reality is only those delusions that we have in common...

Saturday, March 28, 2020

week ending Mar 28

Federal Reserve Unveils 'Extensive New Measures' To Bolster U.S. Economy - The Federal Reserve says it will buy bonds and mortgage-backed securities "in the amounts needed" to keep markets working smoothly, unveiling a plan that also includes measures to make sure credit is available to businesses and consumers. "While great uncertainty remains, it has become clear that our economy will face severe disruptions," the Federal Reserve said as it revealed the plans. "Aggressive efforts must be taken across the public and private sectors to limit the losses to jobs and incomes and to promote a swift recovery once the disruptions abate."The open-ended plans escalate an earlier emergency move that called for the Federal Open Market Committee to buy at least $500 billion in Treasury securities and at least $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities.The move by the central banking system lifted Dow Jones Industrial Average futures, but the index still stumbled by roughly 3% in early trading, sinking below the 19,000 mark within the first 10 minutes.  The Federal Reserve also said it "expects to announce soon the establishment of a Main Street Business Lending Program to support lending to eligible small-and-medium sized businesses, complementing efforts by the [Small Business Administration].The Fed is taking action as the Senate struggles to reach an agreement on a massive aid package for U.S. businesses and taxpayers. That trillion-dollar legislation failed a procedural vote on Sunday. A new vote is scheduled for noon ET on Monday.Seven U.S. states are now reporting 1,000 or more cases of COVID-19, and experts believe the number of infected people will rise further as testing becomes more available and efficient.The coronavirus pandemic has also directly affected how the New York Stock Exchange operates: For the first time in its history, the market shifted to all-electronic trading on Monday, closing its floor to protect people who work there.

Fed announces vast new emergency effort to boost economy - The Federal Reserve on Monday announced aggressive new emergency measures to support the economy and ensure that credit flows to households and businesses as the country faces the prospect of a deep downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.The central bank is committing to buying as many U.S. government bonds and mortgage-backed securities as needed “to support smooth market functioning.” The announcement comes after Congress failed to reach agreement Sunday night on a massive stimulus package to provide direct support to consumers and small businesses, as well as to set aside funds to bail out larger companies. The stock market seemed poised to plunge when it opened Monday in reaction to the gridlock in Washington, but futures pared their losses after the central bank’s move. The Fed's actions — along with other lending programs, significant cash injections into funding markets and zero percent interest rates — make up the most extreme intervention in the economy by the central bank in its history of more than 100 years. The Fed is launching three emergency lending facilities, including two that will buy corporate debt. The third is a revival of an emergency program the central bank created during the 2008 financial crisis that will lend to banks against collateral that includes bundled student loans, auto loans, credit card loans and small-business loans. These facilities are designed to support $300 billion in new credit, and the Treasury Department will kick in $30 billion to help offset losses. The Fed also said it will soon start a program designed “to support lending to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, complementing efforts” by the Small Business Administration.

For First Time in History, Fed to Make Billions in Loans to Big and Small Businesses - Pam Martens - Without one vote by an elected official, the Federal Reserve just became a brand new national legislative body. It will, without any oversight in Congress, decide what corporations and businesses to save and which to let fail.While the corporations and small businesses will receive “billions,” Wall Street’s mega banks and trading houses will, once again, have trillions of dollars of toxic securities removed from their balance sheets, including plunging stocks through the Fed’s Primary Dealer Credit Facility. The Fed also announced that its purchases of Treasury and Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) will now be limitless, rather than capped at a total of $500 billion. The reason for that change is that the Fed blew through $272 billion in Treasury purchases and $68 billion in MBS purchases just last week alone, already using up $340 billion of its $500 billion allotment – which did little to stem the markets from plunging.The Fed has effectively created its own limitless slush fund with no accountability to anyone and no Congressional oversight. During the financial crisis, the Fed secretly funneled over $29 trillion to Wall Street banks and trading houses, hedge funds, foreign global banks and central banks while fighting a multi-year court battle to keep secret just who got the money. It took two federal courts and a rejected appeal by the U.S. Supreme Court, along with a Congressionally-mandated audit by the Government Accountability Office to pry that information from the grip of the Fed.The Fed’s slush fund comes on the heels of news last evening that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin attempted to stuff his own $500 billion slush fund, with no oversight, into the fiscal stimulus bill being deliberated by Congress. Multiple Congressional Democrats went on CNN to decry the attempt and explain why they had rejected the proposed bill. The Fed announced its new plans at 8 a.m. this morning, while stock futures were limit down with the S&P 500 futures having fallen by 5 percent. The stock futures moved into the green but looked somewhat tentative due to the paucity of details in the Fed’s statement. You can read the full statement below:

Fed Unveils Major Expansion of Market Intervention - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s whatever-it-takes moment arrived Monday. The central bank signaled it would do practically anything—extending loans to big and small businesses and purchasing unlimited amounts of government debt—to help an American economy in a race against time. After firing its arsenal at funding markets last week to prevent a public health crisis from morphing into a financial crisis, the Fed said it would throw another kitchen sink this week at credit markets that have broken down. The central bank unveiled a new generation of lending facilities to prevent a liquidity crunch from turning into a solvency crisis for American businesses. “This is the first time they’ve really basically turned into a commercial bank instead of a central bank,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan. The central bank’s announcement came as lawmakers on Capitol Hill debated a plan to help reload the Fed’s weaponry. The Trump administration and Senate Republicans proposed Sunday providing $425 billion to the U.S. Treasury that could be used to expand the kind of lending programs the Fed unveiled Monday. The bill hit a procedural roadblock after Democrats said it needed to do more to aid individuals facing unemployment or lack of income. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has moved quickly to throw at last week’s market carnage a series of tools the central bank developed during the 2008 crisis. Monday’s announcement was “really encouraging because the Fed didn’t wait for Congress to pass this bill,”  The central bank punctuated its moves, announced 90 minutes before markets in the U.S. opened Monday, with an unusually explicit warning about the perils ahead. ”It has become clear that our economy will face severe disruptions,” the Fed said in its statement Monday morning. “Aggressive efforts must be taken across the public and private sectors to limit the losses to jobs and incomes and to promote a swift recovery once the disruptions abate.” Stock futures briefly rallied after the Fed announced its latest steps, but stocks traded lower after markets opened. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield fell from 0.805% just before the announcement to less than 0.69% afterward. Yields closed at 0.763%.  The latest actions show how Mr. Powell has rapidly adopted the crisis-fighting posture that his predecessor, Ben Bernanke, employed in the fall of 2008, during the financial crisis, and that then-European Central Bank President Mario Draghi deployed in 2012, as strains in Europe’s sovereign-debt markets threatened the continent’s common currency.

 US Fed unveils further massive financial intervention - The US Federal Reserve yesterday announced new measures to prop up financial markets and backstop corporations going far beyond the actions it took in response to the meltdown of 2008. Before Wall Street opened, the central bank unveiled a massive intervention in government and corporate bond markets and the further expansion of credit. Last week, the Fed announced it would purchase $500 billion worth of US government bonds and $200 billion of mortgage-backed securities. The latest announcement, followed by major purchases when markets opened, made it clear this action is now unlimited. The bank established two new facilities for the purchase of corporate bonds, including new issues, going well beyond its actions in 2008, when it did not buy corporate debt. The first facility allows for the financing of major investment-grade companies for up to four years, during which the Fed would purchase new issues of corporate debt. Businesses can defer payments on interest and principal for up to six months, provided they do not engage in share buy backs or pay dividends. The second measure enables the Fed to enter the secondary market for existing corporate debt, allowing it to buy bonds issued by highly-rated companies. In addition, the Fed revived its Term Asset-backed Loan Facility (TALF) program, first developed during the 2008 crisis, enabling it to buy securities supported by student, car and credit card loans. It said TALF would supply up to $300 billion in loans, backed by the US Treasury department. The Fed is also expanding its intervention in the market for municipal debt as local governments face increasing liquidity problems. The bank is now a major player in the market for commercial paper, consisting of short-terms loans of up to 270 days. Announcing the measures, the Fed said “it has become clear that our economy will face severe disruptions” and “aggressive efforts must be taken across the public and private sectors.” The term “severe disruption” is something of an understatement as the US economy plunges into conditions akin to those of the Great Depression of the 1930s. On Sunday, in an interview with Bloomberg, the president of the St Louis Federal Reserve, James Bullard, said the US unemployment rate could reach 30 percent in the second quarter.

Unprecedented Intervention- The Fed Will Purchase $125 Billion In Securities Every Day - At the same time as the Federal Reserve announced open-ended QE, which also included purchases of corporate bonds and loans in both the primary (as the ECB does now) and directly in the secondary market (a new twist), as well as expanding its municipal bond purchases while also reactivating the old Lehman-era favorite, TALF facility, the NY Fed announced the specific details of what the Fed's unprecedented QEternity would look like, and they were a doozy.In short, every single day, the Fed will purchase $75BN in Treasurys and an additional $50BN in BMS, for a total of $125BN every day, or an unprecedented $625BN for the week, or more than the Fed's entire QE2 which was just over $500BN in purchases over 7 months. Here is the announcement from the NY Fed: Effective March 23, 2020, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) directed the Open Market Trading Desk (the Desk) at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to increase the System Open Market Account (SOMA) holdings of Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in the amounts needed to support the smooth functioning of markets for Treasury securities and agency MBS.  The FOMC also directed the Desk to purchase agency commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS).Consistent with this directive, the Desk has updated its plans regarding purchases of Treasury securities and agency MBS during the week of March 23, 2020.  Specifically, the Desk plans to conduct operations totaling approximately $75 billion of Treasury securities and approximately $50 billion of agency MBS each business day this week, subject to reasonable prices.  The Desk will begin agency CMBS purchases this week.The Desk stands ready to adjust the size and composition of its purchase operations as appropriate to support the smooth functioning of the Treasury, agency MBS, and agency CMBS markets.And since the Fed is purchasing securities across the entire curve, it will take no less than 7 separate operations every single day to purchase the full amount every day as per the following schedule.

The Fed Is Now Buying Investment Grade Bond ETFs Like LQD - Over the weekend, we reported that virtually all of Wall Street was praying for nothing short of divine intervention from the Fed, but would be content with the announcement of corporate bond buying, with banks such as BofA... ... and Deutsche Bank... ... pushing hard for the Fed to launch corporate bond purchases. On Monday morning, that's precisely what they got when the Fed announced that it would indeed start purchasing corporate bonds. And in a way, the Fed exceeded expectations, because unlike the ECB which only buys bonds in the primary market, the Fed announced that in addition to a Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, it would also buy Investment Grade bonds in the secondary market. Here are some details: as was widely expected, the Fed created a SPV that will purchase in the secondary market corporate debt issued by eligible issuers. What is more interesting is that the SPV will purchase eligible individual corporate bonds as well as eligible corporate bond portfolios in the form of exchange traded funds (“ETFs”) in the secondary market. In other words, the Fed is now active in the equity market via ETFs, even if focusing only on securities collateralized by IG bonds (for now).Which also was to be expected: after all one of the biggest laments about the breakdown in the market has been the blow out in the basis between ETF prices and NAV values, which in the case of the investment grade ETF, the LQD, has soared to a record high 5% as a result of crippling illiquidity in the underlying bond market. It is this gap that the Fed is hoping to close.

Record Numbers Are Frontrunning The Fed's Purchases Of Corporate Bonds - As part of the Fed's ongoing nationalization bailout of the entire market, yesterday we pointed out that in a dramatic reversal away from years in which the Fed would not intervene in the corporate market, the US central bank would now buy Investment Grade corporate bonds, and would even intervene in equities, by purchasing the LQD investment grade debt ETF. Commenting on this stunning departure, this morning Nomura's Charlie McElligott said that "we actually see the Fed in the game of not simply suppressing the risk-free rate, and thus term-premium, as they did last time—but now buying spread-product (beyond MBS alone) with risk-assets outright / through the new SPV—it is reasonable to believe that investors will “reverse engineer” the Jay Powell playbook noted above, and go with their muscle-memory from this Fed “short volatility positioning” prior conditioning." Judging by the market's surge today, the answer is yes. But even before that, savvy investors realized that the most bang for the risk-free buck comes by purchasing the one ETF that the Fed is now explicitly backstopping, and as Bloomberg notes, "the rush into investment-grade bonds picked up after the Federal Reserve said it will step into the market, with the world’s largest credit ETF seeing the second-biggest inflows in its 18-year history." To wit: the $30.3 billion Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF, the LQD, posted its second-biggest ever inflow of $1.06 billion on Monday, as traders piled into LQD ahead of the Fed. Monday’s one-day inflow was just shy of its record one-day intake of $1.09 billion in 2016.

After Bernanke & Yellen Demand 'Monetize Everything', Congress Set To Allow Fed To Buy Corporate Bonds - So far in this 'everything bubble'-burst crisis, the Fed has:

  1. Cut interest rates from 1.25% to 0.15%.
  2. Launched over $700 billion in Quarantitative Easing (QE).
  3. Launched a $1.5 trillion repo program.
  4. Launched another $1 trillion repo program.... daily!
  5. Announced it will begin buying commercial paper (short-term corporate debt).
  6. Allowed primary dealers to start parking assets, including stocks, as collateral in exchange for short-term credit.
  7. Announced it will begin buying muni debt.
  8. Opened unlimited dollar-swap-lines to the world.

And the result of all this record amount of liquidity provision - almost $30 trillion of global wealth destruction (bonds and stocks)... And not a glimpse of deleveraging/selling pressure reduce in stocks or bonds...  And every aspect of the credit markets - from short-term munis to long-term commercial mortgage-backeds - is completely frozen. “It’s brutal. We have never seen such a big move in such a short amount of time... This is the quickest and most severe I have ever experienced, and I was around for 2008." Enter former Fed Chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, who, as we detailed earlier this week, urged the Fed to begin buying corporate debt and stocks in an op-ed piece in the Financial Times this morning the two former Fed Chairs:  The Fed could ask Congress for the authority to buy limited amounts of investment-grade corporate debt. Most central banks already have this power, and the European Central Bank and the Bank of England regularly use it. The Fed’s intervention could help restart that part of the corporate debt market, which is under significant stress. Such a programme would have to be carefully calibrated to minimise the credit risk taken by the Fed while still providing needed liquidity to an essential market. Currently the Fed is forbidden from doing either as per the Federal Reserve Act. Put another way, congress would need to authorize the Fed to start buying these assets, and the two former Fed Chairs are providing the political cover to do this.  So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Bloomberg is reporting that Congress is likely to pass legislation Monday clearing the way for more emergency action from the Fed, with lawmakers and Trump adminstration officials on Sunday signaling the package would give the Fed approval to expand its purchases of corporate bonds.“There’s a very, very large credit facility that we’re standing up,” Pennsylvania Republican Senator Patrick Toomey said about the legislation on NBC's 'Meet the Press'.“It will be done jointly with the Treasury and the Fed.” Emergency facilities with the Fed would mobilize “up to $4 trillion of liquidity,” Mnuchin said, though it was unclear whether that included programs already announced by the central bank.According to subsequent reports from the WSJ, the current iteration of the massive bailout Bill being mulled in Congress, has the following provisions:

Fed is ‘not going to run out of ammunition,’ Powell vows - Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will maintain its muscular efforts to support the flow of credit in the U.S. economy as Americans hunker down from the coronavirus pandemic. “We will keep doing that aggressively and forthrightly, as we have been,” Powell said in a rare interview on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “When it comes to this lending we’re not going to run out of ammunition. That doesn’t happen.” Over the past three weeks, the U.S. central bank has introduced an unprecedented series of measures, pushing it deep into uncharted territory as it seeks to cushion the blow of the coronavirus on financial markets and the U.S. economy. The steps include massive bond purchases, emergency facilities to bolster credit markets, actions with foreign central banks to ease the supply of dollars worldwide, and programs for lending directly to American businesses. “We know that economic activity will decline probably substantially in the second quarter,” Powell said, adding that people were intentionally withdrawing from normal life to protect their health. That might mean the U.S. entering a recession, the Fed chief conceded, but argued it would be temporary. “At a certain point we will get the spread of the virus under control and at that time confidence will return,” Powell said, predicting “a good rebound” once the health emergency is over. The appearance on the popular morning show as many Americans are stuck in their homes marks the Fed chief’s first public remarks since he held an unusual Sunday evening press briefing by teleconference on March 15 to announce the central bank had slashed interest rates to almost zero. Public communication for Fed chairs has for decades been carefully choreographed, given the weight that even subtle signals can carry for investors.

Kashkari Says Fed Has "Infinite" Amount Of Cash: "We Create It Electronically" - Neel Kashkari, who is part of a growing group of Monday morning quarterbacks who didn't predict the financial impact of coronavirus until about 10 minutes ago, and who is best known for coming up with the TARP bailout amount during the first bailout yet has somehow managed to fail up all the way to being mentioned as Powell's imminent replacement, added the certainty that only a Fed governor could add to the situation on 60 Minutes Sunday night.  "Are we in a recession?" he's asked to start the interview. "If we're not right now, we will be soon. My base case scenario is we'll at least have a mild recession like after 9/11. The worst case would be we'd have a deep recession like the 2008 financial crisis, we just don't know right now." Kashkari says. "Nobody knows how the virus is going to progress," he continued, scapegoating the medical community and laying the blame on the bursting of the biggest asset bubble on a virus.  Then, the peculiar topic of cash came up, at which point Kashkari shared an interesting anecdote.  "I heard from a bank in our region, a well-to-do customer came in and said 'I want to withdraw $600,000 in cash.' Now, we can supply all the cash that the banks need to meet their customer's concerns. But it just speaks to the fear and the uncertainty that's rippling through the economy," he says. When asked further about whether or not banks will have cash, he responded: "This is literally why Central Banks exist. We're the lender of last resort. This is literally why Central Banks exist. If everybody gets scared at the same time and they demand their money back, that's why the Federal Reserve is here. We will absolutely meet those demands."

Fed Buys $587 Billion In Bonds In Past Week, 2.7% Of GDP, Just As Foreign Central Banks Start To Liquidate --Having moved from "Not QE" (or QE4 as it was correctly called), to the $750BN QE5 which came and went with the blink of an eye, to the Fed's open-ended and unlimited QEnfinity in the span of one week, the full "shock and awe" of the Fed's money printer is now on full display, and in just the past week, from March 19 to March 25, the Fed has purchased $587BN in securities ($375BN in TSYs, $212BN in MBS), or roughly 2.7% of the $21.4TN in US GDP. This means that as of Wednesday close, when accounting for last week's repo operations, the Fed's balance sheet has increased by roughly $650BN, bringing it to just over $5.3 trillion, an increase of $1.2 trillion in the past two week, or roughly 5.6% of US GDP.Some more scary statistics: if the Fed continues QE at the current pace of $625 billion per week, the Fed's balance sheet will hit $10 trillion by June, or just below 50% of US GDP. Even assuming the Fed eases back of the gas pedal, its balance sheet is almost certain to hit $7 trillion by June.Which is hardly an accident: one look at the Treasury securities held in custody at the Fed shows that the past two weeks have seen a whopping $50BN in foreign central bank sales, a 1.7% drop which was the highest in six years since Russia pulled over $100BN in TSYs from the Fed in response to US sanctions imposed over the Ukraine conflict in 2014 which was precipitated by the US state department. As Bloomberg observes, the selling may have contributed to record volatility in the Treasury market and prompted the Fed’s intervention. More importantly, it also means that the biggest buyer of US Treasurys in the past decade, foreign official institutions (i.e., central banks and reserve managers) are now sellers, so now the U.S. government needs private investors to soak up the ever increasing debt issuance.And since those are busy avoiding a deadly virus, it means that only the Fed now can fund the exploding US budget deficit... which is precisely what it is doing.

Fed Balance Sheet Hits $5.5 Trillion As Discount Window Usage Soars - As previewed last night when we showed that in the past week the Fed has bought a staggering $587BN in Treasuries and MBS, we calculated that as of March 25, the Fed's balance sheet would rise to a record $5.3 trillion, a phenomenal increase of $1.2 trillion in just the past two weeks, equivalent to roughly 5.6% of US GDP. Today, the release of the latest weekly H.4.1 statement from the Fed confirmed our math, and that as of close on Wednesday, March 25, the Fed's total asset were indeed $5.3 trillion. Which, sadly, is now a stale number because we now live in a world where the Fed buys a record $125 billion in bonds (and who knows what else either directly or via Blackrock) every single day, which means that as of the Friday's close, the Fed will have added a record $625 billion to its balance sheet... ... and more specifically, $250 billion to the total as of March 25. In other words, in just a few short hours, the Fed's balance sheet will be $5.5 trillion... ... an increase of $1.3 trillion in two weeks (6% of GDP), which was the amount the Fed monetized during all of QE1 in response to the financial crisis, but which took place over a period of almost 2 years.And as an aside, the Fed's push to get banks to use the discount window appears to have worked: after more than a decade of stigma associated with any bank caught within 100 feet of the Primary Credit Facility, also known as the Discount Window, and with zero usage since mid-2010, last week borrowings under the Discount Window surge to $40 billion.

Fed Considering Additional Support for State, Local Government Finance - Federal Reserve officials are reviewing new ways to support financing for state and local governments, many of which are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic and will face huge borrowing needs as revenues plunge, according to people familiar with the matter.The economic-rescue legislation Congress approved this week asks the Fed to charge headlong into areas it has long considered taboo—supporting lending to businesses, cities and states. The Fed traditionally avoided intervening directly in credit and fiscal policy, preferring to leave such matters to Congress and the White House. That is changing now because of the fast-moving economic crisis—and because Congress has essentially directed the Fed to get more involved by providing $454 billion to the Treasury to cover any losses in new Fed lending programs. The Fed has dramatically expanded its balance sheet over the past two weeks, by nearly $942 billion to $5.25 trillion as of Wednesday. The central bank has lent freely to help firms avoid a wave of defaults that could turn a recession into something much worse. Over two weeks, the Fed has unveiled six lending facilities, five of them enjoying a total of $50 billion in support from the Treasury. Those programs have freed up cash for major Wall Street institutions and will backstop money-market funds and markets for commercial debt.Democratic lawmakers have made support for city and state borrowing a priority in recent legislative talks, and the latest bill directs the Treasury secretary to seek a Fed lending program for municipal finance.State and local governments are confronting skyrocketing borrowing costs even as they are straining to pay expenses associated with the spread of the virus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Fed Chairman Jerome Powell last week “to think big and help our states,” she said in an interview on PBS this week. “They are taking a big bite of this wormy apple and they need much more in terms of resources.”Under its governing law, the Fed can’t directly buy corporate debt, and it is limited to purchasing municipal debt of six months or less. But it can work around these restrictions by creating lending facilities that lend or purchase debt, subject to approval of the Treasury secretary. The Fed has already dipped a toe into muni-debt markets by expanding a money-market lending backstop to include certain types of municipal debt—and by purchasing some highly rated municipal debt in a facility backing the market for very short-term commercial debt.

Rabobank- Many Are Questioning The Point Of Having A Market If The Fed Is Backstopping Everything  --Although Powell was still reluctant to call the Fed’s bond purchases quantitative easing last week, the FOMC has now confirmed that they will have no limits when purchasing US Treasuries. An increase of the initial ‘minimum USD 500bn’ target was widely expected, since the Fed already bought over USD 300bn in just the first week after the relaunch of large scale asset purchases. However, the FOMC did not bother to set a new target. Instead, they will purchase bonds “in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning and effective transmission of monetary policy.” Cynics may question the aim of market functioning, if it means that the Fed once again has to become a major player in the market to keep it operational. However, by increasing its presence, it does pave the way for additional issuance by the Treasury required to fund the government’s crisis response.And that wasn’t all. Only last Thursday, my colleague Philip Marey wrote that there were still a few acronyms missing and that the FOMC could also add completely new programmes targeting corporate debt and SME loans to the alphabet soup. The Fed apparently agreed. The central bank restarted TALF, which provides loans in exchange for ABS, and set up two entirely new facilities aimed at the corporate credit markets: PMCCF and SMCCF. Finally, the FOMC also expects to unveil another programme to support SMEs shortly. Meanwhile, the PMCCF allows purchases of corporate bonds in the primary market. Moreover, it will provide bridge financing of up to four years directly to eligible corporates. Despite a relatively modest size to begin with, that is arguably the ECB’s TLTRO programme (without collateral?) on steroids: by bypassing the banking sector, banks’ balance sheet and regulatory requirements are no longer constraints. Again, it does raise the question whether the Fed is repairing the functioning of markets, or whether it is really substituting the market.And, as Philip concludes, the FOMC used the words “initial equity investment” to describe the USD 10bn that the Treasury Department will make available to the SPV that will be set up for these purchases. This suggests that more can follow once Congress approves more fiscal stimulus.Whilst this will undoubtedly ease the stress in the market in the near term, it remains to be seen what the longer-term implications of these programmes will be. The reality is that the Fed is now providing backstops for pretty much everything save for President Trump’s beloved Dow Jones index. The risk is that these policy measures are as addictive as opioids, and that the cure turns out to be worse than the disease.

Fed moves telegraph fears of prolonged liquidity crisis - — Taken together, the Federal Reserve’s aggressive actions over the last week to shore up liquidity as the coronavirus rocks the global economy are an unprecedented commitment from the nation’s central bank to ensure the smooth flow of credit.The Fed has slashed interest rates to nearly zero, has established a number of credit facilities in order to lend to businesses and consumers, has encouraged banks to dip into their capital liquidity buffers and has pledged an unlimited amount of bond purchases — all to boost the economy and ultimately guarantee that businesses and banks have enough cash on hand. But despite the Fed’s moves, there are concerns that a shortage of corporate debt and other types of liquidity could develop into a deeper crisis, especially if the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of abating.“The Fed has the same challenges the grocery stores have with dealing with people who are buying toilet paper,” said Thomas Vartanian, the founder and executive director of the Financial Regulation & Technology Institute at George Mason University’s Law School. “Hysteria and lack of confidence is a psychological factor that changes dynamics, and it has [in] every financial crisis over the last 200 years.” Fortunately, banks were armed with more capital and liquidity buffers after the 2008 crisis thanks to the Dodd-Frank Act, and experts largely agree that financial institutions are well equipped to handle periods of financial stress. Yet other sectors lack the same protections, and a liquidity crisis at those businesses could result in a domino effect that would end up hurting banks all the same. “Banks entered this crisis with strong levels of capital, thanks in large part to the restrictions Dodd-Frank put in place. Other corporations … enter this with often little cash on hand to weather a crisis and significant amounts of leverage,” said Aaron Klein, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “So the banking industry is better poised to weather some of this storm than many of the large corporate players who weren't required to save money for a rainy day.”Although banks may be prepared for a downturn, it is hard to know at what point economic stress would reach financial institutions, said Kathryn Judge, a professor at Columbia Law School. “With things like the liquidity coverage ratio, [banks] have more liquidity on hand,” she said. “But things are moving so quickly and in such big ways that I think it's almost impossible to rule out the possibility of a lack of liquidity proving problematic for some set of institutions.”Businesses have also been incentivized to pile on more debt because of the historically low interest rates since the financial crisis, which has led to record-high levels of corporate debt.  Much of that debt is held by nonbanks, which — unlike regulated financial institutions — are not held to capital and liquidity standards.

Foreign Buyers Flood 2Y TSY Auction Which Prices At Lowest Yield Since Feb 2014 - In what may be one of the last normal Treasury auctions before the US has to prefund trillions and trillions in stimulus funds, moments ago the Treasury sold $40BN in 2 year paper, at a yield of just 0.398%, far below the 1.189% last month and the lowest since Feb 2014 when the US was back at ZIRP, and ahead of the Fed's failed experiment at renormalizing. The high yield of 0.398% tailed the When Issued 0.39% by 0.8bps, the third consecutive tail, and was a whopping 80bps below the February 2020 auction. The Bid to Cover dropped to 2.362 from 2.454, the lowest since Dec but generally in line with the recent range. Meanwhile, the internals were stellar with Indirects suring, and taking down 55.20%, up sharply from 46.2% and the highest since September, and as Directs dipped modestly from 9.31% to 8.55%, Dealers ended up taking down 36.3%, down from 44.5%. Like we said, this is one of the last "normal" auctions as the next few months will see an unprecedented ramp up in new Treasury issuance as all those trillions in bailout funds have to paid somehow, and very soon it will not only be the Fed printer that does "brr", but so will the US Treasury which will be printing debt just as fast.

5Y Auction Treasury Prices At Lowest Yield Ever Despite Sharp Foreign Buyer Pullback - If yesterday's tailing 2Y auction was more of a shot in the dark, with an avalanche of new issuance coming down the pipe and was hardly indicative of what future demand will look like, the same can be said for today's 5Y auction, even though unlike the 2Y, there was little one can say to criticize today's sale of $41 billion in 5Y paper. Let's start at the top: the yield on today's auction, which was 0.535%, was not only sharply below the February 1.15%, but was also below the lowest on record, which was recorded in July 2012 when it hit 0.58%. The auction also stopped through the When Issued by 1.5bps, showing demand coming into the auction was quite high despite today's torrid risk rally. The bid to cover was also impressive, jumping from 2.46 to 2.53, the highest since July 2018. That said, the internals left a bit to be desired, with the Indirect takedown down from 61.5% to 52.1%, which was the lowest since August of 2015. And with foreign buyers stepping away, and Directs taking down 12.6%, slightly above last month's 9.8% if below the 6-auction average of 13.2%, it meant that Primary Dealers had to jump, and took down 35.3%, the most since Dec 2018. Yet even despite the reshuffling in the buyer composition, the auction was clearly very strong and helped push the yield curve in parallel notably lower even as today's risk rally continues without missing a beat.

In Stunning Development, Dealers Run Out Of Securities To Use In Fed Repo Operations - Two weeks ago, just after the Fed first announced its massive overnight and term repo operation expansion which now amounts to some $1 trillion in daily repo capacity (and before Powell expanded this bazooka to included ZIRP and unlimited QE), we said that this is a big mistake as the Fed was targeting the wrong liquidity conduit.Then, after the Fed launched QE across the entire curve and expanded it to include MBS, the Fed's monetary police became outright bizarre: on one hand the Fed was offering to buy Treasurys and MBS held by Dealers (at a hefty, unknown premium to market), on the other it was offering Dealers to park those securities at the Fed either overnight or on a term basis in exchange for cash while incurring modest capital charges.After all, why would anyone pick repo over QE in the current market was a total mystery. Why indeed, and as we expected, after several repo operations that saw zero Treasury submissions in the Fed's overnight and term repo operations at the start of this week... ... we finally got a failing repo operation, when this morning the Fed saw no bids (i.e., submissions) in either Treasurys, MBS and Agency securities in its $500BN 3-month repo operation! Today's other repo operation, the $500BN overnight repo saw just $1.5BN in TSYs submitted (the remaining $5.25BN were MBS) into the $500BN operation. For those who haven't been following the Fed's repo operations, this was the first time since the bank restarted its repo operations that it received no bids on its term offerings. But it's not just term: as the charts below show, ever since the Fed announced unlimited QE concurrently with massive repos, the amount of securities submitted into repos has collapsed and for Treasurys has been $0 on most of this week's operations.... with MBS catching up fast.

There Is Now A Treasury Shortage - Earlier this morning we showed something remarkable in the Fed's ongoing attempt to inject a record amount of liquidity into the financial system: on Friday morning, the Fed held a $500 billion term repo operation and nobody showed up. There were zero submissions of either Treasury, Agency of MBS securities by Dealers who appear to have run out of securities, or are unwilling to pledge to the Fed.Today's "zero bid" auction was merely the logical endgame of a recent collapse in Treasury submissions into the Fed's massive daily term and overnight repo operations, which climaxed two weeks ago, only to plunge as soon as the Fed announced the start of unlimited QE. With dealers now able to sell unlimited amounts directly to the Fed, and at a premium to carrying values, most of them appear to have picked that option instead of holding on to paper that may be worthless especially with an avalanche of debt coming down the pipeline as the Treasury has to fund its $2 trillion corporate handout package."Why on Earth you would tie something up for three months in repo with the Fed buying," said Ian Burdette, managing director at Academy Securities, who followed up with a very apt observation: "I think people are getting wise to the fact that an absolute tsunami of global sovereign debt issuance is on its way. Best to sell it all to the fed now probably."Another hint that the Fed may have overliquified the market, soaking up too much "safe, money-like collateral" such as Treasuries and MBS, and injecting too many reserves (i.e., cash) came from the Fed itself which 30 minutes before the close today announced it would taper "QE-unlimited" and cut the amount of TSY purchases starting April 1 from $75BN to $60BN, while also trimming its MBS QE from $50BN to $40BN. But the clearest hint yet that there has been a sea change in the US financial system, which has gone from reserve scarce to collateral(Treasury) scarce was in today's fixed-rate reverse repo operation. As the name suggests, this is the opposite of repo, where instead of borrowing cash from the Fed in exchange for Treasury collateral, while paying a modest borrowing fee, Dealers borrow Treasurys in exchange for cash collateral.If the presence of a reverse repo is news to some, there's a reason for that: for much of the past 3 years, when the Fed was draining reserves as part of QT and banks were cash strained, there was an abundance of Treasurys. Until today, because today's reverse repo operation exploded to a record $210BN from $138.4BN yesterday, after virtually no usages for years.

Fed's Bullard Warns Unemployment May Soar To 30%, GDP Crash 50% In Q2 - Last Friday, when Goldman predicted a 24% drop in Q2 GDP ostensibly in response to JPM's own -14% downgrade to Q2, we were frankly shocked, and wondered who would have the guts to come out with an even more apocalyptic prediction. Well, just 48 hours later, none other than the Fed's James Bullard has literally swept the analyst field with a forecast that - if accurate - could mean nothing short of civil war for the US. In an interview with Bloomberg, the president of the St. Louis Fed, predicted that U.S. unemployment rate may hit 30% in the second quarter because of shutdowns to combat the coronavirus, coupled with an unprecedented 50% drop in US GDP. That would be an outcome worse not only than every prior war the US has (officially) waged, but more than twice as dire as the worst days of the Great Depression. So what should happen for this catastrophic outcome to be avoided? While Bullard, one of the biggest Fed doves, said that the Fed is ready to do anthing, he appeared to punt to the US government, hinting that it is now up to Congress to offset the nearly $3 trillion in loast income. Bullard called for a powerful fiscal response to replace the $2.5 trillion in lost income that quarter to ensure a strong eventual U.S. recovery, adding the Fed would be poised to do more to ensure markets function during a period of high volatility. As Bloomberg notes, Bullard’s grave assessment "underscores the critical need for Congress and the White House to quickly find agreement on a massive aid program" especially  after the Fed restarted financial crisis-era programs to help the commercial paper and money markets, after cutting interest rates to near zero and pledging to boost its holdings of Treasuries by at least $500 billion and of mortgage securities by at least $200 billion.“This is a planned, organized partial shutdown of the U.S. economy in the second quarter,” Bullard said. “The overall goal is to keep everyone, households and businesses, whole” with government support. “It is a huge shock and we are trying to cope with it and keep it under control.” While this hardly needs to be spelled out, but 30% unemployment - or 50 million Americans out of a job - basically means society begins to disintegrate as this would be a world that nobody can possibly fathom. Besides the obvious, there are two additional problems here: first, the Fed's massive response has failed to stimulate risk appetite or to ease the massive dollar short squeeze which has sent the Bloomberg Dollar index to all time highs, sparking debate whether the Fed's credibility is now gone as the world awaits helicopter money, and two, and perhaps far more ominous, is that as of this moment the US is reliving the darkest moment of the financial crisis - when Congress failed to pass the first TARP iteration, sending the market crashing. Indeed, as we reported earlier and as Bloomberg just confirmed...

Coronavirus Measures Could Cut Economic Activity by a Quarter, Report Says —Measures taken to curb the spread of the new coronavirus could lower economic activity in the U.S. and other developed countries by a quarter, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Friday. In a report made available to leaders of the Group of 20 leading economies for a video conference they held Thursday, OECD economists estimated the likely impact on the sectors most affected by widespread business closures and orders for people to remain at home, and the size of those sectors in each national economy. The OECD calculated that the activities most directly affected by the shutdowns—ranging from restaurants to automobile makers—account for between 30% and 40% of total output in most of the developed economies. With activity in many of those sectors curtailed, it calculated that output was likely to be between 20% and 25% lower than is usual in large, developed economies. If the measures are sustained for three months, the OECD forecast total annual output would be 6% lower in the developed economies. Under this scenario for the U.S., where the economy was forecast to grow 2% this year before the virus struck, the OECD estimates output would fall 4% in 2020. “Our analysis further underpins the need for sharper action to absorb the shock, and a more coordinated response by governments to maintain a lifeline to people and a private sector that will emerge in a very fragile state when the health crisis is past,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said in the report.

 Powell Says Economy May Be in Recession, Virus Will Dictate Timetable --Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy “may well be in a recession,” but that the central bank is taking unprecedented action to help ensure economic activity can resume as soon as the coronavirus pandemic is under control.“The virus is going to dictate the timetable here,” Mr. Powell said in a rare television interview, on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday morning. “The first order of business will be to get the spread of the virus under control, and then resume economic activity.” Mr. Powell said he expected economic activity to decline “pretty substantially” in the second quarter. The Fed’s job now, he added, is to make sure businesses of all sizes can have a “bridge” of support, including through emergency lending programs the Fed has been rolling out, so that the economy can recover faster.Fed officials are trying to prevent firms from losing access to funding, which could then snowball, turning what is shaping up to be a severe, synchronized global recession into a full-bore depression.The Fed has slashed its benchmark rate to zero and unveiled a series of programs to boost lending. By Friday, it will have also purchased nearly $1 trillion in Treasury and mortgage securities over the past two weeks.“Where credit is not flowing, we have the ability in this unique circumstance to temporarily step in and provide those loans, and we will keep doing that aggressively and forthrightly as we have been,” said Mr. Powell.The Trump administration and Congress agreed Wednesday to provide $454 billion in additional funds for the Treasury to bulk up existing or new Fed lending facilities, including programs to support small-business lending and shore up financing markets for state and local governments. “When it comes to this lending, we’re not going to run out of ammunition. That doesn’t happen,” Mr. Powell said.

"Chicago Fed National Activity Index Index Suggests Economic Growth Picked Up in February" - From the Chicago Fed: Chicago Fed National Activity Index Index Suggests Economic Growth Picked Up in February The data through February were unlikely to have been affected much by the COVID-19 outbreak. Economic data for March will be incorporated in the next CFNAI released on April 20, 2020.  Led by improvements in production-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) rose to +0.16 in February from –0.33 in January. Two of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index increased from January, and three of the four categories made positive contributions to the index in February. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, decreased to –0.21 in February from –0.11 in January. This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.

Third Estimate Q4 GDP: Remains at 2.1% Annual Rate --From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Fourth Quarter and Year 2019 (Third Estimate); Corporate Profits, Fourth Quarter and Year 2019 Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to the "third" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP also increased 2.1 percent.The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "second" estimate issued last month. In the second estimate, the increase in real GDP was also 2.1 percent. In the third estimate, an upward revision to personal consumption expenditures (PCE) was largely offset by downward revisions to federal government spending and nonresidential fixed investment.  PCE growth was revised up to 1.8% from 1.7% in the second estimate. Residential investment was revised up to 6.5% from 6.2%. Here is a Comparison of Third and Second Estimates.

US Q4 GDP unrevised at 2.1pc in final estimate - US gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 per cent in the fourth quarter (Q4) in the third or final estimate, unrevised from previous estimates, the US Commerce Department reported Thursday. In the third estimate, an upward revision to personal consumption expenditures (PCE) was largely offset by downward revisions to federal government spending and non-residential fixed investment, according to a report released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. PCE grew at an annual rate of 1.8 per cent in the fourth quarter, slightly up from the 1.7 per cent in the second estimate, contributing 1.24 percentage points to the GDP in the quarter, reports Xinhua. Nonresidential fixed investment, which reflects business spending, fell by 2.4 per cent in the fourth quarter, compared with a 2.3 per cent drop in the second estimate, taking off 0.33 percentage point from the GDP in the quarter. The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter reflected positive contributions from PCE, exports, residential fixed investment, federal government spending, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by negative contributions from private inventory investment and nonresidential fixed investment, the report showed. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased. GDP growth slowed to 2.3 per cent in 2019, compared to 2.9 per cent in 2018, primarily reflecting decelerations in non-residential fixed investment and the PCE and a downturn in exports.

Q4 GDP Third Estimate: Real GDP at 2.1%  - The Third Estimate for Q4 GDP, to one decimal, came in at 2.1% (2.13% to two decimal places), mostly unchanged from 2.1% (2.12% to two decimal places) for the Q3 Third Estimate. Investing.com had a consensus of 2.1%. Here is the slightly abbreviated opening text from the Bureau of Economic Analysis news release: Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the "third" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP also increased 2.1 percent. The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "second" estimate issued last month. In the second estimate, the increase in real GDP was also 2.1 percent. In the third estimate, an upward revision to personal consumption expenditures (PCE) was largely offset by downward revisions to federal government spending and nonresidential fixed investment. [Full Release] Here is a look at Quarterly GDP since Q2 1947. Prior to 1947, GDP was an annual calculation. To be more precise, the chart shows is the annualized percentage change from the preceding quarter in Real (inflation-adjusted) Gross Domestic Product. We've also included recessions, which are determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Also illustrated are the 3.21% average (arithmetic mean) and the 10-year moving average, currently at 2.28%. Here is a log-scale chart of real GDP with an exponential regression, which helps us understand growth cycles since the 1947 inception of quarterly GDP. The latest number puts us 13.6% below trend. A particularly telling representation of slowing growth in the US economy is the year-over-year rate of change. The average rate at the start of recessions is 3.35%. Four of the eleven recessions over this timeframe have begun at a lower level of current real YoY GDP. Real GDP Year-over-Year In summary, the Q4 GDP Third Estimate of 2.1% was as expected.

Meaningless Final Revision Of Q4 GDP Sees US Economy Growing 2.1% Ahead Of Coming Depression - With the Labor Department reporting that an unprecedented 3.3 million initial jobless claim were filed in the past week as the economy collapsed due to the Wu Flu shutdown, the last thing anyone will care about is what happened in the US economy in the end of 2019, but just for the sake of continuity, we will note that the BEA reported that in its final estimate of Q4 GDP, it saw Q4 GDP rise 2.1%, just as expected, and unchanged from the second revision. Compared to the second estimate, the unrevised GDP growth rate primarily reflected an upward revision to consumer spending that was largely offset by downward revisions to federal government spending and business investment. Here is how the contributions to the bottom line changed from the last estimate:

  • Personal Consumption: 1.17% in 2nd revision vs 1.24% in final
  • Fixed Investment: -0.09% in 2nd revision vs -0.09% in final
  • Change in Private Inventories: -0.98% in 2nd revision vs -0.98% in final
  • Exports: 0.24% in 2nd revision vs 0.24% in final
  • Imports: 1.29% in 2nd revision vs 1.27% in final
  • Government consumption: 0.46% in 2nd revision vs 0.44% in final

What is most surprising about these data is how little changed between the 2nd estimate and the final one, almost as if the BEA took a sick break and instead of actually updating the data just carried over whatever it had already published

US Debt-To-GDP Will Hit New All-Time High In 2020 - (see graphs) And what of the federal response to this pandemic?  It appears disjointed, half-hearted, and entirely left up to every state, city, county, company, and ultimately the individual as to how to appropriately respond...The only sure thing is Congress and the President willing to throw good money after bad. In 2020, the federal government will spend like drunken sailors...borrowing from our future selves to pay our present selves.  The chart below details the rising public vs. Intragovernmental debt (SS, etc.) against the inverse instigator of debt, the Federal Funds rate. Just for giggles, below the annual change in the under 60yr/old population (green line) and over 60yr/old population (yellow line) contrasted with the Federal funds rate (black dashed line), and public debt (red columns) vs. Intragovernmental debt (blue columns). Not so hard to see this is a demographic issue at its core. Obviously, I'm estimating the 2020 federal deficit to end up around $2.8 trillion of which likely 100%+ will be public debt (little to no IG net purchasing). And what will the next five years look like? The demographics will slightly shift as the growth of the elderly population decelerates but the projection for the under 60 year-old population is a gentle upturn.  But this upturn is highly unlikely as it assumes rising births (births continue declining) and high rates of immigration will return (2019 saw a huge deceleration in immigration due to border enforcement...and now with Coronavirus, immigration may be a net zero) and ongoing strong economic activity (lol).  So, the under 60 year-old population declines will likely accelerate rather than return to growth.  Of course, federal debt will be surging to cover unfunded liabilities, unemployment, bailouts, etc. etc. while Intragovermental funds turn to a net seller. Anyway, this signifies that 2020 will likely be the year that federal debt to GDP surpasses the previous peak set in WWII.  This coincides with the decline in the consumer (and base of credit creation) that is the working age population. But unfortunately, the debt will continue to blow out against even any modest GDP growth.  The chart below assumes 1.5% GDP growth through 2025 versus constant $2 trillion annual deficits after the 2020 $2.8 trillion blowout.  While the under 65-year old population was projected to return to minimal growth, the Coronavirus is likely to turn that projected growth to decline and further decelerating potential economic activity. And just to put this debt in context, below I show the relatively constant of under 20 year-old US population (the future that is responsible for servicing the debt) versus the rapidly growing federal debt.

Senate fails to move forward with coronavirus stimulus bill -  A procedural vote to move forward with the nearly $2 trillion economic stimulus package failed in the Senate on Sunday, sending lawmakers back to the negotiating table as they rush to support American families and businesses reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats blocked Republicans from reaching the 60 votes needed to clear the procedural hurdle, and the absence of several senators self-quarantining due to the coronavirus sidelined several Republicans. Futures for the S&P 500 fell by 5%, the AP reported, triggering a halt in trading. Late Sunday night, the Senate adjourned until noon Monday, but there was a chance it would resume proceedings earlier in the day. The failed vote drew an angry rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who placed the blame squarely on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "We're fiddling here — fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our healthcare," he said. "The American people expect us to act tomorrow and I want everybody to fully understand if we aren't able to act tomorrow it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dither when the country expects us to come together and address this problem." Soon after, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the current proposal is a "corporate bailout with no protections for workers and virtually no oversight" and lacks adequate money for hospitals and health care workers. "Can we overcome the remaining disagreements in the next 24 hours?" the New York Democrat said. "Yes, we can and we should. The nation demands it." While there is broad agreement on the need for an immediate response, Democrats want stronger legislative language that prevents companies that receive bailout money from firing workers or using it to buy back shares. They also want restrictions on which businesses can receive bailout money and on executive compensation.

Coronavirus stimulus bill fails in key Senate procedural vote -A massive funding package to combat the impact of coronavirus did not get enough votes in a key Senate procedural vote Sunday evening.The stalemate came hours after Democratic leaders warned that the bill was not to their liking because they said it did too much to bail out companies and not enough to help workers. Stock futures cratered as the two parties failed to agree on the terms of the package.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lambasted Democrats, who voted against the bill.“We’re fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our health care,” he said.“Step up,” he added. “Help us reach an agreement so we can do what needs to be done for the American people no later than tomorrow.” The final vote tally was 47-47, well short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill. Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the chamber, although several GOP senators, including Rand Paul, who had tested positive for the coronavirus, were not present to vote. Others, such as Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, were in quarantine as a precaution.President Donald Trump, however, was decidedly optimistic in a coronavirus task force press briefing that was unfolding as senators voted. “I think you’ll get there,” he said.Senate Republicans last week rolled out a roughly $1 trillion proposal after working closely with the administration, in a bid to slow the potentially catastrophic impact of the coronavirus on the economy. More than 26,000 have tested positive for the illness in the United States, a number that is expected to surge as more tests are distributed. The bill included small business loans, direct payments for individuals and billions in aid for industries like airlines whose businesses have been hit hard by the virus and efforts to stop its spread.Republicans had hoped to come to a deal with Democrats by Monday. Hospitals, workers, companies and states have all warned they need more resources. The airline industry, which is expecting financial relief from the bill, has raised continued alarm that without getting money fast, it could face dire outcomes.  The pressure to forge a deal and pass the bill took on added urgency as several members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Senate Democrats block mammoth coronavirus stimulus package  — Senate Democrats on Sunday blocked a coronavirus stimulus package from moving forward as talks on several key provisions remain stalled. Senators voted 47-47 on advancing a “shell” bill, a placeholder that the text of the stimulus legislation would have been swapped into, falling short of the three-fifths threshold needed to advance the proposal. Hopes of a quick stimulus deal quickly unraveled on Sunday as the four congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to break the impasse. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also delayed the procedural vote for three hours as they tried to get a deal. Democratic senators argue that the GOP bill includes several “non-starters” and walks back areas of agreement, such as expanding unemployment insurance, they thought they had reached with Republicans. They emerged from a closed-door lunch fuming over the bill circulated by Republicans and called for McConnell to hold off on the 3 p.m. cloture vote. “We are pleading with McConnell not to call this vote,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said after the lunch. “It’s a serious mistake. We have not negotiated this to the point of agreement yet.” Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is up for reelection in a deeply red state, said that the Senate needed to be “as unified as possible.” “We don’t need split votes,” he said. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) added that the proposal put forward by Republicans was “totally inadequate.” That resulted in McConnell delaying the vote to 6 p.m. The vote eventually moved forward with five GOP senators absent. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) announced Sunday morning he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would self-quarantine. That led to two Republican colleagues he had interacted with, Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, announcing they would also self-quarantine and miss the vote. Republican Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) had previously said they would self-quarantine as a precaution that was unrelated to Paul's announcement. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill includes “problematic” provisions and that McConnell should have made the negotiations include both chambers and the White House from the beginning. “Unfortunately, the legislation has not improved enough in the past three hours,” he said. McConnell appeared visibly angry as he spoke from the Senate floor after the bill failed, pledging to force the vote again. “The American people are watching this spectacle. I’m told the futures market is down 5 percent. I’m also told that’s when trading stops. So the notion that we have time to play games here with the American economy and the American people is utterly absurd,” McConnell said. “The American people expect us to act tomorrow, and I want everybody to fully understand if we aren’t able to act tomorrow, it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dither when the country expects us to come together and address this problem,” McConnell added.

Summary of the McConnell Bailout Bill - Adam Levitin - The McConnell Bailout Bill (a/k/a HR 748 or the CARES Act), weighs in at just shy of 600 pages. I've taken the liberty of summarizing it in a powerpoint deck for teaching (syllabus be damned) and thought it might be helpful to make generally available. Here it is. (11:00 3/23 updated/corrected version).I only warrant it as best efforts (meaning I might have misread or just missed something in this monster bill) and I have made no attempt to summarize the details of the social insurance program (UI, Medicare, Medicaid) interventions because they are outside my expertise. You'll have to read the bill itself (Part I and Part II) for that.  I'll note quickly two things for Slips aficionados: there's no bankruptcy piece anywhere within the bill. There might end up being some very minor bankruptcy changes, but bankruptcy really isn't where the action is right now.  You might consider how the airline bailout package in the bill compared with GM/Chrysler. That ought to be the benchmark for direct government rescue lending to real economy firms. 

Bailout Shenanigans: Making 2008 Look Good? --Yves Smith -Because the legislative sausage-making is still underway, it might seem premature to declare the bailout bill underway a massive exercise in corporate welfare, but it sure has all the hallmarks.As Public Citizen warned by e-mail early Sunday evening (emphasis theirs): Senate Republicans just announced their long-awaited plan to help people and businesses weather the impending economic storm.Their scheme — burped up by Mitch McConnell in league with Donald Trump’s sycophantic Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin — would be a dream come true for Big Business but a nightmare for everyday Americans.Here’s just some of what’s in the Republicans’ disastrous proposal:

  • • Mnuchin gets to dole out hundreds of billions to Corporate America — without revealing which companies got bailed out for half a year.
  • • Businesses are not required to keep workers on their payrolls
  • • There are NO meaningful oversight mechanisms to prevent fraud and waste by the companies that get bailed out.

And on and on. Thankfully, Senate Democrats have — for the moment — forced Republicans back to the drawing board. But a new plan, which may well be no better, could come  Associated Press has a later account, depicting the talks over the $2 trillion bill as “churning”. Maybe “circling the drain” would be more accurate:  Democrats won a concession — to provide four months of expanded unemployment benefits, rather than just three as proposed, according to an official granted anonymity to discuss the private talks. The jobless pay also extends to self-employed and so-called “gig” workers.

Yes, this is an emergency. No, that doesn’t justify a $500 billion Trump/Mnuchin slush fund. -Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker - While the indicators are lagging, the U.S. economy is in a recession that will very likely be extremely deep. It’s likely that real GDP falls at double-digit pace in the quarter that begins next month and the unemployment rate more than doubles. If that sounds implausible, history shows that in sharp downturns, the unemployment rate takes the elevator up and the stairs down. To their credit, after a slow start Congress appears to have grasped this urgency and is working around the clock on what may turn out to be the largest stimulus package in our history, with a price tag of $1-2 trillion, or 5-10 percent of GDP (the Recovery Act was $800 billion over two years, roughly 2.0 percent of GDP). Given that fighting the virus essentially calls for putting the U.S. economy in deep freeze for an unknown period, we vigorously support going big. But even as Congress must speed toward completion and passage of this legislation, there is time to avoid wasting resources, and there is one, large part of the bill—$500 billion, according to the Washington Post—that threatens to create a “slush fund” for businesses with virtually no oversight, no benefits for workers, and far too much discretion for President Trump to dole out goodies to himself and his cronies. The lending mechanism in question allocates $500 billion to backstop (i.e., repayment is guaranteed by the government) private-sector loans to the tune of $50 billion to airlines, $8 billion for cargo carriers, $17 billion for businesses “critical to national security,” and $425 billion for businesses, states, and cities.  To be clear, there’s nothing wrong and a lot right with providing resources of these magnitudes for businesses. The bill also proposes $350 billion for small business with a smart, built-in incentive to help workers: if employers use a portion of the loan to maintain their payrolls, that portion is forgiven. But the $500 billion carries no such incentives. Nor does there appear to be adequate oversight or “underwriting,” the process by which banks determine credit worthiness, leading Sen. Warren to tweet that it “sounds like Trump hotel properties like Mar-a-Largo could receive huge bags of cash – and then fire their workers – if Steve Mnuchin decides to do a solid for his boss with taxpayer dollars.”  Democrats must use their leverage to remove this Trump/Mnuchin slush fund while they quickly negotiate the attaching of pro-worker conditionality to it. The main thing for this moment is to get the help to families (direct cash) and small businesses out the door.  But let’s train our water hoses on where the immediate fire is—low, moderate income households and small businesses with a week or two of cash reserves and little access to credit markets. No question, this is an emergency, but that doesn’t excuse opportunistic, potentially wasteful spending with no oversight. We have important work to do, none of which includes setting up a half-a-trillion-dollar slush fund.

Boeing, Which Demands A $60BN Taxpayer Bailout, Refuses To Give US An Equity Stake - With populist anger growing in response to Boeing's demands for a taxpayer-funded bailout (or the employees get it) after it spent over $40BN on buybacks making its shareholders and management richer while burying the company and rank and file employees under a record $25BN in debt, many have asked what form the Boeing bailout will take, and whether the US taxpayers will also be entitled to some or all of the upside in the company they will soon be asked to bailout. In other words, will the US get an equity stake?We got the answer moments ago, when the company's new CEO Dave Calhoun confirmed that the disgraced airplane maker - which until recently was best known for making airplanes that were "designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys", at least until it came crawling and demanding a non-recourse bailout -said Boeing does not want the U.S. government to take a stake even as the planemaker seeks assistance to grapple with effects from the new coronavirus."I don’t have a need for an equity stake,” Calhoun said in an interviewTuesday with Fox Business. “I want them to support the credit markets, provide liquidity. Allow us to borrow against our future."And just in case it wasn't clear that Boeing is confident it has all the leverage, he added "If they force it, we just look at all the other options and we've got plenty of them."Well of course he doesn't want to give equity to those who bail Boeing out: that would cripple his comp for years which would be determine by some Treasury clerk. Instead, what Boeing really wants is to repackage a bailout with no loans and lots of grants (i.e., direct investments) as merely "providing liquidity." Note, again, this is the same company that blew $50 billion in "liquidity" repurchasing its stock so that management, which includes Mr. Calhoun, could cash out of their options at record high prices, and pocket millions. And now that the pillage is over, it's time for a bailout, one where taxpayers inexplicably end up with... nothing?

House panel warns coronavirus could destroy Postal Service by June -The U.S. Postal Service could be gone by June unless Congress immediately delivers billions of dollars to counteract the impact of the coronavirus crisis, a House committee chairwoman warned Monday night. "Based on a number of briefings and warnings this week about a critical fall-off in mail across the country, it has become clear that the Postal Service will not survive the summer without immediate help from Congress and the White House," Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. Maloney, who was joined in the statement by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), indicated the Postal service has seen a "drastic" reduction in mail volume and could shutter by the summer without intervention, a collapse that could, among other things, jeopardize access to mail-order prescription drugs for millions of Americans, especially in rural communities. A Postal Service shutdown would also affect the ability of voters to cast ballots by mail. Maloney and Connolly noted the House's $2.5 trillion coronavirus relief package would send $25 billion to the Postal Service in emergency funding and eliminate the Postal Service's $11 billion debt. The measure would reset the Postal Service's borrowing limit to $15 billion and eliminate an annual $3 billion borrowing cap. The measure would also require the agency to prioritize medical deliveries. The House bill would also allow the Postal Service to create "temporary delivery points" and establish flexible staffing procedures if the novel coronavirus affects its operations. The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 turned the Postal Service into an independent agency within the U.S. government that was primarily responsible for funding itself, something that has become harder since the internet era led to a dramatic drop in the volume of mail. Beyond that, the Postal Service has been required since 2006 to pay at least $5.5 billion annually to pre-fund retiree benefits.

Congress Allocates $2 Trillion To Bail Out Struggling Bailout Industry - In order to alleviate the heavy damage the crucial financial sector is facing in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, the United States Congress announced Tuesday that they would be allocating $2 trillion in order to bail out the struggling bailout industry. “The bailout industry is on the brink of failure, so in order to prevent a full-on catastrophe, we are setting aside $2 trillion in order to bail it out,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), adding that the business of giving of massive sums of money to corporations so they can cover their losses is at the very bedrock of the U.S. economic system, and without assistance, the entire bailout industry as we know it could collapse, which could lead to another Great Depression. “During a crisis like this, the bailout industry is often hit the hardest, so we are taking immediate action, as our economy is deeply dependent on the bailout system; if bailouts can’t function, then America can’t function. A cash injection is absolutely necessary to make sure these failing businesses can inject cash into failing businesses.” At press time, Congress had signed a bill to allocate funds to bail out their bailout of the bailout industry.

Pelosi previews House coronavirus stimulus as Senate hits roadblocks | TheHill - Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday offered an early glimpse of House Democrats' sweeping proposal to boost the crippled economy amid the coronavirus crisis, presenting it as a family-focused alternative to the Republicans' package, which Democrats deem too corporate-friendly. The Speaker said she still intends to have the House return to Washington to vote on the package but suggested such a step might not be necessary if Senate negotiators can seal a deal that wins the support of her House caucus. "That's our hope, yes, but we'll see what the Senate does," Pelosi said from the Speaker's balcony in the Capitol. House Democrats want to expand funding for unemployment insurance, offer student loan relief, extend the reach of food stamps and bar corporations that receive federal help from buying back stocks or firing employees, among other provisions. The bill would also expand worker safety protections — like those governing the front-line medical workers dealing with infected patients — and require the Trump administration to enforce them. The House bill, which is expected to be unveiled later Monday, arrives as Senate lawmakers are scrambling to break an impasse over a massive package designed to shore up the economy against the fallout caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has crashed markets, shuttered businesses and sparked mass layoffs across the country. Senate leaders and White House economic officials had huddled all weekend in search of an agreement, but the sides remained far apart on Sunday, when Democrats united to prevent a GOP bill from advancing toward a final vote. Despite another round of talks Monday morning, Democrats blocked the measure a second time on Monday afternoon. Democrats in both chambers have raised numerous objections with the Republican bill, saying it leans too heavily in favor of corporations while neglecting more vulnerable populations — including seniors, students and low- and middle-income workers — hit hardest by the crisis.

House Democrats propose cash payments of $1,500 per person - House Democrats on Monday evening released a coronavirus stimulus proposal that includes direct payments to Americans that are more generous than the rebate checks proposed by Senate Republicans. The proposal would provide payments of $1,500 per adult and $1,500 per child in a household, up to three children. The maximum a family could receive is $7,500. Individuals with income of more than $75,000 and married couples with income of more than $150,000 would have to repay some or all of the payment amount when they file their tax returns but could chose to repay the amount over the course of three years. The IRS and Social Security Administration would work together to get the payments to households, and when possible, the payments would be delivered to people via direct deposit, according to a fact sheet from the House Ways and Means Committee. Draft versions of House Democrats' bill that circulated in Washington on Monday included a provision that would provide significantly bigger checks to low-income households, but that was not included in the version of the bill lawmakers formally introduced. The release of House Democrats' bill comes as Democrats and Republicans have been working to reach a bipartisan deal on a stimulus package. Senate Republicans did not expect an agreement to be reached on Monday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday urged the Senate "to move closer to the values" in the House bill. Senate Republicans have also proposed cash payments for Americans, but their proposed checks are smaller, particularly for children. They have proposed checks of $1,200 for single filers, $2,400 for married couples and $500 per child. Senate Republicans are proposing that their payment amounts would start phasing out at the same income levels Democrats have proposed. Legislative text Senate Republicans released last week also included a phase-in of the rebate amount, but a draft that had circulated over the weekend dropped the phase-in. The cash payments are not the only tax-related provision in House Democrats' bill. The bill would also provide for short-term expansions of the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — two tax credits benefiting low- and middle-income households that Democrats have long wanted to boost. House Democrats are also proposing tax credits for employers who retain their workers and tax credits for paid sick and family leave. Both House Democrats and Senate Republicans have proposed allowing businesses to carry back net operating losses from 2018, 2019 and 2020, but the Democratic bill puts restrictions on what businesses can qualify. In addition to the tax-related provisions, House Democrats' bill would provide financial resources for the health care system, boost unemployment compensation, provide grants and loans to small businesses, provide funds to state and local governments, and require states to develop voting contingency plans during a public health emergency.

Senate on cusp of coronavirus stimulus deal after agreements in key areas -Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are on the cusp of a deal for a massive coronavirus stimulus package after settling disagreements over relief for the airline industry, beefed-up unemployment benefits and money for hospitals. Democratic senators participated in a briefing call Monday night on the latest developments in the negotiations, and a vote is expected as soon as Tuesday. Schumer provided an optimistic update on the Senate floor after his fourth meeting of the day with Mnuchin, which ended shortly before 9 p.m. "Secretary Mnuchin just left my office. We have had some very good discussions, and in fact the list of outstanding issues has narrowed significantly," he said, promising to "work on into the night." In a key concession to the administration, Democrats have agreed to $25 billion in grants to U.S. airlines and $4 billion for cargo air carriers, according to text excerpt of the emerging deal. Schumer is still waiting on written language from Mnuchin limiting stock buybacks and executive compensation for companies that accept billions of dollars in assistance from U.S. taxpayers. Republicans want to limit executive compensation based on 2019 earnings, a lucrative year for corporate America, while Democrats want the limit based on a multiple of median worker salaries. In a significant concession to Democrats, the emerging deal would provide bumped-up unemployment benefits for four months, a substantial increase over the three months of augmented unemployment benefits proposed by Republican negotiators, according to a person familiar with the briefing call. Republicans have also agreed to provide $100 billion in funding for hospitals, $25 billion more than the proposal drafted in recent days by Republicans on an emergency supplemental spending package, according to the source familiar with the call. The emerging deal would also provide $30 billion for care of people who fall ill from COVID-19. The bill is also expected to provide $200 billion for various “domestic priorities.” Republican scored a major victory by securing at least $500 billion for the Treasury Department to authorize more than $4 trillion in liquidity to distressed industries, which could provide a major boost to corporate balance sheets and financial markets. The money will be leveraged at a ratio of 10 to 1, giving the Fed broad ability to make loans.

Pelosi says there is ‘real optimism’ Congress can reach a stimulus deal in the next few hours - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded a hopeful tone Tuesday about Republicans and Democrats striking an agreement on a staggering stimulus package to blunt the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic. “I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” Pelosi told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in a phone interview on “Squawk on the Street” as Senate Republicans and Democrats moved closer to a deal. The California Democrat later added that the bill is “getting to a good place ... if they stay there.” Pelosi has criticized versions of the GOP’s developing legislation, saying it goes too far to help corporations damaged by the outbreak without doing enough to aid workers ravaged by it. House Democrats released their own $2.5 trillion relief plan on Monday — though it is unlikely to go anywhere as long as the Senate makes progress. Major U.S. stock indexes climbed more than 5% on Tuesday as optimism about a deal rose. Democrats had taken particular issue with the potential conditions imposed on ailing corporations that receive aid from a pool of $500 billion in taxpayer money. Pelosi said Tuesday “things like a $500 billion slush fund are really insulting.” But the speaker said she was encouraged by the Trump administration agreeing to add more oversight to how it doles out the funding pool, which she called a “big change.” Pelosi noted that the proposal would include an inspector general and a congressional panel of five people to oversee the aid.

Negotiators Nearing Accord on U.S. Stimulus Package to Combat Coronavirus —Senate negotiators and the Trump administration worked to clear remaining hurdles for a deal on an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package, a massive bill designed to shield the U.S. economy from the most drastic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Stocks rallied on the news that a deal was near, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average surging more than 11%, its best day since 1933. Lawmakers, administration officials, and aides said issues surrounding $500 billion in industry assistance loans and expanded unemployment insurance had largely been resolved, leaving a narrow set of unresolved items left to agree to. Early in the day, some lawmakers predicted a deal was just hours away. But Republican senators left an afternoon meeting with administration officials saying the process had been bogged down as both sides put agreed-upon concepts into writing. No deal emerged as negotiations continued past midnight. Eric Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director, said that government aid to the airline industry was among the final issues. “Some people have discussed loans, others have discussed grants. We continue to kind of work through that,” Mr. Ueland said of aid for airlines. The Senate could move to quickly vote on the package later in the day, if an agreement is reached. “I believe we’re on the 5-yard line,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate floor. “I hope today is the day this body will get it done.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said he didn’t see any remaining issues that can’t be resolved. “Last night I thought we were on the 5-yard line. Right now we’re on the 2,” he said. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has led the negotiations for Republicans, said Tuesday morning that he expected a deal. He and Mr. Schumer completed a round of late-night talks Monday predicting they could soon finalize an agreement, which Mr. Schumer said could run to $2 trillion. “I feel very confident they’re getting close to a deal for the people of our country,” President Trump said in remarks at the daily White House coronavirus briefing.

Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package - Senators are floating a quick exit from Washington, D.C., after they pass a massive coronavirus stimulus bill that is being finalized Tuesday. The expectation among senators is that once the chamber passes the legislation, likely on Wednesday, they will not be in session for at least three weeks. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, stressed that the decision is up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) but said it was his expectation that the chamber would recess after this week. "My guess is we probably don't come in next week and then don't come in the two weeks we're scheduled" to be on recess, Blunt said, adding that they would "use those three weeks to get ready for whatever is phase four." Blunt said some senators could stay in town to work on additional coronavirus legislation but that "likely we're not in an active daily session." A source familiar with briefings being given to Democratic senators and top staffers added that “once the Senate is done, they plan to be gone for a while.” The Senate is currently scheduled to be in session through next Friday, April 3. After that, the Senate is scheduled for a two-week recess. The chamber was supposed to be out of session last week but changed its plans to remain in Washington to pass a second coronavirus response bill and start crafting a third. The House left last week without a fixed return date. House leadership is debating clearing the massive stimulus package, which is expected to have a top-line price tag of at least $2 trillion, by unanimous consent, though it's unclear if all 435 members will sign off.

U.S. Senate bill to grant airlines bailout to weather coronavirus - (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate will vote on Wednesday to give the U.S. aviation industry $58 billion in aid, half in the form of grants to cover some 750,000 employees’ paychecks, in a badly needed lifeline for an industry facing the worst travel downturn in history. A draft text for a $2 trillion economic rescue deal seen by Reuters would offer passenger airlines $25 billion in grants and $25 billion in loans, cargo carriers another $8 billion in loans and grants, and contractors like caterers up to $3 billion in grants. Republicans had fought what they called a give away to airlines, while unions said the cash was crucial to keep workers on the job. “This is not a corporate bailout; it’s a rescue package for workers,” said Association of Flight Attendants Sara Nelson, who spearheaded the idea of direct payroll grants for employees ranging from janitorial staff and gate agents to mechanics and pilots. Reuters reported Chao worked the phones late into the night talking to air carriers about what they needed to ensure they could maintain payrolls, a person briefed on call on Tuesday that lawmakers were nearing agreement on a deal for cash grants for payroll and other employee costs, after airlines made a last-minute effort to convince lawmakers they needed the cash to prevent furloughing tens of thousands of workers. U.S. airline shares extended a Tuesday rally on hopes for cash relief and airlines could get cash assistance in as little as two weeks from passage. Republican Senator Pat Toomey, whose party had proposed $58 billion in loans, said on Wednesday the grants were a key sticking point. He said Democrats insisted “we give away money to airlines and never get it back.” In a win for labor, companies receiving funds cannot lay off employees before Sept. 30 or change collective bargaining agreements. The draft bill has restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends and executive compensation, and allows the government to take equity, warrants or other compensation as part of the rescue package. Airlines would also receive tax relief on fuel purchases and, in a move that will bring down passenger fares, a temporary suspension on ticket taxes.

  White House, Lawmakers Strike Stimulus-Bill Deal - Lawmakers and the Trump administration reached an agreement on an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at shielding the U.S. economy from the worst consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation, which congressional officials were set to continue to write throughout the early morning Wednesday, will provide direct financial checks to many Americans, drastically expand unemployment insurance, offer hundreds in billions in loans to both small and large businesses, and provide health care providers with additional resources as the virus spreads. “This is a wartime level of investment into our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in the early hours of Wednesday after the two sides had reached a deal. “The men and women of the greatest country on Earth are going to defeat this coronavirus and reclaim our future. And the Senate is going to make sure they have the ammunition they need to do it.”Mr. McConnell said the Senate would move to vote on the massive bill later on Wednesday, setting up a rapid approval of legislation that dwarfs the annual discretionary budget Congress spends much of the year crafting and approving. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Tuesday she hoped to quickly approve the eventual Senate agreement, though objections from lawmakers could slow the process in that chamber. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he had spoken to President Trump about the agreement and that Mr. Trump would “absolutely” sign it as it is written today. “He’s very pleased with this legislation, and the impact that this is going to have,” Mr. Mnuchin said.Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said the bill had been “improved substantially” since Democrats joined the negotiations. “To all Americans I say: Help is on the way, big help and quick help,” Mr. Schumer said.The deal was announced several hours—and into the wee hours of the next day—after a stock market rally for the ages. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its largest single-day gain since 1933 on news Tuesday that a deal was coming together. Signs of a major injection of cash into the economy appeared to give investors some solace as the U.S. reported an uptick in confirmed Covid-19 cases and braced for unemployment claims, which are reported this week, that are expected to have soared.

Tempers rise as U.S. Senate awaits vote on $2 trillion coronavirus bill – (Reuters) - Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate hoped to vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion emergency package to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but found themselves fending off critics from the right and left who threatened to hold up the bill.Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior senators from both parties said they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday morning after five days of talks.The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families. It is intended to flood the economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 900 people in the United States and infected at least 60,000. Several Republican senators said the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more than they earned on the job.“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, told a news conference. Democrats scoffed in response, noting that employees cannot collect unemployment if they leave their jobs voluntarily.“Why would the senators hold up this really important bill ... because they resent people at the low end of the spectrum who have lost their jobs, from getting $600?” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked on CNN.Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he was prepared to block the bill if Republicans did not drop those objections. The disputes clouded optimism that the bill could become law quickly. Administration officials said Trump would definitely sign it into law if it passed both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-majority House.

Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill - The Senate rejected an attempt by four Republican senators to change boosted unemployment benefits included in a mammoth coronavirus stimulus package. Senators voted 48-48 on an amendment that would cap unemployment benefits at 100 percent of an individual's salary before they were laid off. Sixty votes were required for the amendment to pass. GOP Sens. Ben Sasse (Neb.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) pushed for the changes to the coronavirus aid bill over concerns that the agreement struck by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would "incentivize" individuals not to return to work. "I plan to support this legislation tonight, but I do want to fix it first," said Scott (S.C.). "The goal is simply to keep you whole while you're unemployed because of COVID-19." Sasse added that Congress should be "generous [but] we don't want this piece of the bill to create an incentive for folks to stop working." The GOP senators first raised concerns about the provision earlier Wednesday after they reportedly learned about the details of the increased unemployment benefits during a 92-minute conference call about the forthcoming bill. The unemployment provision includes four months of bolstered unemployment benefits, including increasing the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 for four months. But the GOP senators argued that the agreement, which they've called a "drafting error," could prompt individuals who earn less while working compared to the unemployment benefits to quit their jobs or not return to work. "Something hit me like a ton of bricks ... Under this bill you get $23.15 an hour based on a 40-hour work week not to work," Graham said from the Senate floor on Wednesday night. "We've created Pandora's box for our economy." They warned that they would slow down the stimulus package unless they got their amendment vote. Under the Senate's rules, McConnell would need cooperation from every senator to speed up the stimulus package and pass it on Wednesday. But the group's amendment got bipartisan pushback, making it unlikely to get it added to the bill. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) warned that they were told by the Department of Labor that implementing a state-by-state cap that met previous wages was not feasible given the different unemployment systems used across the country. "The way you want to calculate it, we're told cannot be done," Durbin said. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted: “Let's not over-complicate this. Several Republican Senators are holding up the bipartisan Coronavirus emergency bill because they think the bill is too good for laid off Americans.”

GOP senators strike deal to allow stimulus to pass Wednesday night - A group of Republican senators has struck a deal with leaders to allow the $2 trillion economic relief package to pass the Senate on Wednesday evening. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have agreed to drop procedural objections and let the bill move on a fast track in exchange for a vote on an amendment to the package to cap beefed-up unemployment benefits at 100 percent of workers’ salaries. Their amendment will need 60 votes to pass, and it's expected to fail, setting the stage for final passage of the mammoth coronavirus stimulus package later Wednesday evening. Graham argued that for South Carolina and other states with low per capita income, a federal plus-up of $600 per week in unemployment benefits will make it tough for employers to hire workers. “Under this bill, you get $23.15 an hour based on a 40-hour workweek not to work. And if you’re trying to hire somebody in South Carolina the next four months, you got to compete with that wage,” Graham said on the floor. Graham later told reporters that he will allow the massive economic relief bill to pass Wednesday if he gets a vote on his amendment. He said he plans to support the 800-page package and predicted votes before midnight. “We’re going to vote,” he said. “My amendment along with the two Scotts and Sen. Sasse says you can get 100 percent of your salary and not more than that.” “If you make $15 dollars an hour working in South Carolina — a lot of people do — this bill will pay $23 an hour not to work, and I think that’s perverse incentive. It’s going to keep people from being hired,” he added. “To hire somebody in South Carolina, you’re going to have to compete with a $23.15 rate.” Graham dismissed critics who've said his concerns are unfounded because unemployment benefits only go to people who are laid off and that workers who quit wouldn’t be eligible. The South Carolina senator said it’s almost impossible to dispute an unemployment claim on suspicion that a worker quit instead of being laid off.

Senate unanimously passes $2T coronavirus stimulus package - The Senate unanimously passed a massive stimulus package late Wednesday night in an effort to jumpstart an economy decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. The bill provides more than $2 trillion for workers, small business and industries impacted in recent weeks by the virus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) compared the efforts by Congress to combat the coronavirus to being on a “war-time footing.” “This is not even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. Emergency relief. That’s what this is,” McConnell said Wednesday afternoon ahead of the vote. But the bill marks an unprecedented attempt by the federal government to revive the economy and prevent a deep recession. The 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), by comparison, was $700 billion. Congress has been under intense pressure to pass a third round of coronavirus relief funding as the United States saw a steady uptick of cases, which has rattled the markets and upended day-to-day American life. The Senate’s vote comes one week after they passed a $104 billion “phase two” coronavirus package. The 96-0 vote came only 20 hours after congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that they had clinched an agreement after more than four days of around-the-clock negotiations that kept lawmakers in the Capitol late into the night every day since Friday. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who spearheaded the final days of talks with Mnuchin, characterized the agreement as a compromise for both parties and urged his colleagues to move quickly. "We all know that not everyone is going to want every provision. We all know that so many things so many of us want are left out. But we all know we must do these things,” Schumer said. The wide-reaching bill includes a $1,200 one-time check for individuals who make up to $75,000. That amount would scale down until it reached an annual income threshold of $99,000, where it would phase out altogether. It also provides $377 billion in small business aid, would defer federal student loan payments through Sept. 30, 2020, and would prevent money given under the bill to the Pentagon to be transferred to the border wall.

READ: Senate's $2 trillion coronavirus relief package  — The Senate is gearing up for a final vote on a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. The wide-reaching bill provides money for workers, small business and industries impacted in recent weeks by the virus outbreak. “This is not even a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. Emergency relief. That’s what this is,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday afternoon ahead of the vote. Read the 880-page bill below.

Senate leaving D.C. until April 20 after coronavirus stimulus vote - The Senate will leave town after passing a coronavirus stimulus package and not return until April 20, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced late Wednesday night. The Senate unanimously passed a massive stimulus bill that costs approximately $2.2 trillion. McConnell announced shortly before it started that the Senate will not have its next roll call vote until April 20. That means the Senate will cut next week’s scheduled session. After that, the senators were already scheduled to go on a two-week recess starting on March 31. That will keep the Senate out of town for a total of three weeks. “When the Senate adjourns this evening, our next scheduled vote will be the afternoon of Monday, April 20," McConnell said. "Of course, during this unprecedented time for our country, the Senate is going to stay nimble." Senators had indicated that they expected the Senate to leave after they passed the massive stimulus bill amid growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus on Capitol Hill. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday became the first known case of a senator having the coronavirus, and several senators have self-quarantined because of exposure to an individual who tested positive. "My guess is we probably don't come in next week and then don't come in the two weeks we're scheduled" to be on recess, Blunt said, adding that they would "use those three weeks to get ready for whatever is phase four."

Hoyer says House expects to pass Coronavirus bill on Friday - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced late Wednesday night that he expects the chamber will pass an economic relief bill in response to the coronavirus later in the week in a way that won’t require all members to travel back to Washington. Hoyer wrote in a letter to colleagues that he expects the House will pass the legislation on Friday morning by voice vote. Many lawmakers are fearful of having to travel back and forth between Washington and their communities, as well as congregate with each other in the Capitol. But they are also under pressure to quickly act on the $2 trillion legislation that the Senate unanimously passed late Wednesday that provides individual checks to Americans, boosts unemployment insurance payments and provides financial assistance to businesses. Hoyer said that the passage by voice vote would still allow members who want to show up to the House floor in person on Friday morning to express their positions on the legislation. “In order to protect the safety of Members and staff and prevent further spread of COVID-19 through Members’ travel, the Republican Leader and I expect that the House vote on final passage will be done by voice vote," Hoyer wrote. "Members who want to come to the House Floor to debate this bill will be able to do so." Hoyer said that he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are figuring out a way for members unable to travel to still express their positions from afar. “In addition, we are working to ensure that those who are unable to return to Washington may express their views on this legislation remotely. My office will send out information tomorrow with those details,” Hoyer said. Two House members — Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) and Ben McAdams (D-Utah) — have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. More than a dozen other House members are self-quarantining after exposure to those members and other people who later tested positive. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has also tested positive for the coronavirus. Two other lawmakers, Democratic Reps. Seth Moulton (Mass.) and Katie Porter (Calif.), both announced Wednesday that they are ill but are not confirmed to have the virus. Moulton said that he did not qualify for a coronavirus test, while Porter is awaiting her test results.

