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

Saturday, April 11, 2020

week ending Apr 11

 FOMC Minutes: Zero Rates until "weathered recent events" - From the Fed: Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, March 15, 2020. A few excerpts: All participants viewed the near-term U.S. economic outlook as having deteriorated sharply in recent weeks and as having become profoundly uncertain. Many participants had repeatedly downgraded their outlook of late in response to the rapidly evolving situation. All saw U.S. economic activity as likely to decline in the coming quarter and viewed downside risks to the economic outlook as having increased significantly. Participants noted that the timing of the resumption of growth in the U.S. economy depended on the containment measures put in place, as well as the success of those measures, and on the responses of other policies, including fiscal policy. ... Participants all agreed that the effects of the pandemic would weigh on economic activity in the near term and that the duration of this period of weakness was uncertain. They further concurred that the unpredictable effects of the coronavirus outbreak were a source of major downside risks to the economic outlook.In their consideration of monetary policy at this meeting, most participants judged that it would be appropriate to lower the target range for the federal funds rate by 100 basis points, to 0 to 1/4 percent. In discussing the reasons for such a decision, these participants pointed to a likely decline in economic activity in the near term related to the effects of the coronavirus outbreak and the extremely large degree of uncertainty regarding how long and severe such a decline in activity would be. In light of the sharply increased downside risks to the economic outlook posed by the global coronavirus outbreak, these participants noted that risk-management considerations pointed toward a forceful monetary policy response, with the majority favoring a 100 basis point cut that would bring the target range to its effective lower bound (ELB). With regard to monetary policy beyond this meeting, these participants judged that it would be appropriate to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent until policymakers were confident that the economy had weathered recent events and was on track to achieve the Committee's maximum employment and price stability goals.

The Fed Apparently Thinks It’s Going to Lose $454 Billion on Its Wall Street Bailout -  Pam Martens - On Thursday, March 26, in the midst of a growing panic on Wall Street over a lack of liquidity for toxic debt, the Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell did something unprecedented. He appeared live on the Today show. His interviewer, Savannah Guthrie, opened the interview by noting that one writer had said that the Fed can simply conjure money out of thin air. (It can.) Guthrie asked Powell if there was any limit to the amount of money the Fed was willing to put into the economy to keep it afloat. Her question should have been: is there any limit to the amount of money the Fed will conjure out of thin air to keep Wall Street afloat?  Powell said this:  “In certain circumstances like the present, we do have the ability to essentially use our emergency lending authorities and the only limit on that will be how much backstop we get from the Treasury Department. We’re required to get full security for our loans so that we don’t lose money. So the Treasury puts up money as we estimate what the losses might be…Effectively $1 of loss absorption of backstop from Treasury is enough to support $10 of loans.”  Powell was forced to do damage control on Thursday because White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow had let the cat out of the bag at a press briefing the Tuesday evening prior that Main Street would be getting less than $2 trillion from the stimulus bill while the Fed would be getting $4 trillion as a result of its ability to leverage its share of the stimulus money, making this actually a $6 trillion stimulus bill. When the final stimulus bill was signed, the Fed got $454 billion of taxpayer money to cover its losses, which it can thus leverage up to $4.54 trillion to buy up the toxic debt that is exploding all over Wall Street. Speaking to viewers of the Today show, Powell made it sound like the U.S. Treasury putting up taxpayer money at the Fed to absorb losses on Wall Street’s bad bets is the most normal thing in the world and a long-established practice. We’ve been studying the history of the Fed for the past 30 years and we can assure you that this is a brand new, tricked-up rescue plan by the Fed.

Federal Reserve unveils details of $2.3 trillion in programs to help support the economy - The Federal Reserve on Thursday announced a bevy of new moves aimed at getting another $2.3 trillion of financing into businesses and revenue-pinched governments. Stock futures jumped after the announcement, which came moments after the government reported that 6.6 million new jobless claims were filed last week. Among the Fed’s measures were details regarding its Main Street business lending program and several other initiatives it is undertaking to backstop the reeling U.S. economy. The central bank also provided more detail on its market interventions, including plans to buy corporate bonds both at an investment-grade level as well as high-yield, or junk, bonds. Under provisions outlined for the first time, the loans would be geared toward businesses with up to 10,000 employees and less than $2.5 billion in revenues for 2019. Principal and interest payments will be deferred for a year. The Fed said the programs would total up to $2.3 trillion and include the Payroll Protection Program and other measures aimed at getting money to small businesses and bolstering municipal finances with a $500 billion lending program. “Our country’s highest priority must be to address this public health crisis, providing care for the ill and limiting the further spread of the virus,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in a statement. “The Fed’s role is to provide as much relief and stability as we can during this period of constrained economic activity, and our actions today will help ensure that the eventual recovery is as vigorous as possible.” The measures enhance an already-aggressive move by the Fed to keep markets functioning and support the economy, which has been handcuffed due to public health measures aimed at halting the coronavirus spread. The Main Street loans would be a minimum of $1 million and a maximum of either $25 million or an amount that “when added to the Eligible Borrower’s existing outstanding and committed but undrawn debt, does not exceed four times the Eligible Borrower’s 2019 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization,” whatever is less, the Fed said. The Fed will purchase up to $600 billion in loans. Terms would see an interest rate equal to the Fed’s Secure Overnight Financing Rate, currently 0.01%, plus 250-400 basis points with a four-year maturity. A special-purpose vehicle that Fed created jointly with the Treasury Department will purchase 95% of the loan while the financing institution would hold the other 5%.

 5 more moves the Fed is making to prop up the economy— The Federal Reserve unleashed yet again another massive use of its emergency powers Thursday, announcing more than $2 trillion in additional support for mall and midsize businesses as well as state and local governments coping with the financial strain caused by the coronavirus. The Fed debuted the much-anticipated Main Street Lending Program, established a Municipal Liquidity Facility to backstop cash-strapped state and local governments and said it would use the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility to provide additional funding to banks offering loans to struggling small businesses. Those are in addition to a slate of actions the Fed has taken in the past month, which include a liquidity backstop for commercial debt issuers, a credit facility for primary dealers, the creation of a Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility and two additional facilities aimed at supplying credit to large businesses. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — which was signed into law last month — authorized $454 billion in emergency loans and encouraged the Fed and the Treasury Department to stand up programs to offer financial support to businesses and municipalities, which laid the groundwork for some of the Fed’s newest facilities announced Thursday. “This is exactly what Congress told them that they should do. They wanted them to help out municipalities, they wanted them to help out small businesses,” said Ed Mills, a policy analyst at Raymond James. “We shouldn’t view this as the Fed saw something negative in the economy. … They are taking the mandate given to them from Congress and adopting it.”Here’s a guide to all of the moves the Fed made Thursday to sustain the economy:

  • The Fed said March 23 it would create a business lending program for Main Street, and banks have anxiously been awaiting the details of that program ever since.U.S. businesses with up to 10,000 employees or up to $2.5 billion in revenue will be eligible for loans through the program, the Fed said Thursday.
  • The $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program was launched last week to provide emergency loans to businesses with less than 500 employees, but it got off to a rough start as some lenders have been facing more demand for loans than they are able to process. Administered by the Small Business Administration and Treasury, the program is designed to help small firms pay their employees and cover expenses at time when social distancing has forced them scale back operations or shut down completely. Many of the loans — funded by banks, credit unions and other approved lenders — will be converted to grants if borrowers meet certain conditions.
  • The Fed is also rolling out a Municipal Liquidity Facility to support state and local governments with up to $500 billion in lending, with the Treasury Department backing $35 billion for the facility using funds appropriated by the CARES Act. That facility will make short-term financing available to cities with a population of more than 1 million or counties with a population of greater than 2 million.  The notes that municipalities will be able to sell through the facility should help cities and states get through a period of time with limited spending and lower tax revenues, the Fed said.
  • The Fed’s Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities will expand in both size and scope to support up to $750 billion in credit to corporate debt issuers, the agency said. The expansion will allow companies that were investment-grade before the onset of the coronavirus but then subsequently downgraded after March 22 — or “fallen angels”— to gain access to the facility. They “must be rated at least BB-/Ba3 at the time the facility makes a purchase,” the Fed said.
  • The crisis-era Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility will also be scaled up in scope, although not in size, to include the triple A-rated tranche of commercial mortgage-backed securities and newly issued collateralized loan obligations. “The size of the facility will remain $100 billion, and TALF will continue to support the issuance of asset-backed securities that fund a wide range of lending, including student loans, auto loans and credit card loans,” the Fed said in a release. The Fed said it is anticipating that an overwhelming majority of commercial mortgage-backed securities included in the program will be private-label, and it said the TALF program is open to legacy commercial MBS.

Recovery law allows Fed to rope off public as it spends billions - Tucked into the recent recovery bill was a provision granting the Federal Reserve the right to set up a $450 billion bailout plan without following key provisions of the federal open meetings law, including announcing its meetings or keeping most records about them, according to a POLITICO review of the legislation.The provision further calls into question the transparency and oversight for the biggest bailout law ever passed by Congress. President Donald Trump has indicated he does not plan to comply with another part of the new law intended to boost Congress’ oversight powers of the bailout funds. And earlier this week, Trump dismissed the government official chosen as the chief watchdog for the stimulus package.The changes at the central bank – which appear to have been inserted into the 880-page bill by sympathetic senators during the scramble to get it approved -- would address a complaint that the Fed faced during the 2008 financial crisis, when board members couldn’t easily hold group conversations to address the fast-moving economic turmoil.The provision dispenses with a longstanding accountability rule that the board has to give at least one day’s notice before holding a meeting. Experts say the change could lead to key information about the $450 billion bailout fund, such as which firms might benefit from the program, remaining inaccessible long after the bailout is over. The new law would absolve the board of the requirement to keep minutes to closed-door meetings as it deliberates on how to set up the $450 billion loan program. That would severely limit the amount of information potentially available to the public on what influenced the board’s decision-making. The board would only have to keep a record of its votes, though they wouldn’t have to be made public during the coronavirus crisis. A Fed spokesperson did not comment on the changes in the law or whether the Fed would continue keeping records of its meetings. With such a vast amount of money at stake, the Fed’s decision-making is bound to prompt lawsuits and complaints. Following its response to the 2008 financial crisis – which involved less money – the central bank faced numerous legal challenges, including from watchdog groups and journalists seeking to establish whether special influence was exerted behind the scenes. “We may never know what terms are being given to banks, what collateral is being offered, what repayment methods and duties banks and other financial institutions may have,” said Charles Glasser, a media attorney who represented Bloomberg News in a public records lawsuit of the Federal Reserve in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. “And these are important questions.”

The Fed’s Emergence as a Power Player Poses New Risks to Its Independence – WSJ - On Wednesday, investors put the probability that Ford Motor Co. would default on its debts at around 20%. By Friday, that had plunged to 14%. What happened? In between, the Federal Reserve announced that as part of its extensive new programs to support the economy, it would buy bonds that had been investment grade until March 22 but no longer are, a category that includes Ford. That illustrates the sweeping new influence the central bank has over the economy—and the potential peril that accompanies that influence. The Fed got here by proving it can act quickly, effectively and apolitically at a time when the federal government is often hamstrung by partisan dysfunction. But it requires the Fed to make decisions traditionally left to politicians that thus risk dragging it into the partisan battleground. At the outset of the coronavirus crisis, the Federal Reserve didn’t seem destined to be a consequential player. It has no public health role and can’t give cash to closed restaurants or their laid off workers. With interest rates so near zero, its ability to stimulate growth was limited. By this week it had emerged as perhaps the most powerful component of the entire federal response. On Thursday it unveiled details of up to $2.3 trillion in loans it could issue to businesses of all sizes and sorts and to states and local governments. The Fed’s crisis response has three phases. The first was the traditional monetary policy response: it lowered interest rates to near zero on March 15 to absorb the blow to domestic demand. That effectively exhausted its conventional ammunition. The second phase was to purchase vast quantities of Treasury and mortgage-backed bonds, lend heavily to banks and bond dealers, and offer credit to hundreds of foreign central banks to meet dollar shortages abroad. This was to prevent the financial system from seizing up, part of its established role as lender of last resort to the banking system, albeit on an unprecedented scale. The third phase was to use its emergency authority under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act to set up programs to lend to money-market funds, issuers of corporate debt, municipal governments, and main street businesses, big and small. This goes well beyond the central bank’s traditional duties. It is akin to fiscal policy, territory long off limits to central bankers because it risks taxpayer funds and requires politically fraught decisions about who gets help and who doesn’t.

Podcast: Is it time to worry about inflation — or deflation? (podcast) With the government pumping trillions of new spending into the economy, experts are questioning the Federal Reserve's ability to keep prices stable.

  Fed’s Kaplan Says Consumer Response to ‘Body Blow’ Will Determine Pace of U.S. Recovery - WSJ ‘The part that’s hard to predict, but we’re trying to come to grips with, is what will their spending habits be?,’ Dallas Fed chief Robert Kaplan says The U.S. economy is likely to go through a significant adjustment after the coronavirus pandemic recedes as businesses evaluate how the crisis has reshaped demand for their goods and services, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said in an interview. Heading into the virus-induced downturn, manufacturing, trade and business investment were sluggish, and those sectors are likely to drag on growth after the virus recedes, Mr. Kaplan said. The bigger question is how consumer spending recovers “from somewhat of a body blow,” he said...

Janet Yellen Decided to Share Her Worst Nightmares on CNBC Today - Pam Martens - Bulls on Wall Street were likely nonplussed at former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as her interview progressed on CNBC today. It was like she woke up from a terrible nightmare, threw on a little lipstick and dialed into CNBC to share her horrifying vision with an already shell-shocked public. Yellen said the economy had taken a “huge, unprecedented, devastating hit.” One of those adjectives might have been enough for a seasoned economist. Yellen dropped the breathtaking tidbit that second quarter GDP could see a contraction of 30 percent. She then ran through a gut-wrenching laundry list of what could go wrong on the road to trying to get a V-shaped recovery, mentioning the following potential roadblocks: “…if households have run down their savings and had to dip into retirement savings, or are behind on their bills, and have higher debt and lower wealth, their spending patterns are not likely to go back to what they were…I’m afraid we will see bankruptcies….”Yellen said there are worse letters to describe the type of recovery we may get and “L” is not the worst of them. Despite the fact that the Fed has been forced to pump out more than $6 trillion to Wall Street’s trading houses (which own the biggest banks in New York) in the four months before there were any coronavirus cases in the U.S., Yellen repeated the official delusional mantra that “we have a strong, well capitalized banking system.” She added that “we’re seeing the benefits of that.” Yellen didn’t name any of those benefits and the benefits certainly cannot be seen in the stability of the mega banks’ share prices or their willingness to lend in the repo market. Yellen also said that she thought “stress testing has been a tremendously important innovation.” That’s despite the fact that multiple federal agencies have said the Fed isdoing the stress tests all wrong and not measuring where the real risks reside. Asked if the Fed should be buying stocks, Yellen said the Fed is not legally allowed to buy stocks, that it’s restricted to buying government debt and agency debt that has government backing. Yellen isn’t, apparently, on top of the more recent “innovations” at the Fed. The Fed announced on March 23 that it would be allowing the New York Fed to buy corporate bonds under a facility to be known as the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility. The strategy is, apparently, to buy up all of those BBB-rated investment grade bonds before they turn to junk-rated on the books of the mega Wall Street banks and cause a credit downgrade of the banks themselves. Yellen also didn’t mention that the Fed is already taking stocks and toxic waste known as Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) as collateral for making loans to Wall Street’s trading houses at ¼ of one percent interest under one of its new emergency lending programs known as the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF).

Jamie Dimon Warns Of Coming Bad Recession, Repeat Of 2008 Crisis In Annual Letter - Sounding a markedly more somber note about the global economy than he has in the past few years, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon released his annual 'investor letter' Monday morning, warning the world that, from Dimon's vantage point, at least, the US appears to be on the verge of a "bad recession" that could be exacerbated by "financial; stress similar to the global financial crisis of 2008."Though, leaving off on an optimistic note, he warned that while the challenge ahead might be great, he believes the US economy can emerge from it "stronger" than in the past."We have the resources to emerge from this crisis as a stronger country," Dimon said in the letter. "America is still the most prosperous nation the world has ever seen."This, after sell-side banking analysts have spent the last two weeks telling CNBC's audience that the banks are much better capitalized this time around (though excessive corporate debt is keeping some up at night)."At a minimum, we assume that it will include a bad recession combined with some kind of financial stress similar to the global financial crisis of 2008," Dimon wrote in the letter to shareholders. "Our bank cannot be immune to the effects of this kind of stress."The fact that the CEO's 23-page letter is his shortest in more than a decade (since March 2008, just months before the global economy nearly collapsed) is hardly a surprise: Dimon suffered a sudden 'heart tear' requiring him to have sudden, emergency surgery earlier this month. The letter is roughly one-third the length of last year's screed, where Dimon laid out his vision of a more 'responsible' and 'equitable' iteration of American capitalism, while also warning that 'democratic socialism' was not the way to go. As far as JPM is concerned, Dimon reminds us that the bank's 2020 submission to the annual Fed stress tests indicate that even in an "extremely adverse scenario," JPMorgan can lend out an additional $150 billion for clients. The New York-based bank had $500 billion in total liquid assets and another $300 billion in borrowing ability from Fed sources, he added.

Stockman- This Is Not Your Grandfather's Recession - Based on the shocking 6.6 million of new unemployment claims, we’d bet they’ll be some explosive political fireworks soon in this country about Covid-containment versus keeping the main street economy alive. There have now been an unprecedented, off-the charts 9.96 million new unemployment claims in the last two weeks. For point of reference, it took fully 28 weeks to generate the same level of cumulative new claims after the beginning of the Great Recession. During that interval, the largest weekly number was 387,000 during the week of March 29, 2008. Even when you scroll forward (not shown) to the worst week after the Lehman Bankruptcy meltdown commenced on September 15, the peak number was only 665,000 during the week of March 28, 2009. So today’s new claims number was 10X higher! So, yes, some politically incorrect pundit is likely to note that there are now:

  • 47 jobless workers for every confirmed coronavirus case;
  • 320 jobless for every hospitalization; and
  • 2,112 jobless for every coronavirus death.

Moreover, it virtually certain that cumulative initial claims will hit 20 million before the end of April, thereby doubling the above ratios. That is to say, do they really want 100 jobless workers for every case of a bad winter flu? Well, yes, it seems that our establishment betters can’t get rabid enough urging on a total shutdown of the US economy. Indeed, the thinly disguised subtext in the whole daily MSM narrative for the last couple of days has been that the benighted governors of the Red States are not doing their part to order their economies into instant cardiac arrest. But it took the perennially obnoxious liberal columnist for the New York Times, David Leonhardt, to come right out and say it. Thus, opined Leonhardt: Donald’s Trump’s minions have been putting the public health in grave danger. After resisting the pleas of public health experts for days, the governors of Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi – all states won by President Trump in 2016 – announced yesterday that they will be ordering their residents to stay home, effective Friday. The turnabout from Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, was especially stark….These new lockdowns are welcome, because they will help slow the virus. But they are also coming much later than they should have, A big reason that the virus has been recently spreading more rapidly in the United States than in Europe or Asia is the slow response from American political leaders.Trump spent almost two months falsely claiming the virus was going away…Many Republican governors have chosen to echo him, DeSantis, for instance, acted as if he could stop the virus by merely keeping New Yorkers out of his state. There you have it – a shrill dump of left-wing agitprop and lies that are coming front and center to the debate real soon. Namely, the charge that Trump and his GOP minions caused the coronavirus crisis – so now the regulatory machinery and fiscal resources of the state must be mobilized without limit to wrestle the monster to the ground.

 Q1 GDP Forecasts: Around -7% SAAR -- Note: The NY Fed Nowcast and Atlanta Fed GDPNow models are based on released data and aren't capturing the collapse in the economy in the 2nd half of March. All forecasts, including the Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs forecasts, are for the seasonally adjust annual rate (SAAR) of decline.  From Merrill Lynch: We continue to expect a 7% decline in 1Q [SAAR Apr 10 estimate]  From Goldman Sachs:  We left our Q1 GDP forecast unchanged at -9.0% (qoq ar). However, we continue to expect the advance reading on April 29th to register a smaller decline of -6.5%, reflecting incomplete source data and non-response bias. [Apr 9 estimate] From the NY Fed Nowcasting Report: The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.5% for 2020:Q1 and -0.4% for 2020:Q2. [Apr 10 estimate] .  And from the Altanta Fed: GDPNow: The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2020 is 1.0 percent on April 9, down from 1.3 percent on April 2. … There are no subjective adjustments made to GDPNow—the estimate is based solely on the mathematical results of the model. In particular, it does not capture the impact of COVID-19 beyond its impact on GDP source data and relevant economic reports that have already been released. It does not anticipate the impact of COVID-19 on forthcoming economic reports beyond the standard internal dynamics of the model. [Apr 9 estimate] CR Note: These estimate suggest GDP declined around 7% in Q1.

U.S. Budget Deficit Grew 8% in First Half of Fiscal 2020, Treasury Says – WSJ - The U.S. government was on track for its worst fiscal year since 2012, even before the effects of the coronavirus pandemic had been felt. The budget deficit grew 8% in the first half of the 2020 fiscal year, reaching $743.6 billion in the October-to-March period, the Treasury Department said Friday. That was the largest budget gap for the six-month period since 2012, when government finances were still recovering from the last recession. The gap is forecast to yawn wider in coming months, as large chunks of economic activity remain closed to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. Soaring unemployment and falling corporate profits will leave households and businesses with smaller tax bills, reducing federal revenue. Meanwhile, the government is poised to spend far more on unemployment benefits and other safety-net programs as well as on multiple economic rescue efforts, including the $2 trillion package approved late last month. Goldman Sachs forecasts a federal deficit of $3.6 trillion for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, up from $1.037 trillion in the 12 months through March. “We will certainly see a significant impact to receipts in the April results,” a Treasury official told reporters on a conference call Friday, noting that the closure of some Internal Revenue Service centers have slowed the processing of taxes. “On outlays there will be a significant impact as well, as some of the stimulus programs will have begun to be paid for.” As of last month, neither the government’s revenue nor spending had been substantially affected by efforts to contain the novel coronavirus, the Treasury official said.

In Coronavirus Response, Republicans and Democrats Like Big Government – WSJ = In the scramble to contain the coronavirus financial fallout, U.S. policy makers have embraced an ambitious big-government agenda—from new worker protections to a guaranteed minimum income—that could redefine Washington’s role in the economy. The evolving emergency response playbook, adopted by the White House and congressional leaders from both parties, draws from key elements of the liberal activist platform honed over the past decade.   These include: extending to gig workers unemployment benefits; shielding hard-hit renters from evictions; giving relief to those with student debt; and creating guidelines governing how private companies pay their executives, reward shareholders, and interact with organized labor. Most of these measures—as adopted over the past month through regulation, executive order and the roughly $2 trillion relief package and other legislation—are temporary and are being diluted in the implementing rules. Trump administration officials and congressional Republicans portray these actions as tailored to the unique circumstances of this unusual economic shock, not a longer-term shift in governing principles. Democrats see the policies as just the beginning of a more ambitious overhaul to fix what they consider pre-existing economic ailments exposed by the crisis. These arguments will play out in the coming weeks, as lawmakers debate whether to craft another relief package and to extend any policies enacted so far. Even in limited form, the policies embraced in the pandemic response are significant for shifting the debate over government intervention to fix perceived market failures. This has by no means been a sweeping New Deal-style overhaul. But the pandemic may, like the Great Depression, foster structural policy change that outlasts the calamity itself.  “These tools are now in the tool kit. They will be used again.” One big shift is in the raft of new labor policies. The U.S. has historically favored flexible labor markets, with the government leaving struggling firms free to shed employees, while helping workers find new jobs. By contrast in Europe and Asia, officials prioritize keeping workers in existing jobs. One big shift by the U.S. government is in the raft of new labor policies. The $800 billion in grants and loans for companies comes with incentives and mandates to minimize layoffs. Congress also has authorized funds subsidizing European-style worksharing, in which distressed employers avoid shedding workers by reducing working hours for each employee.

 Pelosi Tells Democrats Next Stimulus To Be At Least $1 Trillion As Goldman Predicts Explosion In US Debt - The SBA and the Treasury have yet to figure out how to distribute the hundreds of billions in small and medium-business rescue funds from the recently passed $2.2 trillion Phase 3 coronavirus bailout bill, and the US government is already planning its next, Phase 4 fiscal stimulus. Earlier this morning, Goldman's chief economist Jan Hatzius wrote that after Congress enacted three fiscal relief measures over the last few weeks - which provide aid to unemployed workers and state governments, payments to individuals, and loans and tax benefits to businesses - "further fiscal support for the economy looks likely to be needed", and Goldman's fiscal forecast assumes that Congress "enacts at least one more fiscal package" because the measures enacted to date, "are not yet equal to the lost income due to COVID-19 that we expect." In further explaining the need for a new stimulus round, Goldman said that "Congress might need to provide further funding for small business loans (and the related loan forgiveness program to subsidize wage payments), unemployment benefits, and fiscal aid to state and local governments" which face a substantial near-term revenue hit, as well as some additional funding for aid to small businesses. Another round of payments to individuals is also a possibility. That said, in most cases Goldman "would expect that many of the “Phase 3” policies that Congress might renew or expand will not be as large the second time around. For example, while there might be additional funding for small business loans, we doubt that Congress would provide as much in “Phase 4” as the $350bn it enacted in “Phase 3." Altogether, Goldman expects this could add another $500bn (2.4% of GDP) to the deficit in the current fiscal year, and as much as $1.5 trillion (7%) more over the next couple of years." The total amount of fiscal relief that has been and will be passed, is summarized on the Goldman table below. 

Larry Summers says coronavirus stimulus package would be hard to execute by the most competent government, but says the US government is 'run like a highly opportunistic family real estate business' - (interview)

  • Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers is worried about the execution of the US relief package that he says would be enormously difficult for the most competent of governments.
  • Instead, he adds, "We have a government that is run like a highly opportunistic family real-estate business where people who aren't in the family aren't treated so well."
  • He says the economic cost will probably be greater than it needs to be because the US is moving too slowly, with too much of that pain set to be borne by ordinary citizens.
  • Summers expects about 20% of the population to be unemployed over the summer and doesn't expect the job market to return to normal until a year and a half after we are free and clear of the disease — whenever that is.
  • The former adviser to President Barack Obama says the administration needs to be using the Defense Production Act more effectively to mobilize supplies and testing.
  • He says we should have a massive infrastructure initiative as opposed to slashing infrastructure investment as state and local budgets are hit by the crisis.

Coronavirus Crisis Legacy: Mountains of Debt – WSJ - The full impact of the coronavirus pandemic may take years to play out. But one outcome is already clear: Government, businesses and some households will be loaded with mountains of additional debt. The federal government budget deficit is on track to reach a record $3.6 trillion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, and $2.4 trillion the year after that, according to Goldman Sachs estimates. Businesses are drawing down bank credit lines and tapping bond markets. Preliminary signs are emerging that some households are turning to credit for funds, too. The debt surge is set to shape how governments and the private sector function long after the virus is tamed. Among other things, it could be a weight on the expansion that follows. Many economists believe low interest rates will help the nation manage the soaring debt load. At the same time, they say high levels of private sector debt could lead to a period of thrift, slowing the recovery if businesses and individuals try to rebuild their savings by holding back on investment and spending. “People and firms and government are facing a negative shock, and the classic textbook prescription for a temporary shock is to do some borrowing to smooth that out,” says Alan Taylor, an economist and historian at the University of California, Davis, who has studied the economic effects of pandemics going back to the Black Death of the 14th century. Borrowing now amounts to a transfer of economic activity from the future to the present. The payback comes later. “You do have something to worry about in terms of the recovery path,” Mr. Taylor said. Past crises and buildups in U.S. government debt led to changes in the tax code and sharp fluctuations in inflation. In the private sector, debt loads could become a dividing line between firms that fail and those that emerge more dominant in their industries. Because states generally run balanced budgets to avoid large debt, they are likely to dip into rainy day funds in the weeks ahead and could turn quickly to cost cutting to keep their budgets in line in a downturn, squeezing the economy. Moody’s Analytics sees $90 billion to $125 billion of such cuts or tax increases coming and says the hits will be unevenly spread around the country. New York, Michigan, West Virginia, Louisiana, Missouri, Wyoming and North Dakota are especially vulnerable, it said.

US Treasury To Ask For $200 Billion More In Small Business Loans  -Amid a surge in demand for the first tranche, the US Treasury is preparing to ask Congress for a further $200 billion for the small business lending program, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. This would increase the total size of the so-called Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to $550 billion. As WaPo notes, Banks and the Small Business Administration have been overwhelmed by applications since the program began operating on Friday, leading President Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) - who authored the program - and others to predict the need for more funds.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he would work with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.):"Congress needs to act with speed and total focus to provide more money for this uncontroversial bipartisan program. I will work with Secretary Mnuchin and Leader Schumer and hope to approve further funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by unanimous consent or voice vote during the next scheduled Senate session on Thursday," McConnell said in a statement. The fact that Treasury would make the request on just the third day of the program's existence underscores the surging demand for businesses to obtain financing as many of them struggle to avoid closing.

Small-Business Loans Face Delays Even as Coronavirus Program Expands – WSJ —Despite the Trump administration’s promise to deliver aid quickly, small-business owners who have applied for federally guaranteed loans to keep them afloat during the coronavirus pandemic are still largely waiting for the money, according to business advocates and banking industry officials. The $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program opened a week ago with loans to companies with 500 or fewer employees and expands Friday to include independent contractors and self-employed individuals. Yet even as the program expands, the first applicants are still waiting for funding, fueling anxiety among business owners whose revenue has tanked and whose bills are piling up. “There are very few business owners who have successfully gotten the money,” said Amanda Ballantyne, executive director of the Main Street Alliance, a small-business advocacy group. “Money isn’t flowing yet.” Ms. Ballantyne and others point to several reasons for the delay. Chief among them is inadequate guidance given to banks from the Small Business Administration related to loan closing, as well as the agency’s technology used to process loans and approve new lenders. The SBA’s loan portal, called E-Tran, has some banks inputting borrower information manually, with bank employees spending anywhere from 25 to 75 minutes per application, a trade association executive said. And banks say they have experienced crashes repeatedly, including a lengthy outage that at least some experienced Tuesday.

Senate will vote to pass more small business aid Thursday, McConnell says - Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said he hopes to approve further funding Thursday to buoy small businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. “I will work with Secretary Mnuchin and Leader Schumer and hope to approve further funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by unanimous consent or voice vote during the next scheduled Senate session on Thursday,” he said in a statement. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, flagged the news in a tweet moments before McConnell’s statement. Congress late last month approved a $350 billion small business program as part of a more than $2 trillion stimulus bill aimed at helping the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The program is aimed at helping small businesses that provide the engine of employment and entrepreneurship in the U.S. economy. The small business measures aim to help companies cover payroll and other expenses during the punishing outbreak. Firms with fewer than 500 employees can use the money to cover salary, wages and benefits, with a maximum loan of $10 million or 250% of monthly payroll Still, the initial rollout of the ambitious program faced challenges as banks hurried to prepare themselves to assist with the efforts. The Treasury last night posted answers to a series of frequently asked questions to help address initial confusion over topics like eligibility requirements. Those challenges may be a point of debate in any proposal to add to the program. A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement to CNBC, “Senator Schumer has not heard from Senator McConnell, and [the small business committee’s ranking member] Senator Cardin D-Md has not heard from Senator Rubio.” Sens. Cardin, Schumer and others issues a release Tuesday urging that a portion of the small business lending program be reserved for companies without relationships to banks. In hopes of expediting the process of delivering loans, some banks have hoped they can prioritize those with whom they have existing relationships. But Schumer and other Democratic Senators warned that some companies may get left behind.

Behind the scenes, private equity angles for a piece of stimulus - The private-equity industry is pressing members of Congress and senior Trump administration officials, including President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, to help them gain access to billions of dollars of stimulus funds to protect their riskier investments. The rush of behind-the-scenes jockeying by the powerful financial sector has raised the prospect that an industry often known for slashing workforces could tap into the program designed as a life raft for small businesses. The intense appetite among private-equity firms to get a bigger piece of the stimulus windfall has put a spotlight on the numerous ties between wealthy industry figures and Trump and his family - raising questions about potential conflicts of interest as the Treasury Department writes the rules for handing out billions of dollars in loans and grants. One significant connection to the industry is through Kushner, a top White House official whose family real estate company received millions in loans from Apollo Global Management, a New York-based private equity firm. Two weeks ago, a partner at Apollo sent a personal email to Kushner suggesting steps the administration should take to ensure that companies with private-equity investment get access to stimulus loan programs, according to two people briefed on the correspondence, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private communication. More broadly, top private-equity leaders have given Trump counsel as the coronavirus pandemic has shaken the economy. Days before the passage of the $2 trillion stimulus package, an elite group of financiers - including the heads of two major private-equity firms Blackstone Group and Vista Equity - offered advice to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on a conference call, according to people familiar with the discussion. The private-equity industry is pushing to qualify for various pots of stimulus funds, arguing that companies with investors should not be left out of the relief effort.

Senate Democrats propose $25,000 hazard-pay plan for essential workers - Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats are proposing to give doctors, nurses and other essential workers, such as grocery store clerks, up to $25,000 in hazard pay as part of the phase four coronavirus relief bill. The bonus pay, which would amount to a $13-per-hour raise, would also go to truck drivers and janitors, who Democrats say are also essential to keeping the health care system and economy running during the crisis. It would stretch from the start of the public health emergency to the end of the year. “As the COVID pandemic has reached alarming new levels, our health care system is strained to the max, our economy is strained to the max. Doctors and nurses, medical personnel of all types are putting their lives on the line every single day to fight this disease and save others,” Schumer said on a conference call introducing the proposal. “And so are people not in the medical profession but in essential services: grocery store workers, truck drivers, drug store workers and pharmacists,” Schumer said. “For these Americans, working from home is not an option. Social distancing is not an option.” “We’re calling it a ‘Heroes Fund’ because that’s who it’s for, our heroes,” he added. The Democratic leader clarified the hazard pay would apply retroactively “to those already working on the front lines.” The benefit would be capped at $25,000 for workers earning less than $200,000 per year and at $5,000 for those earning more than $200,000. The Heroes Fund would provide funding directly to eligible employers so they could then distribute the premium payments.

 Senate adjourns after Democrats block McConnell’s bid to add $250 billion in small business aid - Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a Republican push to unanimously pass a bill to put $250 billion more into a loan program for small businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. With only a few senators in the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to approve the measure by a unanimous vote. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., objected to the request, stalling the legislation. Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said he was not “talking about changing any policy language” the parties negotiated last month as part of an unprecedented $2 trillion emergency spending package. He urged Democrats not to “block emergency aid you do not even oppose just because you want something more” — tweaks to the small business aid program and more emergency funding for hospitals and states, a proposal Democratic leaders outlined Wednesday. After Cardin rejected the measure, he called McConnell’s move to pass the funding a “political stunt.” He pushed for provisions including money for Small Business Administration disaster assistance grants, which people who do not already have a banking relationship can receive. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., then tried to unanimously pass a Democratic amendment. McConnell blocked it, and the Senate adjourned until Monday after a roughly 30-minute pro forma session. It is unclear if Republicans and Democrats will try to reach agreement on emergency legislation to pass in the coming days. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she could try to pass a Democratic bill on Friday — which Republicans can likely block with most representatives out of Washington. McConnell said the small business aid is the only part of the $2 trillion rescue law “at risk of exhausting its funding right now.”

Mnuchin, Congress leaders to hold new talks on next coronavirus aid bill – (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and congressional leaders will hold bipartisan negotiations on a new coronavirus-response bill with the goal of reaching a deal by early next week, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Friday. One day after Republicans failed to ram through the Senate a $250 billion increase in loans for small businesses suffering due to the outbreak, Schumer said in a statement that he had had a “constructive” conversation with Mnuchin. Democrats support the $250 billion in new funding but want to set aside some of the lending for community and minority-owned banks. Besides the small-business funding, Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi are seeking another funding stream of more than $250 billion. It would be dedicated to helping hospitals dealing with surges in patients infected with the coronavirus and aid to state and local governments, along with expanded food aid for the poor. Republicans oppose this second batch of funding, saying it is premature. Democrats call this an “interim” bill to approve before moving onto a potentially broader measure to further help the economy recover from a massive increase in unemployment and business slowdowns as Americans stay at home and wait for the virus to be brought under control. “There’s no reason why we can’t come to a bipartisan agreement by early next week,” Schumer said. Aides to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no comment on the possibility of a deal early next week. And at a mid-afternoon coronavirus news conference, Trump did not signal a willingness to give in to Democrats’ demands. Asked if he would agree to a bill that includes more money for hospitals and state and local governments, Trump said: “I think the hospitals need help — I am OK with that.” But he said such aid should be provided in legislation further down the road.

 Acting Navy boss resigns amid coronavirus uproar: Reports - Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly submitted his resignation Tuesday after facing backlash for calling the ousted captain of a coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier “stupid,” reported CNN and The Associated Press. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. Modly faced public criticism and calls for his resignation by some lawmakers after he lambasted Capt. Brett Crozier on Monday for writing a letter to Navy leaders that was leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle. In his letter, Crozier pleaded for more swift and comprehensive action to address the coronavirus outbreak on his ship, the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Citing a loss of confidence in his judgment, Modly fired Crozier as commander of the ship last week. The captain received a standing ovation from his crew as he departed on Friday. In a blistering address to the Roosevelt’s crew Monday morning, Modly bashed Crozier as “stupid” and “naive,” and called his actions “a betrayal.” Despite criticism for his harsh remarks, Modly said in a statement later Monday that he stood by “every word” of his address. Hours later, he issued an apology, reportedly at Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s request, to the Navy, Crozier and his former crew. “I believe, precisely because he is not naive and stupid, that he sent his alarming email with the intention of getting it into the public domain in an effort to draw public attention to the situation on his ship,” Modly said in a statement. “I apologize for any confusion this choice of words may have caused.”

Acting US Navy secretary resigns amid furor over firing of aircraft carrier Captain Crozier - Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly submitted his resignation Tuesday amid mounting calls for his firing both from within and from without the military.  Modly had become the focus of mounting tensions within the military and between sections of the uniformed officer corps on one side and President Trump and his civilian Pentagon leadership on the other. The divisions sharpened following Modly’s summary firing last Thursday of Captain Brett Crozier, the commander of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Crozier was relieved of command, on the orders of Trump, two days after theSan Francisco Chronicle published a letter he had emailed to senior Navy officers pleading for urgent measures to protect his nearly 5,000-member crew from a spreading outbreak of COVID-19 on the ship. When Crozier sent the email on March 30, more than 90 sailors had tested positive for the virus. As of yesterday morning, the number had risen to more than 230, an increase of 57 over the previous day. It was reported Sunday that Crozier himself had tested positive for COVID-19. In his letter, Crozier called for the immediate removal of 90 percent of the crew and their quarantine and testing onshore in Guam, where the carrier had docked after several sailors tested positive for the virus in March, following a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam. He urged that the remaining crew members be deployed to disinfect the ship before allowing the rest of the sailors back onboard. Calling the plan approved by his immediate superiors—Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, who was embarked on the ship as its strike group commander, and Adm. John Aquilino, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet—insufficient to “achieve virus eradication on any timeline,” he wrote: “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset: our sailors.” Baker and Aquilino had rejected Crozier’s pleas for more aggressive measures out of concerns for taking the carrier out of action and jeopardizing its mission in the western Pacific. Trump, via Modly, overruled the top uniformed officers—Admiral Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—who favored initiating a formal investigation before taking any action against Crozier. Modly told a colleague, “Breaking news: Trump wants him fired.” Announcing the move last Thursday, Modly accused Crozier of violating military discipline and going outside the chain of command. He alluded to the real motives behind the firing when he said “our adversaries need to know” that the “big stick [the nickname for the USS Theodore Roosevelt] is undaunted and unstoppable… They respect and fear the big stick and they should.”

Defense secretary says he's open to reinstating carrier captain who requested coronavirus help - Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he is open to reinstating the Navy captain who was removed from his post last week shortly after asking for help with a coronavirus outbreak aboard his ship. "We've taken nothing off the table,” Esper said on CBS News Friday morning. “My inclination is always to support the chain of command, and to take the recommendations seriously." Capt. Brett Crozier, as commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, sent a letter to Esper pleading for help with an outbreak on the ship that was eventually leaked to the media, which led to his removal. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned Tuesday, a day after transcripts and audio of an inflammatory speech in which he called Crozier "naive" and "stupid” for his actions. The Pentagon is actively investigating Crozier over the letter. "There are always extreme cases where going outside the chain of command makes sense. That's why we want to see where this investigation takes us,” Esper said. Several Navy hospital ships have been sent around the country to alleviate hospital, including in New York City. Esper said Friday that what “keeps him up at night” is maintaining enough medical staff to battle the virus. “The biggest challenge is the medical staff, is making sure you have sufficient doctors and nurses,” he said. “For me, because I have these mobile capability inherent in the military, is to maintain adaptability and be agile."

