COVID-19 UPDATE: WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, MARCH 18

Settling in to the grim new normal…cross-posted to www.geov.org. If you find these updates valuable, please consider donating to support our work. There’s a PayPal button at the bottom of the right-hand column on the web site. And thank you *so* much to those of you who’ve already donated!

RIP StPHen Schwartz, the first person I’ve known personally who has passed due to COVID-19. Sadly, I expect there will be more.

LOCAL

* Ten new COVID-19 deaths in King County today, bringing the total to 56. Our county has 562 confirmed cases so far. Pierce County (Tacoma) has now recorded its first death.

* The US and Canada have mutually agreed to close their border to non-essential traffic. All the way from Blaine to the Atlantic. It’s the longest continuous border in the world. Blaine, Detroit, and Buffalo are the most heavily trafficked crossings.

* In his afternoon press briefing, Gov. Inslee announced a statewide 30-day ban on residential evictions, as well as new relief programs for small businesses. Inslee declined to answer multiple questions about whether he was considering a “shelter in place” order for some or all of the state. He also said he’d requested the military hospital ship bound for the West Coast to be deployed first to Puget Sound.

* Applications for state unemployment benefits are up 150 percent this week. Inslee announced a waiver of the usual one week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits.

NATIONAL

* The stock market was down sharply again today, triggering a stop in trading for the second time in three days. The Dow Jones went down 2,300 points, below its level at Pres. Trump’s inauguration, before rebounding a bit to be down six percent at closing.

* President Trump proposed a $1 trillion emergency economic stimulus package. It would include two direct payments to all Americans, one in April and one in May. The amounts would be based on income and family size; details are still being negotiated with Congress. The package would also include a $50 billion bailout for the airline industry. About 12,000 commercial flights have been cancelled worldwide as a result of COVID-19.

* DC lobbyists have been lining up to get tax breaks and further deregulation for their industries. Watch that they do, not what they say.

* The “Big Three” American automakers – GM, Ford, and Chrysler – announced they were closing their North American manufacturing plants, following similar moves in Europe last week. HaLliburton announced several thousand layoffs.

* Trump also invoked the Defense Protection Act of 1950, a Korean War-era law that enables the federal government to compel manufacturing companies to aid in the war effort. It has since been expanded to include national emergencies, and is being used now to manufacture masks, PPEs, gowns, and other medical equipment that is at risk of being in short supply during the outbreak.

* The Senate finally passed, and Trump signed into law, the relief bill passed by the House last Thursday. The bill includes free COVID-19 testing, sick leave benefits, and other initial steps. Eight Republican senators voted against it. These are the guys who would push women and children out of the way to get off a sinking ship. The Senate is not expected to consider this latest stimulus bill until next week, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did promise to not adjourn the Senate this weekend, for a change.

* Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL becomes the first member of c=Congress to test positive for COVID-19. At least 14 other members of Congress have had to self-isolate after being exposed to someone who then tested positive.

* The Federal Housing Finance Agency directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

* Trump announced he was deploying two military hospital ships to help deal with the worst-hit areas in the pandemic. One will be sent to New York Harbor, the other to an as-yet-undetermined West Coast destination. It may take weeks to staff and deploy either ship.

* The decennial US Census, set for April 1, announced that it was suspending all field operations, and encouraged Americans to fill out census forms at www.2020Census.gov.

* Farmers’ groups are warning about a severe shortage of field hands this summer. The US Embassy in Mexico has suspended issuance of the temporary H-2a work visas used by about 250,000 Mexicans a year.

*Confirmed cases in New York City continue to explode, with 1,871 now testing positive, and 2,382 people in New York state – most of the remainder being in NYC’s suburbs. In part, the increase is due to the increased availability of testing. But only in part.

* Nevada has ordered its casinos closed. You know things are bad when…

GLOBAL

* Worldwide confirmed cases of COVID-19 blew past the 200,000 mark overnight, and now total 214,894, with 8,732 deaths. Italy set a one-day record for deaths (475) and will likely pass China for most deaths tomorrow. Iran and the UK also saw sharp increases in their death tolls.

* The UK has closed its schools and universities nationwide.

* Portugal declared a state of emergency. Malaysia closed its borders, effectively also isolating the city-state of Singapore. Taiwan barred foreigners from entering the country, and ordered all residents to stay home for 14 days.

* The World Health Organization’s head today criticized Donald Trump for his repeated use of the term “Chinese virus.”

That is all. I’M GOING TO GO WASH MY HANDS.

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