CORONAVIRUS:

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    A veteran lawyer for the U.S. Interior Department has been appointed as the new superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, a crown jewel of the park system, the National Park Service announced Friday. Edward Keable, currently the assistant solicitor of general law for the Office of the Solicitor of the Interior Department, will assume his new post in northern Arizona within 60 days, the park service said in a statement. He replaces Christine Lehnertz, who resigned as the park’s superintendent in early 2019 after being cleared of allegations she created a hostile workplace,. Lehnertz had been tasked with overturning a culture of sexual harassment that included male employees in the park's now-defunct river district preying on female colleagues. Lehnretz’s departure left one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations without a permanent leader during its centennial year. Other park service officials filled the role temporarily. Keable has been in his current job since 2012 and has worked in the Office of the Solicitor for 23 years and for the federal government for a total of 30 years, the agency said. “Ed brings excellent leadership skills and passion for our nation’s public lands to his new role as the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park,” said David Vela, the park service's deputy director. “His experience at the Department of the Interior also provides a broader perspective that will be an enormous benefit to the park, employees, and visitors.” Keable said he has long regarded the Grand Canyon as “the most beautiful place on Earth.' The Grand Canyon is normally the second-busiest national park in the country behind Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Nearly 6.4 million visitors went to the Grand Canyon in 2018, The park closed on Wednesday because of the coronoavirus outbreak. Numerous park facilities were shut down earlier.
  • The WNBA has postponed the start of its season because of the coronavirus pandemic, with no indication when play would begin. The league was scheduled to open training camps April 26 and the regular season was set to begin May 15. The WNBA will still hold a “virtual” draft April 17. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement Friday the league will “use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats.” “Our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees,” Engelbert said. The WNBA, which was set to begin its 24th season, is the longest running professional women's sports league. Every other major sports league has been put on hold due to the virus. The postponement of the 2020 Olympics gives the WNBA flexibility with its schedule. The league was set to go on a monthlong break starting July 10 to allow players to participate in the Tokyo Games. Two WNBA cities are major hot spots for the virus: New York and Seattle. One of the the Storm's homes for the season, the Angel of the Winds Arena, is being used as a coronavirus isolation site. The Las Vegas casino where the Aces play is shut, as is the Connecticut Sun’s home arena. “We continue to send our thoughts and prayers to our players, fans, and all of those in the community impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are grateful to those selfless health care workers and first responders who work tirelessly on the front lines,” Engelbert said.
  • San Marino needed medical masks. Badly. The tiny republic, wedged next to two of Italy’s hardest-hit provinces in the COVID-19 outbreak, had already registered 11 deaths by March 17 — a sizeable number in a country of just 33,000, and a harbinger of worse to come. So authorities sent off a bank transfer to a supplier in Lugano, Switzerland, to pay for a half-million masks, to be shared with Italian neighbors. Next day, the truck returned empty. The company was refusing to provide the masks. Said Dr. Gabriele Rinaldi, director of San Marino's Health Authority: “It was a very bitter lesson.’’ It’s not clear whether the mask supplier, who was not identified, refused to deliver because another customer offered more. But what is clear is that the oft-proclaimed solidarity among nations waging battle against the pandemic has been tested — if not shattered — by national and corporate self-interest. A health official in France's hard-hit eastern region said U.S. officials swooped in at a Chinese airport to spirit away a planeload of masks that France had ordered. 'On the tarmac, the Americans arrive, take out cash and pay three or four times more for our orders, so we really have to fight,' Dr. Jean Rottner, an emergency room doctor in Mulhouse, told RTL radio. The U.S. Embassy in Paris on Friday insisted that no one from the federal government bought masks destined for France. President Donald Trump has suggested, however, that states get their own medical equipment to fight the virus, setting off a mad scramble among state officials. A similar squabble followed a shipment of masks aimed for Berlin police. On Friday, Berlin’s top security official, Andreas Geisel, accused the United States of using “Wild West methods” after a delivery of hundreds of thousands of face masks destined for Berlin police was diverted to the U.S. en route from China. German media reported this happened as the masks were being transferred