Mattis defends Pentagon IG removed by Trump -  Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis defended Glenn Fine, the Pentagon inspector general tasked with overseeing the $2 trillion stimulus package passed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, after President Trump replaced Fine earlier in the week.“Mr. Fine is a public servant in the finest tradition of honest, competent governance,” Mattis told Yahoo News in an email. “In my years of extensive engagement with him as our Department of Defense’s acting Inspector General, he proved to be a leader whose personal and managerial integrity were always of the highest order.”  Fine, who has served as acting inspector general at the Pentagon since 2016, will return to his previous position as principal deputy inspector general for the Pentagon, with Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General Sean O’Donnell set to replace him at the Defense Department.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sharply criticized Trump for the move, which came days after the dismissal of Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general who elevated the whistleblower complaint that eventually led to the president’s impeachment.“Since Day One, the President has tried to marginalize and exercise ultimate control over independent Inspectors General,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday. “Yet again, he is doubling down on his signing statement promise to disregard critical oversight provisions that hold the Administration accountable to the law.”Removing inspectors general is a presidential prerogative, although the president is required to articulate the reason for the dismissal to Congress, which Trump has not yet done in the case of Atkinson. Trump also took aim Monday at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS OIG), saying a recent HHS OIG report of “severe” supply shortages at hospitals was “just wrong.” The American Hospital Association said Monday that the report “accurately captures the crisis that hospitals and health systems, physicians and nurses on the front lines face.”

  US military calls for another $20 billion to counter China - Far from easing international geo-political tensions, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged capitalism into a deep crisis and exacerbated pre-existing rivalries. Beneath nominal international co-operation, the preparations for war continue apace. In an article on Sunday entitled “US Military Seeks More Funding for Pacific Region After Pandemic,” the New York Times featured a report by the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) to Congress calling for an additional $20 billion over the next five years to bolster its military capacities against China. The report was mandated by Congress as part of the fiscal 2020 military budget reflecting the bipartisan character of its increasingly hawkish anti-China stance. Congress specifically required that INDOPACOM, in other words the frontline command, rather than the Defence Department, set out what it needed to maintain military superiority over China. The funds would be spent on new radar warning systems and cruise missiles, and would also pay for more exercises with allies, deployments of additional forces and new intelligence-sharing centers. The efforts would help improve the U.S. military’s ability to deter the People’s Liberation Army. INDOPACOM commander Admiral Phil Davidson couched his spending plan, which he termed “Regain the Advantage,” in defensive terms, saying that it was “designed to persuade potential adversaries that any preemptive military action will be extremely costly and likely fail by projecting credible combat power.” His proposals, however, include weaponry of a decidedly aggressive character, including $1 billion to be spent on long-range precision missiles such as the Navy’s Maritime Strike Tomahawk and the Air Force’s JASSM-ER weapon. These would be part of “highly survivable, precision-strike networks along the First Island Chain, featuring increased quantities of allied ground-based weapons.” The other measures include a major build-up of anti-missile systems on Guam, the key forward US military base in the western Pacific, as well as a boosting of radar systems on Palau and Hawaii, and a space-based radar tracking system. While they are construed as “defensive,” such systems are also designed to protect US military assets from Chinese retaliation in the event of a US first strike.

U.S. oil state senators to talk crude markets with Saudi officials Saturday -source (Reuters) - Republican U.S. senators who have introduced a bill that would remove U.S. defense systems and troops in Saudi Arabia unless it cuts oil output will hold a call with the kingdom's officials on Saturday, a source familiar with the planning said on Tuesday. Senators Kevin Cramer and Dan Sullivan will hold a call with the officials two days after a scheduled OPEC+ meeting in which Saudi Arabia and Russia are expected to agree an output cut. The two countries have been pumping oil flat out beginning last month in a race for market share. The senators' bill would remove U.S. troops, Patriot missiles and THAAD defense systems from the kingdom and put them elsewhere in the Middle East unless it cuts oil output. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said stabilization of global oil markets would be discussed but had no more details. Analysts at ClearView Energy Partners said in a note to clients that the senators would likely reiterate their threats to withhold military support. "If there is a deal, we would suggest that Saturday's conversation could serve to reinforce decisions taken Thursday or Friday," the note said. If there's no deal, "the call could potentially catalyze further negotiations." The senators' legislation faces an uncertain future as Senator James Inhofe, a senior Republican from oil-producing Oklahoma, has said he prefers to pressure Saudi Arabia and Russia by pushing the Department of Commerce to investigate whether they are excessively dumping oil onto global markets. In addition, the U.S. Congress is not in session until at least April 20 and possibly longer due to the coronavirus outbreak, making quick action on the bill unlikely. Threatening the defense relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is vulnerable to attacks from arch rival Iran without U.S. protection, has given the two senators an outsized role in Washington's campaign to boost oil output. Cramer is from North Dakota, which produces 1.4 million barrels of oil per day, second-most among U.S. states behind Texas. Sullivan is from Alaska, which produces about 480,000 bpd.

Sanctions are crippling Iran’s fight against coronavirus - Pirouz Hanachi, mayor of Tehran - To many of us urban administrators in Iran, the onslaught of coronavirus has underscored an important fact of life: no town, city or nation can be indifferent to global crises, even in far-flung corners of our world. Indeed, while the mantra of good governance over the past century has been to “think global, act local”, we must today think and act both locally and globally. Unfortunately, the small-mindedness that has dominated the politics of various countries in past years has not dissipated. Rather, those who have aggressively advocated pursuit of narrowly defined “national interests” at any cost are doubling down. The consequences of this posturing are many. In Iran, urban administrators are left facing an unprecedented public health crisis. Figures show that 3,160 had died from the disease by 2 April and there are more than 50,000 cases of infection. The rate of infections is not yet slowing, and many of them are in Tehran, the city of which I am mayor. Doubtless there are things that we could do differently, like every country in the world. But we are operating against the backdrop of the most extreme sanctions regime in history. The US embargo not only prohibits American companies and individuals from conducting lawful trade with Iranian counterparts, but given that the sanctions are extra-territorial, all other countries and companies are also bullied into refraining from doing legitimate business with Iranians, even the selling of medicines. As a result, the ability of my colleagues and I to provide the health, logistical and other essential infrastructure necessary to combat the disease has been drastically reduced. We experience this loss every day, and it can be counted in people that would not have died. This unjust treatment of Iran has come about via the policies of one country – the United States – whose ruling administration does not seem to prioritise even its own national interests, but instead the narrow interests of a governing party. The outcome of such irresponsible policies and behaviour is not limited to Iran; they have also inflicted harm on the American public. Indeed, the Donald Trump administration’s refusal to halt its economic warfare against Iran is directly impeding our efforts to deal with a virus which knows no borders. Is it in the US’s national interest for the coronavirus pandemic to become permanent? In order to better confront these new global crises, there is a need for politicians to realise that the path to pursuing national interests is not separate or contrary to that of global interests and international accountability. Of equal importance, it must be recognised that as long as the general consensus in international politics does not actively move toward reducing injustice and inequality beyond national and racial boundaries, global crises will continue to indiscriminately endanger every country in the world. The world cannot go on like this. If global leaders fail to seize the opportunity to embrace change, we will all continue to remain highly vulnerable to communicable diseases, environmental catastrophes, global warming, terrorism, violent extremism and other shared threats. • Pirouz Hanachi is the mayor of Tehran

 Joe Biden says he ‘doesn’t have enough information’ on Iran to have a view. How odd – he negotiated the nuclear deal - Robert Fisk. A few days ago, Bernie Sanders announced that US sanctions should not be contributing to Iran’s “humanitarian disaster” and that its economic war against Tehran should, at least temporarily, during the coronavirus crisis, be lifted. So what did Joe think about that? Well, the wordsmith frontrunner responded with this imperishable statement: “I don’t have enough information about the situation in Iran right now.” Now this was very odd. Was not Biden the vice president under the Obama administration that actually negotiated the Iran nuclear accord – and which Donald Trump tore up in 2018? Even weirder was Biden’s continuing blather on the subject. “There’s a lot of speculation from my foreign policy team that they’re [sic] in real trouble and they’re [sic] lying. But I would need more information to make that judgement. I don’t have the national security [sic] information available.” Well, he could have fooled me. Clearly Biden isn’t planning to help the Iranians, although – like a lot of voters – I’m not quite clear whom he’s accusing of lying. Does he think the Iranians are telling fibs? Or the Trump administration? Since the Iranians initially kept quiet about shooting down a Ukrainian airliner and may well have dissembled about the start of the coronavirus – and then Trump originally denied that the coronavirus even existed – we can safely conclude that both Iran and Trump lie through their teeth. So I guess it doesn’t matter what Biden meant. Which is one of his problems. And what, may I ask, did he mean by “national security information”? I guess the Saudis could tell him, since “security” has been their logo – we’ll have to forget poor dismembered Jamal Khashoggi in all this – ever since its present Crown Prince launched his hopeless and bloody intervention against the Houthis in Yemen just over five years ago. But now the Houthis have popped up with an intriguing offer: a Saudi pilot and four other Saudi military prisoners in exchange for dozens of Palestinians on trial in the kingdom for “supporting terrorism”. Now we all know that the Saudis are always putting some poor chap or other on trial. Foreign “terrorists”, Shia activists (“terrorists” again) and disloyal Saudis are always appearing at grotesque “legal” hearings – in secret, and with no defence lawyers – in the kingdom and, quite often, have their heads chopped off afterwards.

Trump considering suspending funding to WHO - President Trump said Tuesday that he would consider placing a hold on funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), expressing grievances with its handling of the novel coronavirus. “They missed the call. They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and they should have known, and they probably did know,” Trump told reporters at a White House press briefing, suggesting the WHO failed to sufficiently warn the global community about the virus. “We’re going to be looking into that very carefully, and we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” Trump continued. “We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it, and we’re going to see. It’s a great thing if it works, but when they call every shot wrong, that’s not good.” Pressed later by a reporter on whether it was a good idea to put a hold on funding during a global pandemic, the president clarified that he was considering suspending funding to the WHO. “I’m not going to say I’m going to do it,” Trump said. “We will look at ending funding.” The United States is the largest contributor to the WHO’s budget. The president’s fiscal 2021 budget request proposed slashing funding to the WHO, a body of the United Nations responsible for international public health, from $122 million to about $58 million. The president said the WHO seemed to be “very biased towards China” and accused the organization of disagreeing with his travel restriction on flights coming in from China. He suggested the organization was blind to the extent of the outbreak in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province, where the virus originated. 

Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill  - Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday pledged to cut funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Congress's next appropriations bill unless it makes changes to its leadership. Graham said during an appearance on Fox News that he would use his position as chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign operations to ensure the WHO did not get funding from the U.S. "I’m not going to support funding the WHO under its current leadership," Graham said. "They’ve been deceptive, they’ve been slow, and they’ve been Chinese apologists. I don’t think they’re a good investment under the current leadership for the United States, and until they change their behavior and get new leadership, I think it’s in America’s best interest to withhold funding because they have failed miserably when it comes to the coronavirus." Graham's comments came as President Trump on Tuesday repeatedly threatened to cut funding for the WHO, a body of the United Nations responsible for international public health, citing its response to the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The president said during a White House coronavirus task force briefing that the organization deserves criticism over its handling of the coronavirus, claiming it seemed "very biased towards China," where COVID-19 originated. "We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it, and we’re going to see. It’s a great thing if it works, but when they call every shot wrong, that’s not good," Trump said before backtracking and saying that he is still considering the move at this time. Graham said on Fox News that he would "take the burden off the president" by cutting funding to the WHO. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the vice chairman of the panel, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Hill.

Trump Admin Wants To 'Work Directly' With Wuhan Institute Of Virology - Surprisingly, even CNN has much-belatedly and very unexpectedly started posing critical questions centered on the Wuhan Institute of Virology while doing a review of various theories as to COVID-19's origins. CNN on Monday cited that "one expert, a chemical biology professor and  bioweapons expert at Rutgers University, has suggested to several media outlets that the lab-accident theory has credence.""The possibility that the virus entered humans through a laboratory accident cannot and should not be dismissed," Dr. Richard Ebright told CNN in an email Sunday. This comes more than two months after the mainstream media went ballistic over our posing the same questions. In late January we had asked whether a prolific Chinese scientist who was experimenting with bat coronavirus at a level-4 biolab in Wuhan China was responsible for the current outbreak of a virus which is 96% genetically identical - and which saw an explosion in cases at a wet market located just down the street.And now this via Reuters Tuesday: "A senior Trump administration official urged China on Tuesday to allow the United States to work directly with laboratories in Wuhan on research into the novel coronavirus, saying this was critical to saving lives globally."  “We would appreciate the opportunity to work directly with their Virology labs in Wuhan to share whatever research they have,” the Trump admin official said.The unnamed administration official explained:“Since the pandemic originated in Wuhan, we think cooperation with PRC medical and disease experts there is critical to saving lives globally.”Well yes, it's about time there's some official movement centered on the very place most likely to hold the keys to the mystery of both COVID-19's origins and how to combat it and/or prevent it. The admin statement is specifically in response to an apparent fast thawing of tensions between Beijing and Washington on the outbreak, after a month-long war of words trading accusations over its handling. China's ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai, said in a NYT op-ed Sunday that despite recent “unpleasant talk” between the two centered on the pandemic, it's now time for “solidarity, collaboration and mutual support.”

Kayleigh McEnany expected to be next White House press secretary - AOL News— President Donald Trump on Tuesday is expected to name campaign aide Kayleigh McEnany as the White House press secretary, replacing Stephanie Grisham, who will return to work for first lady Melania Trump, according to people familiar with the discussions. The reshuffling comes days after Trump's new chief of staff, former Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., began work amid a scramble within the administration to respond to the coronavirus crisis and increasing criticism that it was not prepared to combat the outbreak. McEnany, who is currently a press secretary for Trump’s re-election campaign, has been a fierce defender of the president on cable television, often making controversial statements like saying in February that "we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here." Before joining the campaign, McEnany was a CNN contributor and spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.

 Coronavirus fight: White House health advisor Fauci says we may never get back to ‘normal - ’The world may never get back to what it considered “normal” before the coronavirus emerged from Wuhan, China a little over three months ago and spread to more than 1.3 million people across the world, U.S. health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a White House press briefing Monday. Gradually, we’ll be able to “function as a society. But you’re absolutely right, if you want to get to pre-coronavirus, that might not ever happen in the sense that the threat is there.” Fauci said a number therapies are in the pipeline and several potential vaccines are in the works, giving him faith “that we will never have to get back to where we are right now.” Even when a vaccine is developed, he said things may never return to what was considered normal before the virus, because it will always be a looming threat in society. He previously said that the virus will likely come back every year, especially without a vaccine to prevent future outbreaks. However, he said Monday that he’s hoping scientists will develop therapeutic drugs and a workable vaccine in the meantime that will help contain the virus better than it is today. “When we say ‘getting back to normal’ we mean something very different from what we’re going through right now, because right now we are in a very intense mitigation,” Fauci said. “If ‘back to normal’ means acting like there never was a coronavirus problem, I don’t think that’s going to happen until we do have a situation where you can completely protect the population” with a vaccine, he said. COVID-19 has spread to almost every country in the world, killing more than 74,000. The worst outbreak is in the U.S. where there are more than 362,000 cases and at least 10,781 deaths. The U.S. is no longer trying to contain the virus. State and federal officials are trying to mitigate the damage wrought by COVID-19 as it tears through the nation. The U.S. is also working on antibody testing that would determine whether someone was exposed to the virus and had the antibodies to fight it. That would also tell health officials how far it actually spread. “Ultimately, the show stopper will obviously be a vaccine,” Fauci said.

US Government’s Handling of Coronavirus Crisis Has Led to Severe Undercounting of Deaths, Public Health Officials Say Decision-making by the U.S. government early on during the coronavirus outbreak has likely led to the country severely undercounting the number of deaths from the virus, officially known as COVID-19, according to public health experts. As of Sunday, more than 328,000 people in the U.S. had confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and more than 9,000 have died of the respiratory disease. But as the Washington Post reported Sunday, many deaths from respiratory failure and other recorded causes in the first weeks that the virus was spreading across the country may actually have been related to COVID-19. "The battle to prevent Americans from understanding what went down January to April is going to be one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in modern U.S. history." —Jay Rosen, NYU The U.S. has lagged far behind many other wealthy nations in making testing widely available to the public. In January, German researchers developed a test for the disease which was soon used by countries including South Korea, which has been praised as one of the most successful countries in the world in the fight to detect and slow the spread of the illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declined to use the test, leading the agency to ration the tests that were available to Americans. In February and March, Americans including healthcare workers reported showing symptoms of the virus and having been exposed to sick people, only to have the CDC turn down their requests for testing. Even now that testing is more widely available in the U.S., the Post reported Sunday, potential coronavirus patients in nursing homes and prisons, where the disease is spreading rapidly, have limited access. The CDC is only including a death in the official toll if the patient had a lab test confirming coronavirus. "We know that it is an underestimation," CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told the Post. Meanwhile, South Korea was testing about 10,000 people per day as of mid-March, giving the government an accurate measure of who had the disease and needed to be quarantined. The country's reported death toll is under 200.

 Coronavirus: A Theory of Incompetence - Yves Smith -- Leaders in the public and private sector in advanced economies, typically highly credentialed, have with very few exceptions shown abject incompetence in dealing with coronavirus as a pathogen and as a wrecker of economies. The US and UK have made particularly sorry showings, but they are not alone.It’s become fashionable to blame the failure to have enough medical stockpiles and hospital beds and engage in aggressive enough testing and containment measures on capitalism. But as I will describe shortly, even though I am no fan of Anglosphere capitalism, I believe this focus misses the deeper roots of these failures.After all the country lauded for its response, South Korea, is capitalist. Similarly, reader vlade points out that the Czech Republic has had only 2 coronavirus deaths per million versus 263 for Italy. Among other things, the Czech Republic closed its borders in mid-March and made masks mandatory. Newscasters and public officials wear them to underscore that no one is exempt. Even though there are plenty of examples of capitalism gone toxic, such as hospitals and Big Pharma sticking doggedly to their price gouging ways or rampant production disruptions due to overly tightly-tuned supply chains, that isn’t an adequate explanation. Government dereliction of duty also abound. The US for decades has as a matter of policy tried to reduce the number of hospital beds, which among other things has led to the shuttering of hospitals, particularly in rural areas. Hero of the day, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo pursued this agenda with vigor, as did his predecessor George Pataki. And even though Trump has made bad decision after bad decision, from eliminating the CDC’s pandemic unit to denying the severity of the crisis and refusing to use government powers to turbo-charge state and local medical responses, people better qualified than he is have also performed disastrously. America’s failure to test early and enough can be laid squarely at the feet of the CDC. As New York Magazine pointed out on March 12:In a functional system, much of the preparation and messaging would have been undertaken by the CDC. In this case, it chose not to simply adopt the World Hea lth Organization’s COVID-19 test kits — stockpiling them in the millions in the months we had between the first arrival of the coronavirus in China and its widespread appearance here — but to try to develop its own test. Why? It isn’t clear. But they bungled that project, too, failing to produce a reliable test and delaying the start of any comprehensive testing program by a few critical weeks. The testing shortage is catastrophic: It means that no one knows how bad the outbreak already is, and that we couldn’t take effectively aggressive measures even we wanted to.

The Coronavirus Monsters On Main Street  -- So in 2020, in what The New York Times calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening appears to rest with one man. But China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine).The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The media has spent three years seeding our thoughts he is deadly. So what if they got the details wrong–it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine–it was this, we finally found it.  They say that Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018, which would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. One man was fired, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. No matter that Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, with little real-world pandemic experience. No matter that he wasn’t a doctor or scientist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a newbiodefense directorate. No matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. Well, maybe this is all because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH. Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals did call for reduced funding, but Congress said no every time. But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. To blame Trump requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, in the middle of impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.”The problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a milliontests were available. The initial roll out of a CDC-designed test kit was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent (the CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade). CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not inaction, it is science.

Fauci: 'Looks like' US deaths will be lower than original projection -Anthony Fauci said Wednesday morning that he thinks the number of U.S. deaths from coronavirus will end up being less than the original projection of 100,000 to 200,000. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, attributed the drop to the success of social distancing measures that have directed people to stay home and closed many businesses. “Although one of the original models projected 100- to 200,000 deaths, as we're getting more data and seeing the positive effect of mitigation, those numbers are going to be downgraded,” Fauci said on Fox News. “I don't know exactly what the numbers are going to be, but right now it looks like it's going to be less than the original projection.” By the end of March, the White House was projecting 100,000 to 240,000 deaths as America's best-case scenario for the pandemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield made similar comments on Tuesday, saying he expected the number of deaths to be “much lower” than what was predicted by the models. A closely watched University of Washington model is now projecting about 60,000 deaths in the U.S. Despite some hopeful signs, Fauci emphasized that now is not the time to ease up on social distancing measures, the best way to keep improving the outlook. “We're going to start to see the beginning of a turnaround, so we need to keep pushing on the mitigation strategies because there's no doubt that that's having a positive impact,” he said. “Now's not the time to pull back at all,” he added. “It's a time to intensify.”

Tucker Carlson On Fauci's Quarantine Call- Pushing “National Suicide” While He Has Job Security - Tucker Carlson on Friday night blasted Dr. Anthony Fauci for his lately publicly urging the Trump administration to declare a federally-imposed 'stay at home' order across all 50 states, while also underscoring the FOX host still considers the White House coronavirus task force member and nation's top infectious disease expert to be an “impressive person”.“We’ve interviewed Dr. Fauci respectfully on this program, and we’d gladly do that again if he came back, and he will come back. He’s an impressive person. But that does not mean that he’s never wrong,” Carlson said. “On the question of this pandemic, Fauci has been wrong repeatedly.”Carlson expressed he's particularly bothered by Fauci’s recommendation of a national quarantine given that economic devastation would be pretty much assured. The night prior Dr. Fauci told CNN's Anderson Cooper during a coronavirus town hall: "I don't understand why that's not happening." He said further, "You know, the tension between federally mandated versus states' rights to do what they want is something I don't want to get into," and added, "But if you look at what's going on in this country, I just don't understand why we're not doing that." Carson slammed Fauci's “extreme measures” as tantamount to "national suicide": “More than 10 million Americans have already lost their jobs. Imagine another year of this. That would be national suicide, and yet, that is what Anthony Fauci is suggesting, at least. Now, we’re not suggesting that Fauci wants to hurt America. We don’t think he does, he seems like a very decent man. But Fauci is not an economist or for that matter someone who fears being unemployed himself. Like most of the people around him. This is not an attack, this is just an observation. Fauci has bulletproof job security. He’s not thinking that way. He has the luxury of looking at the world through the narrow lens of his profession. He doesn’t seem to think much outside that lens.”

Even with already-passed relief and recovery measures, job losses from the coronavirus shock could easily exceed 20 million - The effect of the novel coronavirus and the public health measures enacted to slow its spread—particularly “social distancing”—have been profound for economic activity in the United States. We have already seensome of the leading edge of this effect in recent data releases. This post highlights some recent forecasts of the effects of the coronavirus shock on measures of economic activity, and what these contractions in economic activity mean for jobs. Its key findings are:

  • Forecasts of the size of the drag on growth imposed by the coronavirus (and associated public health measures) have risen rapidly in recent weeks.
  • Currently, forecasts indicate that gross domestic product (GDP) will be roughly 12.8% smaller by the end of June 2020 due to coronavirus effects—an extraordinarily fast economic collapse.
  • To return to pre-shock economic health by the middle of 2021, at least $1.4 trillion in additional recovery spending would be needed—with $2 trillion being a more prudent target.
  • A contraction this rapid would be consistent with job loss of roughly 19.8 million by the end of June 2020.
  • This estimate of 19.8 million jobs lost could be too high or too low, for a number of reasons. For example, employers could reduce hours instead of laying off workers, and policies to keep workers on the payroll may be effective, keeping job losses down. Or coronavirus effects may be concentrated in relatively labor-intensive industries, so employment might actually fall faster than GDP. A plausible range is between 18 and 28 million jobs lost.

On March 15, Goldman Sachs forecast that GDP would contract at a 5% annualized rate in the second quarter of 2020. On March 20, their forecast jumped to 24% annualized contraction. And on March 31, their forecast for second quarter contraction grew to 34%. This pattern of rapid deterioration in projected coronavirus-related contraction has been true across literally every other forecaster. The logic of these forecasts of rapid and historically large collapses in GDP is easy to see. Even a 5% across-the-board contraction in consumer spending over a short period of time (say because a housing price bubble popped) can send the economy into a steep recession. But the coronavirus is causing well over half of all economic activity in some major sectors to stop dead. For example, accommodations and food service by itself accounts for 14% of all consumer spending. If economic activity in just this sector is cut in half, this alone can drive a steep recession. But, of course, other sectors are also affected and contraction in some sectors will be well over 50%.

Lockdowns work II - (see graphs) Several weeks ago Italy was the poster child for an out-of-control pandemic. It implemented a strict nationwide lockdown. Here are its daily number of new infections: Next came Spain, which overtook Italy in the total number of infections. It also implemented a nationwide lockdown. Here are its daily number of new infections: Within the US, Washington State started a local lockdown almost immediately, and was among the first to start a Statewide lockdown. Here are its daily number of new infections, which have plateaued at about 75 per 1 million per capita: The State of California as a whole was one of the first three States to go to a Statewide lockdown 16 days ago. Here are its daily number of new infections, which plateaued at about 35 per 1 million population (the spike on the last day is probably due to clearance of a huge backlog in. Testing): Hawaii, besides lockdowns, being islands, started a ban/quarantine on incoming visitors. Here are its daily number of new infections: Finally, here is the US as a whole. As more and more State lockdowns take effect, the increase in the number of new cases has been slowing: Here is a graph from Kevin Drum showing the daily rate of increase of new infections for the US: Obviously they aren’t the only answer, because aggressive testing, tracing, and quarantine of those in contact with new cases must be implemented for a successful regimen, but the fact is, lockdowns work. The sooner they are implemented, the sooner the daily number of new infections peak.

Dire Economic Numbers Intensify Debate Over Lifting Coronavirus Restrictions – WSJ - Record-setting jobless claims and dire economic forecasts are giving fresh urgency to the debate within the Trump administration and across the country over how rapidly coronavirus-fueled restrictions should be pared back so the economy can begin its revival. President Trump has expressed eagerness to move quickly, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC Thursday that he thought the U.S. economy could be ready to reopen by the end of May, “as soon as the president feels comfortable with the medical issues.” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell also nodded to growing debate. “I do think it’s time to have a serious public conversation and a lot of analysis about that,” he said Thursday in an interview webcast by the Brookings Institution. “We need to have a plan nationally for reopening the economy. We all want it to happen as quickly as possible.” As for when it would be safe for businesses to reopen and for people to go back to work, Mr. Powell said “most people expect that to happen in the second half of this year, after the second quarter, which of course ends on June 30.” He declined to be more specific.  Within the administration, the debate has frequently pitted public-health officials, who have urged caution on lifting restrictions, and economic officials who want to move on a faster timetable. The latter group could gain a new platform, as the White House weighed the creation of a new economy-focused coronavirus task force, in addition to the existing task force led by Vice President Mike Pence, according to administration officials. The new task force would consist of the president’s top economic advisers, including Mr. Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and Kevin Hassett, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Mr. Hassett has returned to the White House to advise the president. Aides also said Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, would also likely be a member of the task force. Administration officials have started contacting outside economic experts and other allies of the president to gauge their interest in working with the task force, a person familiar with the matter said. Some administration officials downplayed the likelihood that the second task force would be formed. If it is, they added, it would be one of a handful of working groups focused on specific issues pertaining to the outbreak. Mr. Kudlow told reporters Thursday afternoon that the president is seeking guidance about reopening the economy from people inside and outside the government. “No one wants to reopen America more than Donald Trump, but the president has told us we need to do it responsibly,”

April 6 Update: US COVID-19 Test Results - Note: the large increase Saturday in test results reported was due to California working through the backlog of pending tests.  Test-and-trace is a key criteria in starting to reopen the country.   My current guess is test-and-trace will require around 300,000 tests per day at first since the US is far behind the curve.  Some scientists believe we need around 800,000 tests per day. Notes: Data for the previous couple of days is updated and revised, so graphs might change.  Also, I'm no longer including pending tests.  So this is just test results reported daily.There were 155,063 test results reported over the last 24 hours.  This data is from the COVID Tracking Project. The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 19% (red line).  The US needs enough tests to push  the percentage below 5% (probably much lower).

Trump Team Preps Plans to Reopen Economy That Depend on Testing -- The White House is developing plans to get the U.S. economy back in action that depend on testing far more Americans for the coronavirus than has been possible to date, according to people familiar with the matter. The effort would likely begin in smaller cities and towns in states that haven’t yet been heavily hit by the virus. Cities such as New York, Detroit, New Orleans and other places the president has described as “hot spots” would remain shuttered. The planning is in its early stages. But with encouraging signs that the outbreak has plateaued in New York after an aggressive but economically costly social-distancing campaign, President Donald Trump and his top economic advisers are once again boldly talking about returning Americans to work. “We’re looking at the concept where we open sections of the country and we’re also looking at the concept where you open up everything,” Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News on Tuesday night. Trump has sought a pathway to return Americans to work and schools since early March, even when his top health advisers recommended against it. As the outbreak mushroomed to hundreds of thousands of cases -- filling hospitals in New York City and threatening to overwhelm health systems elsewhere -- he backed away from a return to normal until at least the end of April. But he continues to show his frustration with a pandemic that has blunted his best argument for re-election, the strength of the U.S. economy. “We had the greatest economy in the history of the world, we had the most people working in the history of our country, almost 160 million people, far more than ever before. And then one day, our professionals correctly came to us and they said, ‘sorry, sir, we have to close down our country,’” Trump lamented Monday at a White House news conference. The White House’s dilemma is that Trump didn’t lead on social distancing -- he endorsed the practices only after many governors, municipal leaders, businesses and ordinary Americans had already begun isolating themselves. It isn’t clear that they will respond if Trump urges Americans to resume normal business practices and socializing before the outbreak abates. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is one of Trump’s top medical advisers on the outbreak, said Wednesday in a Fox News interview that members of the president’s coronavirus task force talked late into the evening on Tuesday about what it might look like to begin re-opening the economy. “You don’t want to let up at a time that’s premature,” he said. But he said U.S. social distancing efforts appear to have been effective at reducing the toll of the virus, meaning fewer people will die than the 100,000 to 240,0000 the White House projected last week.

Trump administration says frontline workers can go back to work sooner after virus exposure - First responders and health care workers across the country had previously been off the job isolating for two weeks — the estimated period in which an individual can develop symptoms — after being within 6 feet of a coronavirus patient. That stricter guidance has significantly squeezed the front-line workforce. “We really looked at the essential workforce and how to maintain that workforce, particularly at this time as we begin to get ready to reopen and have confidence in bringing our workforces back to work,” Redfield said. The new guidance includes three main conditions: Essential workers who have been exposed to the virus must take their temperature before going to work, wear a face mask and practice social distancing at all times. It's unclear if the CDC guidance advises health workers to wear a specific kind of mask, like an N95, which has been in short supply in many parts of the country. Redfield also said the CDC is advising people returning to work after coronavirus exposure to avoid congregating in break rooms, lunch rooms or crowded places, and he said employers should increase air exchange in offices and more frequently clean surfaces in communal spaces.

Martin Wolf and Wishful Thinking on Ending Coronavirus Lockdowns --Yves Smith --Many commentators have observed that the economic damage of the coronavirus will likely kill more people than the pathogen itself. Too many people then move to arguments like “So let’s isolate only the elderly”1 or “We must therefore minimize damage to the economy.” We’ll turn to Martin Wolf of the Financial Times’ urgings on that front in due course.The problem is that there are times you can’t have what you want and this is one of them, big time. Our old way of living will never fully come back. And too much fixation on “We need to relax the lockdowns because economy” is bypassing the hard thinking and work that still hasn’t been done enough to help more of us function better before we have either effective treatments that greatly reduce the number of serious cases or a vaccine.2While China has loosened up on its restrictions, it’s not back to normal due to a combination of some workers reportedly not having returned for duty plus factories not being able to go into full schedules due to lack of new orders thanks to lockdowns in Europe and the US. But there are also rumors that infections have come back. Some countries like Austria, the Czech Republic and Denmark are planning to relax their restrictions in the next few weeks; we’ll have a much better picture a month after that happens of how much reversion takes place.But the big problem for most countries, particularly the US with its hollowed out health care system and the UK with its starving of the NHS, is that doctors and nurses are already at the breaking point even in locations where the disease has not peaked. Medical professionals are at even greater risk of bad outcomes than the public at large due to potential exposure to large viral loads when exhausted. The lack of adequate PPE is a disgrace and the failure of the Feds to step in, even more so. The National Nurses Union has issued repeated press releases on the lack of preparedness and needed safety protections. Yet the Washington Post showcases Matt Bai putting on an n95 respirator and medical googles (not ski mask made-dos) and other coverings. Not saying that Bai isn’t still taking serious risk, but that the Post is helping propagate the myth that front-line conditions are better than they are.

Trump called relaxing the restrictions his “biggest decision” as federal projections warn of a possible infection spike. As new federal projections warned of a spike in coronavirus infections if shelter-in-place orders were lifted after only 30 days, President Trump said Friday that the question of when to relax federal social distancing guidelines was “the biggest decision I’ll ever make.” As a practical matter, the stay-at-home orders that have kept much of the nation hunkered down have been made by governors and mayors at the state and local levels. But many governors were moved to act in part by the federal guidelines meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Mr. Trump, who has often sounded impatient for the nation — and particularly its economy — to reopen, said that he would listen to the advice of the medical experts before acting, but also said that he would convene a new task force with business leaders on it next week to think about when to act. At a news briefing at the White House on Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that while he had not seen the new projections warning of what would happen if the guidelines were relaxed too quickly, he assumed that any lifting of restrictions would be an increase in cases, which would heighten the need to be able to identity, isolate and trace them. “When we decide at a proper time when we’re going to be relaxing some of the restrictions, there’s no doubt that you’re going to see cases,” he said. “I would be so surprised if we did not see cases. The question is how you respond to them.” Mr. Trump said that he was already thinking about dates when the country might reopen — but added that he would defer to health experts. “We’re looking at a date,” he said. “We hope we’re going to be able to fulfill a certain date. But we’re not doing anything until we know that this country is going to be healthy. We don’t want to go back and start doing it over again.” Asked whether he wanted to ease the social distancing guidelines as soon as May 1, as some reports have indicated, Mr. Trump said that he wanted to reopen the country as soon as possible but that “the facts are going to determine what we do.” He said that he would listen to his health experts if they warn him that that would be too soon. “I listen to them about everything,” he said. “I think they are actually surprised.”

April 11 Update: US COVID-19 Test Results: Still Struggling to Test -- Test-and-trace is a key criteria in starting to reopen the country.   My current guess is test-and-trace will require around 300,000 tests per day at first since the US is far behind the curve.  Some scientists believe we need around 800,000 tests per day. Note: The Financial Times reports that Germany is doing more than 50,000 tests per day (with about one-fourth of the US population). That would be 200,000 in the US.  I rounded up to 300,000 per day since the US is so behind on testing. But there are recommendations that Germany needs 200,000 tests per day to do test-and-trace.  (800,000 adjusted for population). Notes: Data for the previous couple of days is updated and revised, so graphs might change.  This is just test results reported daily. There were 137,181 test results reported over the last 24 hours.  This data is from the COVID Tracking Project. The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 22% (red line).  The US probably needs enough tests to push  the percentage below 5% (probably much lower based on testing in New Zealand).  Test. Test. Test. Protect healthcare workers first!

‘By December, we are going to go through this again’ -  As the United States faces down the dual crises of the Covid-19 pandemic and a widespread shortage of medical supplies and equipment, Dr. Janis Orlowski is working 13-15 hours a day trying to mitigate the damage.  As the chief health care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, she talks with senior government officials daily. She listens to the concerns of some of the biggest hospitals in the country — the shortages of masks and ventilators and ICU beds and doctors and nurses. And she’s sober-minded about the weeks and months ahead.  “I believe that we're going to return to a semi-normal life at the end of May — Memorial Day,” Dr. Orlowski said in an interview for a special coronavirus-focused episode of POLITICO’s Women Rule podcast. “But the other thing that I would say is that we have to prepare ourselves to go through a similar exercise in the fall, in the late fall. If you take a look at the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, and if you take a look at how coronavirus is acting, this is not just the winter and spring of 2020. Probably late November, by December, we are going to go through this again. On Monday, Dr. Orlowski spoke with POLITICO’s Anna Palmer. What follows are excerpts of that interview, edited for length and readability.

The superiority of stay at home orders vs. voluntary social distancing: two graphic proofs - Here are a couple of graphs I pulled last week that I’ve been meaning to post. Together they show that mandatory “stay at home” orders have been much more effective than voluntary social distancing. First, here is a graph of the “change in distance traveled” by county during March:  While almost all counties showed a sharp decline in the average distance travelled - the average decline in counties with only voluntary “social distancing orders” was about -66%, while the average in counties with a mandatory “stay at home” order was over 80%. Second, here is a graph of the average decline compared to normal distance traveled during the latter part of March:  This graph largely overcomes the “retail desert” critique that people in rural areas must travel long distances to, e.g., the nearest grocery store, since it is a companison against *normal* travel in that area. Note that rural areas like West Virginia, parts of Indiana, and northern Michigan show a much sharper decrease in travel than areas in the South and Great Plains that were not under mandatory “stay at home” orders as of March 26 when the data was gathered. It is not surprising that the sharp deceleration in the day by day increases in the number of infections happened once mandatory stay at home orders were issued. Since most of Dixie promulgated such orders within the past week or so, further deceleration is likely given the 2 week incubation period for the coronavirus.

Contact Tracing Could Free America From Quarantine -  It’s a cool fall evening in September 2020. With a bottle of wine in hand, you slide into the front seat of your car to drive to a dinner party with close friends. It’s been eight months since you’ve seen most of them, at least outside of a computer screen. As you’re pulling out of the neighborhood, you feel your phone buzz. It’s an alert from the new agency overseeing the coronavirus outbreak. On the lock screen, you can read the words “be advised.” Your heart sinks as you unlock the phone to read the rest of the message: We have determined that in the past few days, you may have interacted with somebody who has recently tested positive for COVID-19. There is no need to panic. But for the sake of your family, friends, and neighbors, we are relying on your support. As soon as you can, please … You stop reading. You know the drill. You turn off the car, walk back into the house, and open the wine. It will be a bottle for one. Another spell of self-isolation begins now—or at least until you can get tested to prove that you don’t have the coronavirus. This could be a vision of the country’s future. It is a world in which many businesses go back to normal, millions of people return to work, and social-distancing measures are relaxed, as we anxiously navigate a purgatory between the virus’s early-2020 outbreak and its possible resurgence. It is also a world in which the return to normal is predicated on the introduction of a novel technology. Millions of Americans—many of whom might be deeply skeptical of government surveillance, or Big Tech—may become participants in a national project to track their own movements and interactions, to help public-health experts map out the spread of an invisible enemy.

US Hospitals Face 'Severe' Shortages Of Tests And Protective Equipment- Inspector General -  As the US death toll from coronavirus tops 10,000 - the third highest in the world, an inspector general report from the Department of Health and Human Services has found that the country is experiencing serious shortages of tests and personal protective equipment (PPE). The Monday report described the test kit shortages as "severe" and shortfalls in PPE as "widespread" - compounding an already dangerous situation."Hospitals reported that widespread shortages of PPE put staff and patients at risk," reads the report, which consists of interviews with administrators from 323 hospitals chosen at random from across the country between March 23 and 27. To make due, healthcare providers are turning to homemade or construction masks, as inadequate government supplies have resulted in desperate measures. Hospitals said they are turning in some cases to construction masks or homemade masks, which they worried put staff at risk.  Supplies from government stockpiles did not always help. One hospital reported receiving 2,300 crucial N95 masks from a state stockpile, only to find they were not usable because the elastic bands had rotted. Another hospital said its last two shipments from a federal agency contained protective equipment that had expired in 2010. -The Hill"The level of anxiety among staff is like nothing I’ve ever seen," said one hospital administrator.Administrators also report disarray and rising prices due to so many entities competing for limited supplies of equipment."Hospitals often stated that they were in competition with other providers for limited supplies, and that government intervention and coordination could help reconcile this problem at the national level to provide equitable distribution of supplies throughout the country," the report reads, adding: "Hospitals reported that severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results limited hospitals’ ability to monitor the health of patients and staff," it added - while noting that test results for COVID-19 often take seven days or more, meaning hospitals are using beds and equipment for potentially negative patients while waiting on the results. What's more, care facilities have been receiving conflicting guidance from state and federal authorities. Lastly, and similar to what we've seen in Italy - anticipated ventilator shortages are going to force hospitals to limit who gets to use one.

