COVID-19 UPDATE: SUNDAY AFTERNOON, MARCH 22

Be glad if you’re not in New York City today!

A note from ye editor: As some of you know, Revel and I are both disabled and both at very high risk from COVID-19..
We’re both pretty much hunkered down for the duration. As it happens, my professional background as a journalist is well-suited to researching and compiling these updates, seven days a week. And Rev is an awesome researcher and editor.

But as with many of you, self-isolation comes with additional costs – supplies, home deliveries, safer transportation to medical appointments, etc. We can’t afford these costs on the meager disability payments we receive.

This has become my full-time job for the foreseeable future – but it’s only sustainable if you help. These updates are cross-posted and archived at www.geov.org. Scroll down and you’ll find a PayPal donation button. If you can – and obviously a lot of us are financially stressed right now – and if you find these updates valuable, please consider donating so that we can keep producing these. Thank you so much.

And keep the news tips coming!

LOCAL

* Washington state’s Department of Health announced 203 new cases Saturday, bringing the state’s total number of confirmed cases to 1,996, with 95 deaths. Of those cases, 934 are in King County; 447 are in Snohomish County; and 95 are in Pierce County.

* King County has launched a new web site listing locations where students under 18 years of age can pick up lunches. Eating is not allowed on site, and students do not need to be enrolled in the school district of a given site. The site: https://www.kingcounty.gov/…/closur…/student-meal-sites.aspx

* President Trump has approved Governor Inslee’s request to declare Washington state a “major disaster,” after New York state received a similar designation Friday. The move allows the states to receive additional emergency funding.

* Seattle announced the suspension of its 72-hour parking rule. Metered spots will still be enforced.

* Gov. Inslee signed an order Saturday halting the sale of N95 masks at Target and redirecting them to medical workers.

* Tesla owner Elon Musk has donated 50,000 N95 masks to a UW Medicine physician.

* A third patient at Lakewood’s Western State Hospital tested positive for COVID-19.

* Yakima Leaders asked Gov. Jay Inslee to issue a “stay at home'” order for the county on Friday, but Inslee declined to do so. After the closure of a hospital in January, the county only has one remaining hospital to serve 243,000 residents. Hospital officials are pleading with residents to stay home, and warned yesterday that they will be out of life-saving ventilators by April 8.

NATIONAL

* Confirmed cases in the US have nearly doubled in the last 48 hours.

* New York City, by far the most densely populated major city in North America, is in full crisis mode today as the city’s number of confirmed cases has exploded to nearly five percent of the world’s confirmed cases. New York state now has 15,168 cases – up 50 percent from Saturday – and New Jersey has nearly 2,000 cases – an increase of 590 from yesterday. New York City itself now has 9,654 confirmed cases. The vast majority of both states’ cases are in the metropolitan NYC area. According to New York officials, patients ages 18 to 49 make up more than half of the state’s cases.

* FEMA is going to build four hospitals, with 1,000 total beds, in Manhattan’s huge Javits Convention Center. New York state also cancelled all elective and non-critical surgeries in an effort to free up hospital resources. New Jersey also announced a blood shortage.

* California governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state had acquired motels totaling 2,500 beds to house homeless people and others recovering from COVID-19 who don’t have another way to self-isolate.

* Hawaii instituted a mandatory 14 day quarantine for all travelers and residents arriving to the islands.

* Miami, St. Louis, and Anchorage are the latest US cities to issue stay at home orders. Miami’s order also shuts hotels and beaches – at the end of Florida’s lucrative Spring Break week, which had widespread reports of beaches crowded with partiers. The Republican governors of Georgia and Florida refused to take such actions statewide. In Alaska, a number of native villages are restricting or ending airline service, often their only connection to the outside world. Native Alaskan communities were widely decimated by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Almost a quarter of all Americans are now under these restrictions.

* Kansas warned that its supply of testing kits wouldn’t last through this weekend.

* Minnesota is converting part of a former prison into a care center for COVID-19 patients.

* The National Guard has now been deployed in all 50 states, generally for logistical support rather than law enforcement.

* A study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine looked at the contagiousness of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (the name of the illness). The study found that the virus does aerosolize – that is, it can be spread by droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets remain contagious for up to three hours. This is one reason why face masks are helpful even for asymptomatic people, and why social distancing is essential.