between planes in Thailand. The U.S. embassy in Berlin didn’t immediately comment. France, meanwhile, has laid claim to supplies within its borders. In Lyon, inside the main southern European distribution facility of the Swedish medical supply company Molnlycke, were millions of masks that France was reluctant to let go for export. “We recognize that France has imposed an export ban for face masks and this ban was just extended,” said Jenny Johansson, the company’s global manager for corporate communications. She declined to comment on reports that France ultimately allowed a million masks apiece to go to Spain and Italy. “However, this is not only about France,” she said. “We see government restrictions across most countries in which we are active.” The European Union, a bloc of 27 nations built upon open borders and markets, has tried to temper this national free-for-all. The day after San Marino’s health minister publicly lamented the rejected acquisition, Switzerland enacted an ordinance obliging companies to seek government authorization to export protective medical devices. But Swiss embassy political attache Lorenza Faessler noted that the ordinance specifically exempts the EU and several other countries in Europe, including San Marino. The EU's internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera that progress had been made in dealing with exports of medical equipment by France, Germany and some other nations. He said at the moment only Poland and Slovakia were keeping the ban. Meanwhile, Spain and Italy, which together account for a large share of the world's 54,000 coronavirus deaths, are increasingly taking steps to restrict the flow of supplies. Four days after Italy’s first COVID-19 case surfaced in late February, Civil Protection agency chief Angelo Borrelli banned any export of medical supplies unless he personally approved an exception. As the daily number of infections in Italy grew dizzily, many nations blocked exports to keep their own medical supplies production within their borders, said Agostino Miozzo, director general of international relations for Italy’s Civil Protection agency. “We found ourselves in extreme difficulty in acquiring” medical supplies, he said. Last month, Italian customs police seized some 800,000 masks and disposable gloves that were about to be sent to Switzerland. Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has called China’s medical supply market “crazy.” Italy, like Spain, has taken to using planes to fly in masks and respirators from China and elsewhere, minimizing the risks that supplies will be diverted or seized by third countries. The United States, which has twice as many infections as any other nation now, is also moving supplies like thermometers, gowns, masks and gloves via air bridge, notably from Asia and Central America, according to the U.S. agency FEMA. Last month, Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, apologizing to Italy, said the Italians were being given 110,000 masks and thousands of respirators to compensate for those mistakenly seized in a raid on a warehouse in the Czech town of Lovosice. The devices had been donated by China’s Red Cross for the Chinese community in Italy. The raid had been launched to break up what Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek called an “immoral” scheme to jack up the prices a company was charging the Prague government. And recently, Tunisia accused Italy of blocking a shipment of alcohol used to make hand-cleansing gel. Trade Minister Mohamed Sellini later backtracked. “I didn’t say Italy. I said it was hijacked at sea,' the minister insisted, adding, “All of the European Union is living in a state of hysteria.” ___ David Keyton in Stockholm, Bouazza Ben Bouazza in Tunis, Karel Janicek in Prague, Joseph Wilson in Madrid, Angela Charlton in Paris and Ben Fox in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report. ___ Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
  • Democrats are zeroing in on health care as one of the few issues that might resonate among Americans who have largely shelved election year politics as they focus on protecting their families from the spreading coronavirus. Joe Biden, the prospective Democratic nominee, is criticizing President Donald Trump for refusing to reopen “Obamacare” enrollment to allow more Americans to sign up for medical insurance during the crisis. Congressional candidates are slamming Republicans for not doing enough to protect access to health coverage. And on Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders are pushing for the next coronavirus response legislation. Democrats were always going to focus on health care after the issue helped them retake control of the House in 2018. But the coronavirus pandemic has added new urgency to the push, sidelining other policy debates that dominated the Democratic primary, such as free college education or sweeping environmental reforms. “It’s definitely amplified to people who thought that it was not the overarching issue,' said Betsy Londrigan Dirksen, the Democrat running against GOP Rep. Rodney Davis for an Illinois congressional seat. 'Health care, and access to quality affordable care, is the No. 1 issue, and it will be on the ballot in November.” Democrats still hope to put Trump on defense on other issues, such as his handling of the economy and his overall leadership. But as hospitals struggle to cope with surging coronavirus cases, few issues may feel as tangible to voters as health care. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence struggled to respond to questions during a press briefing this week about why the administration has refused to reopen healthcare.gov to allow all uninsured Americans to buy coverage through the government marketplace. Pence noted that private insurers are waiving fees on testing and that states could expand coverage under Medicaid, but he didn't directly explain the administration's thinking about the exchanges. He later said the administration was considering direct aid to hospitals who treat uninsured patients suffering from COVID-19. Biden called the resistance to reopening the exchanges “callous.” Trump has long pledged — and failed — to offer an alternative to Obamacare that would be cheaper and provide better coverage. Democrats are now highlighting the administration’s support of a Republican-backed legal effort to invalidate the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, which could ultimately dismantle the entire law. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case this fall. Guy Cecil, chair of Priorities USA, the biggest Democratic outside group, which is leading much of the Democratic opposition to Trump, said the group’s polling has shown Democrats never lost their advantage on health care, but the coronavirus outbreak has brought it into sharp relief. “The idea that, even in the midst of all of this, the president is still insistent on throwing our health care system into chaos I think is pretty telling,” he said. A handful of Democratic outside groups, including Cecil’s, are spending millions of dollars attacking Trump’s response to the pandemic, with everything from television to digital ads to efforts promoting news reports aimed at combating what they see as misinformation coming from the Trump administration about the outbreak. Priorities USA has spent over $6 million on ads in four key general election states — Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that suggest Trump downplayed the severity of the crisis even as the number of infections rapidly climbed. Democratic super PACs American Bridge and Pacronym have also invested big in coronavirus ads, and a pro-Biden super PAC put out its own ad contrasting Trump with past presidents who’ve confronted crises and charging the president “failed” in addressing this one. Protect Our Care, another outside group, began an ad campaign this week in midwestern states highlighting the shortage in supplies for front-line health care workers and the spike in unemployment resulting from the outbreak. The pro-Trump super PAC America First Action responded with a $10 million ad campaign in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan attacking Biden. Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said the president is “indisputably the best person to lead our country on health care,” pointing to his work to get health care industry executives to agree to offer free testing and expanded coverage for those suffering from the illness. She also argued that Trump has been working while in office to bring health care costs down for Americans. Like most Americans, Biden is grounded at home, unable to campaign in a traditional manner or harness the media spotlight. He holds daily events related to the virus, including virtual roundtables featuring first responders and others acutely affected by the outbreak. He holds daily calls with an advisory board of medical doctors and experts, and is reaching out to a number of governors dealing with the crisis in their states. There are still risks to focusing so much on health care. The Democratic primary exposed deep divides in the party over how to best expand access to affordable health insurance. Progressives, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, insist on transitioning to a government-run system that replaces private coverage. Biden and other moderates oppose 'Medicare for All.” “The idea it would have fundamentally changed anything is just not accurate,” Biden told reporters on Thursday. “I don’t see where Medicare for All would make any difference in terms of the speed with which, and the recovery rate which would occur if in fact it existed.” Republicans have already accused Democrats of politicizing a tragedy, and a number of Democratic operatives privately acknowledged they were concerned about striking the right balance. Biden insists he’s not blaming Trump for the virus, but simply wants him to “move faster” with his response. Just this week, Biden aides said they were working to set up a call with Trump to discuss the coronavirus response. Downballot candidates also are elevating arguments centering on health care. In Texas, veteran and businesswoman MJ Hegar, who’s challenging Republican Sen. John Cornyn, said health care has always been a top issue for voters. But she said the coronavirus underscored how out of touch politicians in Washington are to the realities confronting average Americans. “He (Cornyn) doesn’t understand how broken the health care system is because he’s been on government-provided health care his whole career,' she said. 'You know, it’s really highlighting to people the problem with having folks like him in office,” she said.
