Coronavirus:

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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider

    With the threat of the Coronavirus spurring calls from Democrats for broader use of mail-in voting in the 2020 General Election, President Donald Trump on Friday sternly denounced the idea, even though he just cast a ballot in recent weeks using a mail-in ballot system in Florida. 'It shouldn't be mail-in voting, it should be you go to a booth,' President Trump said at his regular Coronavirus briefing. 'You don't send it in the mail where people pick up all sorts of bad things could happen,' Mr. Trump added, alleging that mail-in elections could create fraud. 'I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting,' the President said, though his special commission on voter fraud made no such findings. But while the President and some Republicans in Congress have objected to the effort to expand mail-in voting for this year because of the virus outbreak, not all GOP elected officials oppose the idea of expanded mail-in voting opportunities. With the Coronavirus causing troubles right now, the Secretary of State in Georgia - a Republican - is sending absentee ballot request forms to every single registered voter in the state for the May 19 primary election. 'They will simply have to fill out and return the application to vote by mail in the upcoming elections with no in-person risk of exposure to COVID-19,' Georgia Secretary of State John Raffesnperger's office said. In Nevada, state officials decided to go one step further than Georgia. 'All active registered voters in Nevada will be mailed an absentee ballot for the primary election,' Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske announced. 'No action or steps, such as submitting an absentee ballot request application, will be required by individual voters in order to receive a ballot in the mail.' While the President said voters should use a voting booth, Mr. Trump voted absentee - by mail - in the Florida Primary just last month. Federal elections official estimate almost 24 percent of the votes cast in the 2016 election were cast using absentee-by-mail balloting, an option used by the President's home state of Florida and over 30 other states. Some states - most notably Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado - have shifted to mail-in voting.
  • A new report from the Labor Department on Friday showed the economic storm associated with the Coronavirus battering the U.S. economy in March, causing the loss of 701,000 jobs, and pushing the jobless rate up by almost one percent, the largest monthly increase in over forty five years. The unemployment rate was at 4.4 percent in March, not far under the 4.7 percent rate when President Donald Trump took office in January of 2017, the highest jobless rate of his presidency. 'Employment in leisure and hospitality fell by 459,000, mainly in food services and drinking places,' the Labor Department reported.  'Notable declines also occurred in health care and social assistance, professional and business services, retail trade, and construction,' the report added. Lawmakers and economists readily acknowledged upcoming unemployment reports would likely be even worse. 'Elevated unemployment at 4.4 percent in the March jobs report shows only a glimpse of the surge in layoffs caused by the economic impact of the coronavirus,' said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). '700k is an awful jobs month,' tweeted Austan Goolsbee, a top economic adviser under President Barack Obama. 'That it’s the best news we will get for some time should give us a terrible pit in our stomach.' Last week, 3.3 million Americans filed for initial jobless claims. That number doubled this week, as 6.6 million Americans made similar filings, indicating massive amounts of unemployment. The massive amount of job losses have sent state governments scrambling to help people seeking jobless benefits. But some states have found their systems ill-prepared for such a surge. “I'm in Florida and get an error on the unemployment website when trying to sign-up,” one person told me.  “I call and the phone number is busy.”
  • The regular White House briefing on the U.S. response to the Coronavirus aired slightly differing views on the path of the White House effort to convince Americans to sharply curtail their social activities, as the President on Thursday saw a glass half full with progress being made, while a top health official publicly pressed Americans to do more to limit the spread of the virus. 'I can tell by the curve, as it is today, that not every American is following' the President's social distancing guidelines, said Dr. Deborah Birx, as she chided people for holding dinner and cocktail parties. 'So, this is really a call to action,' Birx told reporters. Taking a different approach, President Trump tried to emphasize the positive, talking up states where no rush of Coronavirus cases had been seen, and seemingly suggesting that Dr. Birx do the same. 'I think that's what you meant,' the President said to Birx at one point. Like a teacher expressing her displeasure with the behavior of her students, Birx repeatedly made clear at Thursday's briefing that she was not pleased with how some Americans have responded to the President's call for action. 'What I expected when the President put out guidelines, that said don't go to bars, don't be in groups of 10 people,' Birx told reporters, 'that was serious.' 'But Debra, aren't you referring to just a few states?' the President said, standing next to her. 'We have states doing incredibly well,' the President said a few minutes later. The back and forth played out for reporters - and a nationwide television audience - in real time from the White House Briefing Room. 'I think that everybody would have to be thrilled with the way most states are doing,' the President said at one point. 'I am passionate about everyone following the guidelines,' Birx added a minute later, as she warned that other states seem ready to follow the bad path of New York and New Jersey. While the President acknowledged growing virus problems in Louisiana and Michigan, he again returned to his overall assessment. 'We have states that have been really incredible, by the fact they have kept so low,' Mr. Trump added. 'I think they've done a good job,' the President said. 'We've done on average really phenomenally as a country.' Mr. Trump's remarks came as the U.S. recorded over 1,000 deaths from the Coronavirus in a day for the first time, as over 2,000 people died in just two days, sending the overall U.S. death toll to almost 6,000 on Thursday evening.
