” he said.

senegal students
Lamine Mouhamed Kebe (R) and Pape Mamadou Gueye work at the ESP’s lab [Seyllou/AFP]

Other students have devised simpler devices that they also hope will battle the disease in Senegal.

Gianna Andjembe, a masters student in electrical engineering, has designed an automatic hand-sanitiser dispenser that he said could reduce the need for staff in schools and hospitals to supervise hand-washing.

“It’s very simple, it’s basic,” said the 26-year-old. “As scientists, as engineers, we have to meet the challenges and really take our destiny into our own hands,” Andjembe added.

The coronavirus has upended ESP students’ lives.

Lectures are now held over video and students who used to tinker in labs until late at night must now rush home owing to a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

But the crisis has also given the young engineers a sense of purpose.

“What has changed is the responsibility,” robot maker Kebe said before adding that the students also felt “much more patriotism”.

$200 billion for essential worker hazard pay included in Heroes Act pandemic aid package

Associated Press
via PoliceOne

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a more than $3 trillion coronavirus aid package Tuesday, providing nearly $1 trillion in aid for states, cities and local governments, aid to essential workers, and a new round of cash payments to individuals.

The House is expected to vote on the package as soon as Friday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said there is no “urgency” to act on new legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Washington. Pelosi unveiled a $3 trillion COVID-19 aid package on Tuesday that would include $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Washington. Pelosi unveiled a $3 trillion COVID-19 aid package on Tuesday that would include $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The so-called Heroes Act would provide nearly $1 trillion for states, cities and tribal governments to avert layoffs and additional $200 billion in “hazard pay” for essential workers, according a summary.

It will offer a fresh round of $1,200 direct cash aid to individuals, increased to up to $6,000 per household, and launches a $175 billion housing assistance fund to help pay rents and mortgages. There is $75 billion more for virus testing.

It would continue, through January, the $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits. It adds a 15% increase for food stamps and new help for paying employer-backed health coverage. For businesses, there’s an employee retention tax credit.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the bill “will be ready” to call lawmakers back to Washington for the vote.

But the legislation is heading straight into a Senate roadblock. Senate Republicans are not planning to vote on any new relief until June, after a Memorial Day recess.

President Donald Trump has already signed into law nearly $3 trillion in aid approved by Congress.

The package extends some provisions from previous aid packages, and adds new ones.

There are other new resources, including for the U.S. Postal Service, the 2020 Census and the November election. The bill also provides $3.6 billion to help local officials prepare for the challenges of holding elections during the pandemic.

The popular Payroll Protection Program, which has been boosted in past bills, would see another $10 billion to ensure under-served businesses and nonprofit organizations have access to grants through a disaster loan program.

As states weigh the health risks of re-opening, McConnell said the nation needs to “regroup and find a more sustainable middle ground between total lockdown and total normalcy.”

The Republican leader on Tuesday called the emerging Democratic bill a “big laundry list of pet priorities.”

“To those who would suggest a pause, I would say the hunger doesn’t take a pause, the rent doesn’t take a pause,” Pelosi said late Monday on MSNBC. “We have a big need. It’s monumental.”

One provision holding up the package is how best to funnel direct cash to households. A proposal from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, could be crucial to winning votes from the more liberal lawmakers. It would provide three-months of guaranteed paychecks for those making less than $100,000 a year.

Hoyer said the Jayapal proposal remains “under consideration.”

But Senate Republicans are in no rush to spend what could be trillions more on aid.

“I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” McConnell told reporters Monday at the Capitol.

McConnell said he has been in close contact with the White House, assessing the aid Congress has already approved in response to the virus outbreak and next steps.

Trump is expected to meet Tuesday with a group of Senate Republicans. “If we decide to go forward, we’ll go forward together,” McConnell said. His priority is to ensure any new package includes liability protections for health care providers and businesses that are reopening.

Senate Republicans are not expected to act on any further aid until after the Memorial Day recess, according to a senior Republican aide unauthorized to discuss the planning and granted anonymity.

The Senate is set to recess at the end of next week for a previously scheduled break, with senators scheduled to return June 1.

The Senate recently reopened its side of the Capitol while the House remains largely shuttered due the health concerns.

Senators have been in session since last week, voting on Trump’s nominees for judicial and executive branch positions and other issues. The Senate majority, the 53-member Senate Republican conference, is meeting for its regular luncheons most days, spread out three to a table for social distance. Democrats are convening by phone. Many senators, but not all, are wearing masks.

At least a dozen Capitol police officers and other staff have tested positive for the virus, and at least one senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, is in isolation at home after exposure from a staff member who tested positive. Other lawmakers have cycled in and out of quarantine.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned that if Trump and congressional Republicans “slow walk” more aid they will be repeating President Herbert Hoover’s “tepid” response to the Great Depression.

“It should be big and it should be bold,” Schumer said Monday.

Associated Press writer Nick Riccardi in Denver, Colo., contributed to this report.

Associated Press

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Counterfeit Masks Reaching Frontline Health Workers in U.S.


WASHINGTON (AP) — On a day when COVID-19 cases soared, healthcare supplies were scarce and an anguished doctor warned he was being sent to war without bullets, a cargo plane landed at the Los Angeles International Airport, supposedly loaded with the ammo doctors and nurses were begging for: some of the first N95 medical masks to reach the U.S. in almost six weeks.

An opened box of protective masks sits on a pallet at Direct Relief’s distribution center in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. An Associated Press investigation has found millions of medical masks, gloves, gowns and other supplies being used in hospitals across the country are counterfeits, putting lives at risk. (Jonathan Ingalls/FRONTLINE/PBS/GRC via AP)

Already healthcare workers who lacked the crucial protection had caught COVID-19 after treating patients infected with the highly contagious new coronavirus. That very day an emergency room doctor who earlier texted a friend that he felt unsafe without protective supplies or an N95 mask, died of the infection. It was the first such death reported in the U.S., according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.

But the shipment arriving that night in late March wasn’t going to solve the problem. An Associated Press investigation has found those masks were counterfeits — as are millions of medical masks, gloves, gowns and other supplies being used in hospitals across the country, putting lives at risk.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story is part of an ongoing investigation by The Associated Press, the PBS series FRONTLINE and the Global Reporting Centre that examines the deadly consequences of the fragmented worldwide medical supply chain.

Before the pandemic, federal trade law enforcement agencies were focused on busting knockoffs such as luxury goods and computer software, mostly from China. As America fell sick, the mission shifted to medical supplies. To date, Operation Stolen Promise, spearheaded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, has netted 11 arrests and 519 seizures. And yet counterfeit goods continue to pour in — not just masks, but also mislabeled medicines, and fake COVID-19 tests and cures, according to the agency.

“It’s just unprecedented,” said Steve Francis, HSI’s assistant director for global trade investigations. “These are really bad times for people who are out there trying to do the right thing and be helpful, and they end up being exploited.”

The story of how one brand of counterfeits has infiltrated America’s supply chains illustrates how the lack of coordination amid massive shortages has plunged the country’s medical system into chaos.


AP identified the counterfeit masks when reviewing film of the Los Angeles shipment. The telltale sign: these masks had ear loops, while authentic ones have bands that stretch across the back of the head, making for a tighter fit.

The blue and yellow boxes being unloaded in a Southern California warehouse bore the name of the Chinese factory Shanghai Dasheng. The masks inside were stamped as if approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health — signifying they had been certified by the U.S. government as safe for workers in health care settings. N95 masks filter out 95% of all airborne particles, including ones too tiny to be blocked by looser fitting surgical masks.

But the day before they arrived, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a very specific warning: all Shanghai Dasheng N95 masks with ear loops were counterfeit.

The exterior of chinese factory Shanghai Dasheng is shown May 6, 2020 in Shanghai, China. An Associated Press investigation has found millions of medical masks, gloves, gowns and other supplies being used in hospitals across the country are counterfeits, putting lives at risk. (FRONTLINE/PBS/GRC via AP)

Ear loop masks are less expensive to manufacture because the straps are attached with glue to the face covering, while headbands on genuine N95s, also called respirators, must be stitched, stapled or soldered to establish a tighter seal over the nose and mouth.

And even if the electrocharged fibers in the fabric are the same, masks with ear loops are not as effective because tiny airborne droplets carrying the virus can get sucked through the cracks.

“Fluid follows the path of least resistance: If someone is breathing and the respirator doesn’t have a good fit, it will just go around,” said infectious disease expert Shawn Gibbs, the dean of Texas A&M University’s school of public health.

AP tracked other shipments of Shanghai Dasheng ear loop N95 masks as they entered the vast U.S. medical system. Shipping labels and invoices, certified letters and interviews with more than a dozen buyers, distributors or middlemen pointed to the corporate headquarters and busy factory of Shanghai Dasheng Health Products Manufacture Company.

The company did not respond to AP’s queries about its masks. And AP could not independently verify if they are making their own counterfeits, or, as the CDC said in a published warning, someone is using Shanghai Dasheng’s certification numbers “without their permission.”

The CDC separately told AP it has been in talks with Shanghai Dasheng about authenticity issues.

“Recently, NIOSH has received reports stating there is product being obtained directly from the Shanghai Dasheng factory, labeled as NIOSH-approved, with ear loops,” said agency spokeswoman Katie Shahan in an email to the AP. Shahan said Shanghai Dasheng’s N95s with ear loops are counterfeit.


Florida-based importer Mark Kwoka said he believes the Shanghai Dasheng masks with ear loops that he obtained came from their factory, based on information he received from his partners in China.

“This is kind of getting out of control,” said Kwoka, who made a career in bridal gown design and manufacturing in China but turned to masks earlier this year.

On a recent spring day, hawkers outside the guarded gates of the factory were offering to take orders for U.S.-approved, medical-grade N95s. It wasn’t clear whether the sellers were getting their products from inside. A security guard told a reporter that he believed the sellers were peddling counterfeits, but police at a nearby station weren’t able to confirm that. The security guard ordered the journalists to leave.

Shanghai Dasheng is one of the largest manufacturers of authentic N95s in the world and one of only a handful in China certified to make NIOSH approved, U.S. medical-grade N95s.

In normal times, Shanghai Dasheng was the gold standard for N95s, according to several brokers who work in China. But in the rush of this pandemic, several said cheaper masks are proliferating.

Meanwhile, Shanghai Dasheng is holding itself up as a vital part of the pandemic response.

Just days into a weeklong New Year celebration in January, company chairman Wu Shengrong called back employees and then joined cleaners, cooks and a skeleton crew of workers for long days and nights on assembly lines. Eleven days into the manufacturing blitz, Shengrong invited in a group of journalists and said his company had bumped daily mask production from 40,000 to 70,000, and aimed for 200,000 once back at full strength.

“I am not a learned man,” Shengrong said at the time, “but as a Communist Party member and army veteran, I am a patriot and Dasheng is just a drop of water in China’s ocean of private enterprises.”


One recipient of the Shanghai Dasheng ear loop masks was Direct Relief, an international humanitarian aid organization in Southern California.

Like other buyers AP contacted, Direct Relief at first thought the factory inadvertently sent the wrong mask model and set aside the entire shipment. But after reading the CDC’s warnings, CEO Thomas Tighe said they had come to believe they were counterfeit and reported them to the federal government.

“It’s a little scary that it had gone through what we understood was an aggressive customs investigation for export, and an aggressive customs import by the U.S. and still got through,” Tighe said. “It’s been a real lesson.”

Direct Relief has since caught even more poorly constructed masks donated to their warehouse.

Even for those looking out for fakes, it has been difficult to keep up with changing federal guidelines for medical-grade masks.

Citing an acute shortage of N95 masks, government officials relaxed standards in March. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that other, unapproved medical masks with ear loops were appropriate for COVID-19 care.

But government testing of newly arrived models found most were substandard, and on May 7 the agency banned mask imports from 65 Chinese factories.

Shanghai Dasheng is among 14 that remain on the approved list.

For more than four weeks, millions of masks now considered inadequate for medical protection entered the U.S. and are now in use.

Meanwhile state and local governments, hospitals, private caregivers and well-wishers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the flawed masks. Before the pandemic, N95 masks sold for about 60 cents each. Today they’re priced as high as $6 apiece.

“It’s terrible, just terrible,” said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nursing Association.

He said Lawrence General Hospital, which had solicited mask donations online, handed out ear loop Shanghai Dasheng-labeled masks to as many as 40 nurses in a COVID-19 unit before someone noticed.

In West Virginia, the state passed the masks to thousands of paramedics and firefighters, prison guards and hospital workers. State officials knew of the CDC warnings about Shanghai Dasheng’s ear loops, but dismissed concerns saying that, with a proper fit, they would be safe.

In a letter to first responders, Jeff Sandy, the state’s secretary for Military Affairs and Public Safety, said he reviewed the packaging and the masks, checked with the vendor, the importer, the Chinese exporter and — through a lawyer — Shanghai Dasheng itself. He wrote he is certain the 50,000 N95 masks with ear loops that the state provided are “genuine products” that provide adequate protection.

Some first responders disagree.

“While trusting the equipment to protect them, our members may have unknowingly placed themselves in situations that put them at further risk,” said West Virginia State Firemen’s Association President Jerry Loudin.

Some of the masks were purchased by charities or well-intentioned community members who held online fundraisers.

One Southern California marketing consultant, frustrated with reports that frontline medical workers didn’t have N95 masks, had a client who makes custom, re-keyable locks in China. That client said he had sources who could get legitimate N95s, and so she launched a fundraiser, and within weeks delivered a shipment of the Shanghai Dasheng ear loop masks to caregivers.

The consultant, Wendy Chou Le, said the nurses she gave them to near Los Angeles have been grateful and didn’t raise concerns.

Tyler Alvare, a pediatric physician’s assistant in Alexandria, Virginia, had run his own fit tests on the masks when they arrived. But after talking to the AP and reviewing the federal warnings, he said he grabbed all the Shanghai Dasheng ear loop masks he had left and notified everyone he gave them to.

He said the government should have taken responsibility for providing enough protective equipment as soon as the shortage of masks became apparent instead of having every medical provider figure it out themselves.

“It’s really outside of our area of expertise,” he said.

But even experts were caught off guard.

Franco Sagliocca, Mount Sinai procurement director, was working 18-hour days, seven days a week, to keep enough safety supplies in the hospital system’s ERs and ICUS as COVID-19 overwhelmed New York. He was searching, ordering and hustling for N95s, and was planning to buy from Shanghai Dasheng.

“Our sourcing lead said, ‘Wait a minute guys, this is something we don’t want,’” Sagliocca said.

Associated Press writers Erika Kinetz in Rieti, Italy, Anthony Izaguirre in Charleston, West Virginia, Dake Kang in Beijing, and AP researcher Si Chen in Shanghai contributed to this story.

Contact AP’s Global Investigative Team at Investigative@ap.org

Contact the reporters on Twitter at @mendozamartha and @JulietLinderman

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Singapore deploys robot ‘dog’ to encourage social distancing

Hong Kong (CNN Business)

Singapore is trying a new way to get its residents to stay away from each other.On Friday, the government announced it would start deploying Spot, Boston Dynamics’ famous yellow and black canine robot, at one local park.

The four-legged robot “dog” will patrol the area starting this weekend and broadcast a pre-recorded message to visitors to remind them of the importance of social distancing, authorities said.

The device will also be equipped with cameras that will scan the surroundings and help officials estimate the number of people gathering in parks, they said.

“These cameras will not be able to track and/or recognize specific individuals, and no personal data will be collected,” the government said in a statement.

The new measure is an experiment to improve enforcement of social distancing throughout Singapore as it contends with an alarming recent spike in cases.

The pilot project is currently set to run in a limited trial for two weeks at one park during off-peak hours. But if all goes well, authorities will consider expanding the program.

Not long ago, Singapore was being hailed as one of the countries that had gotten its coronavirus response right.

Then the second wave hit. Clusters that government testing appeared to have missed quickly grew and the number of daily cases shot up. Since March 17, Singapore’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases grew from 266 to 21,707 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As the situation worsens, the government has increasingly adopted technology in its response.In March, it launched a nationwide contact-tracing app that uses Bluetooth to help users find out if they had close contact with someone confirmed to have been infected.

The government says it’s also using Spot in another capacity — at a local isolation facility where the robot helps bring medicine to patients.

Spot, the four-legged robot "dog."
Spot, the four-legged robot “dog.”

Spot, which went viral in a series of online videos several years ago showing that it could run uphill, mount stairs and even get you a drink, is generally used for inspections on construction sites or similar situations, according to Boston Dynamics.

It also has been deployed for public safety reasons, such as helping “inspect hazardous packages from afar,” the company states on its website.

Singapore’s government said Friday that it had picked the model for its agility. “Unlike wheeled robots, Spot works well across different terrains and can navigate obstacles effectively, making it ideal for operation in public parks and gardens,” it noted.

For now, at least one park ranger will be patrolling the area along with the robot, according to authorities.

— CNN’s James Griffiths contributed to this report.

South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown: Doubts creep in

By Andrew Harding, BBC Africa correspondent

It is tempting to imagine that South Africa will look back, almost fondly, on late March 2020 as a special moment in its young democracy.

Image caption: President Cyril Ramaphosa is struggling to keep support for the lockdown

As plenty of nations around the world appeared to flounder, or panic, or even turn their backs on the rising threat of Covid-19, this country was possessed by a rare and extraordinary degree of unity and decisiveness.

President Cyril Ramaphosa – a man whose consensus-building instincts have long been a source of frustration to many here – was transformed into a man of action, brusquely implementing a series of almost unimaginably severe and decisive steps that changed South Africa overnight, and proved stunningly effective at breaking the upward curve of infections.

In an era when so many politicians are reaching for war metaphors and comparisons, this was, you could argue, South Africa’s Dunkirk moment – an inspired retreat in the face of a formidable adversary that bought the country essential time (as the Dunkirk evacuations did for war-time Britain’s military) to regroup and to shore up its defences.

That “Dunkirk spirit” has not evaporated yet. Far from it. At the grass roots, in particular, South Africa is still bursting with examples of ingenuity and cohesion, as businesses and communities reach out to help each other and to support the millions who are, increasingly, struggling to feed their families.

‘Feuding generals’

But we are now over six weeks into what remains one of the toughest lockdowns on earth, the government’s health experts are predicting that the peak of the epidemic may still be two or three months away, infection numbers are surging in some regions, and the shocked silence and prompt conformity that greeted Mr Ramaphosa’s early diktats has been replaced by an increasingly sceptical, angry, and politicised debate.

A return to business as usual in this famously fractious nation?

Perhaps. But South Africa is entering a long and difficult period in its fight against Covid-19.

To borrow yet another parallel from World War II, you could argue that, after the success of its Dunkirk phase, these could prove to be the country’s Stalingrad months – a grinding battle of attrition characterised by tense skirmishes, feuding generals, and a potential collapse in troop morale.

Man given bread
Image captionThe lockdown has worsened hunger in some communities

Mr Ramaphosa has not retreated to his bunker – indeed he has continued to win praise for his level-headed approach, urging South Africans to avoid careless or reckless behaviour and to “accept the reality, prepare for it and adapt to it”.

But the image of a united African National Congress (ANC) cabinet – so important in terms of convincing the public to endure such hardships indefinitely – is being eroded.

A gap appears to separate those who, perhaps more inclined to follow China’s example, are in favour of a more intrusive, heavy-handed approach by the state – including plans to quarantine new confirmed virus cases in hospitals, and the decision to extend the controversial ban on all cigarette and alcohol purchases and to enforce a new overnight curfew – from those in cabinet more attuned to the interests of the business lobby which would prefer to see a lighter touch and the lockdown eased more quickly.

There is logic to both approaches, and nothing wrong with robust debate within government. But as many countries are now discovering, the nuanced calculations and messaging required in this second phase of the pandemic are proving even harder to get right than the pressured decisions of the initial stage.

And the stakes here are particularly high.

Business leaders are now warning that if the lockdown does not ease sharply soon, South Africa’s gross domestic product could shrink by over 16%, and up to four million jobs could be threatened – staggering figures for any country, but particularly challenging for an economy already in recession and wrestling with a 27% unemployment rate.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has warned that the government is abusing its power with “arbitrary rules” and “outrageous announcements” that are “increasingly met with resistance and even outright civil disobedience”.

The DA wants the alcohol and cigarette bans lifted, and an end to the “ANC lockdown crisis”.

The ANC has, in turn, accused the DA of “dishonest… irresponsible and reckless” behaviour.

Seeking to rise above these disputes, President Ramaphosa has emphasised the dangers – already seen in other countries – of a “second wave” of infections.

Looming over all these concerns and considerations is the key issue of South Africa’s own health system and whether it can contain the viral spikes that many experts now believe are approaching, and whether the crucial weeks of extra time gained by the government’s initial Dunkirk strategy have been put to good enough use to turn the tide in the Stalingrad battles that may yet lie ahead.

Five Covid-19 patients die in Russia hospital fire

From the BBC

Firefighters at St George Hospital, 12 May 20
Image captionFirefighters at St George Hospital – the blaze broke out on the sixth floor

A fire at a St Petersburg hospital has killed five coronavirus patients in an intensive care unit.

The blaze was apparently started by a short-circuit in a ventilator, Russian news agencies reported.

The fire was quickly put out and 150 people were evacuated from the hospital, the country’s emergency ministry said. It is not clear how many people have been injured.

All the patients who died at St George Hospital had been on ventilators.

“The ventilators are working to their limits. Preliminary indications are that it was overloaded and caught fire, and that was the cause,” a source at St Petersburg emergencies department told the Interfax news agency.

Fire-damaged windows. 12 May 20
Image captionFire-damaged windows are visible at the hospital

Russia’s NTV news website reports that the fire did not spread beyond one small Covid-19 ward on the sixth floor.

It quotes doctors as saying a short-circuit caused a ventilator “literally to explode” because of the oxygen concentration, and the ward filled with smoke, which suffocated the patients.

There have been persistent reports of a shortage of ventilators in Russia, especially in the provinces – as President Vladimir Putin himself acknowledged last month, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford reports.

Production has increased rapidly, but research by the Reuters news agency found that outside Moscow many ventilators are old – made in the 1990s.

St Petersburg, with a population of approximately 4.9 million people, has 5,483 hospital beds for Covid-19 patients.

A police source quoted by Tass news agency said the ventilator which caught fire was new – it had been installed just this month – and was made by Russia’s Ural machine-building plant.

St Petersburg has recorded just over 8,000 cases of Covid-19 so far – far fewer than Moscow, where the infection rate is continuing to climb at over 10,000 new cases daily.

State investigators have opened a case to determine whether there was criminal negligence – either in the ventilator design and manufacture or in the hospital’s fire precautions.

The All-Russia Institute for Medical Technology Research points out that there are many different types of medical ventilator, so a fault in one may not be common to others.

Alexei Kurinny, a member of the Russian parliament’s health committee, said it was unlikely that a ventilator could have short-circuited or overloaded, and that fire safety was built into their design.

Firefighters at St George Hospital, 12 May 20
Image captionOfficials say 105 firefighters were sent to the scene

The St George Hospital in the Vyborg district had been converted to a Covid-19 hospital at the end of March.

The emergency services sent 105 firefighters and 55 vehicles to the hospital, offficials said.

The news of the fire comes as the country is starting to ease lockdown restrictions. Construction, farming and factory workers are resuming their duties.

Russia now has the third-highest number of confirmed infections worldwide. On Monday, it reported a record daily rise of 11,656 cases, bringing the official total to 221,344.

That means Russia now has more confirmed cases than both Italy and the UK.

Renewed outbreaks in South Korea, Germany and China show continued risk as more countries seek to reopen

Analysis by James Griffiths, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN)

“It’s not over until it’s over.”

That was South Korean President Moon Jae-in, speaking Sunday after a new cluster of coronavirus cases emerged in the country’s capital Seoul, sparking fear of a second wave of infections in the East Asian country.

South Korea was among the first places to deal with a major coronavirus epidemic, and seemed to be on track to loosen restrictions, after weeks of social distancing measures and careful surveillance. But the new cluster seems to have put an end to that, for now, with Moon warning his people “we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention.”

China too, is introducing renewed restrictions after two cities reported new cases of the virus. Shulan, in Jilin province in the country’s far northeast, has been put under lockdown, following 11 newly confirmed cases. Jilin borders both Russia and North Korea, and concerns have previously been raised over imported cases from overseas causing a renewed outbreak.

People sit in a park in Seoul, South Korea on Sunday. The country announced its highest number of new coronavirus cases for more than a month on Monday.
People sit in a park in Seoul, South Korea on Sunday.

The country announced its highest number of new coronavirus cases for more than a month on Monday.

More alarming are the new cluster of infections in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where cases of the novel coronavirus were first detected late last year. Wuhan was the first city in the world to enter into lockdown, only returning to relative normality late last month after 76-days.