  • The Premier League was suspended indefinitely Friday following a meeting of the 20 soccer clubs where a series of financial measures were discussed amid the coronavirus pandemic. The English league had given a tentative return date of April 30 but that was pushed back with a statement saying the “2019-20 season will only return when it is safe and appropriate to do so” and only with the full support of government and medical guidance. “There is a combined objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches to be played,” the league said, “enabling us to maintain the integrity of each competition.” Teams still have nine or 10 games left to play, with Liverpool — the leader by 25 points — still needing two more wins to clinch its first title since 1990. UEFA, in a letter signed by the European Clubs’ Association and the European Leagues, has urged members not to abandon their competitions. Halting leagues without approval from UEFA could see teams blocked from qualifying for the Champions League and Europa League as they are determined based on final positions in domestic standings. In a statement released after the 20 teams met by video conference, the league said it voted to advance funds of 125 million pounds ($150 million) to clubs in the English Football League and fifth-tier National League, many of which are struggling to cope with the financial consequences of the suspension of matches. It also committed 20 million pounds ($24 million) to Britain’s National Health Service. At the end of a week when Premier League players came under growing public pressure to forego some of their salaries to help pay club staff, the league said clubs had agreed to consult players over a wage deduction or deferral of 30% “in the face of substantial and continuing losses.' “The league will be in regular contact with the Professional Footballers’ Association,” read the statement, “and the union will join a meeting which will be held tomorrow between the league, players and club representatives.” ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The Tribeca Film Festival, postponed by the pandemic, is moving some elements of its annual New York event online. Tribeca organizers said Friday that much of its programming will be available either to the public or to the film industry over roughly the same days that the festival would have taken place in April. That maintains a showcase for the filmmakers and artists who were relying on Tribeca's platform for exposure. Film festivals give not only upcoming films an opportunity to make a splash but exhibit many smaller movies that are seeking distribution deals. Of the largest festivals canceled by the pandemic — Cannes, SXSW, Tribeca — each has taken a different approach to the crisis. France's Cannes Film Festival, scheduled for May, is aiming to postpone to June or July. South by Southwest, in Texas, was closed by the city of Austin just a week before its mid-March opening. On Thursday, it announced plans to stream participating films for a 10-day period later this month on Amazon Prime. Tribeca is still hoping to hold a festival in the fall, but Jane Rosenthal, Tribeca's co-founder and chief executive, acknowledged that would be a smaller scale event taking place over fewer days. The 19th Tribeca had been scheduled for April 15-26. “What we do later in the year would clearly be a differently programmed festival than what we would have done in April,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview Thursday. Those plans are in flux. For now, Tribeca will make available participating films from its competition categories — those that are judged by juries for awards — on an online hub for those in the industry and press. SXSW is making its movies available to the public, and offering a screening fee to each participating film's makers. But that approach also risks giving away, for a brief period, what many films most want — distribution. Tribeca is instead aiming to connect movies with buyers and media while preserving a movie's public launch. Tribeca will also, as SXSW has done, announce awards for it competition categories. 'There’s still more we want to do in addition to what we’re releasing,' said Rosenthal. “There are certain programs we’d like to be able to do at a later time this year when that’s safe. But this right now serves the filmmakers and the industry for what they need at this time. Getting those films seen by industry and sales people is vital to those creators.” Some elements of Tribeca will go straight to viewers, including the festival's virtual reality and immersive storytelling entries (available via Oculus) and the advertising exhibition, Tribeca's X Awards (on tribecafilm.com). The festival has already been hosting “A Short Film a Day Keeps Anxiety Away,” with shorts from the festival and Tribeca alumni. “It’s been hard mostly just to keep up the morale of our team. We’re a festival that started because of 9/11 and our instinct is always to reach out to community and here is a time when you can’t gather, you can’t do things that filmmakers and entertainment people do,' said Rosenthal. 'So how do you do that in a new way?
