CORONAVIRUS:

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National Govt & Politics

    President Donald Trump this weekend bluntly warned Americans to prepare for what his team said could be one of the roughest weeks yet against the Coronavirus, as the U.S. has now had four consecutive days with over 1,000 new deaths related to the virus outbreak. 'This will be probably be the toughest week,' the President told reporters at a Saturday briefing. 'There will be a lot of death, unfortunately.' Top federal health officials agreed with that assessment. 'Right now, we're seeing - as well all said correctly - that this is probably going to be a really bad week,' said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert for the U.S. government. Fauci joined the President in again urging Americans to do what they can to limit their social activities, and thus limit the spread of the virus. 'The only tool - but the best tool that we have - is mitigation,' Fauci told reporters at a Sunday night White House briefing. Fauci reminded reporters that the measures being taken by Americans in terms of social distancing take about two and a half weeks to show up in terms of fewer cases, and a drop in the number of deaths. 'People really understand the responsibility they have for themselves, their family and for the country,' Fauci said at the White House. Fauci's colleague, Dr. Deborah Birx, told reporters that health officials continue to see the most problems in the New York City metro area, as well as in New Orleans and Louisiana as a whole. Birx also name-checked Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington State, Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. - where there have been rumblings in recent days about a possible broader spread of the virus. 'We do see hopeful signs in Spain and Italy. They have completed nearly four weeks of mitigation,' Birx said, telling Americans they should follow the lead of those nations in terms of social distancing, as a way to stop the spread of the virus. During Sunday's briefing, the President repeated his endorsement of the use of hydroxychloroquine - a drug often associated with malaria treatment - to be used against the Coronavirus. 'What really do we have to lose?' the President asked reporters at one point, encouraging people to use the drug, even though it has not been specifically found to stop the virus. 'It may not work, in which case, hey - it didn't work,' the President said at one point. 'And it may work, in which case, it may save a lot of lives.' 'If it does help, great,' Mr. Trump added. 'If it doesn't help, we gave it a shot.' The President's promotion of hydroxychloriquine has drawn concerns from Fauci - who has noted the lack of broader trials - but Mr. Trump has pressed forward with the idea, bolstered by support among GOP lawmakers and conservative media. On Sunday, when one reporter tried to ask Fauci his opinion, the President stepped in and did not let Fauci answer. 'You know how many times he's answered that question?' the President said to a reporter from CNN. '15 times. You don't have to ask that question. He's answered that question 15 times.' The death toll from the Coronavirus in the U.S. will go over 10,000 people on Monday.
  • A small coastal city in Georgia that thrives on tourism closed its beach, fearing carefree crowds of teenagers and college students posed too great a risk for spreading the new coronavirus. Two weeks later, the state's governor has reversed that decision, saying people weathering the outbreak need fresh air and exercise. The clash has thrust tiny Tybee Island, east of Savannah, into a thorny debate that keeps cropping up during the coronavirus pandemic: How much can officials curtail freedoms during the crisis? And should those calls be made at the federal, state or local level? Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions, sworn in barely three months ago, has taken on Gov. Brian Kemp after state officials on Friday reopened the beach in this community of 3,100 people. The beach typically operates with city-funded lifeguards, police patrols and trash cleanup. The change resulted from the Republican governor's order that people statewide should “shelter in place” — that is, they should stay home unless working jobs deemed essential, seeking medical care, shopping for groceries, or other exceptions including exercising outdoors. It also invalidated any restrictions already imposed by local governments if they went beyond the governor's limits. That meant a unanimous decision by Tybee Island’s city council to close its beach was suddenly overridden, and Sessions said the governor's office declined to reconsider when asked. Her blunt, public rebuttal to what she called the governor’s “reckless mandate” drew attention far beyond her small coastal home. “As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen,” Sessions said in a statement posted Saturday on the city’s website that was quickly spread on social media and quoted in news stories. Tybee Island mayors are elected in nonpartisan races, and Sessions doesn't identify as Democrat or Republican. Kemp noted Sunday on Twitter that state law enforcement officers were monitoring beaches at Tybee Island and elsewhere to ensure crowds weren’t gathering, and that beach traffic appeared sparse. Kemp said “beach gear and parties are prohibited.” “Patrols are vigilant so people can get fresh air and exercise while following social distancing rules,” the governor tweeted. The back-and-forth reflects the broader debate in the U.S. about whether severe limitations on people's movement are necessary, causing unacceptable disruption or even constitutional. Some faith leaders, for instance, have