House leadership advises members to return to DC as Massie weighs roll call vote on stimulus package -House leadership advised members on Thursday evening to come back to Washington, D.C., on Friday morning if possible, as top lawmakers told The Hill that they anticipate Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) could call for a roll call vote on the $2 trillion stimulus package passed in the Senate earlier this week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) aimed to pass the bipartisan measure via voice vote in the lower chamber in an attempt to minimize the health risk for members who have to travel long distances amid the pandemic. But, according to multiple House members, Massie is threatening to derail leaders’ plans, taking issue with its cost and the process used to pass it through the upper chamber. “Mr. Hoyer and Mr. McCarthy previously expected that the vote on H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, would be done by voice vote, but there is now a possibility that a House Republican may suggest a quorum is not present and attempt to call for a recorded vote on final passage,” sources in Hoyer’s press shop said. “We have notified our Members of the possibility that the bill may not pass by voice vote. The Majority Leader’s Office has sent a notice to Members that if they are able and willing to be in Washington, DC by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, they are encouraged to do so, while exercising all due caution.” While McCarthy urged members not to call for a roll call vote on a House GOP conference call on Thursday, Massie has railed against the bill, tweeting out his grievances with the measure. “The senate did some voodoo just like with Obamacare. It’s the House’s job to reject the process,” Massie tweeted. The congressman’s comments have sparked frustration from his colleagues. “If he does — his primary opponent will raise serious money over the weekend,” one GOP member told The Hill. “Despite the fact that members are quarantined, have the virus and some don’t have flights to get here ... He’s just trying to jeopardize it,” another GOP member said.

Coronavirus stimulus checks will come within three weeks, Mnuchin says - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that people will start getting relief checks within three weeks, as the country reels from the coronavirus pandemic.Mnuchin spoke to CNBC the morning after the Senate passed a $2 trillion stimulus package intended to blunt economic damage from the spread of the coronavirus. The House is expected to vote on the legislation Friday.The massive relief bill offers direct cash payments of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples, with $500 added for every child, based on 2019 tax returns for those who filed them and 2018 information if they have not.  The benefit begins to phase out for individuals making $75,000 in income and ends completely for those making $99,000 or more.“Most of these will be direct deposit,” Mnuchin said. “It will be within three weeks.”“We’re determined to get money in people’s pockets immediately,” he said.The payments would come amid a historic spike in jobless claims: Weekly initial unemployment claims totaled nearly 3.3 million, by far a record, according to data released Thursday.“I just think these numbers right now are not relevant,” Mnuchin said when asked about that staggering figure. “Whether they’re bigger or smaller in the short term ... the good thing about this bill is, the president is protecting these people.”Market futures turned positive shortly after the jobless numbers were announced. After shedding trillions of dollars in value for weeks, stocks rose Thursday for the third straight session, as lawmakers rushed to provide relief for ailing industries and individuals.President Donald Trump has also strongly signaled that he wants the economy “reopened” as soon as possible. Trump suggested repeatedly this week that areas of the country with comparatively low numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases could allow businesses to reopen in just a few weeks, if not sooner.But it’s far from clear which states, if any, would agree to quickly loosen the extreme measures they have imposed to slow the spread of the disease. Nearly every state in the country has declared a state of emergency amid the pandemic as confirmed cases continue to rise rapidly throughout the country – especially in “hot spots” such as New York and Washington. New states were ordering all residents to stay home as recently as Wednesday.

Ocasio-Cortez blasts coronavirus stimulus package as ‘shameful’ on House floor - Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Friday slammed the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus passage passed in the Senate earlier in the week as "shameful" and argued that the bill was one of “the largest corporate bailouts” in “American history.” During a debate on the Senate’s hefty stimulus package, the congresswoman took to the House floor to underscore the need for protective gear for medical workers in her district in Queens, N.Y., one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Ocasio-Cortez then urged her fellow lawmakers to look at this bill that has been sent over to the lower chamber with “eyes wide open.” “What did the Senate majority fight for?!” Ocasio-Cortez asked. “One of the largest corporate bailouts with as few strings as possible in American history. Shameful! The greed of that fight is wrong for crumbs for our families.” The $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, passed unanimously in the Senate during a late-night vote Wednesday, will provide a $500 billion corporate fund, $377 billion in aid to small businesses, and $1,200 one-time checks to individuals who make up to $75,000. The package was passed after both Democratic and Republican lawmakers worked tirelessly through several sticking points, one of them being the terms by which affected industries would be able to receive aid from the government. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a fellow progressive and an ally of Ocasio-Cortez, took particular issue with the corporate fund. The Vermont senator fought for language in the bill that prohibited corporations from laying off workers or cutting wages, should they receive the aid. The New York lawmaker continued during her speech on the House floor saying that this stimulus bill would further intensify the wealth gap between the richest and poorest people in the country. “The option that we have is to either let them suffer with nothing, or to allow this greed and billions of dollars which will be leveraged into trillions of dollars to contribute to the largest income inequality gap in our future.” “There should be shame for what was fought for in this bill, and the choices we have to make,” she continued.

House passes coronavirus stimulus bill with payments, business aid -   The House of Representatives passed the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill on Friday afternoon after more than three hours of debate, moving the measure to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign. Relief set out in the bill includes direct payments of $1,200 to millions of Americans, strengthened unemployment benefits, and hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for struggling businesses. About one-quarter of the bill's sum is set aside for larger companies. Firms borrowing from the pool would be barred from paying dividends to shareholders or issuing stock buybacks until one year after they pay back their loans. The companies would also be forced to limit executive compensation. The bill allocates about $50 billion for passenger airlines. The industry was one of the first to face the coronavirus outbreak's economic toll as containment measures slowed domestic travel and limited international flights. Carriers have since called for aid from the federal government to avoid near-term defaults. Small businesses — those with 500 employees or fewer — would receive $367 billion in emergency funding. Firms would be encouraged to maintain payroll, and operating costs could be forgiven if participating companies met specific requirements. Roughly $100 billion is allocated for hospitals and healthcare facilities to better address the coronavirus pandemic. Billions more would be set aside for testing supplies, equipment, and additional payroll. The legislation would also expand jobless benefits, offering an additional $600 a week for four months. Jobless claims spiked to a record 3.3 million last week, the Labor Department announced Thursday, trouncing the consensus estimate of 1.5 million. The bill — officially called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act — was stuck in limbo at the start of the week as Senate Democrats demanded stronger worker protections and greater transparency around how corporations would receive loans. The chamber passed the bill unanimously late Wednesday after days of negotiation between the White House and Senate leadership.

Trump signs historic $2 trillion stimulus after Congress passes it Friday -  President Donald Trump signed into law Friday afternoon a historic $2 trillion stimulus package as the American public and the US economy fight the devastating spread of Covid-19. The far-reaching legislation stands as the largest emergency aid package in US history. It represents a massive financial injection into a struggling economy with provisions aimed at helping American workers, small businesses and industries grappling with the economic disruption. The House of Representatives earlier in the day approved the bill that passed the Senate earlier this week, overcoming last-minute drama by using an unusual procedural move to thwart a demand by a conservative Republican to force members to vote in person. The Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, infuriated members in both parties by bringing them back to Washington amid uncertainty over whether he would request a full roll call vote. That uncertainty forced many to travel during the public health emergency simply to deny his demand in order to ensure swift passage of the measure on Friday. Ultimately, however House leadership was able to deny Massie a sufficient second in support of a roll call vote when he made a request for it, shutting down the demand and allowing the House to approve the package by voice vote instead. But members still had to return to Washington in order to establish a quorum and deny the attempt. Key elements of the package include sending checks directly to individuals and families, a major expansion of unemployment benefits, money for hard-hit hospitals and health care providers, financial assistance for small businesses and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.

The corporate bailout - The Senate economic rescue package contains $500 billion for bailouts of large corporations.  Much commentary has focused on the lack of accountability, but the bigger issue is simply the massive waste of taxpayer dollars.  From the WAPOIn a Tuesday interview on Fox, Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun said he would not be willing to give the government an equity stake in the company in exchange for a bailout, implying the company would only accept assistance on its own terms. President Trump has said he would support the idea, suggested by his economic adviser, of taking an equity stake in companies that receive assistance in the package. “If they force it, we just look at all the other options, and we’ve got plenty of them,” Calhoun said. Why are we giving them money? It’s not clear how the bailout provisions will work, at least to me.  There will be loans and perhaps some equity investments.  But Delta stock is up 50% over two days; Boeing is as well.  Between the two of them this represents roughly $35 billion in market capitalization, a gift to their shareholders.  Maybe some of this is based on optimism about the general economic benefit of the stimulus, but the $35 billion number may also be an understatement of the true give-away, because part of the Senate bailout package was priced in more than two days ago, and some of it may not be fully priced in yet.  Much will depend on the terms and conditions attached to loans and investments; it is not clear to me that the law will require the government to drive a hard bargain or even has enforceable provisions regarding disclosure. And let’s be clear that there are no benefits at all for taxpayers from these bailouts.  We have a well-functioning bankruptcy system in this country that would prevent a failure of either company from harming the broader economy.  If we don’t trust the bankruptcy system, or want to protect unionized workers, we could allow existing shareholders to keep a small fraction of the value of the companies and let the government own the rest, in exchange for an equity investment in these companies.  These bailouts represent a giveaway to powerful constituents, pure and simple.

The Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Is a $2 Trillion Slush Fund for Washington Cronies -  Marshall Auerback - It may seem impressive that Congress has approved legislation worth $2 trillion to help sustain the American economy, but it’s no New Deal. Rather it’s a massive economic slush fund that does its utmost to preserve the old ways of doing things under the guise of masquerading as a response to a public health emergency. In reality, the relief provisions are barely adequate. Had this been another financial crisis like 2008, it is doubtful that America’s oligarch class would be able to secure such huge provision for themselves again. Under the guise of a public health emergency, though, serial corporate predators are being given dollops from this massive public trough with no means of engendering the kind of economic reconstruction that is truly needed right now, or even preventing a sufficiently robust response if this virus comes back in a second or third wave. As one might expect in a massive bill (representing around 10 percent of U.S. GDP), there are some decent scraps in this dog’s breakfast, but overall the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act represents yet another sad indictment of the American polity, even as it provides an excellent civics lesson in teaching us where power truly lies. There’s $150 billion allocated to hospitals, many of which are already stretched to capacity, but that’s nothing compared to the trillions directed to corporations with minimal disclosure on how those sums are to be allocated, or any conditionality attached. In fact, we appear not to have learned some lessons from 2008, when at least some members of Congress made efforts to scrutinize how we were spending the money. Pam and Russ Martens’s superbly informative digging into the more than 800-page-long bill reveals that:

  • a) The Fed will leverage the bill’s $454 million bailout slush fund into $4.5 trillion, and will hand it out through the New York Fed.
  • b) To ensure that they don’t have to answer embarrassing questions about which of their cronies got the money, the bill suspends the Freedom of Information Act for the Fed.

Bloomberg has also confirmed that the NY Fed has outsourced picking the lucky recipients for this slushy cornucopia to a private contractor, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager (Goldman Sachs apparently has done enough of “God’s work” this time). The more things change in Washington, the more they stay the same. By contrast, the relief provisions are barely adequate. They expand unemployment insurance (an additional $600 per week for up to four months), feature one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year, and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child. However, the bill neither addresses the chronic inequality that now characterizes the U.S. economy, nor is there provision for the self-employed or the millions of independent contractor workers who have no employee benefits. As for conditionality, a case has been made that a force majeure “Act of God” is not the time to play a “game of chicken” and impose major conditions for aid, especially as it is government policy itself that has precipitated the crisis. On the other hand, political realities and historic precedent suggest that crisis conditions are the only time one gets dramatic reforms; otherwise the elites regain their balance and suppress them (as occurred after 2008). Plus, there are corporate bailout recipients in this bill, such as Boeing, that were heading toward a death spiral, even before the epidemic.

Stimulus Bill: The Fed and Treasury’s Slush Fund Is Actually $4 Trillion - Pam Martens - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and New York State Senator and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer trotted out to the Senate floor after midnight last night to announce that they had reached a deal on the government stimulus package – the text of which the American public has not seen and only snippets of which have been seen by the members of Congress.   Americans got their first whiff that this was going to be another massive giveaway to Wall Street banks, just as happened from 2007 to 2010, when White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow appeared at the White House briefing yesterday evening. Kudlow revealed that the stimulus plan is actually a $6 trillion package — $2 trillion to struggling Americans and $4 trillion to dispense as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and the Federal Reserve see fit. Since the Federal Reserve has seen fit since September 17 of last year to flood the trading houses of Wall Street with $9 trillion cumulatively in revolving loans, one can reasonably expect that this is where the new $4 trillion will be going. This is what Kudlow said at the press conference: “I just wanna walk through a couple of key points. This legislation is urgently needed to bolster the economy, provide cash injections, liquidity and stabilize financial markets; to get us through a difficult period, a difficult and challenging period in the economy facing us right now. But also to position us for what I think can be an economic rebound later this year. This package will be the single largest Main Street assistance program in the history of the United States…“And finally, I want to mention the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund. That will be replenished. It’s important because that fund opens the door for Federal Reserve fire power to deal in a broad-based way through the economy for distressed industries, for small businesses, for financial turbulence. You’ve already seen the Fed take action. They intend to take more action. And in order to get this we have to replenish the Treasury’s emergency fund. It’s very, very important. Not everybody understands that. That fund, by the way, will be overseen by an oversight board and an Inspector General. It will be completely transparent. So, the total package here comes to roughly $6 trillion — $2 trillion direct assistance, roughly $4 trillion in Federal Reserve lending power.”   The first thing to understand is that we are the only “democracy” in the world that has turned the actual creation of unlimited amounts of our money over to a private entity owned by mega Wall Street banks. We’re talking about the New York Fed. (See related articles below.) If this legislation passes as drafted, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will gain enormous powers. Is he someone whom the American people can trust?

Relief Package Would Limit Coronavirus Damage, Not Restore Economy - —The $2 trillion emergency relief package approved by the Senate would help stabilize the coronavirus-battered economy—but likely isn’t enough to bring it back to health. Preliminary data suggest that the U.S. economy is already shrinking, as businesses close and unemployment soars. The depth of the economic decline in the coming months will depend on how quickly Washington can deliver checks to cash-strapped households and businesses, as well as whether a treatment is found and how soon shutdowns are lifted, economists said.  If passed, the new law would provide loans and other disbursements to a wide swath of the economy, including direct payments to Americans and loans to large and small companies. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), the House majority leader, said late Wednesday that the House would consider the stimulus bill on Friday. President Trump has said he would sign it immediately.  “As big as this is, you’ll never look back on this and say, ‘We went too big.’ You’ll look back and say, ‘What did we miss?’” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.  At more than 9% of gross domestic product, the measure is larger than the three major packages enacted to counter the 2007-09 recession, said Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at Evercore ISI. Even so, more will be needed, he said.“The scale of the problem is accelerating, and it’s moving faster than fiscal policy makers are acting,” Mr. Tedeschi said.Economists at Moody’s Analytics predict the bill would limit the drop in second-quarter GDP to 17% at an annual rate. Without the legislation, it would have fallen at a nearly 30% rate, they estimate. For the year as a whole, Moody’s expects output to decline by 2%. The measure provides for one-time payments of $1,200 each to many Americans, plus $500 per child, with assistance limited to certain income levels. It expands unemployment insurance and includes $349 billion in loans to small businesses to help them pay workers and cover expenses.Another $500 billion would be available to the Treasury Department to make or guarantee loans to larger corporations, including airlines, either directly or through lending facilities established by the Federal Reserve.“All of these different measures are meant to plug the holes in the boat, if you will, as opposed to trying to speed things up,” said Wells Fargo economist Michael Pugliese. Plugging the boat will take time. Trump administration officials said they hope to begin making the first payments to households within a few weeks. During the last downturn, it took more than two months.

  US Officials Admit Killing Soleimani Backfired & Might Have Distracted From Covid-19 Response - In an article released on Saturday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is experiencing a rift regarding their actions against Iran on January 3rd.“President Trump was getting ready to declare the coronavirus a ‘national emergency’, but inside the White House last Thursday, a tense debate erupted among the president and his top advisers on a far different subject: whether the United States should escalate military action against Iran, a longtime American rival that has been devastated by the epidemic,” the NYT reported. According to the NYT report, the U.S. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back against U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien over the latter’s attempts to increase their aggressiveness towards Iran.Esper and Milley reportedly warned that a large-scale response could draw the United States into a wider war with Iran and further strain the complicated relationship between the two nations.Despite the aggressiveness of the U.S. administration towards Iran, it appears that not all American officials are on board for these confrontations.Citing U.S. officials, the NYT said:“Some American officials now admit that the killing of General Suleimani has not – as some had hoped – led Iran and its proxies to think twice about fomenting violence inside Iraq and elsewhere.”In fact, the United States' assassination of the Quds Force commander Major-General Qassem Soleimani has further driven Iran from the negotiating table, as they have increased their hostility towards Washington.The U.S. military, which was previously deployed across Iraq, has since withdrawn from several installations across the country and moved to three main bases. Furthermore, the Iranian-backed groups have increased their attacks in Iraq, prompting the U.S. to increase their own security measures to protect their troops.

Trump activates National Guard in California, New York and Washington state: ‘This is a war’ - President Donald Trump on Sunday announced that he has activated the National Guard in California, New York and Washington state in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The administration emphasized that the deployment of guard members is not martial law. The state governors will retain command of the National Guard, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover all costs of the missions to respond to the virus outbreak. “We’re dealing also with other states. These states have been hit the hardest,” the president said during a White House press briefing. Trump used martial language during the briefing, echoing the governor of New York state and the mayor of New York City, who have criticized the president for not acting more forcefully. New York has the most confirmed cases and deaths in the United States. “I’m a wartime president,” Trump said. “This is a war — a different kind of war than we’ve ever had.” As of Sunday morning, at least 7,300 National Guard members have been deployed to fight the virus in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. “The federal government has deployed hundreds of tons of supplies from our national stocks pile to locations with the greatest need in order to assist in those areas,” Trump said. Supplies include gloves, hospital beds, N95 masks and gowns that will be delivered in the next couple days, the president said. California, New York and Washington state have been the most affected states amid the pandemic, which has escalated significantly in U.S. over the past week. New York has more than 15,000 confirmed cases, up more than 4,000 since Saturday, followed by Washington state at roughly 1,700 and California at about 1,500. Earlier in the month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deployed the National Guard to New Rochelle, the suburb outside of New York City that has a large cluster of virus cases. Cuomo has urged the federal government to mobilize the military to fight the pandemic. The number of global cases surged past 300,000 on Sunday, with over 13,000 deaths across the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

COVID-19: Prepared for the Wrong War -- In Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ science fiction fantasy, War of the Worlds, all the military spending and preparedness by the United States could not defend the American people from the invaders from Mars. In the end what killed the superior intruders was not arms, but a microscopic organism against which the Martians’ immune system had no defense. “it was found that they were killed by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared. . . slain, after all man’s defenses had failed, by the humblest thing that God in His wisdom put upon this earth.” In an eerily similar way, the greatest military ever assembled on earth has been useless to defend America from the potential collapse of its society, and its empire.Donald Trump, at his daily press conferences, repeatedly says no one would expect such a thing could ever occur.  Except that government studies predicted just such a thing. “Nobody in their wildest dreams would have thought we would need tens of thousands of ventilators,” Trump said.  But the Pentagon’s wildest dreams of 11 aircraft carriers, 65 attack submarines, 65 destroyers, 104 B-1 bombers, 744 B-52 bombers, 8,848 M1 Abrams tanks, 6,724 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 1,018 F-16 fighter jets have for years come true. The U.S. can afford to build the greatest arsenal ever known to fight two major wars at once while scrambling to produce hospital gowns, surgical masks and hand sanitizer.  All of America’s mighty “defenses” could not defend the nation against the humblest of things put upon the earth. The United States prepared for the wrong war.

Hollywood Celebrities Are Psyops Wrapped In Human Skin - Caitlin Johnstone - CNN recently trotted out Hollywood actor Sean Penn to give the nation expert advice on how to deal with a novel virus pandemic.Did they do this because we live in a meaningless, godless universe where madness reigns and everything is chaos? Close, but no. They wanted Penn to explain to the public that it would be wonderful if the US military were deployed inside US borders to deal with the pandemic, because the US military is the greatest humanitarian force on planet Earth.“There is no greater humanitarian force on the planet than the United States military,” Penn said. “The logistical skills, commitment to service, their care for the people. It’s really time to give the military the full breadth command and control of this operation. I wouldn’t blink, I would have put command and control in their hands a month ago, certainly today.” The US military is in fact one of the least humanitarian forces on this planet, second only to malaria-laden mosquitos (and even that’s debatable). No other force is circling the globe murdering people in countless undeclared military entanglements and bullying the world into complying with the interests of a nationless alliance of plutocrats and opaque government agencies at the expense of ordinary humans everywhere. They are the exact opposite of a humanitarian force on this planet. The malfunction in Penn’s mind is the result of many malignant factors, but among them is the fact that people who rise to fame and fortune naturally experience a gravitational pull toward elitist echo chambers which cultivate narratives that favor the status quo which gave rise to their fame and fortune. You have a hard time hanging out with normal people because most of them don’t treat you normally anymore, so you find yourself spending time with other rich and famous people, and with people who have a vested interest in the rich and famous. This dynamic naturally fosters an environment where celebrities are eager to believe positive stories about the system which favors them, and where narrative managers are eager to circulate those stories among influential voices. This is why, with very few exceptions, the closest you’ll ever get to seeing a Hollywood celebrity express an anti-establishment opinion is one of them saying “Fuck Trump” at the Tony Awards.

Nurses in garbage bags?: Why the Trump administration must use the Defense Production Act to mobilize production of critically needed hospital protective equipment immediately - On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spent much of his coronavirus press conference imploring President Trump to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) now to force factories to manufacture essential medical equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns, and ventilators. Trump has continually refused to do so, saying that the acquisition of medical supplies is a job for governors: “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.” Yet, on a conference call last week, Republican governor Charlie Baker (Mass.) told Trump that his state had been denied three major orders for medical equipment because the federal government had outbid him. Health care workers are at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. In Italy, 9% of “total COVID-19 cases are health care workers, contributing to the breakdown of the hospital system in the north of the country.” U.S. health care workers are also especially hard hit. While both Democratic and Republican governors are pleading for help, staff in at least one nursing home have already resorted to using plastic garbage bags to make gowns, as have nurses and doctors in Spain and England. The Act is a Korean-war-era law that has been used many times to help the federal government respond to emergencies ranging from war and national disaster to terrorism prevention. Prior to the coronavirus crisis,Trump invoked the law in 2017 to mobilize the industrial base for his latest fantasy, the Space Force. The act allows the president to require companies to prioritize government contracts and orders needed for national defense, including national emergencies. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) has called for a massive $75 billion appropriation for funding under the DPA. The economics of the DPA are straightforward—volume buying is cheaper and more efficient. Moreover, a mandated order from the government can displace other less essential production. Rather than having 50 state governors, plus thousands of mayors and hospitals, competing with each other for scarce resources, the purchasing power of the federal government can and should be used to maximize production, minimize costs, and allocate supplies to areas of greatest need, just as in wartime.

Trump questions need for 30,000 ventilators in New York - President Trump on Thursday questioned whether New York will actually need the tens of thousands of ventilators the state's leaders have said will be required to handle the expected number of coronavirus cases there. The president phoned into Sean Hannity's show on Fox News, where he swiped at the governors of Michigan and Washington state and cast doubt on the need for mass ventilator production to meet the demand of certain states. "I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be," Trump said on "Hannity." "I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals, sometimes they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they're saying, 'can we order 30,000 ventilators?'" "Look, it’s a bad situation," he added. "We haven’t seen anything like it. But the end result is we have to get back to work and I think we can start by opening up certain parts of the country." The president compared purchasing a ventilator to purchasing a car, calling the machines "very expensive" and "very intricate." "And you know they’d say, like Gov. Cuomo and others, they’d say we want 30,000 of them. Thirty thousand?" Trump said. "Think of this, you know you go to hospitals that have one in a hospital and now all of a sudden everyone’s asking for these vast numbers." The comments come as governors across the country are pleading with the federal government to provide critical medical supplies to meet the increasing need of resources as coronavirus cases continue to climb.

White House balks at $1 billion price tag for General Motors, Ventec to produce ventilators: reports - The White House hesitated to follow through on a deal with General Motors and Ventec Life Systems to produce much-needed ventilators after government officials decided there was a need for cost assessment, according to two media reports.  The deal, slated to be announced Wednesday, was projected to produce up to 80,000 ventilators for distribution to health facilities in dire need of critical resources amid the coronavirus pandemic.  However, the Trump administration reportedly hesitated after the manufacturers said that the production would cost $1 billion, and asked for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assess whether or not the price tag was too expensive.  According to The New York Times, the deal could still be possible, but government officials are currently looking at “at least another dozen” proposals.The deal asked for several hundred million dollars to be paid upfront to General Motors to repurpose a car parts plant in Kokomo, Ind., where the ventilators would be made using Ventec’s technology.By Thursday evening, when the administration’s coronavirus task force held one of their now-regular briefings, there was still no deal to report.A General Motors spokesman said that there was no problem with the deal on the company's end. The spokesman told the Times that “Project V,” as the ventilator deal is called, was moving very fast, and a company official said “there’s no issue with retooling” the car parts plant.  As hospitals scramble to obtain ventilators, several major car manufacturers have said they are willing to focus their resources on producing the breathing machines.

Defense Production Act: Trump signs memorandum requiring GM to make ventilators - President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act on Friday to require General Motors to produce more ventilators to deal with increased hospitalizations due to the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States. But it's unclear what practical, immediate effect the order will have. The White House said in a statement on Friday afternoon that the order was put in place in order to stop the auto giant from delaying negotiations any further. "Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course," said a statement from the White House. "GM was wasting time. Today's action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives." But people familiar with the discussions between General Motors, Ventec Life Systems and the federal government say they were not told about Trump invoking the Defense Production Act. "We announced our partnership ahead of the DPA announcement. We still have not received anything official from the (White House about the order)," the sources tell CNN. A separate source at General Motors told CNN's Erin Burnett that invoking the Defense Production Act does not change plans that were already in the works to produce ventilators. The source insisted that GM was offering to produce the ventilators at cost.  At least 402 coronavirus-related fatalities were reported on Friday. Only four states -- Hawaii, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wyoming -- have not reported any deaths.  Thousands released from jail: Authorities in New York City began freeing inmates earlier in the week and more than 800 people would leave the city's jails by Friday night. Many others have been released from New Jersey, California and Tennessee jails.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Says Medical Vendors Told Not To 'Send Stuff' To Michigan | HuffPost - President Donald Trump’s latest target, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, told a radio station Friday that medical supply vendors informed her they’ve been told “not to send stuff” to her state amid the battle against COVID-19.Whitmer, a Democrat, didn’t say if the orders were coming from the White House or if vendors may have been intimidated by Trump’s feud with the governor. But she did appear to link the problem to the president because she told WWJ-AM in Detroit that she tried Thursday night to call the White House to discuss the issue.She couldn’t get through to Trump, who was at the time trashing Whitmer — whom he referred to as “that young ... woman governor from Michigan” — to Sean Hannity on Fox News. “We don’t like to see the complaints,” Trump said in a phone interview.Whitmer told WWJ: “When the federal government told us that we needed to go it ourselves [on medical supplies], we started procuring every item we could get our hands on. But what I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we had  contracts are now being told not to send stuff here to Michigan.”She added: “It’s really concerning. I reached out to the White House last night, asked for a phone call with the president, ironically at the time that all this other stuff was going on.”Whitmer told CNN later in the day that the state’s shipments of personal protective equipment are being “canceled” or “delayed” — and sent instead to the federal government. She said it’s happening to other states as well. Trump’s willingness to punish a state’s residents amid a pandemic over a feud with a governor appeared evident in a statement at his press briefing Friday. The president said he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence, who heads up the president’s coronavirus task force, not to call the governors of Washington or Michigan. The two states have among the highest number of coronavirus cases in the nation, and Michigan is experiencing a dramatic spike in cases from 350 a week ago to nearly 3,000 Friday.

Intelligence reports warned about a coronavirus pandemic in January. Trump reportedly ignored them. - US intelligence officials reportedly warned President Donald Trump and Congress about the threats posed by the novel coronavirus beginning in early January — weeks before the White House and lawmakers began implementing stringent public health measures and as the president minimized the threat posed by the virus in his tweets and public statements.The fact those warnings were largely disregarded — something first reported by the Washington Post’s Shane Harris, Greg Miller, Josh Dawsey, and Ellen Nakashima — suggests Trump administration officials failed to take action that could have prepared the health care system to handle an influx of patients, helped Americans avoid mass social distancing, and saved lives.Top health officials first learned of the virus’s spread in China on January 3, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Friday. Throughout January and February, intelligence officials’ warnings became more and more urgent, according to the Post — and by early February, much of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA’s intelligence reports were dedicated to warnings about Covid-19. All the while, Trump downplayed the virus publicly, telling the public the coronavirus “is very well under control in our country,” and suggesting warm weather would neutralize the threat the virus poses.

Exclusive: U.S. axed CDC expert job in China months before virus outbreak - (Reuters) - Several months before the coronavirus pandemic began, the Trump administration eliminated a key American public health position in Beijing intended to help detect disease outbreaks in China, Reuters has learned. The American disease expert, a medical epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency, left her post in July, according to four sources with knowledge of the issue. The first cases of the new coronavirus may have emerged as early as November, and as cases exploded, the Trump administration in February chastised China for censoring information about the outbreak and keeping U.S. experts from entering the country to help. “If someone had been there, public health officials and governments across the world could have moved much faster.” Zhu and the other sources said the American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases. As an American CDC employee, they said, Quick was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the United States and other countries on the coronavirus outbreak, and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier. No other foreign disease experts were embedded to lead the program after Quick left in July, according to the sources. Zhu said an embedded expert can often get word of outbreaks early, after forming close relationships with Chinese counterparts.

Coronavirus: Trump delays call with China’s President Xi for 90 minutes to phone Fox News instead  - Donald Trump postponed a planned phone call with Chinese president Xi Jinping on Thursday night so he could be interviewed by Fox Newshost Sean Hannity. The president was due to discuss the ongoingcoronavirus pandemic with his Chinese counterpart at 9pm, but said he delayed the call to appear on the popular Fox News programme.That came on the same day that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US reached 80,000 on Thursday – surpassing the number reported in China.Mr Hannity thanked Mr Trump for calling in, saying: “Apparently, I heard you were in the press conference, you had a 9pm call with president Xi of China. Let me start there, how did that go?” In response, the president said: “Well, because of you I made it at 10.30pm.”He added: “That just shows when you have the number one rated show on television I better change things around. No, right after this call I’ll be talking to him.” Hours earlier, Mr Trump told reporters at Thursday’s White House press briefing that he would be discussing coronavirus with the Chinese president.

Surgeon general issues coronavirus warning: 'This week, it's going to get bad'  - Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Monday reiterated an urgent call for Americans to follow recommendations to stay at home in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. “I want America to understand this week it's going to get bad,” Adams said Monday in an appearance on NBC’s “Today.” Adams said people who are still not following recommendations and going outside for unnecessary reasons are leading to the spread of the virus. He called out people going to beaches and the crowds looking at the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. “I think there are a lot of people that are doing the right things. I think unfortunately we’re finding out a lot of people think this can't happen to them,” he said. Adams said officials don't want Dallas, New Orleans or Chicago to “turn into the next New York.” New York has become a hot spot for the virus in the nation.“Everyone needs to act as if they have the virus right now, test or no test, we need you to understand you could be spreading it to someone else or you could be getting it from someone else. Stay at home,” Adams said. The surgeon general’s call for Americans to remain at home comes as President Trump suggested he may lift restrictions intended to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Trump Weighs Easing Stay-At-Home Restrictions To Curb Economic Chaos - President Trump is weighing whether or not to ease restrictions on self-quarantine in order to avoid economic chaos - tweeting on Sunday about reassessing the nation's course on a lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus. According to Bloomberg, Trump began talking privately late last week about reopening the nation after a 15-day waiting period, as coronavirus cases continue to rise - going against the advice of health professionals such as Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who says we need to continue the lockdown for a 'few more weeks.'Trump and a contingent of his aides, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, want to ensure that the economic damage from a nationwide “social distancing” campaign doesn’t outweigh the potential toll from the virus itself, the people said. -BloombergOnce the 15-day period ends, discussions have centered around isolating everyone who's sick or at high risk so that healthy people can return to work. Bloomberg says that the CDC guidelines would be 'relaxed' and not scrapped altogether. According to the report, the government's top health officials say that sustained and economically detrimental restrictions on daily life are the only way to beat the virus in lieu of a successful treatment or a vaccine.

Trump wants an economic reboot, 'packed churches' for Easter -  President Donald Trump has set a goal of April 12 for getting the economy revved up, and he'd like to see “packed churches all over our country" on that date, Easter Sunday. The notion that social distancing guidelines and other coronavirus-fighting shutdown measures could be in the rearview mirror that soon was met with skepticism and alarm. So, too, was Trump's seeming openness — reiterated Tuesday in Fox News appearances and the daily White House pandemic briefing — to accept a higher toll of death and serious sickness to reboot the economy faster.Though the number of cases is still exploding, worst of all in New York City and on Long Island, Trump said the nation is "near the end of our historic battle" with "light at the end of the tunnel." Why Easter, just 19 days away? "I think it would be a beautiful time. And it's just about the timeline I think is right," he said.Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top expert on infectious diseases who often has contradicted Trump, said diplomatically at Tuesday's briefing that he's advised Trump to be "very flexible" on the date. Trump also gave himself wiggle room, saying, “We’ll only do it if it’s good and maybe we do sections of the country" where the outbreaks are less severe. “New York City definitely is a very hot spot,” Trump said. The White House response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said the metropolitan area is the source of 60% of the newest cases.States and localities didn't wait on the federal government for stay-home guidelines and can continue to set their own. Other health experts have warned that a patchwork state-by-state approach alone could not contain a virus that ignores borders. On Capitol Hill, some Trump allies warned against a policy pivot that would tilt the balance of interests more toward the economy at the expense of public health."There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus," said the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. "I think we do need to follow CDC guidelines and watch what our experts are saying," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). "I would love to see the economy up and going as soon as possible, but let's make sure we’re taking care of people first.”

Trump says US will make decision on further coronavirus action after 15 days - President Trump said Sunday night the US will decide as soon as next week on what the next move will be in the country’s fight against the coronavirus. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump tweeted. “AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!” The president last Monday issued new guidance urging a 15-day period of collective action by Americans to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. The 15-day period concludes next Tuesday. “We’re asking everyone to work at home, if possible, postpone unnecessary travel, and limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people,” Trump had said at a press briefing last Tuesday describing some of the guidelines. “If we do this right, our country — and the world, frankly — but our country can be rolling again pretty quickly,” Trump said. On Sunday, Trump also said that major disaster declarations were in process for New York, California and Washington state. In New York City, the death toll from the virus reached 99 on Sunday night, with the number of infected topping 10,000.

More support for several weeks of China policy followed by a few months of South Korea --Yesterday the Buffoon in Chief all but demanded that mitigation efforts be stopped, and that the pandemic be allowed to run its course except for the aged and infirm, on the theory that the economy would be better off, and really, what’s a few million lives in comparison to the loss of profits he is suffering by the closure of six of his properties?  I’ve crunched some numbers to show why that wouldn’t work, but since part of the response is that there is a far more effective way to confront the pandemic that actually would accomplish a relatively quick economic rebound, I wanted to present that first.  First, Yaneer Bar-Yam, an MIT-trained physicist and complexity scientist who studies pandemics a physicist at the New England Complex Systems Institute, wrote an editorial in USA Today opining that “We need an immediate five-week national lockdown to defeat coronavirus in America, and saying that:  Locking down the country would reduce infections and allow time for massive testing. There will be staggering human and economic costs if we delay He explained his alternative as follows: During a five-week national lockdown, federal, state and local authorities would ensure that all Americans stay home except to obtain food and other essentials, access medical care or do work essential to the functioning of society. Travel would cease: We would close our borders and airports and prohibit all unnecessary travel across state and county (or town) lines within the United States. During the first two weeks of a lockdown, infected individuals will either recover from mild cases of COVID-19 at home or seek medical attention for the 14% of cases that are severe. During the third, fourth and fifth weeks, any newly infected family or cohabitants of infected individuals will recover or seek medical attention, and their isolation will prevent further spreading. By the end of the lockdown, the number of infections will be a small fraction of what they are now.  The lockdown will give us time to dramatically scale up our supply of COVID-19 test kits and capacity to process them. If we reduce the number of infections using the lockdown and start a massive testing regime in the United States, we can control COVID-19 after five weeks without such extreme social distancing measures. Isolating sick individuals and their immediate contacts will be enough. The same strategy - an initial period of Suppression followed by an extended period of thoroughgoing testing and quarantining - was suggested by Tomas Pueyo, in an article entitled “The Hammer and the Dance” at Medium.com   This would be followed by a period of aggressive testing. As Pueyo notes:  For several weeks, South Korea had the worst epidemic outside of China. Now, it’s largely under control. And they did it without asking people to stay home. They achieved it mostly with very aggressive testing, contact tracing, and enforced quarantines and isolations. Here’s what the time spent in sledgehammer suppression does for us:

  • With a few more weeks, we could get our testing situation in order, and start testing everybody. With that information, we would finally know the true extent of the problem, where we need to be more aggressive, and what communities are safe to be released from a lockdown.
  • New testing methods could speed up testing and drive costs down substantially.
  • We could also set up a tracing operation like the ones they have in China or other East Asia countries, where they can identify all the people that every sick person met, and can put them in quarantine.
  • We can quickly build up our production of masks, PPEs, ventilators, ECMOs, and any other critical device to reduce fatality rate.

 In coronavirus pandemic, Trump allies say they're ready to die for the economy - The push for Americans to get back to work in the face of an unprecedented economic downturn began last week but accelerated on Sunday evening, after the president began pushing the message that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” On Wednesday, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up by Easter,” which falls on April 12. Public health experts say it is impossible to predict now when it will be safe to end social-distancing measures but are virtually unanimous in believing they will be needed beyond then. On Monday evening, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick explained how the trade-off of saving lives versus spurring the economy worked in his mind. “I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me … that what we all care about and what we all love more than anything are those children,” said Patrick, who turns 70 next week, on Tucker Carlson’s primetime Fox News show. “My message is that: Let’s get back to work. Let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country. Don’t do that. Don’t ruin this great American dream.” He then said he would be willing to risk his life to keep the economy going. “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’” said Patrick. “And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.” Fox News commentator Brit Hume supported Patrick on Carlson’s show the following night. “The utter collapse of the country’s economy — which many think will happen if this goes on much longer — is an intolerable result,” the 76-year-old said. “[Patrick] is saying, for his own part, that he would be willing to take a risk of getting the disease if that’s what it took to allow the economy to move forward. He said that because he is late in life, that he would be perhaps more willing than he might have been at a younger age, which seems to me to be an entirely reasonable viewpoint.” Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Brit Hume and Glenn Beck. (Loren Elliott/Getty Images, Fox News, Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images))Getty Images On the Tuesday airing of his program on BlazeTV, right-wing commentator Glenn Beck said that at age 56 he was in the “danger zone” for the virus and would also make the sacrifice. “I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working,” Beck said. “Even if we all get sick, I would rather die than kill the country. Because it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country.” A corollary argument is that the loss of jobs and incomes from prolonged social isolation would eventually lead to more deaths — from poverty and psychological distress — than might result from COVID-19. In the video, Beck is alone in a room, socially distant from anyone who could give him the virus and not apparently facing the same risks as people without TV shows, such as health care workers, police and grocery store workers. Sacrificing the elderly for the good of the economy runs counter to Beck’s position a decade ago, when he rose to prominence during President Barack Obama’s tenure by railing against so-called death panels that he said would be created under the Affordable Care Act to ration health care.

Loosening Restrictions Now Would Be Disastrous - American Conservative - All the talk of loosening restrictions to “restart” the economy is extremely dangerous:“We haven’t yet even seen signs that the growth is slowing, much less reversing. Now is the time to tighten restrictions on contacts that could transmit the virus, not loosen them [bold mine-DL],” Lipsitch said. “If we let up now we can be virtually certain that health care will be overwhelmed in many if not all parts of the country. This is the view of every well-informed infectious epidemiologist I know of.” Reversing course and backtracking on the restrictions that have already been put in place would be as foolish as can be. If we think of the virus as a raging fire, social isolation and closing non-essential businesses serve as the suppressants that deprive the fire of fuel and smother it. To ease up on those suppressants at a time when the fire is still raging out of control is to give up on trying to stop it from spreading. Attempting to go back to business as usual in the middle of this amounts to fanning the flames and ensuring that the conflagration consumes more lives. It would be exceptionally short-sighted and irresponsible to lessen restrictions after just a few weeks. The U.S. is just beginning to take the measures that we should have started taking months ago, and stopping them now would put us even deeper in the hole that we find ourselves in. There can be no going back to a relatively normal way of life until the spread of the virus is put in check and the rate of infection has been slowed to a point where our hospitals are not overwhelmed. It is lunacy that this is even being debated in the White House when the effort to bring this outbreak under control has barely begun.

Fauci: ‘You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline’ on relaxing public health measures - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, had a straightforward message Wednesday night about how long the novel coronavirus could affect daily life in the US: "You don't make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.""You've got to be realistic," Fauci told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "Prime Time.""And you've got to understand that you don't make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline. So you've got to respond, in what you see happen. And if you keep seeing this acceleration, it doesn't matter what you say. One week, two weeks, three weeks -- you've got to go with what the situation on the ground is."His comments appear at odds with President Donald Trump's growing desire to ease the public health guidelines that have shuttered businesses and kept workers at home as the virus has spread. The President has even said he wants the nation "opened up and just raring to go by Easter" -- a date just weeks away that few health experts believe will be sufficient in containing the outbreak."You may see in a relatively shorter period of time, when you're seeing the inkling of the flattening and coming down," Fauci said in reference to slowing the speed of the outbreak. "But you know, you can't make an arbitrary decision until you see what you're dealing with. You need the data."Fauci, a veteran doctor, also hasn't been afraid to refute Trump to the President's face.

Trump says 'no way' he'll cancel GOP convention in August -President Trump said there is “no way” he’ll cancel the GOP convention in August, despite the uncertainty surrounding planned events due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re going to have our convention. You know, we have our convention in North Carolina, in Charlotte,” he said to Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday evening. The GOP convention is scheduled for Aug. 24-27, about two months before the general election in November. “We are definitely planning — it’s toward the end of August. Somebody was asking today, ‘Will you cancel your convention?’ I said no way I’m going to cancel the convention. We’re going to have the convention, it's going to be incredible,” Trump added. Earlier this week, reports circulated that the coronavirus pandemic has forced the committee tasked with planning the Democratic National Convention to consider emergency “contingency options” for the event, scheduled July 13-16 in Milwaukee. Since the virus reached the U.S., dozens of large events and conferences have been canceled or postponed. It remains unclear when public health officials will stop recommending against travel and large gatherings.

As coronavirus spreads, thousands of foreign doctors could be blocked from U.S. entry, group warns - The status of more than 4,200 foreign doctors who were chosen to do medical residencies in American teaching hospitals — hospitals that will desperately need their help to cope with Covid-19 — is in doubt because the State Department has temporarily stopped issuing the visas most of them would need to enter the country, according to a group that sponsors international medical graduates.The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates said Monday that most of the international doctors would be relying on getting a J-1 visa to work in the United States, but processing of those visas has been put on hold by the State Department amid the coronavirus pandemic.The doctors are scheduled to start working in the hospitals at the beginning of July. During a medical residency, medical school graduates actively work in hospitals under the supervision of senior staff. “If these new residents are unable to get their visas, it’s going to really hamper the ability of the teaching hospitals to respond to the virus,” William Pinsky, president and CEO of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, told STAT. The doctors learned of their assignments last Friday — so-called Match Day for medical residents. Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, suggested a work-around needs to be found.“With the Covid-19 pandemic unfolding, this is not the moment to risk creating a physician shortage,” Galea said via email. “We should take steps in the US to facilitate the training and retention of medical professionals at all times, but especially now.” Pinsky said it would not be easy to replace these 4,222 medical school graduates if they cannot make it to the United States to do their residencies. While every year some U.S. medical school graduates or U.S. citizens who graduate from medical schools outside the country are not selected for a residency program, going back to that pool is not necessarily the answer, he said.  “Technically they’re eligible … but there’s probably a reason why they didn’t match,” Pinsky said. “We do have to be careful from a quality perspective.” The ECFMG handles the process of getting visas for foreign medical graduates who apply to do their residencies in the U.S. The organization vets them thoroughly, including by checking their credentials and ensuring there are no incidents in their history that would preclude them from getting a visa. It also registers all applicants — it typically gets about 16,000 a year — to take the same medical exams U.S. trained doctors take, only entering them into the residency match once they have passed those exams. Most come to the United States on a J-1 visa, a cultural exchange visa program also used by entertainers and researchers. But embassies and consulates around the world have stopped processing the visas. And last week the State Department sent out advice to program sponsors — such as ECFMG — urging them to either cancel the programs or defer the start dates.

 U.S. Income Tax Delay to Strain States - The Trump administration’s decision to move the deadline for filing income taxes to July 15 because of the new coronavirus crisis is creating a cash crunch for state governments that were counting on an infusion of state income-tax revenue next month to pay bills.Many state budgets run from July 1 through June 30, so the new filing date—instead of April 15—means state officials can’t count on that tax money for the current fiscal year. States could have to borrow in volatile financial markets or cut into their budgets between now and the end of June. The agreement reached early Wednesday between lawmakers and the Trump administration could also help if it includes general aid for state governments. Unlike the federal government, states must balance their budgets.So far this week, states including Delaware, Colorado and Alabama have announced they would extend their filing deadline in line with the federal shift. “You can have unintended consequences with the best of intentions,” said Verenda Smith, deputy director of the Federation of Tax Administrators. “The choices that it left the state officials are all so gruesome,” she said.The Treasury Department’s decision caught states by surprise. Although the move was intended to help struggling households and businesses, it left state officials in a bind, she said. In most cases, taxpayers need to know how much they will pay in federal income tax before filing their state income taxes—and many states tie their deadlines to the federal government calendar. So postponing the federal filing deadline effectively postpones the filing deadline for state income taxes as well. That means states can no longer count on that tax revenue coming in before the fiscal year ends on June 30. Last year, states collected $65 billion in income tax revenue in the month of April, almost 18% of the annual total. Income-tax dollars make up about a third of total state and local tax collections in California, New York and Massachusetts and even more in Oregon and Maryland, according to a Tax Foundation analysis. Overall, about 23.5% of total state and local tax dollars came from income taxes in 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. Roughly the same amount came from sales taxes, which analysts also expect will be hit hard amid the slowdown in consumption. A handful of states—including Florida, Texas and Nevada—don’t have a state income tax.

Without fast action from Congress, low-wage workers will be ineligible for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus crisis - EPI - Key takeaways

  • Without immediate action from Congress, large numbers of low-wage workers won’t be eligible to get unemployment checks.
  • Many workers don’t make enough money to qualify for unemployment because they work low hours or are in low-paying jobs (e.g., fast-food workers or retail clerks).
  • Federal and state legislators can act to protect these most vulnerable workers.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which has passed the Senate by unanimous consent and is moving to the House today—is a good first step to fill the hole low-wage workers fall into during this crisis.
  • The CARES Act expands eligibility to workers who typically have been unable to get unemployment benefits, such as those who are self-employed, are seeking part-time work, or do not have sufficient work history to qualify for unemployment insurance.

About 3 million workers filed unemployment claims last week, and 14 million workers are expected to be out of work by June. Large numbers of those who lose their jobs will be low-wage workers, and unfortunately many will be ineligible for unemployment compensation under current overly restrictive eligibility rules. Federal and state legislators, however, have the power to act and come to the aid of these vulnerable workers. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which has passed the Senate by unanimous consent and is moving to the House today—has notable limitations, but would greatly expand eligibility for unemployment insurance. The expansion is necessary and important because unemployment benefits are generally limited to those who had high enough earnings when they were working. But low-wage workers experience higher rates of joblessness, lowering their baseline earnings and making them less eligible to collect UI benefits.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has tested positive for COVID-19. Here are all the members of Congress who have been infected with the novel coronavirus. -   At least three congressional lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as of Sunday.Offices on Capitol Hill were closed and numerous congressional staffers have been sent back home as public areas and businesses in the US widely initiated a temporary lockdown to prevent the disease from spreading.  As of Sunday evening, at least 33,400 confirmed cases were recorded in the US, with patients ranging from the contiguous states and US territories, including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. There have also been upwards of 400 deaths.Lawmakers from both parties have self-quarantined after potentially coming in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Those lawmakers included Republican Sens. Rick Scott of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, among others. One person who tested positive interacted with several other Republicans at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, prompting additional tests for congressional leaders and White House officials.Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida was the first congressional lawmaker to announce that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.In a statement from his office on March 18, the Republican lawmaker said he developed symptoms, including fever and a headache, on March 14. Instead of returning back to his home state, Diaz-Balart self-quarantined at his apartment in Washington, DC.Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah, the state's only US House lawmaker in the Democratic Party, is the second lawmaker to test positive for the coronavirus.He said he experienced "mild cold-like symptoms" upon his return from Washington, DC, and got tested shortly thereafter. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky tested positive for COVID-19, his office said in a tweet on Sunday. Paul is the first US senator to test positive."He is feeling fine and is in quarantine," Paul's office said. "He is asymptomatic and was t ested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events. He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person."

Sinema criticizes Paul for alleged behavior ahead of coronavirus test results: 'Absolutely irresponsible' - Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) blasted reports that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) attended the Senate gym and swam in the pool while awaiting his COVID-19 test results, which later came back positive.  "I've never commented about a fellow Senator's choices/actions. Never once. This, America, is absolutely irresponsible," Sinema tweeted. "You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results. It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus."  Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) reportedly told colleagues during a Senate Republican lunch Sunday that Paul had gone to the gym and swam Sunday morning, which was also when he received his COVID-19 test results.  Paul became the first known senator to test positive for the virus Sunday morning. A spokesman said Paul was asymptomatic and did not know of any infected person with whom he had come in contact. He also said the Kentucky senator would self-quarantine.  The Hill has reached out to Paul's office for comment.

 Exclusive: Inside The Military's Top Secret Plans If Coronavirus Cripples the Government - Even as President Trump says he tested negative for coronavirus, the COVID-19 pandemic raises the fear that huge swaths of the executive branch or even Congress and the Supreme Court could also be disabled, forcing the implementation of "continuity of government" plans that include evacuating Washington and "devolving" leadership to second-tier officials in remote and quarantined locations.But Coronavirus is also new territory, where the military itself is vulnerable and the disaster scenarios being contemplated -- including the possibility of widespread domestic violence as a result of food shortages -- are forcing planners to look at what are called "extraordinary circumstances".Above-Top Secret contingency plans already exist for what the military is supposed to do if all the Constitutional successors are incapacitated. Standby orders were issued more than three weeks ago to ready these plans, not just to protect Washington but also to prepare for the possibility of some form of martial law.According to new documents and interviews with military experts, the various plans – codenamed Octagon, Freejack and Zodiac – are the underground laws to ensure government continuity. They are so secret that under these extraordinary plans, "devolution" could circumvent the normal Constitutional provisions for government succession, and military commanders could be placed in control around America.

‘Trump Must Act Now’: Bernie Sanders, Others Call on President to Use Powers to Manufacture Equipment for Coronavirus Response --Though President Donald Trump promised at multiple points over the past week to invoke his authority under the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing of needed protective gear for healthcare workers and ventilators for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, he has yet to do so, drawing criticism from progressives and Democratic lawmakers. "Trump must act now," tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a candidate for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. "Not only are the lives of the heroes and heroines providing medical care on the line, the lives of millions across the rest of the country are on the line as well. If our medical front line goes down, the whole country is at risk."Sanders also published a video in which the Vermont senator demanded the president act to protect the American people.The powers in the DPA allow Trump to force manufacturers in the U.S. to turn their factories over to producing necessary equipment for a crisis. The president signed an executive order opening the door to using the DPA on Thursday.  But  the order stops short of actually using DPA authority, according to Lawfare:The new executive order does not so much directly invoke the DPA as it creates the conditions under which the administration can later employ its authorities. Essentially, it classifies health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19 in a way that authorizes the administration to later have private businesses prioritize government contracts over other contracts. On Saturday, the president told reporters that he had not used the DPA because companies were already stepping up voluntarily.  "We have the Act to use in case we need it," Trump told NBC News reporter Kelly O'Donnell on Saturday. "But we have so many things being made… They've just stepped up... We have never never seen anything like that. They are volunteering."

Coronavirus Treatment’s “Rare Disease” Status Could Make It Unaffordable - ON MONDAY AFTERNOON, the Food and Drug Administration granted Gilead Sciences “orphan” drug status for its antiviral drug, remdesivir. The designation allows the pharmaceutical company to profit exclusively for seven years from the product, which is one of dozens being tested as a possible treatment for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Experts warn that the designation, reserved for treating “rare diseases,” could block supplies of the antiviral medication from generic drug manufacturers and provide a lucrative windfall for Gilead Sciences, which maintains close ties with President Donald Trump’s task force for controlling the coronavirus crisis. Joe Grogan, who serves on the White House coronavirus task force, lobbied for Gilead from 2011 to 2017 on issues including the pricing of pharmaceuticals. “The Orphan Drug Act is for a rare disease, and this is about as an extreme opposite of a rare disease you can possibly dream up,” said James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a watchdog on pharmaceutical patent abuse.“They’re talking about potentially half the population of the United States,” said Love, adding that “it’s absurd that this would happen in the middle of an epidemic when everything is in short supply.”The 1983 Orphan Drug Act gives special inducements to pharmaceutical companies to make products that treat rare diseases. In addition to the seven-year period of market exclusivity, “orphan” status can give companies grants and tax credits of 25 percent of the clinical drug testing cost. The law is reserved for drugs that treat illnesses that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. But a loophole allows drugs that treat more common illnesses to be classified as orphans if the designation is given before the disease reaches that threshold. As of press time, there were more than 40,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S, and some 366,000 worldwide. The distinction could severely limit supply of remdesivir by granting Gilead Sciences exclusive protection over the drug and complete control of its price. Other pharmaceutical firms, including India-based pharmaceutical firm Cipla, are reportedly working toward a generic form of remdesivir, but patients in the U.S. could be prevented from buying generics with lower prices now that Gilead Sciences’s drug has been designated an orphan.

‘This Is a Massive Scandal’: Trump FDA Grants Drug Company Exclusive Claim on Promising Coronavirus Drug -As healthcare providers across the U.S. desperately attempt to treat a rapidly growing number of patients with the coronavirus, a pharmaceutical company with ties to the Trump administration has been granted exclusive status for a drug it is developing to treat the illness—a potential windfall for the company that could put the medication out of reach for many Americans.As The Intercept reported Monday, the Food and Drug Administration granted Gilead Sciences “orphan” drug status for remdesivir, one of several drugs being tested as potential treatments for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. The designation is generally reserved for drugs that treat rare illnesses affecting fewer than 200,000 Americans—but companies can be eligible if the designation, as in this case of a rapidly spreading virus, is made before a disease spreads beyond that limit.About 40,000 Americans had contracted COVID-19 when the orphan status was granted to remdesivir Monday, and the disease is spreading faster in the U.S. than in other countries. By Tuesday afternoon, more than 51,000 Americans had confirmed cases.Having secured orphan drug status, Gilead Sciences can now profit exclusively off the drug for seven years and could block manufacturers from developing generic versions of the drug which might be more accessible to many patients. The company can set price controls on the drug as well as benefiting from grants and tax credits. As The Intercept reported, the designation was given to a company where Joe Grogan, a member of President Donald Trump’s “coronavirus task force,” worked as a lobbyist from 2011 to 2017, often working on issues regarding drug pricing.

 Trump continues to spend billions on border wall construction amid coronavirus pandemic - In yet another manifestation of its criminal response, the Trump administration is continuing to spend billions of dollars on border wall construction even as the coronavirus pandemic is overwhelming the United States’ health care system. Last week, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) announced plans to build 150 miles of the 30-ft. wall across the US-Mexico border in Arizona, New Mexico and California. This is in addition to the border wall construction that is being carried out at 15 work sites in these three states as well as Texas. At a time when the US faces an unparalleled public health crisis, not to mention an economy in free fall that has left millions of Americans unemployed, this decision underscores the hostility of the Trump administration toward the entire working class, native born and immigrant. COVID-19 has spread rapidly across the country, with the official estimates of confirmed cases crossing 42,000 by Monday. As of this posting, more than a quarter of the American population is living under “shelter-in-place” orders in an attempt to mitigate the pandemic. However, this seems to have had no effect on the administration’s fixation with the border wall. In the words of a CBP spokesman, “Wall construction has not been affected.” What this means is that despite all medical advice insisting on the importance of isolation and social distancing, construction crews—comprised of welders, engineers, contractors etc., from states as far-flung as Montana, Maine, North Dakota and Kentucky to name but a few—are working, eating and living in shared, close quarters before returning home to their families. These interactions during the rapidly escalating pandemic makes these workers even more vulnerable to infection and to potentially transmit COVID-19 to others. As Myles Traphagen, an ecologist with Wildlands Network, who has urged the congressional appropriations committee to suspend the border wall construction during the pandemic, told The Guardian: “There is no sign of construction slowing down, hundreds of construction workers from all over the country and Mexico continue working on the wall, commuting back and forth on weekends, staying in hotels and eating at restaurants in our communities, before returning home and potentially transferring COVID-19. This is a public health hazard and it needs to be stopped.” However, there seems to be no sign of any such stoppage. As of last weekend construction was going full steam ahead in the San Bernardino Valley in Southeast Arizona, the location of a national wildlife refuge, and the habitat for several endangered species whose existence is further threatened by these activities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in fact, published a notice in the Federal Register last Monday waiving 37 environmental and cultural laws to expedite construction of the 91.5 miles in Arizona, plus 86 miles along other parts of the US-Mexico border. The reason given by acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf for the expedited construction was the supposed “high levels of illegal entry of people and drugs” through Cochise, Santa Cruz, Pima and Yuma counties. Existing measures, the federal government argued, were insufficient because of “a complete absence of barrier or ineffective primary or secondary fencing.” The grotesque absurdity of these claims cannot be overstated.

In Sweeping Power Grab, DOJ Seeks Ability To Detain People Indefinitely Without Trial - In a sweeping power grab, the Department of Justice has asked Congress for the ability to go directly to chief judges in order to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies.  The move is part of a recent push to expand government powers during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Politico, which has reviewed documents that detail the DOJ's requests to lawmakers on this and a host of other topics - including state of limitations, asylum, and how court hearings are conducted.The move has tapped into a broader fear among civil liberties advocates and Donald Trump’s critics — that the president will use a moment of crisis to push for controversial policy changes. Already, he has cited the pandemic as a reason for heightening border restrictions and restricting asylum claims. He has also pushed for further tax cuts as the economy withers, arguing that it would soften the financial blow to Americans. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could legally deploy right now to try and slow the coronavirus outbreak. -PoliticoPolitico notes that the requests are unlikely to make it through the Democratic-controlled House.As part of the requests, the DOJ proposed that Congress grant the attorney general the ability to ask that any chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings "whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation." Similarly, these top judges would have broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. Additionally, the requested changes would explicitly say that people with COVID-19 cannot apply for asylum - a request that comes on the heels of a Friday announcement by the Trump administration that it would begin denying entry to all illegal immigrants at the southern border - including those seeking asylum. According to Politico, the changes would apply to "any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings." The proposed changes have raised concerns over the implications for habeas corpus - the right to appear before a judge and seek release.

‘Oh Hell No’: DOJ Using Coronavirus Crisis to Push for Expansive Emergency Powers - The Department of Justice is using the coronavirus outbreak to ask Congress for sweeping emergency powers including suspending habeas corpus during an emergency, a power grab that was denounced by civil liberties advocates."Oh hell no," tweeted Fletcher School professor Daniel Drezner. The DOJ plans were reported on by Politico's Betsy Woodruff Swan, who reviewed the request documents. According to Swan: The proposal would also grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to "any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings," according to draft legislative language the department shared with Congress. In making the case for the change, the DOJ document wrote that individual judges can currently pause proceedings during emergencies, but that their proposal would make sure all judges in any particular district could handle emergencies "in a consistent manner."The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus—the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release."You could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying," National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers executive director Norman L. Reimer told Swan. "Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government." The documents also ask for the authority to conduct videoconference hearings even without the defendant's permission, banning people with the coronavirus from applying for asylum, and pausing the statute of limitations during an emergency. The news sent shockwaves through the Beltway. "This is abhorrent (also: predictable)," tweeted Economist reporter John Fasman. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) signaled his opposition to the bill on Twitter Saturday afternoon. "Congress must loudly reply NO," said Amash.

Liberty And The Coronavirus: Not An Either/Or Proposition - American Conservative --It’s always difficult during a crisis for the government to address problems effectively while guarding against potential collateral damage to the freedoms Americans take for granted. That dilemma has become acute with the current coronavirus outbreak and the measures being taken to stem it. No one should doubt that this pandemic is a worrisome problem. Not only is the virus highly contagious, the mortality rate (especially among elderly victims and those with underlying health problems) is substantially higher than with influenza or similar diseases. That gap shows signs of narrowing, but there is little question that coronavirus is a serious health menace. Nevertheless, the troubling reality is that governments have always exploited crises to expand their powers—often to a dangerous degree. That has certainly been the case throughout American history.  Some of the precedents state and local officials are setting to address the corona virus outbreak are truly alarming. Both California Governor Gavin Newsom and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have issuedexecutive orders essentially placing their entire states on lockdown. Abuses of power during earlier crises should alert us to the potential dangers of a repetition. Americans need to assess soberly the governmental response to the coronavirus crisis and guard against another casual expansion of arbitrary power that could set dangerous precedents. We are already witnessing edicts in other countries that amount to the regimentation of entire populations. Such measures have shuttered virtually all businesses, barred “nonessential” travel, prohibited most gatherings, imposed curfews, and established martial law in all but name. This has taken place not only in dictatorial China and North Korea, but in democratic countries such as Italy, Spain, and France. In some cases, additional restrictions have been imposed on those considered especially vulnerable to contracting the virus, such as people over the age of 70. 

 U.S. to send Victoria Coates as special energy envoy to Saudi Arabia- sources - (Reuters) - The Trump administration will appoint Victoria Coates as a special energy representative to Saudi Arabia as Washington struggles to deal with a global oil price crash that drags on the economy and threatens U.S. energy producers, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. Coates, who was one of President Donald Trump’s longest serving security aides, moved from the White House in February to become a senior adviser to Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette.

Supreme Court raises bar for racial discrimination claims in contracts - The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled against an African American-owned media company that alleged Comcast had racially discriminated against the network when it refused to enter into a contract for its programming. Writing for the 9-0 majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch ruled that federal civil rights lawsuits concerning contracting decisions must show that race was the determining factor behind an injury, not simply part of a company’s motivation not to move forward with a deal. “Under this standard, a plaintiff must demonstrate that, but for the defendant’s unlawful conduct, its alleged injury would not have occurred,” Gorsuch wrote. The decision returns the case to a lower federal appeals court to reconsider in light of the stricter standard the justices set on Monday for lawsuits alleging race-based contract discrimination. Civil rights groups said the opinion would make it harder for racial discrimination suits to survive beyond the initial stage of litigation. “This ruling weakens our nation’s oldest civil rights statute and may shut the courthouse door on some discrimination victims who, at the complaint stage, may simply be without the full range of evidence needed to meet the court’s tougher standard,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.

A Modest Proposal: Make Sure the Public Knows, in Real Time, When Congresscritters are Dumping Shares  by Jerri-lynn Scofield -  Last week saw the release of news showing some Congresscritters plumbing new deaths of ethically challenged behaviour. Seems that after receiving briefings about the coming COVID-19 calamity, senators Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler, cooed reassurance to constituents – and then proceeded to dump shares. As Politico tells the story: Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Friday called for a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his trades amid an uproar over reports that he had sought to safeguard his portfolio against the looming pandemic even as he assured the public all was well. Burr, who had been present for a classified briefing on the outbreak in late January, wrote an op-ed declaring the U.S. “better prepared than ever before” to face down the virus on Feb. 7 — six days before unloading at least $628,000 of his own stock as the market was peaking.And Burr’s not the Senate’s only COVID-19 miscreant. Politico again: The North Carolina Republican is one of several senators, including Loeffler, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. James Inhofe (R.-Okla.) and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who sold stock in late January and early February as the Senate was ramping up coronavirus briefings. Politico’s account has more sordid details, concerning additional players and transactions, so I encourage you to read it in full. Under current law, again according to Politico: It’s illegal for lawmakers and aides to trade stocks based on private information. But they are allowed to buy and sell shares based on public information they absorb on Capitol Hill so long as they disclose those trades within 30 days.  Congress has long played fast and loose in the realm of insider trading – and surprise, surprise, just as Dodd-Frank didn’t protect us from financial meltdowns, so the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, signed into law on April 4, 2012, didn’t eliminate the sort of behavior that anyone but a Congresscritter would recognise as problematic. I have a modest proposal to advance. One that will not result in the death of any innocent babies. Keep the current framework, with one major immediate change.Let the Congresscritters trade away on “public information”. Invest. Buy and Sell. Provided that, within 24 hours of booking a trade, they also fully disclose, online, their transactions, in a simple, easy to understand format.

Bond majors rocked as record $109bn stampedes out of fixed income -  Almost $109bn (£91.6bn) was pulled from bond mandates last week as record volumes of cash fled the sector for hard currency, with the $30.2bn (£26.1bn) pulled on Monday alone the largest ever one-day volume. After earlier dropping to record lows, benchmark yields last week experienced their biggest one-day move ever recorded, as investors ditched financial assets to buy the US dollar, sending the currency’s trade-weighted index up almost 5%.That in turn has left some of the world’s biggest bond mandates sitting on huge mark-to-market falls, as client exits, security selection, and currency exposure inflicted a series of blows.According to fund flow data provider EPFR, more than $55bn was redeemed from investment grade mandates, $18.8bn from emerging market debt, and $5.2bn from mortgage-backed securities. A total $95.7bn flowed into cash.  John McClain, fund manager at US value boutique Diamond Hill Capital, told Reuters: ‘An unbelievably big outflow from investment grade.’  ‘Investment grade is catching up to high yield in terms of percentage outflows. To me, until this week, investment grade also looked rich relative to other risk assets.’ The Pimco GIS Capital fund is now down 20.4% this year, while the Aegon US High Yield Bond fund is off 35.4% on a 26.3% slide over the last month. Some of the world’s biggest bond mandates have also been hit hard with the $137bn Pimco Income Institutional down 6.6% in the year and 7% in the last four weeks. The same company’s $81.4bn GIS Income fund is off 8% and 7.7% over the same periods.

In Unprecedented Move, Fed Unveils Open-Ended QE Including Corporate Bonds -- Coming into Monday, the Fed had a problem: it had already used up half of its entire emergency $700BN QE5 announced last weekend. Which, together with the plunge in stocks, is why at 8am on Monday, just as we expected - given the political cover they have been provided - The Fed unveiled an unprecedented expansion to its mandate, announcing open-ended QE which also gave it the mandate to buy corporates bonds (in the primary and secondary market) to unclog the frozen corporate bond market as we just one step away from a full Fed nationalization of the market (only Fed stock purchases remain now). As noted elsewhere, the Fed’s new credit facilities carry limits on paying dividends and making stock buybacks for firms that defer interest payments, but have no explicit restrictions preventing beneficiaries from laying off workers. Additionally, in addition to Treasuries, The Fed will buy Agency Commercial MBS all in unlimited size.  The Fed will buy Treasuries and agency mortgage-backed securities “in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning and effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions and the economy,” and will also buy agency commercial mortgage-backed securities, according to a statement. The Fed also said it will support “the flow of credit to employers, consumers and businesses by establishing new programs that, taken together, will provide up to $300 billion in new financing.” It will be backed by $30 billion from the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund. Coincidentally, this unprecedented action takes place just hours after real estate billionaire Tom Barrack (and friend of Trump) said the U.S. commercial-mortgage market is on the brink of collapse and predicted a “domino effect” of catastrophic economic consequences if banks and government don’t take prompt action to keep borrowers from defaulting.

Federal Reserve Taps BlackRock to Purchase Bonds for the Government - The Federal Reserve on Tuesday asked BlackRock Inc. to steer tens of billions of dollars in bond purchases, a reflection of the influence of the world’s largest money manager.BlackRock will purchase agency commercial mortgage-backed securities secured by multifamily-home mortgages on behalf of the New York Federal Reserve. The Fed will determine which securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae are suitable for purchase. BlackRock will execute the trades.BlackRock also will manage two large bond-buying programs. It will be in charge of a Fed-backed facility to buy new investment-grade bonds from U.S. companies.  The firm also will oversee another vehicle for buying already-issued investment-grade bonds. Bond purchases will be the focus of that effort. But the firm has latitude to buy U.S. investment grade bond ETFs—including exchange-traded funds of its own. BlackRock is the largest provider of bond ETFs.The mandate is expected to be significant. The Treasury Department is expected to inject $10 billion in initial equity funding in connection with each of the two facilities, according to a previous Fed statement. The tasks place BlackRock in a potentially controversial position of implementing the administration’s response to the spreading coronavirus pandemic. The firm’s roughly $7-trillion reach extends into everything from equities to bonds to private equity. The firm will face significant scrutiny on how it prevents conflicts of interests.

Buyback Backlash Begins- Fed Will Limit Buybacks & Dividends For Companies Using Its Credit Facility - Over the past week there has been a groundswell of populist anger aimed at companies that used roughly $4 trillion in cash over the past decade to repurchase shares instead of, say, putting the money away for a rainy day fund (one which would be quite useful now that most companies are begging for a taxpayer bailout as a result of plunging liquidity). And while Senate has yet to pass any fiscal stimulus that has explicit language limiting or prohibiting buybacks - this may change at today's noon vote - moments ago the Fed made it clear that going forward both buybacks and dividends will be frowned upon. In the term sheet for its Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility which greenlighted the Fed to purchase investment grade bonds and issue loans directly to eligible issuers in the primary market (as opposed to the secondary market where the Fed will also buy IG ETFs such as the LQD), it had the following restrictive language: At the borrower’s election, all or a portion of the interest due and payable on each interest payment date may be payable in kind for 6 months, extendable at the discretion of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Such interest amount will be added to, and made part of, the outstanding principal amount of the bond or loan. A borrower that makes this election may not pay dividends or make stock buybacks during the period it is not paying interest. Said otherwise any company that takes advantage of the Fed's PMCCF and then elects to suspend payments on interest and/or principal by converting these to PIK payments, effectively adding them to the loan principal, will not be allowed to buyback stocks or issue dividends.Which is good. What is not good is that the inverse is also true: the Fed is not limiting buybacks or dividends for companies that borrow money directly from the Fed as long as they remain in compliance with paying their interest on time. In other words, while the Fed is trying to appear draconian in its "negative covenants", it is also saying that companies that remain solvent and liquid can use any amount of proceeds sourced directly from the Fed, and use them to repurchase stock!

Five Mega Wall Street Bank Stocks Have Lost Average of 45 Percent in Five Weeks - Pam Martens - Above is the chart that has the Federal Reserve and its Wall Street money funnel (a/k/a New York Fed) chewing on their worry beads and rapidly rolling out their alphabet soup of Wall Street bailout programs in a replay of their playbook during the 2007-2010 Wall Street collapse.While Fed and Treasury officials have been repeatedly assuring Americans that these Wall Street behemoth banks have plenty of capital, they’ve actually been bleeding their common equity capital faster than a snow cone in July. In just the past five weeks, from the close of trading on Friday, February 14 through the close of trading on Friday, March 20, five of the largest Wall Street banks have lost an average of 45 percent of their common equity capital.Adding to the embarrassment for the Federal Reserve, Citigroup, the bank it propped up with $2.5 trillion in secret cumulative loans the last time around, is once again leading the herd with losses in its common equity capital. Citigroup’s market capitalization has lost a stunning 51.7 percent in just the past five weeks. And we are certainly in the early innings of this bank rout.Morgan Stanley, which was second in line behind Citigroup at the Fed’s trough in the last financial crisis, receiving $2.04 trillion cumulative in secret revolving loans, has lost 46.9 percent of its common equity capital in just the past five weeks.Just last week alone, the five Wall Street behemoths listed in the chart above lost a combined $154.45 billion in common equity capital. As the chart below indicates, the losses in these Wall Street bank stocks dwarfs the losses in the broader market as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average – meaning that despite what U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says, there is a Wall Street bank problem that is being aggravated by the coronavirus outbreak but whose roots are independent of it. (See our in-depth series on the current banking crisis here.) As we illustrate in the top chart, the total common equity capital for the five mega banks is just $603.5 billion. But as of September 30, 2019, according to the regulator of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, those same five bank holding companies held $230 trillion in notional (face amount) of derivatives – the bulk of which were buried in private contracts between themselves and a counterparty, with little to no visibility to their federal regulators. This was the precise situation that brought down the U.S. banking system and U.S. economy in 2008. The fact that millions of innocent, hardworking Americans are once again losing their jobs and their livelihoods and their 401(k) retirement savings because Congress allowed Wall Street’s crony regulator, the Federal Reserve, to remain as the regulator to the Wall Street bank holding companies after the unprecedented corruption that brought down Wall Street in 2008, is a crisis of leadership that transcends both political parties.

JPMorgan Chase and Citibank Have $2.96 Trillion in Exposure to Credit Default Swaps --  Pam Martens - According to the most recent report from the regulator of national banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), JPMorgan Chase has exposure to $1.2 trillion in Credit Default Swaps while Citibank has exposure to $1.76 trillion for a combined total of $2.96 trillion as of September 30, 2019.According to the same report, the total exposure to Credit Default Swaps among all national banks in the U.S. is $3.7 trillion – meaning that just these two banks are responsible for 80 percent of that exposure.  As of this past Friday, JPMorgan Chase had lost 39.3 percent of its common equity capital in the past five weeks while Citigroup, parent of Citibank, had lost 51.7 percent. That left JPMorgan Chase with just $256.68 billion in market cap versus Citigroup’s meager $79.86 billion. One of our readers emailed us today asking if Credit Default Swaps were still around after they had collapsed Wall Street and the U.S. economy during the 2008 financial crash. Not only are these derivatives of mass destruction still around thanks to lapdog federal regulators and a timid Congress but two of the most dangerous banks in America have not just purchased protection through Credit Default Swaps, but they have sold protection (taken on the risk of a defaulting corporation or credit) to the tune of $1.5trillion. Since the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, these giant Wall Street casino investment banks have been allowed to own some of the largest federally-insured banks in America where moms and pops hold their life savings. JPMorgan owns the federally-insured Chase Bank which has more than $1.6 trillion in deposits. Citigroup owns Citibank which holds approximately $1 trillion in deposits. It’s certainly not that the federal regulators think that these two banks know how to manage risk and thus they can be trusted with Credit Default Swaps. Citigroup was the biggest basket case among all federally-insured banks during the 2008 financial crisis.JPMorgan Chase, which has retained the same Chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon, through three guilty pleas to criminal felony counts and is under a new, ongoing criminal probe for turning its precious metals desk into a racketeering enterprise, should have been permanently banned from engaging in derivative trades in 2012.

This Is the Fear Chart that the Smart Money on Wall Street Is Watching -  Pam Martens - The chart that tells you how all of today’s economic troubles are going to end is not the bar graph of new deaths from coronavirus in Italy versus deaths in the U.S. It’s the chart that shows the number of potential deaths among the banks and insurance companies that have gorged themselves on risky derivatives and serve as counterparties to each other in a daisy chain of financial contagion.The chart above is why the Federal Reserve is throwing unprecedented sums of money in all directions on Wall Street. Because despite being a primary regulator to these massive bank holding companies, the Fed has no idea who is actually in trouble on derivative trades, other than looking at a chart like the one above.The chart above also justifies the Democrats refusing to sign off on the fiscal stimulus legislation that would have given U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin a $500 billion slush fund where the names of the recipients of bailouts could be withheld from the public.  Citigroup is the poster child for everything that is wrong with the banking structure in the United States today. After blowing itself up with derivatives in 2008, in December 2014 it got the repeal of a key component of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation that would have forced derivatives out of federally-insured banks. Then in 2016, it went full speed into the very derivatives that were at the heart of the financial crisis in 2008, Credit Default Swaps. (See Bailed Out Citigroup Is Going Full Throttle into Derivatives that Blew Up AIG.)Citigroup is not alone in loading up on derivatives again. Together with JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, these five bank holding companies now control a notional (face amount) of derivatives amounting to $230trillion, representing 85 percent of all derivatives held by U.S. banks.And their counterparties are just as questionable as they were at the peak of the crisis in 2008, which led to the biggest Wall Street bailout in U.S. history.

Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts - Pam Martens - The U.S. Senate voted 96-0 late yesterday on a massive bailout of Wall Street banks versus a short-term survival plan for American workers thrown out of their jobs – and potentially their homes. The text of thefinal bill was breathtaking in the breadth of new powers it bestowed on the Federal Reserve, including the Fed’s ability to conduct secret meetings with no minutes provided to the American people. The House of Representatives has yet to vote on the bill. The bill provides specific sums that can be made as loans or loan guarantees to passenger airlines ($25 billion), cargo airlines ($4 billion), and loans and loan guarantees to businesses necessary to national security ($17 billion). But when it comes to the money going to the Federal Reserve and then out the door to Wall Street, the legislation says only this: “Not more than the sum of $454,000,000,000…shall be available to make loans and loan guarantees to, and other investments in, programs or facilities established by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System for the purpose of providing liquidity to the financial system….” Why does the Federal Reserve need $454 billion from the U.S. taxpayer to bail out Wall Street when it has the power to create money out of thin air and has already dumped more than $9 trillion cumulatively in revolving loans to prop up Wall Street’s trading houses since September 17, 2019 – long before there was any diagnosis of coronavirus anywhere in the world. The Fed needs that money to create more Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) — the same device used by Enron to hide its toxic debt off its balance sheet before it went belly up. With the taxpayers’ money taking a 10 percent stake in the various Wall Street bailout programs offered by the Fed, structured as SPVs, the Fed can keep these dark pools off its balance sheet while levering them up 10-fold. White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow acknowledged plans by the Fed to leverage the money at a White House press briefing this week, stating that the money the Treasury is handing over to the Fed would result in “$4 trillion in Federal Reserve lending power.” The Fed has already created one of these SPVs. On March 17, the Fed said it was  creating a Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF) that would work like this: “The Treasury will provide $10 billion of credit protection to the Federal Reserve in connection with the CPFF from the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF). The Federal Reserve will then provide financing to the SPV under the CPFF. Its loans will be secured by all of the assets of the SPV.”