Trump says IG report finding hospital shortages is 'just wrong' -President Trump on Monday claimed that an inspector general report finding "severe" shortages of supplies at hospitals to fight the novel coronavirus is "just wrong." Trump did not provide evidence for why the conclusions of the 34-page report are wrong. He implied that he is mistrustful of inspectors general more broadly. He recently fired the inspector general of the intelligence community, which has drawn outrage from Democrats. "Did I hear the word inspector general?" Trump said in response to the reporter's question about the findings. "It's just wrong," Trump said of the report. The inspector general report, released earlier Monday, was based on a survey of 323 randomly selected hospitals across the country. It found "severe" shortages of tests and wait times as long as seven days for hospitals. It also found "widespread" shortfalls of protective equipment such as masks for health workers, something that doctors and nurses have also noted for weeks. "The level of anxiety among staff is like nothing I’ve ever seen," one hospital administrator said in the report. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, noted that the report's survey of hospitals was conducted March 23 to March 27. He said testing had improved since then and that it was "quite a long time ago." Trump asked who the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services is. "Where did he come from, the inspector general?" Trump said, adding, "What's his name?" The office is currently led by Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general. According to her online biography, Grimm joined the inspector general's office in 1999. 

 Trump's self-interest is at odds with safe coronavirus policy - The deadly rampage of coronavirus across the United States has pitted President Donald Trump’s self-interest in maximizing his chances of winning a second term against the safety of the American public. When Trump leaves office, the protection that prevents a president from being criminally indicted will be gone. Even before his impeachment, legal experts found ample support for the belief that Trump would be indicted upon departing the White House. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office has already essentially named Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in a campaign finance fraud scheme that saw his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, sentenced to three years in prison. This means Trump is almost certainly working overtime, figuring out how he can avoid indictment after leaving office. The statute of limitations for most crimes is five years. Though there is a tolling argument that could be made, the better bet is that another term in office would run out the clock on many of Trump’s alleged crimes, including the New York Cohen case in which prosecutors have alleged Trump to be both instigator and beneficiary. President Barack Obama handed Trump a growing economy, and its continued upward trajectory — as well as the ongoing devotion of his base — has been largely responsible for Trump’s white-knuckled grip on a presidency that might otherwise have fallen to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and impeachment. Medical experts, including the National Institute of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, have insisted that shelter-in-place is the best way to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus’s exponential killing spree. While home isolation dramatically reduces the transmission of COVID-19, its economic cost is devastating. Sounding the recession alarm, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said the coronavirus has led the economy into “uncharted territory.” If the economy stays below sea level, there will likely be a return to the Bush-era recession — or worse. There is a slice of voters who supported Trump in 2016 who could be convinced to vote for a Democrat if the economy continues to falter. This has not been lost on the president. Fearing a free-fall, Trump began laying the groundwork to end home sheltering. Last month, he tweeted — in all caps — “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” And two weeks ago, he told Fox News he wanted the economy back in gear and churches “packed” by Easter, April 12.Sending people back to work is the best way to jumpstart the economy; it’s also the best way to spread the coronavirus. And so there is an inherent conflict between Trump doing all he can to protect American lives by supporting continued shelter-in-place orders, and doing all he can to rev the economy as a way of supporting his re-election campaign — and the immunity from indictment that comes with an extended residency in the White House. Public pushback from medical experts and governors made Trump reconsider his push to “open the country up.” Photos of makeshift morgues, videos of bodies being loaded into trucks, and predictions of 2.2 million deaths if home sheltering is not continued, helped convinceTrump to extend social distancing measures until April 30.While the immediate danger of Trump’s wish for “packed” public events has passed, it is a mistake to think he finally respects the health risk posed by this virus and is committed to doing all he can to mitigate it. It should not be long before Trump redirects his effort to resume the course he previously charted: people back to work and a growing economy, despite the human toll.

 Trump Pushes Broader Use of Hydroxychloroquine Against Coronavirus – WSJ -- President Trump in recent days has begun urging even those without symptoms of the new coronavirus to take a combination of antimalarial and antibacterial drugs to combat it, defying the advice of public-health experts as his own advisers debate the effectiveness of the drugs. In White House briefings over the weekend, Mr. Trump said he might take the antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, and suggested health-care workers—whether they have symptoms or not—should consider taking it before treating coronavirus patients. Some states are specifically asking pharmacists to make sure a patient tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, before giving them the drug. “If you’re a doctor, a nurse, a first responder, a medical person going into hospitals, they say taking it before the fact is good,” Mr. Trump said of hydroxychloroquine on Sunday, flanked by two doctors in his administration—Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx—who have not supported the president’s push for broad use of the drug. “What do you have to lose?” A day earlier, Mr. Trump said he would consult his own doctor about taking the drug. “I’ll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it,” he said. Mr. Trump advised Americans to consult their doctors before taking hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, an antibacterial drug that some doctors have also prescribed to coronavirus patients. “I’m not a doctor, but I have common sense,” he said.

CDC removes unusual guidance to doctors about drug favored by Trump - (Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has removed from its website highly unusual guidance informing doctors on how to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, drugs recommended by President Donald Trump to treat the coronavirus. A woman holds a hydroxychloroquine prescription in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson The move comes three days after Reuters reported that the CDC published key dosing information involving the two antimalarial drugs based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science. Reuters also reported that the original guidance was crafted by the CDC after President Trump personally pressed federal regulatory and health officials to make the malaria drugs more widely available to treat the novel coronavirus, though the drugs in question had been untested for COVID-19. Initially, the CDC webpage, titled Information for Clinicians on Therapeutic Options for Patients with COVID-19, had said: “Although optimal dosing and duration of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 are unknown, some U.S. clinicians have reported anecdotally” on several ways to prescribe the medication of COVID-19. Medical specialists had told Reuters they were surprised by that language. “Why would CDC be publishing anecdotes?” asked Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. “That doesn’t make sense. This is very unusual.” Doctors and other health experts had further criticized the guidance as suggesting that doctors might prescribe the medications when it isn’t established whether or not they are effective or harmful.

Trump has a 'small personal financial interest' in hydroxycholorquine drugmaker. Allies have bigger stakes. - President Trump has been promoting the malaria and lupus drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 "with all of the enthusiasm of a real estate developer," even as the medical experts on his coronavirus task force have repeatedly "warned against overselling a drug yet to be proved a safe remedy, particularly for heart patients," The New York Times reports. Some hospitals in Sweden stopped using hodroxycholoriquinine to treat the coronavirus due to adverse side effects, and the International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy rejected a positive French study it had published on the drug, cited by Trump.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease officials, has warned publicly and privately against promoting the drug absent studies showing its effectiveness, and "behind the scenes, career health officials have raised even stronger warnings about the risk to some Americans' heart health and other complications, but been warned not to publicly speak out and potentially contradict Trump," Politico reports. "Trump's focus on the drugs ... has increasingly warped his administration's response. Health officials have been told to prioritize the anti-malaria drugs over other projects that scientists believe have more potential to fight the outbreak." So... "If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president," the Times reports. "Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine." Other top Trump donors, allies, golf buddies, and Cabinet officials also have various ties to hydroxychlorquine.

 Peter Navarro Explodes At Fauci In Heated Showdown Over Hydroxychloroquine - White House economic adviser got into a massive argument with the coronavirus task force's Anthony Fauci over the doctor's ongoing resistance to the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, despite reports of the drug's widespread efficacy.  Via Axios: Numerous government officials were at the table, including Fauci, coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, Jared Kushner, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn.  Behind them sat staff, including Peter Navarro, tapped by Trump to compel private companies to meet the government's coronavirus needs under the Defense Production Act.According to the report, towards the end of the meeting Hahn began a discussion of the commonly used malaria drug hydroxychloroquine - which was recently rated the 'most effective therapy' for coronavirus according to a global survey of more than 6,000 doctors.After Hahn gave an update on various trials and real-world use of the drug, Navarro got up and dropped a stack of folders on the table to pass around.According to Axios's source, "the first words out of his [Navarro's] mouth are that the studies that he's seen, I believe they're mostly overseas, show 'clear therapeutic efficacy,'" adding "Those are the exact words out of his mouth. Fauci - who's not got his own Twitter hashtag, #FireFauci - began pushing back against Navarro, repeating his oft-repeated contention that 'there's only anecdotal evidence' that the drug works against COVID-19.Navarro exploded - after Fauci's mention of anecdotal evidence "just set Peter off." The economic adviser shot back "That's the science, not anecdote," while pointing to the stack of folders on the desk, which included the results of studies from around the world showing its efficacy. Navarro started raising his voice, and at one point accused Fauci of objecting to Trump's travel restrictions, saying, "You were the one who early on objected to the travel restrictions with China," saying that travel restrictions don't work. (Navarro was one of the earliest to push the China travel ban.)  According to a source familiar with the coronavirus task force, "There has never been a confrontation in the task force meetings like the one yesterday," adding "People speak up and there's robust debate, but there's never been a confrontation. Yesterday was the first confrontation." Federal judge rules in Utica Shale royalty case - A federal judge last week sided with two drillers in a long-running court battle over Utica Shale royalty payments. The class-action lawsuit started four years ago, when attorneys for Columbiana County landowners sued subsidiaries of Chesapeake Energy and Total, claiming the companies improperly deducted expenses from oil and gas royalty payments. Chesapeake and a predecesor company, Ohio Buckeye Energy, signed the leases with landowners and assigned some of the mineral rights to Total. The plaintiffs claimed damages of at least $30 million on behalf of 224 Ohio landowners. U.S. District Court Judge Benita Y. Pearson, in Youngstown, ruled March 30 on the lease language key to the dispute. Attorneys for the landowners argued the companies had to pay royalties on any gross proceeds from the sale of oil and natural gas, without deducting post-production expenses, except taxes. The companies said landowners weren’t entitled to royalties on refined or processed products. The companies also said the leases allowed them to deduct costs for transportation and refining when they sold oil and gas from one subsidiary to another subsidiary before selling it to a third party. Pearson ruled in favor of the companies.

 Mayo Clinic cardiologist: 'Inexcusable' to ignore hydroxychloroquine side effects— As the U.S. scales up purchase and use of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus patients, a leading Mayo Clinic cardiologist is sounding a warning: Anyone promoting the drug also needs to flag its rare but serious — and potentially fatal — side effects. President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted the potential benefits of hydroxychloroquine, which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat malaria, lupus and other autoimmune ailments but hasn't yet been proven effective and safe in treating the coronavirus. "What do you have to lose?" Trump asked Saturday at the White House when pressed by reporters about hydroxychloroquine's effectiveness. And while he's suggested that patients consult with their physicians about the treatment, he's also said the drug can "help them, but it's not going to hurt them." On Tuesday, when asked about the drug’s potential side effects, he downplayed them. “The side effects are the least of it,” said Trump. “You’re not gonna die from this pill,” he said. “I say ‘try it’” he said, noting “I’m not a doctor” and to get a physician’s approval. But the president's reassurance is raising concerns among experts about the dangers the drug poses to some. After observing the debate over hydroxychloroquine on TV news and in social media, Dr. Michael Ackerman, a genetic cardiologist who is director of the Mayo Clinic's Windland Smith Rice Genetic Heart Rhythm Clinic, took the unusual step in late March of issuing guidance for physicians. "What disturbed me the most was when I was seeing not political officials say these medications are safe but seeing on the news cardiologists and infectious disease specialists say" hydroxychloroquine "is completely safe without even mentioning this rare side effect," Ackerman said in an interview. "That's inexcusable," he added. Ackerman and his Mayo Clinic colleagues created a cardiac algorithm, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, to help physicians more safely prescribe hydroxychloroquine by identifying patients at greatest risk for drug-induced sudden cardiac death. While hydroxychloroquine is likely to be safe for 90 percent of the population, Ackerman said, it could pose serious and potentially lethal risks to a small number of those susceptible to heart conditions, especially those with other chronic medical problems already on multiple medications. In fact, a small recent study showed that up to 11 percent of coronavirus patients on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are in the so-called "red zone" for potential cardiac side effects.

Trump Benefits Very Little Financially By Promoting Hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 Treatment - U.S. President Donald Trump earns some income from three family trusts that are administered independently by J.P. Morgan, an investment bank and wealth-management firm. These trusts are in part invested in mutual funds that themselves are partially invested in companies that produce hydroxychloroquine. Trump’s financial stake in these companies is virtually negligible — contained indirectly via mutual funds — and administered through three family trusts he does not control. As a generic drug, hydroxychloroquine is unlikely to provide any one company with significant profits compared to other proprietary drugs. To highlight the limited financial investment in these companies, we can look at the example provided by the Times. The Times’ reporting was based on three Trump family trusts that are each invested in the Dodge & Cox International Stock Fund. At the time of our reporting, this fund was 3.3 percent invested in Sanofi. As reported by MarketWatch’s Steve Goldstein, this represents at most $1,485 worth of Sanofi shares in total:Trump’s 2019 financial-disclosure form lists stakes in Family Trusts 1, 2 and 3 valued at between $1,001 and $15,000. So if Trump has the maximum $15,000 in each of the trusts, he holds a stake in Sanofi that’s worth $1,485 — and, at the minimum, just $99.Because Trump’s financial interest in Sanofi and other pharmaceutical companies is indirect and minor, and because hydroxychloroquine is an easily produced generic drug unlikely to drive profit, we rank the claim that his promotion of the drug could lead to potential financial benefits as “Mostly false.”

 U.S. appeals court hands win to Trump plan to resume federal executions - (Reuters) - The Trump administration’s effort to resume federal executions got a boost on Tuesday from a U.S. appeals court, which tossed a district judge’s injunction that blocked four death penalty sentences from being carried out. The 2-1 ruling by a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit could pave the way to the Justice Department carrying out the first execution of federal death row inmates since 2003, although other issues remain to be litigated. The two judges in the majority, Greg Katsas and Neomi Rao, were both appointed to the bench by Republican President Donald Trump. The dissenting judge, David Tatel, was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton. The court concluded that U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan was wrong to find in her November ruling that a law called the Federal Death Penalty Act requires the federal government to follow all execution protocols in the state where the execution is set to take place. The two judges in the majority differed on what aspects of state rules the federal government have to follow. The judges left unresolved separate claims brought under different federal laws, which the district judge will now address when the case returns to her. In December, the Supreme Court rejected a Trump administration request to intervene in the case at an early stage to allow the executions to proceed. Most executions in the United States have been carried out by states rather than the federal government, which has been hindered by protracted litigation over the drugs used in lethal injection executions. The inmates scheduled for execution by lethal injection all were convicted in federal courts of murder. They are Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Alfred Bourgeois and Dustin Honken.

Trump admin looks to cut farmworker pay to help industry during pandemic: report - The Trump administration is reportedly working on plans to reduce the wages of foreign workers on U.S. farms, a move it think swould help farmers facing economic uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by NPR. Farmers have struggled during the pandemic as schools, restaurants and other businesses that buy their products close. The blow from the pandemic follows the tariff war with China that already resulted in economic hardship for some farmers. According to NPR, President Trump's new White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has been working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to consider a policy reducing pay for foreign guest workers. Those workers, on the H-2A seasonal guest-worker program, make up about 10 percent of farm laborers. "The administration is considering all policy options during this unprecedented crisis to ensure our great farmers are protected, and President Trump has done and will do everything he can to support their vital mission," a White House official told NPR. It's not clear how the Trump administration would take the measures to reduce pay, but NPR reports that Perdue has pushed to change a specific rule that guides how farmers using the H-2A program pay their workers. The rule requires farmers to pay their laborers a wage comparative to local hourly pay laws. Under the rule, hourly pay rates range from $11.71 in Florida to $14.77 in California. Perdue has said in the past that those pay rates are "kind of pricing ourselves out of business" and has suggested changes. Such a policy, if it were to be implemented, would come on the heels of Trump announcing Friday that he has instructed Perdue to get aid to farmers and develop a program of "at least $16 billion" to provide relief to the industry. Farmworkers have been labeled essential during the pandemic, and some have feared there could be a food shortage if the industry is not properly taken care of as the virus spreads.  Last month the United Nations said that while harvests have been good and staple crops remain in demand, a shortage of field workers brought on by the pandemic could lead to problems in the food supply.

Jack Dorsey's $1 billion pledge sparks conversation around UBI - The small but vocal cohort of universal basic income (UBI) proponents has found a well-heeled tech titan to ignite the movement.In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Jack Dorsey is moving $1 billion of his Square (SQ) stock to a limited liability company called Start Small, which will fund coronavirus relief efforts around the world. Dorsey is the chief executive of the financial services company Square, which recently got approval to offer some banking services, and the social network Twitter (TWTR). The pledge to support UBI and other initiatives is approximately 28% of Dorsey’s net worth.After the pandemic subsides, the Dorsey will prioritize girl’s health and education and UBI, which have long been and will continue to be conversations outside of this health and financial crisis.Universal basic income is not a novel concept, but has certainly experienced a mainstream rebirth over the last two years — and it is considered to be more relevant than ever now by some as millions of Americans have lost their income amid coronavirus shutdowns.I’m moving $1B of my Square equity (~28% of my wealth) to #startsmall LLC to fund global COVID-19 relief. After we disarm this pandemic, the focus will shift to girl’s health and education, and UBI. It will operate transparently, all flows tracked here:— jack (@jack) April 7, 2020  Former presidential candidate and tech executive Andrew Yang had made UBI, or the “freedom dividend,” as he called it, the centerpiece of his campaign. Here’s how UBI would work, as Yang sees it: All U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 64 would receive an unconditional $1,000 per month, which would cost the U.S. between $2 trillion and $4 trillion per year. While proponents have long believed the safety net can help reduce poverty, critics argue the sheer amount of federal funds would only increase the nation’s debt load and burden taxpayers. But the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus law known as the CARES Act — and potentiallymore stimulus on the way — showcases the dire need of average Americans to stay afloat, with $290 billion dedicated to one-time stimulus checks of $1,200 to those making less than $75,000 per year. Yang’s idea wasn’t in reaction to a pandemic, of course, but instead was rooted in the belief that automation will ultimately displace most Americans. But the novel coronavirus is keeping businesses shut and Americans at home, forcing a record of nearly 10 million workers to file jobless claims in a two-week period alone.

 Trump family members had Secret Service protection on over 4,000 trips from 2017 to 2019: analysis - President Trump’s family members had Secret Service protection on more than 4,000 trips in the first three years of his term, according to figures released by a government watchdog group. According to data obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Trump family members took 4,560 trips, many of which were to Trump-owned properties, from which the president still profits. The group also found that 40 percent of trips taken in 2019 were distinct from those that Trump and the first lady took. “Every President and his family deserve Secret Service protection. But the President’s private business should reimburse taxpayers for money spent at Trump’s businesses or in support of them,” the watchdog group wrote in an announcement. Trump was a vocal critic of former President Obama’s travel, saying Obama was spending too many days away from the White House. However, the data compiled by CREW showed that the Trump family far surpassed the number of trips Obama and his family took with 1,625 trips annually compared to Obama's took 133.3. There could be multiple reasons as to why protected travel spiked under Trump, including the fact that he has more children, including adult children who run and travel for the Trump Organization. Yet the differences were still stark between the Trump and Obama years — Trump and his family members took roughly 4,200 trips in fiscal 2018 and 2019, roughly the same number the Obamas took from 2010-2015. It is unclear how much of a strain the trips have taken on the Secret Service, though the agency did say in 2017 that its agents would be forced to work overtime without being paid if its budget did not grow.

Warren joins senators seeking Deutsche Bank details on Trump - U.S. senators including Elizabeth Warren, the onetime presidential candidate, are pushing for details from Deutsche Bank about contacts with the family business of President Donald Trump, which has asked the German lender for leniency on some of its loans. Contact between the lender and the Trump Organization raises "troubling new concerns about the extent to which Deutsche Bank holds financial leverage over the president," and whether administration officials would offer "regulatory favors" as enticement, the four senators wrote in a letter released by Warren's office. The president's sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., criticized the lawmakers for sending the letter during a worldwide pandemic. Trump Organization representatives reached out to Deutsche Bank's private-banking unit in New York late last month as the coronavirus pandemic forces widespread disruptions to the economy, according to a person familiar with the matter. The talks are ongoing, the New York Times has reported. "The American public has a right to know if Deutsche Bank is providing special financial favors to the president or his family's company so that they can determine if these favors are affecting Trump administration policy as it relates to Deutsche Bank," the senators wrote. Signing the letter with Warren were senators Richard Blumenthal, Sherrod Brown and Chris Van Hollen, all Democrats. They asked the bank to provide details of contacts between the firm and the Trump Organization, including dates, who was involved and what was discussed. The lawmakers requested the same information regarding Kushner Cos., the real estate enterprise run by the Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who's also a senior adviser to the president. Emailed requests for comment to the Trump Organization and Kushner Cos. weren't immediately returned. Troy Gravitt, a Deutsche Bank spokesman, said the bank has received the letter and is reviewing it. "We remain committed to cooperating with authorized investigations," he said in an emailed statement.

 Fed Preparing to Finance New Small-Business Payroll Loans – WSJ —The Federal Reserve said Monday it would create a new program to finance loans that banks and other lenders make through the government’s emergency small-business lending program.  The move will free up financial firms to make more loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program, part of a $2.2 trillion economic relief packagePresident Trump signed last month to help individuals and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.In a statement Monday afternoon, the Fed said that to facilitate more lending to small businesses, it would establish a facility that offers term financing backed by PPP loans. It said additional details would be announced later this week. The Fed has been working on the program with the Treasury Department. The loans are designed to cover about two months of payroll expenses and other essential costs, and can be forgiven if businesses maintain the size of their workforce. The banking industry has been pressing the Trump administration to set up a program to purchase the loans from lenders who originate them, which would help free up banks’ balance sheets so they can make more of the loans. The loans don’t require the Fed or the Treasury to take on the risk of bearing losses because they are already insured by the Small Business Administration, a government agency. As a result, the Fed’s financing of the loans would be akin to how other government-backed entities purchase mortgages that are pooled together and issued as securities, enabling lenders to make more mortgages that meet certain standards. “This concept works well in the American mortgage market and should be replicated to meet program loan demand in this crisis,” Rebecca Romero Rainey, the president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said in a letter Sunday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The Fed faces restrictions on the types of assets it can purchase directly, but it can create lending facilities with broad latitude to acquire loans or other assets. The Fed has already launched six facilities since the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread shutdowns of commercial activity that has roiled financial markets, including a facility under which it will lend money to investors to buy securities backed by small business and student and credit-card loans. Ms. Romero Rainey said the Fed should also provide advances to banks against the loans to further enhance the capacity of the small-business lending program.

 Fed Report: Small-Business Sector Highly Vulnerable to Coronavirus Crisis – WSJ - Even the best-managed small businesses are in a very vulnerable position as they try to weather the shutdown of much of the U.S. economy during the coronavirus crises, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A report released Tuesday by the bank said that among “healthy” small businesses in late 2019, about 20% of them had enough cash saved to operate normally for only two months if their revenue were to dry up. Among less financially secure companies, only 10% could operate normally on savings alone for two months. The report said that if small firms were forced to cut back, healthy firms would most likely cut staff or pay, while troubled firms would more likely try to borrow to stay in business. The New York Fed report defines small businesses as those with fewer than 500 workers. Its findings were based on a national survey done in late 2019, in conjunction with the other 11 regional Fed banks. The bank noted that many firms were already struggling going into the coronavirus crisis: Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that over the prior 12 months they had faced problems such as struggling to pay for operating expenses, including payrolls, or to line up needed credit. “The data underscore that while small firms reported a strong end to 2019, many continued to deal with financial challenges, and even the healthiest of firms could face tough decisions amid a sustained loss in revenue,” Claire Kramer Mills, director of community development analysis at the New York Fed, said in the report.

 Banks To Make Risk-Free Killing On Small Business Bailout- Fed Will Buy Payroll Loans Issued By Banks - And just like that, the big banks are about to make a killing (again) thanks to the Fed.  mAs a reminder, as part of the SBA and Treasury's Payroll Protection Program plan to bail out small and medium business, it gave America's banks and credit unions some $350BN in guaranteed cash to use to make loans to America's struggling small and medium business, which proceeds would be use to fund payroll. However, in a bizarre twist, the banks were reluctant to pass through the money to America's middle class, ostensibly due to concerns about the low rate on the loans (which was originally 0.5%, and was subsequently raised to 1%) and also concerns who these loans could be sold and/or repackaged to if and when the economy turned sour and banks were stuck holding hundreds of billions in NPLs.Moments ago we got the answer, when the Fed announced it will start another bailout program to provide financing backed by the same loans being made to small businesses through the government’s coronavirus stimulus program."To facilitate lending to small businesses via the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Federal Reserve will establish a facility to provide term financing backed by PPP loans. Additional details will be announced this week", the Fed said in a brief statement. “Additional details will be announced this week.” Effectively, the Fed will establish a secondary market for loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program, and where the end buyer will be the Fed itself.

 Billions idled at banks after regulators balk at following Fed - Two key bank regulators are holding off on easing Wall Street debt limits in response to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving billions of dollars locked up at banking subsidiaries that could be used for lending amid the deepening economic crisis. For now, the Federal Reserve is the only U.S. banking watchdog that's relaxed a landmark leverage rule that stipulates how much capital banks must hold against their assets. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which also enforce the rule, have privately indicated they aren't yet ready to follow its lead, said three people familiar with the matter. The Fed said its relief, which was granted April 1 and lasts for a year, will allow banks to extend more credit to struggling households and businesses. But the Fed is also taking a risk because its decision threatens to make the industry less safe in the midst of a meltdown by reducing the capital buffers that lenders must maintain to survive financial shocks. It's significant for Wall Street that the OCC and FDIC are holding the line because the Fed's authority is limited to bank holding companies. So JPMorgan Chase's capital demands are now lower with the Fed saying that banks no longer have to hold cushions against Treasuries and cash reserves. Yet capital requirements for Chase Bank, a JPMorgan unit, remain the same because it's primarily regulated by the OCC. In the absence of unified action from the regulators, tens of billion of dollars could remain captive in Wall Street banking subsidiaries, rather than being lent out. Talks are continuing among the federal agencies, and the OCC and FDIC may ultimately come on board, said the people who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Spokespeople for the FDIC, OCC and Fed declined to comment. The rule the Fed dialed back — the so-called leverage ratio — is one of the most fundamental limits implemented in response to the 2008 financial crisis. It's meant to be a very simple calculation of each bank's capital against all its assets. When the Fed announced the change last week, Wall Street noticed the OCC and FDIC's absence. Questions raced around the banking industry: Where are the other agencies on this? What will they do? "It will raise a lot of questions if days pass without any word from the other regulators,"

BofA defends giving priority to customers in rescue-loan program - Bank of America said a new law authorizing a coronavirus rescue-loan program does not bar it from favoring its own customers in processing applications and disgruntled consumers have no right to challenge it. The bank, which came under fire for prioritizing applications from existing small-business customers, asked a federal judge in Baltimore on Thursday to reject a request in a lawsuit to temporarily bar it from employing the practice as millions seek to withstand the economic ravages wreaked by the virus. Bank of America’s decision to put existing customers at the head of the line is simply “an effort to direct its resources quickly and efficiently,” the bank’s lawyers said in a court filing. The initiative, called the Paycheck Protection Program, is aimed at helping small businesses keep workers on payrolls by offering forgivable loans of as much as $10 million to cover payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent and utility payments if firms retain employees. Requests for unemployment benefits have surged in the wake of the virus to about 16.8 million during the economic shutdown.

 Banks blame AML rules for emergency loan logjam - U.S. banks, facing criticism for prioritizing existing customers over new ones who are seeking coronavirus rescue loans, put the blame on federal rules meant to catch terrorists and money launderers.The lenders, who have been getting beaten up by small businesses and lawmakers alike, have urged a little-known agency charged with monitoring suspicious financial transactions for relief from the stringent regulations. But their requests have gone unheeded for now.The issue is just one of a number of problems that have surfaced during the rollout of the $350 billion Small Business Administration lending program that began last week. If left unresolved it could cause a major logjam in the effort, which the Trump administration has demanded move quickly to get cash to hundreds of thousands of companies teetering on the edge of closure. “Small businesses and policymakers should understand that a primary reason most banks will be extending these loans only to existing customers is because the anti-money-laundering process is so onerous and time-consuming,” said Greg Baer, president of the Bank Policy Institute, a Washington-based trade group for lenders that has been working closely with the Treasury Department and SBA. “Banks large and small have urgently sought relief from these requirements from day one, to no avail.”To underscore its point, the industry estimates that even the initial steps of processing a new borrower’s application can add as much as two hours of work. And then verifying that the customer’s information is legitimate can take a month or longer. Bankers say it is hardly a recipe for rapidly getting rescue funds out the door.For borrowers, there’s a risk that much of the billions — available on a first-come, first-served basis — will be gone by the time their requests go through. President Trump said Tuesday that “we will be running out of money very quickly” and that he has asked Congress to add another $250 billion by the end of the week. The target of banks’ ire is the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or Fincen. Tensions between the industry and the agency are not new, as lenders have long lobbied Congress to roll back some of its rules, many of which were put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Coronavirus is giving firms a fresh opening to argue that Fincen should be reined in.

Wells Fargo says Fed cap is limiting small-business relief - Wells Fargo said it can't fully meet demand from small businesses rushing to participate in a U.S. relief program because of constraints imposed by the Federal Reserve on the bank's growth. The company has capacity to lend $10 billion to small-business clients under the $349 billion U.S. program, but customers already have expressed more interest than that, Wells Fargo said in a statement late Sunday. The firm will therefore focus on helping nonprofits and businesses with fewer than 50 employees. "While we are actively working to create balance sheet capacity to lend, we are limited in our ongoing ability to use our strong capital and liquidity position to extend additional credit," Chief Executive Charlie Scharf said in the statement. "We are committed to helping our customers during these unprecedented and challenging times, but are restricted in our ability to serve as many customers as we would like." The situation may ratchet up pressure on the Fed to ease the unprecedented asset cap it imposed on the nation's fourth-largest bank in 2018 in response to mounting scandals at the company. As the coronavirus pandemic began, the firm — a leading lender to small and midsize U.S. companies, home buyers and commercial property investors — had about $384 billion of additional lending capacity that it can't unleash because of the cap. As markets swooned and commerce slowed this year, Wells Fargo's representatives privately broached the idea of at least temporarily lifting the restriction so it could help more customers. The Fed has yet to publicly disclose a decision. People with knowledge of the situation told Bloomberg in late March that the regulator was reluctant to ease or lift the cap because the bank has yet to fully address concerns that prompted the sanction. Scharf, who took over in October, has made progress in enacting reforms, but the company must still prove it's done enough to prevent abuses of customers, the people said.

Fed eases Wells Fargo's asset cap to allow for more business lending — The Federal Reserve is temporarily altering the growth restriction it placed on Wells Fargo in 2018 so that the bank can make additional loans to small businesses through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and an upcoming credit facility aimed at midsize companies.  Wells Fargo has been barred from growing its assets above $1.95 trillion for more than two years, but representatives have pushed the Fed to suspend the cap, at least on temporarily, to give it more flexibility to lend during the coronavirus crisis. The cap doesn’t restrict Wells Fargo from any particular activity, but does limit the size of its balance sheet. The Fed said in a release Wednesday that it would not count the bank’s lending activities through the SBA program and the forthcoming Main Street Lending Program against the $1.95 trillion cap for the duration of the two credit facilities.  The modification does not otherwise change the original 2018 enforcement action the Fed took against Wells Fargo after unearthing several scandals, including that bank employees had opened millions of unauthorized customer accounts.  “The Board continues to hold the company accountable for successfully addressing the widespread breakdowns that resulted in harm to consumers identified as part of that action and for completing the requirements of the agreement,” the Fed said in the release.

Fed will buy small-business loans to help coronavirus response— The Federal Reserve is creating a facility to provide financing to banks participating in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.The Fed's initiative will allow banks to remove PPP loans from their balance sheets in order to issue more loans to small businesses hurt by the coronavirus. The central bank will announce more details on the new facility later this week, the agency said Monday.The Paycheck Protection Program is part of the $2.3 trillion stimulus package enacted in response to the coronavirus crisis. The $349 billion initiative will provide government-guaranteed small-business loans of up to two and a half times a company’s monthly payroll, which can be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll and certain other purposes.However, the rollout of the program last week was marred byconfusion as some banks put off lending through the PPP until this week and those that did start lending last Friday had varied eligibility restrictions and were overwhelmed with applications. The news of the Fed’s facility to buy the small-business loans was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. If the facility isn't launched in the next few days, banks may stop or slow down their origination of Paycheck Protection loans, Jaret Seiberg, an analyst with Cowen Washington Research Group, said in a note.  "This is not a process that can drag out indefinitely given the demand for Paycheck Protection loans," he said.

Credit Spreads: Comparing COVID-19 to the Collapse of Lehman Brothers On March 18, Reuters noted something I have been following of late: Concerns about the impact of the coronavirus on corporate America’s balance sheets has tripled the premium investors are demanding to hold even the highest-rated corporate bonds. The difference between the average yield of investment-grade U.S. bonds over virtually risk-free Treasuries widened to 303 basis points (bps) on Wednesday, according to the ICE/BofA investment grade index. That’s up from 101 bps at the start of the year and the highest since July 2009, For riskier high-yield securities, the average spread over Treasuries on Wednesday was 904 bps, the highest since October 2011, and more than 2-1/2 times the rate at the start of the year, using the ICE/BofA high-yield index … This hit to earnings has come at a time when U.S. corporate debt is near all-time highs, as is the size of the so-called triple-B segment of the market – companies one notch above junk status. The spread between long-term corporate bond rates with credit rating BBB and long-term government bond rates jumped very quickly to almost 4%, which was not quite as high as the 5% or more spreads observed after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. FRED provides a series entitled ICE BofA BBB US Corporate Index Option-Adjusted Spread that dates back to 1997 when this spread was modest. It hit sort of a tidal wave during the turn of the millennium with the collapse of the internet/computer/telecommunication boom and a host of notorious bankruptcies. What happened after the collapse of Lehman Brothers was a tsunami. I did find some Thomson Reuters discussion entitled the implications of the credit crunch for intercompany loans, which talked about market interest rates as of February 2009: Spreads for even AAA-rated long-term corporate debt, however, have recently been higher than 100 basis points, while spreads for borrowers with lower credit ratings have been much higher. Its figure 2 shows that the spread for BBB-rate long-term corporate debt jumped to above 500 basis points. The thrust of this paper seems to be that U.S. affiliates were about to incur a lot of intercompany debt with their foreign parents. The recent Reuters story alludes to the potential need for U.S. companies for debt as we work through this COVID-19 crisis. It is ironic that the OECD just released its Transfer Pricing Guidance on Financial Transactions, which spends 46 pages making basic economic issues as convoluted as possible. But that is what international tax attorneys do. Cutting past all the legalese,  it does make the important point that estimating a borrower’s credit rating is both controversial and challenging. But once one estimates a credit rating – which is a letter grade – it needs to be translated into a numerical credit spread. As the tsunami following the collapse of Lehman Brothers showed – credit spreads can jump very quickly. It seems the COVID-19 crisis is following suit.

"They’ve Left Me High And Dry": Here Is The Real Reason Companies Have Drawn Down A Record $293 Billion In Revolvers - One week ago, we reported that starting exactly one month ago on March 5, an unprecedented wave of corporate revolver draws was unleashed, resulting in what JPMorgan calculated was a record $208BN in revolving credit facilities being fully drawn (for the full list of companies see here). A few days later, a report from Goldman Sachs observed that, contrary to JPM's data of exponentially rising revolver draws, "the pace of revolver draws has slowed nearly 50% so far this week relative to last week, with only $40bn over the last 5 business days, relative to an average trailing 5 business days run rate last week of $75bn." In retrospect, there may be reason to be skeptical about Goldman's data because in JPM's latest weekly revolver update, the bank's tracker of companies that have tapped banks for funding rose to $293 billion to date (remarkably, $125 bil or 43% of total borrowings, are by junk-rated firms) an increase of over $80 billion in just one week, although just like Goldman, JPM notes that "while growth has continued, the pace seems to have slowed in the past three days, both in terms of amounts borrowed and number of borrowers (see Figure 1)." In total, the nearly $300BN in borrowings represent 77% of their credit facilities, but as JPM notes, "some firms with asset-backed facilities may not have enough borrowing base to borrow the full committed amount." Another observation: we are still seeing large draws but fewer mega-sized draws, which makes sense as by now most mega companies have already drawn down on their revolver. That said, JPM cautions that the actual amount of borrowing is likely significantly greater than $293 bil, as it only reflects publicly disclosed amounts, mostly from larger companies, and likely excludes many middle market firms and privately owned companies.Some more details on the ongoing drawdown flurry:

  • $143 bil (49%) of announced borrowings are by investment grade firms, of which $35 bil (12%) are BBB- rated, $125 bil (43%) are by noninvestment grade firms, and $25 bil (9%) did not have available ratings.
  • The $293 bil total excludes $48 bil of ongoing deals, rumored loans, and new facilities that are not clear if drawn for Airbus, AT&T, Daimler, Fiat Chrysler, Honeywell, Mondelez, and Simon Property Group. If these facilities are finalized and/or fully drawn, the known total would be $340 bil.
  • In aggregate, the borrowings represent 77% of their credit facilities, but note that some firms with asset-backed facilities may not have enough borrowing base to borrow the full committed amount.

So why the continued rush to fully drawdown available facilities? The trivial, politically correct explanation is simply that the Commercial Paper market, where companies have traditionally gone to meet short-term funding needs, remains broken, and even though the Fed has already announced the launch of a Commercial Paper and Money Market backstop facilities, the Commercial Paper 90 Day AA non-fin spread to 3M OIS remains at levels well beyond the wides reached during the financial crisis.

 Fed expands use of credit facilities to offer additional $2.3 trillion in loans— The Federal Reserve announced a slew of actions Thursday to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to ensure the smooth flow of credit to businesses as the economic effects of the coronavirus become increasingly visible. The Fed said it would purchase up to $600 billion in loans through the Main Street Lending Program, which Congress allowed for in the stimulus package it passed last month. The Treasury Department will also provide $75 billion in equity to the program. Through that program, small and midsize companies that either employ up to 10,000 workers or have less than $2.5 billion in revenue will be able to obtain four-year loans, with principal and interest payments deferred for a year. Those companies “must commit to make reasonable efforts to maintain payroll and retain workers” and comply with the stock buyback restrictions laid out in the CARES Act. Banks that originate loans through the program can hold a 5% share, selling the rest to the facility. The Fed is collecting feedback from lenders, borrowers and other interested parties on the program until April 16. The Fed is also creating a Municipal Liquidity Facility to support state and local governments with up to $500 billion in lending, and is expanding its already-announced Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities, each of which will now support up to $850 billion in credit. The Treasury is backing $35 billion for the Municipal Liquidity Facility using funds appropriated by the stimulus package, and is offering $85 billion in credit protection for the Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities. The nation’s central bank will also offer more support to the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program through its creation of a Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility, which will supply credit to banks that make loans through the program. The Fed will take the loans as collateral at face value, it said in a release.

Fed facility gives banks more room to make emergency loans - Community bankers are praising a new Federal Reserve credit facility as a big step toward helping them make more loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. The program, overseen by the Small Business Administration and Treasury Department, is aimed at small businesses hurt by the coronavirus outbreak. Many lenders had stopped approving loans under the $349 billion effort after hitting internal limits such as capital levels or program loans as a percentage of total assets. A number of bankers said the Fed’s facility, announced on Thursday along with a term sheet, allows them to accept more applications and keep lending. Podcast Digital ID verification “This opens up more liquidity for us to process more loans,” said Todd Nagel, CEO of the $1.4 billion-asset IncredibleBank in Wausau, Wis., which has more than 1,000 applications to work through. The facility is “what we were hoping for,” said Bruce Lee, president and CEO of Heartland Financial USA in Dubuque, Iowa. The $13.2 billion-asset multibank holding company stopped accepting applications after receiving 7,000 requests for $1.5 billion. Banks will pledge program loans as collateral to the Fed, which will extend credit equal to the principal amount of the loans at a rate of 35 basis points. The program is initially limited to depository institutions, though the Fed said it is working to expand eligibility to other lenders. While bankers would pay interest to the Fed, they can charge a 1% rate for the loans and receive origination fees from the SBA. The facility is initially set to run until Sept. 30, though it can be extended. The Fed's program will "absolutely help," said John Asbury, president and CEO of the $17.6 billion-asset Atlantic Union Bankshares in Richmond, Va. “We expected enormous demand, and that’s what we’re seeing,” Asbury said. "This is the most stressful situation I’ve ever seen. We do not want to fail our customers.” Importantly, the pledged loans will not count toward a bank’s Tier 1 leverage ratio.

 What does the $600B middle-market rescue plan mean for banks? - Bankers spent much of Thursday trying to unravel details of the central bank’s new loan-purchase program aimed at helping middle-market businesses survive the economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic. As part of its broader effort to step up economic relief, the Federal Reserve pledged to facilitate $600 billion in loans to midsize businesses under the Main Street Lending Program. The move spotlighted a sector of the economy that has gotten less attention than small businesses’ struggles to obtain much-needed aid.“These midsize businesses are having the same issues that the small businesses are having because of the government-mandated shutdowns,” said John Corbett, CEO of the $17.1 billion-asset CenterState Bank in Winter Haven, Fla. “Their revenues have fallen off a cliff.”Corbett, who attended a call with other executives hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta while the program was under development, said banks with assets between $10 billion and $250 billion were likely to be the main participants in the Main Street program. Specifically, the Fed is creating two special purpose vehicles funded by an investment from the Treasury Department under the authority of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that was enacted in March. Through these facilities, the Fed will guarantee 95% of expanded loans or entirely new loans to midsize businesses; borrowers won’t have to start paying them back for one year. Existing loans can be increased by up to $150 million in some cases under the Fed’s “Main Street Expanded Loan Facility.” Fresh financing provided under the “Main Street New Loan Facility” will be capped at $25 million. Limits would be adjusted so that no business taking out these loans would exceed a total outstanding debt of four times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, according to the Fed’s term sheets. Businesses that have up to 10,000 employees or as much $2.5 billion in 2019 annual revenues may qualify. The loans carry up to four-year terms.