  • Amid continuing controversy over the best way to rush aid to working Americans, businesses, hospitals, and local governments to deal with the outbreak of the Coronavirus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she would move to set up a new special panel in the U.S. House to oversee those efforts, saying it's important to have transparency about the massive amount of relief money. 'We need to ensure those dollars are spent effectively and carefully,' Pelosi said in a press conference by phone with reporters, as she said Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) would be in charge of reviewing the $2 trillion in aid approved by Congress in March. 'We have no higher priority than making sure the money gets to those working families struggling to pay rent and put food on the table who need it most,' Pelosi added. 'The fact is, we do need transparency, and we do need accountability,' the Speaker said. In making the announcement, the Speaker said this panel would be different than the call by other Democrats for a '9-11 Commission' about the Coronavirus, saying the emphasis must be on what's happening right now - not what happened before. 'The Select Committee is about the here and now,' Pelosi added. In describing the job of the new panel, the Speaker compared this to the work of the Truman Commission, named for then Sen. Harry Truman, who was put in charge of a panel which held hearings and investigated waste, fraud, and abuse related to the war effort during World War II. The idea - which would need a vote of the House to create the panel and fund its operations - drew immediate opposition from the top Republican in the House. 'This seems really redundant,' said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who told reporters by phone that he did not support the selection of Clyburn to run the panel, as the GOP leader questioned the goal, and said there was no reason to take oversight away from regular committees of the House. 'I'm not quite sure if this is political,' McCarthy added in a news briefing by telephone with reporters.
  • Looking for ways to stop the further spread in the United States of the Coronavirus, President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that he was considering a plan to limit flights between certain cities which have been virus hotspots, but shrugging off the broader idea of halting all travel in the U.S. by air or rail. 'I am looking at hotspots,' the President said at his daily Coronavirus briefing at the White House. 'I am looking where flights are going into hotspots.' But pressed by reporters about a broader ban on travel - whether airlines or trains - the President indicated that did not seem to be one of his likely choices.  'Closing up every single flight on every single airline, that's a very, very rough decision,' Mr. Trump added. 'We have trains going back and forth, and people don't think of trains,' the President noted. 'It's a very big decision to do that (close them down).' The issue of restrictions on airline travel comes at a time when the U.S. airline industry is seeing record low traffic, as airlines have grounded passenger jets and reduced flights. Data released by the Transportation Security Administration shows a gigantic drop in the number of air travelers going through security at America's airports since the virus outbreak began, as many flights are operating with just a few passengers on board. 'When you start closing up entire transportation systems, and then opening them up, that's a very tough thing to do,' the President said. As for when he would make a decision, the President indicated he would not wait too long. 'We will let you know fairly soon,' Mr. Trump said Wednesday evening.
  • A day after President Donald Trump said he would support a $2 trillion infrastructure package as a way to spur economic growth stalled by the outbreak of the Coronavirus, House Democratic leaders said they were ready to develop a plan with the White House. 'We are ready,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on a Wednesday morning conference call. 'It's never been partisan.' Joined by several other top Democrats, the Speaker made the case that there is an obvious need for a fourth economic aid package dealing with the virus - what's known as 'Phase 4' to lawmakers. 'We must take bold action to renew America's infrastructure,' Pelosi added. While not setting out the exact details of a new plan, Pelosi and other key Democrats made clear there were several areas which deserved attention - not just new roads and bridges. Pelosi rattled off priorities like money to build new community health centers, resources for broadband in rural areas and smaller towns, clean water infrastructure, and then money for roads, bridges, and mass transit programs. The President has talked a lot about infrastructure, but never really taken the next step to negotiate a plan with Democrats, who now see a giant opportunity to move forward. 'For once, I agree with him on a step he wants to take,' said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The broader questions looming over the nation about the Coronavirus also apply to the Congress - as while the House is due back after Easter, it's not clear what the health situation will be nationwide at that point, and whether lawmakers will return to legislate. 'I think we come back April 20, God willing, and Coronavirus willing,' the Speaker said.