argued that bans on gatherings that applied to services violated religious freedom protections. The American Civil Liberties Union is asking a court to block part of Puerto Rico’s strict curfew, expressing concern about overreach. The Los Angeles County sheriff reversed his decision to shut down firearms dealers after he was sued by gun-rights groups. On Sunday, there were no lifeguards were on duty on Tybee's beaches, and local officials left in place plywood signs blocking boardwalks and wooden barricades to keep cars out of beachfront parking lots. “I would say we’re going to leave them up until somebody takes them down,” Sessions said in a phone interview. The mayor said she doesn’t understand why the state would assert control during the pandemic. Kemp’s office did not immediately respond to an email Sunday seeking further comment on the governor’s rationale. Kemp’s spokeswoman, Candice Broce, said in a statement Saturday that governor’s staff was in contact with Sessions and would provide resources as needed to enforce social distancing. Sessions said she’s thinks few people ventured to the beach over the weekend because they weren’t sure whether it was open or closed. She’s concerned that could change. The city moved to shut down the beach after thousands of young people swarmed to the sand and surf as schools and colleges canceled classes. Local officials worried that carefree crowds posed too great a risk for spreading the virus. Still, it was a painful decision for a city that’s typically hungry for spring tourists after the economically lean winter. “We are a very high-risk community. We have an older population and two nursing homes. We don’t have a medical facility,” Sessions said. “The sooner we take these actions, the sooner we’ll be able to get back to some type of normalcy.” For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and lead to death. On Sunday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported more than 6,600 confirmed infections statewide and 211 deaths. Chatham County, which includes Tybee Island and neighboring Savannah, had more than 80 cases and three deaths. At least one Tybee Island resident is among those infected, Sessions said, as is an officer on the community’s small police force. Kemp’s order that reopened the beach also lifted a temporary ban Tybee Island had imposed on people checking into vacation rental homes. Sessions said she spotted license plates from New York, New Jersey and other states reeling from the pandemic as she walked the island over the weekend. And she fears many more visitors will show up for the upcoming Easter weekend. “I tell people it’s such a small sacrifice,' said Sessions, who’s still urging people to stay off the beach. 'The beach is going to be there in two months. But will we be there to enjoy it?”
  • With the military under broad pressure to step up its coronavirus response, Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday defended the firing of an aircraft carrier commander who sought help for sailors during an outbreak as a matter of holding leaders “accountable.” He also said the matter was under review. In two television interviews, Esper said acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly made a “very tough decision” last Thursday to oust Capt. Brett Crozier of command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which was docked in Guam, and that he supported the decision. “It was based on his view that he had lost faith and confidence in the captain, based on his actions. It was supported by Navy leadership,” Esper said. Still, the Pentagon chief declined to explicitly say he agreed with Modly’s assessment, noting that there is “an investigation ongoing.” “This could ultimately come to my desk,” he said. “I think Secretary Modly laid out very reasonably, very deliberately the reasons why. And I think, when all those facts come to bear, we will have a chance to understand why Secretary Modly did what he did.” Crozier circulated a memo to Navy leaders last week that was obtained by news media in which he urged speedy action to evacuate the ship of nearly 5,000 sailors as the coronavirus began to escalate. Modly said Crozier “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis, although Navy officials later announced they would offload 2,700 sailors in the coming days. Videos went viral on social media over the weekend, showing hundreds of sailors gathered on the ship chanting and applauding Crozier on Thursday as he walked off the vessel, turned, saluted, waved and got into a waiting car. His firing comes amid pressure on the military as it seeks to step up its response to the coronavirus outbreak, including sending two Navy hospital ships to assist New York and Los Angeles. On Sunday, Esper said the Pentagon was sending over 1,100 additional doctors, nurses and other medical staff to New York as part of a COVID-19 operation that would have the military in charge of “the largest hospital in the United States,” with 2,500 beds at the city's Jacob Javits Convention Center. Esper issued new requirements for those visiting or working on Department of Defense installations regarding the use of cloth face coverings. He said that “to the extent practical,” all individuals on department property “will wear” the coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance from others. The guidance, outlined in a memo to senior military leaders Sunday, is effective immediately. As the coronavirus pandemic worsens and the country turns increasingly to the military for help, America’s armed services have been struggling to get new recruits as families and communities hunker down. The services, as a result, could fall thousands short of their