The Fed’s Intervention Is Widening the Gap Between Market Haves and Have-Nots – WSJ - In the quest to find markets that look like they will weather an impending economic downturn, many investors are turning to the Federal Reserve.  The central bank, faced with seizing markets during the spread of the new coronavirus, pledged in March to do essentially whatever it takes to restore order in the marketplace. The handful of markets in which it has directly intervened by purchasing assets or lending against them have recouped some of their losses since then, a reassuring sign for investors who were taken aback by the indiscriminate selling that occurred throughout much of March.  But in riskier markets that fall outside of the Fed’s purview—including junk bonds, leveraged loans and nongovernment-backed mortgage bonds—the pain has been slower to abate. Some markets remain essentially closed for business, setting off a race against the clock for borrowers to stay afloat. The growing disparity is adding to the pressure investors face as they try to identify which investments look like discounted buying opportunities and which look likely to struggle further. High-yield bonds, for instance, are so beaten down that they might look tempting, said Lauren Goodwin, multiasset portfolio strategist at New York Life Investments. But with the economy in crisis and investors widely expecting a wave of defaults over the coming months, Ms. Goodwin believes investments that have received Fed support are more promising buying opportunities.  Other observers agree. So far, “the markets that the Fed has most directly intervened in have been the ones that are closest to getting back to normal,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont. Corporate bonds are among the biggest beneficiaries of the Fed’s recent programs. Before the central bank’s intervention in March, sales of corporate bonds had come to a virtual standstill, hurt by the tumult rippling across global markets. And investors yanked a record $43.8 billion out of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds tracking high-grade bonds in the U.S. in the week through March 18, according to Bank of America Global Research. After the Fed said March 23 that it would launch facilities to buy not just Treasurys but also corporate bonds carrying investment-grade ratings, the corporate-debt market showed signs of stabilizing. Companies ranging fromMastercard Inc. to Nike Inc. to Pfizer Inc. were able to issue bonds at lower yields than their initial guidance, a sign that investor appetite for the debt had improved. Over the following two weeks, companies issued a record $177 billion of investment-grade bonds, according to Dealogic.

Regulators expand capital relief for community banks— Congress gave community banks an extra break from capital rules in the recent coronavirus stimulus bill, but regulators would like to expand the relief even more.The $2 trillion stimulus package temporarily lowered the community bank leverage ratio — a simplified measure that institutions with assets of less than $10 billion can use instead of more complex capital requirements — by one point to 8%. The provision expires at end of the public health emergency or Dec. 31, whichever comes first.But to further lighten the load, the regulatory agencies said Monday that community banks choosing to use the CBLR would only need to raise it to 8.5% in 2021. The 9% minimum would be reinstated the following year. “The agencies are providing community banking organizations with a clear and gradual transition back to the 9% leverage ratio requirement previously established by the agencies,” the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said in a joint press release. “This transition will allow community banking organizations to focus on supporting lending to creditworthy households and businesses given the recent strains on the U.S. economy caused by the coronavirus.”The regulators’ move comes after Congress directed them to temporarily lower the ratio in the stimulus bill, known as the CARES Act, to provide extra resources for community banks to meet their customers' financial needs.Regulators were initially authorized to establish the community bank leverage ratio in a 2018 regulatory relief bill that President Trump signed into law. That bill authorized the ratio to be set between 8% and 10%.

Bankers hope reg relief doesn’t end when coronavirus does— Banks were able to get temporary backing from Congress for two key regulatory relief initiatives in the recent coronavirus rescue bill, but the industry hopes to build on that momentum and make the relief permanent.On top of funds to make loans to small businesses, the $2 trillion stimulus package contained an array of bank reg relief measures, including a temporary halt to an unpopular loan-loss accounting standard and a temporary easing of a community bank capital ratio. Both expire at the end of the year or when the public health crisis ends.Yet lawmakers could face pressure to grant additional extensions as those deadlines approach or risk adding to banks' regulatory burden with the economy still fragile. Analysts say the temporary measures in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act open the door to lawmakers providing banks longer-term relief. Banks "are obviously going to keep pushing for" making both measures permanent, said Ian Katz, a director at Capital Alpha Partners. "And it’s a real opportunity because they essentially got what they wanted on a temporary basis.”Bankers have long wanted to put an end to the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new Current Expected Credit Losses standard. CECL was previously set to hit the balance sheets of large publicly traded banks at the end of March, but the standard will now take effect Dec. 31 or when the national emergency is declared over, whichever comes first. Likewise, the industry had also pushed to lower the community bank leverage ratio by a percentage point to 8%, which was also granted temporarily.

Wall Street’s Banks Could Profit by Millions on Coronavirus Deaths of Employees -Pam Martens  ~ If it sounds ghoulish, it’s because it is ghoulish.Some of the biggest banks on Wall Street have been intimidating their traders to come back to work despite an executive order from the Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, ordering people to remain at home during the coronavirus outbreak unless they work for essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies and hospitals.New York State, home to Wall Street, is now the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States with 5,489 deaths as of today or 44 percent of all deaths from coronavirus in the entire United States.Now, it turns out, while Wall Street traders have taken on greater health risks of catching the coronavirus by traveling to work on mass transit and working in a potentially contaminated building, some of the biggest banks will collect a death benefit should the employees die from the virus.Wall Street banks own a form of life insurance called BOLI, short for Bank-Owned Life Insurance. The death benefit pays to the corporate owner of the policy, in this case the banks, not the employee or their family. Because it’s a life insurance policy, it has a lot of nice perks for the banks’ bottom line. The cash benefit of the policy builds up tax free while the policy is in force and the paid death benefit is free of federal income taxes. The bank is supposed to get the employee’s permission before taking out the policy but there is little evidence that employees know what they’re signing when a huge stack of papers is pushed in front of them on their hire date. The amount of BOLI assets held by the banks is listed on Schedule RC-F on their Call Reports that are filed with federal regulators. As of December 31, 2019, four of the largest U.S. banks, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup’s Citibank held a combined $58.44 billion in BOLI assets. The breakdown was as follows: Bank of America $22.55 billion; Wells Fargo $19 billion; JPMorgan Chase $11.66 billion; and Citibank $5.23 billion.  But death benefits represent a large multiple to the amount of investments held in the policies. Experts suggest that $58.44 billion in BOLI assets could represent approximately $584 billion in future death benefits, or more than half a trillion dollars.

What Wall Street Doesn’t Want You to Know About Hospital Emergency Rooms -Doctor Ming Lin is the first emergency room doctor to be fired for going public with his concerns about poor hospital emergency room safety practices and shortages of medical supplies and protective gear for health workers. He won’t be the last.Like many hospitals in the US, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham Washington, where Ming Lin worked for the past 17 years as an emergency room doctor, has outsourced the management and staffing of its emergency rooms. So, Lin works on-site at the hospital’s emergency room, but he is employed by a physician staffing firm that runs the emergency room. These staffing firms are often behind the surprise medical bills for emergency room services that patients receive after their insurance company has paid the hospital and doctors, but not the excessive out-of-network charges billed by these outside staffing firms.About a third of hospital emergency rooms are staffed by doctors on the payrolls of two physician staffing companies—TeamHealth and Envision Health—owned by Wall Street investment firms. Envision Healthcare employs 69,000 healthcare workers nationwide while TeamHealth employs 20,000. Private equity firm Blackstone Group owns TeamHealth, Kravis Kohlberg Roberts (KKR) owns Envision.Care of the sick is not the mission of these companies; their mission is to make outsized profits for the private equity firms and its investors. Overcharging patients and insurance companies for providing urgent and desperately needed emergency medical care is bad enough. But it is unconscionable to muzzle doctors who speak out to advocate for the health of their patients and co-workers during the global pandemic that is rapidly spreading across the US.Yet, that is what Blackstone-owned TeamHealth just did. Why would an experienced emergency room doctor be fired in the middle of a pandemic? One clue may be that Blackstone’s CEO, Stephen A. Schwarzman, is part of President Trump’s inner circle. He may not want to risk that relationship by allowing TeamHealth’s doctors to inform the public about Washington’s mishandling of the allocation of supplies and protective gear. The President might conclude that TeamHealth doctors didn’t appreciate him enough, and where would that leave Schwartzman?

 New York Fed, FDIC Tout “Opacity in a Banking Crisis” to Keep Corporations, Hedge Funds, PE Firms & Counterparties in the Dark about Weak Banks -- US banks are now finding themselves in a situation where homeowners don’t have to make mortgage payments for few months, and renters don’t have to pay rent for a while, which leaves many landlords unable to make their mortgage payments – not to speak of the many Airbnb hosts that have no guests and won’t be able to make their mortgage payments. Commercial real estate is in turmoil because the tenants have closed shop and cannot or won’t make rent payments, and these landlords are going to have long discussions with their bankers about skipping mortgage payments. And subprime auto loans and subprime credit card loans, whichwere already blowing up before the crisis, are now an unspeakable mess, as tens of millions of people have suddenly lost their jobs.Amid this toxic environment for the banks, here come the New York Fed and the FDIC and tout the “Value of Opacity in a Banking Crisis,” explaining, supported by empirical data from the Great Depression, that it’s better to stop disclosing balance sheet information about individual banks.So here we go, as to why it’s important for “authorities” to lie about banks during a crisis. It’s not directed at households, as we’ll see in a moment – but at corporations, hedge funds, PE firms, state and local government entities, and other institutional bank customers whose bank balances by far exceed deposit insurance limits and that would yank their mega-deposits out of that bank at the first sign of trouble.The authors of the article, a joint production by the FDIC and the New York Fed, cite Great Depression data before the arrival of FDIC deposit insurance to show how lying about balance sheets of individual banks is beneficial in ending runs on weak banks. They’re talking about accounts that were uninsured at the time, and that’s the key for today, as we’ll see in a moment.Currently, US banks have to provide summary statistics about their balance sheets (“call reports”), which is made publicly available in a data base by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), a U.S. government interagency entity of banking regulators.“During normal times, regulators have long recognized that disclosure is an important tool that helps the market to discipline banks,” the article says. But now are not “normal times”:In a crisis, however, theory predicts that undesirable outcomes can occur if the publication of balance sheet information induces runs on solvent banks. As a result, it may be desirable for regulators to suspend the publication of bank-specific information during a crisis so as to make banks more opaque to depositors. Such a policy action prevents depositors from being able to distinguish between banks with stronger and weaker balance sheets, reducing the chance that depositors will run on a weak, but still solvent bank (an inefficient type of bank run). The researchers relied on data on deposits at New York banks during the Great Depression before the arrival of the FDIC in January 1934. This was the period when deposits were not insured.

Share buybacks have been the “only net source of money entering the stock market” since 2008 - Corporations are now lining up to receive a portion of the Trump administration’s massive $2.2 trillion bailout. They are employing an army of lobbyists, lawyers and financial advisers (all taking a fat fee for their services) to maximise their gains as they plead that they are strapped for cash and must be provided with money to “save the economy.” But a report published in the Wall Street Journal at the weekend reveals that one of the main reasons for the cash shortage is the trillions of dollars spent by major corporations on share buybacks, particularly over the decade since the global financial crisis. According to Brian Reynolds, the chief market analyst at the research firm Reynolds Strategy, upon whose research the article is based, corporate buybacks have been the “only net source of money entering the stock market” since 2008. The sole purpose of buyback programs is to enhance the wealth of the executives who sit atop the major corporations as well as hedge funds and other traders in shares. By cutting the number of shares on issue, the stock of the corporation rises. Executives and others can then exercise their stock options to make a killing while hedge funds strike at the opportune time and rake in billions. The buybacks are financed by using the accumulated profits of the company or, in some cases, by the raising of debt, taking advantage of the ultra-low interest rate policies of the US Federal Reserve. According to the economist William O. Lazonick, the proportion of corporate buybacks funded through the issuing of bonds went as high as 30 percent in both 2016 and 2017. By Reynolds’ calculations, since the beginning of 2009, buybacks have added a net $4 trillion to the stock market, an amount equivalent to one-fifth of the total $20.9 trillion market value of the companies in the S&P 500 index. Calculations by Lazonick put share buybacks as equivalent to 52 percent of all corporate profits, with dividends on shares accounting for another $3.3 trillion. According to the Journal article: “Contributions from all other sources—including exchange-traded funds, foreign buyers, insurance funds, mutual funds, broker-dealers, hedge funds and households—netted out to roughly zero.”

"They Want Their Monies Out" – Baltimore Residents 'Storm Bank' Amid Fears Of Social Unrest - The evolution of panic hoarding started with 3M N95 masks, then hand sanitizers, non-perishable foods, guns and ammo, and now cash?A video surfaced on Instagram on Saturday, showing a possible bank run in Baltimore City at the MECU Credit Union, located at 2337 E Northern Pkwy.  The area is considered low/middle class working families (predominantly African American community). The video shows a large line of cars on Saturday afternoon and a line at the ATM. People weren't cashing in their paychecks because many people were laid off, as we noted, more than 14 million people in the last several weeks have lost their jobs across the county, and what we could be looking at is the beginnings of a bank run."As soon as the National Guard rolled into Baltimore City – many folks asked themselves – is this a revisit of the Freddy Gray unrest back in 2015," said Teresa Davis, owner and operator of Teresa Davis Productions. Davis said for weeks the National Guard had staged military tent cities across the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. She said military Humvees had been spotted in East Baltimore (down the street from MECU bank), more specifically on East Monument Street, near the Johns Hopkins Hospital, which she adds is a low-income/high-crime area.She said the last time Humvees were spotted on East Monument Street was back during the 2015 riots.Davis said residents had concerns that military vehicles on the streets could suggest that social unrest is nearing. She said, "you know it is kind of weird, everyone just lost their jobs, people are freaking out, and now people are storming the bank.""How are they going to pay their bills that are still mounting? How are they going to feed their families," she said.

Congress seeks more SBA funding; FHFA head rejects mortgage servicer fears -The Trump administration and Congressional leaders “said they hope to move within days to approve hundreds of billions of dollars in new funding for small-business loans, citing widespread demand for assistance from firms hit by shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Heavy requests for the previously approved $350 billion in loans are pushing Republican and Democratic lawmakers to consider augmenting the Paycheck Protection Program less than a week after it started accepting loan applications. President Trump said he supported providing an additional $250 billion in funding for loans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was aiming to pass a bill by the end of this week.” “Lenders have been inundated with applications for the funds since the program launched on Friday.” Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, American Banker“Lenders say they are being hamstrung by the SBA’s slow-moving systems,” the New York Times said. “Some lenders simply can’t get access to the agency’s online application system — which went down for more than an hour on Monday — to submit borrower information quickly and at high volumes. Requests for more logins, which would allow more bank employees to input borrower data to process loans faster, have been ignored or denied.” “Many banks are worried that the SBA has provided them with paperwork that fails to give them legal cover to make loans under the program. They fear that the SBA might later have a technical objection to some portion of their loans, meaning they could end up being unable to recoup the sums they’re handing out to customers. What’s more, with no plan in place for banks to sell the loans and recoup some of the costs of providing cash to borrowers, smaller banks are simply running out of money.” The head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency dismissed claims by nonbank mortgage servicers that they are facing a financial crisis as homeowners who lose their jobs stop making mortgage payments. “I’ve seen zero [evidence] to suggest that there’s a systemic crisis across the nonbank servicers,” Mark Calabria told the Journal. “If this goes on for a year, maybe. But I think the frustration here is a lot of just misrepresentation.” Calabria “said his agency isn’t seeing the alarming levels of forbearance requests estimated by some industry groups, which have suggested that up to 25% or more of borrowers would seek payment relief. At present, the figure is closer to 2% for Fannie and Freddie borrowers, he said, citing industry statistics through April 1.” He also saw no role for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which his agency regulates, “to bail out people in the industry. Their countercyclical role is to provide mortgage credit, and I see no evidence that that is not happening.”

 Brown, Warren call on CFPB to protect consumers, not financial firms - Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Elizabeth Warren of Massaschusetts and three other Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee urged the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to provide relief to consumers — not to financial institutions — during the coronavirus pandemic.The five senators sent a letter to CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger Tuesday calling the bureau’s response to COVID-19 “tepid and ineffectual at best.” The letter also was signed by Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.“In the face of this pandemic, the CFPB is needed now more than ever to protect and mitigate the financial harm being inflicted on American families,” they said. “The CFPB’s guidance has actually weakened protections for consumers—enabling predatory lending, watering down fair lending laws, making it easier for lenders to get away with discrimination against women- and minority-owned small businesses, reducing timely communications with struggling homeowners, and making it easier for credit card and debit card companies rip off their customers.”The senators laid out the various actions the CFPB has taken in the past three weeks that have mostly aided financial firms. For example, they cited guidance that the bureau issued along with the other bank and credit union regulators encouraging institutions to issue small-dollar loans.“This guidance opens the door for banks and credit unions to offer predatory payday loans that trap consumers into cycles of debt,” the letter stated.The senators also noted that the CFPB’s first response to the outbreak was to roll out a “Start Small, Save Up,” initiative championed by Kraninger and encouraging consumers to save money in an emergency.“It is misguided to suggest that the problems confronting millions of American households—especially those who have lost their jobs—can be fixed if they just put away a few extra dollars each paycheck,” the senators wrote. The CFPB also waived quarterly reporting requirements for banks to submit Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, postponed a small-business data collection and waived certain reporting requirements for term and pricing information by credit and prepaid car companies. The CFPB also provided guidance on credit reporting that allows lenders to investigate credit disputes within 45 days, up from the 30 days required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Regulators 'full steam ahead' on CRA reform despite coronavirus pandemic - — The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is plowing ahead on Community Reinvestment Act reform, drawing pushback from leaders of banking and community groups who say their members and regulators should be focused on emergency coronavirus relief.The comment deadline on the CRA proposal issued by the OCC and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was set to expire Wednesday, and there was no sign of an extension. In fact, Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said in a statement emailed to American Banker on Monday that "slowing the rulemaking would only delay relief and support that communities across the country need.""Modernization would bring valuable additional resources to communities across America that are currently underserved by the current regime," Otting said. "Further delay will prevent these additional resources from reaching those who need them most in this time of national emergency."Several groups have urged the agencies to allow extra time for comment as community advocates and bankers focus on mitigating the economic fallout from the pandemic."Moving forward on CRA modernization now, in the light of this crisis, is breathtakingly irresponsible," said David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference. "I’m as strong a supporter of CRA modernization as anyone — it's essential — but it has to be done right. And we have no idea what our communites are going to look like a year from now, or what needs they'll have after this."Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday urged Otting and FDIC Chairman Jelena McWilliams to suspend CRA reform and other rulemaking efforts. In the case of the CRA proposal, the lawmakers — in a letter signed by all 34 of the committee’s Democrats — cited the need to focus on the pandemic as well as the plan's “misguided approach.”  After the health emergency has subsided, a new CRA plan should be drafted with the Federal Reserve "that is consistent with the purpose of the Community Reinvestment Act," the letter said.

BankThink:This is no time for CRA reform - The coronavirus pandemic hit while regulators were pushing through a controversial plan to change a long-standing rule requiring banks to reinvest in local communities. The economic meltdown that’s occurring due the massive spread of the coronavirus — and the inescapable need for social distancing to save lives — has radically altered the situation for everyone with a stake in the Community Reinvestment Act. This 1977 law is the primary accountability test that grades banks based on their investment dollars in the communities where they take deposits. However, the government is now focused on slowing and stopping a deadly pandemic, as well as averting a catastrophic financial collapse. Banks are managing changes to every aspect of their businesses, including how to administer federal emergency loans.  Community groups that are most knowledgeable about the CRA and how to use it to expand investments for low- and moderate-income borrowers are themselves in survival mode and focused on needs in their communities.Before the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading across the U.S., the two agencies leading the proposed CRA reforms — the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. — agreed to extend the public comment period to April 8. But much has happened since, leaving little time and attention for the public to focus on this rule. Despite numerous calls from the nonprofit community and the national community bank trade association, the OCC and the FDIC appear intent to move forward with their agenda and to close public comments Wednesday. This runs counter to other actions regulators have taken recently to delay or extend rulemaking deadlines in response to the coronavirus, and even counter to actions by these agencies themselves.

 Coronavirus mortgage bailout: ‘There is going to be complete chaos,’ says industry CEO - A broad coalition of mortgage and finance industry leaders on Saturday sent a plea to federal regulators, asking for desperately needed cash to keep the mortgage system running during the coronavirus pandemic, as requests from borrowers for the federal mortgage forbearance program are pouring in at an alarming rate. The Cares Act, which seeks to limit the economic damage from COVID-19, mandates that all borrowers with government-backed mortgages — about 62% of all first lien mortgages according to Urban Institute — be allowed to delay at least 90 days of monthly payments and possibly up to a year’s worth. Those payments would then have to be made at a later time through a payment plan. Servicers are granting the payment deferrals to borrowers with no questions asked, as is required by the law, but the servicers still have to pay mortgage bond holders. In normal times, they have enough to cover these payments, and, in fact, at the end of last year the mortgage delinquency rate was near a record low, according to CoreLogic. Now that rate is skyrocketing, and servicers do not have nearly enough cash to cover those payments to bondholders. The coalition, which includes the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of Realtors, the Independent Community Bankers of America, U.S. Mortgage Insurers and the National Apartment Association, issued a press release Saturday saying, “The scale of this forbearance program could not have been foreseen by mortgage servicers, or fully anticipated by regulators ... it is therefore incumbent upon the government to provide a liquidity facility for single-family and multifamily servicers ... any further delay could lead to greater uncertainty and volatility in the market.” Mr. Cooper, the largest nonbank servicer in the nation, with close to 4 million mostly government-backed loans has already granted more than 80,000 forbearances, and the requests keep flooding in. Jay Bray, Mr. Cooper’s CEO, helped federal regulators set up the plan. He said he was told there would be federal cash for servicers, but that part of the deal never made it to the final act.

Requests to delay mortgage payments jump nearly 2,000% as borrowers seek relief during outbreak - Mortgage payments for the month of April are not even officially late until the 15th, but borrowers are flooding into the government’s mortgage forbearance program. Requests to delay mortgage payments grew by 1,270% between the week of March 2 and the week of March 16, and another 1,896% between the week of March 16 and the week of March 30, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Mortgage Bankers Association. It includes data on 22.4 million loans serviced as of April 1, almost 45% of the first lien mortgage servicing market. The Cares Act, which President Donald Trump signed March 27, seeks to limit the economic damage from COVID-19. The government implemented the mortgage relief measures before Trump signed the bill. It mandates that all borrowers with government-backed mortgages — about 62% of all first lien mortgages according to the Urban Institute — be allowed to delay at least 90 days of monthly payments and possibly up to a year’s worth. Those payments must ultimately be remitted either at the end of the loan term or in a structured modification plan. For the week of March 23 through March 29, caller requests numbered 218,718. That number jumped to 717,577 requests in the following week, according to a Mortgage Bankers Association calculation. Mortgage servicers are required to grant forbearance to any borrower who requests it with no documentation of hardship necessary. Among the loans sampled, from March 2 to April 1, total loans in forbearance grew from 0.25% to 2.66% of total servicing portfolios. Ginnie Mae loans in forbearance had the highest volume and grew most significantly from 0.19% to 4.25%. These loans, which represent FHA and VA loans, generally have lower down payments and are granted to borrowers with lower credit scores. It is also getting more difficult for borrowers to get through to their mortgage servicers to make these forbearance requests. Call center average speed to answer reached 17.5 minutes from under two minutes three weeks ago. About 25% of borrowers are abandoning the calls compared with 5% three weeks ago.

  Fannie, Freddie Unlikely to Aid Mortgage Companies as Payments Dry Up, FHFA Chief Says – WSJ - A top U.S. housing-market regulator said he isn’t likely to heed mortgage companies’ calls to help ease the cash-flow crunch they are expecting when Americans who lose their jobs stop making mortgage payments. Mark Calabria, who leads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, described industry concerns as “spin.” In an interview on Tuesday, he also said he doesn’t see it as the role of government-backed housing-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which he oversees, to help the mortgage companies. “I’ve seen zero [evidence] to suggest that there’s a systemic crisis across the nonbank servicers,” Mr. Calabria said. “If this goes on for a year, maybe. But I think the frustration here is a lot of just misrepresentation.” The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting the global economy. WSJ’s Greg Ip explains what the Federal Reserve can do to stem the damage. Illustration: Carlos Waters/WSJ Mortgage companies, such as Mr. Cooper Group Inc. and Quicken Loans Inc., collect payments from homeowners and pass them on to investors who hold securities issued by Fannie and Freddie. The mortgage companies are on the hook to continue payments to investors even if homeowners fall behind. The companies are eventually reimbursed by Fannie and Freddie, but the process could take several months. Normally this isn’t a problem. But the mortgage companies, also known as servicers, are bracing for a cash crunch as homeowners take advantage of a government offer to suspend payments during the coronavirus pandemic. The offer is part of the $2.2 trillion relief package enacted last month.

 Servicers to feds: Stopgap plans not enough against coronavirus - The Federal Reserve and Treasury Department have made noises about providing extra help to mortgage servicers who could face a catastrophic spike in delinquencies, but efforts to provide a broad liquidity backstop are still plagued by uncertainty.The April 1 due date for mortgage payments came and went last week with no action by the Fed or Treasury, which have been in discussions with the industry on a potential liquidity plan in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Ginnie Mae announced a stopgap measure late last month to advance payments to certain servicers on behalf of delinquent borrowers.But that reprieve has only magnified questions about longer-term liquidity concerns. The Ginnie plan is temporary and covers only certain portions of the mortgage market — typically low- and moderate-income borrowers. If the crisis stretches on for several months, with defaults expected to reach 10% to 25% or more, many observers say a more comprehensive solution will be needed. “I hope policymakers realize they have to look at this holistically,” said Ted Tozer, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute and a former president of Ginnie Mae.On Saturday, the Mortage Bankers Association, the National Association of Realtors and a dozen other housing groups issued a statement begging for action. “Ginnie Mae’s recent announcement that it intends to establish a liquidity facility for single- and multifamily mortgage forbearance is appreciated and follows congressional intent. However, it will not address servicing advances associated with loans backing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or private-label securities, nor will it address advances of taxes and insurance on loans backing Ginnie Mae securities," the statement said. “Any further delay could lead to greater uncertainty and volatility in the market."

Senators urge oversight council to provide relief to mortgage servicers- A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Financial Stability Oversight Council to provide temporary liquidity to mortgage servicers overwhelmed by requests for forbearance due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a letter Wednesday to direct money Congress authorized in the CARES Act to address liquidity challenges they expect mortgage servicers to face in the upcoming weeks. The legislation authorized $455 billion for purposes of economic stabilization activities. The senators warned that mortgage servicers will not be able to cover growing obligations to their investors, as borrowers get forbearance on federally backed mortgages afforded by the CARES Act. “Given the magnitude of the economic stress that many Americans will face as a result of the virus, and the early numbers we are seeing from lenders across the country, it is likely that many families will be unable to make their payments as scheduled, triggering widespread participation in the program, with potentially up to 25% of borrowers seeking assistance,” the senators wrote. “Therefore, we are calling for immediate action to avoid an impending crisis in the mortgage servicing sector, that could further threaten the mortgage market.”The request comes as mortgage servicers have renewed calls for aid from the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department after the head of Federal Housing Finance Agency said that nonbank servicers will get no relief from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.The Mortgage Bankers Association called comments by FHFA Director Mark Calabria “troubling” and said they underscore the need for the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to create a liquidity facility to help mortgage servicers.

Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey - Mortgage applications decreased 17.9 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending April 3, 2020. ... The Refinance Index decreased 19 percent from the previous week and was 144 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 12 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 12 percent compared with the previous week and was 33 percent lower than the same week one year ago. ... “Mortgage applications fell last week, as economic weakness and the surge in unemployment continues to weigh heavily on the housing market. Purchase activity declined again, with the index dropping to its lowest level since 2015 and now down 33 percent compared to a year ago,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “With much less liquidity and tighter credit in the jumbo market, average loan sizes declined, and mortgage rates for jumbo loans increased to a high last seen in January.” Added Kan, “Refinance applications dropped 19 percent, reversing a 25 percent increase the week before. Given the ongoing rate volatility, along with the persistent lack of liquidity in certain sectors of the MBS market, we expect to see continued weekly swings in refinance activity.” ... The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 3.49 percent from 3.47 percent, with points decreasing to 0.28 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

CoreLogic: House Prices up 4.1% Year-over-year in February Notes: This CoreLogic House Price Index report is for February. The recent Case-Shiller index release was for January. The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA). From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports February Home Prices Increased by 4.1% Year Over Year Home prices increased nationally by 4.1% from February 2019. On a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.6% in February 2020. (January 2020 data was revised. Revisions with public records data are standard, and to ensure accuracy, CoreLogic incorporates the newly released public data to provide updated results each month.) The CoreLogic HPI Forecast projects U.S. home prices to increase by 0.5% from February 2020 to March 2020. Homes that settle during March will largely reflect purchase contracts that were signed in January and February, before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices calculated using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. “The nearly 10-year-old recovery of the U.S. housing market has run headlong into the panic and uncertainty from the global COVID-19 pandemic. In terms of home value trends,we are in uncharted territory as we battle the outbreak with measures that are generating a never-before-seen, rapid downshift in economic activity and employment. We expect that many homeowners will initially be somewhat cushioned by government programs, ultra-low interest rates or have adequate reserves to weather the storm. Over the second half of the year, we predict unemployment and other factors will become more pronounced, which will apply additional pressure on housing activity in the medium term.”, Frank Martell, President and CEO of CoreLogic

De Blasio calls for a rent freeze amid coronavirus pandemic - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) called for a rent freeze in the city amid the coronavirus pandemic. De Blasio, who has already halted evictions in the city, said he would also ask the state government in Albany to allow New Yorkers to pay their rents with their security deposits as the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis thrusts families’ finances into uncertainty. “We need a rent freeze,” de Blasio tweeted Friday. “I am calling on the Rent Guidelines Board to freeze rents for all regulated apartments. I’m also asking the State to allow New Yorkers to pay rent with their security deposit. I want to see them act quickly.” The coronavirus pandemic has led to the shuttering of schools and several industries, leaving many parents out of a job with nowhere to send their children during the day. De Blasio has issued a series of orders and recommendations for New York City residents to combat the coronavirus, including calling for a “national enlistment of medical personnel” and advising people wear any kind of makeshift face mask if they are outside. New York City has emerged as the epicenter for the country’s COVID-19 outbreak — the city has had more than 92,000 confirmed cases and nearly 6,000 deaths.

Hotels: Occupancy Rate Declined 68.5% Year-over-year to All Time Record Low - From STR: US hotel results for week ending 4 April Reflecting the continued impact 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 29 March through 4 April 2020, according to data from STR. In comparison with the week of 31 March through 6 April 2019, the industry recorded the following:
• Occupancy: -68.5% to 21.6%
• Average daily rate (ADR): -41.5% to US$76.51
• Revenue per available room (RevPAR): -81.6% to US$16.50
“Data worsened a bit from last week, and certain patterns were extended around occupancy,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights. “Economy hotels continued to run the highest occupancy, while interstate and suburban properties once again posted the top occupancy rates among location types. This shows there are still pockets of demand while more than 75% of the rooms around the country are empty. We don’t expect any material change in the magnitude of RevPAR declines for the time being.” 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.  Note the graph is a 4-week average.

 New York Fed Finds Broad Drop in March Consumer Confidence Amid Crisis – WSJ - Almost any way you look at it, Americans’ outlook on the economy faltered significantly last month as the coronavirus crisis began to take hold in the U.S. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Monday in its latest Survey of Consumer Expectations that just about every measure of what the public thinks about the future of the economy, be it job related or financial, tumbled last month, as broad swaths of the economy shut down. The survey was launched in 2013, and in March, it recorded a number of record readings. The report said it collected its findings between March 2 and March 31. As information came in it was already deteriorating, reflecting the fast-moving nature of the crisis, the bank said. That suggests future reports could be even worse, as the U.S. confronts a downturn that is unrivaled by economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. Earlier Monday, Credit Suisse said in a report the U.S. economy will contract 33.5% in the second quarter and by 5.3% for the year, with the expected decline for the year nearly doubling the 2.8% gross domestic product drop seen in 2008, the worst year of the financial crisis. On Friday, the government reported big declines in hiring and a surge in unemployment to 4.4%. Many expect that rate to go much higher, and for there only to be a modest recovery into year-end. In the report, labor market factors fared particularly poorly. Expectations that the unemployment rate would be higher a year from now rose to a record high of 50.9% of those surveyed, from 34.2% in February. The report found that respondents said the probability of losing one’s job in the next year jumped 4.7 percentage points to 18.5%, a record for the survey. The probability of finding a new job over the same time horizon dropped to 53%, from February’s 58.7%. Expectations of income gains and spending both declined, and the bank noted “the drop was broad-based across age, education and income groups.”

University of Michigan: Largest Decline on Record for Consumer Sentiment - From the University of Michigan: Preliminary Results for April 2020:  Consumer sentiment plunged 18.1 Index-points in early April, the largest monthly decline ever recorded. When combined with last month's decline, the two-month drop of 30.0 Index-points was 50% larger than the prior record. Of the two Index components, the Current Conditions Index plunged by 31.3 Index-points, nearly twice the prior record decline of 16.6 points set in October 2008. In contrast, the Expectations Index fell by 9.7 points, a substantial decline, but not nearly as steep as the record 16.5 point drop in December of 1980. This suggests that the free-fall in confidence would have been worse were it not for the expectation that the infection and death rates from covid-19 would soon peak and allow the economy to restart. As noted in last week's special report, anticipating a quick and sustained economic expansion is likely to be a failed expectation, resulting in a renewed and deeper slump in confidence. Indeed, the peak decline in the Expectations Index recorded in December 1980 reflected a relapse following the end of the short January to July 1980 recession, signaling the start of a longer and deeper recession that lasted from July 1981 to November 1982. Consumers need to be prepared for a longer and deeper recession rather than the now discredited message that pent-up demand will spark a quick, robust, and sustained economic recovery. Continued declines in the seven-day average Sentiment Index can be expected in the weeks ahead (see the featured chart). Sharp additional declines may occur when consumers adjust their views to a slower expected pace of the economic recovery.

 How the coronavirus crisis is upending auto lending  - During the last financial crisis, U.S. consumers proved surprisingly resilient in making their monthly car payments. Because so many Americans need vehicles to get to and from work, there was a certain logic in prioritizing automobile loans over mortgages.This time may be different. With large parts of the economy shut down, unemployment claims are being filed at record rates. And for now, residents of 42 states are being instructed not to leave their homes unless it’s necessary.  The result is that coronavirus crisis is upending the auto industry. Lenders are offering forbearance at a previously unseen scale. Certain states have suspended repossessions. And with many showrooms closed temporarily, auto sales have fallen precipitously.  “There’s not going to be anybody out there buying cars in the next month or two,” said Mike Taiano, an analyst at Fitch Ratings. “And even beyond that, you wonder.” One bit of good news for auto lenders is that the Federal Reserve has taken steps to ensure that they continue to have liquidity. Under an emergency lending program that the central bank revived last month, securities backed by auto loans and leases are eligible as collateral. In March, U.S. auto sales plunged to their lowest level in almost 10 years, according to Standard & Poor’s. Sales on a seasonally adjusted, annualized basis were 32% lower than in February.But the monthly data obscured an even sharper decline late last month. During the final week of March, retail auto sales were 61% lower than J.D. Power had projected prior to the coronavirus outbreak. April figures to be an even worse month for auto sales than March was. In China, which experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 before the United States did, auto sales fell from over 2.5 million in January to fewer than 500,000 in February, according to the Center for Automotive Research.

COVID-19 relief bill provisions help consumers protect their credit scores - Washington acted swiftly in passing the $2.2 trillion economic relief package to help blunt the ongoing pandemic-led economic downturn. The CARES Act provides financial assistance to millions of Americans losing out on their paychecks, as well as to businesses watching their cash-flow slow to a trickle. Just as importantly, the legislation provides consumers relief in regard to another precious commodity — time. Workers being laid-off or furloughed will certainly appreciate the checks coming from Washington to help them pay daily expenses. But it will do little good when the calendar turns and next month’s mortgage, credit card bill or student loan payment comes due. What borrowers need as much as financial assistance is breathing room and a hedge against a possible default or delinquency that would tarnish their credit profile and lead to long-term financial injury. Thankfully, Section 4021 of the relief bill sets forth clear guidelines to protect borrowers who, through no fault of their own, are suffering through the current economic maelstrom. Here’s how it works. Under this section of the relief law, borrowers in good standing who are impacted by COVID-19 will be able to contact their lenders and apply for forbearance or a modified payment arrangement. Lenders will then continue to report their status as “current” with the credit reporting bureaus to avoid the reporting of any negative marks that would otherwise send credit scores plummeting downward. There is even help in the new law for consumers delinquent in their bills. If they too make the call to their lenders and ask for a modified payment plan, they can maintain the same status with their creditors without defaulting. This is an enormously helpful step for consumers that will prevent COVID-19 from tanking their credit scores and creating long-term financial disaster for millions of families.

  Consumer Credit Soared In February, Just Before The Economy Shut Down - Just like today's JOLTS report, which as we reported earlier came in far stronger than expected, so today's consumer credit report was largely meaningless, covering the month of February which unfortunately represented a different world. That said, coming in at $22.331BN this number also shattered expectations of a modest increase in consumer credit from $12BN to $14BN in February, printing nearly twice as high as expected. Whether or not one sees a higher number compared to expectations as a beat or a miss will depend on whether one is a Keynesian or Austrian economist. Specifically, in February, Revolving credit rose by $4.2BN to a record $1.096 trillion, after shrinking by $2.5 billion the month prior.At the same time, nonrevolving credit - mostly auto and student loans - rose $18.1BN, also hitting a new all time high of $3.129 trillion.Alas, as noted above, none of this matters as the world was flipped upside down in March, however next month's data will be extremely interesting, as it will show whether when faced with an upcoming economic crisis, American households splurged and used their credit card to buy everything they could, or conversely, they hunkered down and entered a savings hibernation. Needless to say, the former could be catastrophic for an economy where 70% of GDP is a function of consumer spending. One thing however is certain: non-revolving debt, which is incurred mostly when purchasing cars, will plunge in March and may stay at or near zero for a long, long time.

State Shutdowns Have Taken at Least a Quarter of U.S. Economy Offline – WSJ  - At least one-quarter of the U.S. economy has suddenly gone idle amid the coronavirus pandemic, an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal shows, an unprecedented shutdown of commerce that economists say has never occurred on such a wide scale. The study, by the economic-analysis firm Moody’s Analytics, offers one of the most comprehensive looks yet at how much of the world’s largest economy has shut down in the past three weeks. It also analyzes counties big and small—from Manhattan to tiny Gilpin County, Colo.—to estimate how a concentration of government shutdown orders in the counties that produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s goods and services has weighed on the national picture. While 8 in 10 U.S. counties are under lockdown orders, according to Moody’s, they represent nearly 96% of national output. Forty-one states have ordered at least some businesses to close to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, according to Moody’s. Restaurants, universities, gyms, movie theaters, public parks, boutiques and millions of other “nonessential” businesses have shut off the lights as a result. The upshot: U.S. daily output has fallen roughly 29%, compared with the first week of March, just before the spate of closures, the analysis shows. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, doesn’t believe the 29% monthly drop in daily output will be sustained over two more months. If it did, gross domestic product would fall at a roughly 75% annual rate in the second quarter. Mr. Zandi believes many counties will reopen before the summer and projects a 30% annualized decline in second-quarter GDP. Most economists expect output to pick back up this summer or in the fall, as states reopen and virus cases drop. But the magnitude of the drop in daily output—however long it lasts—is staggering. Annual output fell 26% between 1929 and 1933, during the Great Depression, Commerce Department data show. Quarterly output fell almost 4% between late 2007 and mid-2009, the last recession. “This is a natural disaster,” Mr. Zandi said. “There’s nothing in the Great Depression that is analogous to what we’re experiencing now.” The analysis almost certainly underestimates the total hit because it looks only at the lost output caused by the abrupt closure of businesses to date. It doesn’t consider how much output will be further lost due to additional demand-side drops from higher unemployment and the loss of household wealth on household and business spending.