On Monday, city officials said five new cases had been confirmed in the city, none of which were imported from overseas. While that is a far cry from the figures at the beginning of the crisis, or those being reported daily across much of western Europe and the United States right now, the apparent ability of the virus to continue spreading undetected — especially in a city as intensely surveilled and restricted as Wuhan — will lead to concerns about the viability of reopening.

Mi Feng, spokesman for China’s National Health Commission, on Sunday urged people to “stay alert and step up personal protection against the virus.” He added that the new clusters were a reminder to avoid social gatherings and seek medical advice or testing should anyone exhibit virus symptoms.

Before the latest cases, the number of new infections in both China and South Korea had slowed to a trickle, with local transmission appearing to be halted. While questions can be raised over the accuracy of China’s numbers, or the certainty anyone can have that all cases have been detected and contained in a country so large, South Korea’s response has been hailed as one of the best globally, aided in part by the country’s relative small size and easily-controlled borders.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany had also been held up as an example of how to handle an outbreak, but its reproduction number has increased to above one for the past two days in a row, according to its center for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). This means that one infected person is on average infecting more than one other person.It was seen as a regional success story thanks to a well-resourced health system and early mass testing. The country’s reproduction number was estimated to have fallen to 0.65 last Thursday, and it had begun a slow reopening. Chancellor Angela Merkel told the public last week that they could “afford a bit of courage,” while cautioning that “we have to watch that this thing does not slip out of our hands.”

RKI said there was still a “degree of uncertainty” with the latest estimates but the increase in reproduction rate “makes it necessary to observe the development very closely over the coming days.”

The German federal government and the states had agreed on a snap-back mechanism in case the virus returns. If any county exceeds 50 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants, lockdown measures will be reintroduced in that county. Over the weekend, several counties across the country exceeded that limit.

The latest cases may yet turn out to be a blip that will be contained, but that three countries which appeared to be on top of matters are again reporting domestic transmissions should be majorly concerning.

Observers only need look at Singapore — which in the beginning of April had less than 2,000 cases, and now has more than 23,000 — as to the potential risks of relaxing too soon and assuming the battle is won when it’s only just begun. The city state is ramping up contact tracing, restrictions on movement, and even deploying robot dogs to encourage social distancing as it tries to get its outbreak under control.Will any lessons from these countries be learned in the West, where countries are several weeks behind in their outbreaks, but many governments are already champing at the bit to relax lockdowns, despite sky-high infection rates?

Recent history suggests not. Western governments lagged in their response to the virus as it spread through Asia, despite clear evidence of the potential for a global pandemic. Asian experience and advice was also ignored on face masks until months into the pandemic — a recent study by scientists in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom is only the latest to confirm that such coverings drastically reduce infection rates.

The new infections in China and South Korea also risk prompting a nihilistic response. If countries that appear to be on top of the disease cannot contain it, what can a nation with thousands of daily cases hope to do? But this is arguably the wrong takeaway — these countries had the worst outbreaks in the world in February, but managed to get them under control. That they are seeing new cases is a lesson about the risks of relaxing too soon, not a reason to give up the fight entirely.

Nor is the message out of Asia all grim. Vietnam and Thailand are discussing the potential creation of a travel corridor, so confident are they that their domestic outbreaks are contained. New Zealand and Australia have already agreed to do the same — though not for several months.

And Hong Kong, which successfully reined in a second wave of the virus when it seemed like the city might go the way of Singapore, has gone 21 days with no local infections, raising the possibility of being declared virus free later this month.

It’s not over until it’s over. But it will be over, eventually. What Asia’s experience is showing is that this will require continued vigilance, and a lot of patience.

CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in Berlin contributed reporting.

Calif. LE ask state to change $0 bail rule after crime rates spike

Megan Diskin
Ventura County Star

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. — Ventura County law enforcement leaders requested the state make changes to a temporary rule lowering bail during the pandemic, claiming its effect has increased certain crimes. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted several emergency rules from the California Judicial Council, the policy-making arm of the courts system, in order to limit the spread of the virus. The goal of the judicial council has been to balance public health concerns with the rights of people accused of crimes as courts across the state are largely shut down. 

Jennifer Morrison, of Simi Valley, speaks with a Ventura County Sheriff's deputy at the entrance of Ventura County Superior Court on Friday. County law enforcement has asked the state to change bail rules due to high crime rates. (Photo/TNS)
Jennifer Morrison, of Simi Valley, speaks with a Ventura County Sheriff’s deputy at the entrance of Ventura County Superior Court on Friday. County law enforcement has asked the state to change bail rules due to high crime rates. (Photo/TNS)

Local police have also done their part to reduce the jail population, where conditions are ripe for transmission. Among them include issuing citations then releasing those arrested at the scene, which can be done for certain misdemeanors. 

Along those same lines, the judicial council approved an emergency rule April 6 lowering bail to $0 for most misdemeanors and some low-level felonies. It went into effect April 13 and so far leaders of Ventura County law enforcement have seen “serious, negative consequences,” of the rule, according to a letter sent to the judicial council May 4. 

“While release on $0 bail was well intentioned, experience has shown unacceptable recidivism among those released under the (emergency bail schedule.) We believe a few revisions to the (schedule) will significantly enhance public safety while serving the laudable goal of protecting pre-trial defendants and jail personnel from COVID-19,” the letter states. 

The letter was signed by the chiefs of the Simi Valley, Port Hueneme, Oxnard, Ventura and Santa Paula police departments. Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub and District Attorney Greg Totten also signed. Together they form the Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee.

On Friday, the judicial council responded in its own letter to the local committee’s concerns.

The judicial council pointed out that law enforcement can petition the court for bail enhancements if there’s a risk to public safety. The emergency rule made that clear, and it was a decision upheld recently by the 4th District Court of Appeal. 

“The Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s implementation plan, confirming the right and responsibility of local law enforcement to exercise this tool to protect the public,” the council responded. 

It’s unclear if local law enforcement has sought bail enhancements. 


Between March 22 and April 30, vehicle theft and vandalism have increased across the county compared to the same time period in 2019, the committee’s letter states. There were 17 more auto thefts, eight more incidents of felony vandalism and 29 more incidents of misdemeanor vandalism, local prosecutors said. 

At least 400 people have been arrested in connection with offenses falling under the emergency bail amount since the rule took effect.

At least 34 of those, or about 8.5%, have been rearrested then released from jail, putting inmates and staff at risk, according to police’s letter.  

Ventura County Public Defender Todd Howeth, whose office represents indigent people accused of crimes, said if you look at that from a different perspective less than 92% have not re-offended. Howeth’s agency represents the majority of people facing criminal charges in the county. 

The sheriff has done a “remarkable job” reducing the jail population to protect both inmates and staff, Howeth said. Still, it’s the last place he’d want a loved one during the pandemic because those facilities aren’t really equipped for social distancing. 

Additionally, recidivism existed long before the virus. There are also other factors at play. Many of the clients in the public defender’s office deal with mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness, Howeth said. 

The temporary change to bail was made to “counterbalance” the other rules passed by the judicial council, which delay trials by months. 

“The emergency bail schedule was conceived as a counterbalance to other emergency measures, including the dramatic extension of the right to a speedy trial,” Howeth said. 

Local law enforcement leaders proposed a series of changes to the emergency bail rule in the letter to the judicial council. 


The law enforcement committee suggested that eligibility for the $0 bail become contingent on law-abiding behavior. If a person is arrested for one of the qualifying offenses and released on $0 bail, they cannot be eligible again if re-arrested. 

The other revision proposed includes making anyone with a conviction for a serious or violent felony in the past 10 years ineligible for the emergency bail if arrested.

Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Buschow, a spokesman for the agency, said there are “no consequences” for these crimes as the rule currently stands. Under normal circumstances, a person’s bail amount doubles if they are re-arrested while released on bail. 

Of the at least 34 people who were arrested after being released on $0 bail, three of them allegedly re-offended more than two times. 

One person was arrested seven times between April 13 and May 2. The offenses included indecent exposure, public intoxication, attempted battery on a peace officer and drug-related charges, Buschow said. 

The second person was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication four times between April 18 and May 1. The third person was arrested three times between April 13 and April 18 on suspicion of grand theft, malicious mischief and possession of dangerous drugs. 

All of these arrests were made by the Ventura Police Department, which identified the trio as homeless. That’s one of the factors associated with recidivism, the public defender said. 

Trespassing, battery, grand theft and evading are also among the repeated offenses, Buschow said. Given the increase in stolen vehicles, law enforcement leaders suggested that crime no longer qualify for $0 bail.  

They also don’t think it’s necessary for this rule to extend 90 days after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency declaration ends. 

With the courts mostly handling only emergency hearings, a backlog of cases in the Ventura County criminal justice system is expected when the pandemic is over.

Trials have been delayed across the state, meaning an accused person could be in custody for at least four months before they could challenge their arrest, Howeth said. 

Downsizing the money bail system in California has been considered before the pandemic, Howeth said. Bail is supposed to be a means for people to get out of jail. The use of money as this mechanism can be discriminatory by race and income, he said. 

“If they had the money, they’d be posting bail anyway,” Howeth said. 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

In popular social media post, Pa. sheriff says he won’t enforce business closures if asked

Zack Hoopes
The Sentinel

CUMBERLAND COUNTY — Cumberland County Sheriff Ronny Anderson has gained some social media attention for a Facebook post stating that his department would not be forcing businesses to close or acting on any “order that violates our constitutional rights” in reference to Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 restrictions.

The message, posted to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department page on Friday afternoon, gained a great deal of praise from those critical of Gov. Tom Wolf’s ongoing shutdown order, which is intended to stem the spread of the pandemic.

The post had more than 1,000 comments on it and more than 5,000 shares as of 8:30 p.m. Friday.

In an interview with The Sentinel, Anderson cautioned that he was not currently being asked to do anything that he thought was legally unsound, but wanted to reassure residents that county sheriff’s deputies would not step over the line if it came to it.

“I’m just making the statement that if I get called to do it, I will not be doing it,” Anderson said.

Wolf’s order to close certain non-essential businesses became enforceable March 23. However, the governor has stressed voluntary compliance, and the Pennsylvania State Police — which have served as the primary enforcement arm — have only issued a single citation for non-compliance statewide, according to the agency. Troopers have issued 312 warnings, according to PSP figures.

During a news briefing Friday, Wolf continued to stress that his closure order was designed to be self-enforcing and told Pennsylvanians to reject the framing that businesses were fighting against him moreso than the virus.

“The regulation is not the enemy. The virus is the enemy,” Wolf said. “The real enforcement here is, ‘do we want to jeopardize those we care about?'”

The county sheriff’s office has not been asked to assist in this enforcement, but Anderson said he would not take punitive measures if asked.

“We’re not going to be pushed into going after our citizens and small business people,” Anderson said. “I’m just saying, in my position as the Cumberland County Sheriff, I have no anticipation of going out and forcing it.”

Several challenges have been fielded in state and federal courts regarding the legality of Wolf’s order under pursuant to the state and federal constitutions; none have so far been successful.

On Friday, Anderson said that a hypothetical future action by Wolf would need to be blatantly unconstitutional for the sheriff to unilaterally decide to not enforce it, but wanted to assure residents that he would not follow such an edict, were it to arise.

“Doing the right thing is doing the right thing,” Anderson said. “That’s a decision I would have to make if it came to that point.”

Cumberland County District Attorney Skip Ebert issued a memo to law enforcement in the county shortly after Wolf’s closure order came down in March, advising them to avoid any subjectivity on their part by giving non-compliant businesses 48 hours to close.

If they do not, officers should submit an affidavit to Ebert and a court hearing will be scheduled, so that a judge can make the determination on Wolf’s “life-sustaining businesses” rule.

Anderson said he made the Facebook statement after being “inundated” with queries from Facebook users who had seen other law enforcement officials express similar concerns or sentiments.

However, social media users expressing fear that pandemic restrictions will become more draconian appear to be a vocal minority; multiple national polls indicate that most Americans are more fearful of authorities pulling back restrictions too quickly and causing another spike in the outbreak.

Pew Research Center poll of 4,917 American adults found 66 percent were more fearful of restrictions being lifted too fast rather than too slowly; 73 percent of those polled said they believed the worst of the pandemic was yet to come.

The attitudes exhibit a notable political divide, according to Pew and other studies. Of those who identify as liberal Democrats, 85 percent were more concerned about restrictions being lifted too rapidly, compared to only 46 percent of conservative Republicans.

That gap has been visible in Pennsylvania, with GOP lawmakers having filed dozens of bills to compel Wolf to pull back on his shutdown order. Many Republican state legislators also appeared at an April 20 rally in Harrisburg to demand a rapid re-opening of Pennsylvania, an event which featured armed demonstrators.

In Lebanon County — where residents are still contracting the virus at a rate more than three times above the state’s threshold to be considered for shutdown relief — GOP state lawmakers notified Wolf on Friday of the county’s intention to lift pandemic restrictions on its own beginning next week.

In Dauphin County, home of the state Capitol, the Republican chairman of the Board of Commissioners called Wolf a “dictator” in an online message savaging the governor’s handling of the pandemic. The county made plans to reopen on its own next week — without the governor’s blessing.

Most of Pennsylvania, including the heavily populated Philadelphia area and hard-hit eastern Pennsylvania, remains under Wolf’s strictest shutdown orders, with no timeline to emerge. There, Wolf’s stay-at-home orders extend until June 4.

While promising to reopen more counties soon, Wolf warned that his reopening plan is not “a one-way route” and that restrictions can be reimposed if his administration feels the virus is resurgent.McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Seattle to permanently close 20 miles of streets to traffic so residents can exercise and bike on them

By Amanda Jackson, CNN

(CNN) — Seattle residents will have more space to exercise and bike on as the city plans to permanently close 20 miles of streets to most vehicular traffic, the mayor announced Thursday.

The Stay Healthy Streets initiative started in April to temporarily provide more space for residents to get out of the house and exercise while maintaining social distancing during the pandemic. Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan said Thursday that the closures will be permanent.

“Safe and Healthy Streets are an important tool for families in our neighborhoods to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather,” Durkan said in a news release. “Over the long term, these streets will become treasured assets in our neighborhoods.”

The streets were selected to promote outdoor exercise opportunities in areas with limited open space options, low car ownership and routes that connect people to essential services and food take out, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

People are encouraged to skate, walk, jog, bike and roll down the closed streets. Only vehicular traffic from delivery drivers, first responders, sanitation crews and residents are allowed access.

“We’ve witnessed a 57% drop in vehicle traffic volumes accessing downtown Seattle during Governor Inslee’s Stay Healthy, Stay Home order,” SDOT said in a news release. “Finding new and creative ways, like Stay Healthy Streets, to maintain some of these traffic reductions as we return to our new normal is good for the planet, but is also good for our long-term fight against COVID-19.”

The city also announced it will accelerate construction of bike infrastructure to provide more mobility options for residents as Seattle begins the process on reopening.

“It is the kind of bold actions we need to encourage healthy options for recreating and traveling in our city as we deal with our current crisis, and discourage a return to high levels of traffic and associated pollution and injuries as we move into recovery,” the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board said in a statement. “All these actions together will help Seattle come back as a safer, healthier, and more climate friendly city.”

Houston sees 50% rise in homicides; police point to interrupted drug trade

Associated Press via PoliceOne

HOUSTON — A man was charged Thursday in the fatal shooting of three men in Houston, as police reported a nearly 50% uptick in homicides in the city this year.

Investigators believe a reduced illegal drug supply due to the coronavirus pandemic is the cause of the recent spike in killings, said Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva.

The shootings happened within an hour Wednesday night but in three different locations in the city. Police said the first was believed to have been drug-related, while motives for the other two were under investigation.

The suspect, 35-year-old Joshua Kelsey, was taken into custody about 4 a.m. Thursday following a short pursuit in a car he was accused of stealing from the scene of the first slaying, police said.

Kelsey was questioned by detectives then charged with murder and capital murder. Court records did not list an attorney for Kelsey.

The shootings began at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday. Investigators believe Kelsey was involved in a confrontation over drugs and shot two men at a home in south Houston, said Executive Assistant Police Chief Troy Finner. One of the men was killed and another was injured.

After stealing a car belonging to one of the men, Kelsey drove to another home about 5 miles away, forced his way inside, and fatally shot a 60-year-old man around 8:36 p.m., Finner said.

Kelsey then drove to another house, arriving around 9 p.m., and fatally shot a third man, police said.

Investigators believe Kelsey knew the first two men but they are still trying to determine his connection to the two other victims, Silva said.

There have been 121 homicides in Houston so far this year, a 49% increase on the 81 during the same period in 2019, Silva said.

Law enforcement officials believe a cause of the jump in homicide numbers is the drop in the illegal drug supply due to the pandemic, she said.

“The same buses, trains, planes that transport people, transport drugs. There’s less movement, so there’s less movement of the supply of drugs,” Finner said. “You see drug dealers fighting over territory and the drugs, the supply.”

Law enforcement officials say the lockdowns related to stopping the spread of the virus have disrupted the drug trade worldwide.

The reduced drug supply has apparently prompted some drug transactions to turn deadly as those involved try to rob one another, Finner said.

These “drug disputes are really pushing the homicides in our city,” Finner said.

Other crimes have also increased in Houston during the pandemic, including aggravated assault, domestic violence and burglaries, even as some crimes have dropped off in other parts of the world under lockdown.

Associated Press

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Texas sheriff receives threats after arrests at reopened bar

From Odessa American, via PoliceOne

ECTOR COUNTY, Texas — Ector County’s top lawman said his office has received threatening messages and a voicemail that someone is going to “come shoot up the town” following a protest that ended in multiple arrests.

After organizer’s were arrested Monday for having “AR-15 type weapons” on a reportedly premises where alcohol is sold, Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said that the Sheriff’s Office has noticed a rise in threatening messages.

Protester Wyatt Winn is led away in handcuffs outside Big Daddy Zane's bar Monday, May 4, 2020, near Odessa, Texas. Winn was one of several people who showed up to support the bar's owner in her decision to open and serve customers. (Photo/AP)
Protester Wyatt Winn is led away in handcuffs outside Big Daddy Zane’s bar Monday, May 4, 2020, near Odessa, Texas. Winn was one of several people who showed up to support the bar’s owner in her decision to open and serve customers. (Photo/AP)

Griffis said that one of the threats was a voicemail left at the Ector County Courthouse, “saying that they’re gonna come shoot up the town,” he said.

In August of last a gunman drove around Odessa randomly shooting and killing seven people and wounding 25 others.

Griffis said that there was also a threatening message left at the Commissioner’s Court Office.

“There’s rumors of people wanting to kill me and none of this have been substantiated. I’m sure some of it is actual,” he said adding that on Tuesday a social media post released his home address and that of his ex-wife.

Griffis said that if ECSO can substantiate the threats, then they will file charges on those people.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said.

Wednesday morning, Philip Archibald, 29, one of the protestors who was not arrested Monday because he wasn’t carrying a gun, said via Facebook Live he was hoping to hold a protest at Anytime Fitness in Odessa, the Ector County Sheriff’s Office and at Griffis’ residence for what he said would be, “a peaceful protest.”

He said although his group protests with weapons they never intend to use the weapons. Griffis said in a previous phone interview that all the weapons seized on Monday during the arrests were loaded.

Griffis said that if protesters have guns and, “are on the sidewalk, that’s a public area and nothing can be done about it. If they come on private property, that’s another story. They cannot take guns on the Sheriff’s Office grounds. We have a secure jail facility there and they’re not gonna take guns down there,” he said.

Griffis said that he has received hate emails and all sorts of calls, “and again this has zero to do with the Second Amendment. It has to do with this group of individuals trying to intimidate law enforcement and keep them from enforcing the Governor’s Order.”

That order forbids bars from opening in the wake of COVID-19. The Monday protest was at the West Odessa bar Big Daddy Zane’s. Eight people, including the bar owner, were arrested. The bar owner, Gabrielle Ellison, was charged with violating the executive order and others were charged with carrying weapons on a property where alcohol is sold.

Griffis said that the incident Monday with armed organizers arrested could have gone very differently. He said that if she had opened without the group’s tactics, then, “We’d probably have wrote her a ticket and went on.”

Griffis said that he takes the threats very seriously and, “If I am approached or whatever, I will take appropriate action,” he said.McClatchy-Tribune News Service

This tech company is tracking coronavirus symptoms and hotspots in Ghana

By Aisha Salaudeen, CNN

(CNN)Africa has more than 30,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. And while these numbers are relatively small compared to the rest of the world, the continent is not taking any chances in its fight against the virus.Residents are creating local solutions to help curb the spread of the virus. In Nigeria, tailors are handmaking protective gear like face masks and medical overalls. And in Kenya, even though schools are closed, one woman is providing food for schoolchildren from poor families.

Now, in Ghana, a software engineering company, Cognate Systems, is using technology to track coronavirus symptoms and hotspots in the West African country.

Using a platform called Opine Health Assistant, the company is able to record and track the frequency of coronavirus symptoms like a cough and high temperature in different parts of the country.

Opine Health Assistant

The Opine Health Assistant platform, launched March 26, collects information from residents about their possible coronavirus symptoms and location through a USSD short code, says Kwabena Nuamah, co-founder of Cognate Systems.

USSD is a short code used mostly by mobile telecommunications networks and mobile money service providers like banks for transactions.When you dial a number that starts with * and ends with # to top up your phone credit or make a bank transfer, you are using USSD.

“To use the platform, they have to dial the short code *920*222# or *714*444# on their mobile phones and then follow the prompts to answer questions about symptoms and other risk factors,” Nuamah told CNN.

Opine Health Assistant map showing the coronavirus reported cough symptoms in Ghana
Opine Health Assistant map showing the coronavirus reported cough symptoms in Ghana.

“It is free to use and users can make use of it on any type of mobile device they have, even without credit,” he added.Dialing the USSD code allows residents to fill a form with questions about their symptoms, who they have been in contact with, age-range, and travel history.It also asks if they need essential supplies such as food and shelter in the wake of the pandemic.

Nuamah, who is also an artificial intelligence researcher in the UK, says the questions are coined from the coronavirus risk factors established by the WHO and are aimed at helping the platform make sense of the symptoms reported by the public.

“When people fill the form, with the information they give us, we can analyze and predict if the person is likely to be infected by the virus. We can also use the location of those who have symptoms to predict new regions that are likely to get hit by the virus,” he said.

Data collected from USSD is built into Opine Health Assistant, and information provided by the public on coronavirus is visualized on maps and graphs to make it easier to understand, monitor, and share.

Where does the data go?

According to Nuamah, the data collected will be shared with public health experts, data scientists, relief providers, and disease surveillance teams who are better suited to understand the information and can use it to provide local solutions to coronavirus.Ghana currently hasmore than 2,000 recorded cases of the virus, and 18 deaths resulting from it, according to the WHO.Nuamah ays Opine Health Assistant is helping the country predict the next possible high-risk areas for the virus, so that it is better prepared to handle the pandemic.So far, 6,000 people have used it.

Opine Health Assistant visuals on travel history, age and coronavirus symptoms of responders in Ghana
Opine Health Assistant visuals on travel history, age and coronavirus symptoms of responders in Ghana.

“We have seen some patterns over the past days that we launched. We have seen that the spread of the virus in Ghana has been mostly within the Greater Accra Region and the Ashanti region,” he said.

“From the data we got, we were able to see certain patterns to suggest that the eastern region would have cases of the virus next before it was reported. And almost 24 hours after predicting the spread of the virus in that region, about 16 reported cases were reported there,” he added.

With the tool, he said, experts and disease surveillance agencies in Ghana can start preparing to contain coronavirus before it hits a particular region.

Providing essential supplies

Opine Health Assistant also links the public with agencies and nonprofit organizations that provide essential supplies and relief materials.Part of the data collected at the point of filling the form generated by the USSD code is information on where a person lives and if they need essentials like food and shelter.

“For people who might need food or shelter, within the series of questions, there is a part that asks for their location. We pass the locations to relief providers who are in our databases like churches and NGOs,” Nuamah said.”If a person says he is in Accra, for example, and needs food. We share this information with relief providers in Accra so they can identify people in that region and match them with supplies,” he added.

Nuamah says the team has been in touch with the government of Ghana and one of their goals is to get the Ghanaian government to use their platform to identify coronavirus symptoms and hotspots.

After the coronavirus pandemic, Opine Health Assistant will be used to monitor different diseases in Ghana, according to Nuamah.

“We are already thinking outside of the current pandemic. We want to, in the future, be able to give heads-up as to what type of viruses are coming from different parts of the globe. We don’t want to be chasing cases after they have occurred, we want to be able to predict cases coming for different diseases.”