enlistment goals if the widespread lockdowns drag on, forcing them to pressure current troops to stay on in order to maintain broader military readiness. Asked over the weekend about whether Crozier's firing could hurt morale in the military, President Donald Trump said he was not involved with the decision but agreed with it “100 percent.' “I thought it was terrible what he did to write a letter,” he told reporters Saturday. “I mean, this isn’t a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that’s nuclear powered. And he shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter. He could call and ask and suggest.” Esper insisted it was not unusual for the Navy to relieve commanders so quickly without first completing a review into their actions. But he also declined to say what will happen to Crozier, citing the current ongoing investigation. Esper said he backed Modly's decision after also receiving advice from the chief of naval operations and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 'It's just another example of how we hold leaders accountable for their actions,' Esper said. He said over half of the ship had now been tested. About 155 sailors had tested positive for COVID-19, exhibiting “mild and moderate” symptoms with “no hospitalizations whatsoever.” For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. Esper said not all the sailors will be evacuated because the ship has sensitive equipment and weapons on board, and a new commander will be arriving there soon to assess the crew's safety. The ouster has drawn fire from different quarters, including former military commanders. On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called the Trump administration's handling of the case as “close to criminal.” “The idea that this man stood up and said what had to be said, got it out that his troops, his Navy personnel were in danger,” he said. “I think he should have a commendation rather than be fired.” Tweed Roosevelt, the great grandson of former President Theodore Roosevelt, called Crozier a “hero.” “In this era when so many seem to place expediency over honor, it is heartening that so many others are showing great courage, some even risking their lives. Theodore Roosevelt, in his time, chose the honorable course,” Tweed Roosevelt wrote in an op-ed Friday in The New York Times. “Captain Crozier has done the same.” Esper appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week,” and Biden also was on ABC.
  • Joe Biden said Sunday that the Democratic National Convention, already delayed until August because of the coronavirus, may need to take place online as the pandemic continues to reshape the race for the White House. The party 'may have to do a virtual convention,” the former vice president said. “The idea of holding the convention is going to be necessary. We may not be able to put 10, 20, 30,000 people in one place,' he told ABC's “This Week,” calling an online convention 'very possible.'' Biden has a commanding lead in the number of delegates needed to secure his party's presidential nomination at a convention in Milwaukee, originally scheduled for mid-July. Democrats hoped an early gathering would give the party more time to unify around a nominee who could defeat President Donald Trump in November. But officials announced on Thursday they were taking the unprecedented step of postponing the convention until August, just before the Republican National Convention is scheduled. The once-crowded Democratic primary has dwindled to Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But both have switched to addressing supporters online from home, with travel and campaign rallies — like many facets of American life — suspended for weeks because of the outbreak. Biden publicly endorsed delaying the convention before the move to do so was announced, and said Sunday that the extraordinary measure of holding one all online is still not a certainty. “What we do between now and then is going to dictate a lot of that as well,' he said. “But my point is that I think you just got to follow the science. Listen to the experts.' Biden also said he planned to wear a mask in public, heeding new federal guidelines that Americans use face coverings when venturing out. That contradicts Trump, who says he's choosing not do that. “He may not like how he looks in a mask,' Biden said of the president, adding that it was a mattering of following science. “That’s what they’re telling us,' the former vice president added. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams offered some of the starkest warnings about the virus yet, saying. “This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly.” But he appeared to play down the mask issue, saying that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines emphasize that such coverings are voluntary and shouldn't be used as a substitute for the “social distancing” that has kept millions at home. “The president is making a choice that’s appropriate for him,” Adams said before showing off a mask he said he wears in public. “What I want Americans to know is, if you’re going out in public and you’re going to be closer than 6 feet to other people, you can use a cloth facial covering.” For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two weeks to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