  • The White House on Tuesday released new estimates of a staggering death toll associated with the spread of the Coronavirus in the United States, predicting anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths even if Americans do their best to avoid social interactions, as President Donald Trump warned the nation of a difficult road ahead. 'This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks,' the President said at the White House. 'This is going to be a rough two week period.' In the White House Briefing Room, Mr. Trump fully embraced scientific models championed by experts which show many thousands of Americans are likely to die in the month of April from the virus. 'I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,' the President said. 'We're going to go through a very tough two weeks.' The blunt warning came on the deadliest day yet in the United States as a whole, as nearly 800 deaths had been announced on Tuesday by the time the President reached the podium at the White House. 'It's a matter of life and death, frankly,' Mr. Trump said, as he urged Americans to follow the federal request for people to hold back on their social actions. By his side again at the White House, both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx laid out the figures from a series of studies, which predicted that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die - many in the next few weeks. Birx and Fauci repeatedly emphasized that if Americans do their part to hold down the spread of the virus, that will in turn allow many people to survive. Asked about deaths of 100,000 or more, health officials did not mince words as to whether it might or might not happen. 'The answer is yes,' said Dr. Fauci. 'As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it.
  • On the heels of a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package to help the United States rebound from the negative economic impact of the Coronavirus, President Donald Trump on Tuesday signaled that he would be ready to support an almost equal amount of spending to build new roads and bridges in the United States. 'It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country,' the President wrote on Twitter. Mr. Trump cited low interest rates as one reason to spend extra money - a suggestion made by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well. Since 2015, when he was a candidate for President, Mr. Trump has talked repeatedly about the need for a major infrastructure plan, but has never offered Congress a way to pay for it - which has been the major stumbling block for the past ten years on building new roads and bridges. With less gasoline being used - not enough money is coming into the U.S. Treasury in federal gas taxes to support a major expansion of road and bridge construction - creating the need for a larger funding source. The President's tweet drew an immediate vow of support from the GOP Senator in charge of infrastructure efforts. 'We stand ready to answer @realDonaldTrump’s call,' Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) wrote on Twitter. 'In the Senate, we have a bipartisan bill that will invest billions in America’s highways and is ready to go.' But others, like fiscal hawk Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), weren't ready for a full embrace. 'I agree!' said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) in a tweet directed back at the President. 'Help get your Republican colleagues to agree.' The President's tweet came amid some political maneuvering on what should be in the next Congressional stimulus bill - what many refer to as 'Phase 4' of the Coronavirus response.
  • A day after telling Americans that he would extend his call to drastically scale back social activity until the end of April, President Donald Trump said his administration was making big gains in making more tests available to check for the Coronavirus, even as some elected officials said it was clear not all needs were being met. 'Over one million Americans have now been tested,' the President said from the White House Rose Garden, praising companies for developing newer processes to more quickly test Americans. 'Today we reached a milestone in our war against the Coronavirus,' Mr. Trump added. As for his move to extend social distancing until April 30, the President urged Americans to join together. 'This is our shared patriotic duty - challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days,' Mr. Trump said. While the President sternly defended his administration's record on testing - at one point rebuking a reporter for asking what he said was a 'snarky' question on the subject - there continue to be concerns voiced in both parties, and evidence from around the nation of testing shortages. 'We need to do more to ramp up our testing capacity,' said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) on Monday, even as he praised efforts by the White House to achieve that. 'We have to do much more on testing, we’re ramping up, surging up in that capacity as we work toward some sort of medicine to address the virus,' said Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR). As the President reportedly told Governors on a Monday call that he has not heard of testing shortages, there are examples readily available - like this from Huntsville, Alabama. President Trump began his Monday briefing by referencing his Sunday announcement that he would extend social distancing guidelines through the end of April, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. Voicing his support for scientific models about the spread of the virus, the President said the move to extend restrictions on social activities would pay off in a big way. “We could save more than one million American lives,” Mr. Trump said, as he has said the most likely scenario right now involves between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans dying of the Coronavirus.