The UK ordered 400,000 gowns from Turkey to address its PPE crisis. They didn’t meet safety standards

By Rob Picheta, CNN

The government has faced scrutiny over the lack of PPE for health care workers.

London (CNN)A high-profile shipment to the UK of 400,000 surgical gowns, hailed by ministers as a solution to Britain’s personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, has ended in catastrophe — with every one of the garments deemed unusable after arriving from Turkey.

The gowns, made by a Turkish company and flown into the UK by the Royal Air Force on April 22, had been touted as an answer to the calls of underprotected health care workers.

But they were never distributed to frontline workers, it has emerged. “If equipment does not meet our specifications or pass our quality assurance processes it is not distributed to the front line,” a spokesperson for the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told CNN on Thursday, when asked if the shipment in question had failed to meet safety standards.

“All deliveries of PPE are checked to ensure the equipment meets the safety and quality standards our frontline staff need,” the DHSC added.

Black people in the UK four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white people, new data shows

The gowns instead have sat impounded at a warehouse near Heathrow Airport, according to The Telegraph newspaper, which first reported the story.

The government will request a refund if it cannot get a replacement order of gowns that do meet requirements, a spokesman told reporters on Thursday.The debacle nonetheless raises questions about why the public was not told that the equipment was unusable, given that government officials had repeatedly talked up the arrival in the days prior.

“Supply in some areas, particularly gowns and certain types of masks and aprons, is in short supply at the moment, and that must be an extremely anxious time for people working on the frontline,” Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said on April 18, when he unveiled the “very significant” order from Turkey.The next day, Michael Gove touted the arrival of the gowns on TV interviews. On April 21, minister Simon Clarke conceded that while the UK will not run out of PPE, the “margins can be tight.” He cited the Turkey shipment as a factor behind that conclusion.

UK overtakes Italy to record highest coronavirus death toll anywhere in Europe

“We’ve had three flights with gowns from Turkey — because we know that every single one of those items of PPE is needed by those working so hard on the front line,” First Secretary of State Dominic Raab added at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on April 29.Boris Johnson’s government has faced repeated scrutiny over the lack of PPE in hospitals and care homes, as well as the availability of testing, and the new setback raises further concerns about his response.

In an industry survey in late April, more than a third of British doctors said they did not have appropriate PPE.Of those surveyed, 75% said they did not have long-sleeved gowns, while 38% said they lack eye protection, according to the survey by the Doctors Association UK.

“This is a global pandemic with many countries procuring PPE, leading to shortages around the world, not just the UK,” the DHSC spokesperson said on Thursday. “We are working night and day to source PPE internationally and domestically and brought together the NHS, industry and the armed forces to create a comprehensive PPE distribution network to deliver critical supplies to the frontline.”

But the disappointment masks the latest example of a much-touted government target being missed.

A protester demands more PPE in London last month.

In March the UK ordered millions of antibody tests, described by Johnson as a potential “gamechanger,” but ministers later walked back that optimism after the tests were found not to work.More recently, a self-imposed target of conducting 100,000 tests per day by the end of April was met — but only for two days, and with the help of thousands of tests that were mailed to homes just before the deadline. Tests have subsequently dropped below that mark for four consecutive days, and slumped to just 69,463 on Tuesday.

Earlier this week the UK took from Italy the unwanted mantle of having the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in Europe, according to official figures.At least 30,076 have died in the country since the start of the outbreak, compared to 29,684 in Italy. Only the US has suffered more fatalities.

CNN’s Vasco Cotovio and Simon Cullen contributed reporting

Kenya floods kill 194 people, displace tens of thousands

From AlJazeera News

Floods and landslides caused by heavy rain in Kenya have killed nearly 200 people, displaced 100,000 and strained critical infrastructure, officials said on Wednesday.

The heavy rain, which accelerated in mid-April, is expected to continue in already hard-hit areas in the coming weeks, the Kenya Meteorological Department said in its most recent forecast. May usually marks the end of the rainy season.

Kenya floods kill 194 people, displace tens of thousands
Floods and landslides have been concentrated in western Kenya [Thomas Mukoya/Reuters]

In Budalangi, western Kenya, residents have had to carry their belongings away from their submerged houses using boats and motorbikes, after the River Nzoia burst its banks.

Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna said on Twitter that over the past three weeks, floods had displaced 100,000 people – complicating efforts to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 24 people in the country.

The government is providing food and water to the displaced people and has also requested the Ministry of Health to provide them with masks as a precautionary measure.

Floods and landslides have been concentrated in western Kenya and have so far killed 194 people, Eugene Wamalwa, the minister in charge of relations between the regional leadership and the national government, said.

“Yesterday alone, we have lost 30 people in a matter of 24 hours,” Wamalwa said.


Energy Minister Charles Keter said the water levels at two major Kenyan dams were unprecedentedly high.

The two dams, Masinga and Turkwel, have a combined installed electricity generation capacity of 140MW, representing about 6 percent of Kenya’s total installed capacity.

As Masinga also feeds into several other dams, officials advised people living near those downstream reservoirs to evacuate.

“We are telling people who are downstream, Garissa all the way to Tana River – things are worsening,” Keter said about residents of the two eastern counties.

“We are asking them to move. Let them not wait for water, because this is historical.”

Security officials were already evacuating residents in high-risk areas, Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i added.

“We are not waiting for people to move – we are moving some people away from danger,” he said.

A trader sits at his shop as he looks at the food waters, after River Nzoia burst its banks and due to the backflow from Lake Victoria, in Buyuku village of Budalangi, in Busia County
The government says the water levels at two major Kenyan dams were unprecedentedly high [Thomas Mukoya/Reuters]

Floods have also destroyed 8,000 acres (3,237.5 hectares) of ricefields, the cabinet secretary for water and irrigation, Sicily Kariuki, said.

Kenya was already facing a looming rice shortage due to shipping disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Heavy rains and landslides could also lead to water shortages, Kariuki said.

“The infrastructure to deliver water has been washed away … pipelines have been clogged,” said Kariuki, asking residents of several cities, including the capital Nairobi, to use their water in a “rational” manner.


NY city considers laying off dozens of police due to COVID-19

Paul Nelson
Times Union

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Even with threatened layoffs of about 40 cops and 33 firefighters, Mayor Gary McCarthy warned the city would also need to make deep cuts to other departments unless federal aid is restored.

McCarthy told City Council members Monday night during their committee meeting that if that money doesn’t materialize and the job cuts don’t happen, the municipality could go bankrupt by the end of the year. The mayor is trying to plug a projected $11.5 million budget hole that is a result of reduced revenue coming in because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said about 33 firefighters and 40 police officers will need to be laid off to make up for pandemic-related revenue losses if the city does not receive federal aid. (Photo/City of Schenectady)
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said about 33 firefighters and 40 police officers will need to be laid off to make up for pandemic-related revenue losses if the city does not receive federal aid. (Photo/City of Schenectady)

His ominous warning came in response to concerns raised by councilwomen Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield about the staff reductions to public safety.

“We have to do everything that we can possibly do to make sure we’re not reducing our police and fire,” said Perazzo.

McCarthy reiterated that employees from other departments in City Hall, not just the police and fire,  could face furloughs.

Perazzo also lamented that the mayor didn’t alert city leaders before going public last week with the possible cuts to public safety.

She also pushed for a conversation about alternative options – including using fund balance and reviewing overtime costs – but that discussion did not happen.

Porterfield said “first-responders is not the first place to go,” and suggested that some of the stimulus monies and possible community development block grant money the city might receive in the future could help bridge the budget deficit gap.

McCarthy took aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion last month about allowing “states to use the bankruptcy route.”

The mayor, a Democrat, said that many upstate cities – including Albany, Troy, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse and Binghamton – are facing the similar fiscal crises as a result of COVID-19.

“There are going to be major reductions in staffing across not only Schenectady but other communities, and we collectively need to get the message out that we need the federal government to step up and be a partner and provide some funding,” added McCarthy. “We will have to make cuts or this city goes really to the point of bankruptcy by the end of this year.”

In the end, the government body agreed on drafting a resolution urging McConnell and other politicians in Washington to restore funding to Schenectady and other municipalities in financial dire straits because of COVID-19.

Last week, McCarthy announced police and fire departments would have to make $3 million and $2 million cuts, respectively.

The mayor conceded laying off dozens of cops and firefighters would have a devastating impact on the city.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

New Zealand coronavirus: Massive car heist under cover of lockdown

From the BBC

It must have looked like the heist of their dreams. A whole yard full of well-maintained rental vehicles, all lined up, unlocked and ready to go – with the keys inside.

So, under cover of New Zealand’s exceptionally strict virus lockdown, a group of thieves went to work.

They cut through the fence of local rental company Jucy in Auckland, lifted the gate from its hinges and began driving out the cars.

New Zealand was at a virtual standstill under the coronavirus lockdown making the theft easy. In fact, so easy it was a temptation too far – and the thieves came back for a second helping. And another.

A total of 97 vehicles were spirited away.

Over several days on a long weekend, they drove the cars in batches from the site and down the deserted roads of Auckland.

“It was like a kick in the guts to be honest,” Tom Ruddenklau, Jucy’s chief rental officer, told the BBC. “We couldn’t believe that when everyone was pitching in and looking after each other as a nation, there would be this brazen theft.”

‘Something was not quite right’

Jucy is a well-known sight on the roads of New Zealand. If you’ve ever been there, it will likely ring a bell. They are among the leading providers of camper vans, one of the most popular ways to explore the country.

The vans’ bright green signature colour is so easy to spot that stealing them would seem downright foolish. Hence, most of the vehicles stolen were normal city cars and only a few were camper vans.

Jucy camper van
Jucy is best known for its camper van rentals

What happened next?

Jucy themselves didn’t even notice the theft until they heard from the police. The cars had been parked on a storage site and over the quiet days of Anzac weekend in late April there’d been no checks by the company.

New Zealand’s roads were very empty at the time with everyone at home due to lockdown rules. But the police were still out on their usual patrol routes.

“We realised that something was not quite right,” police inspector Matt Srhoj told the BBC. “The cars caused suspicion by the way they were driven and a few of our patrol cars ended up in pursuit of those vehicles.

“When we became aware that we came across quite a few of those Jucy vehicles in unusual circumstances we assumed they’d been stolen and alerted the company.”

A wave of local support

A theft during normal times would have been bad enough, but this one felt particularly hard to take at a time when the country was pulling together to beat the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s disappointing – this is the biggest car theft I’ve ever seen,” says Inspector Srhoj. “It is quite sad that people would do this kind of thing when we are under lockdown.”

New Zealand was then under a Level 4 lockdown, with measures going further than in most other countries.

And Jucy had in fact been trying to play their part in the effort. Some of the company’s larger camper vans – which are fitted with a toilet and shower – had been used as isolation homes for people who didn’t have a place to quarantine themselves. The company had also used some of their cars for food delivery services.

Jucy van in front of a restaurant
During the lockdown, some Jucy cars were used for food deliveries

When news of the monster car heist hit the headlines, there was a wave of local support.

“The community really got behind Jucy,” says Mr Ruddenklau, Jucy’s chief rental officer. The company got free billboard space to say their cars had been stolen and people alerted the police whenever they spotted suspiciously low-priced vehicles for sale on online.

‘Police and community have been amazing’

In the end, the lockdown which made the whole theft possible in the first place also became its undoing. The police say the country’s standstill actually made it easier to track down the cars and those who stole them.

One by one, most of the cars were tracked down and returned to Jucy. So far, 85 of the missing vehicles have been recovered and 29 people have been arrested in connection with the heist.

While many of them have links with local gangs, the police say, it doesn’t seem to have been a well co-ordinated effort, let alone one where the thieves had thought their plans through to the end.

Jucy got a nasty shock but has most of its cars back in the line-up for whenever business picks up again. New Zealand has been praised for the way it’s tackled the virus and has slowly begun to lift its lockdown.

“It was devastating for us as a business,” Jucy founder Tim Alpe told the BBC. “It’s a horrible situation but if you can take a positive out of it then it’s that people rallied round to help and the police were outstanding to have arrested a lot of people and recover most of the cars.”

His colleague Tom Ruddenklau agrees: “Hats off to the police and the community, they have been just amazing.”

Inspector Shroj is confident his team will also find the cars still missing.

“We got 85 back so far and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t get the other 12 as well.”

Pentagon officially releases UFO videos

By Michael Conte, CNN

Washington (CNN)

The Pentagon has officially released three short videos showing “unidentified aerial phenomena” that had previously been released by a private company.The videos show what appear to be unidentified flying objects rapidly moving while recorded by infrared cameras. Two of the videos contain service members reacting in awe at how quickly the objects are moving. One voice speculates that it could be a drone.

The Navy previously acknowledged the veracity of the videos in September of last year. They are officially releasing them now, “in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough.

“After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or systems,” said Gough in a statement, “and does not impinge on any subsequent investigations of military air space incursions by unidentified aerial phenomena.”

The Navy now has formal guidelines for how its pilots can report when they believe they have seen possible UFO’s.The Navy videos were first released between December 2017 and March 2018 by To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, a company co-founded by former Blink-182 musician Tom DeLonge that says it studies information about unidentified aerial phenomena.In 2017, one of the pilots who saw one of the unidentified objects in 2004 told CNN that it moved in ways he couldn’t explain.

“As I got close to it … it rapidly accelerated to the south, and disappeared in less than two seconds,” said retired US Navy pilot David Fravor. “This was extremely abrupt, like a ping pong ball, bouncing off a wall. It would hit and go the other way.”

The Pentagon has previously studied recordings of aerial encounters with unknown objects as part of a since-shuttered classified program that was launched at the behest of former Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. The program was launched in 2007 and ended in 2012, according to the Pentagon, because they assessed that there were higher priorities that needed funding.

Nevertheless, Luis Elizondo, the former head of the classified program, told CNN in 2017 that he personally believes “there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone.”

“These aircraft — we’ll call them aircraft — are displaying characteristics that are not currently within the US inventory nor in any foreign inventory that we are aware of,” Elizondo said of objects they researched. He says he resigned from the Defense Department in 2017 in protest over the secrecy surrounding the program and the internal opposition to funding it.Reid tweeted Monday that he was “glad” the Pentagon officially released the videos, but that “it only scratches the surface of research and materials available. The U.S. needs to take a serious, scientific look at this and any potential national security implications.

“And some members of Congress are still interested in the issue, with senators receiving a classified briefing from Navy officials on unidentified aircraft last summer.”

If pilots at Oceana or elsewhere are reporting flight hazards that interfere with training or put them at risk, then Senator Warner wants answers. It doesn’t matter if it’s weather balloons, little green men, or something else entirely — we can’t ask our pilots to put their lives at risk unnecessarily,” Rachel Cohen, spokeswoman for Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, told CNN at the time.

NJ cops save fellow officer after his heart stops from COVID-19 complications

Anthony G. Attrino
NJ Advance Media Group

ESSEX COUNTY, N.J. — A police officer in Essex County diagnosed with coronavirus was taken by ambulance Tuesday morning to a local hospital after his heart stopped beating, authorities said.

Glen Ridge Police Officer Charles “Rob” Roberts, 45, had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was recovering at home when he was stricken, the police department said in a statement.

“Glen Ridge officers responded to his aid and began life-saving measures along with our volunteer ambulance corps,” the statement said.

“They were able to successfully transport him to Mountainside Hospital where he is receiving treatment,” police said.

Roberts is one of several Glen Ridge police officers who have contracted the virus and are recovering at home, police said.

“Please keep Officer Roberts as well as our other officers in your thoughts and prayers. We appreciate all of our residents for thinking of Rob and his family during this difficult time,” the statement said.

The police department said Roberts is a familiar face in the community and “known unofficially as Mr. Glen Ridge.” Roberts has been with the borough police department since June 2000.

Death toll reaches 18 in Canada’s worst mass shooting

Rob Gillies for the Associated Press

TORONTO — Canadians on Monday mourned the shocking rampage that left 18 dead in a rural community in Nova Scotia, after a gunman disguised as a police officer opened fire on people hunkered down in their homes, setting many ablaze in the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history.

Officials said the suspect, identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was also among the dead in the weekend attack. Police did not provide a motive for the killings.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers surround a suspect at a gas station in Enfield, Nova Scotia. (Photo/AP)
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers surround a suspect at a gas station in Enfield, Nova Scotia. (Photo/AP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the gunman killed at least 18 people over a large swath of northern Nova Scotia.

“The vast majority of Nova Scotians will have a direct link with one more more of victims. The entire province and country is grieving right now as we come to grips with something that is unimaginable,” Trudeau said.

“The pandemic will prevent us from mourning together in person, but a vigil will be held virtually to celebrate the lives of the victims,” Trudeau said, adding it would take place Friday night through a Facebook group.

Trudeau asked the media to avoid mentioning the name of the assailant or showing his picture.

“Do not give this person the gift of infamy,” he said.

Police began advising residents overnight Saturday in the rural town of Portapique, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Halifax, to lock their doors and stay in their basements. The town, like all of Canada, had been adhering to government advice to remain at home because of the coronavirus pandemic and most of the victims were inside their homes when the attack began.

Several bodies were later found inside and outside one home on Portapique Beach Road, the street where the suspect lived, authorities said.

Bodies were also found at several other locations within about a 50-kilometer (30-mile) area from the neighborhood where the shootings began late Saturday, and authorities believe the shooter may have targeted his first victims but then began attacking randomly. Several homes in the area were set on fire.

At least four white forensic vans were seen Monday morning entering the neighborhood where the shootings began.

Authorities said the suspected gunman wore a police uniform at one point and made his car look like a Royal Canadian Mounted Police cruiser.

“That fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal certainly speaks to it not being a random act,” Mounted Police Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said. He said many of the victims did not know the shooter and authorities believe he acted alone.

According to his high school yearbook, Wortman long had a fascination with the Mounties.“Gabe’s future may including being an RCMP officer,” the yearbook profile said.

The dead officer was identified as Constable Heidi Stevenson, a mother of two and a 23-year veteran of the force. Another officer was wounded.

Also among the dead was school teacher Lisa McCully, who worked at a local elementary school. Nova Scotia Teachers Union President Paul Wozney said. “Our hearts are broken along with those of her colleagues and students at Debert Elementary,” he said.

Two health care workers at local nursing homes were also among those killed, according to Von Canada, a long term health care company, which identified them as Heather O’Brien, a licensed practical nurse, and Kristen Beaton, a continuing care assistant.

Wortman, who owned a denture practice in in the city of Dartmouth, near Halifax, lived part time in Portapique, according to residents of the town.

Police initially said Wortman had been arrested Sunday at a gas station in Enfield, outside Halifax, but later said he had died. It was not clear how, and they did not provide further details, although one police official said that there was an exchange of gunfire between the suspect and police at one point.

Cpl. Lisa Croteau, a spokeswoman with the provincial force, said police received a call about “a person with firearms” late Saturday night, and the investigation “evolved into an active shooting investigation.”

Christine Mills, a resident of the area, said it had been a frightening night for the small town, with armed officers patrolling the streets. In the morning, helicopters flew overhead searching for the suspect. “It’s nerve-wracking because you don’t know if somebody has lost their mind and is going to beat in your front door,” she said.

Tom Taggart, a lawmaker who represents the Portapique area in the Municipality of Colchester, said the quiet community has been shaken.

“This is just an absolutely wonderful, peaceful quiet community and the idea that this could happen in our community is unbelievable,” Taggart said. He said he didn’t know Wortman well, but spoke to him a few times when he phoned about municipal issues and described knowing Wortman’s “lovely big home” on Portapique Beach Road.

Wortman is listed as a denturist — a person who makes dentures — in the city of Dartmouth, near Halifax, according to the Denturist Society of Nova Scotia website. Atlantic Denture Clinic, the practice Wortman owned, was closed for the past month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Leather, the police superintendent, said authorities were investigating whether the attack had anything to do with the coronavirus pandemic but no link has been found thus far.

Mass shootings are relatively rare in Canada. The country overhauled its gun-control laws after gunman Marc Lepine killed 14 women and himself at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique college in 1989. Before this weekend’s rampage, that had been the country’s worst mass killing.

It is illegal to possess an unregistered handgun or any kind of rapid-fire weapon in Canada. The country also requires training, a personal risk assessment, two references, spousal notification and criminal record checks to purchase a weapon.

A van attack two years ago in Toronto left 10 people dead and 16 wounded. The suspect, who drove his van on a busy Toronto sidewalk, said he carried out the attack in retribution for years of sexual rejection and ridicule by women, is awaiting trial.

Associated Press

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

One third of NHS staff and key workers tested in the UK have coronavirus, amid concerns over access to protective equipment

By Rob Picheta for CNN in London

A third of NHS staff and key workers who have been tested for coronavirus in the UK have returned positive results, new British government data shows.

According to figures released Monday, 16,888 people who fall into the category of “key workers and their households,” and who have shown symptoms or live with symptomatic people, have been tested. So far, 5,733 — or 34 percent — were confirmed to have the virus.Health workers who are not symptomatic and do not live with people who are do not meet the UK’s criteria for testing, so the number is not necessarily representative of all workers.

The government has been under intense pressure to ramp up testing for NHS workers and their families, and to improve their access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said that the ultimate goal is to provide testing to all NHS workers regardless of symptoms.

But the level of testing in the UK remains drastically lower than several European countries. Responding to criticism over the rate, Hancock said on April 2 he would increase the number from 10,000 to 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month — saying he was “determined we’ll get there”.On April 12, however, only 14,506 tests were conducted according to his Health Department, suggesting the government is significantly behind that goal.

On the issue of equipment, meanwhile, Hancock said Sunday that the government was “working night and day to make sure that we get the right PPE.”At least 19 NHS workers battling the coronavirus pandemic have died, and numerous associations representing medical workers have complained that they have not been provided with enough PPE to safely treat Covid-19 patients.

On Monday, the Royal College of Nursing issued guidance that staff were entitled to refuse to work if they did not feel comfortable doing so: “If the employer does not provide appropriate PPE and a safe working environment, as an employee you can refuse to care for a patient.”The union emphasized that this should be a “last resort,” and that “you must be able to justify your decision as reasonable, so keep a written record of the safety concerns that led you to withdraw treatment.”

Donna Kinnair, the union’s chief executive, told the BBC on Saturday that British nurses do not have adequate protection.”My inbox, on a daily basis, this is the number one priority that nurses are bringing to my attention — that they do not have adequate supplies of PPE equipment,” she said.

CNN’s Simon Cullen contributed reporting

‘A gummy bear has more teeth’ than stay-at-home orders — so NC sheriff adds a curfew

Mark Price
The Charlotte Observer

COLUMBUS COUNTY, N.C. — A blunt talking North Carolina sheriff has stirred a hornet’s nest on social media by challenging the idea that stay-at-home orders are the smartest way to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene says curfews are needed, too — something a small but growing number of communities have started enacting to keep people at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew went into effect last Wednesday in Columbus County.

“A gummy bear has more teeth than the Governor’s stay at home order,” Greene posted on his personal Facebook page.

“I requested the curfew because our County Manager did not have a plan in place nor did he want to make a decision. …COVID is more contagious than the flu and is predicted to kill over 100,000 people,” he wrote. “Therefore, to protect the citizens of Columbus county I asked for something to be put in place that law enforcement could enforce.”

Curfews — most of them from sunset to sunrise — have been considered a last resort for cities and counties trying to stop the spread of the potentially fatal virus. But a jump in infections over the past two weeks has led to more communities exercising the option, including Columbia, S.C., Miami Beach, Florida, Flint, Michigan and Fayetteville, N.C., the home of Fort Bragg.

As of Friday morning, just under a quarter of a million Americans were confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 6,000 people in the US have died from the virus while another 9,000 have recovered.

Stay-at-home orders have been criticized by some law enforcement officials because they are tough to enforce. The orders allow people to leave their home for “essential” health and welfare business, a provision that is easy to abuse.

Greene believes some people, including community leaders, aren’t taking the pandemic seriously enough — and that is putting first responders at risk.

“It’s time to take the politics out of this pandemic. We all are aware it is election year. People are more worried about a vote than the health, safety and well-being of our communities,” he posted.

Restrictive curfews remain controversial with news outlets like Reason.com calling them “self-imprisonment orders from panicky politicians.

“There is apparently a new competition afoot in this coronavirus-cursed country: Politicians vying to see who can impose the most freedom-infringing clampdown in the name of flattening the curve,” wrote Matt Welch on the site. “I, too, urgently hope that people mostly stay the hell away from each other over the coming weeks. But not at gunpoint.”

Social media reaction to the Columbus County curfew has been largely supportive, though debates rage on whether coronavirus curfews are necessary.

“Politicians and unelected bureaucrats are NOT kings,” posted Stephen Benton on the sheriff’s Facebook page. “There will very soon be wide spread civil unrest and it won’t just be the usual trouble making rabble that law enforcement usually deals with easily. No, it’ll probably be normally law abiding citizens who are armed to the teeth.”