  • The U.S. surgeon general said Sunday that Americans should brace for levels of tragedy reminiscent of the Sept. 11 attacks and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, while the nation’s infectious disease chief warned that the new coronavirus may never be completely eradicated from the globe. Those were some of the most grim assessments yet for the immediate future and beyond. But hours later, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence tried to strike more optimistic tones, suggesting that hard weeks ahead could mean beginning to turn a corner. “We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel,” Trump said at an evening White House briefing. Pence added, “We are beginning to see glimmers of progress.” The president also insisted that both assessments from his administration — they came within 12 hours of each other — didn't represent an about-face or were even “that different.' “I think we all know that we have to reach a certain point — and that point is going to be a horrific point in terms of death — but it's also a point at which things are going to start changing,” Trump said. “We're getting very close to that level right now.” The president added that he thought the next two weeks “are going to be very difficult. At the same time, we understand what they represent and what that time represents and, hopefully, we can get this over with.” Still, Trump's own briefing also struck a somber tone at times. The president offered some of his most extensive comments to date to the families of those killed by the virus, urging the nation to pray for them and 'ask God to comfort them in their hour of grief.” “With the faith of our families and the spirit of our people and the grace of our God we will endure,” the president said. 'We will overcome.” Earlier Sunday, Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CNN, “This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly.” “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized,' said Adams, the nation's top doctor. 'It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.” The number of people infected in the U.S. has exceeded 337,000, with the death toll climbing past 9,600. More than 4,100 of those deaths are in the state of New York, but a glimmer of hope there came on Sunday when Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state registered a small dip in new fatalities over a 24-hour period. Still, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said his state may run out of ventilators by week's end. Former Vice President Joe Biden suggested his party's presidential nominating convention, already pushed from July into August because of the outbreak, may have to move fully online to avoid packing thousands of people into an arena in Milwaukee. Biden has all but clinched his party's presidential nomination and held an online town hall from his home in Delaware at the same time Trump was addressing reporters. His tone was far less confrontational than Trump, who clashed with reporters and criticized Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker as being demanding and complaining while having “not performed well.” Biden sought to be uplifting and almost grandfatherly, taking questions from children with his wife. But he also said the president “has been awful slow” to use the powers of his office to compel private companies to make protective equipment for doctors and nurses, adding that “we should be much more aggressive.” Trump angrily deflected questions regarding the slow pace of the federal government’s response to the pandemic, praising federal officials he has elevated in recent weeks to coordinate the distribution of hard-to-find supplies. “The people that you’re looking at, FEMA, the military, what they’ve done is a miracle,” Trump told reporters. “What they’ve done is a miracle in getting all of this stuff. What they have done for states is incredible.” For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. Also Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the toll in the coming week is 'going to be shocking to some, but that's what is going to happen before it turns around, so just buckle down.' Fauci said the virus probably won’t be wiped out entirely this year, and that unless the world gets it under control, it will “assume a seasonal nature.” “We need to be prepared that, since it unlikely will be completely eradicated from the planet, that as we get into next season, we may see the beginning of a resurgence,” Fauci said. “That’s the reason why we’re pushing so hard in getting our preparedness much better than it was.” The Defense Department released new requirements that all individuals on its property “will wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of social distance in public areas or work centers.” That is in compliance with new federal guidelines that Americans use face coverings when venturing out. Trump had said previously that he's choosing not to wear a face mask and scoffed at the idea of using one while answering questions as he held news briefings like Sunday night's. “I would wear one,' he said, but only “if I thought it was important.” ___ Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko in Washington contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump is taking an old political adage to heart: Never let a crisis go to waste. The coronavirus is projected to kill more than 100,000 Americans. It has effectively shuttered the economy, torpedoed the stock market and rewritten the rules of what used to be called normal life. But in this moment of upheaval, Trump and his advisers haven’t lost sight of the opportunity to advance his agenda. A look at some of the president's notable moves: BRINGING BACK THE ENTERTAINMENT TAX DEDUCTION Trump has called on Congress to revive the tax deduction for business-related expenses on meals and entertainment, arguing it would help bolster high-end restaurants hammered by the outbreak. Trump’s own tax law in 2017 sliced the tax rate for corporations from 35% to 21% and eliminated the deduction. “This is a great time to bring it back,” Trump said of the resurrecting the tax break. 