  • The federal government's relief program for small businesses is off to a bumpy start Friday, with some businesses able to apply and several big banks saying they’re not ready to process applications. Millions of small businesses are expected to apply for these desperately needed resaid scue loans from the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which was put in place to help them retain workers and pay bills during the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly 2,300 loans valued at $889 million have been processed so far, said Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration. The program is being overseen by the SBA but banks are handling the application process. Some large lenders like Wells Fargo, Huntington Bank and Bank of America said are ready to go. BofA said they've gotten 28,000 applications so far. Others like JPMorgan Chase said they wouldn't accept applications on Friday, citing lack of guidance from the Treasury Department. Even those who were accepting applications were limited in who they could accept. Bank of America said the loans were available to customers who had business deposit accounts and business loans with the bank. Ted Stein, who operates a small software business in West Virginia, filled out an online form Thursday through PNC Bank ,saying he was interested in applying. On Friday, a bank representative told Stein he was unaware that the form was on its website. After Stein explained to him where to find it, the representative told Stein the bank wasn’t accepting applications and that he should keep checking his online account for guidance in the coming hours and days, Stein said. “It was almost comical, but heartbreaking. It’s tragicomedy, I guess,' he said. Going into the program's launch Friday, the banking industry had been trying to temper expectations about how many businesses will get the cash they need on Friday. Banks large and small will have to process these loans as quickly as possible in order to get their customers a slice of the program. The banks have moved employees into new departments — a logistical challenge given many employees are working remotely — just to potentially keep up with the flood of applications. Not only that, but thousands of their employees are either sick or quarantined because of the virus. The program is part of the $2 trillion relief package signed into law last week, which was billed as a way to help local businesses that often form the fabric of communities stay afloat. The program will give businesses low-interest loans of about 2.5 times their average monthly payroll. The loans will be fully or partially forgiven if businesses show that the money was used to retain or rehire employees and pay some overhead expenses through June 30. While Congress could approve more money later on, the program as it stands is expected to run out quickly. That could mean applicants who have the financial and legal expertise of a larger organization might be able to maximize their benefits, not leaving much for smaller businesses, especially those who wait or have problems applying. Congress made the program as wide as possible. An expansive definition of “small business” in the law means that it will be open to much more than just Main Street shops as lenders start processing applications. Bankers recommend applying for the loans through the bank they already have accounts with to speed along the process as quickly as possible. Independent contractors and the self-employed are not eligible to apply until April 10 under guidance from the Treasury Department. By then, banks could be overwhelmed with applications. “It’s hard for me to say this: There is only $350 billion in this fund. Every big restaurant and hotel chain is going to be going after this money. It’s not going to last,” said Ron Feldman, chief development officer at ApplePie Capital, which has been helping businesses get ready to apply. “If you want to get this loan, speed is your friend,” Feldman told 2,000 franchise industry officials on a conference call this week. ____ Ryan J. Foley reported from Iowa City, Iowa. Ken Sweet and Joyce Rosenberg reported from New York.
  • Growth in the U.S. service sector slowed in March with a much bigger decline expected in coming months from all the shutdowns and job layoffs that have occurred because of efforts to contain the coronavirus. The Institute for Supply Management said Friday that its service-sector index slowed to 52.5 in March from a reading of 57.3 in February. Any reading above 50 indicates the service sector, where most Americans work, is expanding. But with record layoffs over the past two weeks, economists believe services will fall into a contraction in April. The March report said service industries were already showing signs of the impact of the virus. Reports from the health care sector found significant shortages of personal protective equipment, test swabs and other basic medical supplies. “Extreme sourcing measures are required to procure necessary supplies for basic operations,” the ISM report said, quoting respondents to its survey. Anthony Nieves, chair of the survey committee for the ISM services report, said one factor that kept the index from sliding further in March was strength being seen in the government and health care parts of the index. ISM reported on Wednesday that its manufacturing index did fall into contractionary territory in March with a reading of 49.1. Private economists said they were looking for the services index to slide into contraction territory probably with the April report. “Conditions in both non-manufacturing and manufacturing are expected to weaken over coming months in response to virus-related shutdowns, supply chain disruptions as well as weak demand,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics.