  • Three days after returning to the U.S. Capitol for House debate on a $2.2 trillion economic rescue package to deal with the Coronavirus, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) announced she was sick with what doctors presume is a Coronavirus infection, raising questions about whether other lawmakers could have been exposed last Friday. 'I noticed that I could no longer smell my perfume or taste my food,' Velazquez said in a written statement, noting one of the prominent signs of the Coronavirus. 'My symptoms are mild at the present time,' Velazquez added, as she noted that she started to feel bad early on Sunday morning, with an 'abrupt onset of muscle aches, fevers, nasal congestion and stomach upset.' Velazquez was one of the early speakers in the Friday debate on the Coronavirus plan. 'I am proud of the work we accomplished in this package,' the veteran New York Democrat said on the floor. Velazquez was one of a number of lawmakers from the New York area who came to Capitol Hill for the debate - even though the feds had urged travelers from that region to self-isolate for 14 days, amid concerns that the virus was being spread to other areas. Four House members have officially tested positive for the Coronavirus; one, Rep. Ben McAdams (D-UT) has been hospitalized since last week. Velazquez not only spoke on the House floor, and visited her office, but also was present for the bill enrollment ceremony with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. You can see her in this photo from the video feed provided by the Speaker's office, standing just to the side of Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), on the left side of the photo. Also in the room on Friday afternoon with Velasquez, Clyburn, and Speaker Pelosi were House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and a number of other top Democrats in the House. Leaders of both parties had wanted to quickly approve the economic stimulus measure on Friday, but Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) forced about half of the House to return, in order to have a quorum present for the vote. Massie did not have enough support to force a vote on the record, and the measure was approved by voice.

News

  • Two Florida law enforcement officers who tested positive for the coronavirus have died. Broward County Deputy Shannon Bennett, 39, died Friday, and Palm Beach County Sgt. Jose Diaz Ayala, 38, died Saturday, officials said. Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said Bennett, a 12-year veteran of the agency, reported feeling sick March 23 while at work and tested positive for the virus at a hospital the next day. Bennett was hospitalized March 27 and had been showing signs of recovery, but his condition worsened Friday, Tony said. Tony said Saturday that he considers Bennett’s death to be one in the line of duty. The agency described Bennett as an “out and proud gay law enforcement deputy” who helped lead an outreach initiative to foster relations between the law enforcement and LGBTQ communities. He served as a school resource officer at Deerfield Beach Elementary School, where he also mentored students. Bennett was planning to get married later this year. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said Ayala had been battling other underlying health conditions before contracting COVID-19. He had been with the agency for 14 years. Ayala joined the Sheriff’s Office’s Corrections Division in 2006 as a deputy and was promoted to sergeant in 2016. “He had an outstanding career with the agency and was respected by all of his peers,' Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said. Ayala leaves behind three daughters.
  • An Atlanta-area family is thankful for an act of kindness during the chaotic coronavirus pandemic. In 2013, Jamie McHenry was killed in a car crash during spring break in West Palm Beach, Florida, WSB-TV reported. Every year since his death, McHenry’s parents make the trip from their home in North Fulton County to St. George Island on the Florida Panhandle to pay their respects to their 13-year-old son at a memorial. This year, they could not go because of the coronavirus pandemic. But that didn’t mean the memory of their teen son was forgotten. A random stranger in the area heard the family’s story and decided to step in and make sure Jamie McHenry’s memorial was still decorated. The kind stranger, who posted a photo of the good deed on Facebook, wrote: “Christine and the McHenry family … we were sad to read that due to this pandemic your annual trip to SGI was canceled and you will miss visiting the memorial brick for your son Jamie. Wanted to know we are watching over it for you today and he is in our thoughts. God bless.”
  • Amoco and its parent company, BP, announced their gasoline stations will offer a 50-cent discount per gallon to first responders, doctors, nurses and hospital workers during the coronavirus pandemic. “Thank you for being on the front lines and keeping our communities healthy and safe,' the company said on its website. 'We are honored to be supporting you and helping you get where you need to go,” the company said on its website.The discount, which eligible customers can sign up for, will allow the health care workers to take the discount the next time they fill up, BP said on its website. People who want to take advantage of the discount must verify their status through ID.me, a website that “simplifies how individuals prove and share their identity online.”