'Otherwise a lot of these restaurants are going to have a hard time reopening,” he said at White House briefing Wednesday. During a Rose Garden briefing last Sunday, Trump said he had spoken with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck about the idea. Trump also name-checked prominent restaurateurs including Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten as he tried to make the case for reviving the deduction. Vongerichten is a tenant at the president’s Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York. “Congress must pass the old, and very strongly proven, deductibility by businesses on restaurants and entertainment,” Trump tweeted recently. “This will bring restaurants, and everything related, back - and stronger than ever. Move quickly, they will all be saved!” ___ USING VIRUS TO MAKE CASE FOR TIGHTER BORDERS Trump has repeatedly credited himself with moving in late January to bar entry from foreigners who had recently been in China. The president later also ordered the temporary suspension of travel from much of Europe to the United States, and has largely closed the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico. But Trump has notably used the crisis to remind Americans about his 2016 campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He argues a wall would help contain the coronavirus. In a tweet last month, he said the structure is “Going up fast” and “We need the Wall more than ever!” Leading public health experts disagree. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told lawmakers last month that he was unaware of any indication from his agency that physical barriers along America’s borders would help halt the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. Still, Trump argues that the virus has only spotlighted that his instincts on the border wall were right. The virus — and the subsequent opportunity to invoke emergency powers — has allowed Trump to lock down the borders and make sure virtually no immigrants are getting in. ___ PANDEMIC UNDERSCORES NEED FOR PROTECTIONISM, TRUMP SAYS Trump in recent days has grumbled that American companies such as 3M and GM are not doing enough to provide American medical workers and first responders with vital equipment they need. But the president and his aides have also made a broader argument about the need for the country to retool regulations to encourage the manufacturing of medicine and other key safety equipment on American soil. Peter Navarro, a senior trade adviser to Trump, said the pandemic, which has left hospitals short of ventilators and protective masks, has underscored the president’s “buy American, secure borders, and a strong manufacturing base” philosophy. “Never again should we have to depend on the rest of the world for our essential medicines and countermeasures,” Navarro said. ___ ADMINISTRATION ROLLS BACK MILEAGE STANDARDS On the same day that the White House announced projections that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans are likely to die from coronavirus, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced a controversial new federal rule that will relax mileage standards for years to come. The rollback is a victory for Americans who like their SUVs and pickup trucks, but it’s hardly without a cost. The government’s own projections indicate that the new standards also mean more Americans will die from air pollution, and there will be more climate-damaging tailpipe exhaust and more expense for drivers at the gas pumps. Trump hailed the new rule as reason for Americans to go out and buy big, new cars. “Great news! American families will now be able to buy safer, more affordable, and environmentally friendly cars with our new SAFE VEHICLES RULE,” Trump tweeted. Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups condemned the rollback, and years of legal battles are expected, including from California and other states opposed to the change. ___ KEEPING AN EYE ON OVERHAULING COURTS Trump announced Friday he was nominating a young, federal judge to fill a high-profile vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Judge Justin Walker, 37, was confirmed less than six months ago for a seat on the U.S. District Court in Western Kentucky after a contentious nominating fight about his credentials. The former clerk to retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is one of the youngest federal judges in the country. He also has deep ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who hailed the nomination as an opportunity to 'refresh the second-most-important federal court in the country.″ Walker also clerked for Justice Brett Kavanaugh when Kavanaugh was a judge on the D.C. appeals court. Walker drew a rare “Not Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association when Trump nominated him last year to be a federal judge. Despite reservations from Democrats and the legal community about Walker’s credentials, his nomination was approved, 50—41. Opponents noted he was barely 10 years out of law school and had never served as co-counsel at trial when he was tapped for the federal bench. The Trump administration has worked feverishly to overhaul the federal courts, nominating and winning Senate confirmation for more than 190 judges over the past three years, a pace unseen since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Even in the midst of battling a pandemic, Trump hasn’t lost sight of the long-term impact his nominations to the federal bench will have on his legacy. ___ This story has been corrected to reflect that the property in New York is the Trump International Hotel and Tower, not the Trump Tower.