 U.S. Consumer Prices Fell in March – WSJ —U.S. consumer prices fell in March as oil prices plummeted and the U.S. economy began to strain under the novel coronavirus pandemic.The consumer-price index, which measures what Americans pay for everything from medical supplies to toys, fell a seasonally adjusted 0.4% in March, the largest monthly decline since January 2015, the Labor Department said Friday. That came after the index rose 0.1% in both February and January.  Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, so-called core prices fell 0.1%, compared with a 0.2% rise in February.  Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected the consumer-price index to decline 0.3% in March, and core prices to rise 0.1%.  In the year to March, overall prices rose 1.5%, while core prices were up 2.1% on the year, the Labor Department said. “Globally the challenge has been inflation below target,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday during a Brookings Institution interview. “Honestly, it is not a first order concern for us today, that too high inflation might be coming our way in the near future.”Meanwhile wages rose in March. Real average hourly earnings increased a seasonally adjusted 0.8% from February to March. The large increase resulted from higher earnings combined with a drop in the consumer-price index. Real average weekly earnings increased 0.2% over the month as the increase in hourly wages was partially offset by a 0.6% decrease in the average workweek. The unemployment rate rose 0.9 percentage point in March to 4.4%, the largest over-the-month increase in the rate since January 1975, the Labor Department reported last week. Friday’s price inflation report showed an index of energy prices fell 5.8% in March, led by a seasonally adjusted 10.5% fall in gasoline costs. Oil markets have been battered by the coronavirus, which has sapped demand as travel around the world grinds to a halt and people consume less fuel. At the same time, a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia over their share of global energy markets threatens to make the glut of oil even more severe.  U.S. oil prices recorded their largest drop in any month ever in March as the coronavirus crisis dented fuel demand. Prices ended the month down 54% for the month and 66% for the quarter, their largest monthly and quarterly drops ever. The price index for apparel fell 2% on the month in March. Transportation services slid 1.9%, while food prices rose 0.3%.

BLS: CPI decreased 0.4% in March, Core CPI decreased 0.1% - From the BLS: The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined 0.4 percent in March on a seasonally adjusted basis, the largest monthly decline since January 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.A sharp decline in the gasoline index was a major cause of the monthly decrease in the seasonally adjusted all items index, with decreases in the indexes for airline fares, lodging away from home, and apparel also contributing. The energy index fell 5.8 percent as the gasoline index decreased 10.5 percent....The index for all items less food and energy fell 0.1 percent in March, its first monthly decline since January 2010.…The all items index increased 1.5 percent for the 12 months ending March, a notably smaller increase than the 2.3-percent increase for the period ending February. The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.1 percent over the last 12 months. Overall inflation was below expectations in March. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI.

Coronavirus Disruptions Pushed U.S. Prices Down in March – WSJ —U.S. consumer prices fell in March as oil prices plummeted and the economy began to strain under the new coronavirus pandemic. The consumer-price index, which measures what Americans pay for everything from medical supplies to toys, fell a seasonally adjusted 0.4% in March, the largest monthly decline since January 2015, the Labor Department said Friday. That came after the index rose 0.1% in both February and January. Big drops were recorded in categories associated with travel and transportation as Americans stayed home amid the widening coronavirus crisis. The airline fares index declined sharply in March, falling 12.6% on the month, and lodging away from home dropped 6.8%. Apparel and new vehicle prices also dropped as consumers stayed away from stores and car dealerships due to social distancing measures. Transportation services slid 1.9%. Economists expect a weaker economy and low energy prices to keep inflation in check due to lower consumer demand in the months ahead. “There were few signs of any slide into a more widespread deflation,” noted Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics, pointing to higher costs of rent and medical care in March. Food prices also rose. The Labor Department noted that data collection in March was affected by the temporary closing or limited operations of certain businesses, which meant some prices were temporarily unavailable and imputed by the agency. U.S. statistical agencies are struggling to measure the economy during disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic, with lockdowns and widespread business closures making it harder to gather information. The result, experts say, is data that could significantly change in the future. The U.S. could see broadly lower prices, or deflation, after the coronavirus’s spread is slowed and lockdown measures are lifted. Disrupted supply can roar back quickly but lost income and the shock to consumer confidence could weigh on demand much longer. In the year to March, overall prices rose 1.5%, while core prices were up 2.1% on the year, the Labor Department said. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, so-called core prices fell 0.1% on the month, compared with a 0.2% rise in February.

Consumer prices sharply decline in March: keep your eye on wages (see graphs) This morning we got some monthly economic data that will be actually valuable to watch throughout this Coronavirus Recession: consumer prices. That’s because during recessions, consumer price growth decelerates, as does wage growth, which continues to decelerate well after the recession bottoms out. Since monthly changes in inflation are closely correlated with the gas prices, let’s start by comparing the two: Gas prices declined -8.5% during March. Unsurprisingly, consumer prices followed suit, declining by -0.4%. Next, let’s compare overall consumer inflation (blue again) with consumer inflation ex-energy (red), since prior to the past two recessions the latter had increased by 2.5% or more YoY: We were on the cusp of that 2.5% threshold just before this recession hit. Note that inflation ex-energy tends to follow overall inflation with a slight lag. If gas prices remain depressed, we can expect this “core” inflation measure to decelerate substantially as well. This is par for the course during a recession. What is much more worrisome to me is whether wage growth, which came close to completely stalling even nominally during and after the Great Recession, with 16 months of wage growth of less than +0.1%, as shown below, might actually tip into deflation this time around - a concern that I have repeated numerous times during the past expansion: Here is what YoY wage growth (black) looks like in comparison with consumer prices ex-energy (red): Expect wage growth to decelerate sharply almost immediately. Should it ever tip into negative territory, that would open the door almost instantaneously to a vicious wage-price deflationary spiral, the type of which was last seen during 1929-32. Keep your fingers very crossed.

Amazon to suspend delivery service competing with UPS, FedEx (Reuters) - Inc will suspend a delivery service that aims to compete with UPS and FedEx in the United States. The online retailer told customers that the service, Amazon Shipping, will be paused starting in June, according to the Wall Street Journal, which was first to report the change. Amazon is suspending the service because it needs people and capacity to handle a surge in its own customers’ orders, the Journal reported, citing sources. "We regularly look at a variety of factors across Amazon to make sure we're set up in the right way to best serve our customers," an Amazon spokesperson told Reuters in an email confirming the halt in service. Amazon Shipping is available in a handful of U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, and handles non-Amazon and Amazon marketplace packages. The company is grappling with a demand surge in the United States, where most residents are under stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that is sweeping around the globe. Amazon has been unable to get many packages to customers in one or two days, as it had promised prior to the epidemic. The suspension of Amazon Shipping will allow the company to focus on its core delivery operation

U.S. Heavy Truck Sales down 43% Year-over-year in March - The following graph shows heavy truck sales since 1967 using data from the BEA. The dashed line is the March 2020 seasonally adjusted annual sales rate (SAAR).  Heavy truck sales really collapsed during the great recession, falling to a low of 180 thousand SAAR in May 2009.  Then heavy truck sales increased to a new all time high of 575 thousand SAAR in September 2019.  However heavy truck sales started declining late last year due to lower oil prices. And then heavy truck sales really declined at the end of March due to COVID-19 and the collapse in oil prices. Heavy truck sales were at 291 thousand SAAR in March, down from 453 thousand SAAR in February, and down 43% from 514 thousand SAAR in March 2019. Heavy truck sales in April will likely be below the low of 180 thousand SAAR in May 2009, and probably below the record low of 159 thousand SAAR in 1982.

U.S. producer prices fall in March - (Reuters) - U.S. producer prices fell in March, with the cost of goods dropping by the most since 2015, and further declines are likely as the novel coronavirus weighs on demand for energy products. The Labor Department said on Thursday its producer price index for final demand slipped 0.2% last month after dropping 0.6% in February, which was the biggest decline since January 2015. In the 12 months through March, the PPI gained 0.7%. That followed a 1.3% increase in February. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI decreasing 0.4% in March and gaining 0.5% on a year-on-year basis. Excluding the volatile food, energy and trade services components, producer prices fell 0.2%, the largest decrease since October 2015, after dipping 0.1% in February. The so-called core PPI increased 1.0% in the 12 months through March after advancing 1.4% in February. The coronavirus pandemic is suppressing demand for services like transportation, hotel accommodation, entertainment and recreation. At the same time, the specter of a deep global recession and an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia have sent crude prices tumbling. This is expected to offset price increases caused by bottlenecks in the supply chain. The Federal Reserve tracks the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index for its 2% inflation target. The core PCE price index increased 1.8% on a year-on-year basis in February after rising 1.7% in January. It undershot its target in 2019. March data will be released at the end of the month. In March, wholesale energy prices tumbled 6.7% after dropping 3.6% in February. They were weighed down by a 16.8% plunge in gasoline prices. That followed a 6.5% decline in February. Gasoline accounted for 80% of the drop in the cost of goods last month. Goods prices dropped 1.0%, the largest decrease since September 2015, after tumbling 0.9% in the prior month. Wholesale food prices were unchanged last month after falling 1.6% in February. Core goods prices rose 0.2% in March. They edged down 0.1% in February. The cost of services increased 0.2% in March, after dropping 0.3% in February. Services were lifted by a 1.4% jump in margins for final demand trade services, which measure changes in margins received by wholesalers and retailers. The cost of healthcare services was unchanged after gaining 0.2% in February. Portfolio management fees dropped 0.8% last month after February’s 0.3% increase. They likely took a hit from a sharp sell-off in the stock market. Those healthcare and portfolio management costs feed into the core PCE price index.

March Producer Price Index: Core Final Demand Up 0.2% MoM - Today's release of the March Producer Price Index (PPI) for Final Demand was at -0.2% month-over-month seasonally adjusted, up from a 0.6% decrease last month. It is at 0.7% year-over-year, down from 1.3% last month, on a non-seasonally adjusted basis. Core Final Demand (less food and energy) came in at 0.2% MoM, up from -0.3% the previous month and is up 1.4% YoY NSA. MoM consensus forecasts were for -0.4% headline and 0.1% core. Here is the summary of the news release on Final Demand:The Producer Price Index for final demand fell 0.2 percent in March, seasonally adjusted, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Final demand prices declined 0.6 percent in February and increased 0.5 percent in January. (See table A.) On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index advanced 0.7 percent for the 12 months ended in March. In March, the decrease in the final demand index can be traced to a 1.0-percent drop in prices for final demand goods. The index for final demand services moved up 0.2 percent. Prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services declined 0.2 percent in March, the largest decrease since falling 0.2 percent in October 2015. For the 12 months ended in March, the index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services rose 1.0 percent.Coronavirus (COVID-19) Impact on March 2020 Producer Price Index Survey Data: The Producer Price Index (PPI) pricing date was March 10. Response rates for March were consistent with those of February, and no changes in estimation procedures were necessary. More…   The BLS shifted its focus to its new "Final Demand" series in 2014, a shift we support. However, the data for these series are only constructed back to November 2009 for Headline and April 2010 for Core. Since our focus is on longer-term trends, we continue to track the legacy Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, which the BLS also includes in their monthly updates. As this (older) overlay illustrates, the Final Demand and Finished Goods indexes are highly correlated.

U.S. Wholesale Inventories Slump More Than Expected In February - Reflecting decreases in inventories of both durable and non-durable goods, the Commerce Department released a report on Thursday showing a bigger than expected decrease in U.S. wholesale inventories in the month of February. The Commerce Department said wholesale inventories slid by 0.7 percent in February after falling by a revised 0.6 percent in January. Economists had expected wholesale inventories to decrease by 0.5 percent compared to the 0.4 percent drop originally reported for the previous month. The bigger than expected decline in wholesale inventories came as inventories of durable goods slumped by 0.8 percent and inventories of non-durable goods fell by 0.4 percent. The report also said wholesale sales tumbled by 0.8 percent in February following a 1.3 percent jump in the previous month. While sales of durable goods inched up by 0.1 percent, the uptick was more than offset by a 1.6 percent nosedive in sales of non-durable goods. With inventories and sales both falling, the inventories/sales ratio for merchant wholesalers in February was unchanged from the previous month at 1.31.

Small Business Optimism Crashes By Most Ever -  The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index fell 8.1 points in March to 96.4, the largest monthly decline in the survey’s history and ending a historic run of 39-months of strong small business optimism above 100. Nine of the 10 Index components declined, which is evidence that economic disruptions are escalating on Main Street as small businesses struggle to keep their doors open. The small business sector is anticipating and bracing for continued economic disruptions going forward.“Small businesses are living through the coronavirus pandemic right now and it’s hard to say what the severity of the disruption will be, but we do know they’re feeling the urgency,” said NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg. “It is vital that these businesses have access to federal funds that are made available through the CARES Act to keep the doors open on Main Street.”The financial markets saw substantial change in March, with the stock market indices losing 22% of their value and jobless claims rising to a record 10 million in the last two weeks of the month. The NFIB survey collected the majority of responses in the first half of the month, so the sharp decline in employment is not reflected in the March survey data. You can find NFIB’s split write-up here. The main takeaways from the March survey include:

  • The NFIB Uncertainty Index rose 12 points in March to 92, the highest level since March 2017.
  • Reports of better business conditions in the next six months declined 17 points to a net 5%, which is the largest monthly decline since November 2012.
  • Real sales expectations in the next six months declined 31 points to a net negative 12%, the largest monthly decline in the survey’s history.
  • Thirteen percent of firms thought it was a good time to expand, a decline of 13 points from last month.
  • Job openings fell three points to 35%.

 "I'd Rather Stay Unemployed Than Risk My Life" - Grocery Store Workers Strike As COVID-19 Deaths Soar - As we've been warning over the last several weeks, the beginning innings of social unrest in the Western world could be developing. Millions of people have just lost their jobs, the economy has crashed, and suicides and domestic violence are increasing, this is all the characteristics of a recession, if not a depression in the second quarter.Last week, Amazon and Instacart workers kicked off strikes to demand safety equipment and better pay amid the virus pandemic that has left some of their colleagues in the hospital, infected with the deadly virus. Amazon employees walked out of a Staten Island warehouse on Monday, the second week in a row. We noted last week how strikes and protests would likely spread "to other businesses."And we were right, now workers at some Massachusetts grocery stores will protest on Tuesday morning to demand medical equipment and the need for hazard pay as their probabilities of contracting the virus are high.  Organizers told WCVB Boston that employees from Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Trader Joes & Shaw are expected to join the rally, scheduled for 1100ET outside the Whole Foods at 348 Harrison Ave in Boston.The organizers are requesting that employers provide workers with "hazard pay of time and half for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis." During the protest, workers are expected to abide by Massachusetts' social distancing rules and stand 6 feet apart from others.  The protest comes as major supermarket chains across the country are starting to report an increase in virus cases and deaths.

Global food shortages: Here's why grocery stores don't have what you want – CNN - The coronavirus pandemic has delivered a shock to tens of millions of people in rich countries around the world: Suddenly, they can't buy the food they want, when they want. Food supply chains in developed economies are showing increased signs of strain as nationwide lockdowns designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus heap pressure on systems that had very little slack to begin with. The result is empty store shelves, and panicked buyers. The transportation links that move food around the globe are being tested in unprecedented ways. Shipowners are struggling to change crews and move goods between ports. Airlines have grounded thousands of planes, slashing air freight capacity. Travel restrictions also are clogging up road networks and making it difficult for farm workers to get where they are needed. And at the end of food supply chains, supermarkets that have come to rely on just-in-time deliveries have been upset by huge demand and panic buying. Global stocks of staple commodities such as wheat, corn and rice are at healthy levels, said Maximo Torero Cullen, chief economist at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. But logistics bottlenecks need to be identified and resolved quickly to ensure goods can get to where they are needed, and protectionist policies avoided, he added. The food supply crunch is getting attention from top policymakers: Leaders from the Group of 20 major economies last week pledged to resolve disruptions to global supply chains and ensure the movement of vital medical supplies, critical agricultural products and other goods and services across borders. Shipping would be a good place to start. The vast majority of the world's food supply is carried on ships, either in containers or on board bulk carriers. Yet shipowners, already reeling from shutdowns of some of the world's busiest ports in China, are now having to contend with sweeping lockdowns all over the world, hindering access to ports and making crew changes all but impossible due to travel restrictions.

Shortages of some grocery list staples could last for months - Shortages of many basic items on supermarket shelves are likely to persist for months as food suppliers scramble to meet unprecedented consumer demand. With initial stockpiles gone and most families staying home from work and school, grocery purchases are up significantly and demand for some items is far surpassing available supply, according to industry leaders in Maine. There is no reason to panic, they said. Store shelves still have plenty of food, and there are currently no major disruptions in the supply chain. Supermarket customers are presented with plenty of bread, meat, dairy and fresh produce. But stores are having a hard time keeping stores of dry goods, canned and frozen vegetables, pasta, rice, baking supplies, paper products and eggs, among other items. “There is not a critical disruption, but there is a demand issue that is causing periodic shortages on the shelves,” said Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at national food industry association FMI. Nationally, unit sales of canned vegetables, dry macaroni and cheese, flour, powdered milk, pasta and spray disinfectant on the week ending March 22 were three times more than the same week the year before, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI. Sales of sugar, toilet paper, soup, frozen pizza and hot cereal were more than double that week compared to the year before. Problems started after a run on food and household essentials in mid-March, as the pandemic’s severity became clear. The surge in grocery purchases wiped out weeks of supplies supermarket chains and wholesalers normally stockpile in their distribution centers, Baker said. Without that backstop, supply of some items is dictated by how much producers can manufacture and push directly into the supply chain. That means producers have to limit the amount they can allocate to each supermarket company and wholesaler. “Now what is happening is machines are producing, but they can only produce so much in a day – they do not have that safety stock to manage demand spikes,” Baker said. “By the time it hits the shelves it is just not lasting as long.”

Anarchy of capitalist food production exposed as dairy farmers ordered to dump milk -In scenes reminiscent of the Great Depression, dairy farmers across the US have been ordered to dump perfectly good milk into their fields and lagoons where it will seep into the earth. The inability of the capitalist system to scientifically plan and coordinate production has left producers no choice but to dump millions of gallons of milk, with no end in sight. Images of farmers dumping their milk has provoked outrage among workers, as grocery stores across the country are still limiting purchases of essential dairy products. While being told to shelter in place, millions of people are obliged to make return trips to the grocery store in order to purchase perishables such as milk, putting their families and essential workers at risk. This comes at a time of mass layoffs, with millions of families being thrown into food insecurity and compelled to rely on food banks for sustenance. In an interview with the Guardian. Jerry Brown, media spokesman for St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, a coalition of 700 food banks, reflected on the unprecedented demand for their services in the US, “The 2008 recession doesn’t touch this. It’s a different ballgame.” The implementation of social distancing guidelines has collapsed several traditional milk markets such as schools and restaurants. US public schools were the number one consumer of liquid milk according to Pam Jahnke, editor of the Midwest Farm Report. Unable or willing to make the societally beneficial investments to freeze and store the milk for later use or distribution, the market demands it be discarded in order to keep prices artificially inflated.

Walmart CEO says company sold enough toilet paper in 5 days for every American to have a roll - Walmart sold enough toilet paper in five days for every American to have a roll, according to the company's CEO. "In the last five days we've sold enough toilet paper for every American to have their own roll. Just in five days," CEO Doug McMillon told NBC's Today Show on Friday. As the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S., pushing Americans inside their homes to self-isolate and help prevent the pandemic, shoppers are continuing to share photos of empty shelves on social media. McMillon said they're continually restocking essential supplies such as toilet paper and food. "I think it's important that everyone know our merchandise continues to flow," McMillon added on NBC, noting that hand sanitizer is a little "harder to come by" right now. "There's plenty of flow coming but if everyone can just kind of manage and buy week-to-week rather than stocking up, it'd be helpful for everybody," he said. McMillon added that buying trends have shifted as people have stayed home longer. "It started out with food and consumable and then it moved to things like puzzles and games," he told NBC. "Lately we've seen more grooming products. People are starting to need a haircut."

What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage - In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.  Talk to anyone in the industry, and they’ll tell you the toilet paper made for the commercial market is a fundamentally different product from the toilet paper you buy in the store. It comes in huge rolls, too big to fit on most home dispensers. The paper itself is thinner and more utilitarian. It comes individually wrapped and is shipped on huge pallets, rather than in brightly branded packs of six or 12.“Not only is it not the same product, but it often doesn’t come from the same mills,” added Jim Luke, a professor of economics at Lansing Community College, who once worked as head of planning for a wholesale paper distributor. “So for instance, Procter & Gamble [which owns Charmin] is huge in the retail consumer market. But it doesn’t play in the institutional market at all.”Georgia-Pacific, which sells to both markets, told me its commercial products also use more recycled fiber, while the retail sheets for its consumer brands Angel Soft and Quilted Northern are typically 100% virgin fiber. Eric Abercrombie, a spokesman for the company, said it has seen demand rise on the retail side, while it expects a decline in the “away-from-home activity” that drives its business-to-business sales. “The normal distribution system is like a well-orchestrated ballet,” said Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School. “If you make a delivery to a Walmart distribution center, they give you a half-hour window, and your truck has to show up then.” The changes wrought by the coronavirus, he said, “have thrown the whole thing out of balance, and everything has to readjust.” While toilet paper is an extreme case, similar dynamics are likely to temporarily disrupt supplies of other goods, too — even if no one’s hoarding or panic-buying. The CEO of a fruit and vegetable supplier told NPR’s Weekend Edition that schools and restaurants are canceling their banana orders, while grocery stores are selling out and want more. The problem is that the bananas he sells to schools and restaurants are “petite” and sold loose in boxes of 150, whereas grocery store bananas are larger and sold in bunches. Beer companies face a similar challenge converting commercial keg sales to retail cans and bottles.

Global supply chains have been disrupted, leading to shortages of key goods.Across North America, Europe and elsewhere, factories are idled and workers are in lockdown. At some ports, goods are piling up, while elsewhere container ships sail empty. Dairy farmers are dumping their milk, while grocery store shelves have been picked bare. These disruptions in global trade could grow more noticeable in the months to come, as consumers hoard products and countries clamp down on exports of medical supplies and even food. Shoppers may see more shortages of unexpected products, including laptops, toilet paper and medicines. Some companies could find themselves lacking raw materials and components, a recipe for further financial trouble. So far this year, most of the disruptions have stemmed from factory shutdowns in China, a manufacturing hub for products like electronics and industrial machinery. Laptop exports from China to the United States have plummeted, for instance, just as demand is surging as companies switch to remote work and students are thrust into distance learning. But just as the virus spread from China to the rest of the world, so too will the economic disruptions, which are likely to intensify in months to come. For companies and consumers who have come to rely on being able to ship goods rapidly and seamlessly around the world, the disruptions could come as a shock. “China has shown us how extreme the downturn in industrial activity can be,” said Chris Rogers, a global trade and logistics analyst at Panjiva. Across the United States and Europe, major manufacturers like Volkswagen and Ford have shuttered, in turn reducing demand for steel, electronics and other components. So far, many of the product shortages in the United States and Europe don’t stem from an actual lack of goods, but rather surging demand from consumers, who are stockpiling bleach, toilet paper, diapers and dried beans, unsure what the months to come will hold. Other shortages are occurring as producers of toilet paper, food and other products try to figure out how to rework supply chains that are set up to provide bulk shipments to restaurants and schools to instead meet household demand. The situation is likely to get worse over the next few months. Mike Jette, vice president for consulting services at GEP, which provides supply chain software and strategy for General Mills, Exxon Mobil, Macy’s, Walmart and other major companies, predicted that peak disruption for major companies with international supply chains would most likely happen three months from now. Mr. Jette said that companies making electronics, appliances and other products would exhaust their “safety stock” for components in the coming weeks.

  Next Wave Of Shortages Strikes: NYC Pharmacies Run Out Of Tylenol, Common Drugs -In the weeks since California became the first state to order residents to shelter in place, millions of Americans have grappled with an alarming fact: That shortages of products from Tylenol to toilet paper have continued. If anything, they've gotten worse, even as governors like Andrew Cuomo have pleaded with the public not to hoard and buy up supplies like gloves and masks that are needed by health-care professionals.While health officials have tried to dismiss this simply as a consequence of panicked hoarding, there are more complex dynamics at play, as CNBC explains in a recent piece exploring the shortages of basic products and common medications at pharmacies across NYC - the epicenter of the national outbreak. In Broadway Chemists, an independent pharmacy on the Upper West Side, Tylenol, the classic over-the-counter painkiller made by JNJ, has been unavailable for weeks. Sophia Liristis, the pharmacist in charge, told CNBC that it's  on back-order until April 30.So unless something changes, the people of the Upper West Side won’t be able to buy Tylenol until the end of April at the earliest. That’s four weeks away.But Tylenol isn’t the only common medical item that’s in short supply. When Liristis checked her system on Tuesday while speaking to CNBC,  she found that thermometers, gloves and masks were not available until May. Pulse oximeters, used to monitor blood-oxygen levels, were unavailable until May 31. Ventolin inhalers, which can ease shortness of breath, were only available two units at a time.  Hydroxychloroquine, the drug used to treat malaria and lupus, and the Zithromax Z-Pak, were so limited as to be practically unavailable.S Bros Pharmacy in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood filled its inventory with hydroxychloroquine and Z-paks when word started to spread that the drugs could be used to treat COVID-19. But the pharmacy is now dispensing hydroxychloroquine only to patients who suffer from chronic autoimmune diseases and those enrolled in a New York study of the drugs' efficacy, in accordance with state laws and guidelines.However, S Bros’ shelves are also scarce, with no Tylenol, no hand sanitizer,  and no cleaning supplies like alcohol and peroxide. By now, these products have been long gone. The store struggles to get a few cans of sanitizing spray to decontaminate the pharmacy.

 Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 6,606,000 - The DOL reported: In the week ending April 4, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 6,606,000, a decrease of 261,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 219,000 from 6,648,000 to 6,867,000. The 4-week moving average was 4,265,500, an increase of 1,598,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 54,750 from 2,612,000 to 2,666,750. 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 4,265,500.This was higher than the consensus forecast.The second graph shows seasonally adjust continued claims since 1967 (lags initial by one week while increasing sharply). At the worst of the Great Recession, continued claims peaked at 6.635 million, but then steadily declined. Continued claims have already increased to a new record high of 7,455,000 (SA) and will increase further over the next few weeks - and likely stay at that high level until the crisis abates.

U.S. jobless claims surge to 6.6 million -  The COVID-19 pandemic’s rapid spread continues to hammer the U.S. economy, and Thursday’s initial jobless claims data showed yet another brutal week for the U.S. labor market.Following two consecutive weeks of jobless claims in the millions, another 6.606 million Americans filed for unemployment for the week ending April 4, as the coronavirus continues to hammer away at the U.S. economy. Economists were predicting 5.5 million jobless claims for the week. The prior week’s record-breaking figure was revised higher to 6.867 million from 6.648 million. “The number of workers filing to collect unemployment insurance benefits has broken records in each of the last two weeks, but we suspect there are more to come. The number of workers in industries directly affected by COVID-19 is massive,” JPMorgan economist Jesse Edgerton wrote in a note April 3. “We thus again see more reasons to expect an increase in claims than a decrease.”Edgerton expected 7 million jobless claims for the week ending April 4, which was one of the highest estimates on Wall Street. Estimates varied widely as with previous weeks; however, almost every single economist believed claims likely were in the millions last week. On the low end of the range, Deutsche Bank and Barclays estimated roughly 4.5 million claims.Certain states got hit harder than others last week, and with massive backlogs piling up, there’s more pain ahead, according to UBS economist Seth Carpenter. For the week ended March 28, California reported the highest number of initial claims at an estimated 879,000 on an unadjusted basis, up from 186,000 the prior week. Pennsylvania had an estimated total of 406,000; New York had 366,000, and Michigan reported 311,000.States that joined “shelter-on-place” guidelines later are expected to see a large uptick in claims filed. “The states that delayed their restrictions on activity—FL, GA, VA, NC, TX—might seem to pose an upside risk to our claims estimate,” Carpenter said. “However, new claims in NC, at 66 times their normal level over the past year, already have risen more than the national average (32x), as have those in VA (55x) and FL (52x). We do not expect further increases. However, we do estimate spikes in TX and GA.” “In last week’s data, about a third of the rise reflected states where processing had not kept up with initial claims during the first weeks of the crisis (CA and NY especially). We think claims in those states still have further to rise,” Carpenter explained in a note published on April 3.

US weekly jobless claims jump by 6.6 million and we’ve now lost 10% of workforce in three weeks - Jobless rolls continued to swell due to the coronavirus shutdown, with 6.6 million Americans filing first-time unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That brings the total claims over the past three weeks to more than 16 million. If you compare those claims to the 151 million people on payrolls in the last monthly employment report, that means the U.S. has lost 10% of the workforce in three weeks. Moments after the jobless claims report was released, the Federal Reserve announced plans to inject another $2.3 billion into businesses and revenue-pinched governments. Stock futures jumped after the Fed’s announcement. The most recent jobless number represents a decline of 261,000 from the previous week, which was revised up by 219,000 to nearly 6.9 million. The ongoing surge in filings for unemployment insurance has been exacerbated by the expansion of those who can file claim. The $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief bill enacted last month has expanded the group to include the self-employed and independent contractors. California, New York and Michigan saw the largest increase in claims last week. Those states are also among the hardest hit from the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to the social distancing efforts used to combat the outbreak, the jobs market had been strong. In the six-month period prior to the economic shutdown, nonfarm payroll growth had averaged 221,000 a month. However, March saw a decline of 701,000 that only began to measure how deeply the virus had impacted the employment situation.

JPMorgan predicts 20 percent unemployment, 25 million job losses - JPMorgan's economists signaled an even more significant economic ramifications from the COVID-19 pandemic than previously believed, predicting a 40 percent drop in the U.S.'s gross domestic product (GDP) and the country's unemployment rate rising to 20 percent. “With these data in hand we think the April jobs report could indicate about 25 million jobs lost since the March survey week, and an unemployment rate around 20 percent,” they wrote, CNBC reported. “Given the expected hit to hours worked this quarter we now look for -40.0 percent annualized real GDP growth in 2Q, down from -25.0 percent previously.” Despite the grim outlook for the second quarter, the economists also predicted a rebound in the latter half of the year, assuming the country's economy has restarted and gained some normalcy by June. According to the network, the group expects 23 percent growth in the third quarter and 13 percent in the fourth quarter. They also note that experts have had difficulty measuring and predicting the economic impact of the pandemic. “Over the last few weeks forecasters have been operating in a fog. Economic models that have been trained on post-war data face obvious limitations. In their place we have reverted to differing ways to address the outlook,” they wrote. In the past three weeks, almost 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment, spiking the country's unemployment rate to around 10 percent.

BLS: Job Openings decreased to 6.9 Million in February - Note: This is pre-crisis data. From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary  The number of job openings was little changed at 6.9 million on the last business day of February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.9 million and 5.6 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate was little changed at 1.2 percent. ... In February, the number of quits was little changed at 3.5 million while the rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent. Total private quits were little changed while the quits level edged up for government (+15,000). Quits decreased in real estate and rental and leasing (-27,000). emphasis added The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS. This series started in December 2000. Note: The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers. This report is for February, the most recent employment report was for March. Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover. When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs. Jobs openings decreased in February to 6.882 million from 7.012 million in January. The number of job openings (yellow) were down 2% year-over-year. Quits were down 1% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits").

Tesla Furloughs Majority Of Workers, Cuts Employee Pay Through The End Of Q2 - Despite somehow delivering 88,000 vehicles in Q1, Tesla came out on Tuesday and announced it was going to be furloughing all non-essential workers and implementing salary cuts due to the very same coronavirus outbreak that CEO Elon Musk once publicly labeled as "dumb".In true "carrot on a string" fashion, the company also disclosed at the same time that it expected to resume normal operations on May 4, "barring any significant changes", according to Reuters. Recall, Tesla had suspended production at Fremont and in New York on March 24. The Fremont suspension came after a spat with the Alameda County Sheriff's department about whether or not Tesla was an "essential" business. It also came 8 days after Musk told his workers they were "more likely to die in a car crash" than from coronavirus. Two days after Tesla's delayed close, on March 26, it was reported that two Tesla employees had tested positive for coronavirus.According to an email sent to U.S. employees by in-house counsel Valerie Capers Workman, workers pay is going to be cut 10%, directors will have their salaries cut by 20% and VP salaries will be cut by 30%, the company said.Tesla said that pay for salaried employees would be reduced on April 13 and that cuts would remain in place until the end of the second quarter, despite the company's plans to re-open in early May.Any employee who cannot work from home and hasn't been assigned to "critical work" onsite will be furloughed. Tesla said that workers will maintain their healthcare benefits until the company re-opens.

Farmworkers, Mostly Undocumented, Become ‘Essential’ During Pandemic — Like legions of immigrant farmworkers, Nancy Silva for years has done the grueling work of picking fresh fruit that Americans savor, all the while afraid that one day she could lose her livelihood because she is in the country illegally.But the widening coronavirus pandemic has brought an unusual kind of recognition: Her job as a field worker has been deemed by the federal government as “essential” to the country.Ms. Silva, who has spent much of her life in the United States evading law enforcement, now carries a letter from her employer in her wallet, declaring that the Department of Homeland Securityconsiders her “critical to the food supply chain.”“It’s like suddenly they realized we are here contributing,” said Ms. Silva, a 43-year-old immigrant from Mexico who has been working in the clementine groves south of Bakersfield, Calif.  It is an open secret that the vast majority of people who harvest America’s food are undocumented immigrants, mainly from Mexico, many of them decades-long residents of the United States. Often the parents of American-born children, they have lived for years with the cloud of deportation hanging over their households. The “essential work” letters that many now carry are not a free pass from immigration authorities, who could still deport Ms. Silva and other undocumented field workers at any time.  But local law enforcement authorities said the letters might give immigrant workers a sense of security that they will not be arrested for violating stay-at-home orders. “If you have people who perceive that they may be stopped and questioned or deported because of their status, under these circumstances, having that letter makes them feel comfortable,”   “They can go to work. And their work is essential now.” The pandemic has also put many of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s operations on hold. On March 18, the agency said it would “temporarily adjust its enforcement posture” to focus not on ordinary undocumented immigrants, but on those who pose a public safety or criminal threat. “Those of us without papers live in fear that immigration will pick us up,” Ms. Silva said. “Now we are feeling more relaxed.”

COVID-19 Crisis Threatens Beleaguered Assisted Living Industry - Assisted living complexes, home to more than 800,000 people nationwide, have quickly become a new and dangerous theater in the coronavirus war. Challenged by deepening financial pressures, sicker residents, limited oversight and too few employees, they now face a crisis that could force companies into bankruptcy, roil the industry and even close some facilities — putting frail seniors at greater-than-ever risk. More than 700 cases of COVID-19 at assisted living facilities had been reported in at least 29 states as of Wednesday, according to public health authorities and news organizations. Capital Senior Living serves as a prime case study of the new dangers facing the assisted living industry and the people they serve. The Dallas-based company, which owns or operates more than 120 senior communities nationally, told investors on a March 31 conference call that residents at three of its facilities had tested positive for the coronavirus. Even before those cases struck, though, the company was ailing. Its stock had plummeted 80% since late February. Last week, the company disclosed a 2019 loss of $36 million. Officials said on the conference call they had sold complexes in recent months, even before the surge of COVID-19 cases, to improve the firm’s financial cushion. Recently renegotiated leases will also help, they said. The pandemic looks poised to exacerbate its finances further, as residents lose their ability to pay amid the faltering economy and costs rise to care for them. And fragile economics compound the threat of the virus that rages through assisted living facilities, which are much less regulated and medically equipped than nursing homes but serve tens of thousands of America’s most vulnerable elders.

 The Places a COVID-19 Recession Will Likely Hit Hardest – There have been over 350,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 10,000 related deaths in the United States to date. To slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and save lives, more than 311 million people nationwide are being urged or ordered by their state or local government to stay at home. While public health is the top national priority, the measures taken to fight the virus have come at a steep cost, as much of the economy has effectively ground to a halt. As more states and municipalities have been issuing stay-at-home directives, a record 10million Americans have filed for unemployment over the last two weeks. The unemployment rate jumped from a historic low of 3.5% in February to 4.4% in March — and some experts predict it now stands at around 13%. While every American will feel the effects of the economic downturn to some degree, certain industries are expected to bear the brunt of the decline. According to analysis by Moody’s Analytics, these industries include leisure and hospitality, travel services, transportation and warehousing, and oil and gas extraction. Here is an in-depth look at the U.S. industries being devastated by the coronavirus. In some parts of the country, these industries are economic pillars.  To identify the places a COVID-19 recession will likely hit hardest, 24/7 Wall St. created an index comprising three measures: employment in highly-exposed industries, COVID-19 infection rates, and population density. We only considered counties that lie within metropolitan areas.   Many now consider New York state to be the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, largely because of the high concentration of confirmed cases in New York City. While no county or county equivalent on this list has been hit as hard by the virus in terms of cases and infection rate as New York County has, the share of workers in industries at greatest risk of slowdown due to the pandemic and containment efforts is relatively low in Manhattan. The area has only slightly higher than average employment in the leisure and hospitality and employment services industries.  Located just outside of Denver, Gilpin County, Colorado, is known for its scenic beauty and casinos. Its economy will likely be decimated by efforts to contain the coronavirus as more than 80% of all workers in the area are employed in leisure and hospitality. The entire state has been under a stay-at-home order, issued by Gov. Jared Polis, since March 26, and tourism nationwide has effectively stopped. Though cases of the virus have so far been identified in 50 counties across Colorado, there has yet to be a known case in Gilpin County.

As pandemic rages in New York, new budget allows for massive cuts in social programs - On Friday, April 3, the New York state budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, Andrew Cuomo. The governorship and both houses of the state legislature are controlled by Democrats. The total projected expenditure is $177 billion, up slightly from $175.5 billion last year. However, the shortfall between revenues and expenditures is estimated to grow to between $10 and $15 billion, to be made up in part by authorization to incur an additional $11 billion in debt. Even before the impact of COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, the budget deficit was projected to be at least $6 billion, indicating that the state’s economy was already in crisis. Regardless of its nominal contents, however, one must state plainly that the budget is, in effect, a fraud, which will inevitably lead to major attacks on the working class. Whatever amounts are allocated and however they are distributed in the formal document, the state budget director is given the authority to unilaterally cut spending, including payments to schools and local governments, at three points during the fiscal year, if state revenues fall below projections. Given the recent precipitous fall in the stock market, from which New York state has historically derived 17 percent of its revenues, a decline that is only likely to continue and even accelerate, compounded by the additional declines in revenue due to massive unemployment--nearly half a million New Yorkers filed unemployment insurance claims in March--and general collapse of the economy, a substantial drop in funds coming into the state’s coffers is inevitable. Moody’s Investor Service has revised the state’s credit rating downward, from “stable” to “negative,” which will increase the cost of debt service.Despite the critical need to marshal economic resources to counter the impact of the pandemic, including such areas as health care, education, employment, housing and the like, the budget includes no new taxes on the wealthy. Throughout his tenure, Cuomo has staunchly refused to enact any measures to increase revenues from the wealthy. The same pattern is being repeated in the current crisis. Earlier proforma statements by Democrats in the legislature regarding increases in revenues, such as higher income taxes on upper incomes and new levies on things like stock transfers and luxury yachts, were adamantly opposed by Cuomo, and quickly dropped.

Millions of People Can’t Afford to Keep Their Lights On. Now There’s a Pandemic. – Last month, a city council meeting in Lake Worth Beach, Florida, went viral after an angry city commissioner began shouting at the mayor about the city’s lack of preparedness for the novel coronavirus pandemic that was just beginning to hit the state. “We cut off people’s utilities this week and made them pay what could have been their last check—to us—to turn their lights on in a global health pandemic,” city commissioner Omari Hardy said during the heated argument, which was captured in a two-minute video.Eventually, Mayor Pam Triolo ended the discussion and the meeting by walking away, and the city of 38,000, which controls its own utilities, issued refunds to those whose electricity had been shut off. This contentious meeting may seem like an unusual event, but the situation Hardy described is becoming more common across the country, where the large number of chronically energy insecure people are now joined by the unprecedented ranks of the newly unemployed. Because utility companies vary from state to state, sometimes from locality to locality, there is no comprehensive approach to addressing what advocates fear could soon exacerbate the health effects of the already deadly epidemic. ” “It’s really shameful these are not considered human rights,” Jean Su, the director of the Energy Justice Program at the Center for Biological Diversity says. Energy insecurity—which disproportionately affects communities of color, rural neighborhoods, and the elderly—is defined by a household’s inability to meet their electricity or gas needs, whether from not being able to afford bills, or keeping a home at an unsafe temperature in order to to pay them. According to a 2015 Energy Information Administration survey, 1 in 3 householdsin the United States were energy insecure, meaning they struggled to regularly pay their electricity bill. Approximately 20 percent of households had to forgo food or medicine in order to pay an energy bill, 14 percent said they had received a disconnection notice, and 11 percent said they’d kept their home at an unhealthy temperature in order to reduce their energy bills. 