Fed to suspend exams for banks under $100B - — The Federal Reserve will temporarily stop all examination activity for banks with less than $100 billion of assets as it shifts supervisory priorities due to the coronavirus pandemic, the central bank said Tuesday.The Fed is shifting its supervisory focus to monitoring and outreach to “help financial institutions of all sizes understand the challenges and risks of the current environment.” The agency said it will be minimizing examination activities in order to do so, with the greatest reduction at smallest banks.  For banks with more than $100 billion of assets, the Fed plans to defer a portion of planned examinations but will still conduct an exam when a financial stability or consumer protection issue has been flagged at a firm. “The Board recognizes that the current situation is significantly affecting areas of the country in different ways and will work with financial institutions to understand the specific issues they are facing,” the Fed said in a statement. Banks subject to the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review stress tests will still be required to submit capital plans to the Fed by April 6, but extra time will be granted for resolving non-critical existing supervisory findings in order to focus on “heightened risks in this current environment.” This year’s capital plans will “be used to monitor how firms are managing their capital in the current environment, planning for contingencies, and positioning themselves to continue lending to creditworthy households and businesses,” the Fed said.

 Senate rescue plan aims to calm depositors, debt holders - — Senators have dusted off a financial crisis-era backstop for banks' transaction deposits and senior unsecured debt in their coronavirus stimulus bill to try to calm potential fears about the pandemic's effects on the financial sector.The massive aid package passed by the Senate late Wednesday would authorize the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to resurrect its 2008 Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program. Nearly 12 years ago, the two-pronged guarantee was announced along with other financial stability measures to soothe market concerns as the nation's credit system seemed on the verge of collapse. Observers said the current public health crisis is a different situation than the financial crisis and banks are now flush with liquidity. But some institutions have reported some angst among depositors about the safety of their money."We’ve been hearing from our member banks about customer anxiety and being concerned about their money, wanting to pull it all out,” said Karen Thomas, senior executive vice president of public policy for the Independent Community Bankers of America. “We think this authority will calm and provide certainty to customers.” The two pieces of the 2008 guarantee were the Transaction Account Guarantee Program — covering all noninterest-bearing transaction deposits above the FDIC's standard insurance limit — and the Debt Guarantee Program, which covered new senior unsecured debt. The debt guarantee expired in 2012, while the TAGP expired in 2010 but was effectively extended to the end of 2012 under a provision in the Dodd-Frank Act. Dodd-Frank also required Congress to approve the use of such a program in the future.Some say including the FDIC authority in the Senate bill may be intended to put depositors and bond holders at ease rather than address any dire liquidity concern. “The real value of the guarantee program will be to create a safe haven for funds and ensure some of the people who have been panicking and pulling cash out of the bank that they don’t have to," said Karen Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics. "The bulk of the people running to banks and pulling out cash have accounts well below $250,000 anyway. This is not a real problem. It’s just a reassurance.”

Banks get break they needed on loan workouts - Banks and credit unions are eager to take advantage of newfound flexibility for restructuring loans battered by the coronavirus outbreak.Federal regulators and the Financial Accounting Standards board gave lenders a helping hand Sunday, agreeing that short-term loan modifications tied to the pandemic do not have to immediately count as troubled-debt restructurings. Normally, any concession made to a borrower would trigger classification as a TDR. It’s a big boost for lenders because TDRs must be evaluated for impairment and a potential increase in the loan-loss allowance. And a TDR tag sticks with the loan as long it is on a bank's books.  “The technicalities of the impairment analysis are very troublesome,” said Mary Ann Scully, chairman and CEO the $2.4 billion-asset Howard Bancorp in Baltimore. “Collateral values may be impacted, and cash flow is most definitely impacted." In the aftermath of the financial crisis, restructured loans at banks topped $140 billion at the end of 2011. Clearly, regulators are hoping to head off a similar surge due to the coronavirus outbreak.   Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., in an interview Friday, identified TDRs as "stumbling block" that would "inhibit banks from doing what they need to do." Luetkemeyer said at the time that he was exploring ways to rescind or suspend the accounting for such restructurings.A delay in recording TDRs should lessen any spike in problem loans in advance of first-quarter earnings and, by extension, "reduces the threat on declines to tangible book value per share," especially for publicly traded banks, said Chris Marinac, an analyst at Janney Mntgomery Scott.Marinac had called on regulators to issue emergency guidance on how lenders should treat credits impaired by coronavirus turmoil.  “This is an unprecedented credit event for all banks, therefore it requires an emergency playbook,” Marinac wrote in a Thursday research note.  Many banks, including Howard, the $4.4 billion-asset Camden National in Maine, and the $6.7 billion-asset Tompkins Financial in Ithaca, N.Y., started approving temporary deferments and other loan modifications for hard-pressed clients well in advance of Sunday's statement. "We've been emphasizing short-term relief, deferring payments for 90 days," "We want to help take some of the pressure off borrowers, but we don't want to have to classify the loans as TDRs," Smyth added. The regulatory intervention "helps us as a bank."

Global Level 4 Travel Advisory: Stealth Subsidy for Insurers? - Jerri-Lynn Scofield - Last week. the State Department issued a global level 4 health advisory, recommending US  citizens not travel internationally, Global Level Four Health Advisory – Do Not Travel.I am one of many US nationals who was outside the US when the advisory was issued. The department recommended that we return immediately to the US. Yet at the time the advisory was issued, many countries had either ceased allowing commercial departures, or in places where they were still available, the cost had skyrocketed.And, given what is occurring in places such as NYC, California, or Washington, returning there does not necessarily seem prudent. Nor, for that matter, does boarding an airplane, to sit in close proximity to many others, and risk being stuck in crowds when passing through customs and immigration in the US. Far better to shelter in place, if one can find a safe place to do so, and hope that things return to more normal conditions eventually.The State Department warning is a recommendation, not a requirement, and for those who couldn’t – or wouldn’t return immediately, the State Department said be prepared to stay outside of the United States for an indefinite period.  Well, duh. I would wager that anyone who was outside the US last week had previously considered the available options. There are precious few good ones available at the moment.Which got me to thinking about the consequences of the State Department’s self-evident warning. What effect does the warning have on travellers who hold  travel travel insurance? For those who don’t, I think it would be virtually impossible to purchase travel coverage at this time.  Clive summarized the effect the warning would have on the validity of travel cover:  Yes, while it depends on the policy, usually travelling against a Level 4 advisory (or whatever your national government terms it) will result in your travel cover policy being cancelled (e.g., travel insurance).  From the Association of British Insurers website, the travel insurance Q and A section: If you travel against government advice then you are likely to invalidate your travel insurance. If you are unsure check with your travel insurer. You should check with your travel insurer if the reasons for your trip would or would not invalidate your travel insurance. A holiday to the area would not be considered as essential.

Mnuchin backs designating financial sector workers as 'essential' - — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday that he supports federal guidance identifying financial services workers as “essential critical infrastructure workers” with a unique responsibility to continue operations during the coronavirus pandemic.In March 19 guidance, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency labeled 16 sectors as crucial for “both public health and safety as well as community well-being.”In particular, the agency said financial services workers that provide consumer access to banking and lender services, maintain systems for processing financial transactions and support financial operations are considered essential personnel.  "To wake up one day and assume everyone in America is going to be above average at math and above average rational is crazy," says Ethan Bloch.  Third-party service providers that deliver core services are also considered essential, said Mnuchin.

67 Million Americans Could Miss Their Credit Payments Thanks To Virus Crisis - As social gatherings are limited and businesses shutter operations to reduce the spread of COVID-19, millions of Americans could be laid off in the next couple of months as the economy dives into a depression. Most of the job loss will be seen across both the services and manufacturing sectors. The National Restaurant Association estimates that five to seven million jobs could be lost in the next three months. While Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said if government stimulus is not directed at businesses and households, upwards of 33 million jobs could be eliminated.With a depression imminent, WalletHub anticipates 67 million Americans could have difficulty servicing their credit cards due to virus impacts. As we've routinely pointed out, credit card usage soared to a record high in December. "Roughly 67 million Americans anticipate having trouble paying their credit card bills because of the coronavirus. Their struggles could easily ripple through the economy if left unaddressed, especially considering the more than $1 trillion in credit card debt currently owed by U.S. consumers," said WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou. According to WalletHub's survey completed on March 9-12, the virus is the most significant stressor among Americans. The second stressor is money problems, then the 2020 election, and people's current job situation."We've seen a lot of panic buying as a result of the coronavirus, with people purchasing things like toilet paper en masse, largely because they don't know what else to do. Furthermore, 94 million Americans have canceled or plan to cancel travel plans due to the coronavirus," said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez. "Less apparent, however, is the panic saving that people are engaged in right now. Around 158 million Americans, or roughly 63% of adults, say they are saving more, as opposed to buying more, as a result of this crisis. If there's a bright side to all of this, people saving more money than usual might just be it."

Dems' bid to pause negative credit reporting gets pushback from industry - As the economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic multiplies, the credit scores of millions of U.S. consumers will likely suffer in the coming months unless effective prevention measures are implemented.Congress must decide quickly whether to require the financial industry to take steps aimed at averting a flood of derogatory reports to the credit bureaus. Industry officials insist that they already have the tools necessary to do so, but many Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for more forceful measures.Legislation introduced last week by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, would require a four-month moratorium on all negative credit reporting. People whose economic fortunes suffer longer-lasting damage would get additional protection. Those kinds of consumer protections are not currently included in the emergency relief legislation under consideration in the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority. But the credit bureaus are also facing pressure from congressional Democrats to implement a moratorium on their own. Last Tuesday, more than 70 House Democrats urged the CEOs of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion to temporarily cease reporting missed payments on hospital bills, mortgage payments and credit card debt.“Adverse credit events caused by COVID-19 will have crippling, long-term and devastating effects for those who can least afford it, if credit reporting agencies are unwilling to adapt,” the House Democrats wrote in a letter.But the credit bureaus argue that suppressing the flow of negative information about particular borrowers would lead to less accurate loan decisions, and that lenders would have to compensate either by charging higher interest rates or reducing the provision of credit.“We think that’s the wrong approach,” said Francis Creighton, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group for the credit bureaus.In situations where the borrower has been granted forbearance, which is an agreement to delay a payment obligation, the lender may elect to inform the credit bureaus that the obligation was paid as agreed, Creighton noted.He also said that when lenders can use a special code to flag missed payments that are tied to unforeseen circumstances, such as the ongoing pandemic. Companies that rely on information from the three bureaus to calculate credit scores treat this specially coded information neutrally, so that it neither helps nor hurts the borrower, he said.

Sen. Brown proposes digital account for unbanked households - — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is calling for legislation that would require banks to offer free digital accounts to consumers without bank accounts so they could easily access cornonavirus relief funds.As Congress and the Trump administration consider sending individuals coronavirus relief payments in the form of checks, Brown is proposing a “FedAccount” digital wallet that would allow consumers to receive money quickly and inexpensively. Roughly 8.4 million U.S. households do not have bank accounts, according to a 2017 report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.   “My legislation would allow every American to set up a free bank account so they don’t have to rely on expensive check cashers to access their hard-earned money,” said Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee.FedAccounts would have no account fees or minimum balance requirements and would be opened at local banks and post offices, under the legislation. The Federal Reserve would be responsible for overseeeing the FedAccount program.   Account holders would receive debit cards, online account access, automatic bill-pay, mobile banking, and ATM access. Each post office or bank with less than $10 billion of assets woud be reimbursed each quarter by their regional Federal Reserve bank for the actual and reasonable operational costs incurred in offering the pass-through digital dollar wallets.

"Widespread Panic" Hits Commercial Property Markets: Deals Implode, Renters Disappear, Businesses Shut Down - As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and the ensuing lockdown, the commercial property market has essentially frozen. Buildings that were used for all types of purposes: offices, diners, restaurants, hotels - they've all been shut down. And industries like the travel industry are forgoing $1.4 billion per week in revenue, according to Bloomberg. The shutdown is also having an effect on apartment buildings and industrial properties. Nothing is off limits, and it's sending the commercial property market into chaos. Alexi Panagiotakopoulos, partner at Fundamental Income, a real estate strategy firm, said: “On the investor side, there’s widespread panic. There’s downward pressure on every aspect of every asset class.” And there's no way to value a market when you don't have a bid and an offer - and you're not sure when the market will "re-open". Further, there's no way to try and model the future value of such properties when everyone is unsure of what the real estate landscape will look like when everything is said and done. Scott Minerd, chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners said: "There will likely be long-lasting changes." It's estimated that investment activity in the space could fall by 45% this year, which would be further than post-9/11 or the 2008 financial crisis. The drumbeat of large deals has already gone silent. For example, Bloomberg reports that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board's planned sale of a 50% stake in the 900 million pound Nova development in London’s Victoria district collapsed on Friday. Similarly, Singapore-based ARA Asset Management Ltd., which was lined up to purchase the pension fund’s half of Nova, has balked on the deal. Viacom also announced last week that it's suspending its plans to sell the Black Rock building in Manhattan because potential buyers can't visit the property. Simon Property Group's proposed acquisition of Taubman Centers, Inc., is also now up in the air.

Bank CRE losses expected to spike; digital payments boom - Bankers are wondering if this year’s stress tests — due April 6 — are even worth it, given that the damage caused by the coronavirus may actually be worse than the “severely adverse” conditions the Federal Reserve wants them to prepare for. “As of now, the banks and Fed are operating as scheduled, even as the central bank is also rolling out extraordinary measures designed to keep markets functioning. The Fed on Tuesday said it would relax some examination work, particularly at smaller banks, but that big banks should still submit their plans,” the Wall Street Journal reports.The Fed said it will "temporarily stop all examination activity for banks with less than $100 billion of assets," American Banker reports. Separately, the Fed “may ultimately need to release banks from more constraints on their balance sheets, as it has done in some respects for their liquidity,” the Journal says. “Already, for example, banks that make purchases of assets from money-market funds to support them using money from the Fed’s backstop facility will be able to exclude those assets from capital calculations. But to ensure that banks don’t themselves become new overleveraged problems, the Fed needs to keep making sure that whatever banks need to load onto their balance sheet for the sake of the system isn’t just compounding risk or leverage in the system. That will partly be done with the help of Congress and the U.S. Treasury, which will provide forms of credit protection.” For bank investors, “it will be extremely difficult to model banks’ profitability in the future," the paper adds. "But that certainly beats fretting about banks’ survival.”“U.S. banks face crushing losses from commercial real-estate loans damaged by the Covid-19 economic crisis, but the pain might not be as great as in the years following the 2008 crash,” according to a report by Trepp, which tracks the performance of commercial mortgages. “Commercial real-estate loans made by banks will suffer as much as a 2.5% loss rate over the next five years,” the firm said, which would amount to $57.5 billion. “By comparison, loss rates last year were less than 0.1%.” However, “the default rate on loans might be less this time than during the last financial crisis,” when the peak default rate was 4.4%.

Mortgage bond sales flood market, sparking pleas for U.S. help - A crisis in credit markets deepened over the weekend and into Monday as a cluster of funds that own mortgage bonds sought to sell billions in assets to meet investor redemptions, sparking pleas for government intervention. The sales included at least $1.25 billion of securities being listed by the AlphaCentric Income Opportunities Fund, according to people with knowledge of the sales. It sought buyers for a swath of bonds backed primarily by private-label mortgages as it sought to raise cash, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing the private offerings. The fund plunged 17% on Friday, bringing its total decline for the week to 31%. Amid the selling, the Structured Finance Association, an industry group for the asset-backed securities market, asked government leaders on Sunday to step in. The Federal Reserve announced Monday that its new wave of initiatives to support the shuttered U.S. economy would include the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, which is designed to support the issuance of bonds backed by collateral like auto loans, credit card debt and student loans. It will also buy agency commercial mortgage-backed securities, according to a statement.“The coronavirus has resulted in severe market dislocations and liquidity issues for most segments of the bond market,” AlphaCentric’s Jerry Szilagyi said in an emailed statement on Sunday. “The Fund is not immune to these dislocations” and “like many other funds, is moving expeditiously to address the unprecedented market conditions.” The best way to obtain favorable prices is to offer a wider range of securities for bid, Szilagyi said. He declined to discuss the amount of securities the fund put up for sale. Funds that buy up bonds of all kinds — from debt of America’s largest corporations to securities backed by mortgages — have struggled with record investor withdrawals amid choppy trading conditions in fixed-income markets. The rush to unload mortgage-backed securities signals that a credit meltdown that began with corporate bonds is spreading to other corners of the market.

FHFA directs GSEs to do more to support MBS, mortgage lending - The Federal Housing Finance Agency authorized the government-sponsored enterprises to lend additional support to the mortgage-backed securities market and temporarily allow some flexibility in lending requirements to address coronavirus-related concerns.The support Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is giving to the agency MBS market will come in the form of additional dollar-roll transactions, which investors use to obtain short-term financing for their positions. The trades must be conducted through an auction or other method that ensures a fair-market price, according to the FHFA's order.Dollar rolls are transactions in which there is a simultaneous agreement to sell a security held in portfolio with a purchase of a similar security at a future date at an agreed-upon price.  The FHFA's move came the same day the Federal Reserve announced additional support for the economy that included purchasing more MBS and Treasury bonds as well as establishing two new credit facilities for large businesses.Meanwhile, the FHFA is directing Fannie and Freddie to relax underwriting guidelines in ways that will reduce the need for appraisers to inspect the interior of homes in person as well as the need to obtain verbal verifications from employers.Where verbal verifications are not available, emails, a recent year-to-date pay stub or recent payroll deposit on a bank statement can be used for verification."Lenders should continue to utilize sound underwriting judgment to ensure these alternatives are appropriate to the borrower's circumstance," the FHFA said in a press release.Even before the virus outbreak, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had been allowing more exceptions to employment verifications and appraisal requirements due to the availability of alternative forms of data-based confirmation that they deemed sufficient in some instances.

April wave of missed payments could upend mortgage servicers - April 1 could be a day of reckoning for banks and servicers anticipating a tidal wave of missed mortgage payments due to the economic fallout the coronavirus pandemic.With stay-at-home orders forcing some businesses to shutter and economists fearing high unemployment rates and reduced incomes, the housing finance system is grappling with how it will recoup lost revenue from missed payments, government-backed forbearance plans and other tremors.Banks and mortgage servicers are already struggling on the front lines assisting panicked borrowers affected by the crisis, but no one knows how many homeowners could miss payments. There is growing hope that the Federal Reserve could launch a facility to provide a backstop for the mortgage system, but it is unclear how long servicers would be able to survive without government help. “Lenders do not have the liquidity to allow borrowers to stop making payments,” said Dave Stevens, chief executive at Mountain Lake Consulting and the former head of the Federal Housing Administration. “What happens if everybody stops paying, which they will if given the option not to?” If roughly one-quarter of residential borrowers are unable to pay their mortgage and need forbearance for three months to nine months, servicers could be on the hook for from $36 billion to $100 billion, the Mortgage Bankers Association has estimated. The median mortgage payment is roughly $1,400, according to Zillow, the online real estate database company. “It will be a shockingly big number of borrowers that don’t make their payments on April 1," said Ron Haynie, senior vice president of mortgage finance policy for the Independent Community Bankers of America.When unemployment numbers are released on April 3, some expect a 30% uptick in claims, with potentially two million to three million borrowers needing forbearance. Forbearance allows the borrower to defer payments interest-free until the loan is paid off."All those people would be eligible for forbearance but dealing with two to three million people is going to overwhelm the system,"

Ginnie Mae Weighs Bailout For Servicers After Major Mortgage-Lender Slashes 70% Of Workforce -A  top U.S. regulator is exploring whether to throw a lifeline to mortgage servicers stressed by the coronavirus pandemic by tapping a program meant to address natural disasters. Bloomberg reports that, in order to prepare for an expected wave of missed payments as borrowers deal with the economic fallout from the virus, officials at Ginnie Mae are considering using relief programs most often activated in the wake of hurricanes, floods and other calamities, according to people familiar with the matter.Mortgage-industry lobbyists unsuccessfully tried to get Congress to include some sort of liquidity facility for servicers in the stimulus bill. Still, many servicers expect the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to create a lifeline for servicers out of other money in the $2 trillion package. Earlier this week, we highlighted the fact that numerous mortgage-related companies were facing considerable - and in some cases existential - crises in their day-to-day operations amid margin calls, illiquidity, and a drying up of demand for non-agency products thanks to The Fed's intervention.   First, its was AG Mortgage Investment Trust which last Friday said it failed to meet some margin calls and doesn’t expect to be able to meet future margin calls with its current financing. Then it was TPG RE Finance Trust which also hit a liquidity wall and could not repay its lenders. Then, on Monday it was first Invesco, then ED&F Man Capital, and then  the mortgage mayhem took down MFA Financial, which stated "due to the turmoil in the financial markets resulting from the global pandemic of the COVID-19 virus, the Company and its subsidiaries have received an unusually high number of margin calls from financing counterparties, and have also experienced higher funding costs in respect of its repurchase agreements."And now that mortgage-mayhem has impacted one of the largest U.S. mortgage firms catering to riskier borrowers.Earlier in the week, we mentioned Angel Oak Mortgage Solutions - which specializes in so-called non-qualified mortgages that can’t be sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac - pointing out that the company would pause all originations of loans for two weeks “due to the constant shifts and the inability to appropriately evaluate credit risk.”And now Sreeni Prabhu, co-chief executive officer of the firm’s parent, Angel Oak Cos., is slashing 70% of the comany's workforce (almost 200 of its 275 employees).

Black Knight's First Look: National Mortgage Delinquency Rate Increased slightly in February --From Black Knight: Black Knight’s First Look: Foreclosure Starts Hit Lowest Level on Record; Mortgage Delinquencies Edge Slightly Upward from January’s Record Low

• Foreclosure starts fell 25% from January 2020, and 20% from the year prior, hitting their lowest level on record since Black Knight began publicly reporting the metric in January 2000
• The national foreclosure rate also ticked lower in February, falling to 0.45%; the lowest it’s been since 2005, and within one basis point of an all-time low
• Delinquencies were up slightly from January, but remain more than 15% below last year’s levels
• Prepayment activity rose by nearly 8% month-over-month as early 2020 rate declines have begun to impact refinance activity

According to Black Knight's First Look report for February, the percent of loans delinquent increased 2.0% in February compared to January, and decreased 15.6% year-over-year.
The percent of loans in the foreclosure process decreased 2.5% in February, and were down 11.2% over the last year. Black Knight reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) was 3.28% in February, up from 3.22% in January. The percent of loans in the foreclosure process was decreased to 0.456% from 0.46% in January.

Freddie Mac: Mortgage Serious Delinquency Rate Unchanged in February - Freddie Mac reported that the Single-Family serious delinquency rate in February was 0.60%, unchanged from 0.60% in January. Freddie's rate is down from 0.69% in February 2019. This matches January as the lowest delinquency rate since November 2007. Freddie's serious delinquency rate peaked in February 2010 at 4.20%. These are mortgage loans that are "three monthly payments or more past due or in foreclosure".  This is close to a cycle bottom.   However, with COVID-19, this rate will probably increase in a few months (it takes time since these are mortgage three months or more past due).

Opinion | How Mortgages Can Ease the Downturn - Americans collectively own homes worth nearly $30 trillion. They have mortgages on those homes totaling about $11 trillion. That leaves $19 trillion in home equity. In the decade since the financial crisis, Americans have been deleveraging and mortgages now only represent about 34 percent of the value of owned homes. The last time leverage was lower was 1991.In the response to the financial crisis, many new regulations and mandates were implemented in the mortgage origination process. Take for example, cash-out refinancing. Since the crisis, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration have all added rules that prevent borrowers from using a mortgage refinance to take out some extra cash if that will leave them with less than 20 percent equity in their homes.The new rules also require lenders to engage in time-consuming and expensive underwriting processes. .The effects of these new regulations on mortgage lending have been noticeable. Compare the first quarter of 2003 and the fourth quarter of 2019, periods that are largely similar in terms of the interest rate environment.   […] We should carve out an exception to the post-crisis mortgage regulations, at least temporarily. For the next three months — with an important caveat — banks should have the ability to offer customers a home equity line of credit or a cash-out refinance. There is no guarantee that large-scale public policy responses will get money to all the Americans who need it most. We can, however, provide a financial lifeline for many American homeowners by letting them decide for themselves if a refinancing or HELOC is a good option for them. Americans could tap their homes for a trillion dollars in home equity and still not be any more leveraged than they had been in the 1990s when the housing market was quite docile and without driving up the national debt. This would be a simple way to use the private sector to quickly infuse cash into local economies.

Fed: Whatever it Takes Announcement - From the Federal Reserve: Federal Reserve announces extensive new measures to support the economy. There are several actions in the announcement including: The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will purchase Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning and effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions and the economy.  This is especially important for the mortgage market. The Fed will buy whatever it takes to stabilize MBS.  There is much more in the announcement (including supporting large and small businesses). This is a "whatever it takes" moment for the Fed.

 FHFA: House Prices up 5.2% YoY in January -From the FHFA: FHFA House Price Index Up 0.3 Percent in January; Up 5.2 Percent from Last YearU.S. house prices rose in January, up 0.3 percent from the previous month, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI). House prices rose 5.2 percent from January 2019 to January 2020. The previously reported 0.6 percent increase for December 2019 was revised upward to 0.7 percent.…“U.S. house prices continued to increase at a moderate pace in January,” according to Dr. Lynn Fisher, Deputy Director of the Division of Research and Statistics at FHFA. “Transactions in January were unlikely to reflect much, if any, influence from the COVID-19 outbreak. House prices in the Pacific and South Atlantic regions grew somewhat faster over the year ending in January 2020 than observed the same time a year ago.” This is pre-crisis.

 New York banking regulator orders emergency relief on mortgages, card fees - New York’s Department of Financial Services has issued an emergency regulation requiring state-regulated financial institutions to offer consumers relief on mortgage payments and certain fees if they demonstrate financial hardship resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency regulation, issued late Tuesday, requires financial institutions to give mortgage borrowers forbearance of at least 90 days if they apply for assistance due to job loss or other issues brought on by the economic fallout from the pandemic. It also requires those financial institutions to waive ATM fees and late payment fees on credit cards for the same reason.  “This emergency regulation provides a measure of much needed financial relief to New York residents with New York State mortgages on homes in New York State."According to a DFS official familiar with the matter, the regulation will be in place for at least 30 days, but can be renewed if the governor extends the executive order. The emergency regulation only applies to banks and credit unions already regulated by the agency. The largest state-chartered banks in New York are the $311.8 billion-asset Bank of New York Mellon, the $229 billion-asset Goldman Sachs Bank USA, the $119.4 billion-asset M&T Bank., $53.6 billion-asset New York Community Bancorp and the $50.6 billion-asset Signature Bank.  Cuomo has moved aggressively on a number of fronts aimed at containing the coronavirus outbreak in the state and providing relief to New Yorkers affected by it. Those actions have also included closing schools and restaurants to better comply with public health experts’ recommendations for containing the spread of the virus.

 MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey - The MBA noted that purchase applications were off 35% in New York not seasonally adjusted (following a 24% decline the previous week), and off 23% in California. From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey: Mortgage applications decreased 29.4 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending March 20, 2020.... The Refinance Index decreased 34 percent from the previous week and was 195 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 15 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 14 percent compared with the previous week and was 11 percent lower than the same week one year ago....“The 30-year fixed mortgage rate reached its highest level since mid-January last week, even as Treasury yields remained at relatively low levels. Several factors pushed rates higher, including increased secondary market volatility, lenders grappling with capacity issues and backlogs in their pipelines, and remote work staffing challenges,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “With these higher rates, refinance activity fell 34 percent, and both the conventional and government indices dropped to their lowest level in a month. Looking ahead, this week’s additional actions taken by the Federal Reserve to restore liquidity and stabilize the mortgage-backed securities market could put downward pressure on mortgage rates, allowing more homeowners the opportunity to refinance.”Added Kan, “Home purchase applications were notably impacted by rising rates and the widespread economic disruption and uncertainty over household employment and incomes. Last week’s purchase index fell 15 percent to its lowest level since August 2019. Compared to a year ago, purchase applications were down 11 percent – the first year-over-year decline in over three months. Potential homebuyers might continue to hold off on buying until there is a slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus and more clarity on the economic outlook.”...The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.82 percent from 3.74 percent, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

New Home Sales at 765,000 Annual Rate in February - The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in February were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 765 thousand.  The previous three months were revised up, combined.  "Sales of new single-family houses in February 2020 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 765,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.4 percent below the revised January rate of 800,000, but is 14.3 percent above the February 2019 estimate of 669,000. " The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate.  Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are just at a normal level. The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply.  The months of supply increased in February to 5.0 months from 4.8 months in January.  The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009. This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal). "The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of February was 319,000. This represents a supply of 5.0 months at the current sales rate." Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke inventory down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed.  The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973.  The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal.  The last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate). In February 2020 (red column), 68 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 57 thousand homes were sold in February The all time high for February was 109 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for February was 22 thousand in 2011.

A few Comments on February New Home Sales -- New home sales for February were reported at 765,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for the previous three months were revised up, and sales in January were revised up to a new cycle high of 800,000 - the highest sales rate since May 2007.  Earlier: New Home Sales at 765,000 Annual Rate in February.   This graph shows new home sales for 2019 and 2020 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate). New home sales were up 14.3% Year-over-year (YoY) in February.   The comparisons are easy over the first five months of the year, but sales will probably be down YoY for the next several months - at least - due to COVID-19. And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.   The "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through February 2020. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s. Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.  Now the gap is mostly closed.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes.   Another way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales. This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. (Note: This ratio was fairly stable back to the early '70s, but I only have annual data for the earlier years).  In general the ratio has been trending down since the housing bust - and is getting close to the historical ratio. Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different. Over the next several months, both new and existing home sales will be negatively impacted by COVID-19.

New York Democratic governor finally suspends construction projects after criminal delay -  The Democratic governor of New York state, Andrew Cuomo, finally banned “non-essential” construction projects on Friday, amid growing anger from the state’s construction workers and concerns from public health experts. Some sites, including those building affordable housing, hospitals or critical infrastructure, will remain open. Until yesterday, construction workers across New York City and state were still required to show up to work on almost any project, victims of Cuomo’s categorization of construction—including luxury apartment high-rises—as “essential businesses.” But as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York state soared this week—by Friday there were 44,635 cases in the state and 25,398 in the city, with hundreds dead and a dangerous shortage of equipment and hospital beds—construction workers and their families voiced increasing opposition to the proposals from both Cuomo and Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that workers remain on the job. Social distancing is notoriously difficult on construction sites, and running water and sanitation facilities are often scarce. Both Cuomo and de Blasio, with the backing of big realtors, construction firms and local trade unions, permitted construction to continue, even on job sites with confirmed cases of workers testing positive for coronavirus, leading to increasing concern and opposition from the more than 150,000 construction workers in the city. On Monday, carpenters working at the Hard Rock Hotel in Manhattan walked off the job after hearing about a co-worker testing positive for COVID-19. After two days of disinfecting, and without any additional protective equipment for the workers, the job site opened back up. Another worker tested positive for the virus this week at a construction site on Broadway in the site of Facebook’s new corporate offices, but the job was not shut down. 

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Declined 56% Year-over-year to All Time Record Low --From HotelNewsNow.com: STR: US hotel results for week ending 21 March: Showing further effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. hotel industry reported significant year-over-year declines in the three key performance metrics during the week of 15-21 March 2020, according to data from STR.  In comparison with the week of 17-23 March 2019, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: -56.4% to 30.3%
• Average daily rate (ADR): -30.2% to US$93.41
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): -69.5% to US$28.32
“RevPAR decreases are at unprecedented levels—worse than those seen during 9/11 and the financial crisis,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights. “Seven of 10 rooms were empty around the country. That average is staggering on its own, but it’s tougher to process when you consider that occupancy will likely fall further. With most events cancelled around the nation, group occupancy was down to one percent with a year-over-year RevPAR decline of 96.6%. The industry is no doubt facing a situation that will take a concerted effort by brands, owners and the government to overcome.”
The following graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average. The red line is for 2020, dash light blue is 2019, blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year probably since the Great Depression for hotels). 2020 was off to a solid start, however, COVID-19 has crushed hotel occupancy. This is the lowest weekly occupancy on record, even considering seasonality, and STR expects occupancy rates to fall further.  Note the graph is a 4-week average.

The Cheesecake Factory says it will not be able to pay rent for any of its storefronts on April 1 –The Cheesecake Factory says it will not be able to pay rent on its nearly 300 storefronts come April 1 due to the loss of income it has sustained during the coronavirus outbreak. In a March 18 letter the company's landlords, company chairman and CEO David Overton wrote: "Due to these extraordinary events, I am asking for your patience and, frankly, your help." "Unfortunately, I must let you know that The Cheesecake Factory and its affiliated restaurant concepts will not make any of their rent payments for the month of April2020," he added. On Monday, California-based company let investors know that it was tapping into a $90 million line of credit to increase its liquidity and stop construction on unopened restaurants, Eater reports. Additionally, 27 of the company's restaurants have been temporarily closed since the onset of the pandemic and its stock has dropped by over half in the past month. Restaurants all across the country have been forced to either shut down completely are switch to a take-out only model, as local and federal officials try to stop of the spread of COVID-19. The Cheesecake Factory has over 38,000 employees making it one of the largest employers in the U.S.

Cheesecake Factory, Subway, other major retailers tell landlords they can’t pay April rent due to coronavirus - To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, retailers and restaurants haveshuttered their doors. But facing a halt in income, many major retailers say they can’t pay rent for the month of April — and they are asking their landlords for deferrals.  Here is an up-to-date list of retailers that are asking for special accommodations on rent payments. Cheesecake Factory, the California-based restaurant chain with over 200 U.S. locations, told landlords on March 18 that it would not be able to pay rent for April due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to reports. “We have very strong, long standing relationships with our landlords. We are certain that with their partnership, we will be able to work together to weather this storm in the appropriate manner,” chief financial officer Matthew Clark told Eater.Swedish clothing retailer H&M is discussing rent adjustments with landlords, according to reports.“Negotiations of rents is an ongoing part of our business, but due to the current effect on the economy, we have and will approach our landlords in the affected markets,” a spokesperson told Bloomberg. Mattress Firm, the Houston-based mattress retailer with 2,400 stores in the U.S., cited the force majeure or “act of God” contract clause invoked for major natural disasters this week, telling landlords they would not pay rent. This comes after a letter to landlords sent last week, which offered to extend their leases in exchange for cutting rent.Subway, the Milford, Conn.-based fast food retailer with over 20,000 U.S. locations, alerted landlords last week that it might reduce or postpone rental payments. Subway will also halve royalty payments and halt advertising fees for franchisees, according to reports. Many fast-food chains own the real estate their franchisees operate from and will provide rent accommodations for franchisees. McDonalds, which is a landlord to 15% of its franchises, will consider reductions in rent and other payments. About 13,826 of which are in the U.S., according to New York real estate data companyReonomy.

 U.S. Workers, Businesses Lack Funds to Tide Them Over Until Help Comes - The American economy is in a race against time.With measures to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus intensifying, the U.S. is embarking on its sharpest downturn since at least the end of World War II. The states where nonessential businesses are shut down, including California, New York and Ohio, account for more than 40% of U.S. gross domestic product.Many of those workers and businesses will face severe constraints quickly, surveys suggest. In two weeks time—the period of a typical paycheck—many workers will struggle to make ends meet. After a month, more than half of them could be in trouble. At that point, a fifth of small businesses with lost sales could be on the brink.The stimulus the Federal Reserve announced Monday, including its planned program to support lending to small and midsize businesses, will help. So, too, will the fiscal spending package Congress is hammering out—when it comes.For the economy, the most important questions are how soon help will arrive, how ample it will eventually be and, above all, how long the coronavirus crisis will last. Between the big stimulus likely to come out of Washington and plans by lenders to extend loans or offer grace periods on payments, consumers and businesses can manage a shutdown lasting several weeks.Beyond that is uncharted territory, and with the crisis at an intense point right now, few people are thinking that far out. Most economists think the economy will shrink more than 10% in the second quarter, at an annual rate, a larger decline than that at the start of the financial crisis and one that would mark the worst contraction since quarterly measurements began shortly after World War II. But most are assuming that by the start summer, the spread of the virus will have been contained and activity will begin to bounce back. That is no sure thing, with many epidemiological models suggesting containment won’t occur until later.Small businesses, which account for about half of U.S. employment, according to the Small Business Administration, are among those most at risk. In a 2016 study, researchers at JPMorgan Chase Institute, the bank’s think tank, found that the median small business had a cash balance that would last just 27 days. Some were operating closer to the edge. The median retailer had a cash buffer that would last 19 days. The median restaurant’s would last 16.

Coronavirus reveals financial irresponsibility of Americans - How long could you sustain your household if you were to stop earning income? If you are like most Americans, the answer is not for long. Only40 percent of Americans can afford an unexpected $1,000 expense with their savings. In fact, nearly 80 percent of workers are living paycheck to paycheck. It is no surprise that the probability of an economic recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic caused many to worry. In major cities such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, restaurants and businesses have been ordered to close. For many hourly workers, this means no paychecks in the coming weeks. Almost one in five Americans have already lost their jobs or have reduced hours. At the same time, salaried workers are concerned about job security, as mass layoffs at numerous companies loom. While the situation is understandably stressful for every person affected, it serves as a sobering reminder that Americans must learn to live within their means and regularly save money.  The need for all Americans to be able to sustain themselves for at least a few months on savings is accentuated during a time of crisis. This means planning ahead when times are good. Financial planners suggest saving at least 20 percent of take home income, while spending at most 30 percent on discretionary items. Yet too many workers still fail to think twice about spending entire paychecks for things they want but do not need.  The current panic is refocusing us on what is important. We now stockpile the things necessary for our health.. Living within our means is not just rhetoric. It is a means of guarding ourselves during times like these. We have so much to learn from those who came before us. How many of our grandparents fared the austerity of the World Wars and the Great Depression, discovering to save, mend, and repair?  It is not only low income and middle income earners who blow through their paychecks every month. Many high income earners also live above their means. Indeed, at least a quarter of households making $150,000and above live paycheck to paycheck. Our fiscal irresponsibility means that when an unexpected crisis like the one today hits, Americans are unable to sustain their own families, even for a short time period.

Guns, Groceries and News: What Sells in a Pandemic—and Doesn’t - U.S. household consumption patterns have gone haywire during the early stages of the globalcoronavirus health crisis.A Wall Street Journal analysis of high-frequency data from a range of U.S. industries showed sharp declines in spending on hotels, restaurants, airlines and other travel, while spending boomed in other areas including groceries, general merchandise stores, gun and ammunition shops and marijuana suppliers. Mortgage applications surged as interest rates dropped, new car sales in many cities fell and consumers quickly grew reluctant to buy big-ticket household items.The data suggest that while overall consumer spending is likely sinking sharply, this is happening unevenly, producing losers—and some winners—among the firms that meet consumer needs.Consumers are a critical engine of the global economy, providing more than two-thirds of demand for all U.S. economic output, in addition to demand for production and jobs at major U.S. trading partners including China and Mexico. Spending patterns will surely change in the weeks ahead, as the shock plays out in the economy. Here is a look at how spending changed in the first few weeks of March. Well before several big cities began ordering millions of people to stay home,visits to restaurants in Seattle and San Francisco—where the coronavirus took hold relatively early—began tanking, according to data on reservations and walk-ins released by OpenTable, the restaurant booking app. As the West Coast went, so did the rest of the nation: By March 19, dining visits across the country through OpenTable had collapsed by 98%, according to OpenTable. Travel and leisure suffered an abrupt collapse in demand. Hotel occupancy in Seattle, where the virus has claimed the most lives so far, collapsed from 70% in late February to 33% two weeks later, according to STR, a hotel research firm.  Spending on leisure—activities such as theme parks, movie theaters and other ticketed events—dropped in late February, and was down 35% on an annual basis as of March 13, reports Earnest Research, a data analytics company that tracks the purchase data of millions of anonymous U.S. consumers. In other sectors, the coronavirus pandemic has induced a consumer frenzy. As the outbreak worsened in major cities, shoppers stocked up on groceries, sending sales—both online and offline—sharply higher, according to Earnest Research.  Web traffic to retailers Amazon, Target, and Walmartclimbed in March too, according to Comscore. With audiences holed up at home and seeking information about the fast-moving virus, news viewership and, in particular, online news consumption are sharply growing.

More Than 750,000 Masks Auctioned for Huge Markup While Hospitals Run Out - At a time when shortages of protective gear are putting health-care workers at risk, more than 750,000 medical-grade masks went up for online auction in Texas. Bottles of Purell sold for over $40. A box of 16 masks went for $170. They could be had retail for $3 each before the coronavirus.The week-long bidding that ended Tuesday was hosted by the website Auctions Unlimited. The health-related products pulled in $154,000 in sales, according to Houston-based website owner Tim Worstell. He estimated that he personally made as much as $40,000 on the sales. Worstell would not publicly divulge the names of the buyers, and he identified the sellers only as “large companies.” He said the companies commissioned his website to sell masks, disinfectant wipes, cleaning solutions and hand sanitizer, all items in high demand as coronavirus spreads. Because the Texas attorney general issued a cease-and-desist order on March 20 to block the sales during a state of emergency, which was declared March 16 by Governor Greg Abbott, Worstell said the transactions couldn’t be completed without approval from law enforcement.

No Refunds: Costco Hoarders Discover They Can't Return Toilet Paper - Panic hoarders who rushed into Costco to buy years-worth of toilet paper are finding themselves out of luck when it comes to the big-box store's typically generous return policy. Those who have regrets after realizing that COVID-19 isn't a 'pooping disease' were met with signs at various Costco locations informing them that they won't be able to return all that toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizing wipes, water, rice and lysol they bought in anticipation of a societal collapse, according to brobible. lmao Costco basically saying y’all wanted to be extra, y’all gonna deal with your millions of toilet paper all over your house #sorrytammy pic.twitter.com/eCFhoiDp33— m (@capricorngirlyy) March 19, 2020   Enjoy your lifetime supply of toilet paper and wipes you crazy #hoarders! #Costco is not taking any more returns. Better start figuring out what you are gonna do with 10 bags of rice you bought! pic.twitter.com/z2U7tN7ru3 — Xyth Lord (@Xyth_Lord) March 19, 2020

Truckers Wary of New York Deliveries Create Headache for Grocers -- Delivering food to New York City’s supermarkets isn’t easy even in normal times. Now, it’s become a supply chain conundrum that’s testing the nerves of grocers, truckers and manufacturers alike. Some truckers are refusing to carry orders into the city and surrounding suburbs like New Rochelle that have been hard hit by the coronavirus, even as demand for groceries is double or triple normal levels as shoppers stockpile soup and other everyday goods. There is no evidence that food is growing scarce in the city. But one index, which measures loads of all types of goods destined for Brooklyn that were rejected by shippers, has tripled compared with the same time last year, reflecting carriers’ inability or unwillingness to haul loads into the epicenter of the outbreak. The White House’s call for all those leaving New York City to self-quarantine for 14 days has spooked and confused some drivers, according to people monitoring shipments, while delivery curfews and requests to register “essential employees” have created additional friction. Some warehouse operators are even insisting on taking truck drivers’ temperatures as they pull into depots. “Closing the gap between demand and supply is mostly a matter of trucks and distance,” said Phil Palin, a supply-chain resiliency expert who’s currently advising grocers. “Distance has been reduced by the evaporation of traffic congestion. But -- and this is a big but -- truck driver fears of contagion and confusion over government health guidance threaten the volume and velocity of grocery distribution.”

Kroger warehouse workers walk out in Memphis over coronavirus concerns - About 400 Kroger warehouse workers in Memphis walked off their jobs yesterday to protest mind-numbing work shifts of up to 96 hours a week and unsafe working conditions as COVID-19 spreads through the state of Tennessee. The warehouse workers left their jobs after a warehouse worker tested positive for COVID-19, but Kroger officials refused even to tell the workers what shift he had worked. Pressure had been brewing for some time as workers repeatedly complained of woefully insufficient safety measures. In a related development, The Hill reported yesterday that Instacart “shoppers” (the company’s term for its gig workforce) will stop accepting deliveries until Instacart provides “cleanliness products at no cost to workers, hazard pay of $5 per order and an extension and expansion of pay for workers affected by the coronavirus.” Instacart, founded in 2012, is an American technology company valued at nearly $8 billion which provides a same-day grocery pick-up and delivery services in the United States and Canada. Instacart is a prime example of the new “gig-economy” which provides temporary work, low wages, little in the way of benefits, no job security and big profits for the owners and stockholders The strike is set to begin on Monday, according to the Gig Workers Collective, which organized the action.

72% Of Americans Now Avoiding All Public Places- Gallup Poll - A new Gallup poll released Tuesday found that 72% of American adults are now practicing social distancing, including avoiding going into public places like stores and restaruants.Just last week even after Trump's March 13 national 'state of emergency' declaration, it was 54% that said at the time they were putting the same measures into place. The largest category answering in the affirmative in this newest Gallup survey is among those who say they are avoiding large crowds as well as mass transit, at a whopping 92%.And in what's already being felt as a stunning blow to the aviation industry which stands on the brink of perhaps temporarily shutting down altogether, 87% are avoiding all air and other travel involving crowded transit venues. More Americans are this week are even avoiding small gatherings among their own family and friends: at 68% of those surveyed this week compared to 46% last week. The data suggests the majority of the US public is implementing federal, state, and local guidelines related to social distancing, also as more and more cities and counties issue 'shelter in place' emergencies. According to NY Times numbers, at least 167 million people in 17 states, 18 counties, and 10 cities have been ordered by local or state authorities to stay home except for essential travel like going to the doctor or grocery store.

 U.S. Domestic Passenger Flights Could Virtually Shut Down, Voluntarily or by Government Order WSJ -Major U.S. airlines are drafting plans for a potential voluntary shutdown of virtually all passenger flights across the U.S., according to industry and federal officials, as government agencies also consider ordering such a move and the nation’s air-traffic control system continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus contagion.No final decisions have been made by the carriers or the White House, these officials said. As airlines struggle to keep aircraft flying with minimal passengers, various options are under consideration, these people said.But amid the quickly spreading pandemic and mandatory stay-at-home orders covering some 80 million U.S. residents, airline executives, pilot-union leaders and federal transportation officials said they increasingly view as inevitable further sharp reductions from already-decimated schedules in passenger flights.U.S. airlines have already eliminated the vast majority of international flying and have announced plans to cut back domestic flying by as much as 40%. Travelers are staying home at even greater rates. The Transportation Security Administration reported that passenger flow at its checkpoints was down more than 80% Sunday from the same day a year earlier.On Monday, thousands of  flights were canceled, in some cases because planes weren’t full enough to justify the trip, with passengers numbering in the single digits. Some planes that did take off have been emptier than ever before. For example, a flight between New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Washington DC had just three passengers. American Airlines GroupInc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. canceled over 40% of scheduled flights Monday, according to Flightaware.com, a flight tracking site. Some airline officials expect planes to be even emptier as the week goes on.Officials at Airlines for America, the leading trade association representing domestic carriers, didn’t immediately respond for comment.Before the pandemic, U.S. airlines operated more than 8.4 million flights annually. Airlines are preparing for the possibility that contagion-driven staffing emergencies at air-traffic control facilities could force the issue, making it impossible to continue operating in parts of the country.United States could become coronavirus epicenter: WHO -  (Reuters) - The United States has the potential to become the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic due to a “very large acceleration” in infections there, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.  The highly contagious respiratory virus has infected more than 42,000 people in the United States, prompting more governors to join states ordering Americans to stay at home. Over the past 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases worldwide were from Europe and the United States, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters. Of those, 40 percent were from the United States. Asked whether the United States could become the new epicenter, she said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential. We cannot say that is the case yet but it does have that potential.” “...They (the United States) have a very large outbreak and an outbreak that is increasing in intensity,” Harris added.

US airlines drafting plans for potential shutdown: report - U.S. airlines are drafting plans for a potential voluntary or government-ordered shutdown of passenger flights, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday night. Industry and federal officials told the Journal that no final decisions have been made by the carriers or the White House, while airlines currently struggle to operate with limited passengers. Officials also said other options were under consideration to prevent a shutdown, but the spreading pandemic has made the shut down seem more unavoidable to airline officials, pilot-union leaders and federal transportation officials, according to the Journal. The Federal Aviation Administration officials are concerned that the virus will spread among agency controllers and technicians as almost a dozen of traffic-control facilities have had to cease operations temporarily after positive cases. The U.S. airlines have already been hit financially from the virus as most international flights have been canceled and plans have been announced to reduce domestic flights by as much as 40 percent. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported an 80 percent drop in travelers Sunday compared to the same day last year. Carriers, like American Airlines and United Airlines, have been forced to cancel more than 40 percent of their flights Monday because of a lack of passengers, according to Flightaware.com. An industry official told the Journal that the airlines would “definitely prefer” if the government initiated a shutdown somewhat because they could use it as leverage during calls for federal aid. But President Trump and his advisers have been reportedly hesitant to issue an order to stop commercial flights partly due to the fact that these aircrafts also carry U.S. mail and essential cargo shipments. One option for the government to continue cargo shipments is to use portions of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which are commercial jets for the Pentagon to use during national emergencies. The fleet would need to be activated by the Pentagon or the White House.

Pigs At The Trough- Private Jet Industry Now Asking For Absurd Government Bailout - It's not the just wealthy commercial airline CEOs that have their hands out to the government, begging for bailouts as the coronavirus lockdown ravages their industry, but now also the private jet industry.  Yes, the private jet industry - which is run by, and caters almost exclusively to the wealthy - has been the latest pig to line up at the government trough for their share of freshly printed Venezuelan Bolivars U.S. dollars.  The National Business Aviation Association, which represents private jet companies and corporate jets, sent a letter to congressional leaders saying the industry is facing “increasing financial uncertainty” and that it should be bailed out, according to CNBC.  The letter stated: “Due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is currently no certainty as to when economic conditions will improve, which threatens the survival and prospects of thousands of general aviation businesses.” The NBAA claims that private jets support 1.2 million jobs and $247 billion in "economic impact", whatever the hell that means.  All the while, business has been booming for these carriers. According to CNBC:

  • Magellan Jets, a private jet charter company, said trip volume was up 70% in the first two weeks of March
  • VistaJet said flights are up 16% since the beginning of the year
  • PrivateFly touted the attraction of flying private during a health crisis and said revenues would be up
  • Wheels Up said that it is “prepared and have availability to service the uptick in demand we are seeing from individual and corporate members.”

The question then becomes: how do you sell a bailout of this industry to mom and pop on Main Street? The bailout of commercial airlines is being sold as a benefit to the public, once society restarts. But why do the rich - and those flying them around the world - need taxpayer money? Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic Policy said: “It’s hard to imagine anything worse. Putting up public money to support an industry that serves the rich would be hard to justify. It’s absurd.”

 Coronavirus Triggers Record Drops in U.S., European Business Activity – WSJ - The U.S. and Europe saw record declines in business activity in March, as economic activity slowed around the world due to measures aimed at containing the new coronavirus. Data firm IHS Markit said its composite purchasing managers index for the U.S.—an aggregate measure of activity in the manufacturing and services sectors—dropped to a seasonally adjusted 40.5 in March from 49.6 in February. That was a record low for the 10½-year-old series, which started after the 2007-2009 recession. The comparable index for the eurozone fell to 31.4 from 51.6 in February, its lowest level since the surveys began in July 1998. The surveys of purchasing managers—which have a good record of measuring economic activity—point to large drops in output and big job losses in some of the world’s largest economies. The surveys are the first globally comparable measures of activity to be released since widespread lockdowns by countries began. “That global recession will be felt in the second quarter, but we’re already in it now probably,” said Chris Williamson, IHS Markit’s chief business economist. “We’re going to see some absolutely horrific [gross domestic product] numbers coming through for the second quarter based on what these surveys are telling us for March,” he said, adding that the March declines in global PMI numbers “look like spreadsheet errors.” The U.S. services sector was particularly hard hit in March, with services PMI contracting at the fastest rate on record as restaurants, bars and hotels all bore the brunt of the social-distancing measures. U.S. manufacturing also dropped to 49.2. A level above 50 indicates growth in business activity, while a reading below that mark points to contraction. The March PMI numbers are “the foreshadowing of a much deeper and broader decline in manufacturing and service activity across the globe and in the U.S.,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM US LLP. The scope of the economic hit “really is going to depend on the evolution of efforts to contain the disease,” he added. The shock to service providers in particular has been immediate, while measures announced by governments and central banks to help businesses and support consumer demand will take time to have an effect. But even when they do, it is unlikely there will be a bounceback in activity until the lockdowns are lifted. Economists anticipate a rise in U.S. unemployment claims as the pandemic shuts down businesses.

Michigan issues statewide lockdown, exempting auto industry as “critical infrastructure” - Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a statewide stay-at-home order yesterday morning, as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread rapidly throughout the state. The three-week lockdown lasts until April 13 and took effect at midnight last night. The order, according to a press release, requires Michiganders to remain in their homes unless they are part of a “critical infrastructure workforce, engaged in an outdoor activity, or performing tasks necessary to the health and safety of themselves or their family, like going to the hospital or grocery store.” The announcement means that thirteen out of 50 US states have announced lockdowns in response to the pandemic. While Texas has yet to issue a statewide lockdown, the cities of Dallas, Austin and San Antonio have issued their own orders. The shutdown in Michigan comes after a rapid rise in confirmed cases throughout the state, from zero only two weeks ago to 1,328 cases and 15 deaths as of this writing. However, given the lack of testing and the atrocious level of social infrastructure in the state—especially in Detroit, the poorest large city in America—it is certain that the real total is many times higher. Whitmer’s order was long overdue. She has previously placed a ban only on large gatherings of more than 250 people, which exempted auto factories and other industrial sites employing thousands of workers. Michigan schools did not even close until March 16. The main factor in the delay was the overwhelming opposition of the major corporations doing business in the state to such an order, fearful of the impact it could have on their bottom line. As late as last Saturday, the heads of both the state and Detroit chambers of commerce issued statements “advising” the governor not to declare a lockdown. “We cannot risk a disruption in the supply chain or a break in the distribution cycle. In addition, many businesses have non-interruptible operations and those operations need to be protected as we move forward,” Michigan chamber CEO Rich Studley argued. Indifferent to the deaths and human suffering it would cause, there are growing calls from the corporate press, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, to restart production in industries as soon as possible in order to avoid denting the profits and share values of corporate America. President Trump, whose central preoccupation has been with the impact of the pandemic on the stock market, is reportedly mulling a lifting of restrictions to restore “normal” economic activity, a move which would expose untold numbers to infection and death.

March Vehicle Sales Forecast: 35% Year-over-year Decline - From Edmunds.com: New Vehicle Sales Drop in March to Close a Down First Quarter in 2020, Edmunds Forecasts:  The car shopping experts at Edmunds say that March will be a down month for the auto industry due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, forecasting that 1,044,805 new cars and trucks will be sold in the U.S. for an estimated seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 11.9 million. This reflects a 35.5% decrease in sales from March 2019 and a 23.4% decrease from February 2020.  … "The first two months of the year started off at a healthy sales pace, but the market took a dramatic turn in mid-March as more cities and states began to implement stay-at-home policies due to the coronavirus crisis, and consumers understandably shifted their focus to other things," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of insights. "The whole world is turned upside down right now, and the auto industry is unfortunately not immune to the wide-ranging economic impacts of this unprecedented pandemic."This graph shows actual sales from the BEA (Blue), and Edmunds forecast for March (Red). Note that the low during the great recession was 9.02 million SAAR in February 2009. With the sudden stop in activity, this forecast may be high - and sales will probably be lower in April.

 Headline Durable Goods Orders Up 1.2% in February - The Advance Report on Manufacturers’ Shipments, Inventories, and Orders released today gives us a first look at the latest durable goods numbers. Here is the Bureau's summary on new orders:New orders for manufactured durable goods in December increased $5.7 billion or 2.4 percent to $245.5 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up two of the last three months, followed a 3.1 percent November decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 0.1 percent. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 2.5 percent. Transportation equipment, up following three consecutive monthly decreases, drove the increase, $5.9 billion or 7.6 percent to $82.9 billion. Download full PDFThe latest new orders number at 1.2% month-over-month (MoM) was better than the Investing.com -0.8% estimate. The series is down 0.1% year-over-year (YoY). If we exclude transportation, "core" durable goods was down 0.6% MoM, which was worse than the Investing.comconsensus of -0.4%. The core measure is down 0.9% YoY. If we exclude both transportation and defense for an even more fundamental "core", the latest number is down 2.4% MoM and down 3.9% YoY. Core Capital Goods New Orders (nondefense capital goods used in the production of goods or services, excluding aircraft) is an important gauge of business spending, often referred to as Core Capex. It is down 0.8% MoM and down 0.6% YoY. For a look at the big picture and an understanding of the relative size of the major components, here is an area chart of Durable Goods New Orders minus Transportation and Defense with those two components stacked on top. We've also included a dotted line to show the relative size of Core Capex. The next chart shows the year-over-year percent change in Durable Goods. We've highlighted the value at recession starts and the latest value for this metric.

Durable-goods orders get big auto boost in February, but show early signs of coronavirus damage -  Orders for durable goods posted the biggest gain in February since last summer, but aside from a spike in demand for autos, the report also showed early signs of damage to the economy from the growing threat of the coronavirus. Orders for durable goods jumped 1.2% last month, mostly because of big increase in bookings for new cars and trucks. Bookings declined for most other products, suggesting that worries over the coronavirus were already taking a bite out of business. Excluding transportation, durable-goods orders dipped 0.6% in February, the government said Wednesday. Durable goods are products made to last at least three years. What happened: Orders rose nearly 2% for new cars and trucks, generating basically all of the increase in February. That was the largest gain in eight months. Bookings also rose for appliances and electrical components. Yet orders fell for airplanes, primary metals, fabricated-metal parts, machinery, computers and networking gear — almost everything else. A closely followed measure of business investment dropped 0.8%. Investment has been weak for a while and likely to tumble for at least the next few months as the nation struggles to contain the coronavirus. Big picture: The decline in orders in February for most products aside from autos might be a hint of what is to come. Orders and investment in most industries are expected to decline sharply if the U.S. sinks into recession as widely expected. Most economists don’t expect a recovery to begin until mid-summer at the earliest, but it will depend on how well the U.S. and governments around the world limit the viral outbreak. What they are saying? Orders for durable goods “will likely see sharper drops in the coming months as the bigger impacts of COVID-19 on the economy are felt,” said economist Andrew Grantham of CIBC Capital Markets.

Richmond Fed: "Fifth District manufacturing activity remained fairly flat in March" - From the Richmond Fed: Manufacturing activity remained fairly flat in March: Fifth District manufacturing activity remained fairly flat in March, according to the most recent survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. The composite index remained close to 0, rising from −2 in February to 2 in March.  Survey results suggested a drop in employment but continued growth in wages in recent weeks.  This survey was taken in the first half of March, and the impact of COVID-19 isn't apparent yet.

Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Declined Sharply" in March - From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Declined Sharply The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the March Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity declined sharply from a month ago, and expectations for future activity fell to levels last seen in early 2009.“Regional factory activity contracted sharply in March as firms were negatively impacted by COVID-19,” said Wilkerson. “Many firms indicated overall demand and sales have slowed dramatically, with capital investments being put on hold. Around 60 percent of manufacturers faced delayed payments from customers and 54 percent had concerns about cash availability.”...The month-over-month composite index was -17 in March, the lowest composite reading since April 2009, and down considerably from 5 in February and -1 in January. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. The last of the regional surveys for March will be released on Monday (Dallas Fed), and I expect the Texas region will be hit hard.

Philly Fed: "Nonmanufacturing firms reported a significant weakening in activity this month" - From the Phily Fed: March 2020 Nonmanufacturing Business Outlook Survey:  Note: Survey responses were collected from March 5 to March 19. Nonmanufacturing firms reported a significant weakening in regional nonmanufacturing activity this month, according to results from the Nonmanufacturing Business Outlook Survey. The survey’s indexes for general activity at the firm level, sales/revenues, new orders, and full-time employment all fell sharply and into negative territory this month, coinciding with developments related to the coronavirus. … The diffusion index for current general activity at the firm level fell sharply from 36.1 in February to -12.8 in March, its lowest reading since July 2011 … The full-time employment index fell 23 points to -1.7. This graph shows the Philly Fed Nonmanufacturing General Activity and Employment indexes.  Some of this survey was in early March, but it is clear the COVID-19 is having a significant on nonmanufacturing activity.

US Services Economy Collapses At Record Pace, Signal 5% GDP Plunge - Following disastrous PMI prints across Europe (and China last month), preliminary March US Manufacturing and Services data was expected to plunge notably into contraction (having already tumbled in February).. and they both did...

  • US Manufacturing PMI dropped to 49.2 (contraction) - a 127-month low - from 50.7 (dramatically better than the expected drop to 43.5 - thanks to the farcical 'bullishness' of longer supplier delivery times).
  • US Services PMI crashed to 39.1 from 49.4 - a record low.

Steep rates of manufacturing contraction were signalled for production and new orders, both of which fell to the greatest extent since 2009, with many firms linking this to the escalation of preventative measures following the outbreak of COVID-19. Some companies have reported having to shutdown and give refunds where orders could not be fulfilled in time.Driving the downturn in services output was a steep fall in new business. The decrease in sales was the quickest since data collection began in late-2009, as both domestic and foreign client demand weakened. Companies highlighted challenging conditions across the services sector, especially in travel and tourism and other consumer-facing industries It's Global...with the US Composite Index crashing to 40.5 - a record low...

 Coronavirus-Triggered Downturn Could Cost Five Million Jobs - The fallout from the coronavirus outbreak is expected to have a significant negative impact on U.S. economic prospects, with predictions emerging for losses of up to five million jobs this year and a drop in economic output of as much as $1.5 trillion.A recession is now all but certain, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of 34 economists, which projects a downturn that would last months at least, and would in some ways rival—and possibly even surpass—the severity of the 2007-09 slump triggered by the housing collapse and subprime loan debacle.“This shock is very big,” said Bruce Kasman, head of economic research at JPMorgan. “You are going to see in the next two months the consequences of the actions taken in terms of economic activity. That set of trade-offs is not really clear in policy makers’ minds right now.”Economic forecasts, which remained upbeat just two weeks ago, suddenly turned bleak as it became clear that a pandemic, one that started in Asia and spread to Europe, would now affect American life far more than originally understood.  The extent of the coming downturn remains unclear to many economists, given uncertainties stemming from an unknown trajectory of the pandemic, extreme volatility in the financial markets, restrictions on daily economic activityof unknown duration and a government response that is being adjusted every day and is likely to continue to change in the weeks and months ahead.Mr. Kasman’s current predictions are representative. He expects U.S. gross domestic product will fall by 1.8% this year. Before the outbreak, he had projected output to grow 1.5%. That would translate into $700 billion in lost output. Beyond those losses, “the rise in public-sector debt and destruction of human, and possibly physical, capital is important,” he said.The economy, Mr. Kasman believes, will lose between 7 million and 8 million jobs this spring, though some of those will likely come back if, as he expects, the economy rebounds in the second half of the year.Sung Won Sohn, a business economist at Loyola Marymount University, expects the coronavirus to cost $592 billion in output, after inflation, and a loss of nearly 5.2 million jobs in 2020, compared with his pre-virus forecast. Goldman Sachs projects U.S. output to fall 3.1% this year and unemployment to soar to 9% from the current 3.5%. Unemployment last peaked at 10% in October 2009, after the housing and financial collapse.

Unemployment Checks Delayed in Crisis - Americans are waiting anxiously for unemployment benefits as state unemployment systems adjust to record-high levels of claims in the wake of the new coronavirus.States say they are waiving waiting periods for accruing benefits and bulking up with staff to field calls and quickly process claims. But the unemployment-insurance system wasn’t designed to move as quickly as the coronavirus is knocking the U.S. labor market off course.“States are at a historically low level of administrative funding, but processing a historically high level of claims,” said Michele Evermore, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for lower-wage workers. “There are mechanisms to staff up quickly, but it’s never smooth, easy or perfect.” Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal estimated that 1.5 million new jobless claims were filed last week. The U.S. Labor Department will release a national compilation of claims on Thursday. The highest number of new claims on record is 695,000 filed in the week ended Oct. 2, 1982.Georgia’s Labor Department website tells applicants to expect to wait. “Due to an extremely high volume of unemployment claims filed as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, individuals may experience a delay in requesting weekly benefit payments,” the website said on Monday afternoon, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.Ohio’s call center and website to register for unemployment benefits experienced hiccups earlier on Monday due to high traffic.“This system was not built for a crisis,” said Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted at a press conference. “It was built to take care of what we could expect on a regular or even robust basis. But what we’re experiencing now is frankly unprecedented.” The delays come as other measures to put money in Americans’ pockets face setbacks. The Senate is negotiating on legislation that would provide direct payments to American households and expand how many weeks of unemployment insurance Americans can receive.

A few Comments on Weekly and Continued Unemployment Claims – McBride - On Thursday, the Department of Labor will release Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims.   The consensus is initial claims will increase to 750,000, but that is way too low. Based on early reporting from various states, initial weekly claims will probably be several million this week. The all time high for initial weekly unemployment claims, Seasonally Adjusted, was 695,000 in Oct 82. The high during the great recession was 665,000 in Mar 09.The previous record will be obliterated this week due to the sudden economic stop.The extremely high level of claims will probably continue for several weeks.    But it will be important to track Continued Claims too - since many of these people won't be returning to work for some time.  Here is a graph of continued claims since 1967.If we look at Hurricane Katrina in 2005, weekly claims jumped up immediately, and then declined fairly quickly back to normal levels - but continued claims stayed high for a few months (since it took some time for people in New Orleans and along the Gulf coast to return to work). This pandemic sudden stop is like Hurricane Katrina for unemployment claims, but all across the country. This week initial claims will skyrocket, and the following week continued claims will follow.   At the worst of the Great Recession, continued claims peaked at 6.635 million, but then steadily declined.    Over the next few weeks, continued claims will increase rapidly, and then will likely stay at that high level until the crisis abates.

U.S. Layoffs Likely Surged to Unprecedented Level This Past Week - An unparalleled number of Americans filed for unemployment benefits this week as the coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses and left many people without a job, economists say.State-level anecdotes suggest applications for unemployment benefits—a proxy for layoffs—could hit more than 2 million in next Thursday’s Labor Department report, the largest weekly increase in jobless claims and the highest level on record, according to a note from Goldman Sachs.A panel of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal projected that 875,000 new jobless claims would be filed for the week ending Saturday. That would easily exceed the record 695,000 claims filed in the week ended Oct. 2, 1982. Claims had been trending near a 50-year low for the past 12 months. In the week ended March 7, 211,000 new claims were filed. Last week, the figure rose to 281,000.States and localities have been ordering businesses in public places, such as restaurants and bars, to temporarily close to protect against the spread of new coronavirus, immediately hitting parts of the U.S. economy. A wave of workers rushing to claim unemployment benefits followed, and many states reported the largest increases in claims they have ever seen. Ohio released updated figures on Friday morning showing jobless claims rose to nearly 140,000 through Thursday, compared with about 5,000 for the same period last week. By noon Thursday, New York’s website to register for benefits had about 200,000 logins. The state’s Labor Department website is averaging more than 250,000 logins each day, a 400% increase over the normal average.

The coronavirus crisis led to a record-breaking spike in weekly unemployment insurance claims: An estimated 3.4 million workers filed for unemployment last week -A greater share of Americans filed for unemployment insurance in the week ending March 21 than in any prior week in American history, according to our analysis of news reports. Many states reported initial claims growth of over 1,000%. Our model predicts that 3.4 million Americans filed new claims for unemployment insurance this past week, although we believe that number could be as low as 3 million or could be substantially higher. This will dwarf every other week in history, as can be seen by comparing the projection against the trend in initial claims back to 1967 (Figure A).For scale, consider that 3.4 million Americans moving from employment to unemployment would raise the number of the unemployed from 5.7 million to 9.1 million. This alone would raise the unemployment rate by more than half, by 2 percentage points from 3.5% to 5.5%, moving back to 2015 levels in just one week. This spike represents 2.2% of all jobs in the economy. The largest monthly rise in the unemployment rate in American history was plus 1.3 percentage points in October 1949.To arrive at our estimate of 3.4 million newly unemployed workers over the last week, we collected news reports from March 15 to March 21 and applied a simple extrapolation to fill in estimates for those days and those states that were missing reports.Many state UI agencies reported partial information to the press over the course of the week. We gathered and harmonized the reported numbers to calculate an estimated full-week initial claims statistic for as many states as possible; we were able to do so for 35 states and the District of Columbia (see Table 1). This required extrapolating to a weekly number based on a few days of reported information, paying attention to the number of weekdays and weekend days included in each public report. These 35 states and the District of Columbia accounted for 78% of national claims over the prior four weeks. This implies a state growth rate relative to its average weekly initial claims over the prior four weeks among these states.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Increase to 3,283,000 - The DOL reported:In the week ending March 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 3,283,000, an increase of 3,001,000 from the previous week's revised level. This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series. The previous high was 695,000 in October of 1982. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 281,000 to 282,000. The 4-week moving average was 998,250, an increase of 765,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 232,250 to 232,500. The previous week was revised up. The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.  The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased to 998,250.This was much higher than the consensus forecast. This week initial claims skyrocketed, and next week continued claims will follow. The second graph shows seasonally adjust continued claims since 1967. At the worst of the Great Recession, continued claims peaked at 6.635 million, but then steadily declined. Over the next few weeks, continued claims will increase rapidly to a new record high, and then will likely stay at that high level until the crisis abates.

Jobless claims soar past 3 million to record - Americans displaced by the coronavirus crisis filed unemployment claims in record numbers last week, with the Labor Department reporting Thursday a surge to 3.28 million. The number shatters the Great Recession peak of 665,000 in March 2009 and the all-time mark of 695,000 in October 1982. The previous week, which reflected the period before the worst of the coronavirus hit, was 282,000, which was higher than expected at the time. Consensus estimates from economists surveyed by Dow Jones showed an expectation for 1.5 million new claims, though individual forecasts on Wall Street had been anticipating a much higher number. The surge comes amid a crippling slowdown brought on by the coronavirus crisis. The four-week moving average, which smooths out weekly distortions, was 1,731,000, an increase of 27,500 from the previous week’s revised average. Despite the news being even worse than expected, the maj or stock indexes opened more than 2% higher, wiping ut what had been sharp earlier losses. Businesses across the country have shut down amid a policy of social distancing aimed at keeping COVID-19′s growth in check. Individual states have reported websites crashing amid a rush to file. “We’ve known this number was coming for a week and a half,” said Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of the LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based employment agency. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. When you see a city like Las Vegas get shut down, I don’t know what other options there were than seeing a number like this.” Jobless claims are considered the quickest window into current economic conditions. Most data reports in recent weeks reflect periods before the worst of the coronavirus hit and have been showing the U.S. in relatively good shape heading into the crisis. “This is a unique situation. People need to understand, this is not a typical downturn,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said earlier Thursday on NBC’s “TODAY.”

Record Rise in Jobless Claims Halts Historic Run of Employment Growth  —A record 3.28 million workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the new coronavirus hit the U.S. economy, marking an abrupt end to the nation’s historic, decadelong run of job growth. The number of Americans filing for claims was nearly five times the previous record high. The surge was for the week ended March 21 and could rise further. Pennsylvania, Ohio and California were among 10 states reporting more than 100,000 claims, leaving unemployment systems overloaded.Millions of U.S. businesses have announced layoffs or furloughs, as their cash flows dry up. Several state and local authorities have ordered nonessential businesses to close in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, bringing the great American job machine to a sudden halt. Until March, U.S. employers added jobs for a record 113 straight months, causing payrolls to grow by 22 million. In the process, millions of people—including low-wage hourly laborers, disabled people, minorities, former inmates and others—found work. The unemployment rate, which was 3.5% in February, had been at levels not seen since the 1960s. Wages started to accelerate in the last two years after lagging during the early stages of the expansion that followed the 2007-09 recession.The strong labor market kept the U.S. economy humming for a decade—straight through a European debt crisis, Japan’s tsunami, a Chinese economic slowdown, a domestic manufacturing slump, volatile energy prices and a global trade war. And then, in a matter of days, it stopped.   Millions of Americans, already fearful the new coronavirus could infect them or their families, now have two new worries: When will the job machine start again? And can they hold out until it does? Much will depend on how long the virus crisis lasts and whether federal and state unemployment insurance programs can adapt quickly to fill the immense gaps building in household cash flows until the virus recedes.

States are projected to lose more jobs due to the coronavirus: 14 million jobs could be lost by summer - EPI Blog - Last week, we published a map showing the job losses in each state likely to occur over the coming months as businesses shutter in response to the social distancing measures necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. Sadly, our predictions were likely too optimistic. Expectations of how many jobs will ultimately be lost are rapidly evolving, with new forecasts from different macroeconomic analysts being released on an almost daily basis. As new data and projections become available, EPI is updating our estimates of the number of jobs nationally, and by state, that the economy is likely to lose in the coming months. Our best guess at this point is that the national economy could lose 14 million jobs by summer 2020. These estimates assume $1 trillion in fiscal stimulus—in other words, even with $1 trillion in stimulus, the job losses will be enormous. EPI estimates we will need at least $2.1 trillion in federal stimulus through 2020 to restore the country to reasonable economic health.. Congress is debating an economic stimulus package around $2 trillion, and if it is targeted enough, it could help mitigate some of these losses. Yet even with these measures, many people will still need to remain out of work, potentially for months, in order to stop the virus’s spread. In addition to federal action, lawmakers at the state and local level must do everything they can to ensure that these workers and their families do not suffer economically during this time. As with our previous post, the map in Figure A shows how the projected 14 million jobs lost nationally are likely to be distributed across the states. The national job losses are distributed in proportion to the average of each state’s share of total national private sector employment and each state’s share of national retail, leisure, and hospitality employment. We give added weight to these sectors as they are likely to be disproportionately affected by the social distancing measures that are needed to slow this pandemic. States like Nevada, Montana, and Hawaii are projected to lose the highest percentage of their employment because a large amount of their workforce is employed in the leisure, hospitality, and retail sectors.

Trump Administration Asks States To Bury Unemployment Claim Figures - The Trump administration’s Labor Department sent an email to state officials this week asking them to report new unemployment claims only in “generalities” to avoid spooking financial markets, The New York Times reported.The email on Wednesday asked state labor authorities to only “provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase)” until the Labor Department releases the total number of national claims next Thursday. “States should not provide numeric values to the public,” Gay Gilbert, the administrator of the department’s Office of Employment Insurance, wrote in the email shared with the Times. The message noted that the figures are closely tracked by financial markets judging the strength of the economy.Unemployment claims have been skyrocketing as thousands are laid off from jobs amid the spread of coronavirus. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly warned senators that unemployment during the pandemic could hit 20% without a financial rescue package.Georgia did not release exact figures. State Labor Department spokeswoman Kersha Cartwright told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the state was not yet ready to reveal specific numbers — though she did not mention the memo.   New claims were so numerous that the state’s unemployment website was clogged, said Cartwright, adding: “We are seeing as many claims filed in a day as we usually see in a week.”

Ohio stops daily reporting of new unemployment claims at request of Trump administration - Ohio will no longer release its growing unemployment claim numbers on a daily basis as the economy slumps through the COVID-19 outbreak after the Trump administration told states to hold the statistics for weekly reports. Last week, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported that claims for unemployment filed between Sunday and Thursday had reached nearly 140,000, up from fewer than 5,000 during the same period a week earlier.

CVS, Walmart, and 14 other 'essential' businesses that are desperate for workers right now - As retailers around the nation shut their doors in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, "essential" businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies are seeking support to accommodate overwhelming demand. Companies including Kroger, Dollar General, and Amazon have listed thousands of job openings for sales associates, distribution workers, and delivery drivers, among others. The jobs — many of which are available immediately and require no background experience — are meant to alleviate overrun stores and warehouses dealing with an influx of orders from panicked Americans stocking up on items like canned goods and toilet paper. The open positions also come as many workers find themselves suddenly without jobs, in some cases without pay and benefits, as a spate of stores close indefinitely. According to the Economic Policy Institute, an estimated three million jobs will be eliminated by this summer alone as a result of the economic impact of the coronavirus. Other figures from IHS Markit show that the US unemployment rate is on track to nearly double from 3.5% in February to 6% by mid-2021. As the country braces itself for a possible recession, the economic turbulence is also exposing a lack of social safety net for many workers who can't afford to be out of work. On social media, a rash of recently laid-off employees have voiced their concerns, leading to a growing number of posts on job openings. While policy changes to support these workers may be far off, in the short term, see below for a list of companies seeking immediate employment. Instacart announced on March 23 that it would hire 300,000 full-service shoppers in the next three months to manage increased demand. According to Instacart, in the past week alone the company's order volume increased by 150% in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the US. The company said hiring will be prioritized in states currently experiencing the highest demand, including California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, Georgia, and Ohio. 

Walmart is raising the minimum wage for entry level workers at its ecommerce warehouses as it grapples with a surge in online orders - Walmart Inc said on Monday it has temporarily raised entry wages for workers in its e-commerce warehouses by $2, following similar moves by rivals, as it attempts to manage a shopping surge brought about by the coronavirus outbreak. Walmart said the hike will increase entry wages for workers in e-commerce fulfillment centers or warehouses to between $15 and $19 an hour effective immediately through Memorial Day, a holiday in the United States that falls on May 25 this year. The world's largest retailer, which employs 1.5 million people in the United States, has struggled to keep store shelves stocked and fulfill online orders amid panic-buying by shoppers spooked by the outbreak. The virus has infected over 32,000 people in the United States leading to more than 415 deaths, showed a Reuters tally. Last week, Walmart said it would pay special cash bonuses totaling $550 million to hourly staff and hire 150,000 temporary workers through the end of May in its stores and fulfillment centers. Workers in distribution centers, which primarily help stock stores, start at $17 to $18 an hour. The starting wage for store workers in most locations remains $11 an hour, with the average wage among full-time hourly workers at $14.26. Rivals such as Amazon.com Inc and Target Corp have also boosted pay and gone on a hiring spree to manage a surge in orders while many clothing and mall-based retailers have been forced to shut stores. Amazon hiked entry wages to $17 from $15 and announced plans to hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers in the United States. On Saturday, it said it would raise overtime pay for associates working in its U.S. warehouses. Target said last week it would raise its minimum wage by $2 an hour for store and distribution center workers through May 2. Walmart officials said on Thursday they had reached out to industry groups representing hotels and restaurants, offering to hire staff who have recently lost their jobs due to the virus-induced slowdown in tourism and catering.

 NYC Cuts Subway Service By A Quarter After Ridership Plummets 87% --In an extremely rare move considering it's managed to stay operational in its over century of existence, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will begin to cut services starting Wednesday after the coronavirus pandemic has seen ridership plummet 87% compared to the same day last year. The New York Times reports the city is cutting bus and commuter rail services as well, in total slashing public transport by at least 25%. This is a stunning drop of nearly 4.8 million riders.In normal times the city's famous subway system sees about 5.5 million people ride each weekday, but even with the plummeting numbers and with more commuters opting for more 'social distancing' friendly means like bicycles or walking, the MTA has struggled with personnel shortages as well amid the crisis.  The NY Times reports: Personnel shortages forced the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees subways, buses and two commuter rails, to temporarily eliminate service on three subway lines: the B, the W and the Z. So far, 52 M.T.A. workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said, and worker shortages have caused around 800 service delays.The MTA began mulling the scale-back of operations starting two weeks ago as at that moment around the time of Trump's 'national emergency' declaration there was a noticeable 20% drop in ridership as New Yorkers sought to increasingly avoid crowds. MTA recently tried to assure the public that the trains "remain safe" but still recommended for those with underlying health issues, "If you can get around without riding the subway, do it."