* The study also looked at how long the virus can survive on various surfaces. It can remain contagious on copper for up to four hours; cardboard for up to one day; and two to three days on plastic and on stainless steel.

* However, it’s important to note that the viral load on any of those surfaces – that is, how many little critters survive, waiting for a ride on your body – declines rapidly after the initial contamination of the surface. Your chance of contracting COVID-19 from a contaminated surface is therefore relatively low – and even lower if you disinfect surfaces and wash your hands frequently. COVID-19 is still much more contagious than the flu, especially since it can be spread for several days by people who don’t even know they have it.

* Health experts are warning that the US may be up to 1.3 million hospital beds short of what will be needed if the pandemic peaks too quickly here – and also face a shortage of 295,000 intensive care unit beds. In that scenario, it’s also estimated that 35 to 40 percent of essential medical staff may be unable to work due to infection or quarantining. One possible solution being suggested by experts: allowing RNs to become “practicing nurses,” a higher level of medical practice that allows them to fill some of the functions of doctors, for the duration.

* Harvey Weinstein has tested positive for COVID-19.

* Vice President Mike Pence and his wife announced Saturday that they had both tested negative for COVID-19 after a staff member became infected this past week.

* Rand Paul of Kentucky becomes the first US senator to test positive for COVID-19. Paul was one of only eight senators, all Eepublicans, who voted against last week’s emergency aid bilHe is now in self-quarantine.

* California congressman Mark DeSaulnier, 67, a Democrat from Contra Costa County in the Bay Area, is in critical condition with pneumonia. His illness is apparently a complication of a rib injury – not COVID-19.

* Congressional Democrats and Republicans have reportedly stalled in their negotiations over a $2 trillion emergency stimulus bill. Republicans want to shovel money to big corporations; Democrats want to funnel relief to the Americans hardest hit by the economic fallout; and the two sides are very far apart. The Republican-controlled Senate is threatening to proceed with a vote on a Republican package without any agreement with House Democrats – a political ploy at a time when politics shouldn’t be a consideration. It’s a clarifying moment, but that’s no consolation to suddenly desperate people who need help *now*.

* UPDATE: The Republicans went ahead with an initial procedural vote on their proposal – and it failed. Back to the negotiations.

* Up to 27 million Americans – roughly one in ten workers – are newly facing unemployment. And that’s just in the industries hardest hit by social distancing measures. That seems like an underestimate. We’re already in a recession; this is shaping up more like a depression, of a severity the world hasn’t seen in nearly a century .

* According to a Trump tweet this morning, Ford, GM and Tesla have been given permission to make “metal products” – presumably respirators and ventilators – during the crisis. The problem? They’re complex machines with a lot of parts – and the automakers rely heavily on Chinese supply chains to manufacture components.

* The Trump Administration is moving rapidly to enact its authoritarian and pro-corporate impulses under cover of the emergency. The administration is seeking permission from Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Google to access the companies’ data on cell phone GPS locations, ostensibly to track potential COVID-19 exposures. Facebook promptly said “No, thanks.” China used similar tracking in its effort to slow the spread of the virus.

* The Food and Drug Administration has suspended all routine food safety inspections “for the indefinite future.”

* Politico reports that William Barr’s Department of Justice has secretly asked Congressional Republicans to draft legislation that would allow the administration to suspend statutes of limitation, suspend habeas corpus, and allow prisoners to be held indefinitely during a national emergency. They also asked that asylum seekers who test positive for COVID-19 be disqualified from asylum.

* Speaking of which, a public health crisis is brewing in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, where asylum seekers are staying in crowded, grossly unsanitary conditions. Other northern Mexico border crossings are likely to face similar issues after Trump’s order Friday to close the southern border entirely.

* In Trump’s Saturday press briefing, his campaign of lies continued – claiming, for example, that the US refused an early offer of World Health Organization test kits because they were “defective” (they weren’t, but kits distributed instead by the CDC were); that his administration’s failure to act for two months was the fault of past administrations (like Obama, who created the pandemic response office that trump dismantled); that military hospital ships and millions of test kits were on their way (they aren’t); and that chloroquine in combination with an anti-bacterial drug, azithromycin, had proven effective in treating COVID-19.