“I’m conservative and about our liberty. I’m also about common sense, and this is a very common sense decision,” wrote John White in support of the curfew.

“Too many people are going about their day as normal. This virus is serious. It’s killing people of all ages and could wipe out our elderly population,” Charles Nance commented.

One Facebook commenter said he had actually been stopped by deputies the day Columbus County’s curfew went into effect at 10 p.m.

“The Sheriff’s department is taking this curfew very seriously,” Jeremy Ryan Hinson of Whiteville, N.C, wrote. “I was on my way home … when I was pulled over at 10:05 pm. The officer was very nice but stern about how serious this curfew is. I truly appreciate our law enforcement working to protect the citizens of Columbus County.”McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Parts of the US will endure a devastating week from coronavirus, health officials say. But there are also signs of hope

By Holly Yan and Madeline Holcombe, CNN

US health officials say this will be the toughest week yet in the fight against coronavirus as the death toll approaches 10,000.Mortuaries in New Orleans are out of space, and the mayor said she needs help getting more refrigeration.

New York, New Jersey and Detroit will see peaks in hospitalizations and deaths this week, the US Health and Human Services assistant secretary said.Such peaks will happen in other US cities in the coming weeks, Dr. Brett Giroir told NBC’s “Today” show Monday.He said peaks reflect infections that occurred two or three weeks ago.”We may be seeing the worst upon us right now in terms of outcomes,” Giroir said.The virus has infected over 337,000 people in the US and killed more than 9,600, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

But there may be many more deaths from coronavirus than we realize, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Some “may be misclassified as pneumonia deaths in the absence of positive test results,” the CDC said.”We really are just seeing the tip of the iceberg, and a lot of it has to do with the tests we have available,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams described the week ahead as a “Pearl Harbor moment” and a “9/11 moment.” He told “Fox News Sunday” that this week will be the “hardest and the saddest” week many Americans have ever faced.

What hotspots across the country are grappling with

In New Orleans, the coroner’s office and mortuaries have reached their limits, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. She’s asked the federal government for additional refrigeration.

The New Orleans convention center, which sheltered Hurricane Katrina evacuees 15 years ago, has now been converted into an emergency hospital. It’s set to open Monday.Across Louisiana, more than 13,000 people have been infected with coronavirus and at least 477 have died. Gov. John Bel Edwards said his state could run out of ventilators by the end of the week if cases continue to surge.But the hardest-hit state, New York, reported a bit of good news. On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported a drop in the daily number of reported deaths for the first time in days.He also said ICU admissions and daily intubations were down and the hospital discharge rate was “way up.”But Cuomo warned it’s still too soon to tell if the trend will hold. He said New York may be approaching its peak in cases.

Religious holidays threaten social distancing

Health officials are stressing the need for social distancing as several faiths observe religious holidays.This week is Holy Week in the Christian faith, culminating with Easter on Sunday. The Jewish holiday of Passover starts Wednesday evening. And the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins later this month.

Churches hold Palm Sunday services despite state bans on gatheringsBoston Mayor Marty Walsh said he empathized with worshipers but implored them to stay home.”I know it’s a very difficult thing, as a Catholic,” Walsh said.Many states have exemptions from stay-at-home orders for religious gatherings. But even in states with stricter orders, some church leaders are defying the rules and still holding service.The Rev. Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was charged last week with violating the state’s ban. But on Sunday, he and 1,200 congregants gathered again.What you need to know about coronavirus

“We don’t get our rights to worship freely from the government. We get those from God,” Spell said Sunday. “We’d rather obey God than man.”Many places of worship are holding services virtually to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus.Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez thanked religious leaders who held services online, calling it the “safest way to keep us all connected.”

Scrambling for solutions

With no end to this pandemic in sight, more Americans are getting creative in helping fight the virus’s spread.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will open more than 1,500 hospital beds for civilians in multiple states, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said.The VA is helping in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan and Massachusetts.Across the country, more Americans are wearing homemade cloth masks as health care workers worry about dwindling supplies of surgical masks.The surge in people wearing cloth masks in public came after the CDC said it could help prevent asymptomatic carriers of the virus from infecting others.

And 3D printer companies are stepping in to help hospitals in dire need of face shields.Doctors and nurses say any help is needed.In one Brooklyn emergency room, it seems almost every patient — no matter what they came in for — is found to have coronavirus, Dr. Sneha Topgi said.”I think we’re still at the beginning, and I am scared,” Topgi said. “I’m scared for myself, and I’m scared for everyone in general.”

CNN’s Jacqueline Howard, Gisela Crespo, Dakin Andone, Sheena Jones, Laura Ly, Athena Jones and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.

Kentucky city orders COVID-19 patients refusing to self-isolate to wear tracking devices

By Kala Kachmar and Darcy Costello of the Louisville Courier-Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two Louisville coronavirus patients and a family member have been ordered by circuit judges to isolate and wear tracking devices after health officials learned they’d been in public against medical advice.

Issuing health-related civil orders is new territory for the courts, according to Judge Charles Cunningham, who issued two Friday. The third was issued earlier this month when a South End resident who tested positive for coronavirus refused to self-isolate.

But the orders are essential for keeping the community safe when infected patients refuse to self-quarantine, officials said during Mayor Greg Fischer’s Facebook Live briefing Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, seven people have died of the virus in Jefferson County and 18 across Kentucky.

“The home incarceration program is well-suited for this,” said Amy Hess, the city’s chief of public services, which includes oversight of Metro Corrections and Emergency Services. “It provides us with the proper amount of distancing. We can monitor activity after (the monitoring device) gets affixed to them … to make sure they’re not further affecting the community.

Cunningham told The Courier Journal on Tuesday the two individuals he ordered isolated were living together, but only one had tested positive for coronavirus. 

The city’s health department submitted a request for the order, which indicated one of the individuals was “walking around” and the other, based on a phone call, was thought to be out of the house, Cunningham said.

Not enough Louisvillians are taking pandemic guidelines seriously, Fischer stressed again Tuesday. In addition to closing libraries, community centers, the zoo and even some parks over the past few weeks, he’s instructed police to cut back on the types of calls for service officers respond to.

And, in response to a lack of respect for his orders, he even had basketball rims taken off backboards in parks.

Both Hess and Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said the biggest fear is the spread of the virus among first responders such as police officers, firefighters and ambulance workers, especially when “the surge” of coronavirus patients that’s expected starts to overwhelm local hospitals.

So far, one police officer and two firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19, city officials have said. At least eight additional firefighters went into self-quarantine in connection to Louisville Fire’s two positive cases.

An officer who was sent to attach ankle monitors following Friday’s isolation order has a 101-degree fever and is being tested for COVID-19, said Tracy Dotson, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 77, which represents the workers.

“If we’re going to be doing this, fine. That’s what we signed up for,” Dotson said. “But we’d like to be adequately protected, as our sister agencies are. We don’t think that’s too big of an ask. If nothing else, just for peace of mind for those officers.

“It would make me nervous if I showed up in a paper mask and some safety goggles and I saw the two guys there to work with me from different agencies in full respirators,” he added.

Steve Durham, spokesman for Metro Corrections, declined to confirm whether an officer is being tested. He also said first responders wear personal protective equipment recommended by medical professionals, which includes a gown, goggles, gloves and a mask.McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Minnesota Fire Department Temporarily Suspends EMS Responses Due to Lack of PPE

From FireFighterNation

STEWARTVILLE, Minn. – Stewartville is temporarily suspending EMS in its first response area.

KMIT reports that the Stewartville Fire Department is the only fire service provider for Stewartville and surrounding townships.

Officials say firefighters need to stay healthy to continue to respond to fires and accidents.

Because of the shortages of personal protection equipment, Stewartville does not have enough masks for its firefighters on medical calls.

Mayo Clinic Ambulance will continue to respond to calls in the Stewartville area.

Stewartville firefighters will be ready as a back-up on medical calls.

Stewartville will be able to lift this suspension whenever it is able to secure more personal protective equipment.

Reports of fake police on the rise in Colo. since stay-at-home order

By Shelly Bradbury for The Denver Post

GREELEY, Colo. — Several suspected police impersonators directed a driver into a roadblock in Greeley early Friday morning and questioned the driver about why she was out despite the state’s coronavirus stay-at-home order.

The woman told Greeley police that she was driving around 4:50 a.m. when she was stopped near 10th Street and Promontory Circle by a man in a dark uniform who was wearing a gas mask.

The man directed her into an area marked with traffic cones where three or four silver cars were parked, some with red and blue lights flashing in their dashboards, Cmdr. Rafael Gutierrez said Sunday. At least one car had a spotlight.

The woman said she saw multiple people wearing yellow traffic vests. In the roadblock, a man wearing a baton and pepper spray questioned the driver about why she was out, Gutierrez said.

“The individual asked to see her license, insurance and registration, and demanded explanation as to why she was violating COVID-19 law,” Gutierrez said. “He told the woman she could get charged with a violation for being out. And apparently he showed her something she thought looked like a ticket but it was never given to her.”

After about 10 minutes, the man let the woman leave, Gutierrez said. The woman told police she was the first of between five and seven cars to be directed into the roadblock. The woman did not see any badges or logos, Gutierrez said.

Greeley police did not conduct the roadblock, and officers checked with other law enforcement agencies, including the Weld County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol, Gutierrez said. No agencies were conducting any sort of operation like what the woman described. Additionally, no law enforcement agency checked the woman’s name or license plate through official channels, he said.

“We’re doing what most other departments are doing and seeking voluntary compliance and doing education before we would resort to any type of enforcement,” Gutierrez said, adding that Greeley police have no plans to conduct such roadblocks.

“We are actively pursuing an investigation on this and hopefully we can figure out who they are and get an explanation for their actions, and if they are doing it for criminal reasons then we can pursue the appropriate charges against them,” he said.

Reports of police impersonation seem to be on the rise since the state’s stay-at-home order was issued last week. Gutierrez said he’d heard of at least one similar incident that occurred somewhere between Loveland, Greeley and Larimer County. Police in Aurora also reported a incident that happened on March 25.

In Aurora, a woman was pulled over at midnight by a man in a dark Crown Victoria that was equipped with red and blue lights and also questioned about why she was out during the stay-home order. That man was wearing a dark blue uniform without a badge.

“This isn’t something that is unique, we have reports of people impersonating officers all the time,” Gutierrez said. “It could be the fact that there is a stay home order that may be prompting more individuals to have a belief or suspicion that they could contact people and not be questioned in that regard.”

The statewide stay-at-home order prohibits most travel but allows residents to make trips that are essential for daily life, like grocery shopping, delivering supplies or going to the pharmacy. Those who work at businesses deemed essential are also allowed to be out-and-about.

Law enforcement agencies across the state have said they will issue multiple warnings to residents who violate the order before issuing any citations, and some, like Denver police, have said they do not intend to stop vehicles to check for compliance.

Anyone who is concerned they are being pulled over by a fake law enforcement officer can call the local police dispatch or 911 to check whether the stop is legitimate, Gutierrez said. Concerned drivers can also drive to the nearest police station, fire station or well-lit, populated area.

With Most Coronavirus Cases in Africa, South Africa Locks Down

South Africa is now the epicenter of the pandemic in Africa, with more than 1,000 confirmed cases across the country’s nine provinces.

Members of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department check commuters’ documents at a roadblock on the first day of South Africa’s lockdown.
Members of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department check commuters’ documents at a roadblock on the first day of South Africa’s lockdown.Credit…Michele Spatari/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Lynsey Chutel and Abdi Latif Dahir for the New York Times

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — When the clock struck midnight on Friday, South Africa, Africa’s most industrialized nation, ordered most of its 59 million people to stay at home for three weeks — the biggest and most restrictive action in the African continent to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The lockdown was precipitated by an alarming increase in confirmed coronavirus cases across the nation’s nine provinces. Three weeks after the first infection was discovered in South Africa, the country is now the epicenter of the outbreak in the continent, with more than 1,000 confirmed cases, double the cases in Egypt.

In Johannesburg, the biggest city, shops and offices were shuttered in observance of the lockdown, announced on Tuesday. A few delivery trucks, minibus taxis and ambulances drove through roads normally clogged with rush-hour traffic.

Downtown Johannesburg on Friday.
Downtown Johannesburg on Friday.Credit…Kim Ludbrook/EPA, via Shutterstock

“People didn’t have enough time to prepare,” said Dineo Mafoho, 25, sitting outside a taxi stand trying to get home to Diepsloot, a township in the city’s outskirts.

As a cleaner, she’s considered essential personnel, and so allowed to be out. Wearing pink lipstick, but not the face mask or gloves that essential workers have been asked to wear, she said she “just can’t get used to it.

While the deadly virus was slow to take hold across Africa, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths there has gradually increased in recent days, raising fears about the continent’s readiness to deal with a pandemic.

To date, 46 African states have reported a total of 3,426 positive cases and 94 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Besides South Africa and Egypt, the countries of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Senegal have all reported over 100 cases, mostly imported by visitors from Europe.

So far the virus has spread fastest in some of Africa’s most economically developed countries, like South Africa and Egypt, which have more air connections and commerce with Europe and China, and have the capacity to do the testing to confirm positive cases.

The spike in numbers has pushed other African countries to also undertake strict measures. Kenya, Egypt, and Senegal have imposed overnight curfews; Uganda has restricted visitors from high-risk countries; and Rwanda has banned inter-country travel.

In Zimbabwe, nurses in state hospitals walked off their jobs for lack of protective equipment even as the southern African state was shaken by its first death from the virus, a prominent television journalist.

In Burkina Faso, five government ministers and two ambassadors — including the American ambassador, Andrew Young — tested positive for coronavirus. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a senior aide to President Felix Tshisekedi died of the virus this week.

South Africa is one of the world’s most unequal societies, with millions of people living in cramped, unhygienic conditions in townships with no clean water or public health care. For many of these people, the lockdown will impose great hardships.

Streets across the country were largely silent.
Streets across the country were largely silent.Credit…Kim Ludbrook/EPA, via Shutterstock

In informal settlements and rural areas, residents usually have to stand close to one another to collect water or queue to use shared latrines, making it difficult to maintain a physical distance, said Alana Potter, director of research and advocacy at the nonprofit Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa.Sign up to receive our daily Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide with the latest developments and expert advice.Sign Up

Also, the vast majority of poor people, she said, generate their livelihoods in an informal economy. Under lockdown, “street vendors can’t trade, which will destroy their livelihoods — and low-income households that rely on vendors for food supply will now have to pay more to access food,” she said.

South Africa also has a significant percentage of its population living with chronic, underlying conditions including H.I.V., tuberculosis, diabetes, and asthma — putting them at risk of developing serious complications from Covid-19.

“South Africa’s medical system is overburdened even in normal times,” said Atiya Mosam, a medical doctor and co-founder of Public Health Action Team, a group of doctors working to improve South Africa’s health care system.

“If the virus spreads like it has in China or Italy or the United States,” she continued, “it’s going to be very difficult for South Africa to respond. We cannot afford that.”

In announcing the lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said the measures were aimed at preventing “a human catastrophe of enormous proportions.” And although he acknowledged that they would affect the South African economy, he said “the human cost of delaying this action would be far, far greater.”

Ronak Gopaldas, director of the Cape Town-based consultancy Signal Risk, said that in general, “Coronavirus will undoubtedly have a contractionary impact on what is a stagnant economy” in South Africa.

The country, he said, will particularly be affected by the economic slowdown in China, the country’s largest trading partner. Diminished demand from China, he said, will likely drive down exports, affecting sectors from mining and manufacturing to tourism.

People were arrested for defying the lockdown order in Johannesburg.
People were arrested for defying the lockdown order in Johannesburg.Credit…Michele Spatari/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Across South Africa, people had been bracing for the lockdown. ​Some had piled shopping carts high with bottles of beer and wine, preparing for a much-debated feature of the lockdown — a ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco. Anyone defying the ban would face a penalty, the authorities said.

In Johannesburg on Thursday, hours before the lockdown took effect, a line stretched outside Makro, a wholesale store. Tshidi Molubi, a 51-year-old resident of the Soweto neighborhood, joined the queue before the store opened at 9 a.m.

She was laid off from a bank a few months earlier, and said she was using her savings to buy essentials like rice, flour and eggs.

“If you can’t go out, at least we can make a dumpling,” Ms. Molubi said.

Akhona Makasi, a 35-year-old freelancer in the film industry, left Johannesburg on Wednesday to visit her grandparents in the Eastern Cape province. But she said she had rushed home “without calculating the risk.”

Few people wore masks on the journey home and when she used hand sanitizer and disinfected her seat, commuters in the packed bus complained about the smell.

At home, her grandparents refused to self-isolate or ask that visitors sanitize their hands. Villagers gathered for a funeral and slaughtered a cow.

“If I had a basic income, I would have stayed in Johannesburg and self-isolated, not risking my grandparents’ lives,” she said.

Lynsey Chutel reported from Johannesburg, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya. Ruth Maclean contributed reporting from Dakar, Senegal.

Coronavirus: Uber and Deliveroo offer UK Health Service free trips and food

From the BBC

Ride hailing giant Uber and takeaway firm Deliveroo are offering hundreds of thousands of free trips and meals to NHS staff fighting the coronavirus.

Uber is giving away 200,000 rides worth up to £15 and 100,000 free meals worth up to £10.

Deliveroo said it would deliver 500,000 hot dishes to NHS Trusts from the likes of Pizza Hut, Itsu and Neat Burger.

However, unions say the firms are “still failing” to support their own low-paid workers during the crisis.

Under its offer, Uber said NHS workers could claim up to 10 car rides or cycle trips per week and five meal vouchers.

It said drivers would get the full fare on the trips as Uber will not charge a service fee.

Deliveroo said hospitals would be able to order hot dishes with it directly, not via its app, starting in London and Manchester, then in all the regions it covers.

It is funding the effort through private donations and corporate contributions, with Pizza Hut having offered to provide 300,000 of the hot dishes.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised both firms for “playing their part in this great national effort”.

Woman using phone to summon a taxi

Earlier in March, Uber and Deliveroo both said they would pay workers for 14 days if they fell sick, as long as they could provide sick notes.

But due to a lack of testing and doctors’ appointments, many could not access help until 21 March when the NHS 111 phone service began offering notes.

The IGWB union said NHS 111 could only backdate a note six days, meaning many drivers would still miss out.

Greg Howard, a Deliveroo rider and the secretary of the IWGB’s couriers and logistics branch, said: “It’s great that Uber and Deliveroo are assisting some front line workers, but its own workers are still being failed by the companies.

“Their coronavirus sick pay policies, at £100 a week, pay around the same as universal credit and some Deliveroo riders that had to self-isolate before 21 March are still being denied even these measly payments.

“Workers that are now facing deeper poverty because of the drop in demand for rides and deliveries are being offered no assistance by their employers.

“Riders and drivers are going above and beyond during this crisis to feed and transport people, they are overdue some basic protections and respect from their employers.”

Deliveroo told the BBC its rider support team had been working 24 hours a day to ensure riders felt supported and safe, and that the feedback from workers had been positive.

United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD), which represents Uber drivers, urged the Department for Transport and Transport for London to do more to protect private hire drivers from infection.

Uber has offered to provide drivers with sanitising spray to wipe down their vehicles, but UPHD chair James Farrar said this was not enough.

“The authorities must immediately enforce strict safety standards for private hire operators including procedures for vehicle disinfecting, regular driver testing and provision of personal protection equipment for drivers.”

In a statement, Uber said it was providing financial assistance to “anyone who drives or delivers with Uber and is diagnosed with Covid-19 or placed in individual quarantine by a public health authority due to their risk of spreading Covid-19. This assistance is now available worldwide.”

State police: 700 NJ LEOs tested positive for COVID-19

Blake Nelson
NJ Advance Media

TRENTON — About 700 New Jersey police officers have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Saturday.

“There’s more than 700 police officers quarantined at home, and there’s about the same … number that have tested positive from all 21 counties,” Col. Patrick Callahan, acting superintendent of the State Police, said in Trenton during the state’s daily coronavirus press briefing.

700 New Jersey law enforcement officers have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Saturday morning, officials said. (Photo/TNS)
700 New Jersey law enforcement officers have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Saturday morning, officials said. (Photo/TNS)

He did not give more detailed numbers or name affected departments, and the State Police did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

But that amount is far higher than previously known. NewarkJersey CityNJ Transit, the Port AuthorityFanwoodHazlet and the State Police have all reported cases.

Two officers that were in “serious condition” are now stable, Callahan said. None have died.

Testing sites in Bergen and Holmdel were only testing symptomatic first responders Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy previously said.

There are about 36,000 full-time officers in the state, according to recent State Police data, and experts said the public should not be concerned about a looming officer shortage.

“If you have the right officers and you have the right supervisors … we are good,” said Maria Haberfeld, a police science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Crime has also dropped in the state, officials have said, which could help departments cope with any short-staffing, according to Jon Shane, a retired Newark police captain who teaches at John Jay.

We don’t need as many police officers to respond if the work isn’t there,” he said.

While smaller agencies would be more affected by sick officers, he said, even a steep decline in cops could be offset by help from neighboring departments, state troopers and “special officers,” which are sometimes retired cops at schools.

Police once stationed at casinos and other closed businesses could be moved, Shane said, and non-officers could cover some administrative tasks to free up more people for patrols.

National Guard troops were also recently approved to work in the state.

The state attorney general has raised the alarm, however, about a shortage of protective gear.

“We’re struggling, we are absolutely struggling with PPE across this state,” Gurbir Grewal said Thursday. Some gear had to be wasted breaking up illegal gatherings, he said.

Cops responding to calls are now told which residences have coronavirus patients, although patient names are not shared. Some police are also limiting face-to-face contact, while others are purposely not enforcing some offenses.

New Jersey has at least 11,124 known cases of the virus overall, including at least 140 known deaths, officials announced Saturday.McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Virus Surge Threatens California Hospitals

The USNS Mercy enters the Port of Los Angeles, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Los Angeles. The The 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship is expected to help take the load off Los Angeles area hospitals as they treat coronavirus patients. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)


LOS ANGELES (AP) — The surge of coronavirus cases in California that health officials have warned was coming has arrived and will worsen, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday, while the mayor of Los Angeles warned that by early next week his city could see the kind of crush that has crippled New York.

“We are now seeing the spike that we were anticipating,” Newsom declared while standing in front of the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship Mercy that arrived in the Port of Los Angeles. It will take non-virus patients to free up rooms at hospitals for infection cases.

Newsom said California’s cases grew 26% in one day even with the results of 65,000 tests still pending. Johns Hopkins University tallied more than 4,700 California cases Friday, with at least 97 deaths.

After a slow start, testing has accelerated rapidly, from about 27,000 on Tuesday to 88,000 on Friday.

In Los Angeles County — the nation’s most populous with more than 10 million residents — there were 678 new cases in the past two days for a total of nearly 1,500. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said if the trend continues, the city’s cases could double every two days. That would put Los Angeles on par with New York City’s outbreak in five days.

“We will be where they are,” Garcetti said. “We will have doctors making excruciating decisions. We will be trying to figure out what we do with that surge, how to get ventilators, where to find beds.”

New York City has more than 26,000 cases and at least 366 deaths.

Newsom has said the state could need 50,000 additional hospital beds. Since the crisis started. the state’s 416 hospitals have been able to find space for 30,000 more patients in their facilities. State and local officials have scrambled to find other locations.

Newsom obtained emergency funding from the state Legislature to lease room for more than 500 patients at two hospitals, one in the San Francisco Bay Area that is bankrupt and a Los Angeles facility that closed in January. Beyond the Mercy hospital ship, the military is providing eight field hospitals with room for 2,000 patients.

The massive Los Angeles Convention Center also is being readied to serve as a location for patients. Meantime, state officials are trying to find 10,000 ventilators, and so far have 4,095. Newsom said the only federal help has been 130 ventilators sent to Los Angeles.

It was a subtle, and rare, criticism from Newsom of the Trump administration during the crisis. While the Democratic governor has often sparred with Trump over policies, he has praised the Republican president for his response to the virus. In fact, Newsom’s comments now are part of a Trump campaign ad titled “Hope.”

At his news conference Friday, Newsom said it’s “a time for partnership, not partisanship. As I said, an open hand, not a clenched fist. … I’m candidly grateful for his leadership for the state of California.”

Newsom and Garcetti continued to urge people to stay home and maintain social distancing when out on essential errands

With sunny weather in the forecast, Los Angeles County ordered a three-week closure of public trails, beaches, piers, beach bike paths and beach access points. The order came after hordes of people visited beaches last weekend, the first under expanded closure orders. San Diego County and other local governments have similar restrictions.