Florida Man Faces Five Years For Stealing 66 Rolls Of Toilet Paper --It is truly a crime for our times...  In Orlando, Florida, Angel Hernandezcinto, 31, has been arrested for allegedly stealing 66 rolls of toilet paper from a hotel — something that could constitute a bizarre new form of a crime of passion in the coronavirus pandemic. However, the rolls are valued at 99 cents each, meaning that this master crime amounted to around $65.Yet, it could be punished with up to five years in prison. Another Florida man is being held on $5000 bond for stealing a single roll of toilet paper.Thefts of short supplies in the outbreak have become increasingly common and increasingly the focus of police who seem to be trying to deter such crimes with enhanced charges.According to Fox 35 Orlando, a security guard for the Marriott Hotel in Orlando saw Hernandezcinto, who is reportedly part of the cleaning crew at the hotel, pushing a trash can and bag inside his van. When he looked inside, he saw the toilet paper.Police say that Hernandezcinto said that it was for a poor woman that he knows. He was charged with theft from a public lodging establishment.If anything, he was thinking small. In North Carolina, police have seized a stolen truck with 18,000 pounds of toilet paper.Nevertheless, this is a felony in the third degree which is punishable with up to five years incarceration. What is curious is that the provision does not have a threshold amount to qualify for a felony charge:

 “I Want to See my Child.” Juvenile Lockups Cut Visits Over COVID-19 Fears Ophelia Davis, of Columbia, South Carolina, says she doesn't know if she'll see her grandson again. That's not just because she's in the demographic most vulnerable to the coronavirus—she's 67, has an autoimmune disease and is currently struggling with a cough that she thinks is just the pollen. It's also that her grandson is in juvenile detention, and as has been happening across the country, the jail where he's confined has indefinitely ended all visits between families and their children.Davis's grandson was 14 when he was arrested late last year for allegedly participating in a crime with a group of boys she had warned him to avoid. He was sent to the juvenile detention center in Columbia, notorious for its violence. Both the elder Davis as well as the teen's father, Kevin Davis, worried about his safety.But at least they could visit him, see his face, see if he was hurt, tell him in person that they loved him. Now there's the coronavirus, and they cannot."There's just nothing we can do," said Davis, the father. "I get one of those parent intuitions, an intuition that he's worried and upset. But there is just nothing that we can do."In an effort to slow the advance of coronavirus into jails and prisons—where it could spread like wildfire given these facilities' confined spaces, poor sanitation and often inadequate medical care—corrections agencies nationwide have been shutting down family visits, putting inmates who might have been exposed to the disease on lockdown and canceling educational and rehabilitative programs.These measures might seem less necessary in juvenile facilities, because children are at lower risk of dying from the virus than the rapidly aging population of adult prisons. But they can still spread it to jail staff—and teens in the justice system are also more likely to have underlying conditions like H.I.V. and drug addictions that make them more susceptible to serious illness than others their age.Then there's the emotional toll of being a child already in isolation, isolated even further. In the New Orleans jail, teenagers ask constantly about the health of staff members who are no longer coming in to work, says Christy Sampson-Kelly, director of schools for the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings, which runs a school there. They are also anxious about their court cases, most of which have been delayed, potentially leaving them to sit in jail longer.

Fort Worth Hospital Sees Spike in Severe Child Abuse Cases Over Last Week - NBC Doctors at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth say stress from the coronavirus pandemic may be linked to the six cases of child abuse they saw this week, one resulting in death. Dr. Jayme Coffman, medical director of the CARE team at Cook Children’s, said all six cases were related to physical abuse. T “Thursday night, we had one child admitted with unfortunately, life-threatening injuries, which they succumbed to, as well as four other children in the emergency department at the same time who were treated and released,” Coffman said. “It was like, we have to reach out to the community.” Coffman said all of the children were 6 years old or younger. Though she said they could not say with full certainty the impacts of COVID-19 motivated the abuse, “it’s hard to think that it’s just coincidental”. “There’s no way for us to directly link that, but that’s the concern – are these families under more stress related to financial issues, whether it’s lost jobs or concerns for their jobs?” she said. “We also saw similar types of things happen during the recession where, in our trauma department, the most common cause of trauma death in children was motor vehicle collisions. During the recession, that changed to abusive head trauma, and I don’t want to see that again.” “One thing we know is that educators, our school professionals are the largest group of people who report suspected child abuse and that makes sense. They’re usually with kids a good portion of the day,” McMillon said. “Now that kids are not in school, they’re at home – a lot of times, they don’t have that, what we call a trusted adult, to maybe tell about what’s going on.” McMillon said one of the crucial things parents or caretakers should keep in mind if they are stressed is to not hesitate to ask for help. “I think, too, if you’re feeling really stressed and really feeling anger towards your kids – it’s OK, as long as they’re in a safe place, right? Kind of a safe spot in the house walk away and calm down,” she said. “It’s OK to leave your child if they’re crying or something, if you feel like you’re at wit’s end.”

 US officials use economic fallout from pandemic to slash school funding - At least 46 states and the District of Columbia in the United States have completely closed schools due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting 54.5 million students. While the closures are necessary to slow the spread of the deadly disease, students are suffering from the loss of social interaction and access to counselors, nurses and a consistent food supply. Some 22 million low-income students receive free or reduced cost breakfasts, lunches and in some cases dinners during the school year through a federal program run by the US Department of Agriculture. The school meals are the second largest federal antihunger program behind the government’s food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. A recent survey of directors of meal programs by the School Nutrition Association indicates that over 90 percent are concerned about students missing meals during the school closures. They are also concerned about the financial impact on their meal programs, which depend on cafeteria sales. Government reimbursements for the recorded number of students will be more difficult to collect during the closures. Due to the school closures and lockdown orders, the country’s three largest districts in the US—New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago—along with urban and rural districts across the country have been forced to improvise using whatever resources are available to distribute meals as well as learning packets. In New York City, with 1.1 million students, parents are being directed to 400 centers where they can pick up three meals from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Roughly three-quarters of New York’s students qualify for free or reduced price school breakfasts and lunches. “Some schools haven’t even been able to figure out how to contact a significant percentage of the kids, never mind support those who are in real need, with their parents quarantined and losing their jobs.Districts are implementing e-learning programs that are chaotic and unprepared. Students will struggle to receive the online instruction because of the impact of social inequality, including access to computers and an internet connection. Where there are restrictions against social gathering, students will not be able to go to libraries or fast food restaurants to access a Wi-Fi network. In addition, students with special needs will not be able to get instruction from trained special education teachers.Last week, Education Week published an article titled, “Districts Brace for Crash in State K-12 Revenue Due to Coronavirus,” which detailed plans being made to cut school district funding, particularly districts with low property values and tax revenues that are least able to afford it. “School districts should brace for a precipitous drop in state K-12 aid next year because of the coronavirus’s widespread impact on the economy—and they should start preparing now, funding experts warn,” the article states.

It's more important than ever that teachers influence support for public education - As schools around the country close in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the implications of this strategy are only beginning to take shape. Unequal access to learning will be exacerbated as the digital divide makes it difficult to impossible for many students to continue in school. Younger students don’t have the skills to work independently, putting parents and caregivers in the position of taking over for teachers with homeschooling. Fault lines are bound to open as the work of school shifts home and pressure increases on families and workplaces. The lack of consensus on how long school closures should continue and whether they are the best strategy likely will intensify disagreements over the role of school in educating and caring for children. Inevitably these questions and conflicts will affect public perception of teachers and the work they do. This needs to be an urgent concern especially for public school teachers, staff and their allies. Labor tensions are already surfacing. .Applications for unemployment benefits are rising and many predict much worse to come.  As financial pressures increase, ensuring support for spending on public education is more important than ever. The general public already has little idea of teachers’ work; schools are called "black boxes" because so little information about what happens there reaches beyond the building. The more people feel they are doing teachers’ work, the more they may question teachers’ role in responding to the current crisis. Current news coverage has focused mostly on teacher pay. As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, failing to step in and ensure everyone knows the work teachers are doing and the support school staff are offering will be a serious mistake.  From 2018 on, striking K-12 public school teachers in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland, and across Kentucky and West Virginia demanded, and won, smaller class sizes, more resources for students including nurses, librarians, and counselors, a living wage for staff, and limits on charter schools. Teachers continue to push for affordable housing for themselves and their students, some of whom are homeless, and an end to school closures. By striking, teachers and staff forced a public conversation about these fundamental social issues, each of which remains urgent during the upheaval caused by COVID-19. The bottom line is that the teacher's voice is most often heard on the picket line, which limits the opportunity to influence education policy. Recent innovative labor practices and more holistic vision than typically characterizes strikes should have positioned teachers as leading voices in policy solutions and advocates for children, but this didn’t happen. Instead, coverage of the many teachers' strikes has primed a public conversation pitting teachers against “the rest of us.”

A 36-year-old New York City principal is the first known public school staff member to die from the new coronavirus  A New York City principal died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, local news outlets reported on Monday. Dezann Romain, principal of Brownsville's Brooklyn Democracy Academy, was 36 years old and is the first known public school staff member to die from the new coronavirus, Chalkbeat reported. The academy is a transfer school for students who struggle in traditional high school.  Chalkbeat reported that city officials still did not say when they found out the principal was infected and what they did to inform others at the school. New York City stopped informing school members if there was a coronavirus infection in their communities, Chalkbeat added.

Penn stole our senior year over the common cold - The UPenn Statesman --Our alma mater’s response to coronavirus is officially over-the-top. I was willing to look the other way until the anal-retentive cancellation craze culminated in robbing us of the only senior year we’ll ever have.In case you missed it, epidemiological events since January have proven President Trumpwildly correct. Correct to distrust supply chains that rely on volatile China for stability, correct to peg foul-playing Xi Jinping as a threat to the global economy, correct to lock down control of national borders.Here we are in no-man’s land again. “Trump the victor” territory again.Ivy League administrators reacted by pulling out their probably-faux-blonde hair—it hurt less than seeing Bad Orange Man get it right for the umpteenth time—and cancelling literally everything.NCAA entry tournament? Yale (men) and Princeton (women) each crowned without a fight.Classes, extracurriculars, service opportunities, guest lectures for intellectual enrichment? Cancelled; cancelled and a half; double cancelled; maybe next year.All of this would be nothing to me. Water under the bridge, just another hypersensitive overreaction from the hippie-millennial coalition that has long colluded to fragilize my classmates and me, one last shrill email to neglect before we get to walk our campus one last triumphant time.That is, if our beloved university had not just ripped senior year right out from under our feet.President Gutmann, Provost Pritchett, Dr. Dubé, and company have contacted us via email—yes, another coronavirus update message—to share their decision to extend spring break by a week, discourage cavorting about campus or really visiting the neighborhood at all, suspend university-related social engagements, and push all classes online until the end of the semester. No last walks to class, whistling down Locust Walk on an unseasonably warm spring morning. No last chance to get bombarded by Mask and Wig flyers, no last chance to turn down the weird Yoga people trying to sell us the Bhagavad Gita (Have you ever tried meditation?), no last chance to step defiantly on the Compass before our last exams in our last classes at Penn. No Final Toast on Hey Day, no last Spring Fling, probably no Walnut Walk—maybe no Senior Week at all. Will we even get to walk in graduation? (Edit: That’s a “nope” followed rapidly by a “please attend a substitute ceremony over 2020 Alumni Weekend,” which may or may not actually occur within the calendar year.)

"If I Get Corona, I Get Corona": Deniers & Disbelievers Choose To Party Until The End - As cities across the nation began going into lockdown last week and millions of Americans started self-isolating, we brought your attention to the lascivious scenes of beer-guzzling thong-clad coeds and self-styled 'invincible' frat bros swarming the remainder of open beaches throughout Florida, Texas and the south who partied right up to the moment some beach towns began closing down on their 'extended' Spring Break as universities went to online-only classes.So who would have have thought more and more universities across the country would days later begin seeing local reports like this? Five University of Tampa students are recovering after testing positive for COVID-19 during spring break, the school said.The university said the students were traveling together and with other UT students during spring break before testing positive. The school didn’t say where they went during their break or if they lived on or off campus.At the end of this chaotic week of a flood of unprecedented headlines as Covid-19 infection rates rise exponentially in the United States tracking with virus-devastated Italy numbers — The New York Times has this aptly titled story: Deniers and Disbelievers: ‘If I Get Corona, I Get Corona.’The story begins: They were the defiers and the disbelievers. They were those eager to flout authority or those afflicted with cabin fever, if not Covid-19. They were the officials crowded on the podiu m of the White House briefing room, doing not as they say.They were all people who dismissed the calls for isolation, seeing more reward than risk in gathering. They conflated confidence with immunity. As in other times of national crisis, they exposed the relationship between individuals and society and our responsibility to others.“If I get corona, I get corona,” a reveler in Florida said in a widely-shared television interview. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.”

Florida university announces 5 spring breakers tested positive for coronavirus - The University of Tampa in Florida announced at least five students have tested positive for coronavirus after traveling with other students on a spring break trip."UT has been notified that five UT students, traveling together and with other UT students during Spring Break, have tested positive for COVID-19," the university announced over the weekend. "We sincerely wish our students, and any others who may be affected, a full and rapid recovery." The University of Tampa, like numerous other schools across the country, moved all of its classes online earlier this month, but resident halls are still open and some students are still in close contact. The multiple diagnoses come as spring breakers flocking to Florida beaches have sparked a backlash, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads and people are urged to social distance and to stay at home.A recent video released by CBS News, for example, showed a number of spring breakers in Miami, Fla., downplaying concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak and sparked viral criticism online. “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying,” one person said in the video. “I’ve been waiting, we’ve been waiting for Miami spring break for a while. About two months we’ve had this trip planned, two, three months, and we’re just out here to having a good time.”

How novel coronavirus is affecting college students’ access to medical care -When colleges nationwide canceled in-person classes and closed dorms for the semester, thousands of college students like me moved away from our campuses. Like most full-time students with university-sponsored coverage, my health insurance is primarily intended to let me access care from on-campus providers during the academic year. So how will moving away from campus affect college students’ access to needed medical care during this pandemic? In the context of a growing pandemic that affects people of all ages, the costs associated with limited health insurance coverage could discourage displaced students from accessing needed care, especially those from low-income and middle-income families. Many university-sponsored health insurance plans impose high out-of-network costs, meaning that accessing even vitally-necessary care could pose a serious financial burden for low-income students. I’m no longer living in university housing, so my former primary care doctor is not in my insurance network. This means that I would pay 30% of the cost out of pocket for a visit to my primary care physician or an out-of-network hospital. That could easily cost thousands of dollars. Financial disincentives to access care like this, especially now, are a public health concern, but I can’t seem to find a single article discussing this potential disaster. I’m not overly worried about paying for my own care. I come from a middle-class family (my parents are teachers), I’m young, and I’m fairly healthy. For lower-income students that don’t qualify for Medicaid, though, paying 30% of a hospital bill would likely prove impossible. It could lead to bankruptcy. Needing hospital care is not much of a choice, but low-income students in need of care could soon be forced to choose between receiving life-saving treatment or paying rent. Even as someone from a middle-class family, paying up to my yearly out-of-pocket maximum of $6,350 for a prolonged hospital stay could put my family into dire financial straits. While COVID-19 disproportionately impacts older people, college students are not immune to the virus. According to the CDC’s most recent data, 20% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were between 20 and 44 years old. College students can still be at high risk for severe complications from the virus if they have diabetes, severe asthma, or are otherwise immunocompromised. Even otherwise young and healthy people can become severely ill or die from COVID-19.

Columbia University graduate workers overwhelmingly authorize strike - Graduate workers at Columbia University, an Ivy League university in New York City, voted by 96 percent to authorize a possible strike after their no-strike agreement expires on April 6. The vote, organized by the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers (GWC-UAW), was held March 2-13 and the results were announced March 19. Of those who voted, 1,833 graduate workers supported authorizing a strike and 77 opposed. Due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the vote was held partially online. The university has moved to all-online classes, with instruction resuming March 26 after spring break was extended to give faculty and students additional time to adjust. GWC members include teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs). As Columbia has paused all research not associated with combating the pandemic, TAs are the main contingent that could strike upon expiration of the no-strike clause. While graduate workers cannot physically assemble, they could still refuse to teach courses online and grade work. However, the transition to online instruction, along with the mandatory pass/fail grading scheme, may make it easier for the university to force professors to scab on their TAs.

Factsheet: Cancel Federal Student Loans to Provide Short and Long-Term Stimulus Amid Pandemic - Americans for Financial Reform - In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating economic impact, Americans for Financial Reform calls on Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to use their authority to cancel federal student loan debt. In the short term, the Department should act with urgency to end any offsets of tax refunds and immediately halt wage garnishment for federal student loans. The Department and Congress should also consider making principal and interest payments on outstanding federal student loans. Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, federal student loan defaults had increased nearly 14% from federal fiscal year 2018 to 2019. This works out to approximately one default every 26 seconds. Labor shocks like those the pandemic are likely to cause will undoubtedly increase federal student loan defaults. The consequences for borrowers in default on federal student loans are punitive and severe, with tax refunds seized and wages garnished. Cancelling debt would be a powerful and efficient way to immediately relieve pressure on distressed borrowers, boost consumer spending at a time when the economy is contracting, and reduce hardship on people who lose income because of the pandemic and efforts to fight its spread.  Cancelling federal student debt would provide short-term stimulus:

  • Instead of wages being garnished for student loans, borrowers would pass the savings right back into the economy by spending to meet day-to-day needs and paying other bills.  A Brandeis University report showsthat debt cancellation would free up several hundred dollars each month for consumption and investment that is currently going to interest payments.
  • Research also shows that federal student debt cancellation increases borrowers income by about $3000 over a three year period.

In the medium-term, canceling student debt can also soften the blow of recession, as student debt cancellation has many stimulative effects.  Cancelling federal student debt also provides long and medium-term benefits:

  • The Levy Institute has estimated that student debt cancellation would boost GDP by up to $108 billion a year, and add up to 1.5 million jobs per year, over a ten year period. 
  • Moody’s Investors Service has said “In the near term, we would expect student loan debt cancellation to yield a tax-cut-like stimulus to economic activity.”

The Secretary of Education has the authority, under the Higher Education Act, to compromise and modify student debt. Student debt cancellation would provide relief for low-income Americans who may otherwise have trouble paying medical or housing bills, and for anyone whose income is affected by the crisis. Cancelling student debt would be a powerful tool to mitigate the impact of the Coronavirus crisis on individuals, families, communities and the broader economy. The government should swiftly take action to use it.

The Stimulus Fails Student Borrowers. Congress Must Cancel Their Debt. – Alexis Goldstein - Just before midnight on Wednesday, the Senate passed the long-negotiated $2 trillion stimulus package. The theme of the stimulus overall seems to be that every win for ordinary people is paired with far more wins for companies. And while the package is imaginative when it comes to enormous loan funds for big businesses with few conditions, for the 43 million federal student loan borrowers in the United States, the relief is severely inadequate. There is cash in the bill for colleges and universities, but no federal student loan cancellation for borrowers who attended those schools in the past. In other words, colleges got bailed out, but alumni got sold out. The bill creates a $14.25 billion higher education emergency relief fund for institutions that were not completely online prior to the coronavirus emergency. Thankfully, schools must use at least half of the funds on its students: for food, housing, health care or other expenses. But the rest of the funds lack any bans on using them for executive bonuses or advertising and marketing. And that’s a real problem since for-profit colleges that were not completely online prior to the pandemic can also access these funds. For-profit colleges are infamous for their horrible student outcomes, series of bankrupt institutions, piles of lawsuits and their targeting of people hardest hit by the last financial crisis. Despite this, their CEOs often make millions, and they spend enormous sums on advertising — and now, some of these schools may use the emergency relief funds to do so.Contrast this freewheeling approach toward schools with the relief given to students by the bill. The most significant relief is a six-month suspension (through September 30) on some, but not all, federal student loans. According to 2020 data from the National Student Loan Data System, nearly 2 million Perkins borrowers and over 7 million with commercially held or guaranty agency-held FFEL loans will be left out of stimulus relief. For those who are eligible, interest will not accumulate on these federal student loans during those six months (throughSeptember 30), and there will be no negative reporting to credit reporting agencies during that time, either. But borrowers’ principal will remain the same — there is no student debt cancellation included in the bill.One serious problem with this bill is that it doesn’t apply to all federal student loan borrowers, but only those with loans held by the federal government. Most borrowers don’t know what kind of loans they have, but there are several types. Those who borrowed after 2010 will have a Federal Direct Loan, which is held by the federal government. But those with loans prior to that may have a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL). Some of these are held by the government, but some are held by private companies. Those borrowers with FFEL loans that are privately held will not be eligible for any of the relief: not the six months of suspended payments, nor the waiving of interest, nor the stop on debt collection and wage garnishments. This is going to create an enormous amount of confusion for many student borrowers with older loans, and it will seem unfair and arbitrary. Worse still, it’s coming at a time when borrowers are having extraordinary trouble even reaching their servicers, in part due to them closing some call centers or reducing hours — so those seeking clarity may have trouble finding it from the companies the Department of Education pays to help them.

Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report | CDC --Nationally, the percent of laboratory specimens testing positive for influenza at clinical laboratories continued to decrease while ILI activity continued to increase. More people are seeking care for respiratory illness due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally, influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses are the most commonly reported influenza viruses this season. Previously, influenza B/Victoria viruses predominated nationally. Laboratory confirmed influenza-associated hospitalization rates for the U.S. population overall are higher than most recent seasons and rates for children 0-4 years and adults 18-49 years are the highest CDC has on record for these age groups, surpassing rates reported during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Hospitalization rates for school-aged children (5-17 years) are higher than any recent regular season but remain lower than rates experienced by this age group during the pandemic. Pneumonia and influenza mortality levels have been low, but 155 influenza-associated deaths in children have been reported so far this season. This number is higher than recorded at the same time in every season since reporting began in 2004-05, except for the 2009 pandemic. CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 39 million flu illnesses, 400,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths from flu. Antiviral medications are an important adjunct to flu vaccine in the control of influenza. Almost all (>99%) of the influenza viruses tested this season are susceptible to the four FDA-approved influenza antiviral medications recommended for use in the U.S. this season.

US faces blood shortage as donation sites shutter - As the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the US, a dangerous blood shortage threatens to create another public health crisis – with one medical director warning: “This could kill our patients.” Coronavirus control methods mandate social distancing that has ranged from banning in-person seating in restaurants to closing schools to issuing shelter-in-place orders. Many places where blood donation might take place – such as campuses and libraries – are presently shuttered. The result has been a disaster for blood donation as the medical sector finds its blood supplies running out.  The American Red Cross said that as of 19 March, more than 5,000 of its blood drives were canceled across the US over coronavirus concerns – resulting in approximately 170,000 fewer donations. More than 80% of donated blood collected from the Red Cross is from drives at places closed for social distancing: workplaces, schools, and college campuses.

Here’s What We Know About Ibuprofen and COVID-19 - The World Health Organization (WHO) has changed its stance on taking ibuprofen if you have COVID-19, but people are still scratching their heads over what they should take if or when they contract the virus.After previously announcing that people with the virus shouldn't take ibuprofen to treat pain and fever, theWHO now says they don't advise against it. The flip-flopping has a lot of people confused — especially those stocking up on medication in anticipation of getting the virus.Dr. Otto O. Yang, a professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told Healthline there's no evidence that ibuprofen causes worsening of COVID-19, "although there is circulating misinformation to that effect."The concern began after a study in The Lancet stated that ibuprofen boosts the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which may facilitate and worsen COVID-19. As a result, WHO originally warned most patients to stick with acetaminophen, which is also known as paracetamol or Tylenol.Patients likely have increased ACE2 expression if they're treated with ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II type I receptor blockers (ARBs), or thiazolidinediones, the report noted. Those drugs are commonly taken by those with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Ibuprofen can also increase ACE2, the study noted.The notion that anti-inflammatory drugs increase the risk of complications during fever or infection is "mostly theoretical," Yang said.Medical experts debate whether or not reducing the inflammation that causes fever and muscle ache actually lowers the effectiveness of the immune response. On the flip side, patients who have worse symptoms may be more likely to take ibuprofen, and their outcome may have nothing to do with the medication itself."There are some clinical observations of small numbers of patients that suggest ibuprofen could slow recoveryTrusted Source from bacterial pneumonias or make some viral infections like chickenpox more severe, but these aren't careful prospective scientific studies," Yang said. "Other publications have even argued that ibuprofen can be helpful in lung infectionsTrusted Source by reducing the amount of inflammation, which may be damaging to the lung," he added.

Treatment Prospects for COVID-19 - Given that the first cases of COVID-19 emerged less than four months ago, the FDA has not yet approved any drug to specifically treat the novel virus. Even globally, no drug has been proven to effectively treat COVID-19. Clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of new treatments can take years, though the FDA has mechanisms in place to speed up the process when necessary to “treat serious or life-threatening conditions.” President Trump has publicly called for the agency to do just that for two antiviral drugs, a generic antimalarial drug called hydroxychloroquine and Gilead Sciences’ Remdesivir, which was originally developed as a treatment for SARS and MERS. The president’s claim at a press conference on Thursday that these two therapies were “essentially approved” to treat COVID-19 is misleading. Neither drug has been approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19, and neither will be approved to treat COVID-19 until months from now, if at all. As of now, Remdesivir has not been approved by the FDA to treat any condition, let alone COVID-19. A randomized clinical trial of Remdesivir conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases iscurrently underway with patients with laboratory-confirmed novel coronavirus, but it’s still unclear whether the drug effectively fights the virus in human subjects.  The president’s statement is a bit more accurate in the context of hydroxychloroquine, a generic drug that has been approved for use in the U.S. to treat malaria and other conditions for decades. Aside from some promising anecdotal evidence, though, hydroxychloroquine has not yet been proven definitively to treat COVID-19. Doctors are technically permitted to prescribe hydroxychloroquine off-label, meaning to treat a different condition or indication than the condition the FDA approved it to treat, which applies to patients with COVID-19. Reports of increases in demand for the drug seem to indicate that physicians are doing just that. But this spike in prescriptions has led to shortages of the drug, causing dire consequences for patients that need the drug for other conditions such as lupus.  In response, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Novartis have committed to donating millions of pills to hospitals and pharmacies across the country, and Mylan announced that it will ramp up its production of the drug. It’s crucial to note that no peer-reviewed clinical evidence exists to support the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Physicians are either prescribing the drug to coronavirus patients based on hunches or stockpiling the drug in anticipation of forthcoming research. These off-label prescriptions, based only on doctors’ intuition, could prevent patients with lupus from accessing a drug that they need to survive.

A doctor explains why malaria drugs can’t protect you from Covid-19  - The Indian Council for Medical Research released a statement on Monday recommending the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventive medicine for those who face a high risk of coronavirus infection, provided they do not have any symptoms of the disease.High-risk individuals include healthcare workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 and household contacts of laboratory confirmed cases. The ICMR director Balram Bhargava emphasised that the recommendation applies only to these two categories of people and only for pre-exposure prophylaxis – or prevention before exposure.But this advice is likely to be ignored. The drug is already out of stock in many online pharmacies as panicked Indians have started hoarding hydroxychloroquine and another anti-malarial medicine chloroquine in the hope that the drugs are effective against Covid-19. At the moment, the hope is not based on facts. In fact, those who self-medicate face the risk of serious side-effects.  The antiviral effects of chloroquine was described in a research paper published in the Lancet in 2003. Chloroquine was reported to be effective in preventing the spread of SARS CoV – severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus – in lab settings in 2005. Researchers have tried this drug in HIV and several ongoing clinical trials have attempted to establish the use chloroquine analogs in the prevention or treatment of several viral infections, including hepatitis, rabies, chikungunya, Ebola virus disease, influenza A and B, and dengue viral infections. A limiting factor in most of these studies were the high levels of chloroquine required inside the cells for meaningful action against virus entry. This meant overall increase in drug toxicity.The exact frequency of side effects, called adverse reactions in medical parlance, is not reported. The life-threatening toxicities are mainly heart related in the form of disturbed heart rhythm and heart failure. Patients are usually advised ECGs before and during treatment.The other much talked about toxicity is irreversible blindness from retinal toxicity, though it is usually not seen in short duration treatment. Patients undergo retinal examination before treatment and yearly. It is not given to patients who already have some retinal diseases.It is also reported to cause fatal lowering of blood glucose, decrease in blood counts and loss of muscle strength. Increased suicidal tendencies and depression are other serious toxicities.

Man dies after taking malaria medication in effort to prevent coronavirus-  Health care company Banner Health announced Monday that a patient had died and his wife was in critical condition after they apparently took an anti-malaria drug touted by President Trump as a possible cure for coronavirus without a doctor's prescription. In a statement, the company urged Americans against taking drugs not prescribed for them in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened thousands of people across the country. The chemical, which is available in tablet form as an anti-malaria drug, is also used as a cleaning chemical. "A man has died and his wife is under critical care after the couple, both in their 60s, ingested chloroquine phosphate, an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks. Within thirty minutes of ingestion, the couple experienced immediate effects requiring admittance to a nearby Banner Health hospital," the statement read. "Most patients who become infected with COVID-19 will only require symptomatic care and self-isolation to prevent the risk of infecting others. Check first with a primary care physician. The routine use of specific treatments, including medications described as 'anti-COVID-19', is not recommended for non-hospitalized patients, including the anti-malarial drug chloroquine," the statement continued. It was unclear from Banner Health's statement whether the couple had received confirmed diagnoses of the coronavirus before ingesting the drug. More than 370,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus globally, and thousands have died. Trump tweeted about the use of chloroquine as an effective treatment for severe coronavirus cases over the weekend, urging Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials to put it to use "immediately." "HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. The FDA has moved mountains - Thank You! Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents) be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST, and GOD BLESS EVERYONE!" he tweeted. 

DOJ moves against ‘despicable scammers’ operating fake Covid-19 vaccine website - In the first federal action against fraud involving the coronavirus outbreak, the DOJ obtained a temporary restraining order against a website selling a bogus vaccine. The DOJ said Sunday that operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” were engaging in an alleged wire fraud scheme to profit from the confusion and fear surrounding Covid-19. The website claimed to offer customers access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95. In fact, there are currently no legitimate Covid-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine. Austin-based U.S. district judge Robert Pitman issued a temporary restraining order requiring that the registrar of the website to take immediate action to block public access while the investigation of the website and its operators continues. The website domain was registered on March 4 through a registrar based in Arizona. The technical contact listed on the WHOIS record for the domain is a P.O. box in Panama. According to an exhibit the DOJ filed, the website claimed that “you just need to add water, and the drugs and vaccines are ready to be administered.”

Hydroxychloroquine update -- A clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine with 30 patients (15 treated 15 controls) has been completed in Shanghai. It is the first genuine randomized trial. It reports no evidence that hydroxychloroquine works at all.  It is true, that given the principal outcome measure defined in advance, the trial has no power. Not low power, 0 power. In a hypothetical, if all patients treated with hydroxychloroquine became healthy immediately with no symptoms and no detectable virus, then the report would be that there was not a statistically significant diference in the principal outcome measure for the treated and control subgroups. Given that 14 out of 15 people in the control group had no detectable virus, the best outcome for hydroxychloroquine would have been 15 out of 15 in the treated group. Again a hypothetical, what if all the treated patients were assessed as cured after a week (best possible value of the principle outcome measure). This would reject the null that the probabilities were the same against the 1 sided alternative that treatment was better at the 50% level. It would reject the null against the two sideded alternative at the 100% level (not a typo).  With the benefit of hindsight, the researchers write that they could have designed the trial better. This does not mean that mistakes were made. When in a crisis, one has to act and must not make sure that one doesn’t do anything which is clearly suboptimal with the benefit of hindsight. That would imply sitting around thinking. They didn’t have time for that.

FDA will allow doctors to treat critically ill coronavirus patients with blood from survivors - The Food and Drug Administration will allow doctors across the country to begin using plasma donated by coronavirus survivors to treat patients who are critically ill with the virus under new emergency protocols approved Tuesday.The FDA's decision comes a day after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state's health department planned to begin treating the sickest coronavirus patients with antibody-rich plasma extracted from the blood of those who've recovered. Under the emergency protocols approved by the FDA, doctors can request permission to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients on a case-by-case basis. For now, the experimental treatment will be reserved for patients who are in dire condition and at risk of death. The FDA will respond to most requests within four to eight hours, the agency said. For patients who require treatment faster, doctors can call the FDA's Office of Emergency Operations to get approval over the phone. If the treatment is proven safe and effective, experts said it would likely work best if given to patients before symptoms become too severe. And past studies indicate that proactive infusions of convalescent plasma might also be effective in protecting front line health care workers from becoming seriously ill. The FDA cautioned that plasma has not been proven effective for COVID-19 and that researchers wishing to test it more broadly should apply for permission to begin a trial.

CDC says coronavirus RNA found in Princess Cruise ship cabins for up to 17 days after passengers left - Coronavirus RNA survived for up to 17 days aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, living far longer on surfaces than previous research has shown, according to new data published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study examined the Japanese and U.S. government efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreaks on the Carnival-owned Diamond Princess ship in Japan and the Grand Princess ship in California. Passengers and crew on both ships were quarantined on board after previous guests, who didn’t have any symptoms while aboard each of the ships, tested positive for COVID-19 after landing ashore. The RNA, the genetic material of the virus that causes COVID-19, “was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess but before disinfection procedures had been conducted,” the researchers wrote, adding that the finding doesn’t necessarily mean the virus spread by surface. The CDC said researchers couldn’t “determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces,” and that further study of COVID-19′s spread through touching surfaces on cruise ships was warranted. “COVID-19 on cruise ships poses a risk for rapid spread of disease, causing outbreaks in a vulnerable population, and aggressive efforts are required to contain spread,” the CDC wrote, reiterating its guidance to vulnerable populations to avoid cruises during the pandemic.Researchers from the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University previously found that COVID-19 can last up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. That study also found that the amount of the virus left on those surfaces decreased over time.

Loss of smell, taste, might signal pandemic virus infection (AP) — A loss of smell or taste might be an early sign of infection with the pandemic virus, say medical experts who cite reports from several countries.It might even serve as a useful screening tool, they say.The idea of a virus infection reducing sense of smell is not new. Respiratory viral infection is a common cause of loss of smell, because inflammation can interfere with airflow and the ability to detect odors. The sense of smell usually returns when the infection resolves, but in a small percentage of cases, smell loss can persist after other symptoms disappear. In some cases, it is permanent. Now, there’s “good evidence” from South Korea, China and Italy for loss or impairment of smell in infected people, says a joint statement from the presidents of the British Rhinological Society and of ENT UK, a British group that represents ear, nose and throat doctors. In South Korea, some 30% of people who tested positive for the virus have cited loss of smell as their major complaint in otherwise mild cases, they wrote.So that might be useful as a way to spot infected people without other symptoms — fever, coughing and shortness of breath — of the new coronavirus, they wrote. A similar proposal was published Sunday by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. It noted “rapidly accumulating” anecdotal evidence from around the world that the pandemic virus can cause not only loss of smell but also a diminished sense of taste. So the appearance of those symptoms in people without another explanation should alert doctors to the possibility of a COVID-19 infection, the group said.

There is a wide misconception of what a 'mild' case of COVID-19 looks like. It can be ugly and brutal. - People who get "mild" cases of COVID-19 often still experience a range of uncomfortable and even painful symptoms. Cases in general are categorized as "asymptomatic," "mild," "severe," or "critical." Studies have suggested that about 80% of infections by the novel coronavirus are mild, but that simply refers to people who don't need to be hospitalized. Mild cases can also develop into severe cases if the viral infections worsen.Mild COVID-19 cases are often worse than a cold or flu — they're usually marked by fevers and dry coughs. Less common but still possible are a handful of other symptoms including fluid in the lungs, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle soreness, fatigue, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Recent research suggests that on average, the virus' incubation period is about five days. Nearly 98% of patients develop symptoms within 11 1/2 days, though about 1% start showing symptoms after 14 days.  Here's how symptoms progress among typical patients day by day, according to the Chinese CDC:

  • Day 1 (after the incubation period): Patients run a fever. They may also experience fatigue, muscle pain, and a dry cough. A small minority may have had diarrhea or nausea one to two days before.
  • Day 5: Patients may have difficulty breathing — especially if they are older or have a preexisting health condition.
  • Day 8: At this point, patients with severe cases (15%, according to a study from the Chinese CDC) may develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, an illness that occurs when fluid builds up the lungs. ARDS is often fatal.
  • Day 10: If patients have worsening symptoms, this is the time in the disease's progression when they're most likely to be admitted to an intensive-care unit. These patients probably have more abdominal pain and appetite loss than patients with milder cases.
  • Day 17: On average, people who recover from the virus are discharged from the hospital after 2 1/2 weeks.

The disease's symptoms are more severe for older people and those with preexisting conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

One Third Of All Coronavirus Cases Show No Symptoms, Classified China Data Reveals - China, which has been praising itself for its draconian response in shutting down much of the country for most of February and thus halting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic domestically (at least if one ignores the glaring discrepancies from reports on the ground), may have a new problem on its hands. According to the South China Morning Post, which cited classified data from the Chinese government, as many as a third of the people who test positive for the coronavirus - also known as "silent carriers" - may show delayed symptoms or none at all.The data show that 43,000 people in China tested positive by the end of February, but had no actual symptoms, the newspaper reported. They were quarantined and monitored, though as we noted last month, in a radical change in how China is underreporting the severity of the disease, asymptomatic cases aren’t included in China’s tally of those infected with the virus. “The number of novel coronavirus cases worldwide continues to grow, and the gap between reports from China and statistical estimates of incidence based on cases diagnosed outside China indicates that a substantial number of cases are underdiagnosed,” a group of Japanese experts led by Hiroshi Nishiura, an epidemiologist at Hokkaido University, wrote in a letter to the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in February. Based on his research, Nishiura put the proportion of asymptomatic Japanese patients evacuated from Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak in China, at 30.8 per cent – similar to the classified Chinese government data.

March 22 Update: US COVID-19 Tests per Day #TestAndTrace --Tests per day is a key number to track (along with actual cases and, sadly, deaths). But total tests were a key for South Korea slowing the spread of COVID-19. South Korea has been conducting 15,000 tests per day with a 51 million population, so the US needs to test around 100,000 per day. Note: NYC and LA have stopped testing mild cases due to resource constraints. Hopefully testing will continue to improve, and we can test more people - this is important for test-and-trace.  The US conducted 44,668 tests in the last 24 hours.Note: About 19% of tests were positive in the most recent report (some are still pending). The high percentage of positives indicates limited testing.  This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.   Some states could do a better job of reporting the number of tests - so this is probably low. Testing is improving, but needs to more than double from here (maybe three times this much to be sufficient for test-and-trace).

Watch How A Coronavirus Test Is Administered: "Awful, I Wish There Was A Better Way" -The below videos of coronavirus tests being administered could be the most immediately convincing reason for every American to self-isolate and dramatically limit their potential exposure. When earlier this week when President Trump was asked about his own experience being tested after potential exposure via the Brazilian presidential delegation's March 7 visit to Mar-a-Lago, Trump said candidly it's “not something I want to do every day.”But many will certainly see the remarks as significantly understated, given the test requires a no doubt deeply unpleasant ten seconds or more swab deep inside a person's nasal cavity (sometimes multiple swabs are done). At this point over 100,000 have now been tested across the US, with over 18,500 confirmed for the virus.The test is done with a nasopharyngeal swab, which is inserted into a patient’s nose, twisted around and then removed quickly.For a particularly unpleasant and disturbing description, see the followingIt “felt like I was being stabbed in the brain,” one TikTok user wrote in a caption of a video showing her getting tested in her car. “It’s awful. I’m sorry,” the health-care worker who administered the test says. “I wish there was a better way to do it.”2020: the year we all make tik toks of our drive-thru coronavirus nasal swab tests pic.twitter.com/nuwKyScVpEThough it's actually similar to a standard Flu test, also unpleasant, the swab goes much deeper into the nose and it appears almost down the throat.  Watching the myriad of videos of tests now appearing on social media could be the surest way to convince most Americans to temporarily stay indoors and avoid non-essential trips to public spaces.

Number of coronavirus cases among troops jumps more than 31 percent --As testing becomes more widespread, the Defense Department is getting a more thorough picture of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the force.As of Friday morning, there are 67 service members battling COVID-19, according to Pentagon data, as well as 15 DoD civilians, 26 dependents and 16 contractors.That’s about a 31-percent jump for troops — 51 cases were reported yesterday — and more than a 60-percent jump for dependents over Thursday’s totals. The military health system had tested more than 1,500 samples as of Thursday."One of the challenges with any infectious disease is when it becomes testable,” Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, told Military Times Thursday, when asked why the services were not doing more widespread testing. “What we’ve found — at least the current information — is asymptomatic people, even if eventually becoming positive wouldn’t screen positive at that time.”Officials have said that the department has the capacity to test about 9,000 samples a day, but delays arise when swabs have to be flown to one of the 15 military labs equipped to analyze them.While DoD-affiliated cases are on the rise, hospitalizations are not experiencing such a spike. There are currently seven people under 24-hour care, per Pentagon data, one of whom is a service member. So far, three troops and one contractor have recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total to 128.

Harvey Weinstein Tests Positive For Coronavirus In NY State Prison; Convicted Producer In Isolation - Harvey Weinstein has tested positive for the novel coronavirus in prison. Just days after being transferred to the Wende Correctional Facility from NYC’s Rikers Island, the Oscar winning producer and convicted rapist is now in medical isolation, an Empire State law enforcement official confirms to Deadline. Under the policy that they “cannot comment on an individual’s medical record,” New York State’s Department of Corrections representatives did not respond to request for direct confirmation. “Our team …has not heard anything like that yet,” said Weinstein PR chief Juda Engelmayer on Sunday. “I can’t tell you what I don’t know,” the producer’s personal rep added. Moved to Wende on March 18, the just turned 68 years old Weinstein is one of two prisoners at the 961 capacity maximum security facility just east of Buffalo who was put in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus. As the global pandemic spreads and surges, New York state has taken the biggest hit domestically of the ever expanding coronavirus. To that, he more than 43,000 prisoners in the state’s already over burdened system are increasingly seen as a high risk category. Already around 40 inmates at Rikers have reportedly been found positive for COVID-19 in the past week, coinciding with Weinstein’s time in that NYC Hellhole. It is unclear if Weinstein himself contracted the disease at the East River complex or when he was in hospital in Manhattan over the past few weeks – both are potential hot spots, especially the former.

21 Inmates, 17 Employees Test Positive for COVID-19 on Rikers Island: Officials Twenty-one inmates and 17 employees tested positive for COVID-19 on Rikers Island, a jail oversight agency reported Saturday Officials have called on the city to immediately remove at-risk inmates and decrease the total jail population Earlier in the week, Mayor de Blasio said staff had identified 40 inmates for release Mayor Bill de Blasio says officials are reviewing 200 inmates that could be released from New York City's Rikers Island due to the spread of COVID-19. The announcement comes one day after officials revealed that more than three dozen inmates and employees had tested positive on Rikers Island. De Blasio said 23 inmates over 50 years old and at "low risk to reoffend" would be released on Sunday. Additional inmates eyed for release were still awaiting state approval, de Blasio said. Twenty-one inmates on Rikers Island tested positive for novel coronavirus -- a dramatic increase from the first case reported by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday. An additional 17 employees also tested positive, according to Jacqueline Sherman, the New York City Board of Correction's Interim Chair. The Board of Correction, which provides independent oversight of the city's jails, sent a letter to New York officials over the weekend with two principle recommendations: to "immediately remove from jail all people at high risk of dying" and "rapidly decrease the jail population." According to Sherman, 12 of the employees work for the Department of Correction and the other five work under Correctional Health Services. She says 58 people are being monitored in contagious disease and quarantine units and likely passed through "hundreds of housing areas and common areas over recent weeks and have been in close contact with many other people in custody and staff."

U.S. Churches Hold Public Sunday Services Despite Coronavirus Outbreak: 'This is Dangerous' -   Multiple churches across the U.S. reportedly chose to ignore social distancing guidelines in favor of in-person services yesterday, citing exceptions for religious institutions in state restrictions that are currently being enforced on the public in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.While some churches have followed the advice from state officials and transitioned their services to a digital-only streaming format, others have seemingly chosen to continue with traditional worship. COVID-19, an illness caused by a new coronavirus, spreads by person-to-person contact and authorities urge citizens to avoid crowded places and keep distance from others.The Solid Rock Church in Warren County, Ohio, was one religiously institution that remained open to the public on Sunday and held religious services both in the morning and evening, the Journal News reported."We are open! Thankful the governor hasn't placed restrictions on churches. Join us today! If you can't make it or aren't feeling well, watch us online," it said on Facebook.According to the newspaper, a live-stream of one service showed a choir standing to attendees, and some people who were speaking from the stage during the proceedings appeared to be sharing microphones. The social media announcement has since attracted 2,800 comments, and a lot of criticism. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine this weekend released a "stay at home" order that forced an end to all non-essential business operations. The order said that citizens should "at all times and as much as reasonably possible maintain social distancing of at least six feet from any other person."  For now, DeWine conceded that churches were exempt from the order. But he stressed that does not mean citizens should flock to religious events without being aware of the risks."We did not order religious organizations to close, but my message to EVERYONE is that this is serious," the state's governor wrote on Twitter yesterday. "When you are coming together, whether in a church or wherever - this is dangerous. We have the ability to do religious services in other ways. I implore religious leaders to think about their congregations. Gathering in groups is dangerous."

Coronavirus can survive on shoes for up to 5 days: experts -  The coronavirus is known to make a home on many non-human surfaces, including doorknobs, cardboard boxes and shopping carts. Now, to the surprise of probably no one, experts are calling shoes a “breeding ground” for germs.Infectious disease specialist Mary E. Schmidt warns that the coronavirus could survive on rubber, leather and PVC-based soles for five days or more, theHuffington Post UK reported — and has even suggested that individuals wear shoes that are machine-washable.Depending on what materials are used to make a shoe, the pathogen can remain for days on the upper part as well. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that COVID-19 can survive on plastic for up to two or three days, meaning shoes featuring plastic components are also risky — though that’s not a primary concern for some doctors. “The sole of the shoe is the breeding ground of more bacteria and fungi and viruses than the upper part of a shoe,” emergency physician Cwanza Pinckney tells HuffPost.

If You Live With Air Pollution, You're Already More Vulnerable to Covid-19 -- A remarkable thing about covid-19, the coronavirus-caused disease spreading around the globe, is that it induces severe and deadly illness in some people, while other people become only mildly sick. So far, we know that being older or having preexisting health conditions puts a person more at risk of serious symptoms. Unfortunately for so many people, the polluted air they breathe every day likely has already damaged their lungs and made them more vulnerable to the new coronavirus.Covid-19 tends to come with a fever and a dry cough. The virus attacks the respiratory system and becomes fatal when patients succumb to acute respiratory distress syndrome, which causes the lungs to fill up with fluid. The virus has been most deadly to those over the age of 60, as well as people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease. Guess what is a major driver of all of the diseases above? Air pollution. And who is most likely to be exposed to poor air quality in the U.S.? Low-income families and communities of color. Who’s the most likely to die prematurely due to reduced air quality? The elderly. Today, black people are three times more likely to die from asthma than white people. That becomes 10 times more likely for black children. Black people also suffer the highest death rates from heart disease.That’s why the covid-19 outbreak is an issue of environmental justice, and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said as much on Twitter Monday. “This crisis isn’t simply a public health issue. It is directly related to social equity and environmental justice,” McCarthy wrote. “It is directly related to our fight for clean air, clean water, a healthy environment, and healthy communities. #COVID19 is affecting all of us—our health and our way of life, but low-income communities and communities of color may face added risk.”

Catastrophic worldwide medical ventilator shortfall despite years of warning - The rapid spread of coronavirus is threatening to overwhelm health services around the world, exposing the gutting of social provisions by the financial oligarchy. A major component of this crisis is the catastrophic and criminal shortage of medical ventilators in quantities sufficient to confront a long predicted and inevitable pandemic. Medical ventilators are relatively complex devices, normally costing up to $50,000. Under normal circumstances, the entire annual global production is estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000. A small number of companies, based in a handful of countries, build the complex devices, which require pressure generators, flow regulators, filters, valves, alarms, numerous sensors and software to allow control and display of the device’s activity and reports of the patient’s breathing. Production is generally licensed and subject to scrutiny and regulation. Specialist clinical engineers and qualified medical staff are required to install and operate the devices, which need careful calibration and skilled supervision, without which the patient has little chance of survival. But under conditions of crisis, when every country is suddenly trying to acquire thousands of the devices, suppliers and global supply chains are being stretched far beyond their capacities. British hospitals, for example, have only 5,000 ventilators attached to intensive care beds. But British Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded that “many times more” than current levels of supply were likely to be needed in the period immediately ahead. German hospitals have around 25,000, with another 10,000 on order. The US has 62,000 and an additional 99,000 obsolete machines in storage. France is still conducting a nationwide survey of its capacity. While peak demand might be is impossible to predict, it will be many times current production capacity. Swiss-based Hamilton Medical—one of the world’s main producers, usually making 15,000 ventilators a year—has increased production by up to 40 percent. CEO Anthony Wieland warned Reuters of “a huge discrepancy between available ventilators and the need.”

Coronavirus crisis: Supply shortage traced to drop in Chinese imports -- Crucial medical supplies needed to fight coronavirus are running dangerously low in American hospitals — because almost all are imported from China.Shipments of face masks, testing swabs, hand sanitizer and surgical gowns cratered in mid-February after Chinese factories shuttered to tamp down the rampant spread of COVID-19.When the plants restarted production, government authorities required manufacturers of N95 masks — used by doctors and nurses — to reserve almost all of them for Chinese customers.No N95 masks have arrived from China since Feb. 19, an Associated Press analysis found.“It’s not safe at all. Nobody is safe,” said Consuelo Vargas, an emergency room nurse in Chicago, who bought out a hardware store’s stock of painter booties and jumpsuits Friday.The sudden fracturing of the supply chain is bringing in new players.A plant in Aberdeen, South Dakota, owned by Minnesota’s 3M, is running around the clock to produce millions of N95 masks a month, while factories in Honduras have taken up the slack in surgical gowns.Even fashion designers are getting into the act, with “Project Runway” star Christian Soriano offering Gov. Andrew Cuomo an assist from his sewing team to send fresh protective gear to hard-hit New York hospitals.

"Critical Medical Supply Shortage": The Moment US Woke Up To Disaster Of Always Outsourcing To China - No doubt Americans will look back on this current crisis as the moment the country collectively learned its lesson 'the hard way' about the dangers of over-reliance on Chinese manufacturing, or sending the vast majority of our manufacturing abroad anywhere for that matter. "The critical shortage of medical supplies across the U.S., including testing swabs, protective masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitizer, can be tied to a sudden drop in imports, mostly from China," Associated Press reports after a new investigation.  Likely Washington's current panicked mobilization to ensure medical equipment and supply needs are met across the country as the numbers of infected Americans begin to track with the kind of exponential growth rate seen in Italy or Iran is due to political leaders already seeing the writing on the wall, or the plain and simple data for that matter. Trump's invoking the Defense Production Act and reportedly mulling lifting some tariffs against China is a case in point."Trade data shows the decline in shipments started in mid-February after the spiraling coronavirus outbreak in China led the country to shutter factories and disrupted ports," the AP says.Whether ventilators, gloves, surgical gowns or N95 masks (which remove 95% of all airborne particles), or even over-the-counter items like thermometers and bandage kits, the US health system overwhelmingly relies on Chinese manufacturing.But with the United States' own crisis perhaps in the early stages, and at a moment lack of daily growth in confirmed cases out of Beijing health officials looks promising, the fallout from the prior forced shuttering of many Chinese factories is only now hitting US ports hard and thus is severely depleting hospitals and clinics: The most recent delivery of medical-grade N95 masks arrived from China about a month ago, on Feb. 19. And as few as 13 shipments of non-medical N95 masks have arrived in the past month — half as many as arrived the same month last year. N95 masks are used in industrial settings, as well as hospitals, and filter out 95% of all airborne particles, including ones too tiny to be blocked by regular masks. The AP investigation further found that over the past month vital supplies of things as simple as hand sanitizer and swabs dropped by 40%, with N95 mask imports cut down by over half.

The Entire Healthcare System In The US Is About To Collapse, Doctors & Nurses Warn - Health professionals are increasingly sounding the alarm over the U.S. healthcare system, warning that the coronavirus outbreak could quickly overwhelm unprepared hospitals without swift action to provide equipment to nurses and doctors. "This is a nationwide problem, even on the private side," an anonymous doctor told NBC News. "No clinic in this country, or hospital for that matter, is going to have enough equipment."NBC News reported that around 250 doctors and nurses responded to an informal survey request and painted a bleak picture of a healthcare system already on the verge of collapse with at least a month to go before coronavirus cases peak in the U.S.—citing in particular a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). According to NBC News:Nearly all who responded said there were shortages of PPE in the hospitals, outpatient clinics and offices where they worked. Many reported being forced to ration or reuse supplies, including surgical and N95 masks, for fear of running out. Many also said they were facing shortages of basic sanitary supplies, including hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.One Philadelphia doctor interviewed by NBC News said her husband—also a doctor—is on the frontlines in the city.  "I am so scared," she said. "I can't even begin to tell you." Calls for the federal government to step in and order manufacturers to produce equipment increased Friday, with the union National Nurses United issuing a demand for immediate action to protect healthcare workers. "We need to act now and act fast," Bonnie Castillo, National Nurses United executive director, said in a statement. "Priority number one is to protect the health and safety of our nurses and health care workers so that they can continue to take care of patients and keep our communities as healthy as possible through this pandemic. If our health facilities no longer stay as centers of healing and instead turn into disease vectors, many more people will needlessly suffer from this terrible disease."

These charts show how fast coronavirus cases are spreading — and what it takes to flatten the curve   As U.S. public officials, health-care workers and epidemiologists struggle to track the course of the coronavirus pandemic, they are being hampered by a dearth of data on exactly how far and how fast the virus is spreading.Despite frequent updates by the news media, public health agencies and independent researchers tracking the outbreak, the available data represents only a portion of the total number of cases, many of which have gone unreported. That lack of data in the U.S. is largely the result of delays in rolling out widespread testing in the early stages of the outbreak.  To better track the speed of the pandemic’s spread, CNBC analyzed two months of data collected by researchers at Johns Hopkins University from multiple sources, including the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and various other national and local public health agencies around the world. The analysis looks at the pace of growth of new cases in U.S. states and in countries around the world beginning from time the outbreak began to accelerate. (To make that comparison, we adjusted each time series to start on the day each country or state began reporting more than 100 confirmed cases.)    In the U.S., New York state has recently reported the largest number of cases – more than 11,000 as of March 21. That was nearly half of all U.S. coronavirus cases reported by that date in the Johns Hopkins database. New York state independently reported more than 15,000 confirmed cases on Sunday.  But that focus on total cases overlooks the critical question of how fast the virus is spreading.So far, the available data on confirmed cases is also severely limited because it only accounts for cases that have been reported. These counts don’t include the unknown number of people who weren’t sick enough to go to a doctor or clinic, or who weren’t tested because there were not enough test kits available.The result is that the number of cases reported daily provides an incomplete picture of the outbreak at any moment in time.Still, researchers say that even incomplete data is critical to the task of controlling the spread of the illness. The hope is that widespread “social distancing” can “flatten the curve” tracking the spread of the pandemic - from the steep rise in the initial phases to a more gradual increase as efforts to contain the outbreak take effect.Delaying the spread of the virus can mean the difference between delivering care to all those patients who need it and overwhelming local or national health-care systems. Countries that appear to have contained the outbreak have taken aggressive measures to test widely and isolate those found to have the most serious cases, according to Rivers. In China and South Korea, she said, this policy of “case based intervention” centered on isolating and treating infected patients quickly to limit the spread of the illness. The impact of those measures can be seen in the the flattening of growth in the number of reported cases for those two countries, where the outbreak first began to spread widely.

Healthy 39-year-old woman dies waiting for coronavirus test results -- A healthy 39-year-old social worker died days after initially turning down a coronavirus test because she was told she was “low-risk,” her boyfriend said in a heartbreaking Facebook post.Josh Anderson says he found girlfriend Natasha Ott dead in her apartment in New Orleans on Friday as she still awaited news on whether her sickness and fever were actually COVID-19.He said Ott — who helped people who are HIV-positive — had first told him on March 10 that she had a “respiratory cold” and “tiny fever.”“They sent her home, but didn’t test her — she was told she was low-risk,” he wrote, calling his partner “a profoundly kind, passionate, funny and loving 39-year-old woman in good health.”Her own clinic only had five test kits available, he said, adding she told him, “I declined to take one so someone else could.”After her condition deteriorated, she finally got tested on March 16 — almost a  week after first falling sick — but was told the results would take at least five days, with a further delay meaning they are still not ready, he said.

We Are About to Lose New York City to Covid - The above data shows the Covid-19 case count in New York (from here).  The data are for New York State, but the case count is almost completely dominated by New York City and its suburbs.  I plotted the data only from the day before it crossed 100, and the scale is logarithmic.  The bottom scale is the date in March, and the graph runs to 35 (that is, April 4th).  Thus it extends two weeks from the last data point, which was yesterday (March 21st).The blue straight line is an exponential fit to all the data here, and that translates to a 40% daily increase.  The red line is an eyeball fit only to the last six days, and translates to a daily increase of about 47%.  I have extrapolated those two lines by nine days.You can see that these rates result in crossing 1m cases around the end of March, or in the first week of April.  The population of the New York Metropolitan area is around 20m people, and that is denoted as the very top of the graph.  You can see that if these spread rates continue, the epidemic will saturate some time in April - most people in the NYC metro area will have caught it, and then the herd immunity will be high enough that further spread will slow.Probably this is driven by the extremely high densities of people in New York, especially Manhattan.  Probably the subway system is a key vector since in normal operation it requires New Yorkers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder for half an hour at at time.  In those circumstances, anyone infectious on the subway could easily infect dozens of other people.  But just walking around on the street in Manhattan under normal conditions is probably somewhat conducive to spreading the virus.It seems it would be difficult to stop this process now  The subway cannot be shut down, and the population of essential workers may be large enough that transmission amongst them is high enough that the epidemic will not slow much, and then they will infect everyone else (by definition of being essential, they must interact with others).It is possible the lockdown taking effect tonight will have some slowing effect.  However, consider the time factors in the disease.  The data in the graph show positive test results.  According to the WHO joint mission to China, mean time from infection to symptoms is 5 days.  I have marked that as a black double-ended arrow above.  However, there's also the time from starting to get any symptoms to actually having a known test result. That is is unknown in NY, but has probably also been several days.  I have shown a four day bar on the graph.  So there is a nine(ish) or so day lag from infections that have already been seeded now to possible test results in the future.  So the next nine(ish) days of data would be driven by infections that have already occurred under non-locked-down conditions.  So there's probably already 100k to 1m cases seeded in NYC today, and these will drive a lot of transmission within the enclaves separated by the lockdown.

NYC Update - 46.5% increase Sunday over Saturday. - Today's number for cases in NY is 15,168, a 46.5% increase over yesterday.  I take this as confirmatory of my thesis about New York City.  Above is an update of the graph from that piece showing the additional datum.  It revises the blue line up a bit, and the red line down a bit, and advances the extrapolation a bit.  It suggests the New York metro area currently is incubating somewhere in the mid to high six figures in infections.

New York has 5% of Covid-19 cases worldwide as city becomes battlefront  - Confirmed coronavirus cases have risen sharply in New York as both the state governor, Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, called for urgent and better assistance from the federal government. The city has over 15,000 confirmed cases as of Sunday afternoon, up from 4,812 since Saturday. The growth is due, in part, to the rapid expansion of testing but also due to the accelerated growth of the virus throughout the city. Coronavirus cases in the US have increased to more than 30,000. There have been 390 reported deaths in the US, with New York state the country’s hardest hit, with 114 deaths. On Sunday evening the city faced shutdown after Cuomo, on Friday, ordered the shutdown of all non-essential businesses in the state. Except for essential services, all New Yorkers are now ordered to stay indoors from 8pm Sunday evening. By Sunday the state of New York accounted for half the country’s 30,000 cases nationwide. The state’s governor, Cuomo, and New York city’s mayor, de Blasio, both heaped pressure on the White House on Sunday to urgently provide federal assistance on desperately needed medical supplies. “If the president does not act, people will die who could have lived otherwise,” de Blasio told NBC. “If we don’t get more ventilators in the next 10 days people will die who don’t have to die,” he added, speaking to CNN. In response Donald Trump, in his Sunday White House press briefing, promised additional help for New York state (alongside other hard hit states California and Washington), including activating the national guard to help provide an additional 1,000 beds and extra face masks “within 48 hours”. Earlier in the day Cuomo, speaking from the state capital, Albany, had taken aim at New York City dwellers who have been ignoring social distance in parks and on streets, and demanded that the city come up with a plan in 24 hours to reduce “density” in public spaces. “I don’t know what I’m saying that people don’t get,” Cuomo said, calling some New Yorkers’ behavior “insensitive” and “arrogant”.  Cuomo had also called on the federal government to take over acquisition of medical supplies so states do not have to compete with each other. “Time matters, minutes count, and this is literally a matter of life and death,” he said at Sunday press conference.

 These Two Graphics Show Why New York City Is the Virus Epicenter in the U.S. - For want of a mask the largest economy in the world has been gutted, with Goldman Sachs now projecting that U.S. GDP could contract by as much as 24 percent in the second quarter.New York City, a major contributor to U.S. GDP, is now the epicenter of coronavirus cases in the U.S. We saw this as a likely outcome from the moment that we learned that droplets could be spread from person to person through the air.According to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, “the average population density of the U.S. is 87 people per square mile.” But in New York City, “the population density is 27,012 people per square mile,” far greater than any other major city in America.Let that sink in for a moment. The population density in New York City is more than 310 times the average for the rest of the United States and it is 51 times the average population density of Italy, where deaths from the virus are now occurring at over 600 a day.It should not have taken the CDC, the Surgeon General, and the National Institute of Health any longer than it took us to immediately recognize that New York City was going to be the epicenter of this aggressively transmissible virus and to quickly direct federal resources like ventilators, masks, goggles, plastic gowns and gloves and additional hospital beds to the area.The first coronavirus death occurred in the U.S. on February 28 – more than three weeks ago — but New York City is still begging the federal government to get it the resources it needs to fight this deadly disease.As of this morning, New York City was reporting more than 12,000 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus, more than half of the total for the entire state of New York and more than a third of all cases in the U.S., currently reported as 35,224. There are plenty of people to blame for the out-of-control spread. On February 29, the Surgeon General Tweeted that the public should stop buying masks – despite scientific agreement that the virus is spread by sneezing, coughing and talking. The Surgeon General’s advice may have made sense for people living on a 10 acre farm in New Hampshire but it was dangerous advice for people who can’t afford taxis and are forced to ride a packed subway to work each day in Manhattan.

Coronavirus crisis in New York: As doctors warn of “our Chernobyl,” state government plans Medicaid cuts - Over the past week, New York City has rapidly become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States with a more than twenty-fold increase of confirmed cases. As of Sunday morning, there were 9,654 confirmed cases and 63 deaths in the city, while statewide there were 15,168 cases and 114 deaths.New York state thus accounts for over half of the cases in the US and roughly 5 percent of the cases worldwide. About half of the confirmed cases in New York state are patients under the age of 50, and roughly 13 percent have been hospitalized. A statewide lockdown went into effect on Sunday, at 8 p.m.State and city hospitals have been rapidly overwhelmed, even though the pandemic has only started, with the peak expected to be at the end of April or beginning of May. Officials have said the state would need to at least double its available hospital beds from 50,000 to 100,000 and could have a shortfall of as many as 25,000 ventilators. Most hospitals in New York City, including Presbyterian Hospital and NYU Langone have already canceled elective procedures. The state has also issued an urgent call for retired nurses and volunteers with medical training to join the hospital staff.In a press conference Sunday morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio predicted that the city is “ten days away” from seeing widespread shortages of medical supplies and that “the worst is yet to come.” In his own press conference the same morning, Governor Cuomo warned that the crisis could last up to nine months and declared that between 40 and 80 percent of the population of New York state (roughly 19.5 million people) would get infected.  Most hospitals in New York already report shortages and dangerous conditions for their medical staff. In interviews with the New York Times, doctors at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx say they are down to a few remaining ventilators. In Brooklyn, doctors at Kings County Hospital Center are now “reusing masks for up to a week, slathering them with hand sanitizer between shifts” and placing the “masks in brown paper bags labeled with their names.” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that N95 masks should be discarded after each patient interaction and become ineffective after eight hours.On March 17, the city health department published a guideline explicitly stating that medical workers who have had “known high-risk exposure to a patient(s) with confirmed COVID-19” should “take extra care to monitor your health but can keep working.” There was “no requirement for 14-day quarantine of health care workers,” the guideline said. This policy is part of a national move toward dramatically loosening even the most basic safety protocols for health care workers in the face of serious shortages. Even as the number of coronavirus patients in New York has skyrocketed, a special panel appointed by Governor Cuomo called for another $400 million in Medicaid spending cuts for New York hospitals in this fiscal year, starting April 1.

 COVID-19 outbreak in New York prisons threatens lives of thousands - The New York Board of Correction (BoC) announced Saturday that 38 people tested positive for COVID-19 last week in New York City’s prison system. As of Sunday the state has topped 15,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The announcement in New York was followed by other confirmations of outbreaks across the US prison system, including in California, Arizona and Georgia. Due to lack of testing, and the cramped unsanitary conditions of US prisons, it is likely the number of positive cases is much higher. It was reported Sunday evening that Harvey Weinstein, the recently convicted ex-media mogul, had tested positive for the virus shortly after leaving New York’s infamous Rikers Island Prison Complex, where all of the cases in the state system have been confirmed. Weinstein, 68, was put into isolation at Wende Correctional Facility in Western New York on Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19. Weinstein was incarcerated on Rikers Island until March 18 and given the scale of the outbreak at the prison it is most likely that is where he contracted the disease. Given his age and poor health it is likely that Weinstein’s 23-year conviction, the product of an unconstitutional show trial built on the anti-democratic hysteria of the right-wing #MeToo, will turn into a death sentence. The overcrowding of prisons and lack of sanitation internationally means that prison populations are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. This has led to widespread anger among prisoners and their families, which has been expressed through a spate of prison riots, including in Italy, Brazil and most recently on Sunday in Colombia, where 23 people died. Concerns have also been raised over the threat posed to WikiLeaks founder and journalist Julian Assange, who is being held in the high-security Belmarsh prison as he awaits a decision on extradition to the United States, and suffers from a variety of health conditions due to 10 years of confinement. New York state has the second largest prison system in the US. According to the BoC’s announcement, the Rikers Island Jail Complex, the state’s largest prison, is the center of the outbreak, with 21 inmates and 17 prison staff testing positive. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 at Rikers came on March 19. On Thursday, Ross Macdonald, the chief physician at Rikers, tweeted, “we cannot change the fundamental nature of jail. We cannot socially distance dozens of elderly men living in a dorm, sharing a bathroom. … a storm is coming.” He went on to call on state authorities to “let out as many as you possibly can.” Homer Venters, former chief medical officer at Rikers, described the lack of basic sanitation at the complex: “There are lots of people using a small number of bathrooms. Many of the sinks are broken or not in use. You may have access to water, but nothing to wipe your hands off with, or no access to soap.” Such conditions are typical of the American prison system.

Cuomo: We have to plan to 'pivot back to economic functionality' - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday the state has to begin planning to move forward economically after shutting down all nonessential businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic. “There has to be a balance, or parallel tracks that we’re going down,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing, in terms of public health and economic viability. “I take total responsibility for shutting off the economy in terms of nonessential workers, but we also have to start to plan the pivot back to economic functionality. You can't stop the economy forever,” he added. President Trump signaled he may lift restrictions intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, tweeting late Sunday night that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” He added that the White House will make a decision “as to which way we want to go” after the end of the 15-day period implemented in the White House plan released last week. Asked about Trump’s remarks, Cuomo said “you have to walk and chew gum in life,” adding that no executive has the “luxury of being one-dimensional.” “I am very proud of the measures we’ve taken to address this public health crisis,” Cuomo said. “But I’m also very aware you cannot — it is unsustainable to run this state or run this country with the economy closed down,” he added. The governor said officials are looking to create a plan to get the economy back up and running while also taking public health strategy into consideration.

Coronavirus Cases Top 366,000: $2 Trillion Stimulus Deal Close, Fed Steps Up As U.S. GDP Could Crash 50% Amid Coronavirus Market Crash --Coronavirus cases in the U.S. surged above 40,000 Monday, as Covid-19 infections topped 366,000 worldwide. The U.S. is accounting for more new virus cases than any other country. Senate Democrats blocked Congress a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package Sunday. The Federal Reserve signaled it'll buy unlimited assets to support the economy after a top Fed official said U.S. GDP could contract 50% in the second quarter. With the stimulus bill in doubt, the Dow Jones fell sharply Monday morning, despite a premarket bounce after the Federal Reserve vowed to buy assets "in the amounts needed." The Dow Jones pared losses in volatile afternoon trading after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said a stimulus deal is close, echoing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. More states are under stay-at-home orders. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Tenn., tested positive for the coronavirus. Two more senators self-quarantined, making a total of five Republicans unavailable for any stimulus vote. U.S. coronavirus cases climbed 7,309 so far on Monday to 40,855. The U.S. is behind only China and Italy in terms of total confirmed coronavirus cases. U.S. coronavirus deaths have climbed to 483.The U.S. added 9,339 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, far more than any other country.New York state has 20,875 Covid-19 cases, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday morning. Most of those are in New York City itself.New York officials have been among the most vocal in warning of shortages of key medical equipment and protective gear, calling on federal aid and supplies. FEMA Director Peter Gaynor said Sunday that the federal government is prioritizing supplies to hard-hit states such as New York, Washington and California."I think that the scenes out of New York are going to be shocking," former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CBS' "Face The Nation" on Sunday. "I think that the hospitals in the next two weeks are going to be at the brink of being overwhelmed."  The Federal Reserve said it will continue to buy assets "in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning." Over the past week, the Fed and central banks around the world have been stepping up extraordinary monetary stimulus. The Fed has ramped up its buys of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities. It's already quickly burning through the "at least $700 billion" in asset buys the Fed promised, though it set no ceiling.

New York's infection "attack rate" is five times higher than the rest of the US, health expert warns - New York, the hardest-hit state in the US, now has 21,689 coronavirus cases and 157 deaths.New York City alone has 13,119 cases. At least 2,213 of those patients are hospitalized and 525 are in the intensive care unit. Earlier today, health expert Dr. Deborah Birx said at a news briefing with President Donald Trump that the greater New York City area has an "attack rate close to one in a thousand" -- five times higher than what other areas are experiencing. Some 28% of tests in New York are positive, she said -- compared to less than 8% in the rest of the country. "(New Yorkers are) the group that needs to absolutely social distance and self isolate at this time. Clearly the virus had been circling there for a number of weeks to have this level of penetrance into the community," she said.  There are 381,293 cases of novel coronavirus and 16,508 deaths globally, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking figures from the World Health Organization and additional sources.  For the first time in six days, China has reported a new case of coronavirus in Hubei province -- ground zero for the pandemic. Mainland China reported 78 new cases on Monday, of which 74 were imported, and seven new deaths, according to the National Health Commission. A total of 73,159 patients in mainland China have recovered and been discharged from hospital. At least 16 states have issued stay-at-home orders, which will impact 142 million people, or 43% of the US population, according to data compiled by CNN using US Census population estimates.Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the most stringent social restrictions on the British public since the end of World War II. The public is being told stay at home, with exceptions for shopping for basic necessities; one form of exercise a day; medical need; and, for designated key workers, traveling to and from work. Cuba is limiting travel to and within its borders. From Tuesday, all schools will be closed for a month and the government will “regulate” Cubans ability to leave the communist-run island. South Africa will enforce a three-week lockdown starting at midnight on March 26. Zimbabwe announced the closure of all borders, except for returning residents and cargo, effective immediately. The Netherlands will ban all public gatherings until June 1. More than 750 million people across India are under lockdown.  Italy has confirmed 601 new coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of fatalities to 6,077 and 63,927 cases. US state health officials reported more than 100 coronavirus-related deaths in a single day for the first time during the outbreak. There are at least 42,663 cases of the coronavirus in the US, and 541 people have died.

 COVID-19 begins to rip through homeless population as 30 test positive in New York City shelters - On Tuesday, 30 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in 22 different homeless shelters in New York City. Given the still limited testing for the virus in the New York area and the crowded and unsanitary conditions in homeless shelters, the real number of infections is undoubtedly many times higher. Eight of those infected have been hospitalized, while five of the individuals who tested positive have left the shelter system. New York City is currently the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. As of Tuesday, New York state had 26,638 confirmed cases, and New York City had over 15,500. New York thus accounts for 7 percent of the world total of coronavirus cases and has an infection rate of 1 per 1,000 residents, on a par with that of Italy. Among those at particular risk of getting infected and dying from COVID-19 is the city’s huge homeless population, which is around 80,000 people on any given day. In 2018-2019, 114,000 children experienced homelessness. That is one in ten school children in the city, an increase of 70 percent over the past decade. Around 44,000 of them lived in shelters. The particular vulnerability of the homeless population, like that of prison inmates and immigrants in detention facilities, has long been known and medical journals have warned of the spread of COVID-19 to these locations. On March 11, the leading medical journal The Lancet published a report warning that the homeless are extremely vulnerable to the virus for a number of reasons linked to their abject poverty. Accommodations used by the homeless provide perfect conditions for the rapid spread of the contagion. Shelters see high numbers of individuals living in proximity, and many of them have been brought together from various parts of the city and may have interacted with hundreds of people. New York’s shelters rarely provide adequate access to hygiene supplies and facilities, and placement in them is only available to those listed in the city’s homeless database. Those who are not registered are often thrown onto the street. For the unsheltered, the unsanitary conditions of encampments, abandoned buildings, and sidewalks also contribute to the spread of the disease. A 25-year old worker at a family shelter in New York City told the WSWS that the city was not doing anything to alleviate the significant pressures and dangers facing people in the shelters. “They're not even giving the families hand sanitizers. My shelter has 70-75 families. Everything is set up in apartment style and people are in each other’s face.”

Upstate Counties Urge New York City Residents to Stay in Primary Homes - The coronavirus outbreak has led three upstate counties to encourage New York City residents, many of whom have second homes in the area, to remain in their primary homes.Sullivan, Greene and Delaware counties, all in the Hudson Valley north of New York, have urged their residents to remove short-term rental listings online and suggested that people with second homes in the area consider staying away.“I want them to be aware of what they’re putting themselves into,” said Shaun Groden, Greene County’s county administrator, who referred to people seeking to stay in the area to get away from the virus.“Our concern is that we don’t have a hospital,” he said. “The mountains have what we call the ‘Mountain Top,’ which is where the majority of second homes are. It has like two doctors.” Mr. Groden said about 30% of the homes in the area are second homes. He also points to a rush of people who have already come to the area and overwhelmed local grocery stores because they are hoarding, he said. Many stores were unprepared in what is usually a quiet time before tourism revives in the summer. Sullivan County Public Health Director Nancy McGraw said in an email, “our message was a plea to consider the ramifications and resources before leaving one community for another.” “We have not experienced an enormous influx of people fleeing NYC for Sullivan County, though our local towns and supermarkets affirm they’ve seen an uptick in second homeowners and seasonal residents,” Ms. McGraw said. Ms. McGraw said the county worked with representatives from their summer community to draft the statement encouraging people to stay where they are, but that didn’t stop some from becoming upset by what was perceived as an unwelcoming statement.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in NY state surpass 30,000; Long Island has 5,545 cases - As the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread in New York, escalating to 30,000 confirmed cases across the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday banned basketball and other contact sports in New York City playgrounds and pleaded for more federal funding. But, even as he reported that another 5,000 cases were detected overnight, Cuomo said he saw some signs of hope.The projected rate of hospitalizations for coronavirus patients appears to be diminishing, thousands of retired medical professionals are volunteering their services to confront the crisis, and a five-star Manhattan hotel is offering to put up health care workers for free. An initial hot spot in the coronavirus outbreak in Westchester County's New Rochelle that Cuomo called "the hottest cluster in the United States of America" has been slowed by closing schools and nonessential businesses, banning gatherings, increasing testing, and encouraging social distancing, he said. A day after harshly criticizing the federal government for failing to deliver emergency health equipment, Cuomo sounded a more conciliatory note toward President Donald Trump, but he emphasized the need for more federal help for New York."We have ten times the problem that the next state has, which is New Jersey," Cuomo said at a news conference in Albany.“We still have the trajectory going up. We have not turned the trajectory” of increasing coronavirus cases, he said. “Nor have we hit the apex. We’re still on the way up the mountain.”

New York: Cuomo says early signs show coronavirus distancing may be working -  New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has said officials are seeing very early signs that physical distancing may be starting to slow the spread of coronavirus in his state, but cautioned that the number of cases is still rising significantly and hospitals would soon be overwhelmed. The New York City metro area accounts for 60% of new Covid-19 cases in the US. Despite that, Cuomo said it was encouraging that hospitalizations were projected to double every 4.7 days on Tuesday, compared with Monday, when the number was doubling every 3.4 days, and Sunday, when the figure was every two days. “The arrows are headed in the right direction, and that is always better than the arrows headed in the wrong direction,” Cuomo said at a press conference Wednesday. But the virus still continues to spread quickly, and Cuomo said the “single greatest challenge” New York faces right now is a severe lack of ventilators, essential equipment for patients with potentially fatal Covid-19 infections. He said New York needs 30,000 ventilators but only has 4,000 in the current system. Cuomo said the state has purchased 7,000, and the federal government has now provided 4,000 as high-tier officials start to recognize New York’s crisis. Cuomo has said doctors would start trialling the use of one ventilator for two patients. New York City on Wednesday took further steps to decrease the density of people, announcing that some roads would be shut to cars to allow pedestrians to use them, and encouraging social and physical distancing to be observed in playgrounds. Sports that involve “close contact” such as basketball should also be avoided. Cuomo warned that if these measures to reduce the density did not work on a voluntary basis, then the city would make the guidelines mandatory. The moves came after Dr Deborah Birx, part of the White House coronavirus taskforce, said on Tuesday that about 56% of all the cases in the US, and 60% of new cases, are in the New York metro area. Mike Pence called on people who have recently left New York for other parts of the country to self-quarantine for 14 days. The vice-president said: “We have to deal with the New York City metropolitan area as a high-risk area.”