  • Can’t get enough of “Tiger King”? Don’t despair. Netflix is releasing an extra episode next week, Variety reported. “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” is a true-crime docuseries about wild animal owners in the United States. The documentary focuses on the self-proclaimed Tiger King, Joe Exotic, aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who keeps hundreds of wild animals in cages at his G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, Entertainment Weekly reported. Current zoo owner Jeff Lowe broke the news in a Cameo video posted on Twitter by Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Justin Turner. “Netflix is adding one more episode. It will be on next week. They’re filming here tomorrow,” Lowe said in the video. Lowe joined later episodes of “Tiger King” as Exotic’s business partner, Entertainment Weekly reported. It is not clear if the new episode will be a follow-up to the show’s seven-episode run or a reunion, Variety reported. Maldonado-Passage, 57, is currently serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison for two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. The murder-for-hire charges stem from a plot to have a hitman kill Carole Baskin of Tampa, Florida, and the wildlife crimes are related to Maldonado-Passage’s killing of five tigers and falsifying of paperwork. Netflix did not respond to a request for comment about a new episode, the magazine reported.
  • Georgians are still feeling the weight of the new coronavirus Sunday as the number of confirmed cases increased to 6,647 and the death toll rose to 211.  The Georgia Department of Public Health reports since Saturday 3 more Georgians have died due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel virus. The latest data released at noon shows 264 new cases since Saturday evening.  » COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia Of Georgia’s overall cases, 1,283 patients remain hospitalized, a rate of about 19%, according to the noon figures. That number is up from 1,266 confirmed hospitalizations Saturday evening. The rate of Georgia patients who have died of COVID-19 is about 3.1%.  The number of COVID-19 cases in the state has tripled in just over a week. Health officials announced that Georgia surpassed 2,000 cases on March 27. A statewide shelter-in-place mandate went into effect at 6 p.m. Friday in an effort to limit residents’ travel and curb the spread of the virus. The order requires Georgians to remain in their homes for all but essential activities, which include buying food, seeking medical care, working in critical jobs or exercising outdoors. » RELATED: Confusion surrounds Georgia’s coronavirus lockdown The number of cases across the state is expected to spike even more in coming weeks as plans are put in place to increase daily testing capacity. Projections suggest the state could see thousands of new cases and hundreds more deaths before the virus is contained. On Sunday, 27,832 tests had been conducted across the state with about 23.88% returning positive results.  » DASHBOARD: Real-time stats and charts tracking coronavirus in Georgia Fulton County has the most cases with 962, followed by Dougherty County with 686, DeKalb County with 543, and Cobb with 456, according to the latest data. Fulton reported 21 new cases since Saturday evening while hard-hit Dougherty County reported 50 more. The southwest Georgia county of about 90,000 has lost 30 residents to COVID-19, more than any other county in Georgia. MORE: City under siege: Coronavirus exacts heavy toll in Albany So far, the oldest patient to die in the state was a 96-year-old Bibb County woman while the youngest was a 29-year-old woman from Peach County, according to the health department.  For most, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms. Older adults and those with existing health problems are at risk of more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover in a matter of weeks. Those who believe they are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 are asked to contact their primary care doctor or an urgent care clinic. Do not show up unannounced at an emergency room or health care facility. Georgians can also call the state COVID-19 hotline at 844-442-2681 to share public health information and connect with medical professionals. 
  • As you drive toward the Marietta Square, you’ll see it to your right – a “Heroes Work Here” sign display below the Wellstar Kennestone hospital sign. Go through two traffic lights and you’ll see homemade signs of support in the front yards of some homeowners along Church Street.   From Marietta to elsewhere in metro Atlanta, residents are now acutely aware of the burden on health care workers as the coronavirus crisis plays out … and with likely many more tough days ahead before it all gets better.  What public shows of support for health care workers are you seeing in your local community? What are you and/or others doing to support those most at risk on the coronavirus frontlines? Tweet at us to tell us with your words and pictures: @wsbradio. You can also share with us on the WSB Open Mic, via the WSB Radio app.