COVID-19 UPDATE: THURSDAY LATE NIGHT, MARCH 19

LOCAL

* Washington now has 1,376 confirmed cases, up 180 from last night; King County has 693 of those cases, or more than half; 66 of the state’s 74 deaths have also been in King County.

* City Councilmember Kshama Sawant announced a November ballot initiative to tax Amazon and other big businesses. Sawant and fellow CM Tammy Morales have been making the case that only such a tax can meaningfully defray the huge economic cost to our city of the crisis.

* Providence, operators of 51 hospitals in the region – including the Swedish system – says it is running out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). Lots of anecdotal tales, locally and nationally, of medical providers reusing disposal masks or even going without them altogether.

* Seattle has opened a testing site dedicated to first responders in a SoDo warehouse.

* Washington governor Jay Inslee ordered the suspension of all “non-urgent medical and dental procedures” to conserve protective equipment for medical workers.

* The Washington State Supreme Court issued an order today postponing hearings for out-of-custody criminal defendants, and expediting the release of jail inmates whose health is vulnerable.

* The Seattle International Film Festival has been postponed.

* The US Army is preparing two 250-bed mobile hospitals, one at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Pierce County, and the other at Fort Campbell in western Kentucky.

* Community Transit, Snohomish County’s transit agency, said today it would not collect fares during the crisis. The South Lake Union Trolley, which has much lower ridership than the ID/Capitol Hill trolley, is being temporarily discontinued.

* Washington state today added funerals and memorial services to the list of banned social gatherings.

* The Washington Department of Natural Resources announced it is closing its offices to the public.

* University of Washington and Western Washington University announced they would extend online-only classes through the end of spring quarter.

* Goodwill has closed its Seattle stores through April 2. Some donation centers will remain open.

* Pacific County (south of Grays Harbor) has cancelled its lucrative clam-digging season.

* An Amazon employee in New York tested positive today. The Seattle Times reported that swamped Amazon fulfillment centers in the Seattle area were not being screened for COVID-19 symptoms as recently as yesterday.

NATIONAL

* Tonight, California governor Gavin Newsom ordered all 40 million of its residents to “stay at home,” excepting health care workers and some municipal workers. Most offices and businesses will close.

* Another large state, Pennsylvania, ordered the closure of all “non-life-sustaining” businesses.

* Yet another, Texas, declared a public health emergency for the first time since 1901. Schools, bars, and restaurants are closed.

* New York City now has 3,854 cases – up nearly 2,000 from yesterday. That includes more than 500 hospitalized patients, 169 of which are in intensive care.

* Details emerged today of the $1 trillion relief package Senate Republicans “negotiated” with the White House. It should come as a shock to exactly nobody that their package contains hundreds of billions of dollars in loans and tax cuts to big corporations; new limits on a paid leave program Trump signed into law only yesterday; and $1200 checks in April and May to American taxpayers – a category that does not include the lowest-income Americans, thus denying the help to the people likely to need it the most. Republicans must now negotiate the details with congressional Democrats, who have already said that such provisions are a non-starter.

* The Trump Administration is asking state labor officials to delay releasing new unemployment figures, because we wouldn’t want to make Dear Leader look bad, uh, and convince Wall Street things are grim. Last week, 281,000 people applied for unemployment, up from 211,000 the previous week. It’s far worse this week. It’ll be interesting to see how many red states comply with the request.

* After thousands of simulations, the world’s fastest computer, operated by IBM, has identified drug components that might be critical in developing a vaccine.

* At Trump’s press briefing today, when not busy attacking media for covering the crisis, he told another whopping falsehood: that the FDA had approved the anti-malarial drug chloroquine for treating COVID-19. Uh, no. Not only has the FDA done no such thing, but out of numerous global studies already, only one – of 16 patients (!) in Tampa – suggested that it *might* help, but was inconclusive. The White House had to quickly walk back Trump’s statement. There remains no known treatment for COVID-19 (as opposed to its symptoms).

* A new study concluded that another frequently mentioned drug, Ritonavir, is ineffective.