  • In the decade before Michigan and its largest city became the latest hot spot for the deadly coronavirus, officials were steadily, and at times dramatically, cutting back on their first line of defense against pandemics and other public health emergencies. Approaching bankruptcy, Detroit disbanded most of its public health department and handed its responsibilities to a private nonprofit. When the department reopened in 2014 in the back of the municipal parking office, its per capita budget was a fraction of other big cities', to serve a needier population. In Ingham County, home to the capital city of Lansing, then-Public Health Director Renee Branch Canady sat down at budget time every year for seven straight years to figure out what more to cut. “It was just chop, chop, chop,” Canady said. By the time she left in 2014, all the health educators, who teach people how to prevent disease, were gone. What happened in Michigan also played out across the country and at the federal level after the 2008 recession, which caused serious budget problems for governments. But as the economy recovered, public health funding did not, a review of budget figures and interviews with health experts and officials shows. A shortfall persisted despite several alarming outbreaks, from H1N1 to Ebola, and has left the U.S. more vulnerable now to COVID-19, experts say. In normal times, public health workers are in the community, immunizing children, checking on newborns and performing other tasks. In a health emergency, they're tracing outbreaks, conducting testing and serving as “first responders” when people fall sick — efforts that are lagging in many states as the coronavirus spreads. “Our funding decisions tied their hands,” said Brian Castrucci, who worked with health departments in Philadelphia, Texas and Georgia and is now president of the de Beaumont Foundation, a health advocacy organization. The cuts came under both Democratic and Republican administrations. While there is no single number that reflects all federal, state and local spending, the budget for the federal Centers for Disease Control, the core agency for public health, fell by 10 percent between fiscal year 2010 and 2019 after adjusting for inflation, according to an analysis by the Trust for America’s Health, a public health research and advocacy organization. The group found that federal funding to help state and local officials prepare for emergencies such as the coronavirus outbreak has also fallen — from about $1 billion after 9/11 to under $650 million last year. Between 2008 and 2017, state and local health departments lost more than 55,000 jobs — one-fifth of their workforce, a major factor as cities struggle to respond to COVID-19. “It definitely has made a difference,' said John Auerbach, Trust for America's Health CEO and a former public health director in Massachusetts. New York has seen the most COVID-19 cases in the U.S., but numbers are surging in places such as Detroit, where those testing positive nearly tripled in the week between March 28 and Saturday, when officials said the city was approaching 4,000 cases, with 129 deaths. A more robust health system could have done more earlier to track down and isolate people who were exposed, said the city's former health director, Abdul El-Sayed. State spending on public health in Michigan dropped 16% from an inflation-adjusted high point of $300 million in 2004, according to a 2018 study. Some of the funding problems, Canady and other public health advocates believe, stem from a fundamental belief in smaller government among Republican governors, including former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who called for “shared sacrifice” after the state's auto-dependent economy was battered by the recession. In Kansas, then-Gov. Sam Brownback ran what he called a “red-state experiment” to cut taxes. State spending on its Public Health Division, outside of federal funds, dropped 28% between 2008 and 2016. The cuts meant a “shifting of responsibility for services from the state level to the county level,' Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said in an interview. 'And we saw that in public health.' In Maine, then-Gov. Paul Le Page's administration stopped replacing public health nurses who were dealing with families in the opioid crisis. The number of nurses fell from around 60 to the low 20s before the Legislature tried to reverse the action. Although agencies often receive emergency funding when a crisis strikes, the infusion is temporary. “Decisions are made politically to support something when it becomes an epidemic,” said Derrick Neal, a public health official in Abilene when Ebola surfaced in Texas. “And then as time passes, the funding shrinks.” In Oklahoma, state funding for the Department of Health still hasn’t returned to its levels of 2014, when a combination of slumping oil prices, tax cuts and corporate breaks punched a giant hole in the state’s budget. When state revenues later improved, the money went to other priorities. “It’s much easier to cut funding for public health than it is to start taking away benefits from people or access to care for people,' said former state Rep. Doug Cox, an emergency room doctor. Castrucci said the problem with providing more money only at times of emergency is it doesn't allow time to recruit and train new workers. “We waited until the house was on fire before we started interviewing firefighters,” he said. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. ___ Associated Press reporters David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump talked to many U.S. pro sports leaders about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, saying he was looking forward to the resumption of competitions “as soon as we can.” “I want fans back in the arenas,” Trump said later in a briefing at the White House. “I think it’s ... whenever we’re ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.” A person with direct knowledge of the call said Trump believes the NFL season — scheduled to begin Sept. 10 — will start on time with fans in seats. But that seemed too optimistic for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was asked if he thought the NFL season would start on time. “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,” Newsom said. The NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball were all represented by their commissioners — Adam Silver, Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell and Rob Manfred, respectively. None of those leagues released public comment. A second person with knowledge of the call said some commissioners, Silver included, stressed to Trump that they are working on multiple season-resumption plans but cautioned nothing can move forward