New York records 100 new coronavirus deaths in one day - New York state coronavirus deaths spiked to 385, with 100 new deaths recorded in a single day as Governor Andrew Cuomo warned residents on Thursday that the state's situation was increasingly dire. The death toll surged to more than 1,000 nationwide in the United States. New York had 37,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday morning. This was an increase of nearly 6,500 cases from the night before. "Almost any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the current capacity of the healthcare system," Cuomo said during the briefing. The peak of the virus is expected to hit the US in about two or three weeks. Cuomo previously projected New York would need roughly 110,000 hospital beds, but now says the state would as many as 140,000. The governor also called for increased efforts to produce ventilators, necessary medical tools to deal with severe cases of COVID-19. While most patients with severe cases of COVID-19 need ventilators for three or four days, some have needed them for up to 30 days, according to reports. "We do have people who have been on for quite a period of time," Cuomo said. "The longer stays without recovery lead to a higher death rate." Cuomo said he was considering more drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus, including the closure of main thoroughfares in New York City, as well as certain parks and playgrounds. He has repeatedly called for increase support from the federal government.  Of the total confirmed cases, 5,327 people, or about 14 percent, have been hospitalised and 1,290, or 3.4 percent, are in intensive care units, according to local media outlet Syracuse.com. "We always said this is not going to be over quickly," Cuomo said. "I understand people are tired, but I also understand that people in this situation are stepping up to the plate and doing phenomenal work." Public health officials in the city hunted down beds and medical equipment and called for more doctors and nurses. A makeshift morgue was set up outside Bellevue Hospital, and the city's police, their ranks dwindling as more fall ill, were told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing.

Coronavirus in NY: Video shows disturbing, crowded hospital ER - A shocking new Facebook video shows disturbing, crowded conditions inside the emergency room at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens — with gurneys crammed side by side and sick patients waiting on chairs amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Who is the sickest patient needs to go up?” a stressed voice can be heard asking at one point. “I don’t know,” another voice answers. The video was posted Thursday by a Facebook user who received it from an anonymous hospital worker. At the time it was posted, the latest city figures showed Queens leading New York City with 7,362 reported cases of infection — the highest percentage in the five boroughs. At least 850 New Yorkers were being treated in ICUs out of 4,720 patients hospitalized citywide. A hospital spokesman declined to comment on the video, except to say that it was “unauthorized” and filmed inside the emergency room.

New York City hospitals are running out of room in their morgues, but the flow of coronavirus bodies is just starting to ramp up - New York City is running out of room to store the bodies of those who've died from COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus that emerged less than 3 months ago.  As increasing numbers of people die from the illness, relatively small hospital morgues around the area are filling up. That's according to a licensed funeral director, embalmer, and body removal expert who works for a company handling transport of most COVID-19 bodies in the city. "On Sunday the morgues already seemed full," said the mortuary professional, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of their work, adding that there are typically only one or two corpses on Sundays. (Business Insider confirmed the person's identity.) "You have to wait for the tests to come back before making the removal for our safety," they said, and due to a sometimes days-long lag in that testing "the death toll from COVID currently is much higher than it is in the news."  A spokesperson for FEMA independently confirmed the information with Business Insider.  “FEMA's National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) has received requests for HHS Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORT) from the States of Hawaii, New York, and North Carolina," the spokesperson said in an email. "These requests are currently in the review and approval process."

Cuomo speculates that quarantine may have backfired in some cases - Sweeping statewide quarantine orders may not have been the most effective strategy to combat the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo conceded on Thursday, as he weighed plans to restart the economy. “We closed everything down. That was our public health strategy,” said Cuomo during an Albany press briefing. “If you re-thought that or had time to analyze that public health strategy, I don’t know that you would say ‘Quarantine everyone.'” It’s the third day in a row that Cuomo has publicly mused about quarantines and how best to eventually restart the Empire State’s shattered economy. But Wednesday, Cuomo’s answer during an hour-long news conference about quarantines — which are backed by city and state health officials — took a new turn as he speculated it might have spread the disease. “I don’t even know that that was the best public health policy. Young people then quarantined with older people, [it] was probably not the best public health strategy,” he said. “The younger people could have been exposing the older people to an infection.” So far, New York has clocked 37,258 confirmed cases and 385 deaths from COVID-19.

Older Virus Patients Face Looming ICU Bed Shortage - The need for intensive-care beds for older Americans, the population hardest hit by Covid-19, may outstrip the supply in some regions of the U.S., a Wall Street Journal analysis shows. The Journal examined the number of beds in intensive-care units available for every 100,000 people aged 60 and older in 306 U.S. health regions. Although the national average is 116 ICU beds per 100,000 people 60 and older, nearly one in five regions have fewer than 75, and six have fewer than 50. The analysis was based on data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Census Bureau. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show those 60 and older have so far accounted for about three-fifths of Covid-19 ICU patients in the U.S., while just one-fifth of the country’s population is in that age group. The Journal’s analysis suggests that hospitals in some communities likely won’t have enough beds available for the sickest patients of any age if the pandemic spreads more widely. ICU beds per 100,000 people aged 60 and older, by hospital referral region: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday morning that the state, currently the epicenter of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, soon could need 40,000 ICU beds given the trajectory of infections. “Those are troubling and astronomical numbers,” he said. The Journal analysis shows that the state has about 3,800 beds, or 96 per 100,000 older residents, putting it slightly below the national average. The Manhattan health region, which includes Brooklyn, Staten Island and part of Queens, had about 1,100 ICU beds before the crisis. Areas ranking near the bottom in ICU beds per older resident in the Journal analysis include the Hackensack, N.J., Fort Myers, Fla., and Santa Cruz, Calif., regions. “We are working nonstop to protect our elderly,” said Florida’s top hospital official, Mary Mayhew, secretary of the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. She said the state is working with hospitals to convert surgical beds to work as ICU beds, and has sent out guidance for hospitals to test every symptomatic elderly person to keep those infected from returning to senior homes.The findings also show vulnerabilities in areas that have both low levels of ICU beds and higher levels of older people with underlying health conditions such as asthma and diabetes, which are associated with higher risk from the coronavirus.

 New York's Javits Center Will Be A 2,000 Bed Hospital Within A Week -  This week, the Jacob K. Javits center in New York City is being turned into a 1,000 bed hospital. That's part of a plan to eventually turn it into a 2,000 bed hospital, according to Bloomberg.  Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed that the Center's main showroom is broken up into four 250 bed hospitals, each about 40,000 sq. feet in size. New Jersey is taking similar measures, asking FEMA, with help from the President, to operate four pop-up hospitals. In Manhattan, the Javits centers is one of the biggest pieces of event spaces in the nation. The New York National Guard and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers are working on preparing the center, which is slated to open over the next 7 to 10 days.  The hope is that the center will house 1,000 beds for intensive care and another 1,000 for less intensive care.Governor Cuomo said: “For us a major thrust is increasing hospital capacity.”The state is expecting to need 110,000 beds as a result of the virus spread, 57,000 more than the state currently has on hand. Cuomo is also preparing an executive order to allow hospitals to increase their capacity by 50% to handle the growing number of patients.  The number of infections in New York had surged past 15,000 on Sunday, making it the clear U.S. epicenter of the virus outbreak. New York now accounts for more than a third of all deaths nationwide from the virus.

 Cuomo Approves 'Splitting' Of Ventilators As Some COVID-19 Patients Stay Intubated For Up To 30 Days - Andrew Cuomo and the federal government are battling it out over 20,000 ventilators believed to be idling in a federal stockpile, ventilators that the governor - who is enjoying a moment of celebrity thanks to his swift and reassuring response to the crisis, even as New York has emerged as the epicenter, and one of the few places where hospitals are truly overwhelmed by the crisis - badly needs.Without them, the state could see dozens of unnecessary deaths, something that would reflect poorly on the national mortality rate, and an easily preventable tragedy.As deaths spiked on Wednesday and Thursday, Cuomo proclaimed that he had given hospitals permission to split ventilators between two patients, something that can be accomplished with a minor modification, but is said to be a practice of last resort, as it greatly diminishes the quality of care, according to professional medical groups.During his Thursday press conference, Cuomo revealed that the need for ventilators is on track to be even greater than he initially anticipated, as the state is finding that patients with severe cases are staying on the ventilators longer than expected. Typically, serious respiratory illnesses requiring ventilation will have a patient hooked up for 3-4 days. For COVID-19, the range expands to 11-21 days, with some cases lasting as long as 30 days. The longer a patient is ventilated, the lower their odds of survival, Cuomo added. Because of this, the state needs three times as many ventilators as it would for other respiratory illnesses. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday made an impassioned plea for thousands of ventilators to be sent to his state within the next 14 days to deal with an expected severe shortage given the wave of patients expected to be infected with the coronavirus. He urged the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act to get corporations to produce the equipment. And the government should also send the state the 20,000 ventilators now in a federal stockpile, he said.

EXCLUSIVE: Top CDC official warns New York's coronavirus outbreak is just a preview -  American health officials are deeply concerned that the coronavirus outbreak that has overwhelmed New York City hospitals in recent days is just the first in a wave of local outbreaks likely to strike cities across the country in the coming weeks. In an exclusive interview, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said her agency is seeing early signs that the number of cases in other cities are already beginning to spike. While New York City is home to almost half the cases in the country at the moment, other cities are seeing their case counts rising at alarming rates. “We're looking at our flu syndromic data, our respiratory illness that presents at emergency departments. Across the country there's a number of areas that are escalating. The numbers in New York are so large that they show up, but we're looking at increases over time and we're really seeing some in a number of places. It would be surprising to me based on what I've seen about how this virus spreads if it were not going to increase in many other parts of the country,” Schuchat said. The CDC has deployed about 1,500 of its epidemiologists, scientists and experts to hot spots around the country, including the New York City area and Seattle, where the first American cases of the coronavirus emerged in January and early February. Now, Schuchat said, the CDC has dispatched teams to Louisiana, Wisconsin and Colorado, among others. Schuchat declined to name the cities that are likely to become the epicenters of new and worrying outbreaks, but New Orleans has stood out in recent days for the rapid growth in cases it has seen. Louisiana reported its first case of coronavirus on March 9; it crossed 100 cases a week later. Its case count doubled between Sunday and Wednesday, when the state reported almost 1,800 cases. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said Tuesday that the pace of growth in the number of confirmed cases in Louisiana was on par with countries like Italy and Spain, two of the hardest-hit nations in Europe where health systems have quickly become overwhelmed and doctors are having to make gut-wrenching decisions about rationing care.

Rhode Island Police to Hunt Down New Yorkers Seeking Refuge - Rhode Island police began stopping cars with New York plates Friday. On Saturday, the National Guard will help them conduct house-to-house searches to find people who traveled from New York and demand 14 days of self-quarantine. “Right now we have a pinpointed risk,” Governor Gina Raimondo said. “That risk is called New York City.” New York is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., on Friday reporting a total of 44,000 cases. Rhode Island has just over 200, and it has begun an aggressive campaign to keep the virus out and New Yorkers contained, over objections from civil liberties advocates. Raimondo, a Democrat, said she had consulted lawyers and said while she couldn’t close the border, she felt confident she could enforce a quarantine. Many New Yorkers have summer houses in Rhode Island, especially in tony Newport, and the governor said the authorities would be checking there. “Yesterday I announced and today I reiterated: Anyone coming to Rhode Island in any way from New York must be quarantined,” the governor said. “By order. Will be enforced. Enforceable by law.” Raimondo signed an executive order Thursday that applies to anyone who has been in New York during the past two weeks and through at least April 25. It doesn’t apply to public health, public safety, or health-care workers. White House Calls For 14-Day Quarantine For All Leaving New York National Guard members will be stationed at the T.F. Green airport, Amtrak train stations and at bus stops. The citizen-soldiers will be following up with people at local residences. The maximum penalty for not complying: a fine of $500 and 90 days in prison. The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union blasted the new rules, objecting to the collection of motorists’ contact information in particular. “While the Governor may have the power to suspend some state laws and regulations to address this medical emergency, she cannot suspend the Constitution,” Rhode Island ACLU executive director Steven Brown said in a statement. “Under the Fourth Amendment, having a New York state license plate simply does not, and cannot, constitute ‘probable cause’ to allow police to stop a car and interrogate the driver, no matter how laudable the goal of the stop may be.”

Coronavirus live updates: Trump considering quarantine in New York, parts of New Jersey and Connecticut; Italy deaths top 10,000 - President Trump said Saturday he may announce later in the day a federally mandated quarantine on the New York metro region, placing “enforceable” travel restrictions on people planning to leave the New York tri-state area because of the coronavirus outbreak. The news comes as the United States has become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 116,000 confirmed infections and 1,900 deaths. Here are some significant developments:

  • The outbreak in New York — the state hit hardest so far — will reach its apex in “14 to 21 days,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) anticipated. The surgeon general warned that Detroit, New Orleans and Chicago are becoming “hotspots.”
  • Italy has now seen more than 10,000 coronavirus fatalities. More than 600,000 people have been infected worldwide with 30,000 total deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • South Korea marked a new milestone, as more coronavirus patients have been discharged than those undergoing treatment.
  • Following several days of back-and-forth criticism with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), Trump granted her request for a disaster declaration, as well as one for Massachusetts.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Saturday that an infant who tested positive for the novel coronavirus has died, the youngest person in the country believed to have succumbed to the illness. An autopsy will determine whether the virus caused the death, state officials said. No other details were announced. “I want everyone to take covid-19 serious. If you haven’t been paying attention, maybe this is your wake-up call,” Illinois public health chief Ngozi Ezike said. “People of all ages and people, even healthy, will and have contracted the virus and can develop serious illness, including death.” The infant was among 13 deaths Saturday attributed to the virus, Pritzker (D) said. Illinois has reported 3,491 total known cases and 47 deaths. Although older people are more vulnerable to the illness, there have been numerous cases of youthful victims. Louisiana health officials announced Thursday that a 17-year-old from Orleans Parish died of covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes.

US coronavirus deaths surpass 2,000 as Trump says New York quarantine 'will not be necessary' - New York, New Jersey and Connecticut could soon be placed under a "strong travel advisory" just as the United States topped 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday.President Donald Trump said a quarantine will not be necessary in those states but he's asked the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a "strong travel advisory."The CDC is expected to issue guidelines on the advisory Saturday night, Trump said.Earlier on Saturday, Trump tweeted that he was considering a two-week quarantine due to the pandemic, even though the governors of New York Connecticut and New Jersey were unaware of the possibility. In an interview with CNN's Ana Cabrera Saturday evening, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said a quarantine "would be chaos and mayhem.""It's totally opposite everything he's been saying. I don't think it is plausible. I don't think it is legal."   In the past days, federal and state authorities have been scrambling to slow down the spread of the deadly virus. As of Saturday evening, 2,010 people have died in the US, according to CNN's tally. The US surpassed Italy and China this week to become the country with the most coronavirus cases in the world and now has at least 120,000 known cases.

New Jersey Orders 9 Million Residents To 'Stay At Home'; 86 Million Americans Now On Lockdown - Following a hint from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who suggested during a press conference earlier this week that Connecticut and New Jersey might follow suit with lockdowns of their own, NJ Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday signed an executive order barring citizens from leaving their homes unless they're part of the "essential" workforce.The stay-at-home order covers all of the state's 9 million residents, and follows similar mandates that have been handed down in California, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania.Murphy insisted that residents practice social distancing when they leave the house to buy food or pick up medicine, or go to perform 'nonessential' jobs."We must flatten the curve and ensure residents are practicing social distancing," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in announcing the new restrictions. But, he added, "Even with this order in effect...life in New Jersey does not have to come to a complete standstill."He told residents not to panic, but added "we are at war."Starting at 9 p.m. Saturday, New Jersey residents must stay home and all nonessential businesses have to close indefinitely. All gatherings including weddings, in-person services and parties, are canceled until further notice, Murphy said. He added that  the rules he laid out supersede all those set by towns or cities or counties in his state,  The governor made the announcement during his Saturday press conference. "We need you to just stay home," he said, adding that, as of 12:30 pm, the state had counted 1,327 positive tests and 16 deaths. Including New Jersey's 9 million people, 86 million Americans are under a China- or Italy-style lockdown, or something closely approximating that.

New Jersey family hit by coronavirus see two more relatives test positive  - A New Jersey woman and her daughter tested positive for the coronavirus Sunday – two additional members of the same family that saw four relatives die within days of each other and several others sickened after supposedly spreading the infection at a gathering earlier in the month. Elizabeth Fusco, 42, of Freehold, said Sunday she and her daughter, who has unspecified underlying health conditions, have tested positive for the coronavirus, the New York Post reported. Both are continuing to quarantine in their home – a step they initially took last week as their family became possibly the worst-hit in America amid the outbreak of the novel disease. Elizabeth Fusco is the youngest of 11 children. She lost her mother, two brothers, and a sister last week all to the coronavirus. It is believed the infection spread between relatives at a recent family gathering on March 10. Another relative, Gabrielle Cartagena, said on Facebook Sunday that she tested negative for the coronavirus and now just two family members remain hospitalized with the disease. Her mother is also one of the 11 children. Cartagena said she recently lost her grandmother, two uncles, and an aunt. Vincente Fusco died last Thursday at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, one day after his mother and brother died of the virus, Roseann Paradiso Fodera, a cousin and lawyer representing the Fusco family, told NJ.com. His sister died days before. Grace Fusco, 73, a mother of 11 from Freehold, died last Wednesday at CentraState Medical Center. Her son, Carmine Fusco, a New York- and New Jersey-based horse racing trainer, died that same day at St. Luke’s University Hospital-Bethlehem Campus in Pennsylvania. Both had tested positive for the coronavirus. Sayreville Police Dept. Lt. James Novak and Sgt. Tom Sheehan on how they're helping the community. Her daughter, 55-year-old Rita Fusco-Jackson, died March 13 at the hospital in New Jersey. She tested positive for the coronavirus after her death, which deemed her the second person in New Jersey to die from a COVID-19 illness.

Mom, sister, two brothers gone: How coronavirus ‘decimated’ a New Jersey family - An unimaginable tragedy in New Jersey may have started around the dinner table of a big Italian-American family on March 3, where health officials say the novel coronavirus was an unexpected guest.Two weeks later, the Fusco clan is reeling after the COVID-19disease killed the family matriarch and three siblings, hospitalized another three and potentially infected more than a dozen others who were at that dinner. “It’s absolutely surreal,” said Elizabeth Fusco, 42, who has lost her mother, two brothers and eldest sister within a six-day span. All of her siblings were in their 50s and her mom was 73.“It’s like the second we start to grieve one, the phone rings and there’s another person gone, taken from us forever,” she told CNN. Fusco and her remaining family are now hoping and praying that they can grieve in peace, and that matters won’t get any worse.Three of her relatives remain in hospital, while 19 of them are in self-isolation amid concerns that they, too, might be infected with the potentially deadly disease. “If they’re not on a respirator, they’re quarantined,” Roseann Paradiso Fodera, a relative and lawyer for the family, told the New York Times.

"We're All Going To Get It" - New Jersey Top Health Official Warns - New Jersey's top public health official, Judith Persichilli, told NJ.com some frightening news last week when she said everyone would get the virus, including her. "I'm definitely going to get it. We all are," Persichilli said. "I'm just waiting." At the age of 71, Persichilli is at high-risk for severe illness relating to a COVID-19 infection. She said when she gets sick, it'll probably be mild and will last for a few days.  Persichilli has studied all the COVID-19 pandemic models and consulted with experts on how best to prepare New Jersey for an outbreak.  "It seemed that we were being cautious. We are really proud of ourselves. We said let's get our emergency preparedness plan. Let's get it documented. Let's make sure it gets to the governor's office and that they know what we're doing," She said. On Sunday, New Jersey's COVID-19 testing center in Bergen County hit full capacity and was forced to close as confirmed virus cases increased to 1,914 with 20 deaths.

Coronavirus dashboard for March 22 --This is a new daily or nearly daily update I hope to post, including the most important metrics to show how controlled – or out of control – the cononavirus pandemic is. Hopefully the numbers will move ever closer to the tipping point where the epidemic is under control.In order to bring this pandemic under control, and prevent both health and economic catastrophes, in my opinion the US needs 2 weeks of China (total lockdown, preventing community spread) followed by 1 month of South Korea (extremely aggressive testing). The metric to be watched for testing is a ratio of 15 tests administered for every infection found (the ratio at which South Korea turned the corner).Here is the update through yesterday (March 21)

  • Number and rate of increase of Reported Infections (from Johns Hopkins via arcgis.com) Number: up +7,123 to 26,747 (vs. +5,374 on March 21)  Rate of increase: day/day: 36% (vs. 34.6% baseline exponential average per Jim Bianco) (and vs. 38% on March 21) In the last five days, the rate of exponential growth has actually risen from about 28% to 40% and even 50%, probably due to increased testing being able to uncover more infections.
  • Number and rate of increase of testing (from COVID Tracking Project) Number: 44,068, up +7,414 vs. March 21 day/day. Rate: increase of 27% vs. number of tests previous day
  • Comparison of rates of increase in documented infections vs. testing  Infections +36% vs. Tests +27% day/day. Result: Infections continue to increase a faster rate than tests: i.e., we are falling further behind in testing.
  • Ratio of tests to positives for infection (from COVID Tracking Project)  44,068 new tests vs. 6,165 new diagnosed infections  Ratio: 7.1:1In South Korea, where aggressive testing has led to a near-total disappearance of new cases, the inflection point where the number of new daily cases plateaued was reached when the ratio of tests to new cases found reached 15:1. Any ratio less than that suggests that not enough testing is being done. Yesterday’s ratio of 7.1:1 is poor. We are way behind in the number of tests we are administering.

Death toll in the US grew by more than 100 on Monday as governors instituted even more rules – CNN - Monday was the deadliest day in the United States' fight against the Covid-19 disease caused by the coronavirus with more than 100 new deaths reported. And Monday saw more governors taking actions such as restricting group sizes, closing bars and restaurants, and in the case of Texas, restricting medical procedures including abortions. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Gov. Greg Abbott's order to postpone "all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary" includes abortions that are not needed to preserve the life or health of the mother. New measures were taken in more than a dozen states. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said his state has seen an influx of people flying in from Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, said anyone coming from those states will be told to self-quarantine for 14 days. "Today there's over 190 direct flights from the New York City area to the state of Florida, and I would reckon, given the outbreak there, that every single flight has somebody on it who's positive for Covid-19," DeSantis said. More than 42,000 people in the United States have been infected with coronavirus, and at least 515 people have died. At least 15 states have issued stay-at-home orders that are either in effect or will take effect this week. More than 137 million Americans live in states that will have those new rules in place by Wednesday. And in other states, mayors in cities such as Denver and San Antonio are putting in place similar orders. The country's top health official said the number of cases isn't subsiding. "I want America to understand -- this week, it's going to get bad," US Surgeon General Jerome Adams told NBC's "Today" show Monday. "We really, really need everyone to stay at home. I think that there are a lot of people who are doing the right things, but ... we're finding out a lot of people think this can't happen to them." President Trump acknowledged the effects of coronavirus are likely to worsen. "Certainly this is going to be bad," Trump said, agreeing with the surgeon general. "We're trying to make it much much less bad," Trump added. "Obviously the numbers are going to increase with time and then they're going to decrease."

So Far, The Number Of Americans That Have Died From COVID-19 Is Greater Than The Number That Have Recovered -  One of the great mysteries of this coronavirus pandemic has been the widely varying death rates that we have been witnessing all over the world.  For example, South Korea has had 8,981 confirmed cases so far.  Of those cases that have been resolved one way or the other, 111 victims have died and 3,166 victims have recovered.  So that would seem to indicate a very low death rate in that nation.  But in Italy, things are very different.  Up to this point, there have been 59,138 confirmed cases.  Of the cases that have been resolved, 5,476 victims have died and 7,024 have recovered.  Needless to say, that would seem to indicate a very, very high death rate in Italy. Nobody really knows why this is happening.  Scientists in China claim that there is more than one strain of the coronavirus and that one is more deadly than the other.  So it has been theorized that the strain hitting Italy and other European countries is different than the strain that is affecting South Korea.Alternatively, there are some that believe that certain pain killers used in the western world greatly accelerate the multiplication of the virus, and this is something that I wrote about a few days ago.  But the truth is that we really don’t know for sure why death rates in different countries are so vastly different. At this moment, there are 34,717 confirmed cases, but the vast majority of them will not be resolved for some time. Of those cases that have reached a final resolution, 452 have died, and only 178 have recovered.

This is what exponential growth looks like: 2,500,000 infected in the next 15 days, 50,000 deaths - I had originally planned on limiting this post to the next 10 days. But then the Buffoon-in-Chief tweeted this:  So let’s look at the number of diagnosed infections and deaths in the US by the time Trump gets around to deciding what to do. Bottom line: about 2.5 million *diagnosed* infections, and about 50,000 deaths baked in the cake at a 2% mortality rate, if the current exponential rate of spreading continues.  Let me start by revisiting Jim Bianco’s March 10 graph one last time. At the time he put up the graph, there were 959 diagnosed coronavirus cases in the US: That’s the information he had to work with. He deduced an exponential growth rate of 34.6% per day. Using that, he projected that over the next 10 days ending March 21, there would be 24,275 diagnosed cases:  Since then, I have pointed out how close to accurate those projections were. I’ll spare you the day by day count, but now that we have the actual numbers, here’s the actual vs. projected cases as of March 21:  Bianco’s projections weren’t perfect, but they were stunningly close. So now let’s take that same 34.6% growth rate and project it forward 15 days, starting with the actual March 21 number: 2% of the April 5 number is 50,037. That number won’t appear for another week or two later, because of the lag between onset of infection and death, but it will be, as I said above, “baked in the cake.” That’s where the US will be, if the current exponential growth rate of diagnosed coronavirus infections continues, when Trump finally gets around to “deciding” what to do. Hopefully, since “social distancing” really took off about 10 days ago, later on this week we’ll see it starting to have a downward impact on the trajectory of this growth. By the way: while Bianco hasn’t updated his graph, this morning Mike Shedlock a/k/a Mish, did a nice exponential extrapolation of actual cases. Here it is:  He has cases crossing the 1 million threshold on April 3 rather than April 2. I have criticized Shedlock’s economic analysis many times, but I have always appreciated that he takes a deep dive into the numbers. Hats off for this graph.

Despite White House claims, Roche CEO says US COVID-19 testing capacity continues to be limited - On Monday, Severin Schwan, CEO of Swiss diagnostics company Roche, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that the United States’ ability to conduct tests to detect the virus that causes COVID-19 infections continues to remain constrained. This comes despite repeated promises by the White House that these tests, numbering in the millions, would soon be available across the nation. “No doubt, ideally, we would have broader testing,” Schwan said. “But at the moment, capacities are limited. I think this is still a couple of weeks, if not months, out and the reason is very simple.” Schwan said that in the past week, Roche had distributed almost 400,000 test kits across the country. However, because the virus is spreading so quickly throughout communities, companies are currently not able to manufacture them quickly enough. “The industry is increasing capacities, but at the same time, infection rates are even increasing faster. At the moment, capacities are limited. That is why we have to prioritize testing to higher-risk patients.” For several weeks running, the World Health Organization has been emphatically counseling all nations to test every suspected case. “If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in contact with two days before they develop symptoms and test those people, too.” The testing is critical to determine not only who is infected but where the virus is spreading. These vital data allow epidemiologists and public health officials to allocate resources to areas becoming affected and stop the transmission of the infection deeper into communities. However, due to the disastrous efforts by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to roll out their test kits to states and local labs, the US has been flying blind through the outbreak since the beginning and up to the present moment, in which the epicenter for the pandemic is shifting to the US and now seeing daily new cases approaching 10,000. Health care workers and the public, in general, are vexed by the constant lying by the Trump administration and the assortment of flunkies that attempt to downplay the deadly seriousness of this disease.

'Atypically High' Levels Of Fever With Flu-Like Symptoms Detected In Florida -- A surge in seasonal illness linked to fever - specifically 'influenza-like illness' - has been observed in Florida, according to a 'US Health Weather Map' provided by smart thermometer manufacturer Kinsa in collaboration with Oregon State University. The map uses anonymized data from users to flag "anomalously high" cases by comparing it to expected seasonal flu trends (read more here). The map shows two key data points: (1) the illness levels we’re currently observing, and (2) the degree to which those levels are higher than the typical levels we expect to see at this point in the flu season. (Details on how we calculate this are available in our technical approach document.) We believe this latter data point — which we’re calling “atypical illness”, may in some cases be connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. -Healthweather.usKinsa says in a disclaimer that they are "not stating that this data represents COVID-19 activity. However we would expect to pick up higher-than-anticipated levels of flu-like symptoms in our data in areas where the pandemic is affecting large numbers of people."  In Florida, restaurants are still open. Many localities have closed beaches but there is no statewide closure or enforcement. Florida notably has a shortage of test kits, and is limiting COVID-19 testing to those who have been referred by their doctor based on CDC guidelines."I think to be perfectly honest the amount of supplies that were needed have caught everyone off guard," said Carmen Wiley, Chief Medical Officer for the Veravas, a laboratory medicine company. "We have to use the materials we have judiciously."

Fatal Coronavirus Outbreak at Assisted Living Center Is Grim Reminder That Both Residents and Staff Are at Risk - Richard Curren and his wife, Sheila, were living out their retirement at Atria Willow Wood, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, assisted living facility near their daughter and two grandchildren, when he started feeling weak and had trouble breathing.By the early morning of March 16, the burly 77-year-old was gone. He was the first of three residents at Atria Willow Wood to die from the coronavirus.Four days later, the assisted living facility reported that a second resident died from the disease. The 93-year-old man, whose name was not released, had initially tested negative. And over the weekend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed a third death during a briefing with reporters.Amid heightened fears over the spread of the coronavirus throughout densely populated South Florida, the assisted living facility has become a worrisome hot spot. At least seven residents who were hospitalized tested positive, and results were pending for five others, according to Mike Gentry, senior vice president of care. The Atria Willow Wood outbreak is a grim reminder of the vulnerability of residents and staff in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and other senior care centers, where the virus has been rapidly spreading.Nationwide, at least 73 nursing homes and senior care centers have reported infections, according to a Washington Post review published Saturday of reports and announcements from states, local media and nursing homes. At least 55 coronavirus deaths can be linked to such facilities, but the number is likely higher, The Post reported.A deadly outbreak that killed 35 people at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, was the first to reveal the havoc the virus could cause in elder care communities, where susceptible residents live in tight quarters and regularly interact with each other, staff members and visitors.In some states such as Florida, leaders and industry representatives have broadened measures to slow the spread, barring visitors and limiting residents’ interactions. But the cases persist. In New Orleans, five people died after being exposed to the virus at a senior living center. Another 32 people — including 16 residents, 14 staff members and two visitors — were symptomatic after possible exposure at an Ohio assisted living facility. In Florida, at least 19 long-term care facilities had either suspected or confirmed cases of the virus as of Wednesday, said Mary Mayhew, head of the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. State leaders have declined to identify the homes, providing only the counties where such exposures were identified, and have not offered more recent information.

DeSantis orders quarantine of N.Y., N.J., Conn. airline passengers — Gov. Ron DeSantis has been under fire from Democrats and some in the media for taking a slower approach to the coronavirus outbreak than some other governors. Guess it was time to show them he could wield a hammer. The governor put out an executive order Monday evening directing that airline passengers arriving in the state from New York, Connecticut or New Jersey must be quarantined or isolated for 14 days after they arrive here. (Let’s set aside the lingering legal questions, and it wasn’t that long ago DeSantis said he didn’t think he even had the legal authority to ban large gatherings in the state.) This sends a message, and not just to Democrats who have ramped up their rhetoric in the last few days. DeSantis has been asking President Donald Trump to restrict domestic travel — and he apparently did it again this weekend during a call with his ally. It didn’t work. “They thought we were going to have bans from within the United States,” Trump told reporters Monday. “We’re not going to do that.” DeSantis’ actions followed mounting frustration over his attempts to step up restrictions while dealing with people traveling into the state from a known hot spot. One apparent key moment? When the governor got the actual number of flights (190) still heading into the state. And amid this dust-up, DeSantis made it clear he still has no plans to issue a statewide order for people to stay at home like governors in New York, New Jersey and Illinois have done. He gave his most forceful remarks on the topic right before he announced his latest plans. “If you look at the Florida situation right now, this is not a virus impacting every corner of the state,” DeSantis said, adding a stay-at-home directive would ultimately be a “blunt instrument” against Floridians. Time to pound New Yorkers instead.

Coronavirus travel: Restrictions, isolation in Florida, Hawaii, Alaska -Travelers looking to escape to the sunny beaches of Florida and Hawaii or the mountains of Alaska during the coronavirus outbreak may want to reconsider as the states mandate visitor quarantines to keep the virus from spreading in their communities. Governors in both Alaska and Hawaii have issued orders mandating a 14-day quarantine for all visitors and residents arriving at state airports. Alaska's order goes into effect Wednesday and will be reviewed by April 21. Hawaii's order is effective Thursday.Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also issued an executive order requiring anyone flying to Florida from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. That mandate took effect Tuesday. Alaska, Florida and Hawaii are the first states to place restrictions on domestic travelers. President Donald Trump has not ordered any domestic travel restrictions but did recommend that Americans avoid “discretionary travel’’ during the 15 days that the country is asked to follow guidelines aimed at containing the coronavirus. Trump, who rolled out the guidelines March 16, has signaled that they won't last much beyond March 31.  "America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon," Trump said at the White House press briefing Monday.

New Orleans emerges as next coronavirus epicenter, threatening rest of South - (Reuters) - New Orleans is on track to become the next coronavirus epicenter in the United States, dimming hopes that less densely populated and warmer-climate cities would escape the worst of the pandemic, and that summer months could see it wane. The plight of New Orleans - with the world’s highest growth rate in coronavirus cases - also raises fears that the city may become a powerful catalyst in spreading the virus across the south of the country. Authorities have warned the number of cases in New Orleans could overwhelm its hospitals by April 4. New Orleans is the biggest city in Louisiana, the state with the third-highest case load of coronavirus in the United States on a per capita basis after the major epicenters of New York and Washington. The growth rate in Louisiana tops all others, according to a University of Louisiana at Lafayette analysis of global data, with the number of cases rising by 30% in the 24 hours before noon on Wednesday. On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a major federal disaster declaration for the state, freeing federal funds and resources. Some 70% of Louisiana’s 1,795 confirmed cases to date are in the New Orleans metro area. The culprit for the rapid spread of coronavirus in the Big Easy? Some blame Carnival. “Mardi Gras was the perfect storm, it provided the perfect conditions for the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Rebekah Gee, who until January was the Health Secretary for Louisiana and now heads up Louisiana State University’s health care services division. She noted that Fat Tuesday fell on Feb. 25, when the virus was already in the United States but before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and national leaders had raised the alarm with the American public. “New Orleans had its normal level of celebration, which involved people congregating in large crowds and some 1.4 million tourists,” Gee said. “We shared drink cups. We shared each other’s space in the crowds. People were in close contact catching beads. It is now clear that people also caught coronavirus.” Gee said that the explosive growth rate of the coronavirus in the Mississippi River port city means “it’s on the trajectory to become the epicenter for the outbreak in the United States.”

U.S. Coronavirus Update as Death Toll Hits 400, 'Stay at Home' Orders issued for Michigan, Massachusetts - Cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. have now surpassed 35,200, while the death toll has reached nearly 445. Most of the cases are within New York, Washington state and California, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.The virus has affected more than 353,000 people globally and more than 100,000 people have recovered from infection to date, while the global death toll has climbed past 15,400.More cases of the virus, which was first reported in China's Wuhan city of the Hubei province, have now been reported outside China than within. The country has seen nearly 81,400 people infected, more than 70,000 of whom have recovered. The country claims the outbreak has now largely been contained, having reported only one new domestic case on Sunday, its first in four days. New York's death toll has surpassed that of Washington state, with at least 153 fatalities reported so far, while has seen 92 deaths.The state is home to nearly half of the total confirmed cases in the country, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo saying on Monday that 20,875 people had tested positive for COVID-19.  The state has issued a "stay at home" order mandating "100 percent of the workforce must stay home, excluding essential services," the governor's office confirmed in a statement on Sunday. The latest mandate could be in place for up to nine months, Cuomo warned.All casinos, gyms, theaters, shopping malls, amusement parks and bowling alleys have been closed until further notice while bars and restaurants were limited to offering only takeout services. All residents aged 70 and over and anyone with compromised immune systems must:

  • Remain indoors;
  • Can go outside for solitary exercise;
  • Pre-screen all visitors by taking their temperature;
  • Wear a mask in the company of others; and
  • Stay at least six feet from others.

Coronavirus forces states to order nearly one in three Americans to stay home - (Reuters) - Nearly one in three Americans was under orders on Sunday to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic as Ohio, Louisiana and Delaware became the latest states to enact broad restrictions, along with the city of Philadelphia. The three states join New York, California, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey, home to 101 million Americans combined, as cases nationwide topped 32,000, with more than 415 dead, according to a Reuters tally. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T) “Every piece of evidence that I can lay my hands on indicates that we’re at an absolutely crucial time in this war and what we do now will make all the difference in the world,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “What we do now will slow this invader. It will slow this invader so our healthcare system ... will have time to treat casualties.” Ohio has 351 cases and three deaths, while Louisiana has 837 cases and 20 deaths, several in a senior-care facility. Louisiana has the third highest number of cases per capita and saw a 10-fold increase in cases in the past week, Governor John Bel Edwards said. Ohio’s order will go into effect at midnight EDT on Monday and stay in effect until April 6. Louisiana’s order goes into effect at 5 p.m. CDT on Monday and lasts through April 12. Delaware’s order starts at 8 a.m. EDT on Tuesday. Dallas County in Texas, home to over 2.5 million people, and Philadelphia, with 1.6 million residents, told non-essential businesses on Sunday to close and residents to stay home. In Kentucky, non-essential businesses must close by 8 p.m. EDT on Monday but authorities stopped short of ordering residents to stay home.

Inslee orders residents of Washington state to stay home amid coronavirus outbreak - Gov. Jay Inslee (D) ordered Monday that the residents of Washington state stay at home as much as possible as the coronavirus outbreak continues to hit the state hard. Inslee announced the stay-at-home order in a live televised address to the state, saying residents have to remain home unless they are “pursuing an essential activity,” including grocery shopping, doctor appointments or essential work duties. All gatherings of people in public and private groups will be banned, including weddings and funerals. “This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot yet project,” Inslee said. “It’s time to hunker down in order to win this fight.” The order will go into effect immediately and last for at least two weeks, the governor said. He added that the order is “enforceable by law.” “The fastest way to get back to normal is to hit this hard,” the governor said during his address. All nonessential Washington businesses will need to close within 48 hours. The state defines essential workplaces as restaurants for take-out and delivery, pharmacies, food banks, convenience stores, banks and laundromats, The Seattle Times reported. The Washington governor assured residents in a tweet that they can still go outside. “Take a walk. Ride a bike. Garden. But you must remain six feet away from everyone at all times,” he posted.

Health officials: 131 new COVID-19 cases, state total rises to 777 with 9 coronavirus-related deaths - There are now 777 confirmed coronavirus cases in Massachusetts, up from 646 cases on Sunday, health officials announced Monday. Nine deaths have been reported.The cases involve 399 men and 378 women. Seventy-nine of the patients have been hospitalized, 286 not hospitalized and 412 are under investigation.Thirty are from Barnstable County, 26 are from Berkshire County, 25 are from Bristol County, 1 from Dukes and Nantucket, 73  from Essex County, 2  from Franklin County, 15 from Hampden County, 6 from Hampshire County, 232 from Middlesex County, 82 from Norfolk County, 32 from Plymouth County, 154 from Suffolk County, 42 from Worcester County and 57 are unknown, according to the DPH.The nine people who died, including six men and three women, ranged in age from 50s to 90s, health officials said.Three of the six men were from Suffolk County, the other three were from Norfolk, Hampden, and Berkshire counties. The three women were from Worcester, Essex, and Middlesex counties.  As of 4 p.m. Monday, 8,922 Massachusetts residents have been tested for COVID-19 by the State Public Health Laboratory and commercial and clinical labs, up from 6,004 residents on Sunday.Of the 777 positive cases, 99 have been linked to the Biogen conference at the Long Wharf hotel in Boston.Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. Reported worldwide illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death.

March 24 Update: US COVID-19 Tests per Day #TestAndTrace --Tests per day is a key number to track (along with actual cases and, sadly, deaths). But total tests were a key for South Korea slowing the spread of COVID-19. South Korea has been conducting 15,000 tests per day with a 51 million population, so the US needs to test around 100,000 per day.
Note: NYC and LA have stopped testing mild cases due to resource constraints. Hopefully testing will continue to improve, and we can test more people - this is important for test-and-trace. The US conducted 63,851 tests in the last 24 hours. Note: About 15% of tests were positive (red line, ht: NDD) in the most recent report (some are still pending). The high percentage of positives indicates limited testing.   For Test-and-trace to be effective, the percent positive would probably be at 5% or less.This data is from the COVID Tracking Project. Some states could do a better job of reporting the number of tests - so this is probably low.Testing is improving, but needs to double from here to be sufficient for test-and-trace. Test. Test. Test. But protect our healthcare workers first!

Coronavirus dashboard for March 24 - Here is the update through yesterday (March 23)  In order to succeed in containing the pandemic, I believe that the US needs 2 weeks of China (nearly complete lockdown) followed by at least a month of South Korea (very aggressive and widespread testing). At minimum, that means at least 50% of the US population under lockdown and a ratio of 15:1 in tests to results showing infection. The recent exponential growth of about 35% per day must be stopped. Those three most important metrics are starred (***) below.

Number and rate of increase of Reported Infections (from Johns Hopkins via arcgis.com)

  • Number: up +11,226 to 46,450 (vs. +8,477 on March 23)
  • ***Rate of increase: day/day: 32% (vs. 34.6% baseline and vs. 32% on March 22)

Number and rate of increase of testing (from COVID Tracking Project)

  • Number: 65,840, up +21,772 vs. March 23 day/day
  • Rate: increase of 49% vs. number of tests previous day

Comparison of rates of increase in documented infections vs. testing

  • Infections +32% vs. Tests +49% day/day
  • Result: for the first time, testing has increased at a faster rate than infections. Testing is beginning to catch up.

Ratio of tests to positives for infection (from COVID Tracking Project)

  • Number: 65,840 new tests vs. 10,296 new diagnosed infections
  • ***Ratio: 6.4:1

In South Korea, where aggressive testing has led to a near-total disappearance of new cases, the inflection point where the number of new daily cases plateaued was reached when the ratio of tests to new cases found reached 15:1. Any ratio less than that suggests that not enough testing is being done. Yesterday’s ratio of 6.4:1 is poor. We remain way behind in the number of tests we are administering. Bottom line: as of March 23, a lot of progress has been made on the State level, as well as the number of tests administered. The first benefits of “social distancing” may be beginning to show up. But it is still not enough. More States need to follow suit with lockdowns, well over 100,000 tests a day need to be administered. Those States which have gone to lockdowns need to cooperate regionally in quarantining incoming visitors.

Bureau of Prisons Imposes 14-Day Quarantine -The federal Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday said it has imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all new inmates entering any of its facilities, a challenging directive for the nation’s crowded prisons as they try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The effort came as bipartisan pressure mounted for the Trump administration to transfer at-risk inmates to home detention and as civil-rights groups urged President Trump to commute the sentences of sick and elderly prisoners who could benefit from compassionate release. Health experts have long warned that a disease outbreak could devastate jail and prison populations. The federal system’s roughly 175,000 inmates share tight quarters, spend much of their time together and often have what prison-reform advocates have described as inadequate access to health care. “It’s chaos, and it’s going to get worse,” said Joe Rojas, Southeast regional vice president of the Council of Prison Locals, who works at FCC Coleman in Florida. Three inmates and at least three employees within the federal prison system have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the bureau’s website, though union officials said at least eight employees have tested positive, with others in quarantine. Federal prisons have suspended visitation, limited inmate movement and are separating groups during meals and recreation time, among other measures, inmates and officials said. But union leaders doubted such measures would be enough to stop the spread of the virus, and some inmates are pessimistic as well.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issues ‘stay-at-home’ order to contain spread of coronavirus (WOIO) - Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and state health officials addressed the public at 2 p.m. with the latest COVID-19 mitigation measures and updates. As of Sunday morning, at least 27,004 people across every state, plus Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories, have tested positive for coronavirus, and at least 340 people have died from the disease. In Ohio, 351 people have been infected with COVID-19 across 40 counties. And three elderly men, from Cuyahoga, Erie and Lucas counties, have passed away due to the illness in the past week.And worldwide, 318,209 cases have been confirmed. Of those cases, 13,672 people died and 94,700 people recovered.

  • Gov. Mike DeWine issues “stay-at-home” order. The order will take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, and will last through at least April 6. State officials have released the full details of the “stay-at-home” order, which can be found here.
  • Ohioans may leave home for essential activities. This includes shopping for food, supplies and medicine, and taking care of family members.
  • First responders and health care workers will continue to report to work, but non-essential businesses will close. Restaurants offering carry-out services will remain open.
  • Residents are allowed to go outside, but they are not permitted at playgrounds.
  • “We are at an absolutely crucial time in this war, and what we do now will make all the difference in the world,” DeWine said.
  • Child day cares will be limited to six children per room, starting March 26. This measure will last through at least April 30.

Ohio reports 442 confirmed coronavirus cases, 6 deaths -– Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton provided an update on the coronavirus outbreak during their daily briefing Monday afternoon. As of Monday, there were 442 confirmed cases, resulting in 104 hospitalizations and six deaths, the Ohio Department of Health said. The deaths are in Cuyahoga, Erie, Franklin, Lucas and Stark counties. More deaths are under investigation, Acton said. Illness onset dates are between Feb. 7 and March 23. The ages are infant to 93 years old. Acton said we are very limited in our testing right now. There are numerous clusters under investigation. She said they stopped reporting the number of persons under investigation because testing is now happening in the public and private sector. Where are we on the coronavirus curve? "On a sharp way up," Acton said. Acton applauded the work in the state's nursing homes. She also said primary care doctors will be getting new guidelines for treating the virus soon, including using telemedicine and taking detailed family histories to keep people out of health care facilities. "Some of our greatest spreads are in our nursing homes and hospitals," Acton said. The state's top health official said we must stop the spread while we are building up resources, like equipment, hospitals beds and bringing physicians out of retirement to operate hotlines "The most important thing we can all do right now is stay at home, unless you are absolutely essential to those lifelines of food, water, the transportation that supports that, our health care services, our front line workers," Acton said. On Monday, DeWine ordered an immediate hiring freeze in state government, except for those directly involved in fighting coronavirus. He said he will meet with cabinet members to cut budgets. When asked if he plans to tap into the state's rainy day fund, DeWine said, "It's raining," but said we need to cut back on spending. DeWine also said he hopes to align the state's tax filing deadline with the federal changes, but that will be up to the state legislature. Beginning Thursday, childcare providers must have a temporary childcare license. There cannot be more than six kids per room. DeWine said they must reserve the spots for parents who are health care workers, first responders, pharmacy staff and nursing home workers. Coronavirus cases by Ohio county:

Coronavirus: Franklin County cases see large jump as infection spreads - News - The Columbus Dispatch - Cases of coronavirus reported in Franklin County spiraled on Tuesday as Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine shared President Donald Trump’s frustration -- but not his thinking -- in hoping to liberate America from economy-choking public-health restrictions by Easter. “The truth is protecting people and protecting the economy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one depends on the other,” DeWine said. “When people are dying and people don’t feel safe, the economy is not going to come back.” With Ohioans ordered to stay home on Tuesday in the first of at least 14 days, state health officials announced two more deaths and 122 more coronavirus cases, a jump of 28% from Monday’s figures. The state now has recorded 564 cases of the contagious infection, including 75 in Franklin County as its reported number of cases jumped by 31 or 70% on Tuesday, according to state health figures. However, Columbus Public Health on Tuesday afternoon reported 51 cases in its jurisdiction (which includes Worthington) and Franklin County Public Health reported 28 cases for a total of 79. State health director Dr. Amy Acton said increasing numbers in big cities were not unexpected and attributed the sudden jump in the Columbus area to increased testing. The state now has seen 564 cases of the contagious infection. The number of statewide cases stood at three on March 9, a little more than two weeks ago, when Franklin County had none. Ohio now has recorded eight deaths -- including two in Franklin County -- attributed to coronavirus. The new deaths on Tuesday were in Cuyahoga and Gallia counties.

Coronavirus patients exhibiting new symptoms, Ohio health director says - Patients who contract COVID-19 are showing new symptoms previously not associated with the virus, according to Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton. Acton said some of the data, particularly out of Cuyahoga County, show patients exhibiting gastrointestinal upset, more fatigue, and sometimes not showing a fever, in addition to the previous flu-like symptoms. “My best advice to everyone is if you don’t feel well in any way, stay home and make that call,” she said. Previously, symptoms of viral infection were thought to be limited to those similar to the flu – fever, tiredness, and a dry cough, with difficulty breathing in more severe cases. Patients continue to show those symptoms as well. A small study out of China found similar cases. Published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the study found that GI upset, not previously considered to be a common symptom, were the “chief complaint” in almost half of the COVID-19 cases studied, CNN reports. Symptoms ranged from loss of appetite to diarrhea and vomiting. The study involved 204 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Hubei Province, China. Researchers warned, “If clinicians solely monitor for respiratory symptoms to establish case definitions for COVID-19, they may miss cases initially presenting with extra-pulmonary symptoms, or the disease may not be diagnosed later until respiratory symptoms emerge.” They went on to suggest that missing early GI symptoms could have contributed to the early spread of the virus among health care workers in China.

116 confirmed coronavirus cases in Ohio's health care workers (WJW)-- Of the state of Ohio's 704 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 16 percent are health care workers. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said there are 116 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in health care workers. She said they are at a higher risk so they are tested more. There are protocols in place at hospitals, doctor's offices and nursing homes to minimize the risk to those workers, including taking employee temperatures, Acton said. She asked anyone who is ill to call before going to the doctor or emergency department. That way the workers can be prepared. Acton said they are expanding the health care workforce, by bringing back retired doctors for telehealth, using retired health department workers and training medical students.

867 coronavirus cases in Ohio, deaths rise to 15 with 223 hospitalizations —  Ohio had 867 confirmed cases Thursday with 223 hospitalizations and 15 deaths. The health department said 92 people have been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). Officials said the age range of ICU patients is between 23 to 92-years-old. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton confirmed 145 healthcare workers have tested positive. Dr. Acton said 17,316 has been tested in the state. Cases have been confirmed in 60 counties: Cuyahoga (259), Franklin (108), Hamilton (53), Mahoning (51), Summit (50), Lorain (44), Lucas (35), Medina (24), Butler (21), Miami (20), Lake (19), Stark (16), Delaware (15), Mongomery (14), Trumbill (12), Warren (10), Portage (8), Geauga (7), Wood (6), Fairfield (6), Clermont (6), Licking (5), Columbiana (5), Marion (4), Coshocton (4), Union (3), Tuscarawas (3), Richland (3), Madison (3), Huron (3), Greene (3), Erie (3), Carroll (3), Belmont (3), Ashtabula (3), Wayne (2), Pickaway (2), Logan (2), Knox (2), Hancock (2), Defiance (2), Clinton (2), Clark (2), Champaign (2), Wyandot (1), Washington (1), Shelby (1), Seneca (1), Sandusky (1), Muskingum (1), Mercer (1), Lawrence (1), Jefferson (1), Highland (1), Gallia (1), Fayette (1), Darke (1), Crawford (1), Athens (1), Ashland (1), During the news conference Lt. Governor Husted said unemployment benefits will be applied retroactively from the day some files. Lt. Gov. Husted reiterated again not to contact local health department or police department to ask how to interpret the stay at home order, he said use your good judgement to follow the order. Governor Mike DeWine said his office has created away for the residents of Ohio to contact him. Emails came been sent to together@governor.ohio.gov. 

Coronavirus in Ohio Saturday update: 1,406 cases, 25 deaths reported   — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine held his daily news conference Saturday, providing an update on the state’s effort to fight COVID-19 spread in the state. DeWine was joined by Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, Lt. Governor Jon Husted and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.   As of Saturday, there were 1,406 cases reported in Ohio, 344 leading to hospitalizations and 25 deaths. DeWine opened Saturday’s news conference by pointing out the production of the daily briefings was affected by a capital square employee going to the hospital with pneumonia. They are now producing each day’s briefing with a skeleton crew. That employee tested negative for COVID-19.The governor also discussed the Battelle Institute’s efforts to come up with a way to sterilize masks in order to reuse them. He called on the FDA to quickly approve the technology.“We have nurses, doctors, and others who need these masks. We would be able to sterilize 160,000 per day. This is a matter of life and death. We need to protect or people who are risking their lives,” said DeWine.Governor DeWine also urged private labs to accurately and quickly report testing data to the state. “We absolutely have to have those results, and we have to have them in real time,” said DeWine.

Coronavirus: Summit County reports 86 confirmed cases, 5 deaths - - Confirmed COVID-19 cases here and statewide continue to climb, but the state’s public health leader says the situation would be much more dire without the stay-at-home order and other efforts to slow the spread.Summit County now has a total of 86 confirmed cases, including five deaths, according to updated figures released Saturday by Summit County Public Health.As of 2 p.m. Saturday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 1,406 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths statewide. At the time, the state was reporting 79 cases in Summit County, including four deaths.The state total includes 37 in Medina, 25 in Stark, 19 in Portage, four in Wayne and two in Ashland. Coronavirus has been identified in 66 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Confirmed cases statewide increased 24% from Friday, when 1,127 cases were reported by the state health department.

Coronavirus cases in Ohio could reach 6,000-8,000 a day -Dr. Amy Acton said based on current models, Ohio could see a surge of 6,000 to 8,000 coronavirus cases a day by the peak of the curve, which is projected to be May 1. “Remember it’s doubling in New York right now. It’s doubling every three days,” Dr. Acton said. “The more we can push that surge off the better our hospitals are getting ready and building out their systems so everyday matters.” Earlier in the press conference, Dr. Acton said the effort being made by Ohioans right now has already decreased the the virus’ impact on Ohio’s health care systems by 50 to 75 percent. She added staying at home will need to continue so that hospitals don’t become overwhelmed and run out of supplies by the time the surge hits Ohio. During Thursday’s daily briefing, Dr. Amy Acton also revealed a new interactive dashboard with the latest information on coronavirus in Ohio. As of Thursday at 2 p.m., there are 867 cases of novel coronavirus confirmed in Ohio.

Michigan has 3 times more coronavirus cases than Ohio: 2,294 v. 704. Why? - cleveland.com -- Two weeks into the Midwest’s war with coronavirus, Ohio has has 704 cases of coronavirus, while Michigan has more than three times as many, at 2,294. As of Monday, Ohio, with 11.7 million residents, had 10 deaths from COVID-19; Michigan, with 10 million, had 43. Why the stark difference in neighboring states, where the first cases were confirmed one day apart? Is it the number of tests? That’s a big unknown. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton on Wednesday said the state had 14,764 total tests. Michigan stopped reporting negative tests a week ago. The independent covidtracking.com site is weeks behind. Was it the primary election? Cleveland.com’s Andrew Tobias is investigating. Michigan’s primary was held March 10 -- the day after Michigan’s first two cases, and two days after Ohio’s first three. But Ohio canceled its primary March 17. Both Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine governors closed schools March 12, starting March 16. The numbers remained close for a week before diverging radically. Now both states have ordered residents to stay at home, and nonessential businesses to close. See how the states’ timelines compare:

Detroit hospitals warn many “extremely sick” patients will be denied lifesaving treatment - As COVID-19 cases throughout the metro Detroit area soared, the Henry Ford Health system warned patients that “because of shortages,” patients who are “extremely sick” may be “ineligible for ICU or ventilator care.” In a letter to patients and families shared widely on social media, the hospital chain stated: “We currently have a public health emergency that is making our supply of some medical resources hard to find. Because of shortages, we will need to be careful with resources. Patients who have the best chance of getting better are our first priority. Patients will be evaluated for the best plan for care and dying patients will be provided comfort care.” Letter from the Henry Ford hospital system It continues, “[I]f you (or a family member) becomes ill and your doctor believes you need extra care in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or Mechanical Ventilation (breathing machine), you will be assessed for eligibility based only on your specific condition. “Some patients will be extremely sick and very unlikely to survive their illness even with Mal treatment. Treating these patients would take away resources for patients who might survive.” The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city of Detroit rose to 851 on Thursday afternoon, 146 people more than the previous day, or an increase of 21 percent. Fifteen Detroit residents have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Driven by the increase in confirmed cases in the city, the number of people with coronavirus in Wayne County, where Detroit is located, has among the most rapidly rising infection rate of any county in the US outside of New York City and New Orleans. The number of cases in Wayne County went up by 239 people on Thursday, up to a total of 1,389, or an increase of 24 percent. Local hospitals are already being overwhelmed by the number of cases, with nurses reporting that they are running out of critical supplies and that patients are dying before their test results come back positive for COVID-19. The dramatic spread of COVID-19 cases in Detroit and Wayne County is so stark that it was taken note of by Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force during the press briefing on Thursday. Showing that the White House is very well aware of the developing crisis in Detroit, Birx said, “We are concerned about certain counties that look like they are having a more rapid increase,” adding that Wayne County is among the “hot spots” in “urban areas or communities that serve that urban area.”

Coronavirus dashboard for March 25: decisive moves by States toward lockdowns, first signs of benefits of “social distancing” -Here is the update through yesterday (March 24) In order to succeed in containing the pandemic, I believe that the US needs 2 weeks of China (nearly complete lockdown) followed by at least a month of South Korea (very aggressive and widespread testing).  At minimum, that means at least 50% of the US population under lockdown and a ratio of 15:1 in tests to results showing infection. The recent exponential growth of about 35% per day must be stopped. Those three most important metrics are starred (***) below.  Yesterday we crossed two out of three of those thresholds - just over 50% of the population is under lockdown or near lockdown, and the rate of increase in new infections decelerated substantially. The amount of testing continues to fall are short of what is necessary.

Number and rate of increase of Reported Infections (from Johns Hopkins via arcgis.com)

  • Number: up +8,775 to 55,225 (vs. +11,126 on March 24)
  • ***Rate of increase: day/day: 19% (vs. 34.6% baseline and vs. 32% on March 23)

Number and rate of increase of testing (from COVID Tracking Project)

  • Number: 65,840, down -735 vs. March 24 day/day
  • Rate: decrease of -1% vs. number of tests previous day

Comparison of rates of increase in documented infections vs. testing

  • Infections +19% vs. Tests -1% day/day
  • Result: After appearing to improve, the rate of testing is failing abysmally again.

Ratio of tests to positives for infection (from COVID Tracking Project)

  • Number: 65,105 new tests vs. 9,806 new diagnosed infections 
  • ***Ratio: 6.6:1

In South Korea, where aggressive testing has led to a near-total disappearance of new cases, the inflection point where the number of new daily cases plateaued was reached when the ratio of tests to new cases found reached 15:1. Any ratio less than that suggests that not enough testing is being done. Yesterday’s ratio of 6.6:1 is poor. We remain way behind in the number of tests we are administering.

Nearly Half Of All Patients At Bay Area Hospital Are Confirmed Or Suspected Coronavirus Cases -- Approximately half of the patients at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in San Jose, California are either confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases, according to a hospital vice president. "Our San Jose facility in California actually has almost half of the hospital filled either with COVID-confirmed or persons under investigation," Dr. Stephen Parodi told the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). "So we’ve literally had to revamp the hospital to make sure that we’ve got enough capacity from a personnel standpoint. Because to provide the care to these patients requires resource intensive personnel."Parodi, a Kaiser executive VP, is an infectious disease expert and national incident commander for the company's COVID-19 response.Santa Clara County is currently the hardest-hit area in the state in terms of fatalities, which currently stand at 17 - whole total case count is 459. There are 3,166 cases in California as of this writing. In terms of infected, Los Angeles County is the worst-hit, with 662 cases and 13 fatalities. Based on Oakland, Kaiser has 12 million patients and 39 hospitals, as well as 706 medical offices across the US. They also operate in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Georgia, Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Hawaii.

California's coronavirus crisis feared to be next New York - The coronavirus crisis in California could escalate to be as bad as the Big Apple’s outbreak, officials warned this week.By Friday afternoon, a total of 4,533 COVID-19 cases and 91 deaths had been reported in the Golden State, The Los Angeles Times reported.In Los Angeles County alone, cases surged to 1,481 Friday, with a total of 26 deaths, the paper reported.Those numbers are still thousands fewer than the figures in New York, where 44,635 cases have been reported — 25,398 in the city alone. But Barbara Ferrer, director of the LA County Department of Public Health, told the Times that the mortality rate in her county is about 1.8 percent — higher than that of New York City and the US as a whole. However, LA has tested far fewer people than in the Big Apple, so the true number of people infected is far less clear, she said.If each person who tested positive for the virus infected two others, “within a few weeks, there could be over a million people that would be infected in LA County,” Ferrer added. “I was asked by a reporter today, ‘Is Los Angeles the next New York?'” he said Thursday, according to CNN. “And I said sure in the same way that New York is now the next Italy, and Italy was the next Iran and Iran was the next China, and no matter where you live, you are the next.”

Teen Who Died of Covid-19 Was Denied Treatment Because He Didn’t Have Health Insurance - A 17-year-old boy in Los Angeles County who became the first teen believed to have died from complications with covid-19 in the U.S. was denied treatment at an urgent care clinic because he didn’t have health insurance, according to R. Rex Parris, the mayor of Lancaster, California. Roughly 27.5 million Americans—8.5 percent of the population—don’t have health insurance based on the latest government figures.“He didn’t have insurance, so they did not treat him,” Parris said in a video posted to YouTube. The staff at the urgent care facility told the teen to try the emergency room at Antelope Valley (AV) Hospital, a public hospital in the area, according to the mayor.  “En route to AV Hospital, he went into cardiac arrest, when he got to AV hospital they were able to revive him and keep him alive for about six hours,” Parris said. “But by the time he got there, it was too late.”  The name of the urgent care clinic that refused to treat the teen has not been released. Mayor Parris explained in his YouTube video that the 17-year-old is believed to have had no underlying conditions that may have contributed to his death.“He had been sick for a few days, he had no previous health conditions. On the Friday before he died, he was healthy, he was socializing with his friends,” the mayor explained. Los Angeles County currently has 1,216 covid-19 cases and 21 deaths, according to the L.A. County Public Health Department’s website. The U.S. as a whole has identified at least 85,991 covid-19 cases and 1,296 deaths as of Friday morning, according to the Johns Hopkins online coronavirus tracker. The U.S. became the country with the highest number of confirmed cases of the virus in the worldyesterday, surpassing China and Italy.

Hawaii: In a Pandemic, No State Is an Island  - James “Jiro” Yuda holds a sign at the entrance to the access road to the Hilo, Hawaii, airport.  It reads, in part, “Be Responsible. No More Flights to Hawaii.” Yuda, 44, is the former deputy public defender on the Big Island, and now works in the Family Law Division of the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General.  “I’m doing this,” he tells Capital & Main, “because someone has to.  Our leaders have to accept the reality of this situation, and what has to be done.  We face an existential threat.” Yuda says his protest was motivated by the inactivity of the Big Island’s political leaders in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.  On March 20 Hawaii Lt. Governor Josh Green, an emergency room physician on the Big Island, urged the state to suspend “all non-essential travel” in and out of the islands.  Some airlines have stopped or limited their service, including Hawaiian Airlines, which suspended its nonstop service between Maui and Las Vegas. In the meantime, the Big Island’s County Council urged Governor David Ige and island Mayor Harry Kim to impose a 15-day lockdown with a mandatory “shelter-in-place” order if conditions deteriorate, a move the mayor continues to oppose. In the meantime, another council resolution urged a limited restriction allowing only “essential businesses” to operate.  Hawaii has a state government, and each island is a county with a mayor and council. Kim has argued that it is sufficient for the island to help businesses use preventative practices and for the county to sanitize its public areas.  In a broadcast statement last Tuesday Kim announced, “The County of Hawaii will maintain all of its services and operators as normal.”  He called a state directive on restaurant and church closures “a guide” and declared, “Within this county, restaurants, bars and places of worship may make their own decision as to open or close.” Some Big Island restaurants have begun serving take-out food only, while others still have table service.  In the island’s numerous farmers’ markets, booths selling items other than food are now banned, while others selling fruit and vegetables from local farms continue.  Hilo’s Farmers’ Market, normally thronged with people, has seemed virtually deserted, while other markets have closed entirely.

Hawaiian Airlines suspends nearly all mainland-Hawaii flights -Following the Hawaiian state government’s order over the weekend that all arriving travelers (locals and visitors alike) must self-quarantine for 14 days, Hawaiian Airlines has become the first carrier to announce it will cut back service from the mainland, including the Bay Area.The government’s order takes effect Thursday for all passengers arriving in Hawaii, whether they are coming from the mainland or foreign countries, including returning state residents. Hawaiian said it will maintain its regular schedules through Wednesday. But after that, the airline said, it will “suspend most long-haul passenger service.”The impact of that decision wasn’t immediately clear because the airline hasn’t yet identified specific routes that will be cut. Hawaiian said on Monday it has started notifying passengers about the new quarantine rule and has started to restrict bookings as it works on a final schedule for April.“Hawaiian is committed to providing one daily nonstop flight between Honolulu (HNL) and Los Angeles (LAX) and its Thursday flight between HNL and American Samoa (PPG) in order to provide a baseline of out-of-state access,” the company said, adding that it “may provide passenger access on any additional flights for travelers willing to undergo that mandated self-imposed quarantine.”  Spokespersons for Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines said that they are evaluating demand on Hawaii flights, but have not made decisions on changing schedules at this time. This week United suspended flights from Denver to Kona and Lihue, and moved up the suspension of Chicago-Maui and Dulles-Honolulu flights to March 25, although these decisions were made prior to Governor Ige's order.

Doctors consult black lung patients over the phone to protect them from COVID-19 --According to the CDC, in West Virginia one in five coal miners who worked in mines for at least 25 years have black lung. Dr. Doyle, family physician at New River Health Associates, said at New River Health Association in Scarboro, WV doctors see many patients with chronic health conditions, who could be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including patients with black lung, a disease that affects coal miners. “They have a reduced resistance to the virus and so they are more likely to get into serious problems in their lungs and respiratory failure than other people,” Doyle explained. So they are taking extra steps to protect their most vulnerable patients, as well as themselves. Angela Barker, Chief Medical Officer of New River Health Association, said this means screening people at the door, not letting anyone in who has a fever, symptoms or possible exposure. “We do not want our patients with multiple conditions to come in to be in the waiting room to expose them to any unnecessary illnesses. We want them to call our phone number first and we’re going to triage them over the phone,” Barker said. Doyle, who primarily works with black lung patients, said it also means closing the breathing center and checking up on patients over the phone. Doyle said going to a doctors office or emergency room right now could put patients at greater risk of getting COVID-19. He encouraged lung patients to stay home, increase fluids, and call your doctor if you are sick.

Mine workers’ union wants more protections against COVID-19 - The United Mineworkers of America is asking the federal government to issue emergency rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside coal mines. UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts sent a letterthis week to the Mine Safety and Health Administration asking for the agency to issue emergency standards for disinfection, social distancing, and access to protective gear inside coal mines. MSHA currently points coal mine owners to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration’s COVID-19 guidelines, but the union says there should be different standards for the confined work spaces inside coal mines. The union says its members are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the novel coronavirus because they work in tight spaces, riding elevators and transport cars into work zones. “Our miners work in close proximity to one another from the time they arrive at the mine site,” Roberts said in the letter. “They get dressed, travel down the elevator together…work in confined spaces, breathe the same air, operate the same equipment, and use the same shower facilities.” The letter also states that many miners are older and suffer from underlying health conditions, like pneumoconiosis, or Black Lung disease, which may “greatly exacerbate the severity of the symptoms related to COVID-19.” In addition, most live in rural areas “that do not provide the same access to healthcare centers as workers in urban areas. This makes miners one of the most vulnerable populations for the virus.”

 Kentucky governor says person tested positive for virus after attending 'coronavirus party' - Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said someone in the state tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a “coronavirus party.” “We have a positive test from someone who attended a ‘coronavirus party,’” Beshear said at a press conference Tuesday. “We ought to be much better than that.” Beshear added that the gathering consisted of a “group of young adults in their 20s who I guess were thinking they were invincible” and warned that while younger people may not feel serious symptoms if they contract the virus, they could spread the illness to more susceptible populations. “For those folks who thought ‘we’d be all right if we got it,’ what about everybody else you've seen?” he asked. “We need everybody doing the right thing.” Beshear said Kentucky now has 163 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Bluegrass State. There have been 39 new cases in the state in the past day.

Reported COVID-19 cases exceed 1,200 in Washington, D.C. region as public health disaster looms -As of Thursday, there were 1,277 reported cases of COVID-19 in the Washington, D.C. extended region, which encompasses Virginia, the District of Columbia and Maryland. Since the first initial infections were detected in early March, the region has seen an explosive growth in confirmed coronavirus infections, hitting the young and the old alike. Maryland, which reported the initial cases of the virus on March 5, had 581 confirmed cases. The District of Columbia, where Democratic Mayor Muriel E. Bowser ordered a complete closure of nonessential businesses Wednesday night, has over 271 cases, including a two-month year old infant. There are over 461 verified cases in Virginia. As of this report, the region has reported over 20 deaths. In Henrico County, Virginia, a retirement community has reported the region’s first cluster of coronavirus cases, with 14 residents and 4 staff contracting the illness. Three residents have already died due to complications from the virus. However, those most afflicted so far are aged 18-64, a range corresponding to the common ages of working adults. According to a CBS local affiliate, 61 percent of COVID-19 cases in the District of Columbia in the last week were under the age of 40, reflecting both the infectiousness of the disease and the tenuous unemployment of younger adults, whose jobs are largely centered in low-paying work which has remained active during the pandemic. The recent explosion of positive cases is largely attributable to wider screenings of the population. “When we see an increase in cases day by day … it isn’t telling us what’s happening currently, it’s really telling us what happened a few weeks ago,” said Eric R. Houpt to the Washington Post .

 A Georgia healthcare worker was found dead in her home, and a posthumous test found she was infected with the new coronavirus - Diedre Wilkes' was a mammogram technician at Piedmont Newnan Hospital. She died in her home last week and a posthumous coronavirus test came back positive, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Wilkes was 42 years old. She appears to have died 12 to 16 hours before her body was found in her home. Her four-year-old child was near her body when police found her.

Coronavirus: US has world's biggest outbreak, topping China, Italy - - Confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the US have topped the totals in China and Italy, making the US the center of the global outbreak. In the US, confirmed cases hit 82,404 on Thursday evening, surpassing China's 81,782 and Italy's 80,589. The total number of confirmed cases globally is 526,044, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.  Since the US reported its first coronavirus case on January 20, more than 1,100 people in the country have died from the disease. The death tolls in Italy and China are higher.Many of the new cases in the US are in major cities, like New York and New Orleans, where densely packed residents help the virus spread. Mayors and governors have said that patients with the virus could overwhelm hospitals, which would contribute to a rising death count. To halt the virus' spread, people in many US cities and states are under some form of lockdown order. People are supposed to leave their homes only to go grocery shopping and take care of other essential activities. According to data from Worldometer, coronavirus cases peaked in China in mid-February. The country combated the virus with strict quarantine measures covering 60 million people in Hubei province, where the outbreak originated. Life is returning to normal in China, but the US has a long road ahead, and the economic fallout from the widespread shutdowns has affected millions of workers and companies. US weekly jobless claims for the week ending March 21 totaled 3.28 million, the Labor Department reported Thursday, exceeding the consensus analyst forecast of 1.5 million. That was up from 281,000 in the previous week, which already marked a two-year high, Business Insider's Carmen Reinicke reported.

US coronavirus cases top 100,000 as reported deaths hit new daily high – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States topped 100,000 on Friday as infections quickly spread to new areas of the country. As of Friday evening, the US has at least 101,242 known cases of coronavirus and 1,588 people have died, according to CNN's tally of cases reported by health officials. More than two months have passed since the first case of coronavirus was reported in the country and the US has become the epicenter of the global pandemic, overtaking China and Italy. The virus has hit New York and Washington especially hard but a new wave of coronavirus hot spots is already emerging. Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans are seeing a rapid increase of cases and officials there and in many other cities say they don't have enough medical resources. Federal officials repeatedly warned that US hospitals lacked enough ventilators Federal officials repeatedly warned that US hospitals lacked enough ventilators Mayors from 213 cities across the country have said they do not have, and have no way of acquiring adequate equipment and supplies to protect first responders, according to a survey released Friday. Long lines of cars were seen at the three testing sites in New Orleans on Friday. Within two hours, one of the sites had reached its 250-test daily capacity. In Michigan, where the number of cases skyrocketed to nearly 3,000 from fewer than 350 a week ago, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said 468 police officers are under quarantine while the police chief and 39 police officers have tested positive for the virus. Hospitals in Chicago and New Orleans are preparing for a spike in cases but the city's convention centers will soon become medical facilities to treat thousands of coronavirus patients, similar to New York City.

Coronavirus: United States' COVID-19 growth 'off the charts' as confirmed cases surpass 650,000 worldwide (AP) — The coronavirus continued its unrelenting spread across the United States, pummeling major cities like New York, Detroit, New Orleans and Chicago, where an infant that tested positive for the virus died Saturday. It made its way, too, into rural America, where hotspots erupted in ski havens in the Rockies and small towns in the Midwest. Elsewhere, Russia announced a full border closure while in parts of Africa, pandemic prevention measures took a violent turn, with Kenyan police firing tear gas and officers elsewhere seen on video hitting people with batons. Worldwide infections surpassed the 650,000 mark with more than 30,000 deaths as new cases also stacked up quickly in Europe, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. leads the world in reported cases with more than 115,000, but five countries exceed its death toll of around 1,800: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France. Italy alone now has more than 10,000 deaths, the most of any country. New York remained the worst-hit U.S. city. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said defeating the virus will take "weeks and weeks and weeks." The U.N. donated 250,000 face masks to the city, and Cuomo delayed the state's presidential primary from April 28 to June 23. But some states without known widespread infections began to try to limit exposure from visitors from their stricken neighbors. In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday that the state National Guard would go door to door in coastal communities to find visitors from New York. and advise them about a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people from the state.

Coronavirus outbreaks will be worse in Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans next week, surgeon general says - Certain coronavirus "hot spots" in the United States are expected to see the pandemic hit even harder next week, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said on CBS. "We also see hot spots like Detroit, like Chicago, like New Orleans that will have a worse week next week than what they had this week," Adams said this morning. "The virus and the local community are going to determine the timeline. It's not going to be us from Washington, DC. People need to follow their data, they need to make the right decisions based on what their data is telling them," Adams added. He said the US has seen a significant increase in testing, which is "good news."    "We're approaching a million tests. We're trying to give people the data so that they can make informed decisions about where they are on their timeline and what they should be doing," he said. During a White House briefing yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence said that "in partnership with commercial labs across America, this morning we received word that 552,000 tests have been performed and completed all across the United States." Adams also said Friday that as the coronavirus pandemic continues, each region in the United States might experience differences in case numbers and deaths. "Everyone's curve is going to be different," Adams said. "New York is going to look different than Boise, Idaho or Jackson, Mississippi, or New Orleans." 

 Federal law enforcement document reveals white supremacists discussed using coronavirus as a bioweapon - White supremacists discussed plans to weaponize coronavirus via “saliva,” a “spray bottle” or “laced items,” according to a weekly intelligence brief distributed by a federal law enforcement division on Feb. 17.  Federal investigators appeared to be monitoring the white nationalists’ communications on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that has become popular with neo-Nazis. In the conversations, the white supremacists suggested targeting law enforcement agents and “nonwhite” people with attacks designed to infect them with the coronavirus.  “Violent extremists continue to make bioterrorism a popular topic among themselves,” reads the intelligence brief written by the Federal Protective Service, which covered the week of Feb. 17-24. “White Racially Motivated Violent Extremists have recently commented on the coronavirus stating that it is an ‘OBLIGATION’ to spread it should any of them contract the virus.”The intelligence brief, marked for official use only, noted the white supremacists “suggested targeting … law enforcement and minority communities, with some mention of public places in general.” According to the document, the extremists discussed a number of methods for coronavirus attacks, such spending time in public with perceived enemies, leaving “saliva on door handles” at local FBI offices, spitting on elevator buttons and spreading coronavirus germs in “nonwhite neighborhoods.”

 FBI agents kill man allegedly plotting bomb attack on hospital amid coronavirus pandemic A man fatally injured by the FBI was planning a bomb attack on a medical facility in the Kansas City area, the agency said in a news release on Wednesday. Timothy Wilson, 36, was injured on Tuesday when FBI agents served a probable cause arrest warrant in Belton, Missouri, after a long-running domestic terrorism investigation, according to a statement on Wednesday from Timothy Langan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Kansas City office. The statement did not detail what happened when agents served the warrant, but said Wilson was armed when he was injured and died later at a hospital. A months-long investigation determined that Wilson was a potentially violent extremist, motivated by religious, racial and anti-government beliefs, according to the statement. He had planned for several months to carry out a bombing and decided to target a Kansas City-area hospital using a “vehicle-borne” improvised explosive. Wilson chose a hospital that was providing critical care during the current coronavirus pandemic and had taken steps to acquire materials to build the bomb in an attempt to cause “severe harm and mass casualties”, according to the statement. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force kept close watch on Wilson and was prepared to arrest him when he tried to pick up what he thought was a bomb, although there was no bomb, the statement said. The FBI worked with federal prosecutors in the US attorneys office in Kansas City during the investigation.

COVID-19 and Class in the United States -- Lambert Strether - In the United States, #COVID-19 began with globalization and globalizers. One thing we can be of is that grovery workers — to whom the virus will “trickle down” soon enough — didn’t create the conditions for it, or introduce it. Let’s take a look at the grocery workers before dollying back to the global. From the Los Angeles Times, “Column: How coronavirus turned supermarket workers into heroes“:  Today supermarkets are playing a ground-zero role in our struggle to adapt to restrictions imposed by COVID-19. And grocery workers are bearing much of the the brunt of our anxiety and frustration, as we [who?] descend on depleted stores. Without masks or barriers, employees are working long hours, risking infection and battling exhaustion to do their jobs. They connect us to material essentials, like bread and toilet paper. But they’re also part of the social fabric that holds us together in unsettling times. Markets are about the only place we’re still allowed to gather en masse. And their employees — pressed into service in ways they never expected — are our new first responders. They’re apt to see us at our worst, and they aim to ease our strain. “They’re dealing with a public that’s fearful, apprehensive and frustrated, and it gets hostile,” “This wasn’t what they signed up for, but they realize it’s their responsibility. They’ve cursed how vulnerable they are, and yet they keep going out of their profound dedication to their communities.”Funny thing. The people who “connect us to material essentials” are suddenly more important than Senators and Represenatives (who can fly home), or all the MBAs in the head office, or the CEOs. Heaven forfend they collectively decided to withdraw their labor!  “Vulnerable” as the grocery workers are, they didn’t bring #COVID19 on themselves or us. First, I’ll look at how globalization made the “material essentials” to deal with #COVID19 so hard to obtain. Then, I’ll look at how globalizers were vectors for the diseases spread.  The story of how the United States 1% deindustrialized American by moving our manufacturing base offshore (mostly to China) is well known and I will not rehearse it here. From the New York Times, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask“: The answer to why we’re running out of protective gear involves a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs.