Garcetti said the city was prepared to step up its enforcement, including shutting off power to nonessential businesses that refuse to close.

Garcetti added: “99.99 percent of this can be done without any criminal penalty, but we are prepared if anybody is an outlier.”

In San Francisco, where nearly 300 people have tested positive and at least three have died, Mayor London Breed pleaded with people to stay inside. The National Park Service has closed parking lots to popular beaches and open fields. Breed asked people to walk to their neighborhood park if they need fresh air, but not to get in their cars to drive to the beach.

“We know what happened last weekend,” she said. “Sadly, we saw a number of areas in our city that were just jam-packed, and we also saw people who were playing things like volleyball and basketball and other sports” that violate orders for people to stay apart from others.

Meanwhile, Marin County in the San Francisco Bay Area reported its first death related to the virus: a man in his 70s who had been a passenger aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship during a February voyage to Mexico. The man died Friday after being hospitalized for nearly three weeks, county health officials said.

Federal officials announced Thursday that two men who had traveled on the ship had died.

Thousands of passengers on the vessel were quarantined earlier this month after a passenger from a previous trip died and nearly two dozen passengers and crew tesed positive for the virus. Two a former passenger on a previous trip died of the disease.

The virus has had a crippling impact on the economy. Nationwide, more than 3.3 million people have filed for unemployment benefits. About a third of those claims are in California, where thousands of businesses have been forced to close.

On Wednesday, five of the nation’s largest banks plus hundreds of credit unions and state-chartered banks agreed to defer mortgage payments for people affected by the virus. Newsom took that one step further on Friday by ordering a ban on all evictions for renters through May 31. The order takes effect for rents due on April 1. And it only applies to tenants who are not already behind on their payments.

To be eligible, renters must notify their landlords in writing up to seven days after rent is due. Tenants must be able to document why they cannot pay, which include termination notices, payroll checks, medical bills or “signed letters or statements form an employer or supervisor explaining the tenant’s changed financial circumstances.”

Beam reported from Sacramento, California. Associated Press reporters Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento and Janie Har in San Francisco contributed to this report.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

US Congress approves $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package

By William Roberts for Al Jazeera News

The United States Congress gave final approval to a massive $2.2 trillion economic rescue bill on Friday to help lift the economy and address the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, rejecting a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who wanted a formal recorded vote [Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP]
The Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, rejecting a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who wanted a formal recorded vote [Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP]

The Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, rejecting a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who wanted a formal recorded vote.

The bill had passed the Republican-led Senate on Wednesday with overwhelming bipartisan support in a 96-0 vote. Trump has said he will immediately sign the sweeping legislation. 

“We are taking care of our people,” President Donald Trump said this week. 

The bill is the largest rescue package in US history. Addressing the economic crisis, it offers direct payments to most Americans and special financing for big and small businesses.

“This is a pandemic that we haven’t even seen for over 100 years in our country. It’s really such a tragedy. So we had to take important action that puts families first and workers first and that’s what we did,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier this week.  

Pelosi said Congress would likely take up additional legislation in coming weeks to respond to the evolving challenge of the coronavirus, which has so far infected more than 85,000 people and killed more than 1,300 people across the US.

Nancy Pelosi
Pelosi has been instrumental in leading establishment Democratic efforts in Congress [Joshua Roberts/Reuters] 

“Next, we’ll go from emergency mitigation, to recovery,” Pelosi said.

Federal agency leaders scrambled this week to develop plans to implement the new legislation, anticipating urgent demands for help from millions of people and businesses.

The coronavirus crisis has left US businesses flattened by lost business and state-mandated closures. An estimated three million small businesses will need special financing to survive and more than three million workers lost their jobs in just the last week.

As of Friday, there were more questions than answers about how the federal funding will work. Agencies cannot offer authoritative guidance on the new programmes until Trump signs the bill into law.

‘Fails to address states’ needs’

New York has been hit the hardest in terms of the scale and effects of the virus. 

The state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, warned on Thursday the newly approved federal funding for states would not be enough to cover the need in New York, where hospitals are already being overwhelmed with patients. 

“The congressional action, in my opinion, simply failed to address the governmental need,” Cuomo told reporters at a news conference earlier this week.

New York estimates it will lose $10bn to $15bn in revenue because of the economic slowdown. The state would receive $5bn from the federal rescue bill passed by Congress but only for COVID-19 response, not lost revenue, Cuomo said.

State and city authorities around the US were working this week to build capacity at hospitals with more beds and respirators.

Meanwhile, Dr Deborah Birx, the Trump White House coronavirus response coordinator, said on Thursday incoming data from South Korea and Italy suggests projections of fatalities in the US may be less catastrophic than previously thought.

Coronavirus - Manhattan
New York officials warn hospitals could be overwhelmed [Carlo Allegri/Reuters]

White House officials are discussing how to ease travel and business restrictions for areas of the country less affected by the virus.

“What we are trying to do is utilise a laser-guided approach rather than a horizontal approach,” Birx said.

Trump has said he wants to reopen the country for business by April 12, despite warnings from health experts, including some within his administration, who say the US has yet to experience the worst of the pandemic. 

What is in the legislation?

The Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-profit group that tracks US budget deficits, scored total spending under the rescue bill at approximately $2.3 trillion. 

Here is a look at where most of the money will go, according to the budget watchdog: 

  • $510bn – Lending for large businesses, governments
  • $377bn – Small business loans and grants
  • $290bn – Direct payments to most Americans
  • $280bn – Cuts to business taxes
  • $260bn – Expanded unemployment benefits
  • $180bn – Funding for hospitals, healthcare
  • $150bn – Support for state, local governments
  • $72bn – Transportation, public transit
  • $42bn – Social safety net, food and housing 
  • $45bnn – Federal emergency disaster assistance
  • $32bn – Increased spending on education
  • $19bn – Reductions in individual taxes
  • $25bn – Other spending


James Dyson designed a new ventilator in 10 days. He’s making 15,000 for the pandemic fight

By Nada Bashir for London (CNN Business)

Dyson has received an order from the UK government for 10,000 ventilators to support efforts by the country’s National Health Service to treat coronavirus patients.James Dyson, the company’s billionaire founder, confirmed the order in a letter to employees shared with CNN on Wednesday.

A ventilator supports a patient who is no longer able to maintain their own airways, but sadly there is currently a significant shortage, both in the UK and other countries around the world,” Dyson wrote.Dyson said the company had designed and built an entirely new ventilator, called the “CoVent,” since he received a call 10 days ago from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.”This new device can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume,” Dyson added, saying that the new ventilator has been designed to “address the specific needs” of coronavirus patients.A spokesperson for the company, which is best known for its vacuum cleaners and hand dryers, said the ventilators would be ready by early April. Dyson, who has wealth worth $10 billion according to Bloomberg, wrote in his letter that he would also donate 5,000 units to the international effort to tackle the pandemic.”The core challenge was how to design and deliver a new, sophisticated medical product in volume and in an extremely short space of time,” he added. “The race is now on to get it into production.”

James Dyson unveils a new product in Germany.

James Dyson unveils a new product in Germany.Healthcare workers in many parts of the world are having trouble enough critical supplies, such as masks, gloves and ventilators, to deal with the influx of patients suffering from the highly contagious virus.A second UK firm, Gtech, is also working to produce ventilators and has submitted two examples to the government for assessment. The company specializes in cordless vacuum cleaners and garden power tools.In the United States, Ford (F) has announced that it’s working with 3M and GE Healthcare to produce medical equipment including ventilators and protective gear. GM (GM) and Tesla (TSLA) have also pledged to make ventilators.

Virus Misinformation Overload: How to Cope


The coronavirus pandemic is leading to information overload for many people, often making it difficult to separate fact from fiction and rumor from deliberate efforts to mislead.

FILE – In this March 19, 2020, file photo, the Manhattan bridge is seen in the background of a flashing sign urging commuters to avoid gatherings, reduce crowding and to wash hands in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The coronavirus pandemic is leading to information overload for many people, often making it difficult to separate fact from fiction and rumor from deliberate efforts to mislead. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

Already, text messages predicting a nationwide lockdown have circulated, along with social media posts telling people that one way to get tested for the virus is by donating blood or warning that mosquitoes can carry it. All are untrue. Such falsehoods can endanger public health, sow confusion and fear, and prevent important information from reaching people during a crisis. The Associated Press has debunked many such claims, including one about bananas supposedly preventing people from catching the virus and another on “Harry Potter” actor Daniel Radcliffe testing positive.

COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, has stricken thousands across the globe but usually presents only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For older adults and people with other health problems, it can cause complications or sometimes death. Most people recover.

Here are some things you can do to separate fact from misinformation:


We are more likely to believe things our friends tell us — that’s human nature. It’s why rumors spread and why misinformation travels on social media. It’s also why the chain text message warning of a nationwide lockdown worked so well: Everyone heard it from a friend of a friend who “knows someone.” Be wary of important-sounding information that is not coming from a clear, authoritative source, such as local government agencies and health departments, or national and international public health institutes such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Posts may also claim that a politician said or did something. You can check that information through legitimate news outlets or the candidates’ own verified social media accounts.


The top public health institutes in the United States and other countries, along with the WHO, are some of the most trusted sources of information about the outbreak. They provide the latest statistics, advisories and guides on everything from sanitizing your home to managing stress.

Dr. Jessica Justman, an infectious disease expert at Columbia University, said the sheer amount of information online about the coronavirus pandemic can quickly become overwhelming. That’s one reason she encourages people to check the websites of the CDC and the WHO.

“It’s not just misinformation, it’s also a lack of good information,” Justman said. “There’s so much information out there that many people are just saying ‘I can’t read it, it makes me too anxious.’”

“Go straight to the source,” she said. “The CDC has been putting out great information.”

At the same time, be mindful of scammers taking advantage of the CDC’s and other organizations’ trusted names.


“Everyone right now is trying to figure out: What is going on? What do I need to know? Who can I trust?” said John Silva, director of education at the News Literacy Project, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that works with educators to teach students how to navigate the news.

Silva said anyone searching for accurate information about the virus needs to act a little like a journalist by verifying suspicious claims.

Be wary of information from groups or news organizations you don’t know — in some cases the groups behind misinformation create websites and social media accounts that look like a legitimate news organization. Remember that there’s a difference between news stories and opinion pieces. News stories should include the source of the information. If there’s no source or attribution, be suspicious.

In addition to seeking authoritative sources, journalists also seek to confirm information from multiple sources. Even if a news outlet is at first alone in reporting a big development, others will soon follow. If this doesn’t happen, it could be a red flag.


A 2018 study by MIT researchers found that false news travels faster than real news — often much faster. That’s because it’s often designed to grab people’s attention by connecting with their emotions, such as fear or outrage. The researchers, who studied how false news travels on Twitter, also found that misinformation spreads quickly because people retweet it, not due to bot activity. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and retweet a terrifying headline before reading the accompanying article. But pausing before reposting can save you from embarrassment and prevent falsehoods from spreading farther.


Bad actors and trolls looking to exploit people’s fears around coronavirus are using a variety of techniques to sow confusion. False news articles are just a small part of this.

Photos and videos can be edited and altered, and real images can be presented out of context. Again, it helps to look for the source. Google’s reverse image search can help find the origins of a photo. For videos, take a look at who uploaded it — was it a random user? A news outlet? The CDC?

Americans have a duty not to add to an already anxious time by spreading misinformation that could alarm others — or put them at risk, said Dr. Ruth Parker, a physician at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and an expert on health literacy.

“It’s a scary time,” Parker said. “We don’t want to add fuel to the fire. Good information won’t cure us, but it will help to calm us.”

Follow AP coverage of the outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Hospitals Fear Surge of Virus Cases and Shortage of Supplies

A nurse at a drive up COVID-19 coronavirus testing station set up by the University of Washington Medical Center exits a tent while holding a bag containing a swab used to take a sample from the nose of a person in their car, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Seattle. UW Medicine is conducting drive-thru testing in a hospital parking garage and has screened hundreds of staff members, faculty and trainees for the COVID-19 coronavirus. U.S. hospitals are setting up triage tents, calling doctors out of retirement, guarding their supplies of face masks and making plans to cancel elective surgery as they brace for an expected onslaught of coronavirus patients. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By JOHN SEEWER Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Government and hospital leaders are increasingly sounding the alarm about the health care system in the U.S. and its readiness to absorb waves of patients in the worst-case scenario involving the new coronavirus outbreak.

Authorities nationwide already are taking major steps to expand capacity with each passing day, building tents and outfitting unused spaces to house patients. They also are urging people to postpone elective surgeries, dental work and even veterinarian care. New York’s governor called for using military bases or college dorms as makeshift care centers.

Among the biggest concerns is whether there will be enough beds, equipment and staff to handle several large outbreaks simultaneously in multiple cities.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health’s infectious diseases chief, said it’s critical that steps be taken now to prevent the virus from spreading quickly.

“The job is to put a full-court press on not allowing the worst-case scenario to occur,” said Fauci, who appeared Sunday on several network news shows.

While he does not expect massive outbreaks in the U.S. like those in Italy, he said there is the possibility if it reaches that point that an overwhelming influx of patients could lead to a lack of supplies, including ventilators.

“And that’s when you’re going to have to make some very tough decisions,” Fauci said.

In Washington state, which leads the nation in the number of positive COVID-19 cases with more than 600 illnesses and 40 deaths, the increase in people visiting clinics with respiratory symptoms is straining the state’s supply of personal protective gear worn by health care workers.

The federal government has sent the state tens of thousands of respirators, gowns, gloves and other protective gear for health care providers. But those shipments aren’t enough, said Clark Halvorson, Assistant Secretary of Health for Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response.

The disease has infected over 162,000 people worldwide, and more than 6,000 people have died so far.

Most people who have tested positive for the virus experience only mild or moderate symptoms. Yet there’s a greater danger and longer recovery period for older adults and people with existing health problems.

The nation’s hospitals collectively have about a million beds, with 100,000 for critical care patients, but often those beds for the sickest patients are mostly filled, Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“If we do have multiple epidemics in multiple large U.S. cities, the system will become overwhelmed,” he said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suggested mobilizing the Army Corps of Engineers to turn facilities such as military bases or college dorms into temporary medical centers.

“States cannot build more hospitals, acquire ventilators or modify facilities quickly enough,” Cuomo wrote in an opinion piece published Sunday in The New York Times.

Officials in the Seattle area have been setting up temporary housing — and even bought a motel and leased another — to add space for patients who might be homeless or whose living conditions might not allow for self-isolation, such as students in college dorms. King County also is setting up modular housing and is using the arrivals hall at a county-owned airport as a shelter to reduce overcrowding — and meet social-distancing requirements — in existing homeless shelters.

Hospital executives say they’re always planning for disasters and have been concentrating on coronavirus preparations for the past two months.

“If you go past our emergency department now, you’ll see tents erected in the parking lot that allow us to increase emergency department capacity,” Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The system’s network of clinics throughout Los Angeles and Southern California have additional capacity and doctor’s are encouraging telemedicine, he said.

Dr. Peter Slavin, the president of Massachusetts General Hospital, said the next two weeks will be critical as the medical community expects a dramatic increase in the number of cases.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recommended on Saturday that elective surgeries be postponed, including dental and veterinary procedures, so that health care workers won’t be stretched thin and surgical masks can be saved for health care workers dealing with the virus.

ProMedica, which operates 13 hospitals in Ohio and Michigan, is ready to call in help from staffing agencies if needed and is looking at ways to provide child care for employees whose children are off school, said Deana Sievert, chief nursing . Doctors also have voluntarily canceled their vacations.

The community “can flatten off the curve of this,” by avoiding large events, staying at home, washing their hands and practicing social distancing to help U.S. hospitals avoid an onslaught of cases, said Dr. Penny Wheeler, CEO of Minneapolis-based Allina Health, which has 12 hospitals and more than 90 clinics in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Allina also has been canceling conferences, meetings and anything else that does not directly impact patient care.

Associated Press writers Martha Bellisle and Gene Johnson in Seattle and Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis contributed to this report

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

IAFC: What Fire Chiefs Need to Know About the National Emergency Declaration

(White House photo)

From FirefighterNation

International Association of Fire Chiefs

President Trump on March 13 declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, invoking the Stafford Act. Here is what it means for the fire and emergency service:

  • Up to $50 billion in additional funding becomes available for state and local governments through the Disaster Relief Fund.
  • The Disaster Relief Fund allows states to request a 75% federal cost-share for expenses that include emergency workers, medical tests, medical supplies, vaccinations, security for medical facilities, and more
  • Since all Stafford Act reimbursements go through the states, fire chiefs are urged to contact their state emergency managers for guidance

The president said he was also conferring new authority to the Health and Human Services Secretary enabling him to waive regulations and parts of laws—such as hospital stay limits and state medical licenses—to give hospitals and health care providers maximum flexibility.

The IAFC has tools and guidance are available:

Survey for Fire Chiefs

As an effort to monitor and protect the health of firefighters and EMS personnel, the IAFC has developed a Survey for Fire Chiefs to help the IAFC Coronavirus Task Force collect data and analyze the impact the Coronavirus (COVID-19) on emergency response organizations.

The IAFC requests that your organization complete this questionnaire each day at the same time to help us track progress of the event. This information will be especially helpful in identifying the impact of COVID-19 on first responders.

Volunteers Fight COVID-19 by Testing Experimental Vaccine

Pharmacist Michael Witte, left, gives Rebecca Sirull, right, a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Sirull is the third patient to receive the shot in the study.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By CARLA K. JOHNSON AP Medical Writer

SEATTLE (AP) — The first people to roll up their sleeves to receive an experimental vaccine for the coronavirus say they were inspired to help because they wanted to do more to fight the disease than wash their hands and work from home.

Three of the study participants spoke to The Associated Press on Monday following the trial’s first injections in Seattle. They said the shots were no more painful than an ordinary season flu vaccine.

Some will get higher dosages than others to test how strong the dose should be. They will be checked for side effects and have their blood tested to determine whether the vaccine is revving up their immune systems.

The volunteers said they weren’t acting in hopes of protecting themselves. They understand their role is a small part of what could be an 18-month hunt for a successful shot that could be distributed widely.

They work in the tech industry and in health research. Two have children, and all three are working from home to slow the spread of COVID-19.

They are a 43-year-old operations manager at a small tech company, a 46-year-old network engineer at Microsoft and a 25-year-old editorial coordinator at an independent global health research center at the University of Washington.

Jennifer Haller, 43, still cuts up apples for her 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter each morning, even though the teenagers now make their own lunches. She leaves for work before they head to school on a normal day.

On Friday, however, the governor ordered the closure of all Washington state schools that were still open. Her company wants everyone to work from home.

Her husband, a software tester, was laid off last week, a move unrelated to the pandemic. The family’s income was cut in half. The job market looks grim.

“I figure we probably need to prepare for him to be off work for six months,” she said.

Haller works as an operations manager at a small tech company that normally runs out of a shared working space in Seattle. She learned of the vaccine study through Facebook on March 3, the day Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute started recruiting. She submitted her application immediately.

Two days later, she was dining at a Mexican restaurant when she answered a phone call from an unknown number. It was a member of the research team asking if she wanted to participate and if she had 15 minutes to answer some questions. She interrupted her dinner and agreed.

“We all feel so helpless. This is an amazing opportunity for me to do something,” she said Monday.

A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller, left, the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Neal Browning, 46, lives in Bothell, Washington, north of Seattle, with his fiancee and their daughters. He works as a network engineer at Microsoft, one of the first companies to require its employees to work remotely.

At a neighborhood gathering Sunday, Browning watched his daughters and other children improvise a game of tag without touching each other. They’d been told about social distancing, a way to fight the virus by staying away from others.

“Kids are fairly adaptable,” Browning said. “If you give them a set of rules, they like to follow them if at all possible.”

Browning and his fiancee have three daughters between them, ages 8, 9 and 11. The girls are proud of him for testing the first vaccine for the new virus, he said.

“Every parent wants their children to look up to them,” Browning said Monday after his shot. But he’s told the girls not to brag to their friends too much. “It’s other people too. It’s not just Dad out there.”

Pharmacist Michael Witte, left, gives Neal Browning a shot in the first-stage study of a potential coronavirus vaccine Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Browning is the second patient to receive the shot in the study. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Rebecca Sirull, 25, barely stopped working to get her shot Monday, participating in a conference call for work while sitting in the research institute’s clinic.

She moved to Seattle from the Boston area in December to work as editorial coordinator for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

She lives in an apartment with roommates, and her social life took a hit with the coronavirus restrictions. The ultimate frisbee team she joined for the spring season is no longer playing: “Our very first game was canceled,” she said.

“The dating scene is kind of on hold for the moment,” Sirull added. “You know, people talk about finding their quarantine buddy, but I’m happy to kind of wait another couple months. You know, it’s not that pressing an issue right now for me.”

She’s heard friends make dark jokes about parallels between the coronavirus pandemic and the start of every zombie apocalypse movie ever made. “I say, ‘No, guys, it doesn’t have to go that way!’”

She joined the vaccine study as “a way to contribute to the situation in a positive way, considering, you know, the main guidelines that we all have right now are to stay home and do nothing, which is sort of a hard message to hear when you want to help out.”

Pharmacist Michael Witte, left, gives Rebecca Sirull, right, a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Sirull is the third patient to receive the shot in the study.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Italy prohibits travel and cancels all public events in its northern region to contain coronavirus

By Tara John and Ben Wedeman, CNN

(CNN) – Italy has imposed the most draconian lockdown outside mainland China as it attempts to control Europe’s biggest outbreak of the novel coronavirus, restricting the movements of more than 10 million people in the northern part of the country.Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree early Sunday, placing travel restrictions on the entire Lombardy region and 14 other provinces.How religious communities are modifying traditions to prevent coronavirus spreadLocations affected by the lockdown include the financial hub Milan and the tourist destination of Venice and are subject to strict measures, including the closure of schools and universities and the cancellations of all public events, sports events and civil and religious ceremonies.People who do not adhere to the restrictions, which are in place until April 3, will face up to three months in prison and a fine of 206 euros ($232).

A woman walks in the almost deserted Central Station in Milan on Sunday after the lockdown was imposed overnight.

A woman walks in the almost deserted Central Station in Milan on Sunday after the lockdown was imposed overnight.But questions remain as to how it will be enforced as trains and planes continued to go to and from Milan as scheduled on Sunday.”There will be an obligation to avoid any movement of people,” Conte said Sunday as he announced the new measures. “And even within the areas, moving around will occur only for essential work or health reasons.”He added, “We understand that these measures will impose sacrifices, sometimes small and sometimes very big. But this is a time where we must take responsibility. … We need to understand that all of us need to adhere to the measures.”Restrictions have also been imposed throughout the rest of Italy, including the suspension of events at cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas.Schools and university classes will be suspended until March 15, and bars, restaurants and shops must observe a one-meter (3-foot) distance between patrons.The sweeping move came after the country saw a dramatic spike of 1,247 confirmed cases on Saturday, the Civil Protection Department said in a statement.Also, the president of the Italian region of Piedmont — which is not under lockdown — said Sunday that he tested positive for the virus. Alberto Cirio announced on a Facebook that he was in Rome last Wednesday for a meeting of Italian regions to discuss the outbreak.Cirio tested himself as a precaution after Nicola Zingaretti, the head of the Lazio region, got a positive result for the virus.As of Sunday evening, Italy has recorded 7,375 cases and 366 deaths, the most fatalities outside mainland China.

The restrictions could take a toll on Italy's already fragile economy.

The restrictions could take a toll on Italy’s already fragile economy.

The Pope gave a prayer via livestream

As the extraordinary response to the coronavirus affects almost every aspect of Italian life, Pope Francis delivered a livestream prayer from the Vatican.He began his address saying that it was quite unusual for the Pope to be “locked away.””We do this so that the close concentration of people won’t spread the virus,” he said via video, before praying for those suffering from the virus and those who are assisting them.After the prayer, he appeared briefly at a window overlooking an almost empty St. Peter’s Square for a weekly Sunday greeting to pilgrims.

The Pope's prayer was livestreamed in St. Peter's Square.

The Pope’s prayer was livestreamed in St. Peter’s Square.Vatican City reported its first coronavirus case on Friday, but the Vatican dispelled reports that Pope Francis had been tested for the virus, saying he only had a cold.Meanwhile, churches in many cities in the north of Italy — including Bologna, Turin and Venice — suspended their Ash Wednesday services, with some offering Masses online or on local television.Friar Alberto Grandi, who lives in the town of Casalpusterlengo in the Lombardy region, has been in quarantine in the “red zone” with a fever. Yet he remains in high spirits.

A square in Milan is nearly empty as people observe the restrictions.