without clearance from public health officials. The people spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because no discussion from the call was to be revealed publicly. Others on the call included PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske, UFC President Dana White, World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert and Breeders’ Cup President Drew Fleming. National Women's Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird was not included in the call, and that league was not pleased. “As a leader in women’s professional sports, the NWSL would welcome the chance to participate in any future discussions between the top sports leagues in the U.S. and the White House,' the league said. Trump addressed Little League players on Saturday, tweeting to tell them, “hang in there! We will get you back out on the fields, and know that you will be playing baseball soon. We will get through this together, and bats will be swinging before you know it.' Trump said the need for social distancing is affecting his 14-year-old son, Barron. The president described his son as a good athlete and soccer fan. “We have to get back,” Trump said. “We have to get back. Remember that. We have to get back and we have to get back soon.” ___ AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer, AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi, AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson and AP Baseball Writers Ronald Blum and Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report. ___ More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-Sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Despite state and local limits on public gatherings, some faith leaders have persisted in holding in-person services -- a matter of religious freedom, they say, as the nation approached its fourth Sunday battling the coronavirus pandemic. The most high-profile clash over in-person worship – and crowd limits designed to stop the virus’ spread -- came in Florida, where Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested Monday for violating a county order by hosting a large number of congregants at his Tampa church. Howard-Browne said after his release he would move future worship online, but the county later ended its effort to apply limits on large gatherings to religious services after a statewide order described religious gatherings as essential. Law enforcement officials in Louisiana and Maryland took separate action this week against pastors who continue to hold in-person services in the face of stay-home orders in most states. But more than a half-dozen of those state orders provide a degree of exemption for religious activity, underscoring the political sensitivity of the decisions being made by states and localities. Vice President Mike Pence said this week that churches should not host groups bigger than 10 people. President Donald Trump said Saturday that he would be watching Palm Sunday services broadcast from Riverside, Calif., from a laptop. “People are watching on computers and laptops,” Trump said. “It’s sad.” Trump said he asked about endorsing the idea of people being able to gather outside for services on Easter Sunday if they practice social distancing, but recalled being told “Do we want to take a chance on doing that when we have been doing so well?” Trump earlier said that “my biggest disappointment is that churches can’t meet in a time of need.” The application of guidance on the ground has raised questions for some faith leaders. Pastor Alvin Gwynn Sr., of Baltimore’s Friendship Baptist Church, said that police tried to halt services at his church on Sunday even though he had limited in-person attendance to 10 people. Gwynn said in an interview that he still plans to hold in-person Easter services, citing the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of worship and assembly. Baltimore has “been through a lot” in recent years, said Gwynn, who leads a local ministers’ group that criticized the city’s police department leadership in 2015 following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. “Which is safer, in the church with potential virus, or go out the door and catch a bullet?” Gwynn said. Instructions for church gatherings in Maryland have been issued piecemeal. State guidance dated Monday described houses of worship as non-essential under a stay-home order issued by Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan that allowing them only to conduct “minimal operations.” But follow-up guidance dated Wednesday states that “in-person services” can be held with 10 or fewer people. In Florida, attorneys at the Christian legal nonprofit representing Howard-Browne tabled their plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the county order used against him after the county reversed course. “Instead of using a scalpel to address this, they’re using a chainsaw,” said Liberty Counsel founder Mathew Staver, who added that executive orders designed to limit gatherings during the pandemic were “flying off printers and being signed by government officials with no constitutional readiness.” On Wednesday, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-home order describing religious services as essential, followed by a second order that overrides any localities’ conflicting guidelines — an edict that could impede local attempts to shut down future large worship services. Elsewhere, Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott also described religious services as essential in his order to limit gatherings during the pandemic. In Georgia, where some of the state’s worst virus outbreaks have been linked to large religious services, GOP Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday issued a stay-home order that states no faith-based gathering can occur with more than 10 people unless they keep a six-foot distance. While some faith leaders who continue to hold in-person services have pointed to their First Amendment rights, including Ohio’s Solid Rock megachurch, it’s not clear that their activity during the pandemic would be legally protected. State or local governments would be “constitutionally justified” in including houses of worship in their closure orders during a public health emergency as long as those orders are “generally applicable,” said John Inazu, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies the First Amendment. But the burden shifts if a government attempts to stop a church from holding services with less than 10 people while allowing secular businesses to operate under the same conditions, Inazu added: “There, I think there’s a very plausible religious freedom claim.” Before issuing his order, Kemp held two calls with hundreds of clergy from across Georgia, urging