  • Saying they don't know when they'll be able to re-open many of their businesses with the coronavirus spreading, Walt Disney Co. officials announced they will start furloughing some workers in two weeks at its theme parks resorts in Florida and California. The statement released late Thursday from The Walt Disney Co. said the first wave of furloughs will start April 19 and involve workers whose jobs aren't necessary at this time. Anyone who is furloughed will remain a Disney employee, the company said. “Over the last few weeks, mandatory decrees from government officials have shut down a majority of our businesses,' the statement said. The statement did not say how many of Walt Disney World's more than 75,000 employees or Disneyland's 31,000 workers would be furloughed, but it would involve executive, salaried and hourly non-union employees. Disney World has the largest number of workers at a single location in the U.S. More than half of its workers are covered by a union contract. The company has been paying workers and providing health care benefits at its theme park resorts since the parks closed in mid-March due to coronavirus concerns and that will continue through April 18, the company said. Furloughed workers will continue to receive full healthcare benefits, plus the cost of employee and company premiums will be paid by Disney. Employees enrolled in a program in which Disney pays tuition for further education can still continue to take classes, the statement said. Employees can also apply paid vacation time to the start of their furlough if they desire, the company said. Late last week, SeaWorld Entertainment said it was furloughing 90% of its workers because the novel coronavirus had forced the company to close its 12 theme parks. The company had 4,700 full-time employees, approximately 12,000 part-time employees and the company hires more than 4,000 additional seasonal workers, according to its annual report. Universal's Florida and California parks plan to stay closed at least through April 19, company officials said late last month. ___ Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
  • The U.S. Women's Open in Houston is moving from the end of spring to the middle of December. The USGA said Friday the rapid developments of COVID-19 has led the Women's Open at Champions Golf Club to be postponed. Instead of being held June 4-7, the new date is Dec. 10-13. That would be the latest a major championship is played, and the first time an official LPGA Tour event was held entirely in December since Maria Hjorth won the LPGA Tour Championship in 2010. Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA, said the move couldn't have happened without collaboration with the LPGA Tour and Fox Sports, its broadcast partner which has NFL games during December. “Our priority remains ensuring the safety of all involved with the U.S. Women's Open, while still providing the world's best players the opportunity to compete this year,” Davis said. But it will require some adjustments. The U.S. Women's Open was to play all 72 holes on the Cypress Creek course at Champions, the course that hosted the 1969 U.S. Open and most recently the 2003 Tour Championship on the PGA Tour. Because of limited daylight in December, and with the USGA wanting to have a full field for its premier women's event, the opening two rounds would be played on Cypress Creek and the Jackrabbit course. Still to be determined are dates and golf courses to be used for qualifying. Meanwhile, the LPGA Tour postponed the next five events, with four of them already assigned new dates. The changes means the next event — for now — would be the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship on June 19-21, followed by the KPMG Women's PGA Championship outside Philadelphia. The Pelican Women's Championship, a new event in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area, moves from May 14-17 to Nov. 12-15; the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Atlantic City, New Jersey, moves from May 29-31 to July 31-Aug. 2; and the Meijer LPGA Classic in Michigan was to be played June 11-14 and will be rescheduled. The Pure Silk Championship at Kingsmill Resort in Virginia was canceled and will return to the 2021 schedule. A previously postponed tournament, the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, California, moves from March to Sept. 24-27. “This has been a truly collective effort to reschedule tournament dates and work together to provide LPGA players with as many playing opportunities as possible once it is safe for us to resume competing again,' LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan said. ___ More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports ___ This story has been corrected to show that the last December LPGA event was in 2010, not 1966.