 Millions of Americans Face Water Shutoffs During Pandemic - The Centers for Disease Control has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective measures we can take in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, millions of Americans in some of the most vulnerable communities face the prospect of having their water shut off during the lockdowns, according to The Guardian. Nearly 40 percent of Americans live in areas that rely on water utilities, which have not stopped the policy of shutoffs for non-payment, according to data from and Water Watch (FWW) and The Guardian."This is an emergency and the priority is to stop the spread so this is a no brainer, everyone must have access to water … this should not be a partisan issue," said congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, who is pushing federal intervention, as The Guardian reported.Millions of Americans have been laid off or furloughed during massive social distancing measures, stretching monthly budgets and forcing families to make tradeoffs about which household expenses to pay for. "As unemployment reaches record highs, millions of Americans are going to have to choose between paying for food, rent and bills … water is not something people should have to tradeoff," said Mary Grant, director of water at FWW to The Guardian. Water shutoffs have affected Detroit for years. Detroit started the policy in 2014 and has recorded about 127,500 total service cutoffs for households behind on payments, according to the water department, as theAP reported. Michigan has the sixth highest total of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the country. "In this pandemic, it's the people who are living on the margins of society and the poorest of our society that's being the most adversely impacted,"

Food Banks Overwhelmed As America's "Working Poor" Starve During Lockdown --America is crashing into a depression. In just two weeks, 10 million people have claimed unemployment benefits. This has put unprecedented stress on food bank networks across the country, a new investigation via The Guardian shows. The US labor market is in free fall – the increasing lockdowns across major US metropolitan areas have forced millions of people out of work and into a hunger crisis. The Guardian shows demand for food aid in some regions of the country has surged eightfold in recent weeks as's Lance Roberts warns the unemployment rates in the US could spike to levels not seen since the "Great Depression," or about 15-20% in the second quarter. The National Guard has been deployed for a variety of reasons: One is to support local area hospital systems, another is to maintain social order, and now soldiers in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Phoenix have supported food banks to ensure shortages do not materialize, mostly because that would trigger social unrest among the working poor. "I've been in this business over 30 years, and nothing compares to what we're seeing now. Not even when the steel mills closed down did we see increased demand like this," said Sheila Christopher, director of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, which represents 18 food banks across 67 counties.The Guardian provides a snapshot of the unprecedented demand hitting food banks:

  • In Amherst, home to the University of Massachusetts' largest campus, the pantry distributed 849% more food in March compared with the previous year. The second-largest increase in western Massachusetts was 748% at the Pittsfield Salvation Army pantry.
  • The Grace Klein community food pantry in Jefferson county, which has the largest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Alabama, provided 5,076 individuals with food boxes last week – a 90% increase on the previous week.
  • In southern Arizona, demand has doubled, with pantries supplying groceries to 4,000 households every day – double the number supplied in March 2019. "We saw an increase during the federal government shutdown but nothing as rapid, massive or overwhelming as this," said Michael McDonald, CEO of the Community Food Bank of South Arizona.
  • A helpline set up by the Greater Pittsburgh community food bank has received more than a thousand calls in the past two weeks, 90% of which came from newly unemployed people. Here, pantries ordered 50% to 60% more food for March and April than usual.
  • The Lakeview pantry in Chicago is on track to provide food for as many as 2,000 individuals this week – compared with 1,100 before the coronavirus crisis.
  • The north Florida food bank, which relied heavily on contributions from retailers, has seen donations drop by 85% to 90% as shoppers bulk-buy, leaving shelves empty. But donations from restaurants, golf tournaments and even Disney World have increased, so the food bank is switching to ready meals, paying furloughed chefs to cook for thousands of senior citizens in housing facilities.
  • In Las Vegas, the Three Square food bank has increased weekly food distribution by 30%, from 1m to 1.3m lbs of food. New drive-thru distribution centres have been set up across the valley as 170 of its 180 distribution outlets have been forced to temporarily close due to CDC social distancing guidelines. "Every line at every distribution centre exceeds the amount of food in our trucks," said chief operating officer Larry Scott.
  • The Kansas City-based Harvesters food bank, which serves 16 counties in north-east Kansas and 10 in north-west Missouri, sent out 12,000 boxes to pantries on Monday 23 March – a 140% rise on the 5,000 boxes typically ordered. "It was the largest distribution day in our 40-year history," said its communications manager, Gene Hallinan.

 American Pastor Claims To ‘Destroy’ Coronavirus With ‘Wind Of God’ --Pastor Kenneth Copeland, an American televangelist, summoned the “wind of God” during a recent broadcast, which he claimed could destroy the novel coronavirus. He gave his sermon this weekend to a sparsely filled crowd that appeared to be social distancing, and broadcast the event on the Kenneth Copeland’s Ministries YouTube channel. The pastor blew into the direction of the camera and called out to banish the virus.“I blow the wind of God on you. You are destroyed forever, and you’ll never be back. Thank you, God. Let it happen. Cause it to happen,” the pastor said.  Members of his church joined in to chant along with his next command, “Wind, almighty, strong, south wind, heat: burn this thing, in the name of Jesus. I say, you bow your knees. You fall on your face.”Copeland went on to tell his supporters that God spoke to him three years ago and told him that he must raise $300 million this year, and he was worried that the virus could get in the way of his destiny. He also promised to be able to heal sick parishioners in person, and encouraged them to come to church, where they would be healed on the spot.“If we have to pass out thermometers, if we find one with a fever, let’s get him healed right there. What do you do if you get it? Big deal,” he said.   Copeland has been identified as preaching the “prosperity gospel,” which promises supporters access to heaven for enriching their pastor here on earth. As part of his evangelism, he calls for donations to his church, with the suggestion that parishioners will get a “hundredfold” return on their investment once they reach the afterlife. He has stirred controversy over his use of donations to finance mansions, private jets, an airport, and other expensive purchases.

 Looting Wave Strikes New York City Amid Coronavirus Lockdown - Millions of Americans have just lost their jobs, have no saving, and insurmountable debts, are flooding food banks across the nation to survive. With the economy crashed and now entering a depression, last week was a significant milestone in the progression of the crisis, as looting of businesses in California and South Carolina began. Now the looting is spreading across the nation. We noted how stores in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago, were boarding up their windows, preparing for civil unrest.  After all, when 10 million people lose their jobs in two weeks, and an estimated unemployment rate that could reach 15-20% in the second quarter, as per's Lance Roberts latest report, the ripple effect on society is so sudden that there could very well be an outbreak of unrest when the weather shifts too much warmer trends, and geographically be situated in low-income areas of inner cities. Hence why the National Guard was called up and now being positioned around and or in major metros.  The beginning innings of social unrest could now be unfolding across New York City. Households are cracking as hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs over several weeks. The city has become the epicenter of the virus crisis, recording 103,060 confirmed cases and 2,935 deaths (as of Saturday afternoon, April 4).   The Wall Street Journal reports an increase in burglaries of commercial establishments across all five boroughs from March 12-31, coinciding when mass shutdowns went into effect.  The New York City Police Department (NYPD) recorded a 75% jump in burglaries of businesses during the period, or about 254 burglaries, compared with 145 over the same period last year. "The increase in burglaries coincided with steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus. On March 15, the city ordered restaurants and bars to cease on-site service, prompting many establishments to close altogether or limit operations. A March 20 decree by Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the closure of all nonessential businesses, leading many retail stores to shutter," the Journal noted.  "We knew with the closing of many stores that we could see an increase and, unfortunately, we are," said NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael LiPetri.

New York City Sees More Burglaries of Businesses Under Coronavirus Emergency Measures - Burglaries of businesses have risen in New York City under emergency measures to fight the new coronavirus, according to new New York Police Department data, and some businesses are boarding up their storefronts. The NYPD has seen a 75% increase in reports of burglaries of commercial establishments from March 12, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency, to March 31, police officials said. The NYPD recorded 254 burglaries of businesses during that time period this year compared with 145 for the same period last year, the officials said. All boroughs of the city have seen increases, the officials said. The increase in burglaries coincided with steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus. On March 15, the city ordered restaurants and bars to cease on-site service, prompting many establishments to close altogether or limit operations. A March 20 decree by Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the closure of all nonessential businesses, leading many retail stores to shutter. The increase in commercial burglaries comes as major crimes across the city fell during the pandemic. From March 12 through March 31, major felonies, such as rapes, murders and assaults, fell by nearly 20% when compared with the same period in 2019, dropping to 3,740 such crimes from 4,670 a year earlier. But Mr. LiPetri said that break-ins of eateries, supermarkets and retail establishments are fueling a rise in commercial burglaries. There were 30 burglaries of supermarkets and bodegas between March 12 and March 31, according to NYPD data, a 400% increase from six such incidents recorded during the same period a year earlier. Burglaries of eateries nearly doubled, rising to 51 incidents in 2020 from 28 incidents in 2019. Thieves are taking currency, electronics and consumables, such as food, alcohol and retail goods from businesses, Mr. LiPetri said. They gain entry to closed businesses by forcing open doors, breaking windows or climbing in from rooftops, he said.

 Locals are petitioning to close the bridges into Cape Cod to keep out the influx of second-homeowners fleeing the coronavirus - In the Cape Cod area, full-time residents are signing a petition for the bridges to be closed to prevent any more visitors (and specifically New York City-based second homeowners) from coming to the area amid the coronavirus pandemic. This is the latest example of the tension brewing between big city residents and the suburban towns they are escaping to."Stop the spread of Covid-19," the petition, started by South Yarmouth resident Beth Hickman, reads. "Close the bridges. Only year round residents, medical personnel. Trucks that deliver essential supplies. While we love our tourists and summer residents, this is not the time to come to the Cape, our hospital can't handle it. We only have 2 small hospitals here on Cape, and limited medical staff." At the time of publication, the petition had over 12,500 out of 15,000 signatures. Cape Cod's local Norwich Bulletin spoke to residents about the circulating petition. One part-time Cape Cod resident, who lives primarily in Manhattan and has had a second home in Cape Cod's Eastham since 1984, said he and his family experienced hostility since coming to the area, even though they self-quarantined after their initial arrival on March 12. At first, the anonymous man said, he and his family tried to help out their fellow neighbors by leaving notes, offering assistance or supplies. But in response, he said he received a note reading: "Go back to New York and take coronavirus with you." The man and his family have since relocated to the Berkshires, "where it's more pleasant.""We're done with the Cape," he told the Norwich Bulletin. "We're not going back."Massachusetts Rep. Timothy Whelan told the Bulletin that people don't understand what would happen if Cape's bridges were to shut down. "To close the bridges would take a declaration of martial law," Whelan said, noting that it would require the presence of armed military personnel policing the bridges. "My goal has been to make it through my life without ever having to live under martial law."

Schools are essential. Don’t rule them out. It remains to be seen just how much President Trump’s extension of social distancing guidelines in the United States until April 30 defers the debate over when to safely restart the economy, allowing policymakers to focus on how to ramp up the testing and PPE availability to do so. When the time comes, they also need to contemplate the question asked by Aaron Carroll in the March 17thNew York Times, “Is closing the schools a good idea?” The question was not rhetorical. It cited the food insecurity addressed by school lunch and breakfast programs as well as the physical safety provided, particularly for homeless children. While New York City schools are providing 3 meals/day for children who need, child protective services in many regions are already seeing 50% declines in reporting of child abuse and neglect. With families stressed economically and confined to home without supervision, that is not good news since neglected or abused children are often only identified at school. In this week’s New Yorker Peter Hessler writes anecdotally about 2 suicides in youth attributed to the lockdown in China, matching that country’s total number of pediatric deaths thus far due to SARS-CoV-2 in the literature. When we think of flattening the curve to protect the most vulnerable in society, our minds jump to the very old and the very young. Evidence from previous influenza pandemics supports our instincts. But SARS-CoV-2 appears different. Not only has critical illness in children in China and Italy been extremely rare, in both countries children make up only 1% all cases. Even in New York state, where younger age groups seem to have been hit harder than in Italy, children still only represent 2% of cases. Finally, in a country like Iceland, which has tested a large proportion of its population, including many without any symptoms at all, children under 10 years old make up only 2% of the cases. It is these numbers that beg examination of one of Dr. Fauci’s hypotheses in the New England Journal of Medicine – that “children are less likely to become infected.” The first SARS-CoV pandemic in 2002-2003 documented 135 pediatric cases, or only 1.7% of the 8098 reported worldwide to the World Health Organization (WHO) by the time it was declared contained, with no deaths and only 1 reported case of transmission of the virus from a pediatric patient. The WHO January 2020 Situation Update for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), another coronavirus, shows children and adolescents to be similarly disproportionally unaffected. A Japanese study of transmission in close contacts of known positive coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) patients demonstrated a much lower attack rate amongst children than adults.

NY allows school construction to continue as ‘essential’; some housing, energy projects OK - New York officials have ruled public or private school construction to be essential and can continue during the coronavirus economic shutdown.The new rules from Empire State Development issued today declare school construction projects as essential, as well as previously approved construction for roads, bridges, transit, utilities, health care and homeless shelters.In addition, “essential construction” has been widened to allow for businesses that support these essential projects. The state’s guidance is as follows, with new language italicized:“Essential construction may proceed, to the extent that the construction is for, or your business supports, roads, bridges, transit facilities ..." and other areas deemed necessary.Affordable housing is also essential construction. The state clarified that housing is defined as affordable if 20% of the units within a complex are considered affordable, subject to a regulation or declaration from a government agency.Also, construction undertaken by a public housing authority is seen as affordable and therefore essential.In addition, some energy industry construction has been called essential in ESD’s new guidance. A full list of what are now essential energy projects can be found here at Question No. 14, but they generally relate to existing power generation or energy needs for the construction areas already seen as essential.

Six Bay Area counties announce school sites closed through end of academic year -  Six Bay Area counties officially announced Tuesday school sites will remain closed through the end of the academic year. Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco aligned to make a joint decision based on advice from public health officials to continue with distance learning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This news comes after California Governor Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said last week that they were advising districts to prepare for a closure of all school facilities into summer. "We believe it is most important that schools maximize their efforts around distance learning," Thurmond said. "We know this is difficult. We have to rise to the challenge. Quite frankly, none of us knows when it’s safe enough for our students to return to campus,” he added. Newsom said districts' efforts should be focused on launching distance learning and not opening schools. In its statement to families, San Francisco Unified School District said it will begin distance instruction "through interactive teacher-led learning" on April 13. In recent weeks, the district has been working on securing Chromebooks and Wi-Fi for families without access to connectivity.

Florida Gov. DeSantis mulls reopening schools: Coronavirus 'doesn't seem to threaten' kids - Florida Gov. DeSantis (R) on Thursday signaled that there was still a possibility that Florida schools could reopen in May after being closed since March due to the coronavirus outbreak. “We’re going to look at the evidence and make a decision," DeSantis said of the possibility of children returning to schools in the state, the Tampa Bay Times reported. "If it’s safe, we want kids to be in school. ... Even if it’s for a couple of weeks, we think there would be value in that," he continued. CNN reported that DeSantis added that he didn't think anyone under 25 had died of the virus. "This particular pandemic is one where, I don't think nationwide there's been a single fatality under 25. For whatever reason it just doesn't seem to threaten, you know, kids," DeSantis said. "And we lose in Florida between five and 10 kids a year for the flu. This one, for whatever reason, much more dangerous if you're 65 and plus than the flu, no doubt about that. If you're younger, it just hasn't had an impact, so that should factor into how we're viewing this. I think the data on that has been 100 percent consistent," he continued. "I've not seen any deviation on that." The governor's comments came close to the end of a 75-minute education roundtable Thursday that featured teachers, parents and government officials. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four people between the ages of 15 and 24 and one person younger than 5 has died from the virus. DeSantis said that Florida's Department of Education has been proactive in trying to continue the education of the state's kids during the closing, purchasing roughly 32,000 laptops for rural school districts that were unable to give their students the needed technology for virtual education. He added that the Florida Virtual School has been offering schools free access to 100 online classes and has taken steps to be able to serve millions more schoolchildren if necessary. DeSantis also noted that a possible reopening would be approached in two-week increments and that some districts might need to stay closed depending on if they have active virus concerns or not.

Fauci says he thinks schools will be able to reopen in the fall - While it is not a certainty, it is likely that schools will be able to reopen in the fall, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday. “I fully expect — though I’m humble enough that I can’t accurately predict — that by the time we get to the fall that we will have this under control enough, that it certainly will not be the way it is now — where people are shutting schools,” Fauci said at the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House. “My optimistic side tells me we will be able to renew,” he added. “But it is going to be different” because the coronavirus won’t disappear, he warned. Communities will have to have the ability to identify the virus, isolate infected patients and trace the source of the infection, he added. “Bottom line, no absolute prediction. But I think we’re going to be in good shape,” he said. Asked about whether summer camps will be able to open, Fauci was more circumspect. He said this depends more on how the country responds in the near term to the pandemic and whether the U.S. reaches the top of the “curve” of the coronavirus outbreak and there is no rebound later.

Online Education in the Covid-19 Crisis: “It’s Like Coke Dealers Handing Out Free Samples” - Lynn Parramore interview - Economist Gordon Lafer, author of The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time, has delved deeply into the highly-orchestrated political activities of corporate-backed groups set on changing the American education system in ways that he believes are detrimental to the country’s future. Lafer, who teaches at the University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center, is a member of the Eugene School District Board and once served as senior policy advisor to the Education and Labor Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He sees the Covid-19 crisis as the perfect opportunity for companies far more interested in the bottom line than student learning to seize America’s education system and turn it into a robotic, one-size-fits-all program where teachers eventually disappear from the scene and students, especially the most vulnerable, get left behind. He joined the Institute for New Economic Thinking for a conversation about what’s at state in online learning and how technology, if properly guided, can be good for students, teachers, and parents. (+ 81 comments)

 As COVID-19 Forces Classes Online, Colleges Face New Challenge- “Zoombombing” - A new disturbing trend has emerged among Zoom conference calls called “zoombombing.”  Due to the coronavirus, colleges and businesses have had to relocate their classes and meetings onto online video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom. According to the FBI, many Zoom video conference calls have been subjected to some form of hijack. “The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.”There have been several incidents of this happening in various college courses and meetings. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, a mandatory diversity workshop called I-connect was hijacked recently. An individual appeared in the Zoom call showing a swastika on their forehead. This led to a series of mass emails that were sent to students who attended these sessions. “During these workshops, online participants engaged in patterns of disruptive behavior, which culminated in hateful interruptions by a number of individuals using racist and derogatory slurs, showing images of swastikas, and making threats of violence,” said one of the mass emails. The school said that it would report the incident to the Office of Student Conflict, as well as the Bias Assessment Response Team. "Any behavior deemed to be a legal violation will also be reported to the University of Illinois Police Department" UIUC added. Incidents like this have occurred at other schools across the country. One notable instance happened during a Student Government meeting at the University of Florida. “BREAKING: the Senate livestream was just 'zoom bombed,' or crashed,” said University of Florida Student Government Reporter Chasity Maynard. “Multiple unknown people joined the meeting and wrote offensive comments, drew swastikas. The meeting ended abruptly after one person 'mooned' the camera.”

Yale Students Demand Automatic 'Pass' Due To COVID-19 -- Students at Yale are demanding a "universal pass" this semester due to coronavirus, after the college switched to virtual classes. This means no grades, deadlines or benchmarks for the Ivy League students, according to Yale grad Esteban Elizondo in a New York Post Op-Ed.As representatives of one of America’s most important institutions, I assumed Yale students would rise to the occasion and lead their communities during a crisis. Instead, they see an international health disaster as an opportunity to nullify the one meritocratic standard the college has left: grades.Their call for a Universal Pass betrays a mindset spreading among too many Yale students: “I should be shielded from every crisis.”Any trouble in the world is apparently too great an emotional load for my peers to bear. Parkland shooting? Time to walk out of class. Climate change? Let’s have a school-wide “strike.” Coronavirus? Just cancel grades. That’s the only solution. -New York PostAccording to Elizondo, Yale - "led by mollycoddler-in-chief Peter Salovey" - is feeding a defeatist mentality which trains students to expect that the university will drop academic standards at the drop of a hat. After President Trump was elected, for example, professors bent the knee when students demanded midterms be canceled due to their mental health. Instead of a "universal pass," Yale administration has offered students the option of a "Pass/Fail" grading system - but the students, including the Yale College Council Senate, are still demanding that every student be given a the no-questions-asked, no-effort-required universal pass where everyone gets a "P."

US hospitals raise prices, cuts costs and lay off staff in midst of COVID-19 crisis --In yet another example of the irrational state of the for-profit US health care system, many hospitals across the country are responding to the COVID-19 crisis—not by increasing services and bringing on more staff—but by raisingrates for patients on procedures ranging from surgery to childbirth in an effort to offset lost revenue due to an onslaught of COVID-19 patients.Along with banning temporarily elective procedures, hospitals have been furloughing skilled, essential staff, including:

  • * Trinity Health, based in Livonia, Michigan, laid off 2,500 employees.
  • * Boston Medical Center eliminated 700 staff members or 10 percent of its workforce.
  • * Bon Secours Mercy Health, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, cut 700 jobs and instituted a wage freeze of all nonclinical workers.
  • * Essentia Health in Minnesota cut 500 nonclinical staff.
  • * Connecticut Children’s Medical Center eliminated 400 workers.
  • * Kansas-based Clay County Medical Center cut 25 percent of its workforce.

On Saturday evening, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinating official of the White House coronavirus task force, told news reporters that the Washington, DC region, which includes significant portions of the state of Maryland, could become a “hot spot” for infections as the number of cases increase. In addition to expanded medical staff and affordable services for vast numbers of the afflicted, health centers will need extra beds, ventilators, masks, intensive care units and personal protective equipment (PPE) as more and more people report positive diagnoses of COVID-19. However, funds to purchase necessary health equipment and increase operating capacity will come by raising the already extortionist rates for procedures and medicine, while telling those individuals who want “elective” care they will have to wait, potentially causing a life-threatening situation.

Cancer Patients Face Treatment Delays And Uncertainty As Coronavirus Cripples Hospitals - The federal government has encouraged health centers to delay nonessential surgeries while weighing the severity of patients’ conditions and the availability of personal protective equipment, beds and staffing at hospitals. People with cancer are among those at high risk of complications if infected with the new coronavirus. It’s estimated 1.8 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. this year. More than 600,000 people are receiving chemotherapy.That means millions of Americans may be navigating unforeseen challenges to getting care. Christine Rayburn in Olympia, Washington, was diagnosed with breast cancer in mid-February. The new coronavirus was in the news, but the 48-year-old did not imagine the outbreak would affect her. Her doctor said Rayburn needed to start treatment immediately. The cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes. “The cancer tumor seemed to have attached itself to a nerve,” said Rayburn, who was a schoolteacher for many years. “I feel pain from it on a regular basis.” After getting her diagnosis and the treatment plan from her medical team, Rayburn was focused on getting surgery as fast as possible.Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak was getting worse, and Seattle, just an hour north of where Rayburn lives, had become a national focal point.Rayburn’s husband, David Forsberg, began to get a little nervous about whether his wife’s procedure would go forward as planned.“It did cross my mind,” he said. “But I did not want to bother with that possibility on top of everything else.”Two days before Rayburn’s lumpectomy to remove the tumor, Forsberg said, the surgeon phoned, “pretty livid” with bad news. “She said, ‘Look, they’ve canceled it indefinitely,’” Forsberg remembered.The procedure had been scheduled at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, a facility run by Providence Health & Services. Across Washington, hospitals were calling off elective surgeries, in order to conserve the limited supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and to prevent patients and staffers from unnecessary exposure to the new coronavirus.“It just felt like one of those really bad movies, and I was being sacrificed,” Rayburn said. “It was like we just got cut off from the experts we were relying on,” her husband said.

I Don’t Have Coronavirus. It Might Kill Me Anyway. -  When I was diagnosed with high-grade bladder cancer in August, I was optimistic. I had an array of viable treatment options available to me. I had insurance to cover it and top of the line doctors to take care of me. Over the next four months, I had two surgeries, followed by a round of immunotherapy treatment. At my December checkup, the results of the treatments looked promising.Then came coronavirus. Like millions of older adults I was anxious that a brush with Covid-19 could be deadly. I didn’t realize the risk the virus posed to me even if I never came in contact with it. On March 23, a Monday, I went in for a routine cancer biopsy at Duke University Hospital. Even before we had the results, my doctor told me he wasn’t sure they would be able to administer another round of immunotherapy treatment. The treatment is actually a weakened version of a vaccine used to treat tuberculosis. It’s a live bacterium, so health care providers must wear gloves and masks for the 30 minutes it takes to administer it. My doctor told me that, while the vaccine was still available, there weren’t enough masks and gloves to administer it to cancer patients like me. All I could do was hope the biopsy results came back negative so I wouldn’t need the treatment at all. This past Saturday, my doctor called with the results: The cancer was still there, and it was still high-grade. I was forced to consider a much more radical treatment: having my bladder, prostate and part of my small intestine removed. Again, coronavirus—the disease I didn’t actually have—limited my choices. The doctor warned me that, if I tried another less invasive treatment and it didn’t work, by then all of the medical facilities might be too overwhelmed with virus patients. Surgeries like mine—which though potentially lifesaving, are considered elective—might not have any priority then. Chemotherapy and radiation are no good right now because of the impact they would have on my immune system, and that’s just so risky during the pandemic. . On Sunday, my doctor’s scheduling nurse called and said we needed to do the procedure while there were still operating rooms available. My wife worried about how significantly the procedure would affect my life. But we have also come to grips with the reality that my cancer is not going away. I know there will be a lot of limitations, even if the surgery is successful, but at least I will have some kind of life. On Monday morning, my doctor called to say the surgery was set for the next day. A pre-op nurse called to go over the procedure: no eating or drinking after midnight, use a special antibacterial soap before arriving at the hospital, plan to stay for at least four days to recover. My wife and I scrambled around the house, preparing to close it up for a week. We were just about to leave for the two-hour drive to the hospital when the nurse called back. She said Duke University Hospital was now requiring the results of virus testing prior to admitting anyone for surgery. They didn’t have a test to give me; just a policy that required me to get one. I contacted my physician in Winston-Salem, but he said the hospital there was only testing patients who had been admitted with serious virus symptoms. Almost as quickly as it had been scheduled, the surgery was canceled.While I wait for the test, this cancer could metastasize. By the time they can perform the surgery, it might be a moot point.

New York hospitals must ‘prepare now’ to work without protective gear: Health Department - Hospitals must begin preparing doctors and nurses to work without protective gear, according to a new memo from the New York State Health Department. The directive — dated Thursday and distributed to hospital administrators and nursing and medical directors — warns that “facilities and providers need to plan and prepare now for the unavailability of PPE,” or personal protective gear. Nurses, doctors and other frontline workers have been demanding adequate protective gear for weeks, with some using single-use N95 masks for five days or more. It surfaced Friday as Gov. Cuomo ordered any hospitals with ventilators and PPE not in use, to turn them over to the National Guard to be distributed to hospitals in dire need. For the past two days, Cuomo has warned that the supply of ventilators is dangerously low in many hospitals. Pat Kane, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, praised Cuomo for the move, but said it needs to be broadened. “New York needs to look to New Jersey where the law empowers the state to take PPE not in use from businesses, not just hospitals, especially as President Trump hasn’t used the Defense Production Act to order the manufacturing of PPE,” she said. “There’s a shortage of nurses to care for ventilated patients and without proper protection, too many are getting sick.” Neither Kane nor the governor’s office immediately responded to questions about the state Health Department directives sent Thursday. General protocols outlined in the memo involve assigning health care workers who have recovered from COVID-19 to coronavirus patients. “According to the CDC, ‘individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 infection may have developed some protective immunity, but this has not yet been confirmed,’” the unsigned directive from the Health Department’s Bureau of Healthcare Infections states. It also recommends that if faced with dire shortages staff should use “expired facemasks” and should not distribute facemasks to patients. “Have patients use tissues or similar barriers to cover their mouth and nose,” it says.

Hospitals Tell Doctors They’ll Be Fired If They Speak Out About Lack of Gear -Hospitals are threatening to fire health-care workers who publicize their working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic -- and have in some cases followed through.Ming Lin, an emergency room physician in Washington state, said he was told Friday he was out of a job because he’d given an interview to a newspaper about a Facebook post detailing what he believed to be inadequate protective equipment and testing. In Chicago, a nurse was fired after emailing colleagues that she wanted to wear a more protective mask while on duty. In New York, the NYU Langone Health system has warned employees they could be terminated if they talk to the media without authorization.“Hospitals are muzzling nurses and other health-care workers in an attempt to preserve their image,” said Ruth Schubert, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association. “It is outrageous.”Hospitals have traditionally had strict media guidelines to protect patient privacy, urging staff to talk with journalists only through official public relations offices. But the pandemic has ushered in a new era, Schubert said. Health-care workers “must have the ability to tell the public what is really going on inside the facilities where they are caring for Covid-19 patients,” she said. One reason is to prepare other nurses and doctors for the looming onslaught of cases and encourage donations of much-needed equipment, particularly the personal protective equipment or PPE that protects them from being infected and in turn infecting other patients as well as their families when they go home.

How sick will the coronavirus make you? The answer may be in your genes | Science | AAAS -- COVID-19, caused by the new pandemic coronavirus, is strangely—and tragically—selective. Only some infected people get sick, and although most of the critically ill are elderly or have complicating problems such as heart disease, some killed by the disease are previously healthy and even relatively young. Researchers are now gearing up to scour the patients’ genomes for DNA variations that explain this mystery. The findings could be used to identify those most at risk of serious illness and those who might be protected, and they might also guide the search for new treatments. The projects range from ongoing studies with DNA for many thousands of participants, some now getting infected with the coronavirus, to new efforts that are collecting DNA from COVID-19 patients in hard-hit places such as Italy. The goal is to compare the DNA of people who have serious cases of COVID-19 (which stands for coronavirus disease 2019)—but no underlying disease like diabetes, heart or lung disease—with those with mild or no disease. “We see huge differences in clinical outcomes and across countries. How much of that is explained by genetic susceptibility is a very open question,” says geneticist Andrea Ganna of the University of Helsinki’s Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM).It’s hard to predict what will pop out from these gene hunts, some researchers say. But there are obvious suspects, such as the gene coding for the cell surface protein angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which the coronavirus uses to enter airway cells. Variations in the ACE2 gene that alter the receptor could make it easier or harder for the virus to get into cells, says immunologist Philip Murphy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose lab identified a relatively common mutation in another human cell surface protein, CCR5, that makes some people highly resistant to HIV.

A small trial finds that hydroxychloroquine is not effective for treating coronavirus  -On Saturday the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of two antimalarial drugs, hydroxychloroquine and a related medication, chloroquine, for emergency use to treat COVID-19. The drugs were touted by President Trump as a “game changer” for COVID-19. However, a study just published in a French medical journal provides new evidence that hydroxychloroquine does not appear to help the immune system clear the coronavirus from the body. The study comes on the heels of two others - one in France and one in China - that reported some benefits in the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin for COVID-19 patients who didn’t have severe symptoms of the virus.I am a medicinal chemist who has specialized in discovery and development of antiviral drugs for the past 30 years, and I have been actively working on coronaviruses for the past seven. I am among a number of researchers who are concerned that this drug has been given too much of a high priority before there is enough evidence to show it is indeed effective.There are already other clinical studies that showed it is not effective against COVID-19 as well as several other viruses. And, more importantly, it can have dangerous side effects, as well as giving people false hope. The latter has led to widespread shortages of hydroxychloroquine for patients who need it to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the indications for which it was originally approved.The idea that the combination of hydroxychloroquine with an antibiotic drug, azithromycin, was effective against COVID-19 gained more attention after a study published on March 17. This study described a trial of 80 patients carried out byPhilippe Gautret in Marseille, France. Although some of their results appeared to be encouraging, it should also be noted that most of their patients only had mild symptoms. Furthermore, 85% of the patients didn’t even have a fever – one of the major telltale symptoms of the virus, thus suggesting that these patients likely would have naturally cleared the virus without any intervention.

Fired aircraft carrier commander has COVID-19 - The aircraft carrier commander who urged the evacuation of his ship because of widespread COVID-19 infection has himself tested positive for coronavirus, it was reported Sunday afternoon. Captain Brett Crozier was fired, at the insistence of President Trump, after his letter to the Navy high command, warning that sailors would die unless urgent action was taken, was made public in the San Francisco Chronicle. Crozier’s own illness is a further demonstration of the deep inroads that the coronavirus has made within the military. At latest count, testing has been completed for nearly 1,600 of the sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and 155, or 10 percent, were found to be positive for COVID-19. At that level of contagion, and given the close quarters for working, eating and sleeping, it would have been only a matter of days before virtually everyone on the ship was infected. Trump angrily defended the firing of Crozier at the White House coronavirus press briefing Saturday. “He wrote a letter. A five-page letter from a captain,” Trump fumed. “And the letter was all over the place. That’s not appropriate, I don’t think that’s appropriate.” Making clear that his main concern was the political embarrassment for the White House, not the fate of the sailors, Trump continued, “It looked terrible what he did. To write a letter. I mean this isn’t a class on literature. This is the captain of a massive ship … he shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter.” The “commander-in-chief” expressed no concern that Navy seamen might suffer permanent impairment or death from the coronavirus.

CDC says three kids have died from suspected coronavirus in US as some children get severely sick - Some children have been hospitalized or worse after becoming infected with the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. At least three children have died. In its first major report looking at the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on children, the CDC analyzed confirmed cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories that occurred between Feb.12 and April 2. U.S health officials examined 149,760 cases where age was known and found that 2,572 of the cases, or 1.7%, were younger than 18. At least 73% of the pediatric patients had symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, according to the CDC’s findings. About 5.7% of the children, or 20% of those for whom hospitalization status was known, were hospitalized, the agency said. Three deaths were reported during this time period, though they are suspected of having COVID-19, public officials are still working to confirm whether that was the likely cause of the deaths. “These data support previous findings that children with COVID-19 might not have reported fever or cough as often as do adults,” the CDC wrote in its report. “Whereas most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe, serious COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization still occurs in this age group.” The CDC said the findings were in line with data from researchers in China, where the virus emerged and cases have reached more than 82,000 as of Monday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. There are more than 338,000 cases in the U.S., according to Hopkins. A recent study, which was published online in the journal Pediatrics, looked at 2,143 cases of children with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 that were reported to the Chinese CDC between Jan. 16 and Feb. 8. That study found that a number of children in China have developed severe or critical disease and one child has died. More than 90% of the cases were asymptomatic, mild or moderate cases. However, nearly 6% of the children’s cases were severe or critical, compared with 18.5% for adults.

Here’s How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak - You can reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19 whenever you leave your house by taking precautions such as practicing social distancing and washing your hands thoroughly and often.Shopping for groceries, though, carries extra risk.Not only are you near other people, but many of the products you're buying have probably been handled by others — and possibly sneezed or coughed on. This doesn't mean you should give up on trips to the supermarket. That's not really a viable option for most of us.But you can take a little extra care when handling your groceries to avoid spreading the virus to other people and surfaces in your house. Charlotte Baker, DrPH, MPH, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, said your biggest risk at the supermarket is coming into close contact with another person who's sick. That's why it's important to stay at least 6 feet from other people at all times.  It's not clear, though, how much of a role produce and food packaging plays in transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19. Still, the World Health Organization says that in addition to close person-to-person contact, people can pick up the virus by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.Some surfaces may pose a bigger risk than others.A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus was detectable on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.Baker said when you're at the supermarket, you should "assume all surfaces everywhere have been touched by someone who is sick."This includes produce and packaged foods. “Touch just the items you intend to buy, wipe down the cart or basket handles with disinfectant wipes, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when you're done," she said.Baker added that many people are also reducing their potential exposure by using curbside pick-up or at-home delivery. Even local food producers are offering these services.

COVID-19 Is Likely to Lead to an Increase in Suicides - Scientific American Blog - Just like a pandemic became a reality for the first time in more than a century, in a destructive "life imitating art imitating life" way, news of suicides linked to the COVID-19 crisis have swept the globe and sadly show no signs of abating. K. Balakrishna, a 50-year-old Indian father-of-three, may be the first suicide victim linked to the coronavirus epidemic. Panic is suspected of precipitating his death. Historically, disease pandemics have been associated with grave psychological consequences. This should not come as a surprise. In its simple definition “pandemic” describes the spread of a disease across a large region, but words such as “pandemic,” “plague” and now “coronavirus” are not experienced in a simple way; they come riddled with fear, anxiety, grief and chaos. Balakrishna kept watching coronavirus-related videos and became convinced he had the virus and would infect his family: he was a victim of panic contagion. Panic can demoralize us, it can paralyze us with paranoia and fear, and these emotions in turn lead to hopelessness and desperation.   The elderly are at particular risk. Following the SARS outbreak in 2003, there was a spike in suicide among older adults, which could be a harbinger of what’s to come. Older adults are sensitive to loneliness and isolation, as they depend on strong social support, especially during difficult times. Social contact in the community is now at a minimum with social distancing encouraged. The elderly have been especially advised to reduce their social contacts and remain homebound. The weakening of social networks disrupts normal social lives and feelings of worthlessness emerge. In just one day, two health care workers, Daniela Trezzi, a 34-year-old nurse in Italy, and a U.K. nurse in her 20s took their own lives. Both were deeply traumatized by the horrors experienced on the frontline. Communities look to the paramedics, the nurses and the doctors as pillars of strength, but compassion fatigue—emotional burnout from caring for patients with a bleak prognosis—is prevalent in these workers. Health care professionals are now being called to make difficult ethical decisions about resource allocation, and, once resources become scarce, they will be left with the role of simply diagnosing with not much to be done about treating. Add this emotional toll to the fear of contracting the disease, and you have a level of hopelessness and defeat that can be catastrophic.

Survivors of Coronavirus Face an Uncertain Road Back to Normal – WSJ -- After Rachel Wall described her coughing spells, extreme fatigue and fevers, her doctors told her to self-quarantine in her Denver home for 10 days and until she was fever-free for 72 hours. In Cincinnati, Elizabeth Edwards was advised to stay home for 14 days and until she was symptom-free for three days. In the Netherlands, Kevin Toms also got the 14-day directive. And in Australia, Amy McKenzie’s home isolation could last even longer: She needs two consecutive negative tests to show she isn’t shedding virus anymore—and she’ll only be eligible to get tested after her symptoms are gone. Because data on Covid-19 progression is scant and knowledge about the virus that causes it is swiftly changing, guidelines about when patients in recovery can safely resume some aspects of their pre-coronavirus lives vary greatly around the globe, and even within countries. Adding to the uncertainty, some guidelines differ depending on the severity and type of case. Authorities in Australia have three sets of guidelines: for people who have mild cases and recover completely at home, for people who have been hospitalized, and for health-care workers. The variation is sowing confusion about what patients should do and when they can be considered well. It all adds to their anxiety, they say. Even physicians say it can be difficult to know for certain when the quarantine countdown should begin. “This is really hard because I’m not sure anyone knows,” “We’re in uncharted territory. We really don’t know. That’s the problem,” said John Gumina, chairman of family medicine at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in New Jersey, the second-hardest-hit state in the U.S. after New York. He recommends a 14-day quarantine, but sometimes “even at that point, the patients are feeling pretty funky,” he added. Ms. Wall’s 10-day quarantine ended April 5, but the 32-year-old baker, a former laboratory scientist, said she is battling a cough that makes it difficult to talk. Drinking lots of fluids and cough medicine has helped, she said, but her heart races whenever she stands up. She plans to stay put. “It’s just frustrating to not be able to have the testing and the knowledge we need to adequately combat this,” she said.

Virus may spread twice as fast as earlier thought, study says - The new coronavirus raced through China much faster than previously thought, a U.S. research team said, suggesting that extremely widespread vaccination or immunity will be necessary to end the pandemic. Each person infected early in the epidemic in Wuhan probably passed the virus to an average of 5.7 other people, according to a mathematical analysis from Los Alamos National Laboratory. That’s more than twice what the World Health Organization and other public health authorities reported in February. The team’s results are specific to the Chinese outbreak. If they hold true elsewhere in the world, the pandemic may be more difficult to control than some authorities had modeled. At the rate of spread calculated in the study, some 82% of the population would need to be immune, either via a vaccine or because they’d already had the disease, in order to stop the virus from spreading, the Los Alamos team said. Without such protection, high levels of social distancing will be needed if more than one out of five infectious people is undiagnosed, the authors said. Governments around the world are trying to figure out when and how to emerge from weeks of lockdown, even as some parts of China renew restrictions after a fresh flare-up. Nearly 1.5 million people have tested positive globally, including a number of recent cases in China with none of the typical symptoms of COVID-19. “To think we’re close to an endpoint would be dangerous,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said at a briefing on Wednesday. The WHO has said a renewed push to test patients, isolate them and trace their close contacts will be needed as countries gradually loosen restrictions on public life. The decline in newly confirmed cases in China and South Korea in March shows it can be contained, the report said. Americans in communities with higher smog levels are at greater risk of dying from COVID-19, according to a new study that suggests the health damage from the novel coronavirus has been worsened by long-term exposure to air pollution. Scientists at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data on more than 3,000 U.S. counties to link small increases in long-term exposure to fine-particle pollution to substantially higher death rates from the coronavirus. Researchers calculated long-term average levels of fine-particle pollution — lung-damaging soot also known as PM2.5 — from 2000 to 2016 and compared it to the more than 7,000 COVID-19 deaths that had occurred through April 4. They found that an increase of only one microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 was associated with a 15% rise in the coronavirus death rate.