Freaky-Deaky  -  Kunstler - I never subscribed to the nostrums of Marxism, but old Karl sure had a point when he said, “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” Is that exactly where we’re at, or what?The hologram of capital that was not really there dissolves before our eyes. That capital, you understand, was our notion of how wealthy we used to be, like, five minutes ago. And now the capital, the money, the mojo of modern life is going-going-gone. The hologram was projected by a fantastically hypercomplex hologram machine jerry-rigged with frauds, swindles, and false promises to pay tomorrow for that proverbial hamburger today. The people running it left the robots in charge and went off to frolic with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein, speaking of the profane. Then, the hologram machine broke and the iridescent image just plumb flickered out.Now, under the shadow of the corona virus, everybody has been sent home to wait and see what happens next, hostages to the flat-screen, where the cable networks show little besides a non-stop real-time horror movie called The End of Your Future. It’s hard to keep morale up when you realize that all the usual conveyer belts of stuff you need to keep going are breaking down. It’s not hard to imagine fights, sure to come, over that dwindling stuff, which we will struggle heroically to allocate because we are really not all bad. Goodness abides, even in that America we managed to so deeply profane. Let’s hope there’s enough of it.When these convulsions are over, we’ll have to reorganize those real conditions of life very differently in North America. There will still be considerable capital, but not the hocus-pocus Wall Street kind. There will be a lot of places with good-enough soil left ­­­­­– or at least soil that can be nursed back to health – to grow food. There are plenty of well-watered places. We have a marvelous system of navigable rivers, all outfitted with canals connecting them. (The Erie and Champlain Canals that connect the Hudson River estuary to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence have been kept in immaculate condition, by some miracle of forethought.) Our ancestors moved most of their stuff that way, and so can we.  We have plenty of human capital: strong backs and agile minds. They just have to be reconditioned off their addictions to canned entertainments, drugs, and the Faustian raptures of techno-narcissism – in other words, we need to get real. Real means recognizing that we’ve crossed over into a new chapter of the human project and that it requires different behavior (the relations with our kind old Karl Marx spoke of.) Mostly that means readjusting our attention back to the people and the place around us, while expecting a whole lot less from distant institutions far away. Gawd knows there is enough to do, if we can get our minds right.

Help Flatten The Curve – Pornhub Offers Free Premium Service To Everyone - Pornhub is offering free premium accounts to anyone in the world, a statement from the company read.The new campaign is called "Help Flatten the Curve," a move that it says could "encourage people around the world to stay home to help flatten the Coronavirus curve by self-isolating with FREE Premium!" Having first tried this in Italy, Pornhub vice president Corey Price stated: "With nearly one billion people in lockdown across the world, it's important that we lend a hand (LOL) and provide them with an enjoyable way to pass the time," adding that he believed it would prove "an extra incentive to stay home and flatten the curve."Price said a non-premium user of the site could click the box titled "I agree to self-isolate and enjoy Premium Videos for Free."In response to the pandemic, Pornhub has been actively donating medical supplies to local governments across the US and in Europe. Here are some of their efforts:

  • · 15,000 surgical masks to protect first responders from the Local 2507 of New York City, which represents emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics and fire inspectors of the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY).
  • · 15,000 surgical masks to the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) Local 94 of New York City to protect first responders.
  • · 20,000 surgical masks to Mount Sinai South Nassau to bolster the safety of nurses, physicians and support staff caring for Coronavirus patients.
  • · €50,000 to various European organizations to purchase additional masks and medical equipment, including Dein Quarantäne Engel / Deutsches Rotes Kreuz in Germany, Croce Verde di Vicenza in Italy, España vs Coronavirus. Mascarillas AQUÍ AHORA and Material Sanitario para Hospitales Públicos ESPAÑA in Spain.
  • · $25,000 to Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), contributing directly to sex worker relief funds in the SWOP-USA network to meet immediate requests for support from sex workers impacted by COVID-19.

Condom shortage looms after coronavirus lockdown shuts world's top producer - (Reuters) - A global shortage of condoms is looming, the world’s biggest producer said, after a coronavirus lockdown forced it to shut down production. Malaysia’s Karex Bhd  makes one in every five condoms globally. It has not produced a single condom from its three Malaysian factories for more than a week due to a lockdown imposed by the government to halt the spread of the virus. That’s already a shortfall of 100 million condoms, normally marketed internationally by brands such as Durex, supplied to state healthcare systems such as Britain’s NHS or distributed by aid programs such as the UN Population Fund. The company was given permission to restart production on Friday, but with only 50% of its workforce, under a special exemption for critical industries. “It will take time to jumpstart factories and we will struggle to keep up with demand at half capacity,” Chief Executive Goh Miah Kiat told Reuters. “We are going to see a global shortage of condoms everywhere, which is going to be scary,” he said. “My concern is that for a lot of humanitarian programs deep down in Africa, the shortage will not just be two weeks or a month. That shortage can run into months.” Malaysia is Southeast Asia’s worst affected country, with 2,161 coronavirus infections and 26 deaths. The lockdown is due to remain in place at least until April 14.

Coronavirus kills more than 2,600 across Europe in one weekend - The coronavirus pandemic surged across Europe this weekend, with more than 2,600 deaths, the majority of them in Italy, followed by Spain, France, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The weekend toll by itself nearly equaled the entire three-month death toll in China, where the epidemic began. On Sunday alone there were 1,287 deaths and 17,303 new cases, with Italy, Spain and France all seeing record numbers of deaths from the epidemic. The total for the continent as a whole reached 168,803 cases and 8,785 deaths. The toll from the pandemic in Europe has now reached more than double the impact in China, which saw 81,054 cases and 3,261 deaths. Worldwide, there have been 335,377 declared cases of coronavirus and 14,611 deaths. A third major epicenter is Iran, where there have been at least 21,638 cases including 1,685 deaths, while the number of cases in the United States has skyrocketed to more than 32,000, with 400 deaths. There is also a rapid growth in the number of cases in Africa and Latin America. Though Italy, Spain and France are under country-wide lockdown, as well as large parts of Germany, the contagion is spreading relentlessly across Europe, after governments refused for weeks to adopt shelter-in-place orders or make any serious effort to actually stop the contagion by combining lockdowns with testing, contact-tracing and quarantining all those either infected or in contact with the infected. Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country for now, saw 5,560 new cases and 651 deaths on Sunday after 6,557 new cases and a record 793 deaths on Saturday, for 59,138 cases overall and 5,476 deaths. On Saturday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that all factories would close indefinitely except for those “strictly necessary ... to guarantee us essential goods and services.” Officials in Lombardy, the hardest-hit region, warned that stricter measures, like a ban on anyone leaving their homes, might be taken as hospitals continue to be flooded with critically ill patients gasping for air.

Italy reports 651 new coronavirus deaths as toll nears 5,500 - Italy's world-topping toll from the coronavirus pandemic approached 5,500 on Sunday after the Mediterranean country reported another 651 deaths.The latest daily toll was smaller than Saturday's record 793 fatalities but still the second-highest registered during Italy's month-long crisis.The number of confirmed new infections rose by 10.4 percent to 59,138. Italy's death toll now stands at 5,476.The one-day total is less than the 793 new coronavirus deaths recorded on Saturday, a one-day record.Italy has reported over 2,000 deaths since Friday, a grim figure that suggested the pandemic may be breaking through the government's various containment and social distancing measures.But Italian civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli was hopeful."The figures announced today are lower than those for yesterday," he told reporters."I hope and we all hope that these figures can be borne out in the coming days. But do not let your guard down."Sunday's figures suggest that strict containment measures imposed around the northern epicentre of the crisis near Milan on March 8 might be starting to bear fruit. Milan's Lombardy region reported just 30.4 percent of the new infections on Sunday.

Israeli doctor in Italy: We no longer help those over 60 - Dr. Gai Peleg told Israeli television that in northern Italy, the orders are not to allow those over 60 access to respiratory machines.Italy has suffered more coronavirus-related fatalities than China, with 4,825 confirmed deaths and 5,000 confirmed patients in the last 24 hours, Channel 12 reported on Sunday. Israeli M.D. Gai Peleg, who is currently working to save lives in Parma, Italy, told Channel 12 that things are only getting worse as the number of patients keeps growing.  As his department receives coronavirus patients who are terminally ill, the focus is to allow patients to meet loved ones and communicate with them during their last moments despite the quarantine regulations. Other reports claim that, as the number of dead increases, some families find themselves unable to secure a proper burial for their loved ones.   Peleg said that, from what he sees and hears in the hospital, the instructions are not to offer access to artificial respiratory machines to patients over 60, as such machines are limited in number. 

New coronavirus cases drop in Italy for second day  - Italy recorded a lower day-to-day increase of coronavirus cases for the second day in a row Monday, officials said.Italy’s Civil Protection agency documented 4,789 new cases Monday, 700 less than the 5,560 new cases reported Sunday, The Associated Press reported. But officials cautioned that it’s too early to know if the worst is behind the country that has experienced the most deaths due to the virus.The day-to-day death count also fell to just over 600 deaths Monday compared to 651 on Sunday.The coronavirus has hit Italy hard, overwhelming its health care system and killing 6,077 people. The country has 63,927 confirmed cases, compared to China’s 81,496.Before the recent decrease, Italy had seen the daily death toll from COVID-19 rise to new highs.One of Italy’s national health officials, Silvio Brusaferro, warned against any optimism, saying the decrease in new cases reflected actions taken at the beginning of the month.“We need more consecutive results to confirm the trend, to be more certain that we are in a favorable situation,” Brusaferro said, according to the AP.The U.S. trails Italy for the third-most confirmed COVID-19 cases at more than 41,500, with 573 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Public officials have warned the U.S. could follow in Italy's footsteps if precautions are not taken.

Latest Italian coronavirus death toll dashes hopes worst is over - Fatalities in Italy from coronavirus have surged in the last 24 hours, the Civil Protection Agency said on Tuesday, dashing hopes the epidemic in the world's worst hit country was easing. The death toll rose by 743 on Tuesday, the second highest daily tally since the outbreak emerged in northern regions on February 21, after more encouraging numbers in the previous two days. Some 602 deaths were recorded on Monday, far lower than the world record 793 deaths last Saturday. Italy has seen more fatalities than any other country, with latest figures showing that 6,820 people have died from the infection in barely a month. The total number of confirmed cases hit 69,176 on Tuesday, but with Italy testing only people with severe symptoms, the head of the Civil Protection Agency said the true number of infected people was probably 10 times higher. "A ratio of one certified case out of every 10 is credible," Angelo Borrelli told La Repubblica newspaper, indicating he believed some 700,000 people could have been infected. However, there was reassuring evidence that Italy's coronavirus infection rate was slowing. Officially registered new infections rose just eight percent - the same as Monday, and the lowest level since Italy registered its first death on February 21. It had been running at as high as 50 percent at the start of March. Borrelli said more data over the next few days will help show "if the growth curve is really flattening." Still, the latest data comes as a disappointment to a country that has been in lockdown for two weeks, with schools, bars and restaurants shut and Italians forbidden from leaving their homes for all but essential needs. "Basically we have to test more, and people know it by now. So new measures will probably be implemented in Italy to try to trace the movement of people by using their GPS, their smartphones, because the lockdown maybe is not enough." 

Italy reports 683 deaths, 5,000 new coronavirus cases in one day - Italian authorities reported 683 new deaths related to the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday and a total of 7,503 new cases, a short drop from Tuesday's spike in deaths but higher than several previous days' totals. The country's Civil Protection Agency now lists the total number of confirmed coronavirus infections at 74,386, with 1,000 Italians reporting that they had recovered from the disease since Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins tracking map. The day before, 743 deaths were reported. Reuters reported Wednesday that Angelo Borrelli, head of the Civil Protection Agency, has exhibited fever symptoms and is himself awaiting test results for a possible coronavirus infection. He was absent from a daily news conference on Wednesday, according to the news service. Italy remains the country hardest-hit by the virus in Europe, with Spain following at 47,000 confirmed cases and 3,434 confirmed deaths. The two countries have both outpaced China, thought to be where the outbreak began, in numbers of deaths from the disease, though China still ranks No. 1 in total number of confirmed cases. Some 3,489 Italians remained in intensive care units on Wednesday, according to Reuters, as hospitals have struggled to accept an overwhelming influx of patients. “If a patient has a low likelihood to benefit from the hospital, we have to not accept them. You send them home.” Dr. Marco Metra, chief of cardiology at the University and City Hospitals in Brescia, told The New York Times. “This is also what I am seeing every day.”

Coronavirus: Italy sees unexpected spike in cases, deaths - – Hopes that Italy’s coronavirus epidemic might be in retreat suffered a setback on Thursday when data showed that both the number of new cases and deaths had ticked higher, underscoring how hard it is to halt the disease. Officials said 712 people died of the illness in the last 24 hours, pushing the total tally to 8,215, well over double that seen in anywhere else in the world, while new infections rose by 6,153 to 80,539. The number of cases is nudging close to the more than 81,000 infections recorded in China where the pandemic began. The relentless rise in Italy is despite stringent lockdown measures introduced progressively since Feb. 23 to try to stop the spread, which authorities had hoped would be having more of an effect by now. There had been slight declines in both new cases and deaths earlier this week, but the northern region of Lombardy, the epicenter of the outbreak, saw its numbers climb on Thursday. “I do not know if we have hit the peak or if we have missed something … all I can say is that I am worried,” Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana told reporters, adding that the situation would soon become clearer. “I think that in two or three days we will understand if the measures we have taken are working,” he said. However, he warned that when new cases finally receded, the government would not necessarily be able to relax the lockdown, which is due to be lifted on April 3. “Even if the number of cases declines, I think we will have to carry on with (the restrictions) until we are quite certain that this contagion has been stopped.” The situation appeared particularly worrying in Lombardy’s capital Milan, which is also Italy’s financial hub, where new infections jumped by more than 800 to almost 7,000. Only the neighboring provinces of Bergamo and Brescia have a higher number of cases. Highlighting the scale of the drama, Bergamo said that over the last 10 years it had recorded on average 45 deaths a week. This ticked up to 64 at the end of February and then soared, hitting a peak of 313 deaths between March 15-21.

 Italy posts more grim coronavirus records as deaths, cases rise - Italy has posted more grim records related to the new coronavirus, becoming on Friday the second country after the United States to overtake China in terms of infections as it announced almost 1,000 deaths in a day - a worldwide record since the epidemic began. Officials said the number of cases had risen to 86,498 in Italy, as 919 more people died in the space of 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 9,132 - the world's highest. China has so far recorded 81,782 cases and 3,291 deaths. Italy's 4,401 new contagions in one day mean a 6.6 percent daily increase that is consistent with the trend recorded in recent days. The gruesome milestones nevertheless came on the same day Italian health officials said they were seeing a slight slowing down in new positive cases, two weeks into a nationwide lockdown. The Civil Protection Agency noted that the cumulative death tally of 9,132 included 50 fatalities that actually occurred on Thursday in the northern Piedmont region, but whose notification arrived too late to be included in the official figures for March 26. Recoveries are up by about 6 percent to 10,950, while the number of intensive care patients - a closely watched figure given the shortage of hospital beds - has risen by 3.2 percent, to 3,732. In a rare, televised address to the nation, Italian President Sergio Mattarella warned that the European Union had to react before it was too late and should adopt new measures to confront the threat posed by the coronavirus, "New initiatives are vital, overcoming old ways of thinking that are now out of touch with the reality of the dramatic conditions facing our continent," Mattarella said on Friday. "I hope everyone fully understands, before it is too late, the seriousness of the threat faced by Europe."

Italy coronavirus death toll passes 10,000. Many are asking why the fatality rate is so high - When Milan resident Antonia Mortensen was pulled over by police while driving recently, it wasn't for a traffic offense. It was to instruct her fellow passenger to sit in the back of the car and to check that both were wearing face masks. "We were told we cannot both sit in the front," said the CNN journalist, who was on her way to hospital with her husband to visit a sick relative. "We have a special certificate giving us permission to go to the hospital," she said, adding that the relative does not have coronavirus. Such are the tight restrictions on Italians now living in the deadliest hotspot of the global coronavirus pandemic. Italy's death toll is now the highest in the world at 10,023. Fatalities passed the grim milestone on Saturday, with an increase of 889 since the last figures were released on Friday, according to Italy's Civil Protection Agency. With 92,472 confirmed cases, Italy appears to have the highest death rate on the planet. Compare it to China, the epicenter of the pandemic, which has a roughly similar number of confirmed cases at 81,997, but under a third as many deaths, at 3,299, according to Johns Hopkins University and Medicine. Indeed Italy now has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in the world after the United States, which stands at 105,470. But the US has a fraction of the deaths, at just over 1,700. As Italy enters its sixth week of restrictions, many are asking: why does its death rate seem so much higher than other countries? Experts say it's down to a combination of factors, like the country's large elderly population which is more susceptible to the virus, and the method of testing that's not giving the full picture about infections.

Doctors and nurses in Spain are taping garbage bags to their bodies for protection against the novel coronavirus as supplies dwindle - Doctors and nurses at hospitals in Spain are taping garbage bags to their arms in hopes of protecting themselves against contracting the novel coronavirus,Bloomberg reported. As more people around the world are being admitted into hospitals, medical workers are being forced to ration their protective gear. Marcia Santini, a registered nurse at an emergency room in California, told Business Insider, "We need to keep our healthcare workers healthy, and if they get sick, that would collapse the healthcare system." But that's proving hard to do with limited protective equipment. A note written in marker on a box of procedure masks in Southern California hospital states that each staff member is allotted one mask for the entirety of their shift. At a Barcelona hospital, a lack of high-protection masks is leading to doctors and nurses stacking two less-protective surgical masks on top of one another. "This thing blew up on us," Dr. Pelayo Pedrero, head of labor risk prevention at doctors' union AMYTS in Madrid, told Bloomberg. "No one was ready for this. They didn't buy the supplies, they didn't prepare the hospitals to receive and treat all these patients. Not just in Madrid or Spain, but all over Europe."

Ice Rink in Madrid Turned Into a Morgue – The news out of Spain is grim: As the coronavirus death toll continues to rise, Madrid has turned an ice rink into a temporary mortuary for victims of COVID-19. On Tuesday, health officials in the country announced there had been 514 new deaths over the past 24 hours, a new record for the country that brought its death toll to 2,696 so far, theBBC reports. There are currently 39,673 confirmed cases in Spain, the second highest number in Europe behind Italy. Madrid's municipal funeral home announced it would stop collecting coronavirus victims because it doesn't have the necessary protective equipment, so the city will use the Palacio de Hielo (Ice Palace) temporarily until funeral homes can collect bodies. The ice rink is near a field hospital that has been set up for coronavirus patients. The Spanish defense minister also said this week that while making rounds, the army found older people "abandoned" by staff at some care homes, "completely left to fend for themselves, or even dead in their beds," per Sky News. Anyone found to have abandoned their responsibilities in cases like that will be prosecuted, the minister said, per theGuardian. Health officials say 87% of coronavirus deaths in Spain were people aged 70 or older. Meanwhile, Italy has 69,176 confirmed cases and 6,820 deaths, but since not everyone is being tested, one official says the true number of confirmed cases is likely 10 times higher, per Reuters.

Coronavirus Deaths: Spanish Military Finds Dead Bodies At Elderly Care Center - Spanish soldiers on Monday stumbled upon a tragic scene due to COVID-19. The country’s military reported that soldiers working to provide medical support to care homes for the elderly found numerous dead bodies and other completely abandoned at several facilities. Authorities have reportedly launched an investigation into the incidents. Spain has been hit particularly hard hit by the global outbreak. With nearly 40,000 confirmed cases and 2,696 deaths, the country ranks only behind Italy amongst European nations. Elderly people are said to be at an increased risk of the virus.Margarita Robles, Defense Minister for Spain, said during a television interview with Telecinco that the Spanish government will “be strict and inflexible when dealing with the way older people are treated” at retirement facilities in light of these discoveries.“We will exercise the most intensive monitoring of these centers,” Robles said.   Staff members at these care homes had reportedly abandoned their posts and left residents alone as coronavirus continued to spread. An exact number for the dead found by the military has not been given. In order to handle this influx of dead, an ice rink in the capital city of Madrid has been taken over for use as cold storage.  Roughly 19% of Spain’s population is over the age of 60 and therefore at considerable risk from coronavirus. The country also boasts one of the highest life expectancies in the world at 82.83 years.

Spain’s retirement homes with dead bodies found (AFP) — Spanish soldiers deployed to help fight the new coronavirus outbreak have found elderly patients abandoned, and sometimes dead, at retirement homes, as an ice rink inside a Madrid shopping mall was turned into a temporary morgue to cope with a surge in cases. The army has been charged with helping to disinfect retirement homes in Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic. Dozens of deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded at facilities across the country. “We are going to be strict and inflexible when dealing with the way old people are treated in these residences,” Defence Minister Margarita Robles said in an interview with private television channel Telecinco. “The army, during certain visits, found some old people completely abandoned, sometimes even dead in their beds,” she added. An investigation has been launched; the general prosecutor announced. The coronavirus death toll in Spain surged to 2,182 on Monday after 462 people died within 24 hours, according to health ministry figures. Meanwhile, the ice rink at the Palacio de Hielo, or Ice Palace, shopping center in Madrid was turned into a temporary morgue to deal with a surge in deaths in the capital, a spokeswoman for Madrid city hall told AFP. Earlier, the city hall said the city’s 14 public cemeteries would stop accepting more bodies because staff there did not have adequate protective gear. The improvised morgue would start to be used “in the coming hours,” the regional government of Madrid said.

Spanish Military Found Bodies Abandoned In Nursing Home During Lockdown -- In the wave of coronavirus quarantines that have swept across the world in recent months, medical systems have become overwhelmed by the number of cases that required hospitalization. In many places, doctors and nurses were put in a terrible position of needing to ration medical care and decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t. In many cases, it ends up being elderly, disabled, and immunocompromised people who are the first to miss the cut and be denied service. In Spain, which is now beginning to see its first major clusters of the virus, reports have emerged of older residents in nursing homes being left completely abandoned to pass away in their beds. During a television interview on Monday, Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said that the Spanish military found many nursing homes that were filled with bodies of older residents who had been left there. The bodies were found as the Spanish military was cleaning and disinfecting residential areas. However, the minister did not reveal the exact location of the nursing homes or how many bodies were found.Robles said that the staff in some of these nursing homes abandoned the facilities when learning that there were cases of the coronavirus among the tenants, and promised that those who are responsible for what happened will be held accountable.“We will be completely relentless and forceful with the kind of treatment elderly residents receive in these centers,” Robles said, adding that “I know that a vast majority [of centers] are fulfilling their obligations.”  The number of new coronavirus cases in Spain jumped from 33,089 on Monday to 39,673 on Tuesday, according to the health ministry. The number of fatalities in the country rose from 2,182 to 2,696 overnight, the ministry told Reuters.

Spain overtakes China as second worst-hit country by Covid-19 – as it happened -  Spain is now reporting more than 3,400 COVID-19 deaths, making it the second European country with a death toll higher than in China, where the new coronavirus was first detected in late 2019. Italy is reporting 7,503 deaths from the viral respiratory disease — the most in the world, and more than double the 3,285 deaths reported in China. The pandemic has severely disrupted life in Spain and Italy, countries that have much smaller populations than China (1.4 billion). Both European countries are more closely comparable to Hubei province, the area in China where the outbreak was first detected. Italy has around 62 million people, according to the most recent CIA World Factbook data, similar to Hubei's nearly 60 million residents. By comparison, Spain has just 50 million people. Spain now has at least 47,610 coronavirus cases, the country's Ministry of Health says. Of that number, nearly 8,000 people were confirmed to have the virus in the past 24 hours. As of Wednesday, nearly 27,000 people were hospitalized in Spain because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health ministry said in its latest update on the coronavirus. As it detailed the toll the outbreak is taking on Spain, the health ministry also announced that it will buy more than $460 million worth of coronavirus-fighting equipment and supplies from China — including more than 5 million "quick tests" to help diagnose people who are infected.

Spain defends response to coronavirus as global cases exceed 500,000  - The Spanish government has defended its response to the coronavirus pandemic as the death rate in the country slowed for the first time in a week, insisting its actions have always been firmly rooted in scientific advice. Spain recorded 655 deaths from Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 4,089, the health ministry said on Thursday. The number of confirmed cases stands at 56,188. The numbers offered a glimmer of hope a day after the country recorded one of the world’s highest single-day death tolls of the pandemic to date at 738, and its total figure eclipsed that of China. The number of cases worldwide passed 500,000 on Thursday. Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, acknowledged that some things could have been done differently but said the nationwide “state of alarm” and lockdown imposed on 14 March was beginning to show results. “It’s an unprecedented [crisis] in both depth and breadth,” she told the Guardian. “We’ve seen pandemics in the past, we’ve seen Ebola, for example, but it was much more localised. We’ve seen Sars, but it was much more localised. The impacts at a global level were much smaller, and Ebola was concentrated in countries that had extremely weak healthcare facilities and systems. “But here we’re talking about a pandemic that is hitting the most prepared countries in the world hardest.” 

Merkel in quarantine after doctor tests positive for virus (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gone into quarantine after being informed that a doctor who administered a vaccine to her has tested positive for the new coronavirus. Merkel, 65, was informed about the doctor’s test shortly after holding a news conference Sunday announcing new measures to curb the spread of the virus, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said. He said that Merkel had received a precautionary vaccine Friday against pneumococcal infection.  For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. About 93,800 people have recovered, mostly in China. Seibert said in a statement that Merkel would undergo “regular tests” in the coming days and continue with her work from home for the time being.

Coronavirus: Germany bans groups of more than two people | DW News  -The German government has decided to ban gatherings of more than two people outside of workplaces to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The nationwide ban is to be enforced for at least two weeks. Exceptions will include families and people living in the same household.

Germany Bans Groups of More Than 2 to Stop Coronavirus as Merkel Self-Isolates - NYT — Germany announced on Sunday new nationwide measures to limit contact between people — barring groups of more than two people, except for families, to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the new social-distancing rules, which will be put in place for at least two weeks, are among the strictest by any country on movement outside the home, as global infections surpassed 300,000 and the death toll topped 13,000. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany had risen to more than 23,900 by Sunday, with more than 90 deaths. “We are further reducing public life and social contact and ensuring that the measures will be nationwide,” the chancellor said, adding that the regulations would remain in place for at least two weeks. “Everyone should organize their movements according to these regulations.” Under the new restrictions, restaurants, which were previously allowed to seat customers during the day at a safe distance from each other, will be allowed to stay open but provide only delivery and takeout services. Hairdressers, massage studios and tattoo parlors must now close their doors. Merkel’s announcement, after a telephone conference with the governors of Germany’s 16 states, fell in line with restrictions put in place by the state of Bavaria, which on Friday restricted all movement outside the home, except for trips for shopping, work, doctor’s visits and exercise. The announced came as officials prepared to make 150 billion euros (more than $160 billion) available to help the country weather the fallout.

Cat contracts coronavirus FROM sick owner in new case of human-to-animal transition - As scientists around the world battle for a cure or vaccine to Covid-19, a new case of human-to-animal transmission has arisen in Belgium, where health experts say a cat contracted the disease from its coronavirus-stricken owner. Just one week after the pet owner in Liege, Belgium was diagnosed with Covid-19, their cat also started showing symptoms of the disease, including respiratory problems and diarrhea. As panic over the outbreak keeps gaining ground, spokesman for Belgium's coronavirus crisis center, Emmanuel Andre, tried to reassure the public that the infected animal was an “isolated case.” “There is no reason to think that animals are vectors of the epidemic,” he told local media, and the risk of people becoming sick from their pet remains extremely low. Andre added that the cat contracted the disease due to “close contact between the animal and the master.” There has only been one other known case to date involving a pet becoming infected with Covid-19 by its owner. In early March, a dog in Hong Kong was placed in quarantine after it tested “weakly positive” for the virus. As for the human toll of the coronavirus in Belgium, 289 people have died, with 1,049 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours bringing the total cases there since the pandemic began to 7,284.

Boris Johnson orders UK lockdown to be enforced by police - After days of being accused of sending mixed messages about what the public should do, Johnson significantly escalated his language as he urged people to comply with the more stringent measures. “You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no. You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home. You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine – and you should do this as little as you can,” he said. “If you don’t follow the rules, the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.” The decision follows Friday’s announcement that all pubs, restaurants and gyms should shut down, then the continuation of commuters packing into trains on Monday, and of sun-seekers crowding into parks over the weekend. After weeks of being reluctant to copy the draconian measures seen elsewhere in Europe, Johnson announced the plan after coming under pressure from his own cabinet and Tory backbenchers as well as Labour. “In this fight, we can be in no doubt that each and every one of us is directly enlisted. Each and every one of us is now obliged to join together. To halt the spread of this disease. To protect our NHS and to save many many thousands of lives,” he said.

10 Days That Changed Britain: "Heated" Debate Between Scientists Forced Boris Johnson To Act On Coronavirus - It was on Wednesday, March 11 that some of the experts on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies began to realise that the coronavirus was spreading through the UK too fast for the NHS to cope. Over the next few days, Britain’s leading epidemiologists were embroiled in a series of extremely tense — and until now private — discussions among themselves, with the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, and Boris Johnson’s government over what to do. There was no consensus. Several of the scientists frantically argued that the UK must immediately introduce social distancing to halt the spread of the virus. Some pleaded with the government to change tack or face dire consequences. But others continued to believe that introducing social distancing now would be unsustainable for a long period and would lead to a more disastrous second wave of infection. The dayslong debate between the experts themselves and with the government was “heated” and “extremely difficult”, multiple sources familiar with the discussions told BuzzFeed News. Vallance admitted as much at a health select committee hearing this week: “If you think SAGE is a cosy consensus of agreeing, you're very wrong indeed”. The extent of the disagreement between the nation’s top scientists and the government can be revealed at the end of one of the most extraordinary weeks in modern British history. As chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled an unprecedented package of state intervention in the economy, and Johnson enforced the closure of pubs, restaurants, theatres and gyms, it also emerged that: Ministers have criticised the prime minister's senior aides for “outsourcing” leadership on the coronavirus to a small group of experts; Downing Street is still considering a partial lockdown of London in the coming weeks; and cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill introduced a series of new Whitehall structures after concerns that the government was acting too slowly on both its health advice and its economic response.

NHS staff contract COVID-19 as UK government refuses to provide testing and protective equipment - The Conservative government’s failure to provide testing and protective equipment for National Health Service (NHS) staff has resulted in the first cases of doctors and nurses contracting COVID-19 in the UK while performing their frontline duties. Their lives have been placed unnecessarily at risk and they are now on ventilators, which they would otherwise have used to treat critically ill patients struck down by the virus. They have been removed from emergency response, which even in the initial stages of the outbreak is being overwhelmed. This is the inevitable outcome of the criminal negligence of the Boris Johnson government and its key scientific and medical advisors, who two weeks ago advocated allowing infections to spread in order to create “herd immunity.” The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, went on record at the time, stating, “It’s not possible to stop everyone getting it [COVID-19] and it’s also not desirable because you want some immunity in the population to protect ourselves in the future.” [Emphasis added]. The implications of this policy are now being felt in hospitals around the country. In the West Midlands, one of the main hotspots in the UK for the virus outside of London, a staff nurse has been taken into intensive care at Walsall Manor hospital, where she works. She is on a ventilator after testing positive for COVID-19. The 36-year-old mother of three, Areema Nasreen, had no pre-existing medical conditions. Her sister, Kazeema, informed Birmingham Live that Areema had been ill for some seven days, with symptoms including a soaring temperature, body aches and a cough, before the decision was made for her to be tested. In London, three junior doctors, all aged 30, have been taken into critical care and are now on ventilators, according to the Sun on Sunday. It is reported that they all worked at the same hospital. The location where they are being treated has not been disclosed. This follows a fortnight in which doctors and nurses have been raising the alarm regarding the disastrous consequences of NHS staff not being tested while having symptoms of the virus, and not being provided adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). In addition to the risk of exposure to themselves and their families, this raises the very real prospect that vulnerable patients have been placed at risk.

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus measures: Political criminality that will cost tens of thousands of lives -- “Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope; because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses,” Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared Monday. A massive audience of 27 million watched his address to the nation live on TV. Factoring in internet viewing platforms, it will likely be the most-watched broadcast in British history. But for those millions seeking guidance from the government, the message was one of calculated contempt. If “too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS [National Health Service] will be unable to handle it—meaning more people are likely to die, not just from Coronavirus but from other illnesses as well,” Johnson said. Therefore, to slow the disease he offered the “British people a very simple instruction—you must stay at home.” A lockdown was now in place, to be enforced by the police. Aside from this repressive measure, nothing else was on offer. And when the caveats were piled up on Johnson’s “simple instruction,” it became clear that millions of workers would have no possibility of staying at home. At the end of a list of reasons to leave home, including shopping for necessities, limited exercise and providing care to a vulnerable person, came “travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.” Yesterday’s newspapers and TV were dominated by pictures of platforms and tube trains in London full to overflowing, as millions of workers were forced to travel on a much-reduced service. They included nurses and other medical staff who risk infection, but also workers in construction, food production, retail, local and central government employees and delivery services. The list of exemptions for shop workers includes supermarkets, grocery shops, newsagents, pharmacies, petrol stations, garages, pet shops and banks. Workers who refuse to work can be sacked. Others are self-employed and will get nothing if they do not work. This includes construction workers employed by major concerns, only some of which suspended operations after a public outcry yesterday.

After Prince Charles, UK PM Boris Johnson tests positive for coronavirus -  British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating at his Downing Street residence but said he would still lead the government's response to the accelerating outbreak. Johnson, 55, experienced mild symptoms on Thursday - a day after he answered at the prime minister's weekly question-and-answer session in parliament's House of Commons chamber. "I've taken a test. That has come out positive," Johnson said on Friday in a video statement broadcast on Twitter. "I've developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus. That's to say - a temperature and a persistent cough. "So I am working from home. I'm self-isolating," Johnson said. "Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus."Johnson chaired a government meeting on the coronavirus on Friday morning via video conference. It was not immediately clear how many Downing Street staff and senior ministers would now need to isolate themselves given that many have had contact with Johnson over recent days and weeks. His finance minister, Rishi Sunak, is not self-isolating, a Treasury source said. Britons paid tribute to health workers on Thursday evening, clapping and cheering from doorways and windows. Johnson and Sunak took part, but came out of separate entrances on Downing Street and did not come into close contact, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene. It was not immediately clear whether Johnson's 32-year-old partner, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, had been tested.

Queen interacted with Boris Johnson, Charles - On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the first major world leader to test positive for coronavirus. Johnson was last in the presence of the 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II on March 11, the palace told USA TODAY in a statement. Also on Friday, Buckingham Palace announced that the annual Trooping the Colour parade, the popular celebration of the queen's official birthday, will not go ahead "in its traditional form" in June.  "A number of other options are being considered, in line with relevant guidance," the palace statement said. The queen turns 94 in April, but her birthday is celebrated in June when the weather is usually better.  The queen’s son, Prince Charles, also tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week and last came into contact with the queen on March 12. "The Queen remains in good health. The Queen last saw the (prime minister) on the 11th March and is following all the appropriate advice with regards to her welfare," Buckingham Palace said in a statement Friday. The palace declined to comment on whether the queen, 93, and Prince Philip, 98, have been tested for coronavirus.  The 71-year-old Prince of Wales, the heir to the British throne, tested positive for the virus after "displaying mild symptoms," Clarence House, his official royal residence, said in a statement Wednesday. The statement from Clarence House announcing Prince Charles' positive test results noted: “It is not possible to ascertain from whom the Prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during recent weeks.” The Prince of Wales is self-isolating at Birkhall, the prince's home on the royal Balmoral estate in Scotland. His wife, Duchess Camilla of Cornwall, 72, has tested negative for the virus and is also self-isolated apart from Charles at Birkhall.

UK's coronavirus deaths surge past 1,000 as another Cabinet minister self isolates - The number of people who have died after contracting coronavirus in the UK passed 1,000 as it was revealed another Cabinet minister has been forced to self-isolate. The jump in Covid-19-related deaths in the UK from 759 to 1,019 is an increase of 260 – by far the biggest day-on-day rise in the number of deaths since the outbreak began. More than 120,000 coronavirus tests have taken place, with more than 17,000 positive results. The latest figures come after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack revealed he had developed mild symptoms of coronavirus and was self-isolating. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is already having to lead the response to the pandemic from Downing Street after he was diagnosed with the disease. He has been accused of failing to follow his own social distancing rules after Health Secretary Matt Hancock tested positive and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty began self-isolating with symptoms.

Europe’s coronavirus death toll passes 10,000 - More than 10,000 people have been killed by coronavirus across the European continent. The gruesome milestone has been reached just five weeks after the first death was recorded on the continent, in France, on February 15. With yesterday’s 1,414 new deaths, the total for the entire continent reached 10,220 deaths from 192,663 cases. Among the European Union’s 27 countries, 9,720 deaths have been recorded from 172,407 cases. In Italy, 601 new fatalities brought the total to 6,077 deaths. Almost 5,000 new cases of the virus were reported. Many more lives are threatened even before these new cases, with 50,418 active cases and 3,204 classed as “serious, critical.” All told, 63,927 people have been infected in Italy. In Spain, the death toll reached 2,206, with 434 new deaths reported, up from 391 the previous day. There were 4,321 new cases, making for a total of 27,528 active cases. Some 2,355 are classified as "serious, critical." The inability of health and social care services across Europe to cope with the destructive impact of the virus—after decades of being underfunded, privatised and de-staffed—resulted in soldiers, drafted to disinfect and run residential homes in Spain, finding elderly people dead in their beds, abandoned to their fate with the country under a strict lockdown. In France, there were 186 new deaths, an increase over the previous day’s 112, bringing the total to 860. The deaths included another two medics, one a GP and the other a gynaecologist. There are over 13,000 active cases in the country, 8,675 people in hospital and 2,082 people in critical condition. A further 34 people perished in the Netherlands, bringing the total to 213, and 24 people died in Germany, bringing fatalities to 118. In the UK, after it was announced that 54 more people had died, and 335 in total, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a lockdown of the country Monday evening. People can leave their homes only for “very limited purposes,” including “shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible” and “one form of exercise a day.” Only two people can be together, unless they live in the same household. Police can enforce the lockdown, “including through fines and dispersing gatherings,” said Johnson. The Foreign Office advised the up to one million Britons on holiday or on business trips abroad to return to the UK immediately. They warned that otherwise there would likely be no more commercial flights available, with air routes likely shutting without warning Tuesday and Wednesday. Johnson’s government has refused to take a number of critical measures to stop the spread of the virus. Its original plan, before being forced to retreat, was to allow the mass infection of the population, supposedly to achieve “herd immunity.” The government still advises all who suspect they have the virus not to seek treatment in hospital, but to “self-isolate” at home—without being tested. More evidence is emerging that those who are contracting the virus and in some cases dying are from many age ranges, including younger, fitter people, from a baby who was born with the virus to a group of three 30-year-old junior doctors in the same UK hospital who were diagnosed Sunday and required ventilators.

Over 12,000 people die in Europe as coronavirus infections escalate - The European continent is the epicentre of a pandemic, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns is “accelerating” globally. It took 67 days from the first recorded case of COVID-19 to reach the milestone of 100,000 cases globally, 11 days to reach 200,000, four days to reach 300,000 and three days to reach 400,000. By yesterday evening 12,077 people had died of COVID-19 across the continent; another 1,742 perished in the previous 24 hours. With a further 22,715 new cases, this brings total recorded cases in Europe to 218,015. Among the European Union’s 27 countries, total deaths have reached 11,479. In Italy, deaths in the last 24 hours jumped to 743, bringing the total to 6,820. The number of infected climbed by 5,249 to nearly 70,000. Spain saw 514 fatalities, taking its death toll to 2,696. The country’s infection rate has climbed above Italy’s for the first time, with 6,584 more cases in the last day. The horrific events have forced the conversion of the ice rink in Madrid into a makeshift morgue and the Ifema conference centre into a field hospital with 5,500 beds. Another 87 people died in the UK, a rise of 26 percent and the highest daily increase, bringing the total to 422. Of those who died in the last day, 21 perished in a single hospital trust in northwest London. The capital’s ExCeL Centre, normally used for exhibitions and large events, is being turned into a field hospital with a planned 4,000 beds. On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson began a nationwide lockdown to be reviewed in three weeks. France suffered a huge 28 percent increase in fatalities as it became the latest country to reach the grim milestone of 1,000 dead. The total increased from 866 to 1,100. An additional 2,516 people are on life support.

Europe’s COVID-19 death toll reaches over 16,000 - Deaths due to COVID-19 continued to increase throughout Europe yesterday with 2,219 new fatalities across the continent. Total deaths now stand at 16,395, with 15,556 of these within the European Union’s 27 member states. Overall COVID-19 confirmed cases are approaching 300,000 in Europe, with 34,644 new cases, for a total of 283,242. Years of slashing health and social care budgets, together with government inaction in combating the spread of the virus, have taken a grim toll, with health workers forced to make decisions as to who lives and dies. Italy and Spain have the most fatalities in the world. In Italy, a further 622 lives were lost as the toll leapt above 8,100. The total number of cases rose by 8.2 percent to 80,589. The number in intensive care treatment rose to 3,612 from 3,489 in 24 hours. With the 498 deaths recorded in Spain yesterday, more than 4,000 (4,145) have died of the coronavirus. The virus is taking more lives in Spain in a faster period than it did in Italy. In just 19 days Spain went from 10 to 4,089 deaths. In Italy the same leap took 25 days. From 100 cases to 56,000 took four days in Spain compared with 28 days in Italy. Madrid is the epicentre of the pandemic in Spain. Reports attest to the dreadful circumstances facing health workers. Bloomberg noted, “In the emergency room at one of Madrid’s biggest hospitals, [Dr.] Daniel Bernabeu signed the death certificate for one patient and immediately turned to help another who was choking. “People are dying in waiting rooms before they can even be admitted as the coronavirus pandemic overpowers medical staff. With some funeral services halted in the Spanish capital and no space left in the morgues, corpses are being stored at the main ice rink.” In France there were 3,922 new cases and 365 deaths—the largest daily increase so far. Hospitals in the Paris area and in Strasbourg, in the hard-hit Alsace region of eastern France, are overflowing and starting to turn away likely COVID-19 patients.

Nearly 19,000 pandemic deaths in Europe as savaged health care systems are overwhelmed - Coronavirus deaths surged in Europe yesterday, with several countries recording their highest daily totals to date. Throughout continental Europe 34,028 new cases were reported and 2,352 deaths. The total number who have perished in the continent in just six weeks since the first death is approaching 20,000 (18,754). Manchester Royal Infirmary Italy saw 919 fatalities, taking the overall number to 9,134. The number of recorded infections climbed past China to 86,498. There are fears that the poorer southern regions of the country will soon be put under the same pressures suffered by the richer north. Spain also suffered its worst 24-hour death toll of 769 deaths, bringing its total to 4,934. The number of cases increased from 56,188 to 64,059. France saw 299 deaths, with the total now at 1,995. There are currently 32,964 cases of infection and 3,787 people are on life support, meaning nearly half of France’s ventilator beds are occupied. The government has extended a national lockdown by two weeks. The UK recorded an additional 185 deaths, bringing the toll to 759. Recorded cases of infection increased to 14,543, but this number is kept artificially low by a lack of testing. The spread of the disease is indicated by the fact that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty all tested positive yesterday. Prince Charles is already infected. The COVID-19 pandemic is preying on Europe’s 500 million-plus population whose health care services have been decimated by years of government austerity and private sector looting. Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 immediately after taking part—outside the front door of 10 Downing Street—in a national demonstration of support for beleaguered doctors, nurses and support staff in the National Health Service (NHS). Millions left their homes at 8:00 p.m. to cheer and bang pots and pans, after reports of hospitals full to overflowing and exhausted staff working without personal protective equipment and falling ill as a result—scenes already all too familiar in Italy, Spain and elsewhere in Europe.

Virus rebels from France to Florida flout lockdown practices (AP) — Young German adults hold “corona parties” and cough toward older people. A Spanish man leashes a goat to go for a walk to skirt confinement orders. From France to Florida to Australia, kitesurfers, college students and others crowd the beaches. Their defiance of lockdown mandates and scientific advice to fight the coronavirus pandemic has prompted crackdowns by authorities on people trying to escape cabin fever brought on by virus restrictions. In some cases, the virus rebels resist — threatening police as officials express outrage over public gatherings that could spread the virus. “Some consider they’re little heroes when they break the rules,” French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said. “Well, no. You’re an imbecile, and especially a threat to yourself.” After days of noncompliance by people refusing to stay home and venture out only for essential tasks, France on Friday sent security forces into train stations to prevent people from traveling to their vacation homes, potentially carrying the virus to the countryside or beaches where medical facilities are less robust. The popular Paris walkway along the Seine River was closed and a nightly curfew was imposed in the French Mediterranean city of Nice by Mayor Christian Estrosi, who is infected with the virus. Florida officials closed some of the state’s most popular beaches after images of rowdy spring break college crowds appeared on TV for days amid the rising global death toll, which surpassed 13,000 on Sunday. Australia closed Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach after police were outraged at pictures of the crowds.

Russia coronavirus: Why does the country have fewer cases than Luxembourg? – CNN - Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week his country managed to stop the mass spread of coronavirus -- and that the situation was "under control," thanks to early and aggressive measures to keep more people from getting the disease.Does Russia have coronavirus under control? According to information released by Russian officials, Putin's strategy seems to have worked. The number of confirmed Russian coronavirus cases is surprisingly low, despite Russia sharing a lengthy border with China and recording its first case back in January.The numbers are picking up, but Russia -- a country of 146 million people -- has fewer confirmed cases than Luxembourg, with just 253 people infected. Luxembourg, by contrast, has a population of just 628,000, according to the CIA World Factbook, and by Saturday had reported 670 coronavirus cases with eight deaths.Russia's early response measures -- such as shutting down its 2,600-mile border with China as early as January 30, and setting up quarantine zones -- may have contributed to the delay of a full-blown outbreak, some experts say. "The director-general of WHO said 'test, test, test,'" Dr. Melita Vujnovic, the World Health Organization's representative in Russia, told CNN Thursday. "Well, Russia started that literally at the end of January.""Testing and identification of cases, tracing contacts, isolation, these are all measures that WHO proposes and recommends, and they were in place all the time," she said. "And the social distancing is the second component that really also started relatively early." Rospotrebnadzor, Russia's state consumer watchdog, said Saturday that it had run more than 156,000 coronavirus tests in total. By comparison, according to CDC figures, the United States only picked up the pace in testing at the beginning of March, while Russia says it has been testing en masse since early February, including in airports, focusing on travelers from Iran, China, and South Korea.

Moscow's coronavirus outbreak much worse than it looks, Putin ally says -  (Reuters) - The mayor of Moscow told President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the number of coronavirus cases in the Russian capital far exceeded the official figures, as Putin donned a protective suit and respirator to visit a hospital. The comments by Sergei Sobyanin, a close ally of Putin, were authorities’ strongest indcation yet that they do not have a full grasp of how widely the virus has spread throughout Russia’s vast expanse. Russia has so far reported 495 cases of the virus and one death, far fewer than major western European countries. Putin has previously said the situation is under control, but some doctors have questioned how far official data reflect reality, and the government on Tuesday closed nightclubs, cinemas and children’s entertainment centres to slow the spread of the virus. “A serious situation is unfolding,” Sobyanin told Putin at a meeting, saying the real number of cases was unclear but that they were increasing quickly. Testing for the virus was scarce, he said, and many Muscovites returning from abroad were self-isolating at home or in holiday cottages in the countryside, and not being tested. “In reality, there are significantly more sick people,” Sobyanin said. The government also said it would organise a return of its citizens from countries hit by the coronavirus if they wanted to come.

COVID-19: protecting health-care workers The Lancet - Worldwide, as millions of people stay at home to minimise transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, health-care workers prepare to do the exact opposite. They will go to clinics and hospitals, putting themselves at high risk from COVID-2019. Figures from China's National Health Commission show that more than 3300 health-care workers have been infected as of early March and, according to local media, by the end of February at least 22 had died. In Italy, 20% of responding health-care workers were infected, and some have died. Reports from medical staff describe physical and mental exhaustion, the torment of difficult triage decisions, and the pain of losing patients and colleagues, all in addition to the infection risk.As the pandemic accelerates, access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers is a key concern. Medical staff are prioritised in many countries, but PPE shortages have been described in the most affected facilities. Some medical staff are waiting for equipment while already seeing patients who may be infected or are supplied with equipment that might not meet requirements. Alongside concerns for their personal safety, health-care workers are anxious about passing the infection to their families. Health-care workers who care for elderly parents or young children will be drastically affected by school closures, social distancing policies, and disruption in the availability of food and other essentials. Health-care systems globally could be operating at more than maximum capacity for many months. But health-care workers, unlike ventilators or wards, cannot be urgently manufactured or run at 100% occupancy for long periods. It is vital that governments see workers not simply as pawns to be deployed, but as human individuals. In the global response, the safety of health-care workers must be ensured. Adequate provision of PPE is just the first step; other practical measures must be considered, including cancelling non-essential events to prioritise resources; provision of food, rest, and family support; and psychological support. Presently, health-care workers are every country's most valuable resource.

Coronavirus: Why some countries wear face masks and others don’t  - BBC - Step outside your door without a face mask in Hong Kong, Seoul or Tokyo these days, and you may well get a disapproving look. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak some places have fully embraced wearing face masks, and anyone caught without one risks becoming a social pariah.But in many other parts of the world, from the UK and the US to Sydney and Singapore, it's still perfectly acceptable to walk around bare-faced.Why some countries embrace masks while others shun them is not just about government directives and medical advice - it's also about culture and history. But as this pandemic worsens, will this change? Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the official advice from the World Health Organization has been clear. Only two types of people should wear masks: those who are sick and show symptoms, and those who are caring for people who are suspected to have the coronavirus.Nobody else needs to wear a mask, and there are several reasons for that.One is that a mask is not seen as reliable protection, given that current research shows the virus is spread by droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces. So it could protect you, but only in certain situations such as when you're in close quarters with others where someone infected might sneeze or cough near your face. This is why experts say frequent hand washing with soap and water is far more effective.Removing a mask requires special attention to avoid hand contamination, and it could also breed a false sense of security. Yet in some parts of Asia everyone now wears a mask by default - it is seen as safer and more considerate.In mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, the broad assumption is that anyone could be a carrier of the virus, even healthy people. So in the spirit of solidarity, you need to protect others from yourself. Some of these governments are urging everyone to wear a mask, and in some parts of China you could even be arrested and punished for not wearing one.

Hubei relaxes restrictions as China's new coronavirus infections double - (Reuters) - China’s Hubei province where the coronavirus pandemic originated will lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic there eases, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections. The Hubei Health Commission announced it would lift curbs on outgoing travellers starting March 25, provided they had a health clearance code. The provincial capital Wuhan, where the virus first appeared and which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will see its travel restrictions lifted on April 8. However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing. China had 78 new cases on Monday, the National Health Commission said, a two-fold increase from Sunday. Of the new cases, 74 were imported infections, up from 39 imported cases a day earlier. The Chinese capital Beijing was the hardest-hit, with a record 31 new imported cases, followed by southern Guangdong province with 14 and the financial hub of Shanghai with nine. The total number of imported cases stood at 427 as of Monday. Only four new cases were local transmissions. One was in Wuhan which had not reported a new infection in five days.

Pandemonium In The Pacific- US Carrier Diverts To Guam As COVID-19 Cases Spike Among Crew - An absolute disaster is fast unfolding aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Western Pacific causing emergency contingency plans to be put in place.  By Wednesday eight sailors aboard the carrier tested positive for COVID-19, but clearly the outbreak aboard the ship is nowhere near being contained as on Thursday the US Navy said that number has jumped to 23 sailors confirmed for the virus.  Pentagon officials further admitted the ability to conduct widespread testing aboard the ship is limited in a situation so dangerous that the carrier has been diverted from it's original course, though Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly sought to stress “the ship is operationally capable and can do it’s mission if required” no doubt a message ultimately meant for America's rivals and enemies in the region. The outbreak has sent ship crew and US troops in Guam scrambling, reports The Daily Beast, as it appears a nightmare outbreak among military service-members is unfolding:U.S. Navy and Marine Corps service members in Guam were ordered on Wednesday to break their own quarantine to set up makeshift shelters for U.S. troops coming off a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, where an outbreak of the novel coronavirus is rapidly spreading within the hulls of the ship.Some of the U.S. troops at Naval Base Guam, located on the western side of the U.S. territory at Apra Harbor, were assembled into 100-man working parties to begin transforming some of the base’s facilities into temporary quarantine shelters for some of the 5,000 service members arriving from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, a naval vessel where COVID-19 is spreading. The nature of the emergency is unprecedented, causing one unidentified US service member to tell The Daily Beast, “We’re fucked” — given obvious concerns that base personnel will be potentially exposed to coronavirus via the disembarking USS Roosevelt crew.

‘Help us’: After deaths on coronavirus-hit ship, guests clamor to leave (Reuters) - Four passengers have died on a cruise ship off the Pacific coast of Panama and more than 130 others aboard are suffering from influenza-like symptoms, at least two of whom have the coronavirus, the vessel’s operator said on Friday. Holland America Line said in a statement that the MS Zaandam, previously on a South American cruise, was trying to transit the Panama Canal and make its way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But Panama’s government has denied it access to the canal for sanitary reasons, leaving passengers and crew wondering when they will get home. Chris Joiner, 59, a retiree from Ottawa, Ontario, told Reuters the cruise had turned into a “nightmare.” He was worried that he and his wife, Anna, also 59, would be forced to stay aboard for an undetermined time because she had a cough, after cruise operators said they would soon transfer healthy passengers to the Zaandam’s sister ship, the Rotterdam, which is now alongside the vessel in Panamanian waters. “We’re isolated. We’re stuck on this ship. We can’t go anywhere because we’re not healthy, I guess,” said Joiner, who took a selfie in his cabin with a piece of paper on which he had written “HELP US” in a bid for attention from the media and the Canadian government. A ship official told passengers on Friday morning via a public address system that one guest had died several days ago, followed by two deaths on Thursday and another overnight, according to a recording heard by Reuters. The four dead were “older guests,” the operator said.

EU Shrugs Off US Sanctions, Gives Millions In Coronavirus Aid To Iran - The White House has not backed off it's 'maximum pressure' campaign on Iran even as the Islamic Republic's Covid-19 cases and deaths continue to soar, approaching 25,000 confirmed cases Tuesday. Despite even close US ally Britain quietly signalling it's had enough of Washington's ill-timed pressures, Secretary of State Pompeo has upped the ante further, on Monday accusing the Iranian regime of everything from hoarding masks and equipment to intentionally spreading the deadly disease to at least five countries.But it appears Europe has finally begun to shirk US demands. On Monday EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell announced 20 million euros in new aid to Iran, and more crucially said the body will support Tehran's request for IMF assistance.  "We’ve not been able to provide a lot of humanitarian help but there is some 20 million euros in the pipeline ... that we expect to be delivered over the next weeks," Borrell said in a video news conference Monday.“We also agree in supporting the request by Iran and also by Venezuela to the International Monetary Fund to have financial support,” he said further but without disclosing details.European officials consider the situation as urgent and see the US pressure campaign as greatly exacerbating the death toll given Iran lacks much of the basic medicines and equipment to treat at-risk patients and mitigate the outbreak. Recently Iranian health officials said shockingly that one person is dying from the virus every 10 minutes.The pressure for some kind of dramatic blanket easing of US sanctions is only set to grow, given that last week Iran's leaders for the first time in a half-century turned to the IMF. Bloomberg reported of the urgent IMF appeal: Iranians say that their economy is weak and unable to cope with the humanitarian toll because of the U.S. sanctions. Last week, Iran turned to the International Monetary Fund for the first time since the 1960s for aid, though Ali Vaez, the Crisis Group’s Iran project director, said the U.S. may try to block the IMF loan in order to keep up the pressure on the regime. No doubt this will unleash fury out of Pompeo's office, but at such a crucial juncture with the whole world's eyes on combating the coronavirus pandemic, Washington will continue to shed allies by keeping up the so-called 'maximum pressure'.

Saudi Arabia institutes curfew, UAE suspends passenger flights to reduce coronavirus spread - Saudi Arabia reportedly instituted a nationwide curfew Monday in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, while the United Arab Emirates has suspended passenger flights. King Salman of Saudi Arabia announced the curfew would last from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for 21 days, state media reported, according to Reuters. Violators would have to pay 10,000 riyals, amounting to $2,665, while repeat offenders may go to jail for up to 20 days. Security forces will be utilized to ensure residents follow the curfew, but Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Talal Mashoud said at a news conference that “military authorities may be called upon," according to Reuters. Saudi Arabia’s curfew comes after its number of coronavirus cases increased by more than a quarter to reach 562, the most of the six countries included in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Its neighbor and fellow council member United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced it would stop passenger and transit flights from entering or leaving the country for the next two weeks, state news agency WAM reported. But cargo flights will still be permitted. The UAE reported 45 new cases of COVID-19, putting its total at 198. The state-owned airline Emirates announced Sunday that it would halt most passenger operations this week, besides ones helping travelers go home. Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 378,000 people, killing more than 16,500, with more than 100,000 recoveries, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

New Zealand government warns tens of thousands could die, imposes lockdown - On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a partial lockdown, moving to a complete lockdown of non-essential businesses and services from 11:59pm on Wednesday. Schools will then shut down entirely, after being closed to most students from today. The measures will increase New Zealand’s COVID-19 alert system from level 3 to level 4, the highest level, on Thursday, in an attempt to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus. All workers except those in essential services will be required to self-isolate by staying home, except to go to the supermarket or go for a walk. Currently the lockdown is scheduled to last for four weeks, but this could be extended if the virus continues to spread. As of today, there are 152 confirmed cases, with four thought to be the result of community transmission rather than from overseas. Five people with the virus are in hospital. Announcing the lockdown, Ardern warned: “If community transmission takes off in New Zealand the number of cases will double every five days. If that happens unchecked, our health system will be inundated, and tens of thousands New Zealanders will die.” The prime minister said “we must stop that happening, and we can… we have a window of opportunity to contain the virus, to stop it multiplying and to protect New Zealanders from the worst.” The sudden announcement created confusion and panic buying at supermarkets, despite government assurances that these would remain open. Thousands of workers in tourism, retail and other industries have lost their jobs in recent weeks due to the pandemic-induced economic crisis and will have to survive on poverty-level unemployment benefits during the lockdown.

India’s prime minister orders lockdown of country of 1.3 billion people for 21 days - India will begin the world’s largest lockdown, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in a TV address Tuesday night, warning that anyone going outside risked inviting the coronavirus inside their homes, and pledging $2 billion to bolster the country’s beleaguered health care system. “To save India and every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said, adding that if the country failed to manage the next 21 days, it could be set back by 21 years. India’s stay-at-home order puts nearly one-fifth of the world’s population under lockdown. Indian health officials have reported 469 active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 10 deaths. Officials have repeatedly insisted there is no evidence yet of communal spread but have conducted relatively scant testing for the disease. In recent days, India has been gradually expanding stay-at-home orders and has banned international and domestic flights and suspended passenger service on its extensive rail system. Essential service providers, including hospitals, police and media had been exempted from the stay-in-place orders, and many grocery stores and pharmacies remained open. Modi called Tuesday’s order a “total lockdown” and did not address whether any service providers would be exempt, but said that “all steps have been taken by central and state government to ensure supply of essential items.”

Indian doctors evicted over coronavirus transmission fears: medical body - (Reuters) - Some doctors combating India’s coronavirus outbreak have been evicted from their homes by force, a medical association said on Wednesday, due to fears that they may be infected and spread the disease to neighbors. The country went into a 21-day lockdown on Wednesday, and experts have said it faces a tidal wave of infections if rigorous steps are not taken to keep the virus in check. India’s public health care infrastructure is poor and it suffers from an acute shortage of medical staff, who will generally see many patients over a short period. Some doctors in temporary residences had been forcefully evicted by their landlords over infection fears, the Resident Doctor’s Association of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi said. “(They) are now stranded on the roads with all their luggage, nowhere to go, across the country,” the association - which represents 2,500 doctors - said in a letter to the federal home minister on Tuesday, urging the government to intervene. Late on Tuesday India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, himself a doctor, said on Twitter he was “deeply anguished” to see reports of doctors being ostracized in residential complexes, adding that precautions were being taken to ensure health care workers were not carriers of the infection.

India Is The Asian Blindspot In The Coronavirus Pandemic - India, due to its size and overcrowded urban centers, risks being a few super spreaders away from China-like infection rates of 80,000. So far, India looks pretty mild compared to the rest of the world. It only has 606 cases of the new SARS-CoV-2 virus, of which 42 people have already recovered from it and 10 have died. That’s only a 1.6% mortality rate, which is better than China’s, way better than Italy’s off-the-chart death rate, and a bit worse than the U.S. But if virologists are right, and the disease spreads asymptomatically, then India of course has way more than 606. It was under 200 confirmed cases last week at this time. In cities where shoulder-to-shoulder crowds are an everyday occurrence, the question is how long can Indians abide by social distancing orders. Moreover, can the country handle the roughly 20% rate of infected persons who will need hospitalization? Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown effective today with potentially devastating effects for an economy that was already showing signs of a slowdown. Passenger rail and metro services had earlier been suspended, as had international and domestic passenger flights. Many states sealed their borders to prevent large-scale relocations of people as businesses closed. India is poorer than China. Its healthcare resources are not as good either. India has an estimated 0.7 hospital beds per 1,000 people – a ratio that is one of the lowest in Asia, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Wild estimates abound. As we have heard out of Germany and even here in the U.S., some predict that India could have five million infected persons by May. Of course that all depends on testing capacity, and that doesn’t mean that they require hospitalization. But if just 20% of them did, as seems to be close to average hospitalization rates for those stricken with the disease, then that’s about 1 million people in a worst case scenario.

Warnings that hundreds of thousands of Indonesians may already have COVID-19 - Over the past week, as the coronavirus has begun to spread rapidly in historically oppressed regions of the world, including South America, Africa and Asia, medical experts have warned of a potential mass outbreak in Indonesia, South-East Asia’s most populous country. After weeks of the Indonesian government downplaying the threat, its spokesman on COVID-19, Achmad Yurianto, admitted on Friday that, according to official estimates, between 600,000 and 700,000 people have likely come into contact with individuals infected by the virus. Indicating that the government has no idea of the true extent of infections, Yurianto said that this “high risk” population was scattered across the archipelago. Since the beginning of the week, new cases have been reported in South Sumatra and West Nusa Tenggara, along with North Maluku, Jambi and Papua, on top of infections in Jakarta and Bali. In comments cited by the Australian yesterday, Achmad Yurianto, an Essex University professor of applied mathematics, stated that, on current trends, half the Indonesian population, or some 135 million people, will be infected by mid-May. The projection, however, is based on the government carrying out a lockdown of Jakarta, the capital and apparent epicentre of the pandemic. No lockdown has yet been ordered. The warnings indicate that millions could die. Already Indonesia has one of the highest mortality rates per confirmed case of any country in the world. As of yesterday, 55 people had died as a result of the virus, under conditions in which just 686 infections have been identified through testing. This means that over eight percent of confirmed cases have resulted in deaths, approaching the level of Italy, which is thus far the country that has been hardest hit by the global pandemic. In Indonesia, fewer than 3,000 tests have been carried out. The high mortality rate among confirmed cases likely means that only those who are severely affected by the disease and who are approaching a critical medical condition are being treated. In other words, thousands of others are likely carrying the virus without any prospect of being examined. Over the past week, horrific videos have circulated widely on social media of people collapsing and dying in public streets with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The reality was demonstrated by the death of 72-year-old French tourist Gerard Philippe Follet in Bali on March 15. Follet was found slumped over his motorcycle in Denpasar and unresponsive. In front of dozens of tourists and locals, he briefly appeared to regain consciousness before dying suddenly.

Africa threatened by sudden surge in coronavirus cases -  Coronavirus spread rapidly this weekend in Africa, jumping to over 1,300 detected cases, while there are over 335,000 confirmed cases and 14,000 deaths worldwide. At least 33 of the continent’s 54 countries are affected, though it is certain that many undetected cases or asymptomatic coronavirus carriers are circulating in Africa.The continent’s entire population is at risk of becoming infected, a development which would rapidly swamp its inadequate and underfunded health systems. A horrific death toll would result if the virus spreads in the countryside, densely packed slums and working-class areas of the continent’s massive cities. A coordinated, international struggle to halt the spread of coronavirus in Africa is now an urgent necessity.Africa must “prepare for the worst” as community spread of the virus has already begun, World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned last Wednesday. Most African countries have now closed their borders to people arriving from countries hard hit by coronavirus, including the United States and the European countriesIn North Africa, Egypt—the continent’s hardest-hit country, where Africa’s first case was recorded on February 14—has at least 294 cases and 6 dead. The military regime of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is contemplating a curfew and generalized stay-at-home orders for the population to try to halt the pandemic’s spread. Egypt is followed by Algeria (201 sick, 17 dead), Morocco (109 cases, 3 dead) and Tunisia (75 sick, 3 dead). The number of cases in Libya, a country devastated by the ongoing civil war provoked by the 2011 NATO war nearly a decade ago, is unknown. Many West African countries are also hard hit. Senegal has confirmed 56 cases of COVID-19, and authorities are considering outlawing the sale of bread in neighborhood groceries in an attempt to halt the spread. They have also banned all public demonstrations on Senegal’s entire territory for 30 days.  Senegal has confirmed 56 cases of COVID-19, and authorities are considering outlawing the sale of bread in neighborhood groceries in an attempt to halt the spread. They have also banned all public demonstrations on Senegal’s entire territory for 30 days.  Burkina Faso, a country destabilized by French imperialism’s war in Mali, has seen 75 cases including four dead, the first in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana has 21 cases and Nigeria—Africa’s most populous country, with over 200 million inhabitants—has 30 confirmed infections.

 Coronavirus: Global infections top 500,000 -  Italy has reported 6,153 new coronavirus infections, pushing the global total over half a million, based on a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Italy now has 80,539 cases, almost as many as China. Italy’s Civil Protection Agency reported 662 deaths on Thursday, bringing the country’s death toll to 8,165, which is the highest in the world. The number of coronavirus infections closed in on a half-million worldwide Thursday, with both Italy and the U.S. on track to surpass China, and a record-shattering 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in a single week in a stark demonstration of the damage to the world’s biggest economy. Health care systems in Europe and New York buckled under the strain, with Spain’s death toll climbing to more than 4,000. At least 2.8 billion people, or more than one-third of the Earth’s population, are under severe travel restrictions. But the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, scolded world leaders for wasting precious time in the fight against the virus that has already killed more than 22,000 people and infected over 480,000, thrown millions out of work and ravaged the world economy. “The time to act was actually more than a month ago or two months ago,” he said Wednesday. “We squandered the first window of opportunity. … This is a second opportunity, which we should not squander and do everything to suppress and control this virus.”

Global cases of coronavirus exceed 650,000: Johns Hopkins - The COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in the city of Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, in December 2019. Confirmed cases now exceed 650,000 globally with the death toll reaching 30,000. Here is what we know so far:

  • The U.S. now leads the world in known COVID-19 cases, with over 121,000 infections and more than 2,000 deaths. New York state's cases topped 52,000.
  • Chinese mainland's total cases have reached 82,213, including 649 cases originating abroad. The death toll in the country now stands at 3,301.
  • Wuhan will lift outbound travel restrictions starting April 8 after over two months of lockdown. China temporarily suspended entry of foreigners with valid visas and residence permits, from March 28.
  • UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are the latest political figures to test positive for the coronavirus.
  • 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games have been postponed to 2021 because of the pandemic.

"No Country Has An Exit Strategy" - Experts Warn Virus Disruptions Could Last Months, Years  - Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist, said earlier this week that the COVID-19 pandemic could be nearing an end as he cited China's curve flattening to support his hypothesis. Other experts have said there is no clear endpoint, and the virus crisis could be around for months, or even years. So, the trillion-dollar question: Who should we believe?!  One positive step in slowing down the spread is the shutdown of the global economy. Strict social distancing measures, mass quarantines, and travel bans across the world has flattened the curve in China, with decelerating cases and deaths seen in Italy, Iran, and South Korea. Then the rest of Europe, with Spain, Germany, France, the UK, are all experiencing accelerating cases that will likely get worse in the weeks ahead. And, the bad news: both the US and India are at the very start of the curve and things will deteriorate in the weeks ahead before they get better.So clearly, the pandemic will be sticking around for the next several months. Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes the UK, which is in the early part of the acceleration phase, could see the outbreak peak within the next 12 weeks. BBC News notes that it could "take a long time for the tide to go out," referencing that the virus crisis in the UK could be around for quite some time: It is clear the current strategy of shutting down large parts of society is not sustainable in the long-term. The social and economic damage would be catastrophic.What countries need is an "exit strategy" - a way of lifting the restrictions and getting back to normal.But the coronavirus is not going to disappear.If you lift the restrictions that are holding the virus back, then cases will inevitably soar.Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said there's no clear "exit strategy" for how countries eradicate COVID-19. "It's not just the UK, no country has an exit strategy," Woolhouse said. To fully eradicate the fast-spreading virus from a country, there needs to be a vaccine, and with one 12-18 months away, this suggests that lockdowns could become the norm this year, and maybe into next.

Monarch Butterfly Populations Are Plummeting -  Both Eastern and Western monarch butterflies are seeing their populations plummet precipitously, worrying scientists that the future of the species is in peril, according to multiple surveys of butterfly populations. The New York Times recently reported on efforts to track the Western monarch butterfly, which spends its winter on California's central coast before heading off to breeding sites that covers a wide swathe from the state's central valley all the way to Idaho. However, recently it's been harder to find migrating butterflies. "Something's going on in early spring," said Cheryl Schultz, a professor at Washington State University in Vancouver, to The New York Times. Researchers know that winter survival isn't the issue in the short-term, she said. The researchers do not know if butterflies are not making it to breeding sites, unable to find mates, or starving along the way. What they do know is that the population of Western monarchs was in the millions in the 1980s, down to 200,000 three years ago, and then down to 30,000 in 2018, according to The New York Times. Matt Forister, an insect ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno, told the The New York Times that research identified various factors in butterfly loss, including development, climate change, farming practices and widespread pesticide use by farmers and on lawns. On the other side of the country, expect to see far fewer Eastern monarch butterflies migrating over the summer. According to a new population survey, the Eastern monarch has passed the extinction threshold, according to a new population survey by the Center for Biological Diversity. An annual count showed that the population in 2020 dropped 53 percent from its already low 2019 numbers. "Scientists were expecting the count to be down slightly, but this level of decrease is heartbreaking,"

New Player Begins Clearing Rainforest for World's Largest Palm Oil Plantation - A new company has begun clearing rainforest in an area of Indonesia's easternmost Papua province earmarked to become the world's largest oil palm plantation, in a vast project that has been mired in allegations of lawbreaking.If seen through to completion, the Tanah Merah project will generate an estimated $6 billion in timber and create a plantation almost twice the size of London, at the heart of the largest tract of intact rainforest left in Asia. It will also release an immense amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, at a time when Indonesia has committed to reducing emissions from deforestation.Since March of last year, the Digoel Agri Group, founded by a politically connected Jakarta family and now backed by an investor from New Zealand, has bulldozed 170 hectares (420 acres) of rainforest in a section of the project previously spared from land clearing, satellite imagery shows.The clearance amounts to a fraction of the 280,000 hectares (692,000 acres) allocated for the project, now controlled by several different conglomerates. But it signals that deforestation could quickly accelerate after a decade of false starts by other investors. Since it was first conceived in 2007, the rights to the project have changed hands several times, involving a string of investors who have deployed crude and complex corporate secrecy techniques to hide their identities.The licensing process for the project has been plagued by irregularities. A cross-border investigation by The Gecko Project, Mongabay, Malaysiakini and Tempo, published in November 2018, revealed that key permits were signed by an elected official who was simultaneously serving a prison sentence for embezzling state funds. A subsequent report found that officials believe other essential permits — for both the plantation and a giant sawmill to process the timber — were falsified.

New Trump Wildlife Services Appointee Worked for Trophy Hunting Lobby for 20 Years - President Donald Trump's controversial trophy hunting council may have been disbanded, but trophy hunters and their advocates still have influence at the Department of the Interior.Anna Seidman, former lawyer for pro-hunting group Safari Club International (SCI), is now the assistant director of the Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) International Affairs program, HuffPost reported Friday. During her 20 years of work for SCI, Seidman sued FWS several times and testified before Congress that hunters should have greater access to Alaskan wildlife, according to Earther. But she will now be in charge of a program designed to protect endangered species around the world."I'm not quite sure how this will happen with someone in charge who's advocated against stripping creatures of these protections," Earther's Yessenia Funes wrote.Funes pointed out that Seidman's appointment is in keeping with other Trump administration hiring decisions, such as the choice of former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA). Seidman's new boss David Bernhardt was also a controversial hire who has so many conflicts of interests he has to keep a notecard on hand to keep track of them. In an email to HuffPost, an FWS spokesperson called Siedman "an effective, innovative leader with 20 years of legal and policy experience, including expertise in international environment and natural resource management."

China Recommends Bear Bile to Treat COVID-19, Worrying Wildlife Advocates - Even though China recently banned open air markets that trade wildlife, the government has issued guidelines for treating COVID-19 that include medicines containing bear bile, according to National Geographic.A list of medicines to treat COVID-19 that the Chinese government put out included both traditional and Western medicines. The list was compiled and published by China's National Health Commission, the government body responsible for national health policy. One of the alleged cures from traditional Chinese medicine that the government recommends for treating severe and critical cases of COVID-19 is an injection of Tan Re Qing, which contains bear bile, as National Geographic reported.Wildlife advocates are alarmed by the disconnect of a comprehensive ban on trading wildlife for consumption in open air markets but allowing and promoting the use of wildlife in traditional Chinese medicine, according to the International Business Times."Restricting the eating of wildlife while promoting medicines containing wildlife parts exemplifies the mixed messages being sent by Chinese authorities on wildlife trade," said Aron White, a China specialist at the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, in a statement. "Aside from the irony of promoting a wildlife product for treatment of a disease which the scientific community has overwhelmingly concludedoriginated in wildlife, the continued promotion of the use of threatened wildlife in medicine is hugely irresponsible in an era of unprecedented biodiversity loss, including illegal and unsustainable trade."The use of bear bile in Chinese medicine dates back at least 1,300 years. Bile is secreted by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. Bile from bears tends to be high in ursodeoxycholic acid, also known as ursodiol, which is helpful in dissolving gallstones and treating liver disease. A synthetic version of ursodeoxycholic acid has been available for decades, according to National Geographic. There is no evidence that ursodeoxycholic acid cures or relieves symptoms of COVID-19.  "The use of the threatened wildlife is traditional medicine in totally unnecessary, especially given the availability of acceptable herbal and artificial alternatives, and many traditional medicine practitioners and users want to see an end to use of wildlife products," said White in a statement.Furthermore, extracting bear bile is a brutal process that requires inserting a catheter, syringe, or pipe into the gallbladder. All these avenues are invasive and "cause severe suffering, pain, and infection," according to Animals Asia, a nonprofit dedicated to ending bear bile farming, as National Geographic reported.

Frightened Mobs In Peru Burn Hundreds Of Bats With Torches As COVID-19 Hysteria Grows - As the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow, misinformation in the form of fake news, rumors, and gossip have continued to feed mass hysteria and panic over the deadly disease. In Peru, this has resulted in locals attempting to fight CoViD-19 by attacking communities of bats despite the fact that the novel virus still hasn’t been decisively proven to have originated from the winged creature.On Wednesday, the Peruvian government issued a statement warning residents to stop killing bats after authorities were forced to intervene when roughly half a thousand of the flying mammals came under attack by gangs of peasants hoping to exterminate what they believed were carriers of the disease, reports Peruvian network América Noticias.Roughly 300 of the creatures were killed in the arson attacks that took place in the small village of Culden, which lies in the Cajamarca region, after mobs attacked the caves where the bat communities dwelled, Peru’s National Service of Wild Forests and Fauna (SERFOR) announced.About 200 bats were saved from the torch-bearing gangs by members of the wildlife service and National Agrarian Health Service (SENASA) who later released the animals into a distant cave far from Culden. AFP reports that in a statement, SERFOR said: “We must not distort the situation due to the pandemic. Bats are not our enemies.”

COVID-19 Could Threaten Already Vulnerable Great Apes -The new coronavirus may have passed from animals to humans, but now there are concerns that it could pass from humans to endangered species of apes.  Twenty-seven conservation experts from the Great Ape Health Consortium urged a letter to Nature Tuesdaythat all great ape tourism be suspended and field research be reduced in an effort to protect already vulnerable species from contracting COVID-19. "The Covid-19 pandemic is a critical situation for humans, our health and our economies," lead letter writer Thomas Gillespie of Emory University told The Guardian. "It's also a potentially dire situation for great apes. There is a lot at stake for those in danger of extinction." Since no gorilla, orangutan or chimpanzee has yet caught COVID-19, it is impossible to know exactly how it would impact our closest genetic relatives, but human respiratory illnesses as mild as the common cold have proved fatal to gorillas, The Associated Press reported. Some parks are already taking measures to protect the animals. Virunga National Park in the Congo, which is home to a third of the world's mountain gorillas, is closing to human visitors until June 1 to prevent transmission, and Rwanda is also closing three parks home to gorillas and chimpanzees to tourists and researchers. In Malaysian Borneo, meanwhile, the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre is also closing to protect orangutans. "This disease could be fatal for the already critically endangered orangutan: it is a risk that we cannot afford to take," Susan Sheward of Orangutan Appeal UK explained to The Guardian.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature issued guidelines in response to the coronavirus March 15 urging interactions between humans and apes to be reduced to the minimum possible. It advised that the normal seven meter (approximately 23 foot) distance between apes and humans be expanded to 10 meters (approximately 33 feet) and that no one who is ill or has been in contact with someone who was ill within the past 14 days be allowed to interact with apes.

  Coronavirus: 'Nature is sending us a message’, says UN environment chief -Nature is sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis, according to the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen.Andersen said humanity was placing too many pressures on the natural world with damaging consequences, and warned that failing to take care of the planet meant not taking care of ourselves.Leading scientists also said the Covid-19 outbreak was a “clear warning shot”, given that far more deadly diseases existed in wildlife, and that today’s civilisation was “playing with fire”. They said it was almost always human behaviour that caused diseases to spill over into humans.To prevent further outbreaks, the experts said, both global heating and the destruction of the natural world for farming, mining and housing have to end, as both drive wildlife into contact with people.They also urged authorities to put an end to live animal markets – which they called an “ideal mixing bowl” for disease – and the illegal global animal trade.Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said the immediate priority was to protect people from the coronavirus and prevent its spread. “But our long-term response must tackle habitat and biodiversity loss,” she added.“Never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people,” she told the Guardian, explaining that75% of all emerging infectious diseases come from wildlife.“Our continued erosion of wild spaces has brought us uncomfortably close to animals and plants that harbour diseases that can jump to humans.”

Environmentalist Group- Corona Is The Cure - Humans Are The Disease - A climate change group that aligns itself with Extinction Rebellion posted stickers claiming that coronavirus is a “cure” for the “disease” that is humanity. “Earth is healing. The air and water is clearing,” tweeted Extinction Rebellion East Midlands“Corona is the cure. Humans are the disease!”The post shows stickers with the same message and the Extinction Rebellion logo plastered on lamp posts. Earth is healing. The air and water is clearing. Corona is the cure. Humans are the disease!#ClimateCrisis #CoronaCrisis #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/nYJp30WhtH— XREastMidlands (@xr_east) March 24, 2020 When another branch of Extinction Rebellion challenged that this “does not follows XR’s principles,” the East Midlands chapter doubled down.“We are pointing out that from the perspective of the Earth, humans behave like a disease. The idea is not to be,” they responded. While Extinction Rebellion East Midlands may represent little more than the ravings of one idiot, the notion that humanity somehow deserved coronavirus and that it’s good for the planet has been widely shared by environmentalists and celebrities.