* In citing that drug treatment, Trump apparently was drawing from a French study of only 20 patients which found the treatment “promising” but was inconclusive. Normally prospective treatments go through three layers of study before approval for use: a small trial like that; a larger, controlled study; and then a much larger, statistically meaningful sample size that may also look at things like drug interactions. Trump touting the effectiveness of an unproven treatment has ugly real-world consequences (see yesterday’s Nigerian item under Global). It’s one thing to be upbeat in a time of crisis; it’s quite another to consistently lie and offer false hope.

* Trump also promised that the federal government wouldn’t outbid states attempting to purchase desperately needed medical supplies. After Trump told governors that they were on their own with such supplies, several complained that when they attempted to buy them, they were outbid by the feds. But that still leaves states bidding against each other, and a patchwork of local responses that STILL desperately needs federal coordination. FEMA’s administrator, Peter Gaynor, said this morning that his agency was focused on the three states hit hardest – New York, Washington, and California – and that other states will have to wait. I’m sure that will be no consolation at all for a woman in Kansas who needs a ventilator *now*.

* A new poll found that, inexplicably, 53 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis. Lying works. Consistent lying works even better.

GLOBAL

* The global scope of the economic cost of the pandemic is coming into sharper focus. The European Union reported a 25 percent decline in economic output for the first quarter – even though the pandemic only impacted Europe during the last half of the quarter.

* Spain’s medical system is being overwhelmed by the pandemic, with 5,000 new cases per day in a country of only 46 million. In Madrid, center of the outbreak, 4,000 buses are now being used as ambulances. Saturday saw an over 30 percent increase in deaths. Some 3,500 health care workers in Spain have tested positive, further stressing medical facilities who can’t afford to lose staff. There were widespread reports that due to shortages, some staff were forced to work without face masks or other basic protective equipment.

* Italy announced 3,957 new cases today, down from 6,600 yesterday – a hopeful sign that after weeks of emergency measures, the pandemic may be peaking there.

* Greece announced a nationwide ban on “unnecessary movement” of citizens as of Monday morning.

* Renowned Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo, 79, tested positive for COVID-19.

* Germany limited outdoor gatherings to no more than two people, and Chancellor Angela Merkel went into self-isolation after her doctor tested positive.

* The UK finally closed its bars, pubs and restaurants this weekend – but reportedly only after France threatened to close its border with the UK if Boris Johnson’s government didn’t take swift action.

* Uzbekistan announced that it was closing its borders. As of this Wednesday, anyone in public not wearing a face mask will be fined.

* India shut down interstate passenger trains and subways.

* Bad news: the first two cases of COVID-19 were reported yesterday in the Gaza Strip, the small parcel of Palestinian land that Israel has blockaded for years. Gaza is not only one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, but it has almost no medical infrastructure. Its land border is almost entirely with Israel, which is one of the hardest-hit countries in the Middle East already: 947 cases in a country of only eight million people. Gaza could get very bad, very fast.

* Nearby Jordan announced a nationwide curfew Saturday. Violation of the curfew is punishable by one year of imprisonment.

* North Korea says President Trump wrote a letter to Dear Leader Kim Jung-Un offering US assistance during the pandemic. But Kansas will have to wait. The White House confirmed that Trump had sent the letter.

* Friday, the total number of confirmed cases in the world stood at 271,629. Today, it’s 335,972. There have been 14,632 deaths/

Countries with over 1,000 cases (Friday’s total in parentheses):

China 81,397 (81,281)
Italy 59,138 (47,021)
USA 33,276 (16,639)
Spain 28,603 (20,410)
Germany 23,974 (19,448)
Iran 21,638 (19,444)
France 14,485 (2,612)
South Korea 8,897 (8,632)
Switzerland 7,014 (5,234)
UK 5,071 (4,014)
Netherlands 4,216 (3,002)
Belgium 3,401 (2,257)
Austria 3,244 (2,388)
Norway 2,257 (1,914)
Sweden 1,934 (1,639)
Portugal 1,609 (1,020)
Denmark 1,512 (1,337)
Canada 1,378 (933)
Australia 1,314 (791)
Malaysia 1,304 (1,030)
Brazil 1,209 (793)
Japan 1,086 (963)
Czech Republic 1,047 (833)

Make sure your neighbors have food – but keep your distance. And WASH YOUR HANDS!

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