Health experts call for Roosevelt-style programs to kill virus, revive economy A first-of-its-kind program that will deploy almost a thousand people across Massachusetts may be a small-scale test of what public health experts hope could eventually stamp out the coronavirus even before a vaccine becomes widely available. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said Friday that his state would join with Partners In Health, a Boston-based global health nonprofit, to turn staffers into contact tracers, the backbone of any robust public health effort to squelch a deadly disease. Those contact tracers will interview people who have been infected with the coronavirus to determine who around them might also have been exposed. Those who may have been exposed will be warned to watch for symptoms themselves, giving public health officials a window into how the coronavirus is spreading and who might next be at risk. "Massachusetts is the only state in the nation implementing this type of programming, and this collaborative tracing initiative will break new ground as we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19," Baker said in a statement Friday. Public health experts across the country hope Massachusetts will not be alone for long. Increasingly, those who have warned for months about the virus's potential spread now say a mass-scale national program aimed at suppressing the virus at a community level through that sort of robust contact tracing is crucial to stopping its spread. Such a program aimed at bolstering national public health would be unprecedented in the history of the country. But as the economy nosedives into what could be a depression and millions lose their jobs in the space of a few days and weeks, a government-backed effort to get those people back to work does have a precedent, in Depression-era programs like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In their brief histories, the WPA and the CCC employed nearly 1 in 10 Americans, giving people a paycheck in the years between Franklin Roosevelt's election and the outset of World War II. In its first year, the WPA accounted for more than 6 percent of the nation's gross domestic product — the equivalent of about $1.3 trillion in today's dollars. That, public health experts said, would be money well-spent to both get a handle on a virus that has infected more than 332,000 people and killed almost 9,500 as of Sunday afternoon.

COVID-19 Patients Mistakenly Delivered To Navy Hospital Ship In New York - Multiple coronavirus patients were mistakenly transferred from New York's Javits Center to the Navy hospital ship Comfort on Friday, according to Fox News, citing three US officials.  Until Friday, Javits was only treating non-coronavirus cases until President Trump - at NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's request - authorized the facility to bring on COVID-19 patients. This meant that the existing patients at Javits - a few dozen - had to be transferred to Comfort some 10 blocks away. The ship is only supposed to treat trauma patients, not those infected with coronavirus.  The number of patients on board Comfort is "less than five," according to one official. Of note, the patients had initially screened as negative for the virus, while up to half of those infected with coronavirus show no symptoms, according to new data.The top general leading the coronavirus response for the U.S. military told Fox News there was another COVID-19 patient who showed up to the hospital ship Comfort in New York earlier Saturday after being delivered by ambulance. The patient later tested positive on board while in isolation. “We are treating the emergency situation that needs to be treated,” Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy said in a phone interview with Fox News Saturday afternoon and disclosed the new case aboard Comfort. -Fox NewsCurrent protocol is to test patients before they come onboard Comfort, isolate them, and then wait for the results. Navy officials reasoned that since only a handful of patients had tested positive, their existing protocols are working. They also noted that this illustrates the complexity of the situation.

Coronavirus Cases Rise Sharply, as U.S. Braces for Most Challenging Days Ahead – WSJ - Health officials warned Americans to brace for a pivotal week in the coronavirus pandemic, as the number of new cases around the world jumped by more than 100,000 in a single day for the first time, with a third of them coming from the U.S. Some of the hardest-hit cities, including New York, Detroit and New Orleans, are expected to see infections peak in the coming days, new models suggested. The next week will be “the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Fox News Sunday, drawing comparisons with the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More than 1.2 million people have been infected around the globe as of Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., more than 9,600 people have died from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. In the U.K., British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized Sunday after suffering persistent symptoms of Covid-19 10 days after he tested positive for the virus, his office said. It said his admission to hospital, under his doctor’s advice, was a precautionary step. President Trump offered his “well wishes” to Mr. Johnson on Sunday, saying at a White House briefing Sunday evening that “all Americans are praying for him.” At the same briefing, Mr. Trump said the federal government would send 600,000 N95 masks to New York City and 200,000 to Suffolk County, east of New York. He said additional ventilators would be sent to New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan, Illinois and Massachusetts. Deborah Birx, the administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at the briefing Sunday that the White House had received a new model from an independent modeler and that it projected “close to that 100,000 number” of U.S. coronavirus deaths. Officials again urged Americans to stay home. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe,” Dr. Birx said at an earlier White House briefing over the weekend.She said officials were closely monitoring an uptick in cases in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Washington, D.C., and are hopeful that social distancing in those places could prevent them from seeing the same level of spread as the known hot spots.

New York coronavirus deaths 'effectively flat' as U.S. braces for peak cases in hot spots - The mounting number of New York's coronavirus deaths has stayed "effectively flat" over the past two days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, offering a glimmer of hope that the state may be at a peak even as the country braces for what the Trump administration is calling the "toughest week" yet in the fight against the pandemic. While the state has recorded 4,758 total deaths, with an additional 599 from the day before, it's only a slight uptick from the 594 added two days ago, Cuomo said, and shows a "possible flattening of the curve" that is "better than the increases we have seen." He added that total hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions and intubations are down, crediting how people are largely adhering to social distancing guidelines in place over the past three weeks and are following a new way of life, which has upended the nation's workforce. But he advised that "now is not the time to be lax," and that even if New York does not see a continual spike in cases and is potentially at its apex, it could be stuck at this plateau for a painfully long time. "If we're plateauing, we're plateauing at a very high level," the governor told reporters during his daily briefing from the state capital of Albany. "We are at a red line. People can't work any harder. The staff can't work any harder. Staying at this level is problematic." Cuomo said he is extending his executive order that has kept schools closed and nonessential workers at home through April 29. New York remains at the center of the coronavirus outbreak with more than one-third of all cases in the United States and about half of the deaths, which has put a tremendous strain on the state's health care system. Medical workers have complained about the lack of personal protective equipment and the need for more resources, including staffing, as the crisis deepens.

New York coronavirus deaths jumped by 731 Monday, the biggest daily increase, Gov. Cuomo says - Coronavirus deaths in New York surged by 731 on Monday, the biggest single-day jump in COVID-19 fatalities since the outbreak began a few months ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. The jump in fatalities comes even as the number of intensive care admissions starts to decline, giving the state some needed breathing room to ramp up supplies and staff to handle an expected wave of cases over the next few weeks, he said. So far, 5,489 people in the state have died from the coronavirus, accounting for roughly half of all deaths in the U.S. “Behind every one of those numbers is an individual, is a family, is a mother, is a father, is a brother, is a sister. So, a lot of pain again today,” he said at a press conference in Albany. The number of deaths is a lagging indicator of the number of hospitalizations, Cuomo said. Those people were admitted to hospitals at the peak and weren’t successfully treated, Cuomo said, adding that they were placed on breathing machines, and “the longer you are on a ventilator the less likely” you will survive. New York is the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, with more than half the cases in the state in New York City, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Cuomo said he plans to issue several executive orders later Tuesday, including one that formalizes $1,000 fines for people who aren’t following social distancing rules. New York state health officials said they expected to have a breakdown of COVID-19 deaths by race this week. Hospitals don’t provide that information to the state, they said, so officials had to obtain it from coroners. The virus “kills vulnerable people. That’s what it does, and it does that very well,” Cuomo said. Earlier in the day, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the number of coronavirus patients being placed on ventilators in recent days has been better than expected, giving the city precious time to secure needed supplies for a wave of patients expected to hit local hospitals in the next few weeks. De Blasio also said the outbreak is disproportionately hitting lower-income households and people of color, although the city doesn’t disclose infection and death rates by race.

N.Y. Virus Deaths Hit New High, but Hospitalizations Slow - New York Times - Five weeks into the coronavirus outbreak, officials in New York and New Jersey, the two states hit hardest by the pandemic, hoped that the number of virus-related deaths had reached a peak and would flatten or drop for a third straight day. It did not happen. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Tuesday that 731 people had died of the virus since Monday, the state’s highest one-day total yet by more than 100. “Behind every one of those numbers is an individual, is a family, is a mother, is a father, is a sister, is a brother,” Mr. Cuomo said at his daily briefing in Albany. “So a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers.” New Jersey’s toll also hit a new one-day high on Tuesday, with 232 people dying of the virus since the previous day, Gov. Philip D. Murphy said. On Sunday and Monday, deaths in the state were in the double digits. Connecticut also reported its biggest one-day increase in deaths on Tuesday, with Gov. Ned Lamont saying 71 people had died since the day before. By comparison, Mr. Lamont had reported 17 new deaths on Monday. The three states together reported 1,034 deaths in a day, the first time that the region’s one-day toll topped 1,000. More people have died in New York and New Jersey, by far, than in any other state. The two states together account for more than half of the virus-related deaths in the United States. New York’s toll was 5,489 as of Tuesday; New Jersey’s was 1,232. In Connecticut, where the virus appears to have been slower to spread, 277 people have died. “It’s almost unfathomable, folks, when you think about it,” Mr. Murphy said. Still, all three governors said there were signs that the virus’s spread was slowing. Mr. Cuomo described death as a lagging indicator in the fight against the virus: People are often ill with it for a long time before they die, he said. By other measures, he said, the curve of infection was flattening in New York, even as the number of critically ill patients kept rising.

41 Transit Workers Dead: Crisis Takes Staggering Toll on Subways - At least 41 transit workers have died, and more than 6,000 more have fallen sick or self-quarantined. Crew shortages have caused over 800 subway delays and forced 40 percent of train trips to be canceled in a single day. On one line the average wait time, usually a few minutes, ballooned to as high as 40 minutes. Since the coronavirus pandemic engulfed New York City, it has taken a staggering toll on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that runs the subway, buses and commuter rails and is charged with shuttling workers — like doctors, nurses and emergency responders — who are essential to keeping the city functioning. But the transit agency may have deepened its work force crisis by not doing more during the early stages of the outbreak to protect its employees and delaying some steps laid out in a plan the M.T.A. had developed for dealing with a pandemic. The transit agency was late to distribute disinfectant to clean shared work spaces, struggled to keep track of sick workers and failed to inform their colleagues about possible exposure to the virus, according to interviews with two dozen transit workers. As the virus spread, many workers became so concerned that they took measures into their own hands: They cordoned off seats with duct tape to distance drivers from riders and used their own masks and homemade disinfectant at work, only to be reprimanded by supervisors. Across the country, the speed and intensity of the outbreak has overwhelmed many public transit agencies, leaving them with a depleted work force and the responsibility of preventing the spread of infection. In New York, M.T.A. officials said the agency was making extraordinary efforts in the face of the worst public health crisis in decades. They said they acted as quickly as possible to protect workers and riders. They said they responded to workers’ safety concerns as soon as they could, ordering that equipment be scrubbed down and distributing other disinfectants as they have become available. Patrick J. Foye, the M.T.A. chairman, who himself tested positive for coronavirus, said the agency initially followed guidance from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that healthy people did not need to wear face masks. Mr. Foye said the M.T.A. then decided to go farther than that, before the C.D.C. changed its advice on masks. He said it had already provided 460,000 masks to workers, in addition to thousands of face shields and 2.5 million pairs of gloves.

New York City may have to bury coronavirus victims on public lands as deaths overwhelm mortuaries - New York City is preparing to bury the bodies of those who died of COVID-19 in temporary plots on public land until the city’s morgues and cemeteries can catch up to the rapidly rising coronavirus death toll, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. “If we need to do temporary burials to be able to tide this over to pass the crisis and then work with each family on their appropriate arrangements, we have the ability to do that,” de Blasio said at a news briefing from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “Obviously, the place we have used historically is Hart Island.” Hart Island is located in the northeastern part of the Bronx borough of New York City. More than 1 million people are buried on the island, according to the city’s website. The city says it is New York City’s public cemetery and the Department of Correction has managed burials on the island for the past 150 years. Many of those buried on the island remain anonymous with unmarked graves. Representatives from the NYC Department of Correction were not immediately available to comment. “We’re going to try and treat every family with dignity, respect, religious needs of those who are devout and the focus right now is to try to get through this crisis and obviously also put all of our energy and resources into saving those we can save,” de Blasio said. “That’s how we’re going to go about it. We’ll have the capacity for temporary burials. That’s all I’m going to say.” COVID-19 has now infected more than 123,160 people across New York state and killed at least 4,159 people, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 3,000 of those deaths were in New York City, according to Hopkins. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is producing models for the White House on the U.S. and state COVID-19 outbreaks, predicts that more than 15,600 people in New York state will die from COVID-19 by Aug. 4. De Blasio’s comments come after the chair of New York City Council’s health committee, Mark Levine, said on social media that the city’s system for managing the deceased is being “pushed to the limit.” He added that morgues and funeral homes across the city are overwhelmed.

N.Y. Reports Record 779 Daily Deaths; Hospitalizations Decline - New York suffered another day of record fatalities from the coronavirus outbreak, reporting 779 additional deaths even as hospitalizations declined. “The number of deaths will continue to rise as those hospitalized for a period of time pass away,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday at his daily virus briefing. The state has lost more than 1,500 people to the virus in the last two days, for a total of almost 6,300. Despite the rising death toll, Cuomo said the state’s social-distancing rules and other measures were working. “It is flattening the curve, and we see that again today so far,” he said, adding that “we have to remain diligent, we have to remain disciplined going forward.”“We are by no means out of the woods,” he said.

Is New York Containing Covid? -  Stuart Staniford - The above shows the positive test count (and a couple of moving averages) in New York state.  That's the lines in the middle ending at around the 9000/day level.  The general impression of this is that the "PAUSE" (stay at home) order that Governor Cuomo ordered as of March 22nd has, after a two week delay, caused a leveling off in new cases, but not a decline - though it's very early to be sure.  We would expect something like a 10-14 delay as there's a five day incubation period from infection to symptoms, and then more delay getting a test and waiting for the result.  The blue line is new daily hospitalizations.  I don't see the decline in this recently as a good thing - given that the positive test load is not declining, this looks more likely an issue of hospital capacity than of new demand for hospitals declining.  There is significant reporting now suggesting that a lot more New Yorkers than usual are dying at home because they either can't or won't go to hospital when very sick.  The yellow line at the top is total number currently in hospital with Covid.  Again, the rate of increase declining seems like a bad thing in the absence of a decline in new cases.  Note that the data here is of extremely poor quality and it's very hard to be sure of any conclusion.  For example, here is the fraction of new daily tests that are positive:This indicates the testing infrastructure is very maxed out - people are only getting tested if they very likely have the disease, and no doubt lots of milder cases are being missed.  Thus the positive test count in the first graph above is likely a gross underestimate.  Note the tests are thought to have a 30% false negative rate, so the ratio shouldn't go above 70%.  If all was well, and we were vigorously chasing down contacts of cases, less than 5% of tests would come back positive.  The slight decline in recent days might be the beginning of a good thing (or it might be a sign of more epidemic outside the New York City area, where capacity is not so maxed out).  All told, I think we can conclude that the PAUSE has definitely had a substantial effect on slowing the epidemic.  It's very hard to be sure, but the reproduction number might be right around the 1.0 threshold, giving an ongoing epidemic of roughly constant size.  The hospital system is badly maxed out and there are a lot deaths outside of the system.

Cuomo: Millions and millions of tests needed to open economy -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Friday morning that millions of COVID-19 tests will need to be administered if the country's economy is going to reopen safely and effectively. "This is going to be a horrendous transformational period for us," Cuomo said in an appearance on CNN's "Morning Joe." "I don't think we ever get back to normal. I think this is one of the new normals now in public health," he said. The governor added that how smoothly American society and its economy are able to reopen will directly correspond to what the steps government does or doesn't take. "This is such an important period for government and the political discussion," Cuomo said. "Nothing is pre-charted here. It's all a function of what we do." He added: "How good are we at getting this testing up. Are we better than we've been in the past. Is it going to take us months to come to scale on rapid testing. That's the only way to get people back to work. You have to have millions and millions of tests frankly better and faster than we've done to date." This isn't the first time that Cuomo has signaled that widespread testing to see who has had the virus was essential to Americans getting back to work safely. Cuomo has said that New York state has developed a test that sees whether or not a person has developed antibodies to fight COVID-19. It has been well-documented that not everyone who contracted the virus will show outward symptoms consistent with the disease. "We cannot restart life as we knew it without testing,"

Cuomo vows to investigate racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths: 'Why do the poorest people always pay the highest price?' - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Wednesday vowed to ramp up coronavirus testing in minority communities and investigate the racial disparities in deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. “Why are more African Americans and Latinos affected?” Cuomo asked at his daily press briefing Wednesday. He noted that black New Yorkers comprise 28 percent of deaths in New York City and 18 percent of deaths in New York state, despite being 22 percent and 9 percent of the population, respectively. Hispanics, meanwhile, are 29 percent of the population in New York City and 11 percent of the population statewide, but represent 34 percent and 14 percent of deaths, respectively. “We’re seeing this around the country,” Cuomo added, noting that other areas have worse disparities than New York’s. “Comorbidity, I understand that, but I think there’s something more to it. You know, it always seems that the poorest people pay the highest price. Why is that? Whatever the situation is.” Cuomo compared the disparities to the particular devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought on African Americans in 2005. “The people standing on those rooftops were not rich white people,” he said. “Let’s figure it out. Let’s do the work. Let’s do the research. Let’s learn from these moment and let’s learn these lessons and let’s do it now.”

80% of NYC's coronavirus patients who are put on ventilators ultimately die, and some doctors are trying to stop using them - AOL News - Some doctors are trying to use ventilators less frequently as some areas report high death rates amid coronavirus patients who have to use them. Ventilators are machines used to bring oxygen into peoples' lungs, and are typically only used for patients worst affected by respiratory diseases. Some 40% to 50% of patients with severe respiratory issues die while on ventilators, the Associated Press (AP) reported, citing experts. New York City has reported that 80% of its coronavirus patients who were put on ventilators had ultimately died, the AP reported, citing state and city officials. It is the worst-affected state in the US. There have also been reports of unusually high death rates among patients on ventilators elsewhere in the US, China, and the UK, the AP reported. Putting a patient on a ventilator is an extreme step saved for the most-affected patients, who typically already have the highest chance of dying from respiratory failure. The higher death rate could be a direct result of this, as well as the fact that there are so far no drugs that can help fight the coronavirus. Ventilators could be causing further harm to COVID-19 patients, some doctors warn Some doctors are also concerned that ventilators could actually be further harming certain coronavirus patients as the treatment is always hard on lungs, the AP reported. Dr. Tiffany Osborn, a critical care specialist at Washington University School of Medicine, told NPR on April 1 that ventilators can actually damage patients' lungs. "The ventilator itself can do damage to the lung tissue based on how much pressure is required to help oxygen get processed by the lungs," she said. Dr. Negin Hajizadeh, a pulmonary critical care doctor at New York's Hofstra/Northwell School of Medicine, also told NPR that while ventilators work well for people suffering from diseases like pneumonia, they don't necessarily for coronavirus patients. She said that most coronavirus patients in her hospital system have ultimately not recovered despite being given a ventilator. She added that the coronavirus does a lot more damage to the lungs than illnesses like the flu, as "there is fluid and other toxic chemical cytokines, we call them, raging throughout the lung tissue."

  • Some doctors are trying to reduce their reliance on ventilators for somecoronavirus patients as the death rate for patients using the machines is abnormally high.
  • New York officials say 80% of coronavirus patients who used ventilators in the city have died, the Associated Press reported. Unusually high death rates have also been recorded elsewhere in the world.
  • Ventilators are typically only used for the worst-affected patients and there are no drugs to help treat coronavirus, so this could explain the higher death rate.
  • But doctors also say that ventilators can be damaging to the lungs, and while it may be an effective way to treat other respiratory illnesses, some are now looking for alternative treatments.
  • There is still a global ventilator shortage, with doctors and healthcare systems calling for more to be urgently made or bought to treat the worst-affected patients.

New York City mayor warns coronavirus restrictions might last until June: It’s time to ‘double down’ - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that social distancing restrictions may need to be tightened and extended until June to contain and prevent the coronavirus outbreak from resurging, saying it’s going to be a “long, tough” April. “Unfortunately, restrictions may have to go up, meaning if things really get worse, we might have to tighten up further,” de Blasio said Thursday at a press conference. “It’s not what I envision today. It’s not what any of us want. But the truth is the truth. I don’t think anyone watching out there wants to be told pretty lies.” De Blasio said the last thing New York can afford is to let the disease resurge now that it’s beginning to see some evidence that the spread of the infection is starting to slow. It may not be June until the city starts loosening some of its restrictions, he said. “April, we’re going to have to fight this fight the way we are now into May, that could be a lot of May in fact. I would love it if some change could happen in May. But it may not be until June,” de Blasio said. New York City is grappling with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the country with more than 81,800 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning — more than half of all cases across the state and almost as many as China, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. De Blasio outlined three phases of the outbreak that show where New York needs to be before officials will even consider reopening the city. Right now, there is “widespread transmission” of COVID-19 where the city is unable to keep track of all the cases or trace where they originated, de Blasio said. “You’re seeing constantly new cases ... We cannot trace the origins of individual cases back to their original source,” he said, adding that the city has to ration testing right now. The city needs to get to “low-level” transmission, which is when they are able to trace cases to their source and test more people, before officials will consider loosening some social distancing restrictions, according to a chart presented at the press conference. The third phase, “no transmission,” is when new infections are primarily coming from outside New York City. To get there, de Blasio said there needs to be substantially more testing, but it’s “not clear how and when that happens.” That’s been a challenge for public health officials from the beginning, he said, blaming the federal government for failing to do everything it could to help.

New York now leads all countries in coronavirus cases -- New York state is now the coronavirus capital of the world, logging more COVID-19 cases than any other country across the globe outside of the US. As of Thursday, the Empire State had recorded a total of 159,937 confirmed coronavirus cases — a jump of more than 10,000 new cases from the day before.There’ve been 7,067 deaths as a result of the contagion in the state so far, with a record 799 deaths overnight.   The state has now surpassed the coronavirus cases in every other country worldwide.It’s followed by Spain and Italy, which have 152,446 and 139,422 COVID-19 cases, respectively, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.Germany has 113,615 cases, followed by France with 83,080, China at 82,883, and Iran with 66,220 cases, the data shows.The UK has now logged a total of 61,497 coronavirus cases, while Turkey has recorded 38,226 cases, according to the data.Overall, the US has confirmed a total of 432,596 COVID-19 cases with 14,831 deaths caused by the disease as of Thursday.In New York City alone, official statistics released Thursday morning show, 4,426 people have died from coronavirus, while the number of confirmed cases has grown to 84,373. “No one ever heard of this disease six months ago — it didn’t even exist yet and yet it’s visited upon us in a way that’s the worst in our nation,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his City Hall press briefing Thursday. The mayor added, “We have to fight back this virus and we have the power to do it in many, many ways.”Earlier this week, the number of coronavirus deaths and infections in New York eclipsed those in China, Iran and Germany.Total coronavirus fatalities are now at 3,339 in China, 4,110 in Iran and 2,349 in Germany, the latest data shows.The country with the most fatalities so far from coronavirus is Italy with 17,669 deaths, followed by Spain with 15,238, according to the data.

Cuomo: New York State appears to reach plateau in COVID-19 cases | — Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday that the hospitalization rate for coronavirus patients in New York State is decreasing. Cuomo says the state is still seeing new hospitalizations and new infections; however, fewer people are going to New York hospitals and the number of ICU admissions are also going down. The governor added that New York State appears to have reached the apex of COVID-19 cases and the state may have reached a plateau. Despite this information, Cuomo further stressed the need for testing. The governor says New York State needs more testing and faster testing. Cuomo also says we need to be more prepared going forward. New York officials would not provide a timeline as to when schools and businesses would reopen, but the governor did say that businesses would not reopen before schools. Cuomo added that reopening businesses and schools will be coordinated together across the state. Cuomo stresses that the fight is not yet over, adding that our actions will determine life and death.

New Jersey hospitals cut staff as COVID-19 cases surge - Last week, several hospitals in southern New Jersey announced that they would cut hospital staff even as the coronavirus pandemic is ravaging the state. The CEOs of Shore Medical Center, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center and Cape Regional Medical Center explained in a column for the Press of Atlantic City, that they had to adjust “staff and other resources” because of the falling income from canceled elective surgeries. On Monday, every employee at Shore in Somers Point received a letter offering “voluntary” layoffs. Other hospitals are asking their staff to take a reduction in their hours or a furlough. Similar reductions in staff, as well as pay cuts to physicians and nurses now fighting to save the lives of COVID-19 patients are being taken across the United States. The layoffs and cutbacks come as the pandemic is only beginning to fully hit New Jersey and many other states. On top of decade-long budget cuts to health care, a shortage of ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital staff and hospital beds, they will contribute to an increasing death toll. New Jersey, which has a population of 9 million, has more cases than any other state in the US except neighboring New York. As of April 6, New Jersey had more than 41,000 cases of coronavirus. This number is higher than that of all but eight countries. At least 132 of the state’s 375 long-term care facilities had reported at least one case of coronavirus, and all four psychiatric hospitals had reported at least one case. In all, 1,003 people in New Jersey have died of coronavirus, more than the 704 New Jersey residents that died in the terror attacks of 9/11. New Jersey governor Phil Murphy estimates that the state is about a week behind New York in terms of the rise in the number of cases. The peak is expected within approximately two weeks. Like all states in the US, New Jersey started testing far too late. A nurse who is employed at several northern New Jersey facilities described the surge in patients to the WSWS: “First, the testing criteria was much too strict for too long … we were only supposed to send patients for testing if they had come from a high risk country such as China or Italy, or if they had direct contact with someone else who had already tested positive for COVID-19. At the very earliest (late February or early March) there was really nothing to do for these patients but diagnose them for something else (pneumonia, lower respiratory infection, etc.) and send them home. “So, weeks were lost when stricter public health measures should have been instituted. Then, even when the testing criteria were relaxed to include people with symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, and fever), testing was still difficult to obtain. Even now, there are not enough tests. … I’ve heard some epidemiologists suggest that the actual numbers are up to 90X higher than what is being reported.”

More than 700 employees at one Detroit hospital system test positive for coronavirus - Hundreds of staff at a Detroit-area hospital system have tested positive for coronavirus, the hospital's chief clinical officer said Monday evening. Nonprofit news site reported that Dr. Adnan Munkarah of the Henry Ford Hospital Campus confirmed 731 cases of the coronavirus among employees at the hospital, accounting for 2 percent of the hospital system's 31,600 employees. As many as 1,500 at another hospital system in the state have reported symptoms similar to coronavirus, though those numbers are not confirmed cases. “If we are to test the whole population, you are going to see large numbers of people who are testing positive,” Munkarah told reporters on a press call earlier in the day, according to “Testing positive is just a measure of how contagious this virus is.” “Our team members are our greatest asset and their health and safety is a top priority as we continue to respond to this pandemic,” Munkarah said in a separate statement Monday evening confirmed the total number of positive test results. "We know we are not immune to potential exposure and we remain grateful for the courage and dedication of our entire team," he added. Detroit, Michigan's largest city, has seen a surge of coronavirus cases in recent days while the state itself has seen just over 17,000 cases of the virus – the third-largest total of any state in the U.S. More than 5,000 of those cases were reported in Detroit, where hundreds have died. The hospital system's chief operating officer added in a statement to that staff were working "24/7" to acquire more personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses and doctors including masks, which hospitals across the country have reported trouble obtaining.

 Detroit nurses forced to leave hospital after protesting understaffing - At around midnight Monday morning, seven night shift nurses at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit were sent home after refusing to work in unsafe, understaffed conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Sinai-Grace, the largest of eight hospitals in the for-profit Detroit Medical Center, has been inundated with COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Michigan now ranks as the US state with the third highest number of cases after New York and New Jersey, with most cases and deaths centered in the Metro Detroit region encompassing Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. These three counties have a combined 12,556 cases and 539 deaths, numbers which are forecast to rise rapidly over the coming weeks, and which have already strained many hospitals to the breaking point. The city of Detroit alone suffered 38 deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the city’s death toll to 167, including three nurses (aged 40, 53 and 72) and a 37-year-old surgeon. A video recorded by one of the nurses, Sal, makes clear that the small group of nurses were sent home after engaging in a sit-in protest in their break room, standing up for their rights and safety. The nurses’ protest comes amid a wave of wildcat strikes and protests that have erupted internationally in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the demands of the ruling classes that nonessential workers continue to work to generate profit, while essential workers, including health care, food processing and delivery workers, risk their lives without adequate protection. In the Detroit region alone, wildcat strikes have erupted involving autoworkers, city bus drivers, and Amazon warehouse workers. The video filmed by Sal has gone viral within hours of being posted. As of this writing, it has already been viewed over 125,000 times, shared over 6,750 times, and garnered over 3,500 reactions and over 4,200 comments. A separate post of the video has been viewed over 75,000 times and shared 1,800 times, with over 750 reactions and over 550 comments. In the video, Sal states, “We were told to leave because we refused to accept unsafe patient loads.” Another nurse adds, “Twenty-five patients to one nurse!” Sal comments, “This is the amount of nurses we have for the night shift,” pointing to the six nurses on camera, with one other nurse still inside on orientation. He continues, “they want us to go out there and accept 68 patients, multiple [patients requiring ventilators], and so everybody left. We were told to basically leave.”

Mich. Medical Society president prescribed lawmaker hydroxychloroquine -- The president of the Michigan State Medical Society is the doctor who prescribed a state lawmaker hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump that the lawmaker is crediting with saving her life. Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala is president of a society that advocates on behalf of more than 15,000 physicians in the state. But he's also the founder of Michigan Urgent Care, which has clinics throughout southeast Michigan. In a Wednesday interview, Arsiwala said first-term Rep. Karen Whitsett, a Detroit Democrat he didn't know previously, came to a Michigan Urgent Care location in Wyandotte. She had symptoms of COVID-19 and an underlying condition, and he decided her treatment should include an antibiotic and hydroxychloroquine, he said. "It’s a novel virus. It’s acting in a very strange way. And it’s causing a lot of damage honestly," Arsiwala said of COVID-19.Out of 58 patients who have tested positive for the virus, Arsiwala said he's chosen to give the medication to 12, including Whitsett, who had a severe headache and breathing problems."It was a choice between going to the hospital and never coming out and getting my hands on that medication," Whitsett said in an interview this week, adding that "It literally saved my life." The second state lawmaker to test positive for COVID-19, Whitsett said she was prescribed hydroxychloroquine last week.Whitsett's story has gained national attention, including that of President Trump, who has touted hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19, a virus that's killed more than 14,000 people in the United States, including 959 in Michigan.  Trump congratulated Whitsett on Twitter and mentioned her story during Tuesday's White House briefing.

 Michigan's coronavirus deaths rise by more than 100 for fourth straight day, bringing total to 1,076 -- New deaths from the coronavirus in Michigan rose by more than 100 for the fourth day in a row, bringing the state’s total to 1,076. The 117 new deaths on Thursday is the second-highest daily increase since the outbreak began last month. Michigan ranks third in the number of deaths nationwide, behind New York and New Jersey. Michigan now has more than 21,500 positive cases, up 1,076 from Wednesday. The state has significantly increased its testing capacity. So far, more than 50,000 people have been tested in the state. In Wayne County, where the coronavirus has hit the hardest, there were 58 new deaths for a total of 504. The county now has more than 10,000 positive cases, with 467 infections confirmed in the past 24 hours. Making up 18% of the state’s population, Wayne County has 46.8% of the deaths and 46.5% of the confirmed infections. Outside of New York City, Wayne County has the highest number of deaths in the U.S. No city in Michigan has been hammered as hard as Detroit, which has a higher death rate than New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak. The city reported 25 new deaths, bringing its total to 272. Detroit also reported 6,083 confirmed cases, up 249 from Wednesday. Statewide, 40% of the people who have died were Black, 31% white, and 24% unknown. Black people make up 33% of positive cases. Another third of the cases are unknown, and white people represent 25% of the confirmed infections. Eleven of the state’s 83 counties have yet to confirm a COVID-19 case. 

Michigan order banning travel 'between residences' takes effect -  An extension of Michigan’s “stay home” order barring residents from buying nonessential items or traveling “between residences” in the state except for essential activities went into effect Saturday morning.Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed the order Friday evening after announcing it on Thursday, also extending the order directing residents to stay in their homes until May 1. It's one of the most aggressive orders a U.S. state has issued since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. “All public and private gatherings of any size are prohibited," Whitmer said at a news conference Friday.The order has been the subject of criticism for apparent loopholes and inconsistencies, according to theDetroit Free Press.Though Michigan residents cannot visit their own cottages, residents from neighboring states can visit their vacation homes in Michigan. And while the state’s scope of nonessential items is broad — including goods such as paint and garden equipment — it also allowed the purchase of lottery tickets."These businesses are essential — to us," Terressa Carson, a Michigan resident who relies on her home garden for produce told the Free Press.Whitmer said the state took aggressive action considering it has the third-highest number of cases in the nation and continues to see more each day. As of Saturday morning, the state has reported 22,783 cases and 1,281 deaths.  “Michigan has the third highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and we’re still on the upswing," Whitmer said in a statement. "We must continue to do everything we can to slow the spread and protect our families."

Michigan COVID-19 cases rise to almost 24,000 - The state of COVID-19 continues to worsen in the Great Lake State, as the state of Michigan reported over 1,200 confirmed cases and 111 deaths since Friday, April 10. The number of cases of COVID-19 in Michigan rose to 23,993 and deaths climbed to 1,392 as of April 11. The hardest hit counties continue to be Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties. On Saturday, Shiawassee county reported it's first death. Ingham county has 241 cases and three deaths. Jackson county has 152 cases and four deaths. Eaton county now reporting 71 cases and four deaths. Clinton county has 90 cases and three deaths. Michigan's death toll now stands at 1,392. But, this week state health officials say 433 people have recovered from the virus. That new statistic will be updated weekly. Michigan has the third highest total of COVID-19 cases.

Coronavirus death toll jumps to 381 in Wash.; 2 more counties report their first deaths | KOMO - The statewide death toll from coronavirus grew to at least 381 on Monday, according to preliminary daily reports, and at least two more counties reported their first deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak. King County reported 14 new deaths, Snohomish County reported 10 new deaths, Whatcom County tallied six new deaths and Pierce County reported two new deaths. In addition, Kitsap and Lewis counties each reported their first COVID-19 deaths. The Kitsap County victim was described as an older adult with underlying medical conditions. The Lewis County victim was a person in their 80s, also with underlying health conditions. Results from several other counties were not yet available. Individual counties also reported hundreds of new positive tests for coronavirus, pushing the total number of cases statewide well over 8,000. The new reports come as health officials warn that the next two weeks could be the worst of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. since it began.

 Grocery worker dies from COVID-19 infection in suburban Maryland - On Sunday, the COVID-19 pandemic claimed the life of 27-year-old Leilani Jordan, an employee of the Giant Food Stores supermarket chain from Largo, Maryland. Jordan had worked for Giant for six years. She was hired as a part of the grocery chain’s disability program.   Jordan first informed her job that she was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 28. Her symptoms quickly became more pronounced. Her mother tearfully explained that by the time she brought her daughter to the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, “she fell. She collapsed in the parking lot. When they got her, she had a 104-degree fever. They put her in isolation. She called me and said, ‘Mommy, I can barely breathe.’  As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps through the United States, workers in industries deemed “essential,” such as grocery, are increasingly being exposed to the killer virus at extremely high rates. Jordan’s tragic and preventable death is one of many in the supermarket and grocery stores industry. Just yesterday, a worker at a Trader Joe’s location in Scarsdale, New York, was pronounced dead from complications stemming from COVID-19. In Evergreen Park, Illinois, two Walmart employees, Wando Evans, 51, and Phillip Thomas, 48, died late last month from the disease. The family of Evans has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Arkansas-based retailer, accusing the company of failing to observe social distancing and other policies advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.“The Centers for Disease Control has designated Walmart stores as ‘high-volume retailers,’ making them responsible for taking additional precautions to protect employees and customers from the spread of COVID-19,” said Evans family attorney Tony Kalogerakos to Reuters.In some cases, thousands of people pass through a grocery store on any given day. According to a 2017 study cited by USA Today, grocery carts and other supermarket surfaces contain “hundreds of times more colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch ‘than surfaces in your bathroom.’” The article noted that the study was conducted under “normal” conditions “with no pandemic and no panic buying for toilet paper and bread.”

Coronavirus in Ohio Monday update: 4,450 cases reported, 142 deaths — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Lt. Governor Jon Husted and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton will hold a briefing Monday afternoon to discuss the latest efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus in Ohio. As of Monday, there are 4,450 cases reported in Ohio. Of those, 1,214 have led to hospitalization and 142 people have died. Dr. Amy Acton addressed questions about how many people have recovered from the virus in Ohio. “Over 80%, if not more of folks who have this virus are at home and not tested. They have mild enough illness they do not require hospitalization,” said Dr. Acton. “Today, we do know that 303 of our cases that have been hospitalized, discharged, 25% of them have now reached that period of recovery.” DeWine started Monday’s press conference by sharing photos of 4H children recognizing essential workers. The governor reviewed new requirements for retailers to set a limit for customers inside of their stores and post that limit outside beginning midnight. He congratulated stores for instituting those limits early. DeWine also applauded for stores for taking additional steps, like making one-way aisles, sanitizing carts and marking distance on the floor. DeWine stressed that the steps everyone is taking is buying the state time to increase hospital capacity. The governor addressed the coronavirus situation at Elkton Prison in Columbiana County. Seven inmates have tested positive and three have died. The prison is a federal prison, housing federal inmates from across the country. The Ohio National Guard is going into the prison for 7-10 days to help with the medical situation until more federal assistance arrives. DeWine addressed calls to release prisoners from that prison. DeWine said the prison is run by the federal government and he has no authority over it. The governor addressed snowbirds coming back to Ohio from places like Florida. He says Ohio welcomes them back, but asked them to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

Young people represent nearly 30% of coronavirus cases in Columbus and Worthington, health commissioner says -- Columbus and Worthington have recorded a total six coronavirus deaths as of Tuesday evening, and many of the 480 patients identified as confirmed cases through testing are young, the city health commissioner told the city council Tuesday. Close to 30% or about 140 of the confirmed cases are people between the ages of 20-29. About 25% or about 120 of the total are health-care workers, Dr. Mysheika Roberts, Columbus health commissioner, told the council in a call-in briefing during their second virtual meeting. About 18% or 86 of the total confirmed cases have required hospitalization, with about one-third of those admitted to an intensive care unit, Roberts reported. >>> Worthington is included in Columbus Public Health numbers because it is served by the agency under contract, while other suburbs and Franklin County keep and report their own coronavirus numbers. Roberts didn’t break down the numbers by Columbus or Worthington and did not report the ages of those who developed serious symptoms. But she did relate that COVID-19 symptoms are evolving as the medical community learns more about the virus. At first, common coronavirus symptoms were thought to be fever, cough and shortness of breath, Roberts said. “Now we know that people can present with a variety of different symptoms,” including pink eye, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, Roberts said.

Coronavirus Pandemic: 5,512 cases in Ohio, 213 deaths - There are at least 5,512 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state with 213 deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health. In Ohio, 1,612 people suffering from COVID-19 have been admitted to hospitals. The state has a population of 11.6 million. The rate at which confirmed coronavirus cases in Ohio is increasing is slowing, according to a WHIO analysis. Coronavirus cases in Ohio increased by 7 percent from Wednesday to Thursday. Comparatively, cases increased by 8 percent the day before. Last week, cases were increasing 13 percent to 17 percent. In late March, cases were increasing by 23 percent to 31 percent daily. Deaths in Ohio increased Wednesday to Thursday by 10 percent, which is the smallest increase we’ve seen. Dr. Amy Acton, state health director, said Ohio is below the curve initially being targeted, but said it is important to keep the current measures in place -- social distancing, the stay-at-home order, regular hand washing and the rest) to prevent cases from climbing. “Don’t let up now,” she said Wednesday. While the state is tracking confirmed cases, it’s important to note that due to the limited amount of testing available the number of confirmed cases is not a true reflection of actual cases in the state. Meanwhile, the state remains under an extended stay-at-home order until May 1.

Did Ohio get it right? Early intervention, preparation for pandemic may pay off. -- On Feb. 26, two days before President Trump called the coronavirus outbreak the Democratic Party’s “new hoax,” the Cleveland Clinic alerted the public that it was prepared to quickly open 1,000 additional hospital beds should the need arise. On March 4, the day Trump boasted that “we have a very small number” of infected people in the United States, Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, shut down a weekend fitness expo expected to draw 60,000 people a day to a Columbus convention center. There were no identified coronavirus cases in the state at the time.Now, Ohio may be realizing the benefits of early intervention in the pandemic by its government and medical community. With about 5,100 covid-19 cases, it has fewer than a third the number of people with the novel coronavirus than in three comparably sized states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois. And Ohio has just a small fraction of the deaths reported in those states.  The Cleveland Clinic, which eventually beefed up plans to expand from 3,200 beds to 8,000 should the worst occur, held just 150 covid-19 patients (along with 2,000 others) this week and is preparing to scale back some facilities. It is moving to lend medical personnel to cities such as Detroit and New York hit hard by the virus.In the Cincinnati region, models now show that peak occupancy of hospital beds by covid-19 patients may be just 10 percent of the predicted worst-case scenario.“You’ve got to make these decisions early. Early means early,” DeWine said in an interview this week. “Every day you wait, you create a bigger problem.” With the pandemic still spreading and case counts rising, it’s too early for certainty on whether Ohio’s actions have spared it the worst of the virus’s impact. Experts caution that infectious disease outbreaks never move smoothly through a population. They arise opportunistically: A party here or church service there can produce an explosion of infections that quickly puts public health officials behind the disease curve. There is no way to account for luck, good or bad. But an early look at Ohio’s preparations and decision-making shows they reflect textbook recommendations for the way to handle an outbreak. Identify it early. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Move swiftly because disease expansion will be exponential, not linear. In the absence of testing, assume the virus is spreading through the community. Communicate with the public clearly, and keep the message consistent.“It seems we have gotten ahead of it,” said Tomislav Mihaljevic, chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, one of the top medical systems in the country. “Here in Ohio, we may well be in a position of not a high, high curve of patients but more of a swell.”