Coronavirus pandemic leading to huge drop in air pollution --The coronavirus pandemic is shutting down industrial activity and temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows. One expert said the sudden shift represented the “largest scale experiment ever” in terms of the reduction of industrial emissions. Readings from ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that over the past six weeks, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over cities and industrial clusters in Asia and Europe were markedly lower than in the same period last year.Nitrogen dioxide is produced from car engines, power plants and other industrial processes and is thought to exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma. While not a greenhouse gas itself, the pollutant originates from the same activities and industrial sectors that are responsible for a large share of the world’s carbon emissions and that drive global heating. Paul Monks, professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester, predicted there will be important lessons to learn. “We are now, inadvertently, conducting the largest-scale experiment ever seen,” he said. “Are we looking at what we might see in the future if we can move to a low-carbon economy? Not to denigrate the loss of life, but this might give us some hope from something terrible. To see what can be achieved.” Monks said that a reduction in air pollution could bring some health benefits, though they were unlikely to offset loss of life from the disease. “It seems entirely probable that a reduction in air pollution will be beneficial to people in susceptible categories, for example some asthma sufferers,” he said. “It could reduce the spread of disease. A high level of air pollution exacerbates viral uptake because it inflames and lowers immunity.” Agriculture could also get a boost because pollution stunts plant growth, he added.

Coronavirus Shutdowns Causing Huge Drops in Traffic, Air Pollution - The novel coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic is also having an enormous impact on the environment, according to new satellite data. As governments around the world have restricted people from moving, industry, air travel and vehicular traffic have grinded to a halt, causing pollution levels to plummet, according to The New York Times. Areas that have been COVID-19 hotspots, like China and Italy, have already seen huge reductions in air pollution. Now the same trend is happening in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta where rush hour congestion has vanished as trucks and cars are no longer choking the streets, according to The New York Times."Air pollution levels as observed by satellite are showing drastic improvements in many areas that have been undergoing restrictive quarantines due to COVID-19," Peter DeCarlo, an associate professor of environmental health engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek."But it's [also] very clear that airline passenger numbers are way down, as many countries introduce travel bans and meetings/conferences/work-related travel is canceled. Industrial activity is also reduced, but not necessarily to the extent of traffic. For example, power plants still need to run to produce electricity, water treatment plants still need to continue to treat water, etcetera," he said.Satellite imagery taken over the U.S. in the first three weeks of March shows less nitrogen dioxide over the country than the same period last year, according to data from the European Space Agency, as CNNreported. Nitrogen dioxide levels are driven by burning fuels, as well as emissions of cars, trucks, buses, power plants and off-road equipment, according to CNN.The New York Times noted that freeway traffic in Los Angeles, which is usually at a standstill during rush hour, was moving at a brisk 71 miles per hour."There's basically no rush hour anymore, or at least not what we would recognize as a rush hour," said Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst at INRIX, a company that analyzes traffic data from vehicle and phone navigation systems, to The New York Times. A similar trend is happening in the Bay Area, where crossings of the heavily trafficked Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco to Oakland have dropped by 40 percent, according to the California Department of Transportation, as The New York Times reported. The drop in pollution levels is mirrored around the world, wherever people are staying home to try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. In China, nitrogen dioxide levels dropped 35 percent, and up to 60 percent in some cities. Similarly, reductions of up to 40 percent were seen in Milan, according to Newsweek.

Smoke from Australia's bushfires killed far more people than the fires did, study says -   Smoke pollution that blanketed Australia’s south-east for many months during the bushfire crisis may have killed more than 400 people, according to the first published estimate of the scale of health impacts – more than 10 times the number killed by the fires themselves.The figures, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, are “definitely alarming”, according to Chris Migliaccio, who studies the long-term effects of wildfire smoke at the University of Montana in Missoula and was not involved in the research.Lead author Fay Johnston, an epidemiologist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, estimates 80% of Australia’s population of about 25 million was blanketed by smoke this summer.“The fires were unprecedented in Australia’s history, in terms of vast amounts of smoke, the huge populations affected by the smoke and the long duration,” she said.Sydney experienced 81 days of poor or hazardous air quality in 2019, more than the total of the previous 10 years combined. To come up with a picture of the overall health burden of smoke exposure, they looked at existing data on death rates and hospital admissions to get a baseline. They then modelled how the known levels and extent of smoke exposure across the southeast, during the height of the crisis from 1 October to 10 February, would have affected these. Their results estimate that over this period there were 417 premature deaths, 3,151 extra hospitalisations for cardiorespiratory problems and 1,305 additional attendances for asthma attacks. This compares to 33 who reportedly died as a direct result of the bushfires.Many of the deaths and hospitalisations are likely to have been older patients with heart disease or lung problems, such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema – but severe asthma attacks will likely have resulted in deaths in younger people too, Johnston said.In patients with pre-existing cardiorespiratory issues, smoke exposure promotes inflammation, stresses the body and makes blood more likely to clot, increasing the risk of a heart attack. “In someone at high risk, subtle changes due to stress … can be the precipitating factor for a very serious or terminal event,” she said.

Australia Bushfire Smoke Killed 12.6x More People Than Fires, Study Finds - The Australian wildfires that burned for five months and destroyed millions of acres also killed 33 people. However, the smoke from the fires killed 12.6 times as many people. New research has shown that smoke from the fires killed 417 people and caused thousands of hospitalizations between October and February, asCBS News reported.The study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia. The research team, led by Fay Johnston at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, collected data on deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits. They then took that data and created a comprehensive map that pinpointed exactly how spikes in air pollutionlevels linked to increases in hospital visits, according to Nature."The fires were unprecedented in Australia's history, in terms of vast amounts of smoke, the huge populations affected by the smoke and the long duration," Johnston said, as The Guardian reported.The wildfires caused Australia's air quality to plummet. Sydney experienced 81 days of poor or hazardous quality in 2019, more than the last 10 years combined. The capital, Canberra, at one point during the fires, had the world's worst air quality. In January, tennis players at the Australian Open in Melbourne complained that the smoke from the nearby fires hurt their lungs."When you're affecting millions of people in a small way, there are going to be enough people at high enough risk that you're going to see really measurable rises in these health effects," Johnston said to The Guardian. The data that Johnston and her team collected found that the smoke accounted for 1,124 cardiovascular-related hospital admissions, 2,027 respiratory-related hospital admissions, and 1,305 asthma-related emergency room admissions, according to CBS News.

PG&E to plead guilty to lethal crimes in 2018 wildfires (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric will plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for a swath of death and destruction left behind after its fraying electrical grid ignited a 2018 wildfire that destroyed three Northern California towns and drove the nation’s largest utility into bankruptcy. The plea agreement announced Monday resolves the charges facing PG&E as part of a previously sealed indictment in Butte County. It marks the second time this decade that the company’s neglect has culminated in it being deemed a criminal. PG&E already is serving a five-year criminal probation imposed after it was convicted of six felony counts for falsifying records and other safety violations underlying a natural gas explosion that blew up a neighborhood in 2010 and killed eight people in San Bruno, California. As with its prior criminal conviction, no one from PG&E will go to prison for the company’s felony crimes. Instead, its plea agreement with the Butte County District Attorney’s office calls for PG&E to pay a $4 million fine, the maximum allowed. It will also help pay for efforts to restore access to water for residents affected by the loss of a canal destroyed by what became known as the Camp Fire. “We cannot replace all that the fire destroyed, but our hope is that this plea agreement, along with our rebuilding efforts, will help the community move forward from this tragic incident,” PG&E Corp. CEO Bill Johnson said. In a statement, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said he hopes the plea agreement will bring “a bit of a sense of justice done” for the fire. Camp Fire survivor Lisa Williams was outraged with the outcome. “It’s a crime against society,” she said. “A fine doesn’t change their behavior. They pay it and repeat bad behavior.”

PG&E to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for Camp Fire deaths - California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced Monday that it agreed to plead guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of 84 people during the devastating Camp Fire in 2018. The move came after state regulators conclusively determined that poorly maintained utility lines were at fault for the 2018 fire that completely destroyed the town of Paradise, population 26,000, and obliterated more than 18,000 buildings, causing $16.5 billion in damages. The plea deal was reached to drive down the company’s financial liability for the disaster to as minuscule an amount as possible, while preventing prosecutors from pursuing further charges associated with the Camp Fire. PG&E’s goal throughout the proceedings has been to maintain profits at the expense of public safety, refusing to modernize its electrical infrastructure by replacing its antiquated wooden transmission lines with resilient steel or underground lines. The Camp Fire was sparked by a worn-out hook on a 100-year-old transmission tower. According to the findings of the state utility commission, the tower had not been inspected since 2001. Sentencing will not take place until April 24 at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, on March 17, PG&E filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission outlining the expected details of the sentencing. The report stated that the utility will be sentenced to “pay the maximum total fine and penalty of $3.5 million,” or only $41,176 for each victim of the Camp Fire. Additionally, PG&E would be responsible for a $500,000 payment to reimburse costs associated with investigating their responsibility for the wildfire, for a total of $4 million. The total fine is only a fourth of the $16 million bonus package PG&E executives intended to award themselves in early 2019, which was disallowed by the bankruptcy judge. This came after the utility’s responsibility for the wildfire was already known, and after the company had declared bankruptcy earlier in the year to escape its debt obligations and other legal liabilities. To shield PG&E and the other regional utility monopolies in California from future financial damages, last summer Democratic governor Gavin Newsom worked with the state legislature to create a $21 billion wildfire fund that would effectively shield the utilities from future liabilities. Newsom, notwithstanding his public criticism of PG&E, has taken over $200,000 in campaign funding from the company and has repeatedly sponsored legislation exempting it and the other utilities from legal liability.

EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus - —The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak. The temporary policy, for which EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.” Cynthia Giles, who headed EPA’s Office of Enforcement during the Obama administration, called it a moratorium on enforcing the nation's environmental laws and an abdication of EPA’s duty. “This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future. It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way 'caused' by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was,” she wrote in a statement to The Hill. The EPA has been under pressure from a number of industries, including the oil industry, to suspend enforcement of a number of environmental regulations due to the pandemic. “EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. In a 10-page letter to EPA earlier this week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) asked for a suspension of rules that require repairing leaky equipment as well as monitoring to make sure pollution doesn’t seep into nearby water. Other industries had also asked to ignite the “force majeure” clauses of any legal settlements they had signed with EPA, allowing for an extension on deadlines to meet various environmental goals in the face of unforeseen circumstances. But Giles and others say the memo signed Thursday goes beyond that request, giving industries board authority to pollute with little overnight from the agency. “Incredibly, the EPA statement does not even reserve EPA's right to act in the event of an imminent threat to public health,” Giles said.

Plastic Bag Bans Put on Hold Amid Coronavirus Fears - A number of states and cities that implemented bans on plastic bags are putting them on hold over concerns about the cleanliness of reusable bags amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.Last week, the Massachusetts Food Administration asked Governor Charlie Baker to rescind bans on plastic bags in several towns over concerns that handling the reusable bags poses a threat to grocery store workers. While some viruses are known to survive in reusable shopping bags for up to nine days, there is no evidence so far that the novel coronavirus does, according to Patch.  Massachusetts' neighbors seem to be following a similar trajectory. New York State, which implemented its plastic bag ban on March 1, has decided to hold off enforcement until at least May 15, according to the state'sDepartment of Conservation (DEC).Despite the delay in enforcement, New York State still encourages shoppers to use reusable bags when shopping for their essentials.DEC continues to encourage New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common sense precautions to keep their reusable bags clean," said Erica Ringewald, spokeswoman for DEC, as the Brooklyn Eagle reported. "New York's ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect as planned on March 1. Retailers across the state are complying." "Folks, if you are concerned about the cleanliness of your reusable bag, please consider washing it — as you wash clothes or hands. It's good hygiene anyway," tweeted DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, as the New York Post reported. "New Yorkers are pleased with the bag ban and have no interest in a return to polluting ways."  New Hampshire went in another direction. Out of an abundance of caution, the governor issued an emergency order banning reusable bags, requiring stores to use plastic or paper instead, according to the Boston Herald. "Our grocery store workers are on the front lines of COVID-19, working around the clock to keep New Hampshire families fed," said Gov. Chris Sununu in a statement. "With identified community transmission, it is important that shoppers keep their reusable bags at home given the potential risk to baggers, grocers and customers."

 Group to study removing dam on Cheat River (AP) — A West Virginia group plans to study removal of the only dam on the Cheat River. The DTE Foundation awarded Friends of the Cheat $100,000 to study removing the Albright Power Station dam, which created a pool that fed the cooling towers of the now decommissioned coal-fired plant, The Dominion Post reported. “Preserving our environment — land, air and water — is a priority for the DTE Energy Foundation,” said Lynette Dowler, president of the foundation. “We’re proud to support Friends of the Cheat in their work to remove a dam that will improve aquatic life and enhance fishing along this beautiful waterway.” A consulting firm will do a study to determine information such as the structural integrity of the dam, details about sediment behind it and potential options for removal. Removal of the dam is endorsed by the state Division of Natural Resources, the foundation said.

Great Barrier Reef Has Third Major Bleaching Event in Five Years - The Great Barrier Reef, a natural wonder that once teemed with life, just experienced a major coral bleaching event, according to scientists who conducted aerial surveys over hundreds of individual reefs, as The Guardian reported.According to NBC News, the entire Great Barrier Reef is suffering a period of unprecedented heat stress. This bleaching event is the third one in five years and questions remain about the corals' ability to recover from the constant onslaught from changing marine conditions."This has never happened before," Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program in College Park, Maryland, said as the NBC News reported. "We're in completely uncharted territory."Bleachings don't necessarily kill the corals, but it does leave them extremely vulnerable to disease from bacteria or viruses. Bleaching, which occurs in response to abnormal conditions like heat or increased acidity in the water, forces the corals to release the tiny photosynthetic algae that live in their tissue and are responsible for their color, according to NBC News. The previous two heat stress related bleaching events were in 2016 and 2017. Scientists say the frequency of the heat-induced bleaching is a direct result of the climate crisis, which spells trouble for the vitality of the reef since the corals do not have enough time to recover and to grow back, according to NBC News.

Climate change: Earth's deepest ice canyon vulnerable to melting - East Antarctic's Denman Canyon is the deepest land gorge on Earth, reaching 3,500m below sea-level. It's also filled top to bottom with ice, which US space agency (Nasa) scientists reveal in a new report has a significant vulnerability to melting. Retreating and thinning sections of the glacier suggest it is being eroded by encroaching warm ocean water. Denman is one to watch for the future. If its ice were hollowed out, it would raise the global sea surface by 1.5m. "How fast this can happen? Hard to say, since there are many factors coming into play, for example the narrowness of the channel along which Denman is retreating may slow down the retreat," explained Dr Virginia Brancato, from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a former scholar at the University of California at Irvine (UCI). "At present, it is critical to collect more data, and closely and more frequently monitor the future evolution of the glacier," she told BBC News. Deepest point on land found in Antarctica East Antarctica's glaciers are stirring Journey to the 'doomsday glacier' Denman Canyon (vertical exaggeration x 5)Image copyrightSOURCE:NASA Image caption The shape of the bedrock under Denman can explain the asymmetric retreat Most people recognise the shores around the Dead Sea in the Middle East to have the lowest visible land surface elevation on Earth, at some 430m below sea level. But the base of the gorge occupied by Denman Glacier on the edge of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) actually reaches eight times as deep.

Retreating Antarctic Glacier Could Raise Sea Levels 5 Feet -  Antarctica's Denman Canyon is the deepest gorge on the Earth's surface, and, if the ice inside it melted, it could raise sea levels by almost five feet. Now, research published in Geophysical Research Letters Monday looked at how close that might be to happening and found that the glacier had retreated five kilometers (approximately three miles) in the last 22 years, according to a University of California Irvine (UCI) press release. "If warm water continues to induce high rates of ice melt near the glacier grounding zone, the potential exists for Denman Glacier to undergo a rapid and irreversible retreat, with major consequences for sea level rise," the researchers concluded. The study, carried out by scientists at UCI and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is the most detailed of the glacier to date. It found that it has lost 268 billion tons of ice between 1979 and 2017. It also noticed that the glacier's grounding line ― the point where the ice begins to flow into the ocean ― had retreated asymmetrically, falling back mostly on the Western side. BBC News explained why:The reason, the scientists can now determine, is a buried ridge under the eastern flank which is pinning and protecting that side of the glacier. In contrast, the western flank features a narrow but sizeable trough that would allow warm ocean water to erode the grounding line and push it backwards. This potentially is an Achilles heel. The further inland the glacier reaches, the deeper its bed - which is a geometry that has been demonstrated to favour more and more melting. If a lot of warm ocean water can find its way to the front of Denman, the opportunity is there to melt out its ice in a significant way.

Progressive advocates propose $2T 'green stimulus' plan - Progressive activists are proposing a “green stimulus” plan that would aim to boost the economy through the implementation of environmental reforms in various sectors. The advocates and academics behind the plan outlined their at least $2 trillion proposal that aims to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and create “green jobs” in an open letter to Congress posted Sunday. The proposal includes certain elements of the Green New Deal, a broad policy framework that seeks to mobilize the U.S. economy to fight climate change. It comes amid projections that the U.S. has fallen into a recession and that unemployment may increase dramatically as businesses shutter during the coronavirus pandemic. It also comes as senators are in tense negotiations over a stimulus package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized Democrats on Monday over their demands for the stimulus, describing their proposals as a political “wish list” that he said includes tax deductions for solar and wind energy, measures for organized labor and emissions standards for airlines. The activist proposal aims to make changes to areas including housing, transportation, manufacturing, energy and farming. Specifically, it would seek to create jobs in clean energy expansion, making modifications to buildings to make them more efficient and building electric vehicles, among other areas. 

House stimulus includes controversial effort to stem airline pollution -The stimulus package to battle the economic effects of the coronavirus proposed by House Democrats includes provisions to crack down on pollution from the airline industry. The bill also includes more than $50 billion in relief for the industry, but it would require airlines to go carbon neutral for domestic flights by 2025. It also promotes cleaner jet fuels and would greenlight the government to buy older, less efficient planes from airlines. Environmentalists have pushed the party not just to crack down on airlines but to offer tax incentives to the renewable energy sector. But Democrats’ efforts to include environmental language have in part stalled similar legislation in the Senate, where a vote on a stimulus package has once again been delayed. “Airlines that want public support should live public values,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tweeted when pushing the concept in the Senate last week. The House package tasks the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with overseeing most of the required emissions reductions. Beyond the carbon neutrality provisions, airlines who take assistance would also be required to set binding targets to reduce their own emissions to 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Airlines would have to start posting about the emissions levels for flights alongside their ticket prices starting in 2023. The government would also purchase $1 billion worth of older, more-polluting planes with the expectation airlines would replace them with more fuel-efficient models. The U.S. would be able to recoup some of those costs by selling airplane parts back to various carriers.

A Plant in Florida Emits Vast Quantities of a Greenhouse Gas Nearly 300 Times More Potent Than Carbon Dioxide --Ten miles north of Pensacola, Florida, on the west bank of the Escambia River, an aging chemical plant, its tanks, smokestacks and stainless steel pipes sprawling across hundreds of acres, is a climate killer hiding in plain sight.The plant, owned by Houston-based Ascend Performance Materials, makes adipic acid, one of two main ingredients for nylon 6,6, a strong, durable plastic used in everything from stockings to carpeting, seat belts and air bags. The plant also emits vast quantities of an unwanted byproduct, nitrous oxide, more colloquially known as "laughing gas." From a climate perspective, the plant's emissions are no joke. Nitrous oxide, or N2O, is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. N2O emissions totaling 33,046 metric tons from the plant in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, equal the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 2.1 million automobiles, according tocompany data reported to the Environmental Protection Agency and the agency's greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator.  That is more than all the registered vehicles in Miami and nearly one-third of all cars in Florida. But unlike the carbon dioxide that spews from automobiles or smokestacks, nitrous oxide emissions from chemical plants can be abated using existing technology at relatively modest cost. The plant, a subsidiary of SK Capital Partners, a private equity firm that says it generates $9 billion in annual revenue, is the largest point source of nitrous oxide emissions in the country. Its number one ranking as a nitrous oxide polluter illustrates how companies often choose to leave untouched greenhouse gas emissions they aren't required by law to abate, even when proven systems exist to eliminate those emissions. In the case of nitrous oxide emissions, DuPont and its global competitors, alarmed by N2O's potency as a greenhouse gas, joined forces almost 30 years ago and developed technologies to abate virtually all of their pollution.

RENEWABLES: 'Devastating.' 62% of energy storage firms hit with delays -- Tuesday, March 24, 2020 -- Almost two-thirds of energy storage businesses are seeing delays related to the new coronavirus that could lead to an "immediate and potentially devastating" impact, according to a trade group survey.

California regulators back major increase in renewables, ban on new natural gas plants - California on Thursday adopted a new emissions target for its electric sector that would double the state’s clean energy capacity over the next decade and close the door to development of new natural gas plants, but green groups said the goal was not aggressive enough. The state’s Public Utilities Commission set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 46 million metric tons by 2030, 56% below 1990 levels. The goal outpaces the state’s overall goal of slashing emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. California electricity providers will need to develop nearly 25 gigawatts of renewable energy and battery storage to achieve the goal, nearly double the amount the state has currently, CPUC Commissioner Liane Randolph said in a statement. The agency anticipates 8,900 MW of energy storage will be included in that total, or about eight times more than existed in the entire United States at the end of 2018. Environmental groups had pressed for a more aggressive target of 30 MMT that would get the state closer to its 2045 goal of sourcing electricity exclusively from carbon-free sources. They favor a rapid shift away from fossil fuels to fight global climate change. In a win for green groups, the CPUC closed a loophole that would allowed development of new natural gas plants if paired with energy storage. Expansion of existing natural gas plants is allowed if paired with energy storage, however. New gas plants are allowed if they use biomethane, which comes from manure, landfills or wastewater and is interchangeable with gas drilled out of the ground. It cuts greenhouse gas emissions by ensuring significant volumes of methane, that would have been produced anyway, never reach the atmosphere.

First-of-its kind wood pellet plant leaves North Carolina community wondering - A new kind of wood pellet plant is raising questions in North Carolina’s Robeson County — from how it will impact public health to whether it’s in line with Gov. Roy Cooper’s goals on climate pollution. But with a public hearing on the proposed factory canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and a comment period ending soon, community members and advocates worry they are running out of time to get answers. The proposed facility would be the first in the world to produce shiny capsules of wood called black pellets, which are denser than traditional, blond-colored pellets and can burn in electric coal plants without any modifications. Critics worry the plant may cause excess water pollution in addition to air pollution, creating an additional burden for a community already laden with numerous sources of environmental harm. “There must be a bullseye in Robeson County,” said Jeff Currie, riverkeeper for the Lumber River. Trees store carbon and pellets contain relatively high amounts of water, so burning pellets causes more carbon dioxide than coal per unit of electricity produced. Yet biomass is considered carbon neutral by many governments that assume these smokestack emissions are counted and regulated by the countries making the pellets — though that’s rarely the case. Europe, in particular, has seized on this rationale to meet global warming pollution reduction goals, with many nations offering subsidies to power companies that burn wood pellets in their plants instead of coal. While the United Kingdom is phasing out its incentives, the fuel now makes up most of what’s considered renewable energy across the European Union, and analysts say Asia is not far behind.

Duke Energy rewards, punishes N.C. lawmakers over ratemaking bill - It was August of last year, and North Carolina Rep. Elmer Floyd was the last to defend a controversial ratemaking bill backed by Duke Energy. An amendment gutting the measure’s most contentious section was on the verge of passage on the House floor. Floyd rose to argue it should have been offered in the public utilities committee first. “I can’t support this amendment when it had the opportunity to be [run] in utility,” the sixth-term lawmaker told his colleagues. With four other members of the Legislative Black Caucus, one other Democrat, and 45 Republicans, Floyd pressed the red button. It was a faint attempt to salvage the widely panned legislation that permitted Duke to seek upfront, multi-year rate increases. It failed: The amendment passed, and lawmakers later approved just the first section of Senate Bill 559, which allowed Duke to recoup storm-repair costs with bonds backed by ratepayers, a mechanism called securitization. But Floyd’s actions appeared to be enough to draw Duke’s backing in his March 3 primary, where he ran in a newly drawn district against political newcomer Kimberly Hardy. Duke’s political action committee gave him $5,400 in the run-up to Super Tuesday. A separate political committee called a 527, run by former longtime Duke employees, poured at least $13,940 into television ads promoting the Fayetteville lawmaker. Floyd wasn’t alone. The same 527 group ran ads supporting another lawmaker, Republican Steve Jarvis, who also ran in a tight primary. Filings with election officials show the company’s PAC spent over $300,000 on 77 legislative candidates this year, including 13 Democrats.

Utilities beginning to see the load impacts of COVID-19 as economic shutdown widens - It has been less than a week since states and major cities began instituting quarantines along with stay-home and shelter-in-place directives to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The full impacts on electricity usage are not yet known, but grid operators say demand is both shifting and falling. Data from overseas may give an indication of just how steep the declines could become. Italy instituted lockdowns and closed essential businesses earlier this month, in response to a spike in novel coronavirus infections. According to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the country has since witnessed a significant decline in electricity demand. Five to seven days after Italy's lockdown began, the country saw an 18% to 21% reduction in peak demand and energy use on a year-over-year basis, according to EPRI data. The demand decline began with a more modest 10% reduction in peak demand in the first two days after beginning its lockdown on March 12 and 13. In the United States, grid operators say it is too soon to get a firm handle on the impacts of coronavirus shutdowns, but some are already seeing usage declines. Propelling those declines, S&P Global is predicting a global recession this year, and estimates the United States economy will see a 6% seasonally adjusted second quarter contraction before beginning to recover in the second half of the year. "In the near term, utilities will likely see some reduced sales volumes as major sporting events, concerts and businesses scale back drastically, compounded even further by social distancing requirements being mandated or recommended by federal and local governments across North America," S&P said in a March 19 report. While the firm believes "the majority of North American regulated utilities are well positioned to handle the immediate impact of COVID-19," the report also warned a few with "disproportionate exposure to [the] commercial and industrial class of customers could be vulnerable to reduced sales volumes."

PANDEMIC: Coronavirus slowdown ripples across U.S. grid -- Monday, March 23, 2020 -- Downtowns are ghost towns. Restaurants, bars, stores, schools and offices are closed. Factories are idled. Economists say a U.S. recession is coming. Like the coronavirus, economic turmoil is spreading everywhere, including to electricity demand. And the implications are only starting to be realized. "We're on day three or four of this, but we've already seen impacts," Adam Jordan, director of power analytics at Genscape, an energy research company that tracks electricity markets, said in an interview. Jordan and his team are among the analysts, traders and economists monitoring the effects of an economic slowdown fueled by the virus and how it ripples through the nation's electric industry. For now, speculation about a prolonged drop in power demand and prices is just that. But if demand weakens further and the economic slump lingers into summer or beyond, it could force companies to dial back on grid investments, delay new power plant projects and put more pressure on aging power plants already struggling to compete in markets flush with supply. A plunge in electricity demand also could affect greenhouse gas emissions. According to EPA, more than a quarter of U.S. emissions come from the electricity sector. The country's largest bulk power market, PJM Interconnection LLC, which spans 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states, on March 16 revised its daily forecast of about 100,000 megawatts of load given the time of year and weather to 94,500. Actual demand came in at 95,500 MW, spokesman Jeff Shields said. "We saw some reduction that day and will continue to consider coronavirus-inspired changes in human behavior in the load forecast," he said. A prolonged slump in demand for electricity in a market like PJM, where there's already a supply cushion that exceeds reserve margin requirements, could put even more pressure on power plants already struggling to compete, including older, less efficient coal units, said Travis Miller, an analyst at Morningstar. "This is just another hit on coal,"

Electricity Consumption In Italy Plummets Amid Countrywide Quarantine - Italy has gone full "Wuhan" with a massive lockdown across the country amid a virus crisis that has paralyzed its economy. So far, 63,927 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported, with 6,077 deaths. The Italian economy is being dragged into a depression as the fast-spreading virus cripples its northern regions, forcing the government to ban travel and close all industrial production across the country. The impact of the virus on Italy's economy led to the collapse of electricity consumption last week. Electricity usage fell 16% YoY for March 16-22, according to Bloomberg calculations based on Terna SpA data. Diego Marquina, an analyst covering European power markets at BloombergNEF, noted on Monday that electricity demand in every European country has declined due to the impact of quarantine measures to mitigate the virus spread. Marquina said if declining electricity consumption is "sustained...weekday power demand would most likely fall to Sunday levels – a 10-26% reduction, depending on the country." He estimates that power prices could drop between 6-18 EUR/MWh. Last week, power demand in Italy fell 17% below the average for the week. The average reduction in demand was -11% in France, -9% in Belgium, and -7% in Spain.

BPU Takes Appeal Over Multistate $1.2B Transmission Upgrade to Federal Court - In the latest twist in a long-running dispute, the state of New Jersey is asking a federal appeals court to review a multistate debate over who gets stuck with funding the costs of a $1.2 billion transmission upgrade. In this instance, it was ratepayers in New Jersey in a decision challenged by the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU), which objected to a ruling by the regional grid operator, PJM Interconnection. The case involved cost allocations regarding the Bergen-Linden transmission line, which left New Jersey customers footing the bill. The BPU and Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G), which built the line at PJM’s direction, unreasonably left ratepayers bearing the full cost of the upgrades, even though the project allowed some electricity to be wheeled to the New York power grid. The lawsuit, filed on Monday in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, follows a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision early this month to deny a rehearing of its decision in the cost allocation dispute.

Ohio Valley Coal Industry Braces As COVID-19 Impacts Electricity Demand, International Exports --As states across the Ohio Valley order the closure of non-essential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, coal mines will remain open. But as with many industries, the global pandemic is straining the coal sector, and some experts say the already struggling industry could face intense challenges in the months ahead as electricity demand flags and international exports stall. “What we’re going to see is a big drop in Q2, that is without question,” said Brian Lego, referencing the coming second quarter reports, which will reflect the stark new economic reality. Lego is an economic forecaster who studies the coal industry with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University. As the economy grinds to a halt, Lego said, demand for electricity is falling. While the use of coal for electricity has fallen in recent years, 23.5 percent of all utility generation came from burning coal in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That could be a challenge for a state like West Virginia, where a significant portion of its coal is burned by utilities. The industry is also facing challenges in exporting coal overseas, including to China, which was hit hard by COVID-19. “Export markets are crippled right now,” Lego said. Similar grim economics apply to metallurgical, or steel coal. As factories, including car manufacturers pause production, demand for parts is also impacted. While Lego cautioned much remains unknown in this fast-moving situation, so far, the calculus doesn’t look great. “So both here and abroad it's a really complicated situation, and it's not what I would consider positive in any way shape or form,” he said.

Iconic plant's end spells doom for struggling coal industry  (AP) — President Donald Trump tried to stop it from happening. The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, did too. Despite their best efforts to make good on Trump’s campaign promise to save the beleaguered coal industry, including an eleventh-hour pressure campaign, the Tennessee Valley Authority power plant at Paradise burned its last load of coal last month. The plant’s closure — in a county that once mined more coal than any other in the nation — is emblematic of the industry’s decadeslong decline due to tougher environmental regulations, a major push toward renewable energy and a rise in the extraction of natural gas. The shuttering of businesses nationwide and a reduced need for energy amid the global coronavirus pandemic threatens to deal coal yet another devastating blow. “It’s not just one 1,000-megawatt unit closing; they’re going down all over the place,” said John Rogers, a former mine owner who lives in western Kentucky near the Paradise plant, located in Muhlenberg County. Since 2010, 500 coal-burning units, or boilers, at power plants have been shut down and nearly half the nation’s coal mines have closed. No U.S. energy company, big or small, is building a new coal-burning plant. Employment in the U.S. coal industry is the lowest in decades. Coal mine jobs have dropped by nearly 50 percent in the past decade to about 50,000 — a far cry from the 900,000 workers who were digging in coal mines when the industry hit its peak in the 1920s. Electric utilities are telling investors and customers that coal costs too much, mostly because of the money it costs to offset environmental effects, such as the release of carbon dioxide. Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, informed its clients in January that it would no longer invest in companies that get more than 25% of their revenue from burning coal. Electric utilities — and their customers — have instead embraced renewable energy and cleaner-burning gas burned in combined cycle plants, which have a smaller footprint and about a tenth of the workers of a coal plant. One such plant opened in the Paradise plant complex in 2017.

Murray Energy receives no bids for its coal assets, cancels bankruptcy auction  - Murray Energy Corp. received no qualified offers competing against an initial stalking horse bid for substantially all of the company's assets, according to a court filing. The final deadline for bids on the assets was March 16, but with no qualified bidders, the company canceled a bankruptcy auction scheduled for March 26. Given there were no higher bids, Murray Energy designated a stalking horse offer from a new group formed by its superpriority lenders as the winning bid. The company owns coal mines across Appalachia and in the Uinta Basin, Illinois Basin and Colombia. Previous bankruptcy filings show that Murray Energy engaged an investment bank advising firm in the summer of 2019 to explore financial options for the company, including potential asset sales. Those efforts were unsuccessful. Under the company's restructuring support agreement announced in October 2019, the lenders would credit bid the company's debt, and substantially all of the company's prepetition funded debt would be eliminated. The agreement also provides that Murray Energy founder Robert Murray would be named chairman of the board of the new company. Murray President and CEO Robert Moore would maintain his current role in the new organization. The approved bidding procedures included a provision requiring a bid increment of at least $1.0 million. The bidding procedures also required that any proposals to purchase the assets provide cash consideration sufficient to pay the unpaid principal, interest, fees, expenses and other costs under or on account of the company's debtor-in-possession financing facility. Murray Energy, which primarily produces thermal coal for U.S. power generators, is restructuring its business through proceedings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Ohio. There is a May 26 deadline for interested parties to object to the sale. Murray Energy's metallurgical coal subsidiary is undergoing a separate bankruptcy auction process. The subsidiary was not part of the parent company's late-2019 bankruptcy petition but filed its own in February.

Miners Fear the Impacts Covid-19 Could Have in Coal Country -- Jimmy Moore barely leaves the house. When he does, the 74-year-old is usually parked outside his local pharmacy in Dorton, Kentucky, until someone brings out his regular meds. As soon as Moore arrives home, he changes his clothes and washes his hands. Religiously. This wasn’t his routine before, but Moore can’t take any chances with the coronavirus. Moore mined the coalfields of Appalachia for 22 years. He suffers from diabetes and black lung, which covers a range of lung diseases that makes breathing difficult and damages the lungs. His 51-year-old son who followed him into the mines is also dealing with black lung, which is a common malady for patients exposed to coal and silica dust. That’s why black lung is formally known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Physicians and researchers are warning that these former coal miners are at particular risk during this pandemic. As president of the Southeastern Kentucky Black Lung Association, Moore is also telling members to stay home and stay safe. “It’s a scary time right now,” Moore told Earther. “We try to be extra careful, [but] I don’t know how careful you can be with this virus. I’m just praying it don’t come into eastern Kentucky.” Covid-19 is especially deadly to those above the age of 60 and to those already suffering from heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes. Once the virus infects someone, it attacks the respiratory system. For those with an already weakened system, that damage can prove deadly. Unfortunately, many individuals suffering from black lung are in a dangerous demographic as they tend to be older in addition to having respiratory issues. Deaths from the disease were already on the rise pre-coronavirus. Adding in a new, dangerous disease will only raise the risks of more deaths.

Coal mining continues during coronavirus pandemic. Experts say that puts miners’ health at risk. - The Washington Post - When Pennsylvania ordered coal mines closed because of the coronavirus, then reversed course and declared them to be “essential,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who made a fortune in coal, was quick to mock his neighbors.“Coal is so essential it is unbelievable,” said Justice, a Republican. “We have to have good electricity flowing into our homes.”The mine workers union agrees with him. So does President Trump, who has spent the past three years talking up the coal business.But in the face of the pandemic, is coal mining actually so essential? Because of the nature of the work — a lot of crowding, coughing and spitting — and the significant incidence of lung damage from years of exposure to coal dust, silica and diesel exhaust, coal miners may be especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, medical researchers say. And coal provides less than a quarter of America’s electricity, at a moment when demand for power is falling and there are already large stockpiles of coal nationwide because of the warm winter, as well as a glut of cheap natural gas. In fact, last week, as oil prices collapsed and gas continued its downward slide, coal for the first time became the most expensive fossil fuel. There are about 51,000 miners employed in surface and underground mining in the United States, according to the U.S. Department Bureau of Labor Statistics.  But there’s more than economics at stake. Though black lung disease sharply fell among miners from the 1970s to the 1990s, it has been on the rise since then. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that more than 10 percent of the longest-tenured miners are still working even as they have the disease, and it afflicts a smaller portion of younger miners, as well.  “Adding an infection to a coexisting lung disease can make things worse,” said Anna Allen, a doctor who studies black lung disease at West Virginia University. “It’s not unusual for us to find coal miners who have early-stage disease, feel fine, think they’re okay.” But, she said, they’ve already lost a portion of their reserve lung capacity.  The complications from the coronavirus occur when the virus settles in the lungs and results in pneumonia.  With black lung disease and silicosis, said Robert Cohen, a doctor who is the principal investigator at the Black Lung Clinic Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, “you damage the lung’s ability to heal itself and to resist further damage.”

Coal mines emit more methane than oil-and-gas sector, study finds -Methane emissions from coal mines could be more than double previous estimates, according to a new study.The fossil-fuel industry is understood to be one of the biggest sources of atmospheric methane, primarily due to leaks from the production of oil and gas.However, a new paper published in the Journal of Cleaner Production suggests that coal mining may actually be a bigger contributor to levels of the greenhouse gas, with emissions set to grow considerably in the coming years.This is even more pronounced when accounting for the impact of old coal mines that continue to seep methane long after they have been abandoned. To date, attempts to curb methane emissions from mines have been limited.The authors of the new study say there are considerable gaps in the available data, and their results are based on extrapolations from the only nations for which sufficient information was available.Nevertheless, their findings are the latest in a string of papers to suggest methane emissions from the fossil-fuel industry have been “severely underestimated”.  Methane is produced by natural sources, such as wetlands, as well as human activities, such as agriculture and fossil-fuel production.While there is considerable uncertainty around the contribution from fossil fuels, which makes up around a fifth of the total, previous work has suggested oil-and-gas production is the biggest contributor. Meanwhile, coal, which releases 75% more CO2 than gas per unit of energy, has been relatively overlooked when it comes to methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas.

Amid pandemic, US coal industry seeks lower taxes, royalties (AP) — The lobbying arm of the U.S. coal industry is asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in royalty relief, tax cuts and other breaks to help companies ride out the financial crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. National Mining Association President Rich Nolan made the request in a letter sent this week to the White House and the leaders of the House and Senate. The benefits that Nolan asked Congress to provide could total more than $800 million a year for coal companies, based on last year’s payments by the industry to the federal government. The request includes a $220 million cut to a tax aimed at covering beneficiary payments for black lung disease in miners, a 50% cut in mine reclamation fees that would be worth $75 million, and suspending or eliminating royalty payments that totaled $527 million last year, according to the association. Even before the current economic upheaval, the coal mining industry was in sharp decline as utilities across the nation switch to cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable energy sources. With financial institutions under pressure from environmentalists to divest from coal, Nolan also said more access to credit was needed to help companies keep mines open. He described it as a matter of national security and said that without easier access to credit, operations at hundreds of mines employing tens of thousands of miners could be threatened. “The coal industry is absolutely critical to securing a domestic, secure supply of affordable energy,” he said. “As global supply chains are disrupted...American-mined coal is here when it is needed.” The request was blasted by conservationists who said it amounted to a corporate giveaway and would sharply reduce revenue for coal mining states that get a share of all royalty payments.

North Dakota’s Carbon Capture Project Tundra Another “Expensive Greenwashing” Attempt to Bail Out Coal Power | DeSmog -Carbon capture technology has generated a lot of controversy–but little private investment–due to its lack of profitability and efficiency. So why is a proposal to retrofit an aging coal-powered plant in North Dakota with smokestack scrubbers receiving millions of federal taxpayer dollars? Ask Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), who has directed more than $30 million in Department of Energy funding to Project Tundra.The project would install a carbon capture system at the Milton R. Young Station, a two-unit plant that has run on lignite coal from the nearby Center Mine since it began operating in 1970. The captured carbon would then be piped to the Bakken region for injection into oil wells in a process known as Enhanced Oil Recovery.Hoeven recently secured a $10 million DOE grant that will go toward a preliminary engineering study for Project Tundra. State and coal industry sources have also contributed, with the aim of keeping the coal industry alive in North Dakota. Other help will come from tax incentives for carbon capture projects that Congress passed in 2018.Project Tundra already enjoys tax benefits at the state level. A bill eliminating taxes for oil extracted by carbon dioxide derived from lignite coal combustion was passed into law last year.Yet all that money may be for naught, given the track record of similar projects.Project Tundra was pushed by the Lignite Energy Council, which Hoeven is close to — the Council donated $21,000 to his reelection campaigns since he first ran for the Senate in 2010.That may not sound like much these days, but he's one of their top recipients, and he has spoken at their annual meetings. Other partners in the project include the Minnkota Power Cooperative, which operates the plant; the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center, originally founded as a lignite research laboratory under the U.S.Bureau of Mines; and the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which authorized a $15 million grant from its Lignite Research Fund. Minnkota external affairs manager Stacy Dahl estimated the total cost of the project at $1.3 and $1.6 billion.

 TVA delays two spring reactor refueling outages by two weeks due to pandemic  — Tennessee Valley Authority took the "precautionary step" of delaying planned outages at the Sequoyah-2 and Watts Bar-1 nuclear reactors this spring by two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said Wednesday. It is the first announced delay to a US outage. "For competitive reasons, we don't provide specifics on our outage dates," Hopson said, adding: "However, both of the outages were previously planned for this spring and will begin two weeks later than originally scheduled," A refueling outage for the 1,181-MW Sequoyah-2 reactor in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, was originally scheduled to start in late March while the Watts Bar-1 unit in Spring City, Tennessee, was set to begin an outage in the middle of April, according to a March 20 letter from the Nuclear Energy Institute to the US Department of Energy. The average duration of refueling outages at US nuclear units in 2019 was 36.2 days, according to S&P Global Platts data. "The delays allow us to get the necessary medical screening processes in place, as well as providing a measure of increased social distancing during the increasing outbreak," Hopson said, adding: "Nuclear refueling and maintenance outages create significant logistical challenges in terms of fuel loads and specialized personnel availability. As a result, our ability to reschedule them is limited." Hopson said: "TVA and other nuclear utilities have plans in place to ensure the continued safe and reliable operation of our nuclear generating units through this difficult time." "Critical employees can be sequestered at the site for extended periods to maintain safe operations. Additional employees would be held in reserve to relieve the initial group, if necessary," he added. Around 3,000 TVA employees work with TVA's nuclear fleet, as well as contract personnel, Hopson said. Several hundred support personnel staff TVA's nuclear operations functions in Chattanooga, he added.

Federal appeals court to hear arguments in Savannah River Site plutonium fines case - South Carolina's years-long legal battle to reap millions of dollars in plutonium fines from the federal government will be reviewed by an appeals court in early May. Oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit are scheduled for May 5, records show. The judges assigned to the case will be announced that morning. The upcoming hearing in Washington, D.C., is the latest development in a long line of legal back-and-forth as well as judicial maneuvering by the Palmetto State. South Carolina first sued the federal government, namely the U.S. Department of Energy, in early 2018, seeking $100 million. Months later, the state's legal team amended its complaint and began pursuing $200 million. The sum demanded by the state represents two years, 2016 and 2017, of fines levied against the Energy Department for failing to remove plutonium from the Savannah River Site south of Aiken. Federal law mandated beginning in 2016 that the DOE pay South Carolina $1 million for each day – up to 100 days per year – the department did not process plutonium at the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility or get 1 metric ton of the material out of the state. SRS update: 67 workers monitored for coronavirus; furloughs not planned SRS update: 67 workers monitored for coronavirus; furloughs not planned Colin Demarest The Energy Department's weapons-and-nonproliferation agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration, axed the never-completed, multibillion-dollar MOX project in October 2018. The flagging project at the Savannah River Site was more than a decade in the making and a favorite of Palmetto State politicians. Federal Claims Judge Margaret M. Sweeney tossed South Carolina's case in August 2019. The judge ruled the courts were not the right avenue to pursue the plutonium payout and that the fines could only be paid if Congress set aside money for them. "DOE does not have unfettered, unrestricted funds available," the federal government argued late last year.

Nuclear plant shut down after coolant pumps experience issue  — Davis-Besse nuclear power plant resumed a startup Thursday after experiencing a problem Wednesday with two of its four reactor coolant pumps, a spokesman for the plant’s operator said. A news release from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that while the unit was operating at zero percent power while starting up from a refueling outage at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday, the reactor was “manually tripped due to a trip of two of four Reactor Coolant Pumps.” The incident was characterized as nonemergency and as having no impact on the safety of the public or plant personnel. The plant, which is owned by Energy Harbor Corp., is along the Lake Erie shoreline, in Ottawa County about 30 miles from downtown Toledo. The release said all systems responded normally and the plant was stabilized. Decay heat was being removed by discharging steam to the main condenser, and the cause of the reactor coolant pump trips was under investigation, the NRC said.

Ohio produced record natural gas, oil in 2019 - Ohio produced all-time record volumes of natural gas and crude oil in 2019, according to a new report. The state’s natural gas production in 2019, mostly from the Utica Shale, was 2.882 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, said the Debrosse Memorial Report. The 2019 full-year totals are estimated because final production totals have not yet been submitted to state regulators for the fourth quarter. That natural gas total is up 22% from 2018 totals and is believed to be the highest in Ohio history, said Shumway of Locus Bio-Energy Solutions LLC with offices in Texas and Ohio. Ohio ranks fifth in the U.S. for natural gas production, Kallansh Energy reports. Estimated oil production in Ohio in 2019 is 27.8 million barrels. That tops 2018’s total of 22.7 million barrels and also surpasses the 1896 total of 23.9 million barrels from the Trenton Limestone formation. Of course, the Ohio drilling picture changed dramatically in the last few weeks with the coronavirus and the crude oil price rout resulting from the crude oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia and its impacts on U.S. shale drillers. The most active operator in Ohio last year was Ascent Resources with 104 new wells, up 49% from 2018. Second was Gulfport Appalachia with 50 additional wells, followed by EAP Ohio (Encino Energy) with 38 wells, Eclipse Resources (now Montage Resources) with 34 wells and Rice Drilling (now part of EQT) with 17 wells. Belmont County was the No. 1 drilling county in Ohio in 2019 with 80 wells drilled. Jefferson and Monroe counties were tied for second, each with 69 wells. Harrison County was fourth with 34 and Guernsey County was fifth with 32. Ohio had 406 well completions in 2019, down two completions from 2018. Ascent Resources drilled 2.2 million feet of laterals and vertical shafts in 2019, more than double second-place Gulfport Appalachia with 1.0 million feet. The rest of the top 5 were Eclipse Resources with 768,269 feet, EAP Ohio with 767,757 feet and Rice Drilling with 347,459 feet. Belmont County was No. 1 for drilled footage with 1.63 million feet, followed by Jefferson with 1.46 million feet and Monroe with 1.41 million feet. Guernsey had 775,218 feet and Harrison had 717,604 linear feet. Statewide, a total of 6.57 million linear feet were drilled in 2019, up slightly from the 6.51 million feet in 2018. In Q4 2019, Ohio had 2,523 Utica wells online. Last year, Ohio had 41 different O&G companies complete wells, up slightly from the 38 operators in 2018. In 2011, the state had 121 producers. Ohio also reported limited drilling in the Clinton (52), Knox (25) and Marcellus (14) formations. Shumway also reported that Ohio’s 225 active injection wells handled less liquid drilling wastes in 2019. The volume injected was 43.372 billion barrels, down 3.5% from the 44.941 billion barrels in 2018. The 2019 total is still the No. 2 highest volume injected ever in the state with 40% of the wastes coming from other states. 

Utica Shale well activity as of March 21:

  • DRILLED: 145 (164 as of last week)
  • DRILLING: 109 (107)
  • PERMITTED: 483 (479)
  • PRODUCING: 2,478 (2,458)
  • TOTAL: 3,215 (3,208)

Seven horizontal permits were issued during the week that ended March 21, and 9 rigs were operating in the Utica Shale.

 EXCLUSIVE: EQT temporarily shuts down some field ops after contractor tests positive for COVID-19 - One contractor at a Belmont County site has tested positive for the virus.

EQT Takes Further Actions To Prioritize Debt Repayment Via Dividend Suspension - EQT Corporation today announced that its Board of Directors has elected to suspend the quarterly cash dividend on its common stock, effective immediately, accelerating cash flow to be utilized for EQT's debt reduction strategy. EQT expects this action will result in approximately $30 million per year in retained cash savings, which EQT intends to use to pay down additional near-term debt maturities. President and CEO Toby Rice stated: "The decision to suspend EQT's dividend is another action to display our commitment to our debt reduction strategy, which also includes utilizing substantial near-term free cash flow and asset monetization proceeds to reduce debt.  As we enhance our balance sheet and leverage metrics over-time, we will re-visit our shareholder return and dividend policy. These actions will better position EQT's financial framework."EQT Corporation is a natural gas production company with emphasis in the Appalachian Basin and operations throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia andOhio.

Market headwinds buffet Appalachia’s future as a center for petrochemicals - Less than two years ago, the Trump administration and the chemical industry were promoting the development of a plastics manufacturing center in Appalachia they thought would benefit Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.IHS Markit, a global information and data company, forecast the potential for as many as five plants that would turn abundant ethane from fracking in the Marcellus and Utica shale regions into ethylene and polyethylene, among the most commonly produced petrochemicals and components of all sorts of plastic products. Now, analysts at IHS Markit have concluded that a proposed $5.7 billion ethane plant in Belmont County, Ohio, may never be constructed because of circumstances that were present even before the coronavirus began to dramatically shrink the economy. And in a new study, analysts at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), a nonprofit think tank that works toward a sustainable energy economy, have found that the plant faces a damaging, cumulative set of risks, all raising doubts about whether it will ever be financed.The plant’s fate is seen by both the IEEFA and IHS Markit as a harbinger of trouble for the broader vision of Appalachia as a major petro-chemical hub. A string of significant setbacks and delays now seem more important amid the coronavirus pandemic, a crashing economy, cratering oil prices, slowing demand for plastics and what could be the final months of a fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration.Activists who have been fighting fracking and the planned petro-chemical boom say they hope the industry’s mounting woes, which are sure to be worsened by a coronavirus-stalled economy, will lead to a long enough pause for leaders to decide whether the nation’s former steel belt should continue to embrace another heavily polluting and fossil-fuel dependent industry.“Too many regulators, too many lawmakers and too many government officials were too eager to sign us up and lock us into a bigger fossil fuel future, and at a time when we don’t need more plastics,” said Lisa Graves-Marcucci, the Pennsylvania community outreach coordinator for the Environmental Integrity Project.

Doctor: Cracker plant workers make county more vulnerable -  Beaver County could be more susceptible to the novel coronavirus due to the region’s strong manufacturing community, according to one health expert. Dr. Stacy Lane, founder of Central Outreach Wellness Center, said Beaver County is more vulnerable to COVID-19 due, in part, to Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant. That plant has brought a significant transient population to the region. “Without blaming any one company directly, Beaver County is a very different place than it used to be,” Lane said. “You have a lot of transient people who are coming and moving here, traveling back and forth from where they came – places like Georgia, Ohio – because it’s such a good job.” Lane said it’s great for the local economy, but having a transient population does mean that germs are more likely to travel across state lines. Lane compared the spread of COVID-19 to what happened when there was a boom in the gas well industry several years ago. “You saw different STDs happening in the region, a lot more cases of STDs happening,” she said. “We’re talking about people moving away from their homes, now living in a hotel during the week, maybe going home on the weekends or on breaks.” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf mandated thousands of “non-life sustaining” businesses, including building construction, close their physical locations on March 19 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 – an order that went into effect Monday. Shell Chemicals temporarily suspended construction activities at the $6 billion ethane cracker plant last week following calls from workers, residents and county leaders to halt for the sake of public health. The petrochemical complex will undergo a deep cleaning and leadership will install measures aligned with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. It’s unclear when Wolf’s ban on construction activities will be lifted; Shell’s decision to close came just two days ahead of the order.

IEEFA update: In extremis – crisis continues for Appalachian shale producers - Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis - Another year, another gusher of red ink. Fracking (Exploration & Production) companies in Appalachia have failed to produce positive free cash flow each year for the past decade, according to an IEEFA analysis released today. In a briefing note (In Extremis: Crisis Mounts for Appalachian Shale Producers), IEEFA analysts found that eight of Appalachia’s largest producers collectively spent $73.4 billion more on drilling and other capital expenses than they realized by selling natural gas during the decade. Faced with persistently low gas prices, these eight companies continued to struggle financially in 2019, recording negative cash flows of $427 million in the fourth quarter alone. “The fracking sector as a whole has been struggling mightily throughout the decade to register positive free cash flow but for those based in Appalachia, the numbers have been even more dismal,” said IEEFA financial analyst and briefing note co-author Kathy Hipple. Negative cash flows for the full year, at $466 million, actually represented the decade’s best performance for these companies. Yet only two of the eight firms in the IEEFA sample, Cabot Oil and Gas and EQT, were cash flow positive for the year. Five of the eight companies—Antero Resources, CNX, Chesapeake, Gulfport, and Range Resources—reported negative cash each year throughout the decade. Southwestern’s cash flow was negative in nine of the 10 years, including 2019. “The paradox for the fracking sector is that the oil and gas production bonanza has been a cash flow bust,” said IEEFA energy finance analyst Clark Williams-Derry. “Q4 2019 was no exception.” On an annual basis, U.S. benchmark gas prices peaked in 2008, at $8.86/MMBtu. But prices have dropped dramatically since then, falling to just $2.56/MMBtu on average in 2019, and well below $2.00 more recently.

Pa. DEP revokes permit for Grant Twp. oil and gas waste well - Pennsylvania environmental regulators have canceled a permit for a contentious oil and gas wastewater disposal well in Indiana County, saying the facility would violate a local law that bans underground injection of waste fluids. The Department of Environmental Protection rescinded the permit for the Yanity well in Grant Township on March 19. Attorneys for the township called it an “extraordinary reversal” in the community’s yearslong effort to claim that a robust right to self-government allows it to prohibit a waste facility that state and federal rules would permit. Grant, a community of about 700 residents, adopted a home rule charter in 2015 that bars companies from disposing of oil and gas waste in the township, fearing a failure could endanger its drinking water. Warren-based Pennsylvania General Energy plans to turn a former natural gas production well into an injection well to send waste fluids into a depleted reservoir 7,500 feet underground. State environmental regulators issued the permit in 2017 and sued Grant Township the same day, asking Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court to declare that the township cannot prohibit oil and gas activities that are exclusively regulated by state and federal agencies. But in an opinion early this month, Commonwealth Court declined to throw out the contested sections of the charter before a full trial. DEP spokesman Neil Shader said, “DEP considers the home rule charter to be flawed,” but it “remains in effect at this time.” In the letter to Pennsylvania General Energy rescinding the permit, DEP Deputy Secretary Scott Perry said the company can reapply if the township’s charter is changed to allow injection wells or a court rules that the charter cannot prohibit them.

Pennsylvania's orders to stem coronavirus outbreak pause several gas pipeline projects - Pennsylvania's social-distancing orders prompted a temporary halt to construction of several natural gas pipeline projects in the state, but some developers were working to secure waivers to allow more work to continue. The state, with its large shale deposits, also is home to a number of ongoing midstream projects meant to move gas to market. After Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf late last week ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close, Energy Transfer was halting new construction on the Mariner East 2 project, but has since gained permission for limited activity, such as maintaining the right-of-way and work sites, and securing, stabilizing, and moving equipment. One outstanding question is whether the Pennsylvania projects will secure more waivers to allow construction projects to advance. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado said Wednesday in an email that the company has made several requests to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development "related to construction activities we believe have the potential to adversely impact the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania if completely halted for an extended amount of time." Energy Transfer's Mariner East 2 and ME2X are primarily intended to ship propane and butane produced in the Marcellus and Utica shales to the Marcus Hook export terminal. The projects have faced regulatory delays although a scaled-back version of ME2 began service in late 2018, with expansion work still underway. Shell has also paused work on its large-scale plastic and petrochemical facility in Beaver County. Pipeline facilities already in service in the state have been deemed to be life-sustaining activities that can keep operating. Energy Transfer said it is in the process of resuming limited allowed activities while adhering to the state-ordered protocols to ensure safety of workers and the surrounding community. Other Pennsylvania gas projects paused after Wolf's order included the Pennsylvania portion of Dominion Energy's 150 MMcf/d West Loop Project and the Towanda Liquefaction and Storage Facility in Bradford County, designed for truck-loaded LNG. Another project in the state is National Fuel Gas Supply's 205 MMcf/d Empire North pipeline expansion, which entails about 53,000 hp of added compression. National Fuel spokeswoman Karen Merkel field staff have been cut in half, with 50% of the workforce working on opposite weeks to lessen exposure. When tasks require two or more workers in close proximity, proper personal protection equipment is required, she said.

Mariner East construction back on after waiver requests approved --Mariner East pipeline builder Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer, will continue construction at 15 separate work sites across the state, including three horizontal directional drilling operations, amid the coronavirus pandemic that has led the state to restrict business activity. Sunoco/Energy Transfer submitted six requests for continued construction on Friday after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all “non-life sustaining” businesses to suspend operations to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The order includes pipeline construction among its list of hundreds of required closures, but companies can seek waivers. Energy Transfer spokesperson Lisa Coleman said the company received word on Wednesday that all of its requests had been granted. “The waivers were requested to ensure the continued safety, integrity and stabilization of these construction sites,” Coleman wrote in an email. She said the sites include “partially completed horizontal directional drills (HDDs), road bores and open excavation sites.” (Read the waiver requests below). The state said it has fielded about 16,000 requests from businesses so far. Energy Transfer said it had suspended all of its drilling operations by Saturday, but ongoing maintenance and repair work continued after it received a waiver to do so from the Department of Community and Economic Development on Friday.

Equinor halts US shale activity, cuts spending in response to oil price slump — Norway's Equinor is halting activity at its US shale assets as part of measures to slash spending in response to the oil price collapse, the company said Wednesday. All drilling and well completion activities at Equinor's gas-focused US shale assets are being suspended to cut spending and "produce the volumes at a later period", the company said. The majority of Equinor's US shale production comes from the eastern Marcellus gas play which is targeted at consumers in New York State. The move, which followed an announcement to suspend share buybacks, is part of a wider 20% cut in organic capex for 2020 to around $8.5 billion from $10 billion-$11 billion , Equinor said. The company also said it will reduce planned exploration spending this year to $1 billion from around $1.4 billion and cut operating costs by around $700 million compared with original guidance. "Reductions in organic capex are driven by a strict process of prioritization where flexibility of cost and schedule for sanctioned and non-sanctioned projects have been reviewed," the company said. Equinor's US onshore operations in the Bakken and Marcellus/Utica shale plays are its biggest producing upstream assets outside Norway. Before the sale of its Eagle Ford shale assets last December, Equinor's equity production from its US shale business was over 320,000 boe/d, the majority of which came from the Marcellus/Utica play. The gas-focused shale business had already been struggling due to weak prices. In the third quarter last year it took a $2.24 billion impairment related to its US shale assets after reducing its Henry Hub gas price assumptions significantly. The state-controlled major gave no detail on how the shale freeze would affect production volumes this year. Equinor had been expecting to grow its oil and gas production by 7%, boosted by the ramp-up of the giant Johan Sverdrup field off Norway. With the new measures, Equinor said it can be organic cash flow neutral before capital distribution in 2020 with an average oil price around $25/b for the rest of the year. Crude prices have more than halved to below $30/b since the start of the year as a result of the coronavirus demand hit and the breakdown of the OPEC+ supply agreement. Swathes of US shale producers have announced budget reductions over recent weeks with North American producers slashing their 2020 capital spending plans by an average of at least 30% just this month.

With oil price collapse, Pa. industry 'already on its knees' faces a new crisis - The last time oil prices slumped, about four years ago, Mark Cline and his brother took a pay cut to try to avoid having to lay off several employees of their family’s Bradford-based oil production company.It wasn’t enough.  Now, the 63-year-old fourth-generation oil man is hoping to avoid a tougher choice.“The next guy to get laid off is my son,” he said.”The dramatic oil-price plunge is the result of collapsing global demand caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that has those countries flooding the global market with oil.Prices of the American oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, fell below $21 a barrel Wednesday — a 60% drop from the start of the year.At the two refineries that process Pennsylvania Grade Crude, the best price Wednesday was $19.37 a barrel.“This is monumentally bad,” said Dan Weaver, executive director of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association. “The industry will not look the same coming out of this as they did going in. It just depends on how long it lasts.”Pennsylvania’s traditional oil industry was already precarious. Prices never fully recovered from a low point in early 2016. In the meantime, one of the biggest expenses — wastewater management — has only gotten more costly. Mr. Cline said that in 2010, there were 34 waste treatment facilities in Pennsylvania that could take the produced water, or brine, that gets pumped to the surface along with oil. Now, there are about seven facilities, and that changes depending on the day.“We don’t have enough capacity to clean even a quarter of the water we produce a day,” he said.This is not a normal day. With oil in the $20 range, most operators would lose money if they kept producing, just based on the cost of hauling oil and brine, Mr. Weaver said.Mr. Cline said the conventional oil industry, which is largely clustered in 19 northwestern Pennsylvania counties, needs about $60 a barrel to break even. Whether producers can keep pumping oil amidst the price drop depends to some extent on how much brine their wells produce and whether they have an economic way of dealing with it, said Joe Thompson, whose family owns Devonian Resources, which produces oil, gas and natural gas liquids.

More than two years after order, FERC denies rehearing on Mountaineer XPress project  — Two years after environmental groups sought rehearing of an order approving TC Energy's 170-mile, 2.7 Bcf/d Mountaineer XPress natural gas pipeline project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has finally ruled on the merits, voting 2-1 to deny the request. The action allows opponents of the project to head to federal appeals court, but the project has been in full service for a little over a year, diminishing odds of any impact on the project. The Mountaineer XPress project and the Gulf XPress project approved alongside it are Appalachian Basin takeaway pipelines, delivering natural gas to Columbia Gas Transmission's TCO Pool and Columbia's Leach interconnect with Columbia Gulf. The 860 MMcf/d Gulf XPress project comprises seven new compressor stations on Columbia Gulf's system in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The projects were working their way through the FERC process about the same time as other large-scale Appalachian takeaway projects, but did not garner the same breadth of opposition or critical comments in the dockets as did the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipelines further east. FERC granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity December 29, 2017, and a request for rehearing was filed January 29, 2018, collectively by the Sierra Club, Allegheny Defense Project, and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. The extensive critique of FERC's environmental impact statement in their requests covered topics as adequacy of the needs determination, water impact, mitigation of endangered species impact, and failure to calculate greenhouse gas emissions associated with induced natural gas production. In rebutting the arguments on GHG emissions, FERC concluded in the rehearing order "wWe are unable to identify, based on the record, an incremental increase in natural gas production that is causally related to our action in approving the projects." Part of the groups' argument was that FERC failed to follow precedent set in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in Sierra Club v. FERC that called for further explanation or consideration of downstream GHG emissions. But FERC argued that its order already "went beyond what is required by the National Environmental Policy Act by estimating GHG emissions from downstream consumption of natural gas, an activity that is attenuated and not reasonably foreseeable."

New York State PSC embarks on plan to examine natural gas usage, investments - The New York State Public Service Commission is analyzing natural gas usage and investments in the state to better plan for future energy needs. “Recent events have shown that we need smarter, more comprehensive and more transparent planning by utilities for gas infrastructure and clean energy alternatives,” Commission Chair John Rhodes said. “It is essential for protecting New Yorkers and ensuring they have the infrastructure they need and minimizing what they don’t; it’s critical to ensuring reliability, keeping costs down, and advancing State policies.” The commission will look at constraints that may be caused by a shortage of pipeline supply capacity, an inadequacy of distribution infrastructure to deliver available pipeline supply or a combination of these and other factors. Utilities are being asked to report their analysis of supply and demand balance — current and projected — for each municipality within its territory, including any projects to address the imbalance that are planned or underway. Also, the commission is calling for a comprehensive proposal to modernize gas planning processes for future needs that minimize lifetime costs. In addition, it will look at energy efficiency, electrification, clean demand response, and temporary supply to reduce the need for gas infrastructure and investments. These solutions should be built into the gas utility planning process, using criteria that include reliability, practicality, environmental impact. Also, the commission will look at setting standards to justify a gas moratorium and establish clear steps that must be taken after that, including notification procedures.

Coronavirus: Construction worker tests positive, but North Brooklyn Pipeline proceeds -The coronavirus pandemic has severely disrupted life in Brooklyn and beyond, with residents working from home and others losing their jobs entirely. But for some of the city’s largest utility companies, work has continued as usual — despite employees testing positive for the disease.A Con Edison worker came down with the illness in Queens, according to ABC7, but the company was still sending employees to read gas meters in customers’ homes as of March 17. A spokesperson for Con Edison said home visits have stopped.Similarly, construction on National Grid’s controversial North Brooklyn Pipelinehas proceeded with workers in close contact, despite the city and state’s aggressive social distancing measures, which are now being enforced by the NYPD, and call for at least six feet between people in public.News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond The company is currently building an underground gas main underneath Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which residents have opposed, citing risk of explosions, health hazards, higher bills and climate impacts.

Columbia Gas to make payments in May, deadline extended to file a claim – Columbia Gas will be giving out settlement payments to those impacted by the 2018 gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley by mid-May. The first round of lump-sum payments will be sent out to residents of Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence as a result of a class-action lawsuit against the utility company. Those who have not filed a claim yet can do so by March 27, according to law firm Morgan and Morgan. A motion was filed in court by the attorney behind the class action lawsuit to expedite payments “in light of the economic suffering brought on by the coronavirus crisis,” according to a co-lead plaintiff on the case. The judge quickly granted that motion. Columbia Gas was purchased by Eversource late last month after pleading guilty to causing a series of natural gas explosions in Massachusetts that killed one person and damaged dozens of homes. The average family of four impacted by the gas explosions who files a claim could receive approximately $8,000 from the settlement.

 Coronavirus slows gas ban momentum, creates obstacles for pipeline opponents The coronavirus pandemic has created new challenges for climate activists, disrupting attempts to limit natural gas use in buildings and forcing pipeline opponents to retrench in the digital realm. Cities, towns and counties have spearheaded recent efforts to ban gas use or require electric heating in new buildings. But COVID-19 response is now consuming local lawmakers' attention, while restrictions on public gatherings hamper meetings required to craft the policies. Meanwhile, environmentalists are scrambling to move meetings and public demonstrations to online venues as states order citizens to remain at home. The groups are simultaneously waging a new battle against oil and gas bailouts and positioning themselves to navigate the post-coronavirus landscape. The states where local gas bans are advancing — California, Massachusetts and Washington — have all taken aggressive measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, slowing the momentum of a climate change policy whose swift and sudden rise caught the gas industry off guard. The Seattle City Council suspended committee meetings shortly after its Sustainability and Renters' Rights Committee agreed to resume work on a gas ban developed in 2019. Committee Chair Kshama Sawant is focused on virus response in the hard-hit Seattle metropolitan area and will likely continue gas ban discussions once meetings resume, the council's press office said. City Council staff in Bellingham, Wash., are similarly focused on emergency response, according to Councilman Michael Lilliquist. He could not tell whether the reprioritization would substantially delay lawmakers from considering an electric heating retrofit requirement. In Cambridge, Mass., the timeline for putting a gas ban in place by Jan. 1, 2021, has not changed, but the situation remains "extremely fluid," according to City Councilmember Quinton Zondervan. The lawmaker has advocated for swift implementation of the ban. In nearby Newton, Mass., City Council work is moving forward through remote video conferencing, said Councilwoman Emily Norton, one of several lawmakers spearheading a gas ban. That included identifying experts who could give presentations and answer questions about the policy before the Public Facilities Committee, she said. The Bay State's first gas ban passed in the 240-member Brookline Town Meeting in November 2019, but just four months later, such a gathering has become virtually unimaginable.

FERC: No rehearing on Potomac pipeline -A federal commission this week turned down a request to rehear its approval for a proposed natural-gas pipeline under the Potomac River. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the decision Wednesday. Pipeline opponents could appeal that decision to the federal court system. The case is already in the courts. The project is on hold after a federal court in August upheld a denial of a right-of-way permit under the Western Maryland Rail Trail by the Maryland Board of Public Works. Columbia Gas Transmission LLC previously announced plans to appeal that ruling. Columbia Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of TC Energy, has proposed running the 8-inch pipeline approximately 3.37 miles from existing facilities in Pennsylvania to a new Mountaineer Gas Co. pipeline in West Virginia. The pipeline would run through Fulton County, Pa., and Washington County, burrow under the Potomac River and connect with the Mountaineer Eastern Panhandle Expansion Project pipeline in Morgan County, W.Va. On July 19, 2018, FERC issued an order authorizing Columbia Gas Transmission to construct and operate the pipeline. A month later, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and Chesapeake Climate Action Network asked for the rehearing.

Virus Leads Pipeline Agency to Ease Job Qualification Rules - A federal safety agency is helping hazardous material transporters and pipeline operators prepare for the spread of Covid-19 by easing staff training and qualifications requirements.The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a stay on enforcement March 20, applicable only to requirements for pipeline operator employee qualifications and training. The agency issued a second stay on enforcement Monday on training requirements for hazardous material carriers.The pipeline industry is preparing to operate with a workforce potentially reduced by illness or quarantines, said Bryn Karaus, who focuses on pipeline regulation in her position of counsel for Van Ness Feldman LLP in Washington.Qualified employees are required to conduct specific tasks, like inspecting pipelines for corrosion or leaks. During the pandemic, if training isn’t available, pipeline operators may have to substitute other employees, Karaus said.The agency consulted Karaus, among others, on the pipeline operator memo issued March 20.The March 20 stay on pipeline operations enforcement eases requirements for:

  • The minimum qualifications for employees who work on pipeline safety and operations;
  • The maximum number of hours control room employees, who monitor remote pipeline operations, are permitted to work; and
  • Training for control room employees.

Natural-gas futures touch their lowest level in 25 years, but still outperform oil - Natural-gas prices recently dropped to their lowest level in a quarter-century, but they have managed to outperform oil against a backdrop of declining demand fed by efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Natural gas “is the victim of a perfect storm of events—growing supplies, warmer-than-usual weather, and falling demand,” says Gregory Leo, chief investment officer and head of global wealth management at IDB Bank. “The cumulative effect is price levels not seen in 25 years.” The impact of COVID-19 “will not be minimal,” he says. And while “there’s a fair chance that many financial assets have been oversold as we price in worst-case scenarios, natural gas has many headwinds and more than likely is priced where it should be.” U.S. natural-gas futures settled at $1.602 million British thermal units on March 23, the lowest finish since September 1995. Prices edged up to settle at $1.637 on March 26. Prices have declined on the back of mandatory shutdowns for nonessential businesses and shelter-in-place orders for many Americans to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “Lower industrial activity means lower demand for natural gas,” says Noah Barrett, a research analyst at Janus Henderson. The loss for natural-gas prices has paled in comparison with oil’s decline. Natural-gas futures lost 2.8% month to date as of March 26. U.S. oil futures CLK20, +1.53% have dropped nearly 50% for the period, and the $20.37 a barrel settlement on March 18 was the lowest since February 2002. “In a kind of perverse irony, the slowdown in U.S. demand for crude oil has been positive for natural-gas prices,” says Rebecca Babin, senior equity trader at CIBC Private Wealth Management. Natural gas is a byproduct of shale drilling, and as exploration-and-production companies cut capital expenditure and reduce production of oil, they are “also drastically reducing their natural-gas production,” she explains.

U.S. natgas futures rise 3% from 24-year low with oil and cooler forecasts -(Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures climbed over 3% on Tuesday from a 24-year low in the prior session on forecasts for cooler weather and higher demand over the next two weeks than earlier expected, and an increase in crude prices. Front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 5.1 cents, or 3.2%, to settle at $1.653 per million British thermal units. On Monday, the contract closed at its lowest since September 1995. The all-time low for gas futures is $1.04 in January 1992. Looking ahead, futures for the balance of the year and calendar 2021 were up even more than the front month on expectations low energy prices will start to boost energy demand later this year. The premium of futures for May over April 2020 NGJ20-K20 rose to its highest since 2008 when the contracts started trading. With slightly cooler weather expected, Refinitiv boosted its demand expectations for the next two weeks. The data provider now projects gas use in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, will slide from an average of 105.6 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 101.1 bcfd next week. That compares with Refinitiv's forecast on Monday of 105.4 bcfd this week and 100.1 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants slid to 8.9 bcfd on Monday from 9.4 bcfd on Sunday due mostly to a decline at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 8.1 bcfd last week when fog delayed tanker traffic into Sabine and an all-time daily high of 9.5 bcfd on Jan. 31. Some analysts noted storage at Sabine had reached its maximum capacity. Gas production in the Lower 48 states eased to 93.9 bcfd on Monday from 94.0 bcfd on Sunday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 94.1 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 96.6 bcfd on Nov. 30.

US working natural gas in underground storage decreases 29 Bcf: EIA -- US working gas stocks dipped 29 Bcf last week as one more withdrawal likely remains before the flip to injections. As of yet, the coronavirus outbreak has done little to quell demand despite stay-at-home measures implemented across much of the country. Storage inventories fell to 2.005 Tcf for the week ended March 20, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The pull was slightly above an S&P Global Platts' survey of analysts calling for a 27 Bcf withdrawal, but it was below the 39 Bcf pull reported during the corresponding week in 2019 as well as the five-year average draw of 40 Bcf, according to EIA data. Storage volumes now stand 888 Bcf, or 80%, more than the year-ago level of 1.117 Tcf and 292 Bcf, or 17%, more than the five-year average of 1.713 Tcf. Despite increasingly aggressive measures by US states and the federal government to slow the spread of the coronavirus, demand for the week ended March 20 remained relatively unfazed, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. Power burn in the US Gulf Coast, and residential/commercial demand in the Midwest and Mountain regions, both increased week on week while cooler weather in the central and western US drove up demand. Texas helped elevate total US production by 0.7 Bcf/d, which is the largest weekly increase since last October. The recent production momentum is unlikely to persist as the collapse in crude oil prices will reduce associated gas coming out of the Permian. The NYMEX Henry Hub April contract slid 3.4 cents to $1.625/MMBtu in trading following the release of the weekly storage report. The market has come down significantly in the past few weeks, with most of the price declines weighted on the front of the forward curve. April Henry Hub has dropped more than 20 cents from two weeks earlier, while the October contract is priced at $2.08/MMBtu, down 8 cents over the same period. Platts Analytics' supply and demand model currently expects a 24 Bcf draw for the week ending March 27, which will likely be the last net withdrawal of the season. US balances are slightly tighter this week despite the massive economic and societal slowdown as much of the country stays home. Production is down 0.5 Bcf/d this week to average 92.2 Bcf/d. A 0.4 Bcf/d increase in net Canadian imports offset most of the decline. Demand increased due to a surge in LNG feedgas deliveries, which rose 1.3 Bcf/d from the week prior.

U.S. natgas futures ease on lower demand forecasts, oil price drop - - U.S. natural gas futures slipped about 1% on Thursday as a near 8% drop in crude prices and forecasts for milder weather and lower heating demand over the next two weeks offset a slightly bigger than expected weekly storage draw. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities pulled 29 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended March 20. That was a little more than the 25-bcf draw analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with a decline of 39 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average reduction of 40 bcf for the period. The decrease for the week ended March 20 reduced stockpiles to 2.005 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 17.0% above the five-year average of 1.713 tcf for this time of year. On its second to last day as the front-month, gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 2.2 cents, or 1.3%, to settle at $1.637 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). On Monday, the contract closed at its lowest since September 1995. May futures, which will soon be the front-month, also slipped about 1% to $1.69 per mmBtu. With milder spring-like weather coming, data provider Refinitiv projected gas demand in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, would slide from an average of 105.3 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 99.5 bcfd next week. That is lower than Refinitiv's forecast on Wednesday of 105.5 bcfd this week and 100.3 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants eased to 9.1 bcfd on Wednesday from 9.2 bcfd on Tuesday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 8.1 bcfd last week when fog delayed tanker traffic to Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass plant in Louisiana, and an all-time daily high of 9.5 bcfd on Jan. 31. Gas production in the Lower 48 states held at 93.0 bcfd for a second day in a row on Wednesday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 94.1 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 96.6 bcfd on Nov. 30.

U.S. natgas flat as oil slides but colder weather seen in 2 weeks -(Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures were little changed on Friday, pressured by forecasts for less heating demand next week and a 4% decline in oil prices but supported by an outlook for colder weather in two weeks. On its last day as the front-month, gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 0.3 cents, or 0.2%, to settle at $1.634 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). That is just about 3 cents over its $1.602 close on Monday, which was its lowest since September 1995. May futures, which will soon be the front-month, settled down about 1% at $1.67 per mmBtu. For the week, the front-month gained about 1% after falling 14% last week. Looking a year ahead, prices in 2021 were mostly trading higher on expectations demand will start to rise again with the return of economic growth as governments loosen travel restrictions after the coronavirus spread slows. The premium of futures for November over October NGV20-X20 rose to its highest since August 2010, while calendar 2021 swung to a premium over calendar 2025 for the first time in at least a year. Even before the coronavirus started to cut global economic growth and demand for energy, gas was already trading near its lowest in years as record production and months of mild weather enabled utilities to leave more gas in storage, making fuel shortages and price spikes unlikely this winter. With the weather expected to warm next week before cooling again in early April, data provider Refinitiv projected gas demand in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, would slide from an average of 105.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 98.2 bcfd next week before rising to 101.9 bcfd in two weeks. That is lower than Refinitiv's forecast on Thursday of 105.3 bcfd this week and 99.5 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants eased to 9.0 bcfd on Thursday from 9.1 bcfd on Wednesday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 8.1 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 9.5 bcfd on Jan. 31. Gas production in the Lower 48 states edged up to 93.3 bcfd on Thursday from 93.0 bcfd on Wednesday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 94.1 bcfd last week and an all-time daily high of 96.6 bcfd on Nov. 30.

Tellurian LNG defers $75M loan until 2021 amid coronavirus spread  -- Houston-based Tellurian LNG negotiated new terms for its $75 million loan which was slated to be due in May but now has been extended until November 2021. Tellurian borrowed $60 million initially in May 2019 for the one year loan but borrowed another $15 million in July. The interest rate is 12%, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records. The global spread of coronavirus has impacted companies around the world, especially those which rely on demand for LNG, as many businesses are idled. "We are making necessary changes amid challenging global conditions," said Meg Gentle, CEO of Tellurian in a news release. "We are working remotely with potential equity partners for the Driftwood project and implementing measures to keep our team safe and productive to regain commercial momentum when the effects of COVID-19 subside.” Tellurian recently restructured the business so it can be in the position to build a $30 billon liquified natural gas export terminal in Calcasieu Parish. The company laid off 40% of its workforce in recent weeks. There is also concern among oil and gas industry experts about the cost competitiveness of U.S. natural gas if the crude oil price collapse leads to lower natural gas prices overseas. But others suggest that long-term demand from China and India means the project is still viable.  Tellurian planned to begin exporting 27.6 million tons of LNG by 2023. It expected to draw on more than 10,000 acres in the Haynesville Shale play in addition to assets in the Permian Basin for LNG export.