A square in Milan is nearly empty as people observe the restrictions.During a video call with Friar Marcello Longhi and CNN in Milan, Grandi said the lockdown could lead to more babies being conceived as couples stay at home.As the lockdown began, many Italians were confused about what it would entail or whether they could return home. Michele De Marsico told CNN at a Milan train station Sunday that he was trying to figure out how to return to southern Italy.”I was worried, so I came here to the train station to check out the situation,” the 55-year-old told CNN.The restrictions could take a toll on Italy’s already fragile economy. At the end of February, Italian tourism representatives issued a news release warning that 200 million euros ($260 million) in bookings had been canceled for March since the outbreak was first announced.Hotel worker Alice Baldisserri, 38, told CNN that “Milan’s hotels are empty, so the jobs are at risk.” Baldisserri said Italy’s tourism industry has clearly been “hit the hardest” by the outbreak.The hotel she works at is closed, she said, and she said she has no idea when it will be able to reopen.

CNN’s Tara John wrote from London and Ben Wedeman reported from Milan, Italy. CNN’s Livia Borghese and Hada Messia contributed to this report.

International Women’s Day: You’ll be seeing more police on the streets

By Hayley Elg of the Ballarat Courier, Australia

THIS INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day, you can expect to see more female police officers out and about.

EMPOWERMENT: Senior sergeant Michelle Kilburn, Constable Sarah Torpy, Superintendent Jenny Wilson, Constable Sheree Roberts and Sergeant Kylie Campbell. Photo: Adam Trafford

International Women’s Day, March 8, is a day to celebrate the achievements of women, to raise awareness of bias and to take action for equality.

Victoria Police is one organisation with a long history of female involvement.

Victoria Police began investigating employing women as far back as 1863, as it was not seen as ‘proper’ for a policeman to search female prisoners or suspects. While female police were called for, for decades on end the job fell to the policeman’s wife.

The City of Ballarat was one of the first to campaign for the appointment of a female police officer for the city, as early as 1915. The campaign was on the basis that the city urgently needed female police to supervise and protect at-risk women and children.

Their petition was denied and another formulated during WWII was also.

While female undercover agents were used to gather intelligence prior, the first female officers were appointed as agents in 1917.

Ballarat received its first female policewoman, Elaine Brown, in 1950.

Since then, female representation in the organisation has continued to grow. Of Victoria Police’s more than 22,000 employees, 34 per cent are female.

In the Ballarat region, 30 per cent of employees are female, including the Superintendent.

Ballarat Police Superintendent Jenny Wilson, who this year celebrates 30 years in the police force, said the idea to saturate the city with female police on Sunday would be empowering.

“We have many women in the organisation now so we thought that we could saturate a shift on International Women’s Day to reflect how far policing has come, because it certainly wasn’t like this when I started,” she said.

Ballarat police has a number of women in senior positions now, including several female Senior Sergeants.

There are also a number of female Sergeants and plenty of new female recruits, which Superintendent Wilson said was ‘pretty satisfying’.

Constable Sheree Roberts has been employed for 12 months and said it was encouraging to see senior female members in the workplace, as it represented a path that younger members could take if they choose to.

While recognising that not everybody would want to rise through the ranks, Superintendent Wilson said police had worked hard to give employees opportunities to reach their full potential.

“The organisation is really clear now that we’re clearing pathways so that everybody, no matter who they are, has the same opportunity.”

Nashville tornadoes: at least 25 people killed and hundreds homeless

By the Associated Press

Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee as people slept early on Tuesday, shredding at least 140 buildings and killing at least 25 people. Authorities described painstaking efforts to find survivors in piles of rubble and wrecked basements as the death toll climbed.

A Tennessee emergency management agency spokeswoman raised the death toll on Tuesday morning, after police and fire crews spent hours pulling survivors and bodies from wrecked buildings.

One of the twisters caused severe damage across downtown Nashville, destroying the stained glass in a historic church and leaving hundreds of people homeless.

On Tuesday afternoon, Nashville’s mayor, John Cooper, declared a state of emergency for the city, which helps to free up funds for financial assistance and streamline supplies and services to those affected.

Daybreak revealed a landscape littered with blown-down walls and roofs, snapped power lines and huge broken trees, leaving city streets in gridlock. Schools, courts, transit lines, an airport and the state capitol were closed, and some damaged polling stations had to be moved only hours before Super Tuesday voting began.

“Last night was a reminder about how fragile life is,” Cooper said at a news conference.

Residents of the historic Germantown neighborhood walked around in dismay as emergency crews closed off roads. Roofs had been torn off apartment buildings, large trees were uprooted and debris littered many sidewalks. Walls were toppled, exposing living rooms and kitchens in damaged homes. Mangled power lines and broken trees came to rest on cars, streets and piles of rubble.Advertisement

The death toll grew with more people missing, the governor, Bill Lee, said.

“It is heartbreaking. We have had loss of life all across the state,” said Lee, who ordered all nonessential state workers to stay home before he surveyed the damage from a helicopter.

The tornadoes were spawned by a line of severe storms that stretched from near Montgomery, Alabama, into western Pennsylvania.

In Nashville, the tornadoes tore through areas transformed by a recent building boom. Germantown and East Nashville are two of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods, with restaurants, music venues, high-end apartment complexes and rising home prices threatening to drive out longtime residents.

“The dogs started barking before the sirens went off, they knew what was coming,” said Paula Wade, of East Nashville. “Then we heard the roar … Something made me just sit straight up in bed, and something came through the window right above my head. If I hadn’t moved, I would’ve gotten a face full of glass.”

Then she looked across the street at the East End United Methodist church and said the damage broke her heart.

An overturned truck in Nashville.
 An overturned truck in Nashville. Photograph: Mark Humphrey/AP

“It’s this beautiful Richardson Romanesque church; the bell tower is gone, the triptych widow of Jesus the Good Shepherd that they just restored and put back up a few weeks ago is gone,” she said.

One tornado reportedly stayed on the ground for about 10 miles, into Nashville’s eastern suburbs, following a path parallel to Interstate 40 and causing more damage in Mt Juliet, Lebanon, Hermitage and other communities.

“Our community has been impacted significantly,” the Mt Juliet police department tweeted. Homes were damaged and injuries were reported. “We continue to search for injured. Stay home if you can.”

Videos posted online showed what appeared to be a well-defined tornado moving quickly across the Nashville area, flashing with lightning as it ripped open living rooms and exposed kitchens to the elements. Metro Nashville police said crews were responding to about 40 building collapses.

Among them was a popular music venue that had just held an election rally for Bernie Sanders. The crowd had left shortly before the twister struck the Basement East Nashville, the Tennessean reported.

The disaster affected voting in Tennessee, one of 14 Super Tuesday states. Some polling sites in Nashville were moved, and sites across Davidson and Wilson counties were opening an hour late but still closing at the same time, the secretary of state, Tre Hargett, announced.

A reported gas leak forced an evacuation of the IMT building in Germantown, according to WSMV-TV. Dozens of people, suddenly homeless, were seen carrying their belongings through garbage-strewn streets after the tornado blew through.

Nashville Electric tweeted that four of its substations had been damaged in the tornado. Power outages were affecting more than 44,000 customers early on Tuesday, the utility company said. The outage also extended to the capitol building, forcing the cancellation of legislative meetings.

Several airplane hangars were destroyed and power lines were downed at John C Tune airport, Nashville international’s sister airport in West Nashville, where a spokeswoman, Kym Gerlock, urged people to stay away until further notice.

Schools in Nashville were closed on Tuesday. Wilson county, just east of metro Nashville, will close schools for the rest of the week.

The storm system left scattered rain in its wake. Strong cells capable of causing damage were spotted in central Alabama, eastern Tennessee and the western Carolinas. Early morning storms also damaged homes and toppled trees in rural central Alabama, where the National Weather Service reported winds up to 60mph and issued tornado warnings for at least five counties.

Coronavirus News: MTA working nightly to scrub down all stations, trains, buses amid COVID-19 outbreak

By Eyewitness News

NEW YORK (WABC) — Fears over the novel coronavirus have led to an ambitious plan to disinfect the entire MTA system nightly.

Workers are scrubbing down all 472 stations and all 6,714 subway cars, along with every Metro-North, LIRR and Staten Island railroad stop and train.

5,700 buses are also being wiped down, along with 1,341 access-a-ride vans.

The idea is to sanitize anything an MTA customer might touch every 72 hours, a key step in the densest city in America now that coronavirus is here.

“People are going to test positive,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “Not just one or two, or three or five. There will be many who test positive.”

Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced New York’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, a 39-year-old healthcare worker who lives in Manhattan and recently returned from virus-ravaged Iran with her husband who is also being tested.

Officials are reaching out to fellow passengers on their flight and the driver who took them home.

As the city ramps up testing, the plans are to process 1,000 tests a day.

“When you go to the doctor you present symptoms, they’ll do a nasal swab,” said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “They’ll test for the 26 most common viruses that may be accounting for your symptoms, but then we would take a similar sample that swab and send it to the public health lab to be run.”

In order to fund all of the testing and to fight the illness, state lawmakers approved a $40 million spending bill.

Governor Cuomo said that cleaning in senior centers, where you have a more fragile population, will also be ramped up.

The CDC’s confirming more than a hundred coronavirus cases across the country, claiming at least six lives, with the majority of known cases clustered on the west coast.

In the Seattle area, public health experts think the virus has been replicating and spreading silently for six weeks.

“The risk for all of us becoming infected will be increasing,” said Jeff Duchin, of Seattle public health.

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You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus

By JAMES HAMBLIN of The Atlantic

A model hospital ward

Updated at 7:43 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2020.

In May 1997, a 3-year-old boy developed what at first seemed like the common cold. When his symptoms—sore throat, fever, and cough—persisted for six days, he was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. There his cough worsened, and he began gasping for air. Despite intensive care, the boy died.

Puzzled by his rapid deterioration, doctors sent a sample of the boy’s sputum to China’s Department of Health. But the standard testing protocol couldn’t fully identify the virus that had caused the disease. The chief virologist decided to ship some of the sample to colleagues in other countries.

At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the boy’s sputum sat for a month, waiting for its turn in a slow process of antibody-matching analysis. The results eventually confirmed that this was a variant of influenza, the virus that has killed more people than any in history. But this type had never before been seen in humans. It was H5N1, or “avian flu,” discovered two decades prior, but known only to infect birds.

By then, it was August. Scientists sent distress signals around the world. The Chinese government swiftly killed 1.5 million chickens (over the protests of chicken farmers). Further cases were closely monitored and isolated. By the end of the year there were 18 known cases in humans. Six people died.

This was seen as a successful global response, and the virus was not seen again for years. In part, containment was possible because the disease was so severe: Those who got it became manifestly, extremely ill. H5N1 has a fatality rate of about 60 percent—if you get it, you’re likely to die. Yet since 2003, the virus has killed only 455 people. The much “milder” flu viruses, by contrast, kill fewer than 0.1 percent of people they infect, on average, but are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.

Severe illness caused by viruses such as H5N1 also means that infected people can be identified and isolated, or that they died quickly. They do not walk around feeling just a little under the weather, seeding the virus. The new coronavirus (known technically as SARS-CoV-2) that has been spreading around the world can cause a respiratory illness that can be severe. The disease (known as COVID-19) seems to have a fatality rate of less than 2 percent—exponentially lower than most outbreaks that make global news. The virus has raised alarm not despite that low fatality rate, but because of it.

Coronaviruses are similar to influenza viruses in that they both contain single strands of RNA.* Four coronaviruses commonly infect humans, causing colds. These are believed to have evolved in humans to maximize their own spread—which means sickening, but not killing, people. By contrast, the two prior novel coronavirus outbreaks—SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome, named for where the first outbreak occurred)—were picked up from animals, as was H5N1. These diseases were highly fatal to humans. If there were mild or asymptomatic cases, they were extremely few. Had there been more of them, the disease would have spread widely. Ultimately, SARS and MERS each killed fewer than 1,000 people.

COVID-19 is already reported to have killed more than twice that number. With its potent mix of characteristics, this virus is unlike most that capture popular attention: It is deadly, but not too deadly. It makes people sick, but not in predictable, uniquely identifiable ways. Last week, 14 Americans tested positive on a cruise ship in Japan despite feeling fine—the new virus may be most dangerous because, it seems, it may sometimes cause no symptoms at all.

The world has responded with unprecedented speed and mobilization of resources. The new virus was identified extremely quickly. Its genome was sequenced by Chinese scientists and shared around the world within weeks. The global scientific community has shared genomic and clinical data at unprecedented rates. Work on a vaccine is well under way. The Chinese government enacted dramatic containment measures, and the World Health Organization declared an emergency of international concern. All of this happened in a fraction of the time it took to even identify H5N1 in 1997. And yet the outbreak continues to spread.

The Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch is exacting in his diction, even for an epidemiologist. Twice in our conversation he started to say something, then paused and said, “Actually, let me start again.” So it’s striking when one of the points he wanted to get exactly right was this: “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.”

Containment is the first step in responding to any outbreak. In the case of COVID-19, the possibility (however implausible) of preventing a pandemic seemed to play out in a matter of days. Starting in January, China began cordoning off progressively larger areas, radiating outward from the city of Wuhan and eventually encapsulating some 100 million people. People were barred from leaving home, and lectured by drones if they were caught outside. Nonetheless, the virus has now been found in 24 countries.

Despite the apparent ineffectiveness of such measures—relative to their inordinate social and economic cost, at least—the crackdown continues to escalate. Under political pressure to “stop” the virus, last Thursday the Chinese government announced that officials in Hubei province would be going door-to-door, testing people for fevers and looking for signs of illness, then sending all potential cases to quarantine camps. But even with the ideal containment, the virus’s spread may have been inevitable. Testing people who are already extremely sick is an imperfect strategy if people can spread the virus without even feeling bad enough to stay home from work.

Lipsitch predicts that within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said. As with influenza, which is often life-threatening to people with chronic health conditions and of older age, most cases pass without medical care. (Overall, about 14 percent of people with influenza have no symptoms.)

Lipsitch is far from alone in his belief that this virus will continue to spread widely. The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.”

At this point, it is not even known how many people are infected. As of Sunday, there have been 35 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization. But Lipsitch’s “very, very rough” estimate when we spoke a week ago (banking on “multiple assumptions piled on top of each other,” he said) was that 100 or 200 people in the U.S. were infected. That’s all it would take to seed the disease widely. The rate of spread would depend on how contagious the disease is in milder cases. On Friday, Chinese scientists reported in the medical journal JAMA an apparent case of asymptomatic spread of the virus, from a patient with a normal chest CT scan. The researchers concluded with stolid understatement that if this finding is not a bizarre abnormality, “the prevention of COVID-19 infection would prove challenging.”

Even if Lipsitch’s estimates were off by orders of magnitude, they wouldn’t likely change the overall prognosis. “Two hundred cases of a flu-like illness during flu season—when you’re not testing for it—is very hard to detect,” Lipsitch said. “But it would be really good to know sooner rather than later whether that’s correct, or whether we’ve miscalculated something. The only way to do that is by testing.”

Originally, doctors in the U.S. were advised not to test people unless they had been to China or had contact with someone who had been diagnosed with the disease. Within the past two weeks, the CDC said it would start screening people in five U.S. cities, in an effort to give some idea of how many cases are actually out there. But tests are still not widely available. As of Friday, the Association of Public Health Laboratories said that only California, Nebraska, and Illinois had the capacity to test people for the virus.

With so little data, prognosis is difficult. But the concern that this virus is beyond containment—that it will be with us indefinitely—is nowhere more apparent than in the global race to find a vaccine, one of the clearest strategies for saving lives in the years to come.

Over the past month, stock prices of a small pharmaceutical company named Inovio have more than doubled. In mid-January, it reportedly discovered a vaccine for the new coronavirus. This claim has been repeated in many news reports, even though it is technically inaccurate. Like other drugs, vaccines require a long testing process to see whether they indeed protect people from disease, and do so safely. What this company—and others—has done is copy a bit of the virus’s RNA that one day could prove to work as a vaccine. It’s a promising first step, but to call it a discovery is like announcing a new surgery after sharpening a scalpel.

Though genetic sequencing is now extremely fast, making vaccines is as much art as science. It involves finding a viral sequence that will reliably cause a protective immune-system memory but not trigger an acute inflammatory response that would itself cause symptoms. (While the influenza vaccine cannot cause the flu, the CDC warns that it can cause “flu-like symptoms.”) Hitting this sweet spot requires testing, first in lab models and animals, and eventually in people. One does not simply ship a billion viral gene fragments around the world to be injected into everyone at the moment of discovery.

Inovio is far from the only small biotech company venturing to create a sequence that strikes that balance. Others include Moderna, CureVac, and Novavax. Academic researchers are also on the case, at Imperial College London and other universities, as are federal scientists in several countries, including at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Anthony Fauci, the head of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wrote in JAMA in January that the agency was working at historic speed to find a vaccine. During the SARS outbreak in 2003, researchers moved from obtaining the genomic sequence of the virus and into a phase 1 clinical trial of a vaccine in 20 months. Fauci wrote that his team has since compressed that timeline to just over three months for other viruses, and for the new coronavirus, “they hope to move even faster.”

New models have sprung up in recent years, too, that promise to speed up vaccine development. One is the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), which was launched in Norway in 2017 to finance and coordinate the development of new vaccines. Its founders include the governments of Norway and India, the Wellcome Trust, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The group’s money is now flowing to Inovio and other small biotech start-ups, encouraging them to get into the risky business of vaccine development. The group’s CEO, Richard Hatchett, shares Fauci’s basic timeline vision—a COVID-19 vaccine ready for early phases of safety testing in April. If all goes well, by late summer testing could begin to see if the vaccine actually prevents disease.

Overall, if all pieces fell into place, Hatchett guesses it would be 12 to 18 months before an initial product could be deemed safe and effective. That timeline represents “a vast acceleration compared with the history of vaccine development,” he told me. But it’s also unprecedentedly ambitious. “Even to propose such a timeline at this point must be regarded as hugely aspirational,” he added.

Even if that idyllic year-long projection were realized, the novel product would still require manufacturing and distribution. “An important consideration is whether the underlying approach can then be scaled to produce millions or even billions of doses in coming years,” Hatchett said. Especially in an ongoing emergency, if borders closed and supply chains broke, distribution and production could prove difficult purely as a matter of logistics.

Fauci’s initial optimism seemed to wane, too. Last week he said that the process of vaccine development was proving “very difficult and very frustrating.” For all the advances in basic science, the process cannot proceed to an actual vaccine without extensive clinical testing, which requires manufacturing many vaccines and meticulously monitoring outcomes in people. The process could ultimately cost hundreds of millions of dollars—money that the NIH, start-ups, and universities don’t have. Nor do they have the production facilities and technology to mass-manufacture and distribute a vaccine.

Production of vaccines has long been contingent on investment from one of the handful of giant global pharmaceutical companies. At the Aspen Institute last week, Fauci lamented that none had yet to “step up” and commit to making the vaccine. “Companies that have the skill to be able to do it are not going to just sit around and have a warm facility, ready to go for when you need it,” he said. Even if they did, taking on a new product like this could mean massive losses, especially if the demand faded or if people, for complex reasons, chose not to use the product.

Making vaccines is so difficult, cost intensive, and high risk that in the 1980s, when drug companies began to incur legal costs over alleged harms caused by vaccines, many opted to simply quit making them. To incentivize the pharmaceutical industry to keep producing these vital products, the U.S. government offered to indemnify anyone claiming to have been harmed by a vaccine. The arrangement continues to this day. Even still, drug companies have generally found it more profitable to invest in the daily-use drugs for chronic conditions. And coronaviruses could present a particular challenge in that at their core they, like influenza viruses, contain single strands of RNA. This viral class is likely to mutate, and vaccines may need to be in constant development, as with the flu.

“If we’re putting all our hopes in a vaccine as being the answer, we’re in trouble,” Jason Schwartz, an assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health who studies vaccine policy, told me. The best-case scenario, as Schwartz sees it, is the one in which this vaccine development happens far too late to make a difference for the current outbreak. The real problem is that preparedness for this outbreak should have been happening for the past decade, ever since SARS. “Had we not set the SARS-vaccine-research program aside, we would have had a lot more of this foundational work that we could apply to this new, closely related virus, ” he said. But, as with Ebola, government funding and pharmaceutical-industry development evaporated once the sense of emergency lifted. “Some very early research ended up sitting on a shelf because that outbreak ended before a vaccine needed to be aggressively developed.”

On Saturday, Politico reported that the White House is preparing to ask Congress for $1 billion in emergency funding for a coronavirus response. This request, if it materialized, would come in the same month in which President Donald Trump released a new budget proposal that would cut key elements of pandemic preparedness—funding for the CDC, the NIH, and foreign aid.  

These long-term government investments matter because creating vaccines, antiviral medications, and other vital tools requires decades of serious investment, even when demand is low. Market-based economies often struggle to develop a product for which there is no immediate demand and to distribute products to the places they’re needed. CEPI has been touted as a promising model to incentivize vaccine development before an emergency begins, but the group also has skeptics. Last year, Doctors Without Borders wrote a scathing open letter, saying the model didn’t ensure equitable distribution or affordability. CEPI subsequently updated its policies to forefront equitable access, and Manuel Martin, a medical innovation and access adviser with Doctors Without Borders, told me last week that he’s now cautiously optimistic. “CEPI is absolutely promising, and we really hope that it will be successful in producing a novel vaccine,” he said. But he and his colleagues are “waiting to see how CEPI’s commitments play out in practice.”

These considerations matter not simply as humanitarian benevolence, but also as effective policy. Getting vaccines and other resources to the places where they will be most helpful is essential to stop disease from spreading widely. During the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, for example, Mexico was hit hard. In Australia, which was not, the government prevented exports by its pharmaceutical industry until it filled the Australian government’s order for vaccines. The more the world enters lockdown and self-preservation mode, the more difficult it could be to soberly assess risk and effectively distribute tools, from vaccines and respirator masks to food and hand soap.

Italy, Iran, and South Korea are now among the countries reporting quickly growing numbers of detected COVID-19 infections. Many countries have responded with containment attempts, despite the dubious efficacy and inherent harms of China’s historically unprecedented crackdown. Certain containment measures will be appropriate, but widely banning travel, closing down cities, and hoarding resources are not realistic solutions for an outbreak that lasts years. All of these measures come with risks of their own. Ultimately some pandemic responses will require opening borders, not closing them. At some point the expectation that any area will escape effects of COVID-19 must be abandoned: The disease must be seen as everyone’s problem.  

This story originally stated that coronaviruses and influenza viruses are single strands of RNA; in fact, influenza viruses can contain multiple segments of single-strand RNA.

NASCAR: Timeline of Fire, EMS Response to Newman’s Crash

Ryan Newman (6) goes airborne as Corey LaJoie (32) crashes in to him on the final lap of the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Sunday’s race was postponed because of rain. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

By JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A paramedic was treating Ryan Newman inside his car 35 seconds after the ruined and flaming vehicle came to rest after a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

NASCAR gave a brief timeline Saturday of the response to Monday night’s airborne accident that was so startling many drivers feared him dead. Newman hit the wall and his car went airborne, was hit by another car to send it airborne a second time, rolled upside down and landed on its roof in flames.

“You’ve heard us say this many times, that safety is our primary responsibility,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

“Everything that goes on at the R&D Center on a daily basis is put in place for a reason. This is our job. This is what we do, and you’ve got the 40 drivers in the garage area who expect us to do this every day.”

NASCAR said the first fire responder arrived 19 seconds after Newman’s car stopped. A trauma doctor was at the car 33 seconds later and a paramedic entered 2 seconds after that.

Newman was then treated for more than three minutes, NASCAR said. It took roughly two minutes to overturn the car, during which time Newman was still being assisted and the treatment continued as the roof was cut away. The 42-year-old driver was removed from the car 15 minutes, 40 seconds after it halted.

NASCAR revealed its findings from a review that began Tuesday when the cars of Newman and Corey LaJoie, the driver who hit Newman’s car on the driver’s side, arrived at the North Carolina Research and Development Center.

NASCAR said it could not discuss Newman’s health, citing federal privacy laws.

Despite the violence of the crash, the Indiana native nicknamed “Rocketman” walked out of a Florida hospital holding the hands of his two young daughters some 42 hours later.

“During this entire time, doctors and paramedics were attending to Ryan, except for during the car rollover,” O’Donnell said. “The first responders performed their jobs as they were trained. The training systems all worked as were designed.

“We are never satisfied with what took place and we will learn as much as possible and implement those changes, if there are any, as soon as possible.”

Ross Chastain is scheduled to drive Newman’s No. 6 Ford on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Newman’s 649-consecutive races streak dating to the 2002 Daytona 500 will end.

Newman has yet to speak publicly and his team has said nothing about his injuries or his status. Roush said he was in serious condition with non-life threatening injuries late Monday night, but Newman progressed so quickly he left the hospital faster than the team could post updates.