houses of worship to stream services online or implement other social distancing measures, like holding drive-up services where people listen from their cars. Most religious services across the country have already moved online. “We’re making the best of a bad situation. It’s going to be devastating in the short term,” said Todd Gaddis, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Georgia, referring to the loss of donations from in-person services. “But I’m confident there will be spiritual dividends in the long run.” And the Trump administration’s entreaties for churches to stop meeting in person extended beyond the White House. Sam Brownback, the president’s special envoy for religious freedom, said Thursday that “religious groups should practice social distancing.” Brownback, a Catholic, said that he’s skipped Mass for “several weeks, and it’s the longest period I’ve gone without going to Mass. And I think people should be doing this to stop the spread of the virus.” —- Associated Press writers Ben Nadler in Atlanta and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump is warning that the country could be headed into its “toughest” weeks yet as the coronavirus death toll mounts, but at the same time he expressed growing impatience with social distancing guidelines and said he’s eager to get the country reopened and its stalled economy back on track. “There will be a lot of death, unfortunately,” Trump said Saturday in a somber start to his daily briefing on the pandemic, 'There will be death.” Joining Trump were Vice President Mike Pence, virus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s foremost infection disease expert. Each stood far apart from one another on the small stage. Trump added a twist on his familiar push for a drug that hasn't been clearly shown to work to stop the virus — he said he may start taking it as a preventative measure after consulting with his doctor, even though there's no evidence to show it works for that, either. The president initially had suggested the country could reopen by Easter but pulled back seeing projections of a staggering death toll even if restrictive measures remain in place. But just days after extending tough national guidelines through the end of April, staring down historic levels of unemployment and economic standstill, he was talking about reopening as soon as possible, and speaking Saturday with leaders of professional sports leagues about filling arenas again. “This country was not designed to be closed,” he said. 'The cure cannot be worse than the problem.” The number of people infected in the U.S. has exceeded 300,000, with the death toll climbing past 8,400; more than 3,500 of those deaths are in the state of New York. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. Much of the country is under orders to stay home, including professional sports leagues that were among the first to clamp down in the pandemic. Trump spoke by phone with top leaders including Roger Goodell of the National Football League and the NBA’s Adam Silver, telling them he hoped to get people back in seats as soon as possible. “I want fans back in the arenas,' he said. “Whenever we’re ready, as soon as we can.” The virus has decimated the sports world with the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League suspending their seasons indefinitely and Major League Baseball postponing the start of its season. The NCAA basketball tournament was also canceled; so were college spring sports. A person with knowledge of the call said some of the commissioners weren’t quite as optimistic as Trump because of the concerns raised by public health officials but appreciated the president’s desire to give people hope and fans a reason to be optimistic. The person requested anonymity to discuss the private call. California's Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has three NFL teams in his state, was asked if he thought the NFL season would start on time in September. “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,' he said. Hard-hit states were seeing cases rise. Trump suggested that some states were asking for more medical supplies than they really needed. He said the goal was to stay several days ahead of critical medical needs in each state. “The fears of the shortages have led to inflated requests,” he said. Louisiana officials have said New Orleans is on track to run out of ventilators by next week. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state is at the epicenter of the national pandemic with over 113,700 confirmed cases as of Saturday morning, has pleaded for ventilators for days. New York is poised to get more than 1,100 ventilators from China and Oregon. Health officials did offer some hope that social distance measures were working. Fauci said he saw the efforts in action as he went out for a walk in Washington, D.C., and noticed people waiting six feet apart for restaurant take out. “As sobering and a difficult as this is, what we are doing is making a difference,” Fauci said. But even as Fauci urged Americans to be patient and let mitigation efforts work, Trump said: “Mitigation does work. But again, we’re not going to destroy our country.' The previously booming economy had been among Trump's biggest talking points as he heads into the 2020 presidential election, but the past few weeks have seen precipitous drops as the U.S. deals with the fallout from the virus that has shuttered businesses, gutted airlines and forced people into their homes. The president also continued to tout hydroxychloroquine, a drug long used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, after very small preliminary studies suggested it might help prevent the coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner. But the drug has major potential side effects, especially for the heart, and large studies are underway to see if it is safe and effective for treating COVID-19. Trump suggested he may consider whether he should start taking the drug, though he also said he'd ask his doctor first. Some studies are testing whether hydroxychloroquine can help prevent infections in health care workers, but none has suggested that others, such as the president, should take it to prevent infection. With Congress away, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pressed for the next aid package to be ready for an April vote in a letter to House Democrats. “We must double down on the down-payment we made in the CARES Act by passing a CARES 2 package,” she wrote about the just-passed $2.2 trillion bill, pushing for another additional unemployment benefits, small business loans and direct payments to Americans. ___ AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Indian Shores, Florida, contributed to this report.