Energy Transfer's Bayou Bridge pipeline wins court ruling -- U.S. officials adequately studied the potential impacts of Energy Transfer's (ET +0.4%) Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana, says a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. The court rejected a challenge from environmental groups who accused the Army Corps of Engineers of violating various federal laws by not adequately studying how pipeline construction and potential oil spills would affect sensitive wetlands in the region. Bayou Bridge is a 162-mile crude oil pipeline that connects Louisiana ports in St. James and Lake Charles to a broader network of pipelines.

How Louisiana’s oil and gas industry uses prison labor -  When Rob Martin* was enrolled at the Lafourche Parish Work Release facility while he was incarcerated in southeast Louisiana, his days began at 4 a.m. Each morning, he was ushered into a van and taken to work a 12 to 16-hour shift at a job placement chosen for him by the facility operators.  For a while, it was maintenance work for an equipment leasing company that rents pumps and power tools to companies working in the Gulf of Mexico. His first week there, Martin said he worked 50 hours and came back to the facility with just $43. After about a year, he was hired as a maintenance supervisor of dockside operations for a company that recycled and produced drilling fluid for oil and gas companies, Martin said. Oil and gas industry work can be dangerous. Around the time that Martin was in work release, a contract worker was killed while performing routine maintenance on a gas pipeline in Louisiana waters. Martin remembered once using his body to divert a stream of drilling fluid from a ruptured line. “I have no idea how many chemicals got into my body with that,” he said.  At the end of the workday, the van picked him up and took him back to the facility. Martin was at Lafourche for the last two years of a 12-year sentence for a murder conviction. He worked every day of the week, and said he didn’t take a single day off until he was released.Louisiana’s Department of Safety and Corrections (DPS&C) bills work release as a way of assisting incarcerated people in the transition from prison back into the workforce during the last six months to four years of a sentence, reducing recidivism in the process. Martin said he was grateful to have spent his days outside a jail cell, acquiring work experience that would be valuable in the post-release world. But he also sees the many ways work release is designed to benefit its operators—parish sheriffs and private contractors, as well as local companies, some of which service the state’s lucrative oil and gas sector—over its participants.  In these programs, incarcerated people are sometimes assigned to work in the industries that fuel climate change in places most vulnerable to its effects, like the Gulf Coast and the Deep South, cleaning up oil spills or working in the offshore drilling industry. As natural disasters become more common and intense, prison labor is increasingly being used to help with preparation and recovery.

Whitmer task force lays out energy alternatives to Line 5 for U.P. residents ⋆  After almost 10 months of research, presentations and meetings, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s U.P. Energy Task Force has released a draft of its recommendations for the state’s Upper Peninsula to lessen its dependence on propane from the Line 5 pipeline and look at alternative energy solutions for Michigan’s northernmost region. Public comments on the draft recommendations can be sent to EGLE-UPEnergy@Michigan.gov through April 6. Those 14 recommendations, half of which would require action from the state Legislature, are aimed at strengthening the U.P.’s access to propane, while taking into account several different scenarios of supply disruption. About one-quarter of Michiganders living in the U.P. rely heavily on propane to heat their homes, especially during the cold winter months. Much of that propane comes from Line 5, the controversial oil pipeline owned by Canadian company Enbridge. Enbridge is currently embroiled in several legal challenges with the state over Line 5, which runs across the length of the U.P. before stretching for miles under the environmentally-sensitive Straits of Mackinac that connect lakes Michigan and Superior. In response to concerns over the aging pipeline’s structural integrity, Enbridge made a deal with Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder to replace the old Line 5 with a new tunnel-encased dual pipeline under the Straits. The GOP-led Legislature passed legislation in the 2018 Lame Duck session that aimed to tie the hands of the incoming Democratic administration in reversing it. A major disruption in propane supply has the potential to leave many in the U.P. without heat, which has been a sticking point in the debate over whether to decommission Line 5. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the U.P. Energy Task Force through executive order in June, after talks with Enbridge over a timeline to decommission the pipeline fell through and Enbridge filed a lawsuit against the state. The task force was charged with assessing the U.P.’s energy needs and formulating alternative solutions to Line 5 propane. The task force is set to meet next month to do a deeper dive on the whole state’s energy needs, and its next report is due next year.

COVID-19 and the crude oil price crash puts the screws on US refiners. The collapse in crude oil prices and COVID-19’s very negative effects on global gasoline, jet fuel and diesel demand are putting an unprecedented squeeze on U.S. refiners. Even before the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, started to grab headlines around New Year’s Day, refineries had already been incentivized to shift their refined products output toward diesel, which can be used to help make IMO 2020-compliant low-sulfur bunker. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading to Europe and North America and stifling consumer transportation fuel demand, the price signals are even stronger, pushing refineries to do everything they can to minimize their gasoline and jet fuel production and enter what you might call “max diesel mode.” Today, we discuss how there are challenges and limits to what they can do, and a number of refineries may need to shut down due to lower demand, at least temporarily. Last Monday, March 16, grumblings started among commodity traders regarding negative gasoline cracks — cracks being the price of gasoline minus the price of crude — on the NYMEX. By the end of that day’s session, crack spreads for Reformulated Gasoline Blendstock for Oxygenated Blending (RBOB) — the benchmark for gasoline trading — had fallen almost 90% to settle below $1/bbl (blue line, left graph in Figure 1). Gasoline prices crashed another whopping 30% on Monday, March 23rd.  Ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) cracks remained strong at $16/bbl (right graph in Figure 1), but the jet fuel crack spread (not shown), which is usually closely tied to diesel, closed at only $8/bbl. Since then, regional crack spreads for gasoline around the U.S. hovered below $5/bbl and then moved into negative territory. With strong price signals pushing refiners towards diesel production, they would have made immediate adjustments to tweak their refined product yields. However, as we said in our introduction, refiners through the second half of 2019 had already been given strong price signals to produce more diesel heading into the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 due to the IMO 2020-related need for low-sulfur bunker. Weekly Energy Information Administration (EIA) data released last Wednesday, March 18, indicated that the current distillate yield (diesel plus jet fuel) at U.S. refineries was around 48%, or three percentage points lower than the 51% peak over the last year. Therefore, the potential to swing from gasoline to distillate is likely limited. The larger swing that could take place would be to blend kerosene used for jet fuel production into diesel — in other words, optimize the two finished transportation fuels within the distillate pool.

Cheap Gasoline Forcing US Refiners to Throttle Back -Oil refiners across the U.S. are being forced to throttle back operations amid a historic plunge in gasoline demand and prices. Plants representing more than 10% of U.S. fuel-making capacity have cut back. Exxon Mobil Corp. has slowed rates at facilities in Texas and Louisiana, while others around Los Angeles and Philadelphia are taking similar action to stem a growing glut of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Phillips 66 said Tuesday many of its refineries are processing minimum amounts of crude. Refiners are acutely exposed to the financial impact of the spreading coronavirus. Orders to shelter at home are grounding flights and keeping drivers off the roads, crushing fuel demand and profit margins. Companies delayed planned maintenance to stem the outbreak, adding to the fuel glut, and now are left with little choice but to slow down. “The refiners are struggling mightily, due to the steep drop in demand,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York hedge fund focused on energy. “The poor refining margins will push companies to reduce operating rates further.” Refineries representing over 1.5 million barrels a day of crude processing have delayed maintenance, according to people familiar with the situation. This only exacerbates a growing fuel glut that may further pressure profit margins. Global demand is plunging, with some traders seeing it falling as much as 10 million to 20 million barrels a day at some points this year. California’s lock-down will decimate consumption in a state that accounts for about 10% of U.S. transportation fuel demand. Gasoline futures in New York slid Monday to 41 cents a gallon, the lowest level since 1999, and traded at 48.73 cents on Tuesday at 11:09 a.m. In the Chicago wholesale market, prices were 15 cents on Monday, the lowest in data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 1992. In Europe, prices fell 20% and Exxon said it’s cutting back rates at two refineries in France. Refiners are feeling the pain, with an index of U.S. refiners falling by two-thirds this year. Profit margins to produce gasoline have dropped below zero for the first time since December 2008, during the last recession. “Well, demand is probably down more than 30%, so we as an industry need to run 30% less,” 

From Asia to America, fuel prices pummeled by coronavirus fallout - (Reuters) - Prices and profit margins for motor and aviation fuels globally are under severe pressure from a plunge in demand as countries enforce lockdowns and airlines ground planes, forcing more refineries to reduce output. U.S. ultra-low sulfur diesel was the latest product refined from crude oil to take a hit in its cash market last week, after refiners boosted production in a bid to escape the poorer margins for other products harder hit by coronavirus fallout. Refining margins for gasoline and jet fuel have tanked because of decreased demand for transportation fuels, as the disease outbreak has forced businesses to close and governments to push residents to avoid travel and public places. In Asia, profit margins for jet fuel turned negative for the first time in over a decade as global airlines canceled flights. Emirates and Singapore Airlines were the latest carriers to announce huge cuts in their passenger flights. European jet fuel prices plummeted to a near 17-year low last week, and for the past eight trading sessions European refiners have been producing gasoline at a loss. For most of last week, U.S. diesel margins held up relatively well as both trucking and farming, two sectors that rely on diesel, continued operating. But refiners’ moves to divert production capacity previously devoted to other fuels to diesel is starting to cause oversupply in some regions, leading to a drop in cash prices, market participants said. Cash prices for diesel in Chicago ULSD-DIFF-MC slid last week to 34 cents per gallon below the heating oil futures contract HOc1, the lowest seasonally since at least 2011, early Refinitiv Eikon data showed.

US Gasoline Crashes To 50c - Lowest Since 2001 - Amid Unprecedented Demand Collapse - Gasoline futures in New York fell as much as 13% to 50.00 cents a gallon, the lowest level since the current contract started trading in 2005. The previous gasoline contract last traded that low in 2001... All of which means Americans - on average - can expect gas-prices at the pump to plunge below $2/gallon very soon... Energy prices slid toward this multi-decade low on plunging demand due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis, and as prospects for a OPEC-Texas production deal faded. “The government is taking a ‘whatever it takes’ approach,” “That doesn’t change the fact that demand destruction is going to continue. There are still so many unknowns on the demand front. The duration of this economic shutdown is so uncertain that it’s making me believe the bottom may not be in yet.” As Bloomberg notes, the prospects for the oil market remain bleak with more nations going into lockdown to tackle the virus. At the same time, supply is surging. The chance that either Saudi Arabia or Russia will back down from their price war seems remote, with President Vladimir Putin unlikely to submit to what he sees as the kingdom’s oil blackmail, according to Kremlin watchers. Even if crude demand recovers to normal levels by the middle of the year, 2020 is still on course to suffer the biggest decline in consumption since reliable records started in the mid-1960s. “We are now looking at a scale of surplus in the second quarter we probably never have seen before,” Until now, the biggest annual contraction was recorded in 1980, when it tumbled by 2.6 million barrels a day as the global economy reeled under the impact of the second oil crisis.

 COVID-19 Could Be a ‘Double Whammy’ for Those in Pollution Hotspots - - Although there have been no large-scale studies of how air pollution can complicate COVID-19, experts say that lung damage caused by poor air quality or smoking could make people particularly vulnerable. “It’s a double-whammy effect,” says Elena Craft, senior director of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Underlying health conditions are exacerbated by pollution hotspots as well as the virus.”  Using 2016 data, researchers with Environment Texas found that roughly 20 metropolitan and rural areas in Texas had elevated levels of particulate matter and smog. Prolonged exposure to either can cause a host of health issues, including chronic lung diseases and asthma. The Houston area is a particular hotspot: Brazoria, Chambers, Galveston, Fort Bend, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller counties do not meet national air-quality standards. “[Because of] chronic diseases, a lot of immune systems that aren’t where they should be are weakened and are more susceptible to other diseases,” says Brett Perkison, a professor of occupational medicine at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Perkison says that those much-needed defenses are further taxed “by exposure day after day, year after year, to high levels of ozone and nitric oxide.”According to a study conducted by the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force, some of the nation’s largest African American populations at risk for childhood asthma are in Dallas and Houston. Researchers also found that Texas was one of three states to have the most African Americans living within a half-mile of an oil or natural gas facility.  Researchers have already begun looking at neighborhoods that face elevated risks. A team at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houstonmapped the potential risk of severe COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care unit stays in Harris County by identifying residents who are 60 and older and have one or more chronic conditions. Researchers found that the East Little York, Deer Park, Channelview, and East End neighborhoods saw the highest concentration of people over 60 or with chronic disease. These communities have a greater share of residents over the age of 65 with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, or diabetes. Several of these neighborhoods are also in East Houston, home to petrochemical facilities and other industrial polluters.

IEEFA update: Fracking companies’ 2019 performance signals ongoing crisis - ‒ The U.S. fracking industry in 2019 continued its unsuccessful decade-long quest to produce positive free cash flow, according to a briefing note released today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).  Looking at a cross-section of 34 North American shale-focused oil and gas producers, IEEFA analysts found that the companies spent $189 billion more on drilling and other capital expenses over the past decade than they generated from selling oil and gas.These results included a disappointing $2.1 billion in negative free cash flows in 2019. “We have been saying for a long time that Exploration & Production (E&P) companies have created an oil and gas glut that has not been rewarded by anticipated earnings,” said IEEFA financial analyst and briefing note co-author Kathy Hipple. “In what world could this be considered a successful business model?”The sector’s dismal financial performance in 2019 came despite rapid growth in North American production of both oil and gas. The shale revolution has, in fact, propelled the U.S. into becoming the world’s most prolific oil producer. “In financial terms, fracking has been an unrelenting money loser for at least a decade, and investors are taking notice,” said IEEFA analyst and co-author Clark Williams-Derry. “It is getting harder and harder for these companies to raise the capital they need to stay afloat.” The oil and gas industry’s financial underperformance began long before the advent of the coronavirus crisis or the recent Saudi-Russia oil price war.  The sector has been facing mounting financial pressures and a deteriorating outlook for most of the last decade. Cash flow losses were just one of many signs of distress among IEEFA’s sample:

  • High and rising debt. Total long-term debt rose to $106 billion at the end of 2019, an increase of $1.5 billion from the prior year, and the highest level since 2015. If these companies are unable to produce significant cash flows over the next several years, they may be unable to pay off their debts as they mature—which could trigger debt write-downs or bankruptcies.
  • Disappointing revenue. Despite higher production levels, total 2019 revenues among this cross-section of companies fell by $5.6 billion year-over-year.
  • Significant net losses. Collectively, these companies reported net losses of $6.7 billion in 2019, largely due to accounting impairments and write-downs of oil and gas assets. 
  • Declining cash balances. The 34 companies spent down their cash reserves by $14.4 billion from 2016 through the end of 2019. At the end of 2019, cash reserves among these companies were at their lowest level since 2012.

Dallas Fed indicator of Texas oil and gas industry plunges, shows deep energy recession --The Texas oil and gas industry is in a deep recession, one indicator from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas shows. The business activity index, a measure of the industry based on surveys of energy executives, has fallen to a historic low, plummeting from -4.2 in the fourth quarter of 2019 to -50.9 in the first quarter of 2020. It's the lowest reading in the survey’s four-year history and "indicative of significant contraction," Dallas Fed analysts write. It's the fourth consecutive quarter indicating negative growth for the industry. On average, respondents to the survey expect West Texas Intermediate oil prices to be $40.50 per barrel by the end of 2020, though responses ranged from $20 to $65 per barrel.

US oil, gas sector sees historic declines, but executives expect a price rebound: Dallas Fed - — The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas released a quarterly energy survey Wednesday that painted a grim portrait of a US oil and natural gas sector struggling with the demand impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. "My outlook on the domestic oil and gas industry has never been bleaker," one executive at an exploration-and-production firm wrote to the survey."We are now expecting an almost total stop in business in the coming weeks and months," an executive at an oilfield services company told the Dallas Fed. "It is not a pretty picture." "It is looking to be a bloodbath for most firms," another E&P executive said.While one of the 161 US oil and gas executives surveyed called the impact of the coronavirus "overhyped" and another called the current state of the global energy market "times of opportunities," the survey reported historic declines in activity in the oil and gas sector.In the Dallas Fed's 11th District, which includes Texas and much of New Mexico and Louisiana, a broad measure of business activity by oil and gas firms fell to minus 50.9 in Q1, the lowest point in the survey's four-year history, from minus 4.2 in Q4 2019. The Dallas Fed's oil production index declined 51 points to minus 26.4 in Q1 and its natural gas production index dropped to minus 21.2 in Q1 2020 from 15.6 in Q4 2019.But the majority of survey participants expect oil prices to rebound. According to the survey, 63% of executives polled expect WTI crude oil prices to be above $40/b by the end of 2020, with 19% expecting prices to be $50/b or higher. Only 7% of those surveyed expect WTI prices to be below $30/b by year-end.S&P Global Platts assessed cash WTI crude at $20.76/b Tuesday, up from $20.36/b Monday, but down 65% from January 20, when commodities markets first began reacting to the coronavirus outbreak. Even if WTI prices were to remain below $40/b, 47% of the survey's respondents said their E&P and oilfield services companies would remain solvent for more than four years, although 34% said their firms would be insolvent in less than two years at those prices. Part of this modest optimism in an otherwise pessimistic survey may be declines in breakeven costs, particularly in the Permian and Eagle Ford. According to the survey, E&P companies need WTI prices at an of $23/b to cover operating expenses of existing wells in the Eagle Ford, down from $28/b in the Q1 2019 survey. Operators in the Delaware and Midland portion of the Permian would both need WTI prices of $26/b to cover expenses, down from $35/b and $27/b, respectively, in the Q1 2019 survey.

US oil, gas rig count drops by 47 to 766 on week amid extreme activity cutbacks — The US oil and natural gas rig count dropped by 47 to 766 on the week, according to rig data provider Enverus, as exploration and production operators continued to steeply reduce capital budgets and activity for 2020 owing to both low oil demand and plunging crude prices due to the coronavirus pandemic. The drop was the largest single-week hit since the final week of December 2015, when the rig count fell 77 to 691 while oil prices were in the mid-$30s/b and falling. Crude prices are even lower now. Around 2:40 pm ET Thursday, front-month WTI crude was trading below $23/b. "This [scenario of slashing activity] might be just the beginning, depending on how long lower prices persist," Linda Htein, senior research manager-Lower 48 for energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said in a Thursday webinar on the current oil and gas landscape. This past week, 40 of the 47 rigs shed were oil-directed, to drop the total to 627, while rigs chasing gas dropped by seven to 139. Nearly half of the rigs dropped (20) came from the Permian Basin of West Texas/New Mexico, leaving a total of 396. Another five rigs exited in the Denver-Julesburg Basin of Colorado, leaving it with 21, while four more were laid down in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas, leaving 68. But gas-weighted rigs were remarkably stable, with both the Marcellus Shale of mostly Pennsylvania and the Utica Shale mostly in Ohio unchanged at 38 and 10 rigs, respectively. Rig counts in each of those basins held steady for the fourth consecutive week. The Haynesville Shale in East Texas/Northwest Louisiana shed one rig, leaving 40 operating. The numbers add up to a discouraging industry prognosis, according to the latest Dallas Fed Energy Survey released Thursday. The local federal reserve called its results the "bleakest" since the poll began in the first quarter of 2016, also a time of falling oil prices and turmoil in the oil patch. "The results suggest profound and difficult changes ahead for the sector," the survey said. "At current price levels, [energy executives' responses] suggest many companies will have difficulty covering operating expenses." The survey, which queried more than 200 industry participants March 11-19, found more than 70% percent of E&P companies have cut expectations for capital spending next year. In the week since then, further reductions followed and some operators made a second rounds of cuts.

Energy companies slash another $19 billion as oil price remain near 20-year lows -  Eleven energy companies over the past several days said they would cut a combined $18.6 billion dollars from their budgets as oil prices remain near 20-year lows, setting the stage for tens of thousands additional layoffs.West Texas Intermediate crude closed at $23.36 per barrel Monday, a price not seen since March 2002 as Russia and Saudi Arabia flood global markets and the coronavirus pandemic crushes demand.Energy companies big and small — including Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil, Hess and Halliburton — have responded by slashing spending for new projects and operations, halting stock buy back programs, putting deals on hold and selling assets. Two more of the world’s largest oil companies announced cutbacks on Monday.Royal Dutch Shell, based in the Hague, said it would cut capital spending by $5 billion and operating costs by $3 billion to $4 billion. The company also said it is suspending a planned stock buyback worth $1 billion and will sell $10 billion in assets.Shell's capital spending budget stands at $20 billion for projects around the globe. The company has tens of thousands of acres of oil leases in the Permian Basin of West Texas and filed for 127 drilling permits in Texas in 2019. Also Monday, French oil major Total said it is slashing $3 billion in capital spending, cutting another $800 million in operating expenses and suspending a $2 billion stock buyback program.Total has thousands of acres of natural gas leases in the Barnett Shale of North Texas and sought six drilling permits in the state in 2019.Meanwhile, Midland oil company Diamondback Energy is cutting $1.2 billion of capital spending, reducing its 2020 budget for drilling and completing new wells to a range of $1.5 billion to $1.9 billion. The company said it would cut more if oil prices continue to fall.Diamondback, the fourth most-active driller in Texas based on drilling permits, ordered its nine hydraulic fracturing crews to take a one-month break. After that break, the company expects to run just three to five crews, depending on oil prices, for the rest of the year. Houston offshore oil company Talos Energy also pledged to cut $170 million from its budget while six pipeline companies said they would cut a combined $1.9 billion from their budgets.Noble Midstream Partners, Rattler Midstream, Targa Resources, EnLink Midstream, Oneok and Pembina Pipeline made the budget cuts over the past two weeks — representing an overall 30 percent cut in planned capital expenditures for new pipeline and storage projects in 2020, according to a report from Houston energy investment banking firm Simmons Energy.Canadian pipeline operator Pembina made the largest cuts of the six companies, slashing nearly $700 million, or 43 percent, of its nearly $1.6 billion budget. The company plans to spend nearly $900 million this year.Houston oil-field service company NexTier Oilfield Solutions on Monday said it is cutting $110 million in capital spending. The company plans to idle more of its hydraulic fracturing fleet and reduce investments in innovation and new technology to focus on projects that directly reduce costs.

Apache, FTS International Add to Oilpatch Layoffs -The wave of rapid cost-cutting and right-sizing in the oilpatch continues with layoff announcements from Houston-based Apache Corp. and Fort Worth, Texas-based FTS International. Both companies filed Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act letters with the state last week. Apache is undergoing a mass layoff at its Midland facility at 303 Veterans Airpark Ln Ste 1000, Midland, TX, 79705. Employment separations began on March 18, 2020, and approximately 85 employees will be affected. No further information surrounding the layoffs was provided in the notice. In a recent earnings call, Apache CEO John Christmann said the company was undergoing a corporate redesign. The process includes right-sizing technical, operational and corporate support functions. “The rightsizing is a recognition that we will not be returning to past levels of capital activity and need to make a permanent reduction in headcount,” Christmann added. Separately, there was a furlough at FTS International Services’ facility at 4700 S. Edgewood Terrace in Fort Worth, effective March 17. It affected 35 workers. “This furlough, resulting from unforeseeable business circumstances will last at least six months and may turn into a permanent separation from employment,” the company’s WARN letter stated. “Just over two weeks ago, our business was growing and we had a full frac calendar,” Michael Doss, Chief Executive Officer, said in a written statement. “However, in response to current conditions, many of our customers have already dropped fleets or will be dropping fleets over the next couple of months. Pressure pumping companies, like FTSI, are also giving price concessions that are expected to significantly reduce margins across the industry. Accordingly, we have initiated aggressive measures to reduce costs and position us for future success.”

In Texas, a half-baked plan to save the oil industry from a coronavirus-fueled crash - As oil prices cratered to an 18-year low last week, news leaked that oil and gas producers were asking Texas regulators to mandate a statewide cut in production — a drastic measure that hasn’t been attempted since the 1970s. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal first reported that the Texas Railroad Commission (which, despite its peculiar name, regulates the state’s oil and gas industry) was contemplating instituting production cuts. Other news outlets later confirmed that the agency is studying whether capping the amount of oil produced in the state is practical, and whether it could even do so under existing laws and regulations.If implemented, the measure could have serious economic ramifications for Texas and the rest of the U.S. But without the cooperation of other states, the federal government, and other oil-rich countries, energy experts say that slashing production in Texas alone is unlikely to provide serious relief to domestic oil and gas companies teetering on the edge of financial ruin.The fact that such an extreme step is being considered at all is an indication of the dire predicament facing oil and gas producers. Banks have slashed oil priceoutlooks and now expect that prices will average between $25 and $35 per barrel for most of the year. That’s at least a third lower than projections for 2020 from just a few months ago — projections that were already pretty low to begin with. Market analysts estimate that operators in the Permian Basin in West Texas need around $47 per barrel to break even. Proration, a regulatory term for production limits, could help companies shore up prices by making a dent in the industry’s overabundant supply.  But a number of regulatory and practical hurdles remain in the way of implementing caps on oil production. For one, states last ordered companies to cut production almost half a century ago. As a result, regulatory agencies lack the institutional knowledge needed to recreate practical proration programs that can work in an energy landscape that is very different from that of the 1970s. In some cases, states may not be able to devise proration programs without first making regulatory changes, a process too time-consuming to get relief to producers by the time they need it. In New Mexico, for instance, current rules do not allow caps on a subset of wells, and instituting proration will require a rule change.

Kinder Morgan sees Permian Highway gas project on track after court action — A federal district court declined requests to halt work on Kinder Morgan's 2.1 Bcf/d, 430-mile Permian Highway natural gas pipeline project, despite finding evidence related to gaps in Endangered Species Act compliance to be compelling. The decision enables work to continue on the highly anticipated project, which will move gas from the Permian Basin to toward the Gulf Coast, with access to the Katy Hub, LNG exports, and South Texas market, likely bolstering Waha Hub prices. Kinder Morgan, in an emailed statement Monday, welcomed the decision and said it has "implemented measures" to address concerns raised in the case. The project is on track to be in service early in first-quarter 2021, according to the company. "We continue to monitor the coronavirus, and are making adjustments as necessary to create social distancing and limited exposure to one another," said spokeswoman Katherine Hill, but the company is "not expecting [the virus] to impact the construction schedule at this time." Plaintiffs in the case, including the City of Austin and other localities, a water district and landowners, have contended that allowing construction without an incidental take permit under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act would result in an unlawful taking of species (City of Austin, et al., v. Kinder Morgan Texas Pipeline, et al., 1:20-CV-138). Further, they have argued that Kinder Morgan and the US Fish and Wildlife Service sidestepped requirements for an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. And in seeking a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs argued that Kinder Morgan failed to follow some of the required mitigation steps under its incidental take permit to protect habitat of the golden-cheeked warbler, such as avoiding clearing vegetation after March 1, safeguarding against oak wilt by treating promptly treating freshly cut stumps, and ensuring continuous construction to minimize nest disturbance.

Trump administration continues to sell oil rights amid industry slump  The Trump administration is pushing ahead with drilling lease sales as oil prices plummet and amid calls from conservation groups and others to suspend business as usual during the coronavirus outbreak. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held lease sales in Wyoming, Montana, Nevada and Colorado on Monday, selling oil rights on parcels of public land covering hundreds of thousands of acres. But taxpayer groups argue the sales come at an inopportune time, as oil prices fall to roughly $23 a barrel, risking generating little income for the treasury. “In this environment, it is impossible for the American taxpayer to expect anywhere near a fair return on oil and gas leases,” Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship and Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote last week, encouraging the administration to suspend lease sales for the rest of the year. The groups’ analysis of lease sales in Utah in mid-March found 90 percent of acres sold received the minimum bid of $2 per acre. BLM did not immediately respond to request for comment from The Hill. However, the agency told Reuters they are “letting free market forces work after the resource is extracted by companies who sell these commodities. Oil and gas lease sales and royalties continue to propel America’s economy and support good-paying energy sector jobs.” Environmental groups say the administration should not continue with a number of activities while a distracted public may be unable to weigh in. “The Trump administration has already gone to extraordinary lengths to stifle and ignore public input to enact its drill everywhere agenda. Ramming through major policies while the country battles a global pandemic would only add to its legacy of corporate charity and environmental destruction,” the Center for Western Priorities said in a statement.

South Dakota governor signs 'riot-boosting' penalties — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that revives the state’s criminal and civil penalties for rioting and inciting a riot, the Republican governor’s office said Tuesday. Noem had told lawmakers months before the session began that she would revive the so-called “riot-boosting” penalties. A federal judge found parts of the state’s riot laws unconstitutional last year, in part because they were targeted at opponents to the Keystone XL pipeline. The proposal drew demonstrations from Native American and environmental groups, but did not face any major opposition from Republican legislators. Noem said the bill uses the “narrowest” definitions of rioting and inciting a riot and only goes after people who commit violence or cause damage. But opponents said the bill would have a “chilling effect” on peaceful protests and creates a false narrative that Native American people are violent. The South Dakota Legislature passed a similar law last year aimed at demonstrations against the pipeline. At the time, Noem said it was necessary to have civil penalties for people or groups that fund violent demonstrations, calling the action “riot boosting.” But a federal judge last year found parts of that law, as well as several older laws on the books, to be unconstitutional. Noem asked lawmakers to try again this year to update the state’s criminal and civil penalties for rioting, arguing they are necessary to “protect people and property.” Ahead of the Senate vote, she told reporters that the bill protects free speech and would be used against people who fund demonstrations “only if they’re involved in those protests.”

Produced water spill reported in Billings County - The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (NDDEQ) has been notified of a produced water spill on a well pad in Billings County. The well pad is operated by Scout Energy Management, LLC.The incident occurred about 11 miles southwest of Belfield on March 23, and it was reported the next day. The cause of the spill was reported as a valve failure.Scout Energy Management, LLC estimates that approximately 150 barrels of produced water were released and impacted rangeland.Personnel from the NDDEQ are inspecting the site and will continue to monitor the investigation and remediation.

 Hess extraction well releases 377 barrels of source water -The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (NDDEQ) has been notified of a produced water spill on a well pad in Billings County. The well pad is operated by Scout Energy Management, LLC.The incident occurred about 11 miles southwest of Belfield on March 23, and it was reported the next day. The cause of the spill was reported as a valve failure.Scout Energy Management, LLC estimates that approximately 150 barrels of produced water were released and impacted rangeland. Personnel from the NDDEQ are inspecting the site and will continue to monitor the investigation and remediation.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Prevails as Federal Judge Strikes Down DAPL Permits | Earthjustice —  A federal court today granted a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to strike down federal permits for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.The Court found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it affirmed federal permits for the pipeline originally issued in 2016. Specifically, the Court found significant unresolved concerns about the potential impacts of oil spills and the likelihood that one could take place. For example, the Court criticized the Corps for failing to address the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s expert criticism of its analysis, citing issues like potential worst case discharge, the difficulty of detecting slow leaks, and responding to spills in winter. Similarly, the Court observed that DAPL’s parent company’s abysmal safety record “does not inspire confidence,” finding that it should have been considered more closely.The Court’s decision relies heavily on the technical analyses conducted by the Tribe’s agency directors and expert consultants, repeatedly citing the Tribe’s evidence that the risk of a spill, and the consequences should one occur, are far more serious than ever recognized. The Court ruling validates the Tribe’s hard work over several years to provide technical input into the remand process.   "In this case, the operator's history did not inspire confidence"  View the entire document with DocumentCloud  The Court ordered the Corps to prepare a full environmental impact statement on the pipeline, something that the Tribe has sought from the beginning of this controversy. The Court asked the parties to submit additional briefing on the question of whether to shut down the pipeline in the interim. “This validates everything the Tribe has been saying all along about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman. “The Obama administration had it right when it moved to deny the permits in 2016, and this is the second time the Court has ruled that the government ran afoul of environmental laws when it permitted this pipeline. We will continue to see this through until DAPL has finally been shut down.”

Federal Judge Tosses Dakota Access Pipeline Permits, Orders Full Environmental Review | DeSmog --Today, a federal judge tossed out federal permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), built to carry over half a million barrels of Bakken crude oil a day from North Dakota, and ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the pipeline project. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg indicated that he would next consider whether to shut down the current flows of oil through DAPL while the environmental review is in process, ordering both sides to submit briefs on the question.  The Dakota Access pipeline has been in service for nearly three years, following battles over the pipeline’s environmental impacts that raged for years. “The many commenters in this case pointed to serious gaps in crucial parts of the Corps’ analysis,” Judge Boasberg wrote in today’s order, “to name a few, that the pipeline’s leak-detection system was unlikely to work, that it was not designed to catch slow spills, that the operator’s serious history of incidents had not been taken into account, and that the worst-case scenario used by the Corps was potentially only a fraction of what a realistic figure would be — and the Corps was not able to fill any of them.”Judge Boasberg cited evidence submitted regarding the safety record of the pipeline’s operator, Energy Transfer (formerly known as Energy Transfer Partners, which merged with Sunoco). “In this case, the operator’s history did not inspire confidence,” the order says. “’[Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration] data shows Sunoco has experienced 276 incidents resulting in over $53 million in property damage from 2006-2016,’ which one expert described as ‘one of the lower performing safety records of any operator in the industry for spills and releases.’”“This validates everything the Tribe has been saying all along about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock,” Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman said in a statement. “We will continue to see this through until DAPL has finally been shut down.” Because the pipeline’s effects were “likely to be highly controversial,” the judicial opinion concludes, federal law — specifically the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — requires a more thorough environmental review than was done.

'Huge Victory' for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as Federal Court Rules DAPL Permits Violated Law - A federal judge handed down a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota on Wednesday, ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving federal permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline.The USACE must complete a full environmental impact study of the pipeline, including full consideration of concerns presented by the Standing Rock Tribe, the judge ruled. The tribe has asked the court to ultimately shut the pipeline down.The court chastised the USACE for moving ahead with affirming the permits in 2016 and allowing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) crossing the Missouri River after President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017, without considering the expert analysis put forward by the tribe.  The Standing Rock Sioux had raised concerns regarding the likelihood and danger of potential oil spills, DAPL's leak-detection system, and the safety record of Sunoco Logistics, the company behind the pipeline. Sunoco "has experienced 276 incidents resulting in over $53 million in property damage from 2006 to 2016" and has "one of the lowest performing safety records of any operator in the industry," the tribe's experts found.The federal ruling "validates everything the Tribe has been saying all along about the risk of oil spills to the people of Standing Rock," said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman in a statement. "The Obama administration had it right when it moved to deny the permits in 2016, and this is the second time the court has ruled that the government ran afoul of environmental laws when it permitted this pipeline. We will continue to see this through until DAPL has finally been shut down."DAPL and the fight against the pipeline was the subject of international attention in 2016 when thousands of water defenders gathered at camps in North Dakota, facing a highly militarized police force armed with tanks, riot gear, rubber bullets, and other weapons. Since Trump reversed former President Barack Obama's December 2016 order denying the permits and allowed the construction to be completed in June 2017, the tribe haschallenged the permits and demanded the USACE conduct a full environmental analysis. Wednesday's ruling represented a "huge victory" for the tribe, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben tweeted.

Whiting, Continental Oil announce cost-cutting measures - Continental Resources and Whiting Petroleum Corporation are among the latest operators with Bakken assets announcing sharp drops to capital expenditures in the wake of an ongoing price war between Russia and OPEC. Continental said it will reduce its 2020 capital expenditures by 55 percent, dropping its 2020 capex to $1.2 billion. Whiting will cut capex by 30 percent, or $185 million, dropping its total capital budget to between $400 to $435 million. For Continental, this translates to a reduction of six rigs in the Bakken, dropping it from nine to three for 2020. Continental will also cut rigs in Oklahoma, going from 10.5 to about four rigs there. Whiting, which had already made some cuts last year, said it will drop another rig and another completion crew within the next month. Continental expects the revision to its capex to have slight impact on production statistics. It is projecting the drop in crude oil production will be less than 5 percent. Whiting said its cuts will have “moderate impact” on 2020 crude oil production, but deferred specifics to more formal guidance that it will release during its first quarter earnings call. Continental’s Chief Executive Officer Bill Berry said the company is also looking at cost-saving initiatives across its operations to remain free cash flow positive, and expects to remain cash flow neutral even under $30 per barrel WTI.

Lawsuit accuses Williston-based oilfield services company of massive fraud, racketeering - Oklahoma-based oil company Continental Resources is suing a Williston oilfield company in federal court, claiming it was fraudulently overbilled by more than $2 million. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, is against Wolla Oilfield Services and its owner, Jason Wolla. Attorneys for Continental claim that Wolla directed his employees to produce fake invoices and bill Continental for work that was never done. Wolla Oilfield Services started working for Continental in January 2017 and billed the company about $7.7 million between then and December 2019, according to the lawsuit. In September 2019, however, a whistleblower told Continental that Wolla Oilfield was systematically overbilling the company. During an audit, Wolla told Continental employees that he was certain the company had only been billed for work that had actually been done. But, Continental’s attorneys wrote, the audit uncovered that Wolla Oilfield had been submitting fraudulent bills. “The timesheets Wolla Oilfield’s drivers submitted to Wolla Oilfield consistently showed drivers actually worked less than 10 hours a day on average, but that Wolla Oilfield billed Continental for significantly more,” the company’s attorneys wrote in the suit. “In fact, Wolla Oilfield employees would often bill Continental for more than 24 hours of work in a day. For example, one Wolla Oilfield employee billed Continental and other customers for 28 hours on August 5, 2019, and 29.5 hours on August 6, 2019, even though his actual timesheet shows he only worked 12 hours on each of those days.” The company showed drivers how to falsify their timesheets to avoid suspicion, attorneys claimed in the suit.

Plains ordered to pay $60 million for Refugio oil spill- On May 19, 2015, a corroded pipeline owned by Plains All American Pipeline broke north of Refugio Beach, sending more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil into the waters of the Santa Barbara Coast. No corner of our community was left untouched by the devastation: industries like tourism and fishing were hammered, and the local ecosystem, including countless marine mammals and sea birds, were affected. As has been the case on several occasions in our city’s history, the negligence of the oil industry spilled out into the crystalline waters of the Pacific, and the community was left to put things back together. In September 2018, Plains All American Pipeline, a Houston-based energy company, was convicted of fouling state waters and harming local wildlife by a California jury. Now, in a settlement that came last week, Plains has been ordered to pay $60 million for the damages created by what were ruled to be negligent practices that contributed to the spill. However, some environmental organizations are holding back on celebrations. On March 19, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) put out a statement questioning the wisdom of locking down the amount of Plains’ payment before the public has had the opportunity to review and comment on the damage assessment and draft restoration plan.  Linda Krop, chief counsel for the EDC, also expressed concern that the gallon figure of 123,000 gallons may be too low. “There’s a scientific paper from UCSB suggesting that the number of gallons spilled might be as high as 450,000 gallons, so to us it doesn’t make sense to lock in a penalty that may actually be much too low,” said Krop. “This settlement is taking place before the public has an opportunity to comment on the draft assessment of impact to the environment and public recreation.”State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who played a large role in the early days of investigating the incident and was highly critical of Plains’s conduct, expressed similar concerns. “The good news is that they’ll have to adhere to California standards, which they’d previously argued they should be exempt from because they claim to be an inter-state enterprise,” said Jackson. “But this business of making a decision about the dollar amount before the public has all of the information is problematic to me. I’m a little concerned about that.”

 Overturned tanker spills 6K gallons oil near California dam (AP) — A tanker truck overturned down an embankment Saturday, spilling more than 6,600 gallons of crude oil into a river that flows into a dam and reservoir near the city of Santa Maria, authorities said. The driver was not injured and the cause of the single-vehicle crash on State Route 166 was under investigation, said Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Nikki Stevens. He said crews were racing to stop the oil that spilled into the Cuyama River from reaching Twitchell Dam and reservoir, which provides flood control and water conservation to the region on the Central Coast. The spill stretching about 2 miles long was more than 10 miles away from the dam. They constructed dirt berms and threw a boom — essentially a floating fence — into the water to contain the oil. Additionally, Stevens said, they placed large pipes under the berms to keep uncontaminated water flowing to the dam while they use pads to absorb the floating oil slick. Time was of the essence because rain was in the forecast for Sunday. “The dirt berm is not going to withstand running water,” Stevens said. “They’re working as aggressively as they can to clean this up.” Stevens said the cleanup will take several days and water quality tests will be conducted.

Crews work to clean Cuyama River after crash spills 6,000 gallons  -Most of the 6,000 gallons of crude oil that was spilled into the Cuyama River in Santa Maria has been contained.The Santa Barbara County Fire Department and California Department Fish and Wildlife worked through Saturday night to build two underflow dams to contain about 4,200 barrels of oil, according to fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli.A tanker truck carrying more than 6,000 gallons of crude oil overturned and crashed into the Cuyama River east of Santa Maria on Saturday, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The crash took place on Highway 166, about 20 miles from Santa Maria.Authorities were notified at approximately 6 a.m Saturday and, by 3 p.m. that day, all of the forward flow of oil was stopped at the U.S. National Forest’s Pine Canyon Station.The driver was uninjured in the crash, fire Capt. Nikki Stevens said, but the crude oil began leaking from the tanker and heading downstream toward Twitchell Reservoir.Crews set up a yellow containment boom just below the spill and use heavy equipment to build a dirt berm with two containment underflow dams to allow the water to flow through, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Absorbent pads were placed downstream of the berm to pick up the rest of the oil.Personnel from multiple agencies — including the CHP, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Caltrans, the Santa Maria Valley Water Conservation District, which operates Twitchell Reservoir — assisted on the incident.Pacific Petroleum was at the scene with four vacuum trucks to help clean up spilled oil, according to Bertucelli.The Oiled Wildlife Care Network has been activated and reports of oiled wildlife are being investigated, according to a California Department Fish and Wildlife news release.

Oil Industry Braces for Biggest Idling of Wells in 35 Years - Only the old hands at the Coffeyville oil refinery could remember anything like the prices posted this month. The small Kansas plant in the heart of rural America was offering just $1.75 a barrel for Wyoming sweet crude. With more than two billion people on virus lockdown from India to California, energy demand has plunged. In corners of the U.S., Canada, Russia and China, oil prices at the well-head are collapsing under the weight of an unprecedented glut. And with it, the industry is bracing for something that last happened on this scale 35 years ago: producers shutting down their wells as pumping crude makes no economic sense. “I have never seen anything like this in the markets,” said Torbjorn Tornqvist, the co-founder of Gunvor Group Ltd., a large commodity trading house. “We’ve never seen anything even close to today.” The oil market -- hit by the double blow of a demand slump and a supply surge as Saudi Arabia and Russia wage a price war -- is battling a surplus of as much as 20% of global consumption. The consequences are brutal: prices are now low enough to force a widespread suspension of production, or a shut-in as it’s known in the industry. For those waging the price war, it counts as a victory -- as long as the shut-ins happen elsewhere. Western Canadian Select benchmark crude Brent and West Texas Intermediate, the benchmarks closely followed in Wall Street, are hovering around $25 a barrel. But in the world of physical oil -- where actual barrels change hands -- producers are getting much less. The industry is navigating what Paul Sankey, a veteran oil analyst at Mizuho Bank Ltd, described as “uncharted waters to unknown lands.” Wyoming Sweet, a landlocked crude with few outlets other than American refineries like Coffeyville, is paradigmatic of how the dynamics of the oil market are forcing output cuts. There are others: North Dakota Light Sweet has traded at $9.97 a barrel. Across the border, Western Canadian Select has plunged to $6.45. In Siberia, Russian crude has changed hands for less than $10 and Chinese domestic prices have fallen to single digits. Ultra-low oil prices are starting to work: Petrobras, the Brazilian state-run producer, is cutting output by 100,000 barrels a day from high-cost offshore platforms. Glencore Plc., the commodity giant, is shutting down its oilfields in Chad. In Canada, Suncor Energy Inc. has partially shutdown its Fort Hills oil sands mine. As the pain spreads, industry executives believe many other companies will stem production in the next few days.

Bipartisan lawmakers urge assistance for oil and gas workers -A bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to congressional leadership asking for assistance for oil and gas industry workers as oil prices have plunged amid the coronavirus pandemic and international disputes. “We write to ask you to help address the unique challenges facing the people who work in the U.S. oil and gas sector,” said the letter, which was signed by seven Democrats and two Republicans. “We know from previous economic aid efforts that any COVID-19 relief package must protect all hard-working Americans. The effects of COVID-19 will be felt across the economy,” it continued. The lawmakers wrote that there have been layoffs in recent weeks linked to the decreasing fuel prices. A Texas oil regulator recently told Bloomberg that tens of thousands of people in the state were being laid off as drilling rigs close down.“As various sector-specific proposals are considered to address the impacts of COVID-19, this sector and the people who work in it must be taken into account,” the legislators wrote. The letter was signed by Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas), Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.), Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Al Green (D-Texas), Brian Babin (R-Texas), Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), and Marc Veasey (D-Texas.)It comes as Congress weighs certain relief for oil and gas companies. The Energy Department has asked Congress for $3 billion with which to purchase oil to be stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

$131B Less Could Go to New Upstream Projects This.Year --Sluggish global oil and gas demand amid the COVID-19 virus pandemic and the ongoing price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia could wreak havoc on new oil and gas project development plans in 2020, according to an impact analysis by Rystad Energy. In fact, the consultancy’s study found that exploration and production firms will likely reduce project sanctioning by as much as $131 billion – or roughly 68 percent – year-on-year. “Upstream players will have to take a close look at their cost levels and investment plans to counter the financial impact of lower prices and demand,” Audun Martinsen, head of energy service research for Rystad, commented in a written statement. “Companies have already started reducing their annual capital spending for 2020.” According to Rystad, total onshore and offshore project sanctioning last year amounted to $192 billion. Earlier this year, the firm had forecast that $190 billion in new projects would be approved in 2020. Thanks to recent developments, however, Rystad has dramatically altered its projection. The firm stated that it foresees just $61 billion in total project sanctioning if the Brent crude price averages approximately $30 per barrel this year. It added that the revised estimate assumes $30 billion would go toward onshore projects and $31 billion to offshore. In an approximately $40 average oil price environment, which Rystad contends is “getting more distant by the day,” the consultancy predicts that total sanctioning would hit $82 billion. In that case, the year-on-year decrease would amount to 57 percent, the firm added. “In North America, multi-billion dollar oil projects, including LLOG-operated Shenandoah Phase 1 and the Shell-operated Whale development, could face short-term delays in the offshore sector due to low oil prices, while in the onshore sector operators are expected to wait for the situation to stabilize before committing to new projects,”

Listen: A price collapse breaks a fragile US shale sector can it be fixed? – podcast - As oil prices dipped to levels not seen in nearly two decades, US shale operators slashed budgets and rig counts and braced for a hellish few months, if not years. Is even a modest price rebound possible in the near term? Will Saudi Arabia and Russia return to talks over a new supply cut? Has the price collapse forever altered US oil sanctions policy? On today's Capitol Crude Helima Croft, managing director and global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, talks about the path forward for US shale, the potential for a US import embargo and why resurrection of a global supply cut may be possible. "The question is: Did the Russians know that they were signing up for the current price environment?" Croft asks.

How Far Will Trump Go To Save U.S. Shale? - The U.S. is today showing signs of increased desperation as oil prices sink to levels that may pose a threat to the energy independence of the United States by kicking U.S. shale out of the market.Several recent actions taken by the United States indicate that it may be attempting to change the current trajectory of the global oil market, including by showing interest in stepping up negotiations with Saudi Arabia, which is spearheading the ongoing market share war that is fostering ultra-low oil prices. The United States is facing a national emergency. The Covid-19 pandemic in the world’s largest oil consumer, The United States, has dented demand to the extent that a couple months ago, no one thought possible. The virus struck—first in the world’s largest oil importer, China–at a time when the oil markets were already concerned about a global oversupply. The virus also struck around the same time that another critical oil-market event took place: the end of the OPEC+ production cut agreement and the start of the oil price war—with Saudi Arabia on one side and Russia on the other.The result is that the U.S. shale industry, often touted as the backbone of the U.S. energy independence movement, has found itself caught in the middle between the oversupplied oil market and severely hampered oil demand.And it looks like the government is getting worried. On Monday evening, the U.S. made the decision to appoint Victoria Coates as special energy representative to Saudi Arabia. While the United States insists that this was in the works for quite some time, even before the oil war began, the timing coincides rather nicely with the shocking price drop for the US crude grade West Texas Intermediate, which is now trading around $23 per barrel, down from $60-something per barrel at the beginning of the year.This $23 per barrel is not sustainable long term—perhaps not even short term—creating a sense of urgency in the United States to address the problem.And who better to address than the perceived perpetrator of the oil price war, Saudi Arabia. Despite the timing, the U.S. is not owning the fact that Coates’ new assignment and the oil price war have any noteworthy link. But the move comes after intense pressure from U.S. lawmakers and others in the industry in recent weeks, some of who have urged President Trump to take the extreme stance ofembargoing Russian and Saudi Arabian oil. Other calls to action include the Texas Railroad Commission’s suggestion to use pro-rationing that would force Texas producers to curb production—something that is unthinkable in America.Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker and Oklahoma Senator Inhofe asked the Department of Commerce to slap a tariff on foreign oil, citing national security reasons. Other ideas include outright conspiring—albeit in a somewhat unofficial capacity—with Saudi Arabia to coordinate production.

Price crash could upend western Canada's propane export outlook  -  The collapse in crude oil prices has sent shock waves throughout the global energy industry and Canada has been no exception. Sorting through all the impacts will take time, but what’s clear is that any earlier optimism surrounding supply growth in Canada has evaporated, including for propane supply to feed the new propane export terminals on British Columbia’s coastline. Edmonton propane prices fell 58% since the start of March to as low as 10.25 cents per gallon in U.S. dollars on March 23 — the lowest level since April 2016 — and settled yesterday at 13.13 cents per gallon, according to data from our friends at OPIS. A dampened supply outlook means future export expansion plans also are being reconsidered. Today, we explore what the sharp decline in propane prices could mean for the region’s supplies and future propane exports, including from Pembina Pipeline’s nearly completed export terminal in Prince Rupert, BC. The past few weeks have seen many an energy outlook completely overturned. The effects of the huge downturn in crude oil prices have rapidly forced a large majority of producers in the U.S. and Canada to drastically reduce their spending plans for at least the first half of this year, and likely for all of 2020. Our examination of Canadian producers, both large and small, reveals more than C$6 billion ($4.1 billion) of capital spending reductions announced in just the past three weeks, with some producers still to release information on their capex plans. These spending reductions equate to a more than 30% cut versus previously announced capex plans for this year before prices came crashing down. The impacts may soon be seen in the number of drilled and completed crude oil and liquids-rich gas wells across Western Canada, although it may take some time for the supply impacts to be more fully realized. (See Déjà Vu for reasons as to why supply impacts can take time to materialize.) The capital spending cuts have not been confined to just producers, but also have quickly surfaced in the form of capital reductions by major Canadian energy infrastructure companies such as Pembina Pipelines, Inter Pipeline and Keyera Corp.

Federated Cooperatives uses virus to demand concessions from locked-out Saskatchewan refinery workers - In an ominous signpost of the emerging corporate response to the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing stock market meltdown, Federated Cooperatives Limited (FCL) announced Sunday that it has rejected the mediator’s recommendations in the 111-day lockout of 750 oil refinery workers in Regina, Saskatchewan. The company is now demanding even deeper concessions on pensions, work rules, benefits and staffing levels. In a statement, the management of FCL’s Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) wrote, “We must now consider the stark world developments that are presently unfolding and their impacts to both our business reality and our ever-more critical responsibility to our multiple stakeholders. Global economic circumstances have changed and, with that, we have seen a drastic decline in the consumption of fuel and rapidly declining oil prices that have put the CRC in a more difficult financial position than when negotiations began. Like all businesses, the refinery is now reassessing how to manage through the financial turmoil.” Last week, mediator Vince Ready had tabled his nonbinding recommendations for a resolution of the bitter dispute that has seen FCL deploy a large scab workforce, with the unstinting support of the right-wing Saskatchewan Party government, the capitalist courts, and police. Ready’s report granted virtually all FCL’s initial concession demands. The union, which had already proposed a series of increasingly draconian concessionary climbdowns, accepted the mediator’s recommendations and scheduled a Monday vote advising the workers to accept the rotten deal. Workers, starved out on the picket line and seeing no way forward, voted 98 percent to endorse the Ready recommendations. After the vote, local union President Kevin Bittman told reporters that the mediator’s report, which contained everything the workers had fought against for almost four months, was “a reasonable compromise.” Nevertheless, the lockout continues due to FCL’s refusal to endorse the Ready report. Unifor National President Jerry Dias said prior to Monday’s vote, “To be clear, our committee is not thrilled with the final report and the significant changes that are recommended. We have been trying to find a solution since we were locked out. … It is time to end this dispute and have our members running the refinery in these unprecedented times.”

European natural gas storage inventories are at record-high levels at the end of winter - European natural gas storage inventories as of March 1, 2020, were 60% full—the highest ever recorded level for the start of March, according to Gas Storage Europe’s Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory (AGSI+). European stock levels for both January and February 2020 were the highest ever recorded for those months. Europe’s high levels of natural gas in storage are the result of a mild winter, which limited winter heating demand, and growing natural gas imports by pipeline and as liquefied natural gas (LNG).  Relatively mild winter weather across Europe—and especially in northern Europe, where natural gas heating is more common—reduced demand for residential and commercial heating. As a result, natural gas withdrawals from storage were lower than average, resulting in record-high January and February inventory levels. Europe’s natural gas storage capacity utilization for the first day of March has typically been 38%, based on the previous five years; in 2020, natural gas stocks in Europe started March at 60% of capacity. High natural gas stocks were partly the result of record-high deliveries to Europe both by pipeline and as LNG in 2019. LNG imports into Europe had been relatively low between 2012 and mid-2018, but they increased substantially in 2019, averaging 11 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) or almost twice the volume in the two previous years. LNG imports set monthly records of 14 Bcf/d in December 2019 and February 2020 (excluding re-exports, where a country imports and then exports LNG), implying a Europe-wide regasification capacity utilization of almost 60%. Russia and the United States increased LNG exports to Europe last year by an estimated 1.4 Bcf/d and 1.5 Bcf/d, respectively, compared with 2018. The United States has been the largest LNG supplier to Europe since November 2019, and in February 2020, LNG imports from the United States reached a new record high at 5.1 Bcf/d—nearly double the volume of Europe’s second-largest supplier, Qatar.  European pipeline import capacity has increased in recent years, including the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline from Azerbaijan. Additional sources of supply into the European market are entering service this year. In January, theTurk Stream pipeline entered service, delivering natural gas under the Black Sea directly to Turkey and Bulgaria. The Trans Adriatic Pipeline, which will deliver natural gas from Azerbaijan to southeast Europe, is currently undergoing commissioning and should be completed in mid-2020.European natural gas prices were at relatively low levels in 2019 and continue at those levels so far in 2020. The spot price of natural gas at the United Kingdom benchmark National Balancing Point (NBP) averaged $3.66 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in January 2020, an all-time low for the month. Similarly, the price of natural gas at the Title Transfer Facility (TTF) trading hub in the Netherlands averaged $3.62/MMBtu in January, also a record low for the month and less than half of the 2018 average price.

Can the North Sea Survive the Oil Price Crash? -In the short-term, yes. That’s according to Neivan Boroujerdi, a principal analyst in Wood Mackenzie’s (WoodMac) North Sea upstream team. Longer term, however, investment is required to increase production and reduce unit costs, according to WoodMac. If the industry goes into “harvest mode”, a premature end is “inevitable”, the company noted. “Most final investment decisions for 2020 are off the table. At current prices, nearly two-thirds of development spend could be wiped from our forecast over the next five years,” Boroujerdi said. “Annual investment in the UK could fall below $1 billion as early as 2024. The threat of stranded assets is real – we estimate nearly six billion barrels of economically viable resources could be left in the ground, not to mention a further 11 billion of contingent resources,” he added. WoodMac highlighted that the North Sea has weathered several storms in its 50-year existence but noted that the events of the past few weeks mean the sector is entering “uncharted waters”. Last week, industry body Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) warned that the combination of the global economic impact of the continued spread of the coronavirus, the fall in oil price and the halving of gas prices was driving an “increasingly fragile” outlook for the UK’s offshore oil and gas sector. “Severe pressures are already building across the sector’s supply chain, with the pressures expected to significantly undermine the industry’s businesses, jobs and contribution to the economy,” OGUK said in an organization statement. The body said it was working with industry, regulators and government to understand how it can protect supply chain companies and jobs.

More on that oil storage problem - We warned last week that oil has a storage problem, which could translate to permanent production capacity shutdowns. On Thursday, Goldman’s commodities research team, headed by Damien Courvalin, offered some further insight into the issue and the inflationary pressures that are likely to come about as a result. Here are the key pars from their report, with our emphasis: Global isolation measures are leading to an unprecedented collapse in oil demand which we now forecast will fall by 10.5 mb/d in March and by 18.7 mb/d in April (our 2020 yoy demand forecast is now -4.25 mb/d). A demand shock of this magnitude will overwhelm any supply response including any potential core-OPEC output freeze or cut.  Such a collapse in demand will be an unprecedented shock for the global refining system with margins simply not low enough given the required level of run cuts. Product storage saturation at refineries is therefore set to occur over the next several weeks. At that point, the product surplus will become a crude one and we expect its unprecedented velocity will create similar logistical crude storage constraints. This is the point at which crude prices will fall below cash-costs to reflect producers having to shut-in production.While seaborne crudes like Brent can remain near $20/bbl in 2Q, many inland crude benchmarks where saturation will prove binding are likely to fall much further (US, Canada, Russia, China). The scale of the demand collapse will require a large amount of production to be shut-in, of potential several million barrels per day. Such a hit on production will not be reversed quickly, however, as shutting-in can often permanently damage reservoirs and conventional producing wells. We therefore increasingly see risks that the rebound in prices will be much sharper than our base-case rally back to $40/bbl Brent by 4Q20, with a normalization in activity increasingly likely to be accompanied by a large inflationary oil shock. And here’s the chart that matters:  File under evidence to suggest an inflationary paradigm shift is on the horizon.

Oil giants announce steep cutbacks - Royal Dutch Shell and Total this morning announced plans to sharply cut spending and freeze share buyback plans. The moves signal how cratering demand from COVID-19 and the collapse in prices are upending the outlooks for companies large and small. Shell is cutting planned capital spending this year to $20 billion or lower, compared to the pre-crisis estimate of $25 billion. It also plans to cut operating costs by $3 billion to $4 billion over the next 12 months. Meanwhile, Total said oil at $30 per barrel means a roughly $3 billion hit to capital spending, which means a new target of under $15 billion this year. The France-based multinational also said it can save $800 million in operating costs compared to 2019. They're just the latest in a string of oil companies — including ExxonMobil and a number of independent U.S. shale producers — to unveil deep cuts of late.

Shell cuts 2020 spending by $5 billion, suspends share buyback - (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell will lower spending by $5 billion and suspended its vast $25 billion share buyback plan in an effort to weather the recent collapse in oil prices, it said on Monday. The Anglo-Dutch oil major said it would reduce capital expenditure to $20 billion or below from a planned level of about $25 billion while seeking to reduce operating costs by an additional $3 billion to $4 billion over the next 12 months. The cuts are expected to boost Shell’s cash generation by between $8 billion and $9 billion on a pretax basis. Shell’s shares were down 3.5% in early London trading, against a 3% for the broader European energy sector .SXEP Oil prices have crashed by more than 60% since January, hit by global demand destruction because of the coronavirus pandemic and a price war between top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia after this month’s collapse of a supply pact between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies.[O/R] The Shell cuts mirror moves by rivals such as Exxon Mobil (XOM.N), Chevron (CVX.N), BP (BP.L) and France’s Total (TOTF.PA), who have all announced plans for sharp reductions in spending.

Coronavirus could slash 1 million oil jobs – report -- Thursday, March 26, 2020 -- The global oil industry could see over 1 million jobs slashed this year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and oil price war, according to a new report.

Exclusive - Coronavirus, gas slump put brakes on Exxon's giant Mozambique LNG plan -  (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil is likely to delay the greenlighting of its $30 billion (26 billion pounds) liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique as the coronavirus disrupts early works and a depressed gas market makes investors wary, six sources told Reuters. Top U.S. oil and gas company Exxon said on Tuesday it was evaluating “significant” cuts to capital spending and operating expenses. Energy firms worldwide have slashed spending this month as oil prices plummeted to 18-year lows after global travel curbs and reduced economic activity destroyed demand. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing delays to projects worldwide. Qatar, the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), is delaying a big expansion in which Exxon is a major partner. The Rovuma LNG project, which will produce from a deepwater block off Mozambique containing more than 85 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, was expected to get the go-ahead in the first half of 2020. But three sources familiar with the project told Reuters that Exxon’s partners want to push back a final investment decision (FID). A further three sources said the pandemic is disrupting work on the project to such a degree that FID before the second half is unlikely. Any delay would leave Exxon’s project further behind rival Total (TOTF.PA), which took FID last June on its neighbouring project. Exxon might be left with no choice. “COVID-19 is affecting guys going into Mozambique, it’s affecting Chinese and Korean financiers, and clearly you’ve had the arse drop out of the oil market,” said a source with knowledge of the project. The pandemic is causing delays to the financing needed for the project, the source added. Rovuma LNG is managed by Mozambique Rovuma Venture, a joint venture owned 35.7% each by Exxon and Eni (ENI.MI) with the remaining stake of 28.6% held by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). LNG prices LNG-AS hit a record low of $2.7 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) last month, and Rovuma requires an average price of $7 per mmBtu throughout its life to be profitable, according to Bernstein analysts. Another source with knowledge of internal discussions said with the energy outlook uncertain and LNG supplies set to rise sharply by 2025, some of the project partners want to “cool Exxon’s heels” and delay.

Jet fuel refining profits disappear as airlines ground fleets - (Reuters) - Asian jet fuel refining margins have turned negative for the first time in over a decade as airlines continue to ground flights on international and domestic routes amid stringent travel restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The already-battered profit margins are expected to come under further pressure as there is no concrete recovery timeframe in sight, trade sources said. “Global air traffic is down by about 40-45% at present, according to flight tracking sources, with further deterioration expected over the coming weeks as more flight restrictions and airline capacity reductions take effect,” said Richard Gorry, managing director at JBC Energy Asia. “We expect global jet/kero demand to fall by 4.3 million barrels per day (bpd) quarter-on quarter in Q2-2020 to just 2.5 million bpd, representing a year-on-year decline of 5.6 million bpd (-70%) as air passenger travel activity is reduced to a minimum.” Refining margins for jet fuel plunged to minus 7 cents per barrel over Dubai crude on Monday, a level not seen in the last 11 years, according to Refinitiv Eikon data that goes back as far as March 2009. Also known as cracks, refining margins are the difference in value between the raw material, crude oil, and the products churned out by refineries. A negative jet fuel refinery margin means refiners would lose money by producing the aviation fuel at current prices, indicating they will either reduce jet fuel output or lower overall refinery throughput. (GRAPHIC: Asia jet fuel margins dive into the red for the first time in 10+ years amid global lockdown - here)

China’s crude oil imports surpassed 10 million barrels per day in 2019 - Today in Energy - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) China’s annual crude oil imports in 2019 increased to an average of 10.1 million barrels per day (b/d), an increase of 0.9 million b/d from the 2018 average. China remains the world’s top crude oil importer, surpassing the United States in 2017. China’s new refinery capacity and strategic inventory stockpiling, combined with flat domestic oil production, were the major factors contributing to the increase in China’s crude oil imports in 2019.In 2019, 55% of China’s crude oil imports came from countries within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the smallest share since at least 2005. China’s crude oil imports from Saudi Arabia increased by more than 0.5 million b/d in 2019 to 1.7 million b/d, or 16% of total crude oil imports.From 2017 until earlier this year, OPEC members and other partner countries had been voluntarily reducing crude oil production, which resulted in some non-OPEC producers increasing their shares of China’s crude oil imports in recent years. In addition, in 2019, sanctions were placed on Iran and Venezuela that significantly affected their ability to export oil, reducing their shares of imports.Russia remained the largest non-OPEC source of China’s crude oil imports in 2019, averaging 1.6 million b/d, or 15% of total crude oil imports. Brazil overtook Oman as the second-highest non-OPEC source of China’s crude oil imports, increasing by less than 0.2 million b/d to average 0.8 million b/d for the year. China’s crude oil imports from the United States declined in 2019, primarily as a result of trade negotiations that imposed tariffs on many U.S. goods, including crude oil. Several factors contributed to China’s increase in crude oil imports in recent years. Although China’s domestic crude oil production increased 0.1 million b/d in 2019—averaging 4.9 million b/d—it has remained essentially flat since 2012, ranging between 4.8 million b/d and 5.2 million b/d. In contrast, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates China’s consumption of petroleum and other liquids grew 0.5 million b/d in 2019 to 14.5 million b/d, and China’s net imports for crude oil and other liquids grew 0.4 million b/d to 9.6 million b/d in 2019. China’s crude oil imports also grew in 2019 because of strategic stockpiling of crude oil and increases in commercial crude oil inventories following refinery expansions, which require increases in storage as refineries begin operations. Last year, China’s refinery capacity increased by 1.0 million b/d, primarily because two new refining and petrochemical complexes came online with capacities of 0.4 million b/d each. As a result, the country’s refinery processing also increased to an all-time high in 2019, averaging 13.0 million b/d for the year.

In oil market standoff with Saudi Arabia, weakened rouble helps Russia - (Reuters) - In Russia’s battle for oil market share with Saudi Arabia, a sharp fall in the rouble has handed the Russians one advantage - they can now produce cheaper than the Saudis, according to Reuters calculations. The Russian currency has lost nearly a fifth of its value against the U.S. dollar - the currency of oil - since their talks on coordinated output cuts collapsed on March 6. Brent crude futures have fallen by nearly 50% to about $26 a barrel and that has knocked the rouble, which is down more than 15% to 80 per dollar, its weakest level since early 2016. In contrast, Saudi Arabia’s riyal is pegged to the dollar at a rate of 3.75 riyals. Russian producer Rosneft’s lifting costs last year averaged 199 rubles per barrel of oil equivalent, or $3.10, versus Saudi Aramco’s at 10.6 riyals or $2.80, financial reports from the two firms show. Rosneft’s costs have now fallen to $2.50, below Aramco’s, according to Reuters calculations based on the current rouble rate against the dollar. Rosneft did not reply to a Reuters request regarding how the ruble’s recent fall had affected its costs. Aramco has said it will be supplying, both domestically and for export, a record high 12.3 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) for the next few months starting from April. Russia’s production is currently 11.30 million bpd, led by state-run Rosneft. Russia may add up to 500,000 bpd in a matter of months, officials have said.

The Oil Price War - One consequence of the emerging global Covid-19 recession has been that it has helped push world oil prices down from the $60.77 per barrel range near the beginning of 2020 to $23.12 for West Texas Crude and $29.00 for Brent Crude, levels not seen since the end of 2008. But part of why that decline has been so sharp and deep has been thet Saudi Arabia has increased production while Russia has kept up production, despite the Saudis demanding that they cut production. So there is an oil price war going on. Of course this will tend to cushion the recession for oil consumers. But the US has become a small net oil exporter, and reports have it that a subsidiary reason for the Saudis and Russians getting into this price war has been to tank the US fracking industry in oil and natural gas, which by most reports cannot survive if prices remain as low as they are now. So while US oil products buyers may be better off, the recession in oil producing parts of the US will be made worse. It should be kept in mind that a non-trivial part of the US economic growh in 2017 was a major increase in fracking activity, with half the increase in capital investment coming from that sector alone. The damage to oil production in the US will probably exceed the benefits from lower prices at the pump in the US. A curious corollary to this is that the leaders of both Russia and Saudi Arabia have made serious moves to enhance and expand their own power. In Russia, Putin has moved to change the constitution so that instead of having to step down as president, he can run again twice more, keeping him still in as late as 2036, by which time he will be 84. This still needs to pass a referendum, but few doubt that it will fail to do so, despite reported declines in Putin’s popularity. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has had several rivals arrested on charges of treason, which can bring the death penalty. One arrested is the former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, whom MbS forcibly removed in a coup supported by Trump. Another is an uncle of his, Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, one of the few remaining brothers of MbS’s father, with the line of succession having previously gone through them. The charges are clearly trumped up, with Mohammed bin Nayef having been under house arrest since he was removed from power, and Ahmed bin Abdulaaziz having been very careful to avoid any public criticism of MbS. But not good enough, they both need to be decapitated.

Oil drops as much as 8%, extending declines after worst week since 1991 // Oil turns positive, snapping back from worst week since 1991 - Oil prices moved higher on Sunday, snapping back from a week of steep declines that saw U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude post its worst week since 1991. Investors are waiting on Washington to agree to an economic stimulus and rescue plan.WTI rose 0.6% to trade at $22.77 per barrel, erasing early losses that had sent the contract tumbling more than 8%. International benchmark Brent crude shed 2.7% to trade at $26.25 per barrel.Prices have dropped as the coronavirus outbreak has slowed worldwide travel and business activity, just as powerhouse producers Saudi Arabia and Russia prepare to ramp up production.The rapid decline in crude prices is wreaking havoc on the financial markets, forcing investors to sell other assets such as Treasuries or equities indiscriminately to cover the losses in their energy positions. WTI crude futures have been cut in half this month.The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 are now trading in bear market territory as the coronavirus hits the airline and hospitality industries the hardest.The government has said it is prepared to step in, and on Saturday National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said an economic stimulus package will total more than $2 trillion, noting it will be equal to roughly 10% of U.S. economic output. If the bill, which was brought before the Senate on Sunday night passes, oil prices could turn a corner.As traders attempt to quantify what increasingly strict travel restrictions and stay-at-home mandates will mean for longer-term crude demand, prices have swung in either direction. On Wednesday WTI dropped 24.4% to a more than 18-year low, in its third worst day on record. One day later, prices snapped back, surging 23.8% for the largest percentage gain in history. Given WTI’s 60% decline this year, a smaller gain, of course, now accounts for a much larger percentage move. But the volatile swings are notable.

Oil prices drop as US economic package stumbles in Senate - Oil prices fell at the open in Asia on Monday after a trillion-dollar Senate proposal to help the coronavirus-hit American economy was defeated and death tolls soared across Europe and the US. Brent crude futures fell $1.09, or 4 percent, to $25.89 a barrel by 0209 GMT. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures was down 15 cents, or 0.7 percent, at $22.48 a barrel. Oil prices have fallen for four straight weeks and have given up about 60% since the start of the year. Prices of everything from coal to copper have also been hit by the crisis, while markets in bonds and stocks enter rarely charted territory. The coronavirus, which has infected more than 325,000 and killed over 14,000 worldwide, has disrupted business, travel and daily life. Many oil companies have rushed to cut spending and some producers have already begun putting employees on furlough. Prices have fallen to multi-year lows in recent weeks as lockdowns and travel restrictions to fight the virus hit demand, and top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia engage in a price war. The latest drop came after a trillion-dollar Senate proposal to rescue the US economy was defeated after receiving zero support from Democrats, and with five Republicans absent from the chamber because of virus-related quarantines. The measure faltered after it failed to get the necessary 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to clear a procedural hurdle after days of negotiations, with 47 senators voting in favour and 47 opposed. US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, frustrated over the deadlock on a major coronavirus response bill, late on Sunday announced a procedural vote will be held early on Monday on a bill that senators already rejected. McConnell, a Republican, said that unless a bipartisan deal is reached before 9.45am Monday (1345 GMT), he will force a second vote on a bill Democrats opposed. 

Oil markets slump amid coronavirus chaos - Oil prices fell on Monday as governments escalated lockdowns to curb the spread of the global coronavirus outbreak that has slashed the demand outlook for oil and threatened a global economic contraction. Brent crude futures fell $1.09, or 4%, to $25.89 a barrel by 0209 GMT. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures was down 15 cents, or 0.7%, at $22.48 a barrel. Oil prices have fallen for four straight weeks and have given up about 60% since the start of the year. Prices of everything from coal to copper have also been hit by the crisis, while markets in bonds and stocks enter rarely charted territory. The coronavirus, which has infected more than 325,000 and killed over 14,000 worldwide, has disrupted business, travel and daily life. Many oil companies have rushed to cut spending and some producers have already begun putting employees on furlough. The market has had to contend with the twin shocks of the demand destruction caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the unexpected oil price war that erupted between producers Russia and Saudi Arabia earlier this month. The current production cut deal expires March 31. Almost a third of Americans are now under orders to stay at home as states took extra measures to stem the rising numbers of cases in the world’s biggest economy, while in New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern said all non-essential services and business are to be shut down. Demand is expected to fall by more than 10 million barrels per day (bpd), or about 10% of daily global crude consumption, said Giovanni Serio, head of research at Vitol, the world’s biggest oil trader. Goldman Sachs estimated demand loss could total 8 million bpd, brought about by countries slowing economic activity to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Oil refiners worldwide are slashing production or considering cuts as the pandemic causes the evaporation of fuel demand. 

Oil prices wallow near 20-year lows amid coronavirus price war - Oil prices came close to hitting 20-year lows today, as Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) dropped under the growing coronavirus economic panic.Brent crude fell as low as $25 a barrel before falling 2.2 per cent down at $26.40. That is still a level not seen since 2003.  WTI, a US oil benchmark, eked out a 0.4 per cent increase to $22.72 per barrel. However, this is still one of its lowest levels since 1999.Oil prices began their steep fall by crashing around 21 per cent earlier this month when Saudi Arabia and Russia started a price war.Russia refused to countenance more production cuts to prop up the price of oil as the world’s coronavirus crisis led to global travel bans.Saudi Arabia then flooded the market with cheap oil to safeguard its market share, a move later followed by the United Arab Emirates.The fall in oil prices has been rapid, with Brent crude’s price having halved from $50 since February. And analysts have warned the price could fall further.As a result, major oil producing companies have announced plans to reduce spending.Royal Dutch Shell today said it will cut its full year capital expenditure by $5bn (£4.34bn) and suspend the next tranche of its share buyback plan. Similarly, Total will cut its capital expenditure by 20 per cent and find additional cost savings of around $400m this year.

What Happens If Oil Prices Go Negative? - Various reports hit the news feeds today quoting a deliberately headline-grabbing statement by Paul Sankey, managing director at Mizuho Securities, in which he is reported as saying, “Oil prices can go negative.” That is, they could as a combination of Saudi Arabia (and Russia) flooding the market with increased oil and the market running headlong into COVID-19-induced curtailment of activity that is suppressing consumption, which combined will create the perfect storm of excess supply.In reality, inventory levels are already rising.CNN quotes Sankey, who said global oil demand is only around 100 million barrels per day.However, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could crash demand by up to 20 percent.This would create a 20 million barrel-per-day surplus of oil in the market that would rapidly exceed storage capacity, forcing oil producers to pay customers to buy the commodity – hence, in effect, negative oil prices.  The American government plans to purchase a total of 77 million barrels of oil starting within weeks the article states, but according to Sankey, this can only be done at a rate of 2 million barrels per day, leaving a massive excess that will be looking for a home.Brent oil prices have already fallen to the lowest level for 17 years. The consequences for the U.S. oil industry if a coronavirus-induced recession drives down demand could be catastrophic.West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) collapsed by a staggering 19.2 percent to $22 while the Mexican Basket is down 22.4 percent.For a short while, hedges will protect producers and they will continue to pump oil. While that will protect producers for a while, it encourages counter-cyclical practices; producers should be cutting back but instead will probably continue to pump and ship into store.Francisco Blanch, a commodity strategist at Bank of America, warns in a Fox Business report that the demand destruction caused by the COVID-19 virus and the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia could cause inventories to swell by 900 million barrels in the second quarter alone. He estimates the world currently has about 1.5 billion barrels of available storage.Storage, however, is regional and may not match neatly with excess supply.China continues to build storage capacity, having traditionally been short of space, but is now in a better position to take advantage of ultra-low prices. “In a severe scenario, if the market struggles to find a home for surplus barrels, then oil prices might have to trade down into the teens,” Blanch suggests. That would leave U.S. and Canadian producers deeply in the red when hedges run out. Weaker OPEC countries, like Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, and Nigeria, could see their economies collapse, while all offshore production would be loss-making if oil prices remain suppressed into the teens over the long term.

Oil jumps 3% in volatile session as Fed promises aggressive asset purchases to support markets - Oil jumped more than 3% on Monday as the Federal Reserved announced aggressive asset purchases to support markets. The move higher was a reversal from last week’s steep declines, which saw U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude post its worst week since 1991. In a volatile session that saw oil alternate between gains and losses, WTI gained 3.23% to settle at $23.36 per barrel. Earlier, prices fell as much as 6%. International benchmark Brent crude traded 0.6% higher at $27.18 per barrel. The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent business slowdown has pressured oil prices and sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 tumbling into bear market territory. On Monday, the Federal Reserve announced a new round of measures aimed at propping up the economy. The central bank said it will continue to purchase Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning and effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions. Traders are hoping that this additional support will put a floor under oil prices, which have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus outbreak. WTI crude futures have been cut in half this month as a travel slowdown eats into crude demand, just as powerhouse producers Saudi Arabia and Russia prepare to ramp up production. The rapid decline in prices has wreaked havoc in other areas of the financial markets, as investors have been forced to sell other other assets such as Treasuries or equities indiscriminately to cover losses in their energy positions. Ed Morse, Citi’s global head of commodity research, believes there’s more downside ahead. He’s forecasting crude below $20 per barrel for much of the second quarter. “I think it can go much lower,” he said Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.” “We don’t think the one-two punch is over, particularly on the demand side where the impact on transportation fuels in Europe and the U.S. is just beginning.”

Oil struggles to hold gains as US ramps up economic support measures - Oil prices moved between gains and losses on Tuesday, boosted by hopes that the United States will soon reach a deal on a $2 trillion coronavirus aid package that could blunt the economic impact of the outbreak and in turn support oil demand. But gains were capped as demand continues to decline. Brent crude oil futures for May delivery gained 33 cents to trade at $27.36 per barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude futures gained 5 cents to trade at $23.41 per barrel. “Oil is clawing its way higher, mainly on the back of the weaker dollar that stemmed from the Fed’s unprecedented measures,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at broker OANDA. “WTI crude volatility will remain high and traders should not be surprised if this rally eventually gets faded.” The U.S. Federal Reserve on Monday rolled out an extraordinary array of programs to backstop an economy reeling from restrictions on commerce that scientists say are needed to slow the coronavirus pandemic. While a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package remained stalled in the U.S. Senate on Monday as lawmakers haggled over its provisions, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced confidence that a deal would be reached soon. The expected stimulus pushed the U.S. dollar lower as it will increase the cash supply. The dollar index, which measures the greenback against six major currencies, fell 0.5% on Tuesday. A weaker greenback boosts dollar-denominated oil prices since buyers paying in other currencies will pay less for their crude. Still, the overall crude demand outlook remains low as long as travel restrictions are in place and governments curtail commercial activities to prevent the coronavirus spread.

The Oil Price Rebound Won't Last - Oil showed some signs of life at the start of Tuesday trading due to progress in Washington on a stimulus package, but analysts still think that the next major move for prices is down.. Multiple reports from analysts and investment banks see further room to fall for oil because of fears over a lack of adequate storage. “Any traders with the capacity to store oil are probably putting their hands up, looking at the contango,” Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at Axicorp Ltd., told Bloomberg. “Oil could head to $10 to $15 a barrel very quickly” if OPEC and Texas can’t reach an agreement on cutting production.   OPEC Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo spoke</