NASCAR said the sanctioning body and Newman’s medical team will have to clear him before he can return to race, but good friend Martin Truex Jr. said Saturday to expect Newman back in his race car soon.

“I feel like he’ll be back before anyone thinks he could. He’s a tough son of a gun,” Truex said. “It was good to see how good a shape he was in, and it was a little surprising as well. He’s got no neck and a big hard head, so that helped for sure.”

Several competitors have talked or texted with Newman and said his wit remained intact, with many making lighthearted jokes at his expense. Many marveled how one of the toughest guys in the garage seemingly walked away unscathed, needing nothing more than his daily fix of Krispy Kreme doughnuts to get out of the hospital.

NASCAR also wants to speak to Newman. Its crash report was limited because it wants feedback from the driver, an engineering graduate from Purdue University.

Newman, the 2008 Daytona 500 winner, has has been involved in several rolls at superspeedways. He has been outspoken about safety and has been fined by NASCAR for criticism it deemed excessive.

Newman also advocated for more support in the cockpit for protection during rollovers. A device now referred to as the “Newman bar” is standard.

“Ryan’s feedback in this will be key,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’ll be a key component as it’s always been throughout the process when he’s been racing.”

O’Donnell also said changes won’t be made to overtime rules as a result of the accident, but work continues dissecting Newman’s crash and ongoing safety efforts.

“Our job now is to have continued dialogue with the drivers, see what happens in terms of this race package,” O’Donnell said. “Were there any changes from Talladega to Daytona in terms of how they raced? How that may have contributed or not to this incident and if we can make some changes we will.”

NASCAR also must balance the fan appreciation of the dangers of Daytona and Talladega with the safety of the show.

“Our job is to get the races in, make them exciting for the fans and not have those kinds of incidents,” O’Donnell said. “So, if we can improve on that, we’ll do that.”

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Coronavirus Gets A New Name: COVID-19. Here’s Why That Is Important

From Victoria Forster at Forbes

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the official new name of the disease caused by nCoV2019 (2019 novel coronavirus), the strain of coronavirus that has infected over 43,000 people worldwide, resulting in 1017 deaths.

COVID-19, as the disease will now be known, was decided on by the WHO, with the organization giving a number of reasons as to why it was chosen.

“Under agreed guidelines between WHO, the @OIEAnimalHealth & @FAO, we had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO.

The virus is thought to have originated in the city of Wuhan in China, which led to it being frequently named the “Wuhan coronavirus,” or “Chinese coronavirus,” but neither of these were official names and some believe they may have contributed to discrimination against Chinese people.Today In: Innovation

Chinese communities from around the world have been reporting racist incidents and dramatic impacts on their business including Chinese restaurants all over the U.S.

In Toronto, Canada, home to over 600,000 Chinese Canadians, restaurant owners have been reporting up to a 30% reduction in business, despite Canada having only 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and only 3 of these being in the province of Ontario where Toronto is located.

In the U.K., which currently has 8 confirmed cases of COVID-19, numerous reports of racist incidences against Chinese and other Asian people have been reported to authorities.

In Australia, the chief medical officer urged an end to racist attitudes towards Chinese-Australians after Chinese businesses reported a steep loss in takings and Sydney’s Chinatown was reportedly deserted on Saturday.

But does a virus’ name really matter?

Previous evidence would seem to suggest yes. “Swine flu,” which was actually a flu strain thought to originate in pigs, resulted in consumers shunning pork and causing great financial damage to U.S. pork farmers, despite there being no evidence that the disease could be spread via consuming pork.

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is a particularly deadly coronavirus with around a third of people contracting it dying from the disease. However, the disease has so far been found in 27 different countries, including South Korea which reported a serious hit to its tourism industry when it reported cases in 2015.

Since these incidents, the WHO has decided on names which are more generic and not related to people, places or specific animals.

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks,” said Ghebreyesus.

It may be too late, but by renaming the disease caused by the virus to COVID-19, the WHO likely hopes to de-stigmatize its association with the city of Wuhan and the people who live there.

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The Whelen PAR-46 Replacement Super-LED 2° Spotlight (P46SLC) is designed especially for the Unity Spotlight, PAR-46 Super-LED lights are a drop-in replacement for the outdated halogen lamps. The 9 Super-LEDs and highly focused optics produce an extremely intense and smooth 2° circular spotlight beam pattern. Lightweight, low-current and water resistant, they provide stable light output for thousands of operating hours. PAR-46 Replacement Super-LED Spotlights are rated to last 50,000 hours and provides an unbelievably bright light.

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Americans from China Virus Zone Land in U.S.

Travelers re-screened in Alaska

A sign directs travelers to the north terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, where a flight plane carrying U.S. citizens being evacuated from Wuhan, China is expected later Tuesday, is seen Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

By MARK THIESSEN Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An airplane evacuating as many as 240 Americans from a Chinese city at the center of a virus outbreak has landed in the U.S.

The U.S. government chartered the plane to fly out diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, where the latest coronavirus outbreak started, and other U.S. citizens. The plane is making a refueling stop in Alaska, where it landed Tuesday night, before flying on to southern California.

But first, the travelers were to be re-screened in Anchorage for the virus, and hospitals were prepared to treat or quarantine people who may be infected. Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, and in more severe cases shortness of breath or pneumonia.

The passengers are being isolated in the airport’s international terminal, which lies mostly dormant in the winter months. The terminal is not connected to the larger and heavily used domestic flights terminal, and each has separate ventilation systems, said Jim Szczesniak, manager of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

“In the wintertime, we have the ability and the luxury of not having any passenger traffic over there, so it’s a perfect area for us to handle this kind of flight,” he said.

The lobby in the international terminal was nearly empty Tuesday afternoon, and an airport employee was seen jogging through the facility, which has closed counters for companies like Korean Air, China Airlines and Asiana Airlines. There are two businesses operating at either end of the ticket counters, a 4×4 rental agency and a satellite office of the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles.

A closed entrance at the north terminal at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, where a flight plane carrying U.S. citizens being evacuated from Wuhan, China is expected later Tuesday, is seen Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Wuhan is the epicenter of a new virus that has sickened thousands and killed more than 100, and a federal official said the plane left the city before dawn Wednesday, China time. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

The white cargo plane with red and gold stripes arrived in Anchorage at the mostly desolate North Terminal just after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, local time. The jetway was extended from the end of the terminal, but it also had no windows. Passengers were not visible. Media were held in a concourse between the airport’s two terminals, about 100 yards (91.4 meters) from the plane. Airport workers were buzzing around the plane after it landed.

Alaska health officials said a news conference would be held later.

The plane is scheduled to land at March Air Reserve Base in California’s Riverside County, instead of the original plan to land at Ontario International Airport in neighboring San Bernardino County.

Curt Hagman, an Ontario airport commissioner, said the Centers for Disease Control announced the diversion.

“We were prepared but the State Department decided to switch the flight” to the airbase, Hagman said.

Officials at the Ontario airport 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Los Angeles had been readying facilities to receive and screen the repatriates and temporarily house them for up to two weeks — if the CDC determined that is necessary, said David Wert, spokesman for the county of San Bernardino.

Ontario International Airport was designated about a decade ago by the U.S. government to receive repatriated Americans in case of an emergency overseas, but it would have been the first time the facility was used for the purpose, Wert said.

China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities in Hubei province to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further. In addition to the United States, countries including Japan and South Korea have also planned evacuations.

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California, contributed to this report.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Seattle Nurses Strike Closes Emergency Rooms

Swedish Medical Center ED closed

Swedish Medical Center nurses and other workers picket outside the hospital’s campus in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle as they began a three-day strike Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, over staffing levels, wages and other issues. The hospital system closed two of its seven emergency departments and brought in replacement workers in response to the strike. (AP Photo/Gene Johnson)

By GENE JOHNSON Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — Thousands of nurses and other employees at a Seattle hospital system began a three-day strike over staffing levels, wages and other issues Tuesday, forcing administrators to close two emergency departments and spend millions to bring in replacement workers from around the country.

The picketers took to the sidewalks in front of Swedish Medical Center campuses wearing clear plastic ponchos against a heavy morning rain and carrying purple signs that read “Patients Before Profits” and “United For Our Patients.”

Swedish closed two of its seven emergency departments — at its campuses in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and in Redmond, Washington — beginning at 7 p.m. Monday and said they would remain closed during the strike.

Swedish said it would spend millions on replacement workers. A final number wasn’t clear, but Swedish Health Services Chief Executive Guy Hudson called $11 million “a start.”

“Safe patient care is our number one priority,” Hudson said. “As it has for 110 years, Swedish will continue to provide high-quality, compassionate care to patients and their families, even during the strike.”

Susan Walker, a nurse in the day surgery department, joined dozens of others picketing outside the Ballard hospital. She said this was her first strike in 41 years as a nurse, but chronic short-staffing means she has to work on her day off every two or three weeks.

“We have to come in on our days off constantly to take care of patients,” Walker said. “It’s very disruptive to your life, but you feel sorry for your coworkers so you bite the bullet and come in.”

The labor action called by SEIU Local 1199NW, which represents 7,800 workers at Swedish, is one of the largest hospital strikes in the U.S. in recent years, and it comes amid both a national shortage of nurses and a trend of hospital consolidation.

A recent study done for the American Hospital Association found that thanks in part to efficiencies of scale, hospital mergers improve care and reduce costs for patients. Some economists have found otherwise and labor activists say it jeopardizes care.

Swedish is a nonprofit organization, meaning it doesn’t distribute profits to shareholders. But strikers said that since it was taken over by a much larger nonprofit health system — Renton, Washington-based Providence St. Joseph Health — in 2012, administrators have been cutting costs at the expense of patients.

Providence, which is also nonprofit, made $970 million in the first nine months of 2019 and has more than $11 billion on hand, according to its most recent financial statement.

Hudson said he was disappointed in the strike and that the administration had offered a strong wage and benefits package. That includes proposed raises totaling 11.25% over four years; the union has been seeking 23.25%.

Swedish has an 11% vacancy rate, a staffing shortage that the system meets by hiring temporary and traveling staff. The organization said it would like to hire more permanent staff, but hospitals around the country are struggling with nurse shortages. Health care unemployment in the Seattle area is less than 1%.

Both the Ballard and Redmond campuses have 18-bed emergency rooms, according to Swedish’s website.

The hospital is advising patients who might need emergency or urgent care services in Ballard or Redmond to go to one of its other facilities, including its emergency departments at Seattle’s First Hill and Cherry Hill campuses. The hospital network also has emergency departments at its hospitals in Issaquah, Edmonds and Mill Creek in Everett.

Labor and delivery services at the Ballard campus were also closed.

Kale Rose, a labor and delivery nurse and a member of the union’s negotiating team, said she herself had given birth there, which made her concerns about staffing all the more poignant.

In an emergency, she said, there needs to be enough “eyes and hands” present to accomplish required tasks, such as hanging IV bags, administering medication, weighing blood-soaked sponges to determine blood loss and transferring a patient if necessary.

“I know all of the scary things that can happen when you have a baby,” Rose said. “And I know what it’s like to be on staff and feel like you don’t have enough people to take care of patients.”

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Kobe Bryant helicopter crash: Feds probing chopper maintenance records, pilot history, fog


Federal investigators on Monday began working to unravel the mystery of why a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people slammed into the side of a hill in Calabasas.

Officials remove a body from the wreckage of the helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Authorities said the investigation is now wide-ranging, including looking at the histories of the pilot, helicopter maintenance records and the foggy conditions, which pilots have said add a level of danger.

Firefighters responding to a 911 call at 9:47 a.m. Sunday found a debris field in steep terrain with a quarter-acre brush fire. Paramedics arriving by helicopter searched the area but found no survivors.

Bryant, who lived in Newport Beach and Los Angeles, was known to keep a chartered helicopter at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.ADVERTISEMENT

A Sikorsky S-76 chopper, built in 1991, departed John Wayne at 9:06 a.m. Sunday, according to publicly available flight records. The chopper passed over Boyle Heights, near Dodger Stadium, and circled over Glendale during the flight. The National Transportation Safety Board database shows no prior incidents or accidents for the mid-size helicopter.

Kurt Deetz, a former pilot for Island Express Helicopters, told The Times he flew Bryant from 2014 to 2016. Nine times out of 10, he said, Bryant flew in “Two Echo X-ray” — the Sikorsky S-76B, tail No. N72EX, that went down Sunday morning. Bryant favored the model, which is preferred by celebrities for its comfortable interior and solid safety record, Deetz said.

When Bryant retired from the NBA in 2016, he flew out of downtown Los Angeles in the same helicopter, wrapped in a gray-and-black paint scheme with his Mamba emblem on the side, Deetz said.

Deetz suspects the crash was most likely caused by bad weather rather than engine or mechanical issues. “The likelihood of a catastrophic twin-engine failure on that aircraft — it just doesn’t happen,” he said.

Parts of Southern California were enveloped in thick fog as the helicopter made its way from Orange County to Los Angeles. During the flight, the pilot noted he was flying under “special visual flight rules,” which allows a pilot to fly in weather conditions worse than those allowed for standard visual flight rules, according to radio communications between the air tower and the aircraft. At some point during the flight, the pilot apparently requested “flight following,” a process in which controllers are in regular contact with an aircraft and can help them navigate.

The tower is heard telling the pilot the chopper is too low for flight following before the conversation ends. There did not appear to be a distress call.

A visual flight rules flight “is based on the principle of see and avoid.” When operation of an aircraft under visual flight rules isn’t safe, often because of inclement weather, a pilot can opt to fly under instrument flight rules. During this type of flight, the pilot navigates only by reference to the instruments in the aircraft cockpit, according to the FAA.

“[Pilots] fly VFR when and if weather conditions allow, although they can choose to fly on an IFR flight plan at any time,” said Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA. “Also, it’s always up to the pilot to make the decision whether to fly VFR and to ensure the safety of the flight and adherence to federal aviation regulations.”

Bryant was scheduled to coach Sunday in a game against the Fresno Lady Heat at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks and was en route there when the helicopter crashed. The tournament, called the Mamba Cup, featured boys’ and girls’ travel teams from fourth through eighth grades. Bryant’s daughter Gianna, who attended Harbor Day School in Newport Beach, was scheduled to play.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. The FBI is also assisting in the probe, which is standard practice. The helicopter was registered to Fillmore-based Island Express Holding Corp., according to the California secretary of state’s business database. The helicopter’s manufacturer, Sikorsky, said in a statement Sunday that it was cooperating with the investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a “go team,” a squad of investigators that responds to major accidents across the country, Sunday evening, said Christopher O’Neil, an agency spokesman. Leading the investigation is Jennifer Homendy, an NTSB member who oversaw the investigation of a fire aboard the dive boat Conception that killed 34 people off Santa Cruz Island in September.

“Our team will be looking at the history of the pilot…whatever crew was on board. We’ll be looking at maintenance records. At records of the owner and operator. And a number of other things as part of the investigation,” Homendy said.

On Monday morning, the L.A. County coroner’s special response team was working on a ridge above the crash site, continuing to remove the remains of the nine victims with the help of search and rescue team members.

Experts have said weather conditions and possible mechanical issues will likely be at the top of the list for investigators.

The fog was severe enough Sunday morning that the Los Angeles Police Department’s Air Support Division grounded its helicopters and didn’t fly until later in the afternoon, department spokesman Josh Rubenstein said.

“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” Rubenstein said. The fog “was enough that we were not flying.” LAPD’s flight minimums are 2 miles of visibility and an 800-foot cloud ceiling, he said.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department made a similar assessment about the fog and had no helicopters in the air Sunday morning “basically because of the weather,” L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

Witnesses said they heard a roar before the chopper slammed into the hillside Sunday morning.

Jerry Kocharian, 62, was standing outside the Church in the Canyon drinking coffee when he heard a helicopter flying unusually low and seeming to struggle.

“It wasn’t sounding right, and it was real low,” Kocharian said. “I saw it falling and spluttering. But it was hard to make out as it was so foggy.”

The helicopter vanished into the sheet of fog, then there was a boom and “a big fireball,” he said.

“No one could survive that.”

Scott Daehlin, 61, was taking a break from setting up sound for a service at Church in the Canyon, which is below the crash site, when he heard the helicopter overheard.

“Because of its proximity to the ground, I knew something was wrong. It was hovering real low, like they were searching to land. It was making a slow left turn. It was about 9:44 a.m., and then the impact happened. I heard a crunch. I don’t think it pancaked. I think it hit rotors first,” Daehlin said. “I immediately called 911.”

The pilot, identified as Ara Zobayan, and eight passengers — including Bryant and his daughter — were killed. Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, 56, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa, who played on the same club team as Gianna, also were killed. Christina Mauser, who was the top assistant coach of the Mamba girls’ basketball team, as well as a mother and daughter from Orange County, identified by family and friends as Sarah and Payton Chester, also died in the crash.

Officials say the recovery effort at the crash site is expected to take days.

As officials work to find answers about what went wrong during the flight, Southern Californians continue to mourn the death of an athlete who over the course of his 20-year career became one of the greatest shooting guards in the history of basketball.

In Newport Beach, where Bryant lived with his family for years, two young girls dressed in Lakers colors — purple and gold — dropped flowers off at a bench outside Harbor Day School, adding to a makeshift memorial that has sprouted over the last day. The Bryant family was active at the private school, where at least one of his daughters had attended.

Two bouquets propped up under the school’s entrance sign were left with letters, one addressed to “Gigi, Mr. Bryant and Mrs. Mauser, Forever in our Hearts” and the other “To Mr. Bryant, Gigi and Mrs. Mauser, Our 3 Angels.”

Maria Paun, 81, used her walker to deliver an assortment of pink flowers to the front of the school, depositing them on a bench. It was years ago, she said, that she sat with Bryant on a bench at the school when he was waiting to pick up one of his daughters and she was waiting for her granddaughter.

“He gave me a hug and he said, ‘I like your accent, Grandma,’ ” she said. “He was tall, and he was somebody and I’m nobody, but he bent down to give me a hug. And I never forget this hug.”

Paun said it was no accident that she wore a purple sweater Monday morning. She did so because “he liked the color.”

“It’s hard for me, and it’s hard for everyone,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

During a vigil Sunday night, Bryant’s fellow Newport Beach residents spoke of the athlete’s life outside of his storied NBA career. He was, first and foremost, a dedicated father whose love for his family was apparent to anyone who came across him, friends say. He was also the type of man whose fame never got in the way of his sharing a warm greeting at Starbucks or the grocery store.

Mario Nunes, 50, hung his Kobe Bryant jersey from one of the tables in front of the Pavilions grocery store on Newport Coast Drive, where Bryant was known to frequent, on Monday. Nunes, a job trainer with the Rehabilitation Institute of Southern California, said he used to see Bryant at the store every few weeks. Nunes was quick to whip out his phone to show some of the pictures he’d taken with Bryant over the years, including one he said was from shortly after the Lakers’ last championship in 2010.

“He was always cool with me,” he said. “He was always friendly. He signed a couple basketballs here and there.”

Michael Young, 40, said he also saw Bryant periodically during the three years he’s worked as a courtesy clerk at the grocery store. When he heard the news about Bryant’s death, Young said his first reaction was tears.

“He brought a lot of good energy … a lot of positive energy, a lot of good stuff for the community,” Nunes said.

Both Young and Nunes said the shock of seeing the superstar in the flesh never completely wore off, no matter how many times he came to the grocery store or made a run to the Starbucks in the same shopping complex.

“It’s like he’s still here,” Young said. “His spirit is all around us.”

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Australia Works to Recover Bodies of American Tanker Crew: Canadian-based company identifies crew

From the Associated Press

Captain Ian McBeth (left), First Officer Paul Hudson (center) and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr. (right) (Coulson Aviation photo)

SYDNEY (AP) — The American tanker plane that crashed while fighting Australian wildfires had just dropped a load of retardant on a fire before it went down in New South Wales state, investigators said Friday.

The crash of the C-130 Hercules tanker Thursday killed Capt. Ian H. McBeth, 44, of Great Falls, Montana; First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson, 42, of Buckeye, Arizona; and Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr., 43, of Navarre, Florida, their employer, Canada-based Coulson Aviation, said in a statement.

The crash occurred during an unprecedented wildfire season that has left a large swath of destruction in Australia’s southeast.

Specialist investigators were sent to the crash site in the state’s Snowy Monaro region and a team was working to recover the victims’ bodies, Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Greg Hood told reporters in the nearby town of Numeralla.

He described a difficult process of securing evidence of the crash and the victims’ remains, since the wildfire is still burning and potential hazards such as aviation fuel are present.

In this photo provided by the Rural Fire Service (RFS), U.S. and Canadian firefighters, who are wrapping up their deployment to Australia, pause for a minute’s silence in Sydney, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, for the three American crew members killed Thursday. The three American firefighters were killed when the aerial water tanker they were in crashed while battling wildfires. (RFS via AP)

Upward of 500 firefighting aircraft from several countries are fighting Australia’s wildfires, Hood said, adding “So, if there are lessons to be learned from this particular accident it’s really important that not only Australia learns these, but the world learns them.”

He and other Australian officials extended condolences on the deaths of the three Americans.

Coulson Aviation said McBeth “was a highly qualified and respected C-130 pilot with many years fighting fire, both in the military and with Coulson Aviation.”

McBeth, who is survived by his wife and three children, also served with the Montana and Wyoming National Guard, the company said.

Hudson “graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and spent the next twenty years serving in the United States Marine Corp in a number of positions including C-130 pilot,” Coulson said. He is survived by his wife.

DeMorgan served in the U.S. Air Force with 18 years as a flight engineer on the C-130, the company said. He had had more than 4,000 hours as a flight engineer with nearly 2,000 hours in combat.

“Rick’s passion was always flying and his children,” Coulson said. He is survived by two children, his parents and his sister.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a memorial service would be held in Sydney on Feb. 23 for the American firefighters and three Australian volunteer firefighters who have died during this wildfire season.

“We will pay tribute to the brave firefighters who lost their own lives protecting the lives and properties of others,” she said.

“I know that many members of the public, the RFS (Rural Fire Service), and emergency services personnel will want to come together as families and communities work their way through this unbelievable loss.”

People climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge stop under flags flying at half-mast as mark of mourning and respect in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, for three U.S. crew members of an aerial water tanker that crashed Thursday while battling wildfires in Australia. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

The three deaths brings Australia’s toll from the blazes to at least 31 since September. The fires have also destroyed more than 2,600 homes and razed more than 10.4 million hectares (25.7 million acres), an area bigger than the U.S. state of Indiana.

Coulson grounded other firefighting aircraft as a precaution pending investigation, reducing planes available to firefighters in New South Wales and neighboring Victoria state. The four-propeller Hercules drops more than 15,000 liters (4,000 gallons) of fire retardant in a single pass.

In this Jan. 10, 2020, photo, Rural Fire Service large air tanker 134, operated by Coulson Aviation in the U.S. state of Oregon, drops fire retardant on a wildfire burning close to homes at Penrose, Australia, 165km south of Sydney. Three American crew members died Thursday when this C-130 Hercules aerial water tanker crashed while battling wildfires in southeastern Australia, officials said. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)

Berejiklian said more than 1,700 volunteers and personnel were in the field, and five fires were being described at an “emergency warning” level — the most dangerous on a three-tier scale — across the state and on the fringes of the national capital Canberra.

All contents © copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Cypress Creek EMS in Texas Deploys Axon Fleet In-Car Video System

From FirefighterNation

Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services, a 911 EMS provider in North Harris County, Texas, will deploy 37 Axon Fleet 2 in-car video systems across the agency’s emergency service vehicles.

Each in-car video system includes a forward-facing and rear-facing camera and is backed by the digital evidence management system, Axon Evidence.

“We look forward to furthering our partnership with Axon by rolling out its in-vehicle video technology to our fleet of ambulances,” says Cypress Creek EMS Executive Director Bradley J. England. “Our agency has a reputation for being an innovator in prehospital emergency medicine and this is the latest example. The expansion of this program with Axon will help drive our passion to protect life.”

This order was received in the fourth quarter of 2019 and will ship in multiple phases.

Product Post: Whelen HHS4200 Hand Held Programmable Siren

Whelen’s innovative HHS Series features standard switching and a completely redesigned molded amplifier housing, providing excellent durability. Various control heads are compatible with the HHS Series. Completely configurable by the user, these control heads are ergonomically designed for situational awareness of the officer.