* Sen. Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was only the first of at least five Republican senators who allegedly engaged in millions of dollars worth of insider trading, after senators were briefed about the COVID-19 crisis in late January. This violates the Stock Act, which prohibits congresspeople from insider trading. Today, it emerged that, in a meeting with $100,000+ donors three weeks ago, Burr issued dire warnings about how badly hit the US would be – warnings directly contradicting his public statements at the time. Turns out, according to ProPublica, Burr also dumped a ton of stocks, worth between $500,000 and $1.6 million, particularly in hotel chains, at that time. The other Republicans implicated so far are Ron Johnson (R-WI), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), David Perdue (R-GA) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA). Perdue and Loeffler are both up for re-election this year; Inhofe and Johnson were two of the eight Senate Republicans who voted against the relief bill signed by President Trump yesterday. Good luck getting William Barr’s Department of Justice to enforce that law against any powerful GOP senator. #VoteEveryRepublicanOut.

* The Pentagon today announced a halt to new deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the closure of several smaller bases in Iraq.

* Voices throughout the health care system called on President Trump to mobilize the Defense Protection Act of 1950, which enables the federal government to compel companies to manufacture goods in a national emergency. Trump authorized its use yesterday but today was resistant to actually using it, saying it wasn’t necessary. The biggest concern: a serious shortage of respirators, as well as people trained to operate them. There are only 12 respirator manufacturers worldwide. Potentially the US could need 900,000 respirators, more than five times what it actually has. New York state, with 5,000 respirators, says it may need 30,000. Also: there are only about 160,000 respiratory therapists in the US. Meanwhile, Trump is calling on governors to go buy their own, as though any are available.

* Only three Republican-controlled states – Idaho, Missouri, and Tennessee – have so far taken no meaningful statewide action to contain COVID-19. Another four holdout red states gave in to the inevitable today. Thirty-six states have now closed their schools.

* The restaurant industry estimated that among its members alone, five to seven million Americans could be unemployed by June.

* Housing sales are also declining, both nationally and locally.

* Six TSA airport screening employees tested positive, including one at Atlanta Hartsfield, the world’s busiest airport.

* New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, 56 – one of the most successful coaches in the NFL – announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

* Connecticut became the sixth state to postpone its presidential primary, from April 28 to June 2.

* Monroe County, Florida, which includes Key West and most of the Florida Keys, ordered all 13,000 of its hotel rooms closed – after Sunday, which is the end of the traditional Spring Break week.

* Better late than never: a Tesla plant in the Bay Area and a Midwestern Harley-Davidson plant announced they would close, after most vehicle makers in the US had already done so.

* The June G7 in-person meeting – which President Trump originally wanted to hold at one of his resorts, remember that? – was cancelled by the White House today, it will be held by teleconference instead.

GLOBAL

* Tonight, the world passed a grim milestone, with over 10,000 (10,030) deaths. Confirmed cases have jumped over 30,000 in the last 24 hours, and now total 244,523, in over 160 (of 198) countries.

* Argentina tonight went into lockdown, after Brazil closed its land borders earlier earlier today. They certainly don’t seem to think the virus dies in hot weather.

* Israel ordered its residents to stay at home except for food and medical trips.

* A hotel in Madrid has been converted into Spain’s first makeshift COVID-19 hospital. As the country’s epidemic has intensified, doctors and nurses are being forced to work with a critical shortage of face masks.

* A Chinese study estimates that, once put on ventilators, about half of critically ill COVID-19 patients die.

* Iceland has embarked on an attempt to test all 330,000 of its people. So far, of the positive tests, about half were from asymptomatic people.

* Europe has now recorded more COVID-19 cases, and deaths, than China.

* France, like the US, is dealing with shortages of face masks and gloves – and widespread reports of people, especially young adults, not observing social distancing. France’s interior minister: “There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules, while they are in fact idiots.”

* The Cannes Film Festival, scheduled for mid-May, has been postponed.

* The UK is developing a smartphone app that lets users know whether they were close to a person who then tested positive. Participation would be voluntary. Something similar, only (of course) more intrusive, has been used in China.

That’s it for tonight. Before you go to bed – and when you get up in the morning – WASH YOUR HANDS

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