This model is th same as HHS3200, Except with WeCan Port that Supports the Inner Edge FST, XLP and RST Series, WeCan Lightbars, and a WeCan External Amplifier (Not for Use with the CANEM16 Expansion Module)

HHS4200Siren Amplifier with Hand-Held Controller (CANCTL5)
HHS4206Siren Amplifier with Slide Switch and Rotary Knob Controller (CANCTL6)
HHS4207Siren Amplifier with 21 Push-Buttons and Slide Switch Controller (CANCTL7)


  • Meets Class A requirements of SAE, AMECA, KKK1822, and California Title XIII when paired with one Whelen 100 watt speaker
  • Windows based programming software for full customization and configuration
  • Three control heads available
  • Two year warranty


  • Durable Black molded housing
  • Wail, Yelp, Piercer, Manual Siren, and Airhorn tones are preset standard
  • 37 total tones, including mechanical tones
  • Includes 20′ interconnect cable
  • External spade-type fuses
  • Size: 7.46″ (18.95cm) H, 8.49″ (21.56cm) W, 2.35″ (5.97cm) D
  • Eight 10 amp relay outputs and one 15 amp relay output
  • Includes WeCan port that supports the Inner Edge FST and RST Series, WeCan lightbars, or WeCan external amplifier
  • Operates one or two 100 watt speakers

Whelen Two Year Warranty

Product Post: Code 3 Defender QuadCore LED Lightbar

The Code 3 Defender QuadCore LED Lightbar is the latest edition of the Defender series lightbar. The QuadCore Technology uses a patented micro-optic diffuser and low-profile faceted optic shape to provide a more uniform spread of light. The QuadCore modules have 3 sub-optics for each LED to capture light efficiently for superior light concentration, providing high color intensity in either daytime or low light situations. The QuadCore lightheads utilize a streamlined design that uses less parts and a new, more efficient heat sink that allows for outstanding heat dissipation. Along with the new lightheads, a new central controller board opens up a whole new world of flash pattern options. With the new central controller board, you can synchronize individual banks of lightheads giving you the ultimate in flash pattern customizability.

NOTE: Light bars come with clear outer domes unless otherwise specified.

QuadCore Technology Benefits

  • Patented micro-optic diffuser and low-profile faceted optic shape provides a more uniform spread of light.
  • 3 sub-optics for each LED capture light efficiently for superior light concentration, providing high color intensity in either daytime or low light situations.
  • QuadCore lightheads require lower amp draw, reducing strain on a vehicle’s electrical system.
  • A new heat sink provides better heat transfer to the frame keeping the lightheads and interior of the bar cool.
  • A redesigned interface between the lower lens and mounting plate provides an improved sealing system.
  • QuadCore lightheads utilize less parts for maintenance free operation.
  • Each lighthead is internally grounded therefore less wires are required for the lighthead to function.
  • A locating tab allows for quicker replacement of lightheads.
  • Redesigned connectors eliminate pinch points.

Design Features

  • Single and MultiColor in Red, Blue, Amber, White, or Red/Blue, Red/White, Blue/White, Red/Amber, Amber/White.
  • 3” Single Color (6 LED) and MultiColor (12 LED) Lightheads Available.
  • 6” Single Color (12 LED) and MultiColor (24 LED) Lightheads Available.
  • Alley Lights and Scene Lights.
  • New Central Controller Board allows for a multitude of new flash patterns.
  • Provides the capability to synchronize banks of lights.
  • New Flash Pattern Software (1000 Single/1050 MultiColor).
  • One Touch Setting/Changing of Flash Patterns.
  • Flasher/Steady Burn Feature for Work Lights and Scene Lights.
  • Dimming Feature.
  • Built-In NarrowStik Function.

Standard Options

  • Serial Interface.
  • Opticom 795H Infrared LED Emitter (E795LP).
  • NASCC ArrrowStik Controller Shows Emulation Patterns.
  • Quick Disconnect Switch.
  • Auto Dimming with Photo Cell.
  • Solar Panel with Battery Charger.
  • Black Intermolded Solar Barrier is Standard – Red, Blue or Amber optional.


  • Standard Lengths: 23′, 35′, 36′, 44′, 47′, 48′, 52′, 58′, 70′, 82′, 94′ L x 13.5” D x 2.25” H.
  • Voltage: 12 VDC
  • Meets applicable SAE, J845, NFPA, California Title 13 and ECE65 specifications when properly configured.

Code 3 One Year Warranty on the entire lightbar and Five Year Warranty on LED modules

Forest Grove, Ore. PD offering free vests to cyclists

A great example of local law enforcement looking out for their fellow citizens.

From Forest Grove Police:

“In all this dark, foggy, and all around yucky winter weather, the Forest Grove Police Department would like to offer a free reflector vest to pedestrians/cyclists who might want/need one! Just come on by the station Monday thru Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. and we’ll get you one!

They are brand new, adult one-size fits all, bright orange with reflective stripes. No kids sizes, unfortunately… But as you can see, they work!

Special shout out to our friends at Forest Grove UnCorked, Life Safety Corporation, and several generous members of our community for donating vests for the program!

Product Post: ECCO Vantage LED Exterior Lightbar

The ECCO Vantage LED Exterior Lightbar is designed to offer excellent value in terms of cost, performance, durability, flexibility of configuration and of course, easy installation and use. Suitable for a wide variety of applications where width of vehicle warning is required, the Vantage lightbar is available in 8 configurations to suit most needs. Call us for custom configurations.

NOTE: Light bars come with clear outer domes unless otherwise specified.

This price is for All Amber Warning Modules Only. For all Blue, Red, Green, and White needs call for a quote.

The Vantage (12 Series) lightbar is now available Dual Color modules. Please call for a quote.

Part#: Length – Configuration

  • 12-20001-E: 48′ – 16 LED Warning Modules
  • 12-20004-E: 48′ – 16 LED Warning Modules, Add Alleys and Worklights
  • 12-20002-E: 54′ – 16 LED Warning Modules
  • 12-20005-E: 54′ – 16 LED Warning Modules, Add Alleys, Worklights and STT
  • 12-20003-E: 60′ – 16 LED Warning Modules
  • 12-20006-E: 60′ – 16 LED Warning Modules, Add Alleys, Worklights and STT


  • 48 flash patterns.
  • Five color options: Amber, Blue, Clear, Green and Red.
  • 16 Wide-angle Warning LED modules.
  • Three length options: 48”, 54” and 60”.
  • Aluminum chassis, polycarbonate base and lens.
  • All lenses and domes are clear.
  • Optional 5 Function Controller (See in side-bar).
  • Range of strap mounting accessory kits (See in side-bar).
  • Optional LED Modules: Worklights, Alley Lights and Stop-Tail-Turn.
  • Customizable configuration available (Call for custom configurations).


  • Voltage: 12-24 VDC
  • Current: 7.2 Amps
  • Flash Patterns: 48
  • Height: 2.5”
  • Width: 11”
  • Temperature Range: -22F to +122F (-30°C to +50°C)
  • Approval: SAE J845 Class I, California Title 13, CE, R10

ECCO 3 Years Warranty

More than 50 injured after Delta jet dumps fuel on L.A. schools during midair emergency

By Doha Madani at NBC

Scores of people were exposed to jet fuel or fumes on Tuesday when a Delta flight was forced to dump fuel over a Los Angeles schoolyard and school buildings during an emergency shortly after departing Los Angeles International Airport.

At least 20 children were treated for minor injuries after being exposed to the jet fuel, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The department said a total of 60 people were treated from six schools in the area.

Delta Flight 89, on its way to China, Shanghai, experienced an engine issue that required it to return to LAX shortly after takeoff, the company said in a statement. The plane landed safely after the fuel release, which the airline said was required as part of the procedure.

“We are in touch with Los Angeles World Airports and the L.A. County Fire Department and share concerns regarding reported minor injuries to adults and children at a school in the area,” Delta said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it was looking into the reports that school children were being treated for fuel exposure.

The FAA also said that there are special fuel-dumping procedures for any aircraft operating from any major U.S. airport: “These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground.”

LAX confirmed that it was aware of the Delta flight reporting a mechanical issue and conducting an “emergency fuel release” before returning.

“We are concerned about reports of impacts on the ground from the fuel release, and are in close communication with Delta and first responders as their investigations continue,” the airport said on its Twitter account.

Rosenbauer delivers the 2,000th PANTHER to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Florida

From FireFighterNation

Two brand new Rosenbauer PANTHER 6×6 HRET aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) vehicles were put into service on January 13 at the Broward County, Florida, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) in an event featuring a traditional push-back ceremony. In the future, these vehicles will act as the flagships of the airport fire brigade. The performance, safety, and ergonomics of the high-end devices exceed the NFPA and FAA requirements.

The PANTHER is the premier class among Rosenbauer fire engines, an ARFF vehicle with outstanding performance values executed with a breathtaking design. The PANTHER 6×6, which is the variant in use at FLL, is powered by a 700-hp Volvo Penta D-16 engine (Tier IV final), which accelerates the 39-ton vehicle from 0 to 50 mph in less than 34 seconds and allows it to achieve a top speed of 72 mph. The all-wheel chassis, together with a low center of gravity and its proven rigid axle system, give the PANTHER stability and safe driving characteristics. The crew is optimally protected during the drive by the certified cabin, which is crash-tested according to ECE R29-3 requirements.

The extinguishing technology is at the heart of the PANTHER and has been the core competence of the Rosenbauer Group for more than a century. The vehicles for FLL provide a system output of 2,100 gpm, whereby the water and foam admixture can be simultaneously discharged. The fully integrated extinguishing technology includes two high-performance turrets, one of which is mounted on the extinguishing arm (HRET), and a high-volume low-attack (HVLA) turret on the front of the vehicle. Up to 1,200 gpm of extinguishing agent (water or water/foam mixture) can be applied via the HRET and/or HVLA monitor. Throw reaches from both monitors of approximately 85 m enable firefighters to work from a safe distance while covering the entire length of any aircraft fuselage. The extinguishing arm can be raised up to 16.5 m and enables targeted firefighting from an elevated position.

The extinguishing arm is also equipped with a piercing tool, the spike of which can be pushed through the shell of the aircraft in order to deliver extinguishing agents to an aircraft’s interior cabin or cargo compartments. For self-protection, such as when jet fuel may flow beneath the vehicle, it is equipped with under truck nozzles that allow the operator to apply a foam blanet under the truck.

The PANTHER at FLL has 3,170 gallons of water, 396 gallons of foaming agent, and 250 kg each of extinguishing powder and extinguishing gas (Halotron) on board. Powder and either water or a water/foam mixture can be applied simultaneously via a twin-agent hose reel or the HVLA bumper turret. The extinguishing gas (Halotron) is either applied via its own rapid attack unit (including reel) or via the piercing tool located at the tip of the extinguishing arm.

All of the PANTHERs’ firefighting equipment can be controlled from the cabin. The displays and controls in the cockpits are ergonomically optimized and arranged so that they can be operated and viewed by both the driver and the front passenger. The extinguishing arms and turrets are controlled by means of joysticks, which record the movements of the human hand very precisely and transmit them in an equally precise and targeted manner.

For more information, visit www.rosenbauer.com.

Product Post: Federal Signal LEDTCL97 Traffic Clearing Light

Alert Drivers Faster
Federal Signal’s LED Traffic Clearing Light (TCL) is designed to bring attention to drivers as a fire apparatus or ambulanceis approaching from the rear of their vehicle. The LED TCL’s optics and unique sequence of flash patterns direct light to the driver’s rear-view mirror warning them of the emergency vehicle.

LED TCL and perimeter warning lights work together to help warn roadway traffic. While perimeter lights provide 360-degree of warning light around the emergency vehicle, the LED TCL produces 250+ feet of directional light to the front of the emergency vehicle.


  • Current Draw 3.0 A/1.5 A (6×4) – 7.0 A (9×7)
  • Input Voltage 12/24 VDC (6×4) – 12 VDC (9×7)
  • Operating Temperature Range -40˚C to 80˚C
  • Physical Specs. (HxWxD) 6×4 – 4.15 in (10.5 cm) x 6.56 (16.7 cm) x 1.67 in (4.2 cm)
  • 9×7 – 7.15 in (18.1 cm) x 9.16 (23.3 cm) x 1.66 in (4.2 cm)
  • Ship Weight 6×4 – 3.6 lbs (1.6 kg)
  • 9×7 – 2.0 lbs (0.9 kg)

Product Post: Code 3 Chase Dual Color Deck/Dash Light

The Code 3 Chase Dual Color Deck/Dash Light (CD3766-VDL) is a low profile two color LED light for interior applications. This Dual Color Directional LED Warning Light that can be programmed to flash either color individually or alternately. Available in 4 color combinations, the CD3766-VDL is a deck/dash dual color warning light that is ideal for a wide variety of auxiliary warning applications. Featuring linear optics, 12 high intensity LEDs (6 per color), 11 flash patterns, individual control of each LED color and an aluminum housing with encapsulated electronics. The CD3766-VDL is an extremely bright, versatile and robust warning light. 

Available Color Combinations:

  • CD3766AW-VDL  (6) Amber and (6) White LEDs
  • CD3766BW-VDL  (6) Blue and (6) White LEDs
  • CD3766RB-VDL  (6) Red and (6) Blue LEDs
  • CD3766RW-VDL  (6) Red and (6) White LEDs


  • 12 high intensity LEDs (6 LEDs of each color).
  • Each LED color can be controlled independently.
  • 69 flash patterns.
  • Aluminum housing, polycarbonate lens.
  • Encapsulated electronics.
  • Deck/Dash Mount: 4 suction cups or 2 ‘L’ brackets.
  • 9 foot long cable 2 switch plug.


  • Voltage:12/24 Volt
  • Current: 0.9 Amps
  • Temperature Range: -22F to +122F (-30C to +50C)
  • Meets SAE J595 Class I, California Title 13, R65, and R10 when properly configured.
  • Dimensions: 2.25′ H x 7.75′ W x 4.50′ D (57 mm x 197 mm x 114 mm).

Code 3 Five Year Warranty

Product Post: The Vertex Super-LED Hide-A-Way Light

The Vertex Super-LED Hide-A-Way Light (VTX609) is an ultra small, self-contained, hemispheric LED light, for surface mount or internal mount within composite head lamps, cornering lamps and tail light assemblies. This self-contained unit uses an in-line combination lamp driver/flasher which means a simple installation with no separate lamp drivers, flashers, ballast or power supplies to install. The VTX609’s lens technology enhances light distribution for optimum dispersion and intensity of the warning signal at critical angles. Includes pre-wired and sealed 8 foot neoprene cable to the lighthead and lamp driver, with 4-22 gauge power, pattern and synchronize pigtail wires. Only 7/8″ in height, this small hemispheric LED lighthead is perfect for most applications where size and intensity are critically important.


  • Each light module contains 6 – Gen3 Super-LEDs.
  • 25 Scan-Lock flash patterns.
  • Includes synchronize feature for alternating and synchronous flashing of multiple lamps.
  • Aluminum base and advanced thermal heat management system is designed for endless years of trouble free service.
  • Pre-wired and sealed 8 foot neoprene cable to the lighthead and lamp driver, with 4-22 gauge power, pattern and synchronize pigtail wires.
  • Lamp and in-line lamp driver are fully encapsulated for moisture and vibration resistance.
  • Omni-directional lighthead mounts in any position (orientation), vertically or horizontally.
  • Available in amber, blue, white and red.
  • SAE Class 5.
  • No RFI noise emitted.
  • Voltage: 10 – 16 VDC.
  • Amp draw: .750/peak and .300/average.
  • 1″ hole makes this LED module backwards compatible with all standard 1″ Hide-A-Way style lamps.
  • Two screws hold the lamp securely in place.

Available Versions:

  • VTX609A – Amber
  • VTX609B – Blue
  • VTX609C – White
  • VTX609D – Red/White
  • VTX609E – Blue/White
  • VTX609J – Red/Blue
  • VTX609R – Red

Whelen 5 Year Warranty

NOTE: LED color must match color of the lens it is installed behind, except for clear lens.

Vertex Hide-A-Way Light assemblies are sold individually.
Price shown is for ONE (1) Vertex Lighthead.
This product is NOT sold in pairs.

Product Post: Whelen HHS4200 Hand Held Programmable Siren

Whelen’s innovative HHS Series features standard switching and a completely redesigned molded amplifier housing, providing excellent durability. Various control heads are compatible with the HHS Series. Completely configurable by the user, these control heads are ergonomically designed for situational awareness of the officer.

This model is the same as HHS3200, Except with WeCan Port that Supports the Inner Edge FST, XLP and RST Series, WeCan Lightbars, and a WeCan External Amplifier (Not for Use with the CANEM16 Expansion Module)

HHS4200Siren Amplifier with Hand-Held Controller (CANCTL5)
HHS4206Siren Amplifier with Slide Switch and Rotary Knob Controller (CANCTL6)
HHS4207Siren Amplifier with 21 Push-Buttons and Slide Switch Controller (CANCTL7)


  • Meets Class A requirements of SAE, AMECA, KKK1822, and California Title XIII when paired with one Whelen 100 watt speaker
  • Windows based programming software for full customization and configuration
  • Three control heads available
  • Two year warranty


  • Durable Black molded housing
  • Wail, Yelp, Piercer, Manual Siren, and Airhorn tones are preset standard
  • 37 total tones, including mechanical tones
  • Includes 20′ interconnect cable
  • External spade-type fuses
  • Size: 7.46″ (18.95cm) H, 8.49″ (21.56cm) W, 2.35″ (5.97cm) D
  • Eight 10 amp relay outputs and one 15 amp relay output
  • Includes WeCan port that supports the Inner Edge FST and RST Series, WeCan lightbars, or WeCan external amplifier
  • Operates one or two 100 watt speakers

Whelen Two Year Warranty

Product Post: SoundOff LED3 Mini Light

This great little light offers maximum versatility with powerful Gen 3 LEDs and Light Synch Technology. Light Synch Technology allows you to synchronize up to 4 – LED3 Mini Lights seamlessly. Compact size & powerful output makes this light perfect for any type of vehicle or application; mount to the grille, bumper, mirror, or around the license plate. Great for motorcycle boxes and engine fairings, too. Red, Blue & Amber Modules meet SAE Specs with one light. Red & Blue meet CA Title 13 spec with one light, and Amber meets CA spec with two lights.


  • The LED3 Mini Light offers a smaller size with even brighter light output.
  • Features 3 brilliant Gen3 LEDs.
  • Long lasting LEDs have a very low amp draw.
  • 33 built-in flash patterns.
  • Light Sync Technology allows you to synchronize up to 4 lights to flash alternating or simultaneously.
  • Extended polycarbonate lens gives great off angle visibility.
  • Weatherproof design for external or internal use.
  • Light includes 18″ of 3-wire shielded cable.
  • Available in 5 safety colors: Amber, Blue, Green, Red and White.
  • Size: 2.52″ W x 1.33″ H x .90″ D.

SoundOff 5 Year No Hassle Warranty

Ore. police chief named as new Philadelphia police commissioner

By Chris Palmer, David Gambacorta and Anna Orso of the Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney on Monday named Danielle Outlaw, the chief of police in Portland, Ore., as Philadelphia’s new police commissioner, marking a new chapter for a 6,500-member force plagued by scandal.

The appointment is a landmark decision for Kenney, who is just days away from beginning his second term, and it comes as the department continues to grapple with fallout from allegations made in lawsuits and news accounts that the department’s culture is marred by rampant sexual harassment, discrimination and racism.

Mayor Jim Kenney on Monday named Danielle Outlaw, the chief of police in Portland, Ore., as Philadelphia's new police commissioner, marking a new chapter for a 6,500-member force plagued by scandal. (Photo/John Rudoff/Sipa-USA/TNS)
Mayor Jim Kenney on Monday named Danielle Outlaw, the chief of police in Portland, Ore., as Philadelphia’s new police commissioner, marking a new chapter for a 6,500-member force plagued by scandal. (Photo/John Rudoff/Sipa-USA/TNS)

Outlaw, 43, will be the first black woman to lead the city’s police force, and the second woman to take over as commissioner. She has led Portland’s 877-member force since 2018 after a 20-year career as an officer in her hometown of Oakland, Calif.

Her short tenure in Portland — one of the nation’s most liberal and whitest cities — did not pass without controversy, as some critics questioned her department’s handling of rallies and counterprotests, as well as a decision last summer to clear a protest camp that surrounded an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

Still, in an emailed statement, Kenney said Outlaw was the right person to take on Philadelphia’s host of challenges — including persistent gun violence that continued to rise in 2019.

“I am convinced she has the conviction, courage and compassion needed to bring long-overdue reform to the Department,” Kenney said in the email. “After meeting and speaking with her at length, I came away confident that Danielle Outlaw possesses the strength, integrity and empathy vital to the tasks ahead.”

Outlaw, in the same statement, said that although she was new to Philadelphia, “I am not new to the challenges of big-city, 21st-century policing.”

“I will work relentlessly to reduce crime in Philadelphia — particularly the insidious gun violence that plagues too many communities,” Outlaw said. “And I will do so in a way that ensures all people are treated equitably regardless of their gender identity, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.”

Her appointment comes after a four-month search process largely cloaked in secrecy. Christine Coulter has been serving as acting commissioner since the abrupt resignation of former Commissioner Richard Ross in August, after a woman accused him in a lawsuit of retaliating against her for breaking off their affair — an allegation Ross has denied.

Stakeholders in the city’s criminal justice and political establishments reacted generally favorably to the news Monday.

“Most of us are very encouraged,” Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said of colleagues in City Hall. “They’re especially happy that she’s a woman — and happy of course that it’s an African American woman — but especially happy that she’s a woman.”

Rochelle Bilal, president of the Guardian Civic League, a black police officers’ organization, said in a statement that the group was disappointed Kenney did not appoint a woman of color from within the department, but that “we are committed to embracing (Outlaw) and ensuring her success here in the city of Philadelphia.”

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said in a statement that the police officers’ union also was hoping an internal candidate would win the job, but that “we look forward to a professional, working partnership with Chief Outlaw that includes making our city safer for our residents and our (6,500-plus) police officers.”

Former Philadelphia Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey called Outlaw’s selection “a good choice.”

“She’s very bright, very talented,” said Ramsey, who first met Outlaw several years ago when he was president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “(The Police Department) is in a position now where an outsider will be a breath of fresh air.”

Outlaw took over in Portland in 2017, and she faced several controversies during her time leading the force.

Her department was criticized last year for using flash-bang devices and some chemical irritants during a right-wing rally and anti-fascist counterprotest, and she also made a decision last summer to clear a protest camp that surrounded an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

This year, after a video showed right-wing activist Andy Ngo being punched by counterprotesters, Outlaw drew scorn from national figures including Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who claimed that her officers allowed violence against right-wing activists for political reasons. Portland’s mayor denied that assertion.

The Oregonian reported Monday that Outlaw told Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Friday about her impending departure, and that the mayor rejected her request to continue in the post through Jan. 1.

Kenney said Outlaw would begin in Philadelphia on Feb. 10.

Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, the local police union, said in an interview that he learned Monday morning from the Portland mayor’s police policy liaison that Outlaw was to be introduced as Philadelphia’s new commissioner.

“You’re getting a damn good chief,” Turner said. “We hate to lose her.”

Outlaw will inherit challenges. The lawsuit that prompted Ross’ resignation also claimed that the Police Department had been overrun by a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination — allegations that seemed to gain steam when one of Ross’ former high-ranking commanders, chief inspector Carl Holmes, was subsequently arrested and charged with sexually assaulting three female officers.

Ross’ departure came less than a week after he had helped negotiate the end to a violent standoff with a gunman in Tioga, who allegedly shot and wounded six cops during a botched drug raid.

Earlier in the summer, more than 300 active-duty cops were accused of posting racist or offensive material on their personal Facebook accounts, a scandal that included other jurisdictions around the country and attracted national attention. It led to the benching of 72 Philly officers and the forced departures of 15 — the department’s largest disciplinary action in recent memory.

After Ross stepped down, Coulter was named interim commissioner, the first woman to lead the department. But she soon had to apologize for a controversy of her own — a photo from the 1990s that surfaced showing her wearing a shirt that appeared to refer to the infamous Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King.

The tumult has come amid a backdrop of ongoing gun violence: More people have been shot in the city in 2019 than in any year since 2010, and the annual homicide tally has matched last year’s decade-long high.

Kenney’s search process was largely conducted behind closed doors, with key players in the city’s criminal justice system saying as recently as last week that they had been largely out of the loop on whom the mayor was considering to fill the post.

Outlaw has a sociology degree from the University of San Francisco and a master of business administration degree from Pepperdine University. She joined the Oakland Police Department just out of college.McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Police program clears homeless infractions in exchange for shelter stays

By Gary Warth from The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — Homeless people who face a ticket or arrest by San Diego police officers are being offered a chance to have the infraction cleared if they agree to stay for 30 days in one of the city’s large tented bridge shelters.

San Diego police Capt. Scott Wahl said the new program could help stabilize lives and get people connected with services, while also allowing officers to enforce laws on the street.