There are now 6,250 COVID-19 cases in Ohio, 247 deaths — The Ohio Department of Health confirmed Saturday that there are now 6,250 total cases of COVID-19 in the state. That's a jump of 372 from yesterday. A total of 247 deaths have been reported. Both the cases and deaths include the new cases that fall under the probable case and deaths. There were 1,859 total hospitalizations reported on Saturday, with 572 ICU admissions, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The median age of patients is 54 with the age range for infected patients from younger than 1 years old to 101 years old.

Rapid growth of COVID-19 in eastern Pennsylvania - COVID-19 pandemic is spreading rapidly in eastern Pennsylvania, largely the result of manufacturers and distributors refusing to curtail production. Luzerne County reports over 1,000 documented cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths, all men, with the youngest victim just 48 years old. The great majority of documented cases, roughly 900, are concentrated in the small city of Hazelton, which has a population of 25,000 and a median income that is half the national average. Cases in the former coal mining city “continue to climb exponentially,” according to a media account published Tuesday. Lehigh and Northampton counties, whose largest cities are the former steel milling centers of Allentown and Bethlehem, respectively, reported a combined 2,200 cases as of Tuesday. Monroe County, which borders New Jersey, reported over 600 cases, and Lackawanna County, whose largest city is Scranton, reported nearly 300. The regional economy is closely linked to that of New York City, through production, transportation, and the movement of workers. A Wilkes-Barre area plant of Mission Foods, which specializes in “authentic Mexican food products,” has ordered workers to continue to report to work in spite of an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility. Twenty-two workers at the facility were diagnosed with the disease days ago, but management has ordered the workforce of over 500 to continue to report “even if they’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19—or risk losing their jobs,” according to a media report based on a conversation with a Local 1776 United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) official, Wendell Young. Workers also report that the building “is not being sanitized properly, that employees are working nearly ‘elbow-to-elbow’ on assembly and production lines and not maintaining a 6-foot distance from each other, and that some are ‘coughing and gagging’ as they work the lines.” In Hazelton, the epidemic is also concentrated among workers compelled to report at regional industrial parks. “We’re in crisis mode because we’re seeing that Hazleton, out of all Luzerne County, that Hazleton is really going to be ground zero for this,” “The numbers are affecting the Spanish-speaking community that works in the industrial parks … We have industrial plants where management was not following the OSHA guidelines and the CDC recommendations.”

 Pennsylvania nursing home says all 800 patients and staff have COVID-19 - After being unable to do the required testing, one of the largest nursing homes in western Pennsylvania is operating under the assumption that all of the facility’s nearly 800 patients and staff have been infected with COVID-19. As of Tuesday, three patients had died and at least 42 patients and 10 staff members at the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center have tested positive for COVID-19. The center has also stopped listing the number of patients and staff infected along with the number of deaths on their daily posting. Family and friends of those in the nursing home are distraught as they are unable to see their loved ones and are now unable to find out whether they are infected or not. Keri Boyer, the daughter of 73-year-old Earl Denbow, who died Monday from COVID-19, told Channel 11 news how fast her father died. “They called me last Monday to say that he wasn’t feeling well, and they started him on an IV and he had a slight fever. They tested him Thursday. They got the (positive) results on Friday. They called hospice in on Sunday, and he was gone yesterday ... that quick.” Nurses and other staff at the facility were outraged at the speed the infection was growing inside the home and the lack of action by management to stop the spread and provide staff protective gear. Nurses report that they have been sent to work with patients with COVID-19 and were denied N95 masks. On Thursday, nurses and other health care workers at the facility walked off the job demanding management provide them with protective equipment as the coronavirus spread through the 589-bed facility. Tamera Witherspoon, a nurse, told WTAE-TV that she was sent to work with COVID-19 patients, but was denied access to even a face mask. “I can’t believe I was denied as a health care worker, from another health care worker, to work in unsafe conditions,” Witherspoon told the Pittsburgh TV station. “I was livid, but I was also on duty,” she said. “There are patients that need to be cared for so I’m in a predicament.” Witherspoon told the station that she was angry but continued to care for her patients, but was outraged when she saw administrators wearing the protective gear. “You’re not doing patient care and I’m at the bedside doing patient care, and I have three kids at home and I ask you and you’re denying me to have an N95? I just think that’s deplorable,” she said.

Coronavirus Strikes at Least 2,100 Senior Facilities Across U.S., Killing 2,300 People – WSJ The new coronavirus has hit more than 2,100 nursing homes and other senior facilities around the U.S., killing over 2,300 people, according to a survey by The Wall Street Journal, an indication the pandemic’s toll in these facilities has been greater than the federal government has reported. Nursing homes and other senior-living facilities in the U.S. have reported at least 15,473 coronavirus cases, according to data collected from 37 states that responded to requests from the Journal, which contacted all 50 health departments. Families with mothers and fathers in nursing homes, or preparing to place a relative in a facility, have wanted to know the risks their loved ones face, advocates say. Yet disclosure practices vary, and there often isn’t information publicly available about individual facilities’ coronavirus cases. The closest the federal government came to detailing the virus’s full impact on nursing homes came last month, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there had been more than 400 long-term care facilities with coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of March 27. The Journal’s figures suggest the virus’s impact in one of the country’s most vulnerable populations is worse than known, despite efforts to protect the residents. And the numbers almost certainly understate the extent of the epidemic. Not all states provided data, while others didn’t offer a comprehensive picture. “It ultimately tells us our efforts to prevent this have been ineffective,” said David Grabowski, a professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Grabowski said the Journal’s tally is the most complete national total that he is aware of, but is likely “the tip of the iceberg.”

Coronavirus traces found in Massachusetts wastewater - Coronavirus was detected in Massachusetts sewage at higher levels than expected, suggesting there are many more undiagnosed patients than previously known, according to a new study. Researchers from biotech startup Biobot Analytics collected samples from a wastewater facility for an unnamed metropolitan area in late March, according to a report Tuesday on medRxiv. Eric Alm, one of the authors of the study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, stressed that the public is not at risk of contracting the virus from particles in the wastewater, but they may have the potential to indicate how widespread the virus has become, Newsweek reported. “Even if those viral particles are no longer active or capable of infecting humans, they may still carry genetic material that can be detected using an approach called PCR (polymerase chain reaction,) which amplifies the genetic signal many orders of magnitude creating billions of copies of the genome for each starting virus,” Alm told the outlet. The researchers, along with a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, analyzed the samples and found the number of coronavirus particles was on par with if there were 2,300 people infected with the virus. But at the time of tests, there were only 446 confirmed cases in the region, according to the study. “It was interesting that our estimation was definitely higher than the number of confirmed cases in the area,” said Mariana Matus, CEO and co-founder of Biobot, according to Stat News. The researchers shared their findings with local health officials who said it was plausible there were hundreds of undetected cases. “They could believe that [our] numbers could be correct and not out of the realm of possibility,” Matus told the outlet.

Seventy people at a San Francisco homeless shelter tested positive for the virus. Seventy people have tested positive for coronavirus at one of San Francisco’s largest homeless shelters, Mayor London Breed said on Friday. The number included two staff members. The outbreak is the largest reported at a single shelter in the United States and reinforces a major fear in California that the state’s 150,000 homeless people, many of whom have pre-existing respiratory illnesses, are especially vulnerable to the pandemic. Advocates for the homeless have expressed concern in recent weeks that the city had moved too slowly to use empty hotel rooms to thin out the shelter system. San Francisco has more than 8,000 homeless people. The outbreak underlined the breathtaking speed with which the virus can spread in a congregate setting. The city tested residents of the shelter on Wednesday and again on Friday, said Dr. Grant Colfax, the director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “On Wednesday there were five positive cases,” he said. “Today there are 70.” The outbreak is in contrast to encouraging signs in California that the state’s stay-at-home orders have succeeded in reducing the number hospitalizations. Gov. Gavin Newsom said that he would soon announce how the stay-at-home orders could be modified at his daily briefing. The state reported a 1.1 percent increase in admissions to intensive care units one day after recording a slight decrease. “When we are in single digits, low single digits, that’s a very good day,” Mr. Newsom said.

Los Angeles County extends stay-at-home order through May 15 -- Los Angeles County officials on Friday announced that stay-at-home orders would be extended through May 15. The decision comes a little more than a week before the initial order was set to expire on April 19, and as more than 8,400 in the county have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. California has been one of the states hit the hardest by COVID-19, along with New York and Washington state, but recent numbers suggest social distancing and other measures have helped slow the spread and flatten the curve. Experts warn, however, that those measures must stay in place longer even as the number of people being admitted to the hospital for the virus has somewhat slowed. "If you were to reduce physical distancing to the pre-health officer order levels, virtually all individuals in Los Angeles County, 95.6 percent per the model, would be infected by the pandemic by Aug. 1, 2020," said Christina Ghaly, the county's director of health services. "That number is starkly reduced, down to about 30 percent, if we maintain the current levels of physical distancing." County officials also announced an extension of all current closures, including beaches, parks and trails. Public health officials are also urging residents to avoid leaving their homes for groceries or medications and advising delivery when possible.

Ankle-Monitors Ordered For Kentucky Residents As Crackdown On 'Covidiots' Begins - As we've noted in recent months, COVID-19 is the perfect cover for the government to usher in a massive surveillance state. Residents in Kentucky are figuring this out firsthand, have already seen an increase in digital surveillance of smartphone tracking by the government to make sure everyone is practicing social distancing. And now, there's a new report that shows anyone refusing to quarantine after virus exposure could be subjected to wearing a GPS/cellular ankle bracelet issued by the courts.  As a response to the virus outbreak in the state, Jefferson Circuit Court judge Angela Bisig ordered anyone who has been infected by COVID-19 and fails to isolate will wear an ankle monitoring device. CNN affiliate WDRB reported last week that Bisig ordered an individual identified as "D.L." to wear a GPS monitoring device for 14 days after refusing to self-quarantine. In the court order, D.L. is living with "someone who has tested positive for the illness and another person who is a presumptive case," according to an affidavit from Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the health department.D.L. was ordered to self-isolate at home after being exposed to the highly contagious disease, but according to court documents, family members said the person "leaves the house often." After D.L. failed to respond to Bisig's request, she ordered the Department of Corrections to fit D.L. with a monitoring device. Bisig told the person if they leave the house again, criminal charges would be next

 More People Died Of Suicide Last Week In Tennessee Than COVID-19 - As we previously warned, this pandemic will bankrupt and kill more people from suicide than the virus will. When you sacrifice people’s livelihoods, you create a difficult situation of desperation for many who will see no other way out.We are about to have a mental health crisis during an economic depression that will be tough to live through.  The virus is no longer the problem.  The government’s reaction has been the problem and even some politicians have figured it out. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs revealed in a weekly update that our solution to this pandemic has not been a good one. “Thus far, our reaction to COVID-19 has been to sacrifice the global economy,” said Jacobs.“The truth is: a sick economy produces sick people.”Most people don’t want to hear the truth, unfortunately, and the longer state governments insist on businesses being closed and an economy shut down to combat what’s looking like a fairly insignificant virus for most of the population, the aftermath will worsen.  Each day that drags on will make the next few years more difficult.“Last year, our medical examiner performed autopsies for 199 confirmed or suspected suicides from across the region, with 83 of those coming from Knox County. Over the past 48 hours, that office has now examined nine suspected suicides, eight of which are from Knox County alone. For Knox County, that’s almost ten percent of last year’s total number in the past two days alone,” Jacobs added. We’ve said it before and it needs to be said again, we should no longer be preparing for a pandemic, but social unrest, violence, and economic depression. The longer the economy is shut down, the more horrific the future social unrest will be. Jacobs is questioning the tyrannical measures and authoritarian power grabs by politicians.

Analysis: Notes from a coronavirus hot spot — New Orleans is right outside my door. But I can’t go out. Not much, anyway. My wife and I are self-confined to quarters, working at home and limiting travels to grocery runs and walks with the dogs alongside the St. Charles streetcar tracks. Streetcars still rumble by, but they are mostly empty, on a route that takes them to the edge of a sedate French Quarter, where Bourbon Street looks like a ghost town. New Orleans — the New Orleans of parades, crowded bars, leisurely restaurant meals, live music, spring festivals and (non-medical) masking — is gone. At least for now, while we all stay socially distant and watch the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths tick up, wondering if we or one of ours will be in that number. Fifteen years after Hurricane Katrina, we are again riding out a crisis while denied the rituals that give us comfort. But this time it’s not because the infrastructure flooded or crumbled. And it’s not because we are evacuated and scattered — scattering options are limited in a pandemic. This time, the gang’s all here. But we’re in a coronavirus hotspot. So we can’t gang up. So second line parades and celebratory remembrances of the recently deceased are forbidden under pain of possible arrest. Pray if you think it will help, but don’t congregate. Again, criminal charges are a possibility. And forget that epidemiological nightmare known as the traditional Good Friday crawfish boil. We can’t have people standing shoulder to shoulder eating from a shared pile of shellfish. New Orleans, ordinarily, is unique among American cities. But it’s pretty much like the rest of the country now, suffering the COVID economy and the pains of separation from people who may be only six feet away. “We always hug and kiss each other when we see each other. That’s a New Orleans thing,” says City Council member Jay Banks. “However, this virus has made that simple gesture that we have lived our entire existence by change.”

Coronavirus updates in Louisiana: 18,283 COVID-19 cases in state; 702 deaths reported - According to the Louisiana Department of Health, there are currently 18,283 coronavirus cases across the state. Thursday's number found that 702 residents have died of COVID-19. Tensas Parish remains the only parish in the state to not report a coronavirus case. Orleans and Jefferson parishes continue to lead all other parishes with their coronavirus cases. According to Thursday's update, New Orleans has 5,242 cases while Jefferson Parish is reporting 4,480 cases. Other parishes seeing high case numbers include East Baton Rouge, Caddo and St. Tammany. Health officials continue to monitor St. John the Baptist, Ascension and Lafourche parishes where cases are in the 300-400 range. Click here: COVID-19 maps of Louisiana, Mississippi -- latest coronavirus cases by parish, county Currently, 2,014 COVID-19 patients are in hospitals. Of that number, 473 are on ventilators. When it comes to coronavirus in neighboring states, Texas is reporting just over 9,000 cases while Mississippi is reporting more than 2,200. Back in Louisiana, health officials are providing more data on residents who have died of COVID-19, including the percentages for which had underlying health conditions. More than 66% of Louisianians who died of COVID-19 suffered from hypertension. Another 43% of Louisianians who died of COVID-19 had diabetes. Click here to see the break down of deaths and underlying conditions. Data on COVID-19 deaths and race has also been a hot topic in Louisiana, with the state seeing more than 70% of African Americans dying of COVID-19. Health officials said 28% of Caucasians died of COVID-19 in the state.

Louisiana church expecting 2,000 at Easter service despite coronavirus: 'Satan and a virus will not stop us'  -- While many churches across the nation plan to hold their Easter services online Sunday, a Louisiana pastor says his church near Baton Rouge is expecting a crowd of 2,000 or more despite federal coronavirus guidance advising social distancing. “Satan and a virus will not stop us,” Rev. Tony Spell told Reuters. “God will shield us from all harm and sickness. We are not afraid. We are called by God to stand against the Antichrist creeping into America’s borders. We will spread the Gospel.” Spell has gained attention in recent days for insisting on holding in-person services as the coronavirus pandemic has left more than 14,700 dead in the United States and as cases nationwide top 431,000. “Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend. True Christians do not mind dying. They fear living in fear,” Spell told TMZ in an interview this week. Spell was arrested on March 31 and charged with six misdemeanors for violating an executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) banning gatherings of more than 50 people. Central, La., Police Chief Roger Corcoran said Spell's decision to continue in-person services was “reckless and irresponsible.” His arrest took place just a day after Florida megachurch Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was also arrested for holding services at his church, the River at Tampa Bay, amid the COVID-19 outbreak. President Trump and Vice President Pence have both acknowledged that, while it's not the same as going in person, they will both be attending virtual Easter services this year and have encouraged other Americans to follow suit. 

Coronavirus Comes for Louisiana's Cancer Alley - An area in Louisiana whose predominantly black and brown residents are hard-hit by health problems from industry overdevelopment is experiencing one of the highest death rates from coronavirus of any county in the United States.St. John the Baptist parish, which sits along the Gulf Coast region known as Cancer Alley, has seen 30 of its 43,000 residents die of Covid-19 since the outbreak began – a death rate of 68.7 per 100,000 people, compared to New York City's rate of 29."We were getting calls almost every hour," parish coroner Christy Montegut told The Guardian. "...They all died in the same way. They got to a hospital, were on a ventilator, but the body just couldn't keep going. They died in spite of full treatment. The virus is overwhelming."

In Chicago, 70% of COVID-19 Deaths Are Black -- The COVID-19 virus is killing black residents in Cook County at disproportionately high rates, according to early data analyzed by WBEZ. While black residents make up only 23% of the population in the county, they account for 58% of the COVID-19 deaths. And half of the deceased lived in Chicago, according to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.   As of Saturday, 107 of Cook County’s 183 deaths from COVID-19 were black. In Chicago, 61 of the 86 recorded deaths – or 70% – were black residents. Blacks make up 29% of Chicago’s population. The majority of the black COVID-19 patients who died had underlying health conditions including respiratory problems and diabetes. Eighty-one percent of them had hypertension, or high blood pressure, diabetes or both.As the virus continues to spread, the high mortality rate for black residents is alarming. “It’s disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising,” said Dr. Linda Rae Murray, health policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is just a reflection of the facts that we already know about these pandemics. People who are vulnerable will die quicker and won’t have as many resources.” It’s still early in the pandemic and health officials are assessing information on which groups of people are being affected, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Saturday. Ezike said she “would not be entirely surprised” if a disproportionate number of deaths were occurring in black communities. Historically, Chicago’s black communities have been disproportionately affected by health-related issues including poverty, environmental pollution, segregation and limited access to medical care. These conditions contribute to high rates of hypertension and diabetes. In Illinois, the rate of high blood pressure for black residents is around 48%.

Communities of Color at Higher Risk for Health and Economic Challenges due to COVID-19 - The COVID-19 outbreak presents potential health and financial challenges for families, which may disproportionately affect communities of color and compound underlying health and economic disparities. This brief analyzes data on underlying health conditions, health coverage and health care access, and social and economic factors by race and ethnicity to provide insight into how the health and financial impacts of COVID-19 may vary across racial/ethnic groups. It finds:

  • Communities of color are at increased risk for experiencing serious illness if they become infected with coronavirus due to higher rates of certain underlying health conditions compared to Whites;
  • Communities of color will likely face increased challenges accessing COVID-19-related testing and treatment since they are more likely to be uninsured and to face barriers to accessing care than Whites; and
  • Communities of color face increased financial and health risks associated with COVID-19 due to economic and social circumstances.

Early data suggest COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting groups of color. For example, in the District of Columbia, Blacks make up 45% of the total population, but accounted for 29% of confirmed coronavirus cases and 59% of deaths as of April 6, 2020. In Louisiana, Blacks make up 32% of the total state population, but accounted for over 70% of COVID-19 deaths as of April 6, 2020. Data from Illinois show that groups of color accounted for 48% of confirmed cases and 56% of deaths as of April 6, 2020, while only making up 39% of the total state population. In North Carolina, Blacks make up 21% total state population, but accounted for 37% confirmed cases as of April 6, 2020. In Michigan, where Blacks make up 14% of the total state population, they accounted for 33% of confirmed cases and 41% of deaths as of April 6, 2020. Moreover, survey data find that Latinos are more likely than Americans overall to see COVID-19 as a major threat to health and finances.

Coronavirus Inside Oakdale Prison: ‘Our Sentences Have Turned Into Death Sentences’ - A Louisiana prison guard sat alongside a sick inmate for more than an hour inside a van and his hospital room, told by a supervisor he didn’t need a mask despite the prisoner’s severe cough and other telltale signs of Covid-19. Within 10 days, the 49-year-old inmate, Patrick Jones, was dead from the coronavirus. The officer, Aubrey Melder, was back at work, having been told days earlier to return, without quarantining, to his duties inside the low-security prison in Oakdale, a lawyer for the union representing prisons employees said. The prison, 200 miles west of New Orleans, has emerged as a focal point of the coronavirus pandemic inside the nation’s lockups. Five prisoners have died there from the disease, the most of any federal prison. At least 25 inmates and 21 workers have tested positive, including seven prisoners who are in intensive care and four on ventilators; two employees are also hospitalized, according to data from officials at the facility. The actual figure is almost certainly higher as there is little testing. Interviews with inmates and their families, corrections officers and local officials show a prison under siege by an invisible enemy. Inside cells holding six men each, feverish, coughing inmates at times weren’t separated from their healthy cellmates, but instead lay in their bunks an arm’s length away. Some fashioned masks from their own clothing. Inmates say they can hear coughing throughout the halls every night. “Our sentences have turned into death sentences,” Sterling Rivers, a 32-year-old from Tennessee serving time at Oakdale for a drug conspiracy conviction said in an interview. The crisis at Oakdale foreshadows what has started to play out at other jails and prisons across the country, where 2.2 million individuals are held, including more than 175,000 in the federal system. Health experts have long warned that the cramped quarters and often unhygienic living conditions give contagion free rein.

US coronavirus cases top 500,000 as researchers say the worst is yet to come in Texas and Florida - The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States topped 500,000 on Friday as health officials reported the highest number of death in a single day.As of Friday evening, 18,637 people in the United States have died of coronavirus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, an increase of 1,953 deaths from Thursday. Worldwide, there are 1.69 million confirmed cases and more than 102,000 reported deaths.The grim milestone comes as researchers warned that lifting social distancing measures too soon could lead to a setback in the pandemic mitigation.The latest version of an influential model tracking the coronavirus pandemic estimated the US will see peak daily death numbers on Friday instead of Sunday.The peak use of resources -- like hospital beds and ventilators -- will be on or around Saturday as suggested earlier this week, according to the Institute for Health M etrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.States like New York and New Jersey may have already passed their peaks this week, but Florida and Texas could s ee the worst by the end of the month, according to the IHME model. Dr. Chris Murray, director at the IHME, said that even if the country sees a decrease in the number of deaths, ending mitigation efforts -- like stay-at-home orders or social distancing -- could have a negative effect by the summer."If we were to stop at the national level by May 1, we are seeing (in models) a return to almost where we are now sometime in July," Murray said on CNN's AC360.The IHME's modeling also estimates more people will die from coronavirus than previously predicted.

Why Daily Death Tolls Are So Important in Understanding the Coronavirus Pandemic - Scientific American  -- COVID-19 is different from the viral epidemics of the recent past in a few ways: it is more widespread than severe acute respiratory syndrome, more infectious than seasonal influenza and has killed more people than Ebola. And it is different in the way that epidemiologists are tracking its progress. Instead of relying principally on the number of infections, or the ratio of deaths to infections—known as the case fatality rate—researchers are looking at the daily deaths attributed to COVID-19 to monitor the impact of the disease and to guide responses.In part, that’s due to a lack of testing in many countries—and the virus’s ability to spread in people who don’t show symptoms—both of which make counting the number of infections very difficult. COVID-19 has also been more fatal than many recent epidemics, which makes its death toll relevant to understanding the pandemic more broadly. As of early April, more than a million coronavirus cases had been reported around the world. There have been more than 80,000 deaths reported so far, with Italy, the United States and Spain reporting the highest numbers. And the pandemic has yet to hit its stride in most low- and middle-income countries, where it could cause much more damage. “This is a virus with a considerable lethal potential,” says Sheila Bird, a biostatistician at the University of Cambridge, UK.COVID-19 is not deadly to most people: the World Health Organization estimates that it is fatal in about 3.4% of reported cases, and the risk of death varies by age group and a host of other factors. But the pandemic is now widespread enough that the reported number of deaths within a country, day by day or week by week, is a surer tracker of the disease’s progress and effectiveness of containment than are other measures. When the rate of new deaths per day starts to slow or reduces, it’s a good sign that the disease has peaked, and several countries are seeing early signs that this is happening (see ‘Counting Deaths’). The rates can also be used to predict health-care needs.

When the Coronavirus Outbreak Could Peak in Each U.S. State – Bloomberg - On March 31, the White House coronavirus task force revealed that the death toll from Covid-19 could total in the hundreds of thousands, their first projection of how many people in the U.S. could die over the next couple months. The total is based, in part, on a University of Washington study that considers data from other outbreak hotspots around the world and local conditions in each state—including social-distancing measures and when they went into effect. The latest model predicts that the number of daily deaths in the U.S. could peak on April 12, with an upper bound of around 126,000 deaths—a projection significantly lower than those made last week, which saw upwards of 170,000 deaths. These projections are updated regularly, and Bloomberg News is monitoring the changes. The model, authored by Chris Murray of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, assumes that strict social-distancing methods which flattened the curve in other parts of the world will be adhered to in the U.S. Other studies that anticipate lax guidelines suggest far more people could die, and over a longer period of time. The outbreak is expected to peak at different times in each state. New York has been the state hardest hit by Covid-19 so far, with about 140,000 cases and more than 5,000 deaths as of April 8. But the model, which projects a high and low range of deaths, as well as an average, suggests that the number of deaths per day in New York may have already peaked on April 7. Other states where the virus spread early and rapidly, including Washington and New Jersey, are expected to peak in early April, too. Many states won’t see the worst of the outbreak until weeks later.

High Contagiousness and Rapid Spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 – CDC- Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 is the causative agent of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease pandemic. Initial estimates of the early dynamics of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, suggested a doubling time of the number of infected persons of 6–7 days and a basic reproductive number (R0) of 2.2–2.7. We collected extensive individual case reports across China and estimated key epidemiologic parameters, including the incubation period. We then designed 2 mathematical modeling approaches to infer the outbreak dynamics in Wuhan by using high-resolution domestic travel and infection data. Results show that the doubling time early in the epidemic in Wuhan was 2.3–3.3 days. Assuming a serial interval of 6–9 days, we calculated a median R0 value of 5.7 (95% CI 3.8–8.9). We further show that active surveillance, contact tracing, quarantine, and early strong social distancing efforts are needed to stop transmission of the virus.

Dr. Fauci makes plea that Americans never shake hands again -Americans should avoid shaking hands — “ever” again — in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, according to the top doctor on the White House’s task force battling the deadly bug. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a Tuesday Wall Street Journal podcast that once the country begins to loosen lockdown restrictions, Americans should proceed with caution. “When you gradually come back, you don’t jump into it with both feet,” the doctor told podcast host Kate Linebaugh. “You say, what are the things you could still do and still approach normal? One of them is absolute compulsive hand-washing. The other is you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands.”  “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you,” he added later. “Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease; it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”In another interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group this week, he made a similar plea.“As a society, just forget about shaking hands,” he added. “We don’t need to shake hands. We’ve got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory illness.” By the end of April, Fauci told the Journal, he hopes to see a “light at the end of the tunnel … where we can say we’re pretty confident that we can gradually start approaching some degree of normality.”

Apple, Google Bring Covid-19 Contact-Tracing to 3 Billion People -- Apple Inc. and Google unveiled a rare partnership to add technology to their smartphone platforms that will alert users if they have come into contact with a person with Covid-19. People must opt in to the system, but it has the potential to monitor about a third of the world’s population. The technology, known as contact-tracing, is designed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus by telling users they should quarantine or isolate themselves after contact with an infected individual. The Silicon Valley rivals said on Friday that they are building the technology into their iOS and Android operating systems in two steps. In mid-May, the companies will add the ability for iPhones and Android phones to wirelessly exchange anonymous information via apps run by public health authorities. The companies will also release frameworks for public health apps to manage the functionality. This means that if a user tests positive for Covid-19, and adds that data to their public health app, users who they came into close proximity with over the previous several days will be notified of their contact. This period could be 14 days, but health agencies can set the time range. The second step takes longer. In the coming months, both companies will add the technology directly into their operating systems so this contact-tracing software works without having to download an app. Users must opt in, but this approach means many more people can be included. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android have about 3 billion users between them, over a third of the world’s population.

 Bill Gates: This is how long it may take before Americans ‘can be completely safe’ from COVID-19 - It might not be until fall 2021 that Americans “can be completely safe” from COVID-19, Bill Gates said in a Tuesday interview with Judy Woodruff on PBS Newshour. That’s because it will take more than a year before a vaccine can be developed and deployed, according to researchers working to develop a treatment for COVID-19.“The vaccine is critical, because, until you have that, things aren’t really going to be normal,” the billionaire philanthropist told Woodruff. “They can open up to some degree, but the risk of a rebound will be there until we have very broad vaccination.” Social distancing is helping to lower the number of COVID-19 cases. The goal, Gates explained, is to get that number down to a point where “contact tracing” (a process in which those within close contact with an infected person are closely monitored) can be done, in order to maintain necessary quarantines. To understand what life in the U.S. will look like six to 12 months from now, Gates suggested China as a good model. “They are sending people back to work, but they’re wearing masks. They’re checking temperatures. They’re not doing large sporting events. And so they have been able to avoid a large rebound,” he said. One possibility is that gatherings will be permitted, depending on the ages of the people involved. “So having a classroom with 30 young people in it may be just fine, because their role in transmitting the disease, we will understand in the next month or so. It may be so limited that you’re far more liberal with young people getting together than you would be with a general-age audience,” Gates said. Still, he stressed that larger public gatherings “may not resume until broad vaccination has taken place.”

2 Passengers Die Aboard "Coral Princess" Cruise Ship Amid Another COVID-19 "Nightmare At Sea" - Two people on the Coral Princess cruise ship died overnight, after the ship reported 12 positive cases of coronavirus on Thursday, according to an announcement from the ship’s captain, who said the ship likely wouldn’t arrive in South Florida on Saturday as planned, but would rather make landfall on Sunday. The captain didn’t say whether the deceased had tested positive for the virus, but he confirmed they were treated in the ship’s medical center. "I know how difficult this news is to bear, but given the current situation, we remain committed to transparent and consistent communication with you," he said. "This information will need to be shared with shoreside authorities and will become public, so I wanted you to hear it from me first," the Captain said, according to a recording of the announcement provided to the Washington Post. Appearing to follow a similar playbook to the Zaandam - another Carnival-subsidiary-owned cruise ship that docked along with another ship in Port Everglades this week after several passengers and crew had died of the virus, and the ship had been refused entry to several ports - Princess Cruises said guests who are deemed "fit to fly" are expected to start disembarking Sunday and will transfer straight to Miami International Airport to catch flights home. Meanwhile, anyone with respiratory symptoms who is not too sick to require immediate hospitalization, or who is recovering from being sick previously, will stay on the ship until they are cleared by doctors on board. The ship is carrying 1,898 people, including 1,020 guests. It left San Antonio, Chile, on March 5, a week before the cruise line announced it would suspend operations after the debacle with the "Diamon Princess", which became host to what was at the time the biggest outbreak outside mainland China after it docked in Yokohama. At least 12 infected individuals who traveled aboard the "Diamond Princess" eventually died from their infections.  

More than half of passengers on board Antarctica-bound cruise have coronavirus - Nearly 60 percent of people on board a cruise ship that was sailing toward Antarctica have been diagnosed with coronavirus. The Greg Mortimer, a cruise ship operated by Australia-based travel company Aurora Expeditions, is currently off the coast of Uruguay. Of the 217 total passengers and crew from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Europe, at least 128 had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Tuesday night, CNN reported. Eighty-nine people tested negative for the virus. Six were brought ashore in Montevideo for medical treatment and are all in stable condition. The cruise departed on March 15. It was intended to bring passengers to Antarctica and South Georgia Island, but it has been off the coast of Uruguay near Montevideo since the beginning of April, according to CNN. Aurora Expeditions said they are working with health officials to treat those on board and return them to their respective countries. Those who have remained on the boat are currently asymptomatic and do not have fevers as of Tuesday, Fox News reported. Passengers from Australia and New Zealand will fly to Melbourne in a plane chartered by the company Saturday, according to a press statement from Aurora Expeditions updated Friday. The plane will be fitted with medical and quarantine facilities. The cruise line confirmed that it is in talks with the Australian government for help chartering the medically equipped Airbus, estimating that the cost to fly each passenger home will total approximately $9,300, CNN reported. The company said it is working on return plans for passengers from the United Kingdom and North America but that they will need to remain on the boat until they test negative for the coronavirus, Fox News reported. "We are continuing to make good progress on a number of fronts," a spokesperson for the company said in a statement updated Friday. "Our priority remains getting everyone on board disembarked as soon and as safely as possible. It has been a very harrowing time for all involved and we are pleased to be able to confirm the plans moving forward."

There Are Still At Least A Half Dozen Cruise Ships With Passengers Out To Sea -- You'd think the last place you'd want to be during the coronavirus pandemic is aboard a cruise ship - especially given one horror story after the next about ships being placed under quarantine, not being able to find a place to dock and passengers getting sick and coming down with the coronavirus. Which is why it's stunning to learn that there is still at least a half-dozen ships out at sea, with passengers and crew, navigating lengthy trips back to port, according to Bloomberg. About a month ago, there were hundreds of ships still in service and dozens out to sea.Recall, we covered the Diamond Princess cruise ship at length, a ship where 700 of its 3,000 passengers eventually tested positive for the coronavirus. Eight of those passengers wound up dying.Around a month later, the Grand Princess cruise ship was struck with coronavirus - with 21 of its 3,533 passengers (2,422 gues and 1,111 crew) testing positive for the virus. The ship was held off the coast of San Francisco while testing was conducted.Finally, just this past week, Carnival Corp's MS Zaandam was forced to dock in Ft. Lauderdale after 193 people were sickened - more than 10% of the ship - and four passengers died out of a total of 1,829 people on board.Cruise companies have been forced to suspend operations, with companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean seeing their stocks get decimated over the last month. The President even requested that Carnival Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC cruises halt outbound travel for 30 days. And while the number of ships at sea has dropped off dramatically, it still hasn't gone to zero.

Social distancing: did individuals act before governments? Using online searches for restaurants as a proxy to assess whether and to what extent individuals were practicing social distancing before strict lockdown measures, we identify substantial differences between countries. In some countries, including Denmark and Portugal, searches for restaurants were considerably down before restaurant restrictions were put in place. Countries where social distancing started earlier, regardless of when policies were enacted, can expect a flatter coronavirus curve. Behavioural change is a fundamental determinant of the spread of an epidemic. Toxvaerd (2020) showed how behavioural parameters change predictions in standard epidemiological models. Even when individuals are considered in models to be purely self-interested, they are bound to engage in some degree of social distancing by choice and thus help reduce the growth rate of the number of infections, compared to that predicted by epidemiological models. Toxvaerd (2020) suggests social distancing is greater when the disease is more contagious and health effects more severe. Individuals act on the basis of their beliefs about how contagious a disease is and about how severe its effects are. Moreover, they are not necessarily self-interested, but might consider how their actions affect others. Differences in information, risk-aversion and self-interest, and expectations about how well prepared the health system is to deal with the inflow of patients, will lead to different choices in terms of the degree of voluntary social distancing. We used Google Trends to identify when individuals started engaging meaningfully in social distancing in different European countries. We used searches for the topic ‘restaurant’ because visiting a restaurant reflects a choice to leave the house, as opposed to trips people might be required to make[1]. We compared each day of the week in February and March 2020 with the same day of the week in January. For example, average Mondays in February and March were compared with average Mondays in January, with the average of January Monday searches set to 100. We plotted a seven-day moving average of this index to show trends and reduce weekly seasonality. The use of this moving average means values depicted lag actual reductions in searches. We plotted the same series for 2019, which show that February and March average searches are slightly above January. Peaks around events such as Valentine’s Day and Carnival (in Portugal) are noticeable. Figure 1 shows the results for three countries, and notes in each case the start date of strict lockdown measures, and, where relevant, the date of implementation of initial measures that restricted opening hours or numbers of clients.

Mounting coronavirus death toll in Canada’s elderly care homes - Across Canada, care facilities for seniors are being devastated by the deadly spread of COVID-19. More than 600 nursing and retirement homes nationwide have reported a rapidly growing number of infections and fatalities, with Quebec and Ontario in Central Canada, and the west coast province of British Columbia hardest hit. The abject failure of all levels of government to prepare for this foreseeable and foreseen viral pandemic, their criminal incompetence in combating the virus, and the decades-long ravaging of the public healthcare system have left care-home facilities especially vulnerable to COVID-19, and enabled the virus to spread like wildfire. To this must be added the fact that wide swathes of elderly care have been privatized, resulting in a race to the bottom in working conditions, and the running of facilities on tight budgets so as to boost corporate profits. In Ontario, at least 40 seniors’ home residents have died from COVID-19, and nearly 80 seniors’ homes across the province have reported infections. At Seven Oaks nursing home in Toronto, eight residents have died, and 69 residents and staff have been listed as presumed coronavirus cases. At the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, fourteen residents have perished. “It’s a war zone. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of nursing,” Sarah Gardiner, a nurse at Pinecrest, told the local media. “They’re so frightened ... and I don’t have anything to relieve that fear for them.” The Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, British Columbia—the site of the initial outbreak in the province—has recorded 51 infected residents, 26 infected staff, and 15 deaths. To date, at least 21 B.C. senior-care homes located mainly in the metro Vancouver area have reported cases. In total, the province has recorded 39 deaths linked to COVID-19, the vast majority of which have occurred at care homes for seniors. The situation is even worse in Quebec, where, as of last week, almost a quarter of the province’s roughly 2,200 seniors’ homes and long-term care facilities had reported at least one infection. The fatality rate among the elderly from COVID-19 is estimated at around 15 percent, much higher than the general population. Vulnerability to sickness and existing health issues, in addition to communal living arrangements and exposure to a transient workforce, has rendered them particularly vulnerable to the spread of the deadly virus. Care workers are also extremely vulnerable, even if they are considered part of the young and healthy age group. Due to low wages and precarious working arrangements, they are often forced to work at several care homes, increasing the likelihood that the disease will be spread. In addition, the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks and gloves, is even more pronounced in the care sector than in hospitals, where personal protective equipment is already being severely rationed. Care workers are thus more likely to become infected and have just as hard a time getting tested and treated as other sections of working people.

"No Hope": Canada's Nursing Homes Prepare For Mass Death - Nursing homes in Canada have been instructed by health officials to 'keep seniors comfortable' if they contract COVID-19 and not take them to the hospital due to their high mortality rate, according to Canada's Global News. "They’re treating it like a hospice, like there’s no hope like they have stage four brain cancer and they just have to keep them comfortable because there’s nothing they can do," said Tanya Bartley, whose grandmother died last month at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario - where 22 residents have died and 1/3 of the staff are in isolation due to coronavirus."They don’t play god. Everybody is the same. I don’t care if it’s a two-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 20-year-old, middle-aged, elderly. I don’t care," Bartley added.One dementia-stricken resident, Edna Bowers, was one such coronavirus victim who was treated at the home and not transferred to the hospital.In a March 23 letter seen by Global News, Dr. Allan Bell - medical director and chief of emergency medicine at Quinte Health Care (QHC) in Belleville, Ontario, outlines suggestions on how long-term care administrators should prepare for potential COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities."Having this conversation pre-emptively is very important. It gives families time to digest the information when they are not in a crisis situation and, should an outbreak happen, it is difficult to manage all of the conversations at once," reads the letter in part, while also recommending against hospital visits - citing a shortage of medical options for frail patients."Our critical care colleagues are of the strong opinion that ventilator treatment will not make a survival difference to patients who are frail and ventilator support is very unlikely to be offered," the letter continues "for those residents who go on to develop respiratory failure, care needs to focus on the provision of comfort to ease suffering at the end of life."

Italy could relax lockdown measures within weeks, but much of Europe reels as virus nears peak - Italy could look to ease some of its stringent lockdown restrictions at the end of April, the country’s prime minister has said, once again calling on Europe to help the country at the epicenter of the continent’s outbreak. It comes as Italy looks to have overcome the worst in terms of daily infections and deaths from the coronavirus, but recent hopes of a peak elsewhere in Europe have been dashed in recent days. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Wednesday that the national lockdown in Italy, in place since March 9, could only be eased gradually. “We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month,” he told the BBC. Italy has seen its daily death toll come down dramatically from a peak of 919 deaths on March 27; on Wednesday, it recorded 542 deaths, Italy’s Civil Protection Agency noted. But although the daily figures might be falling in Italy, the coronavirus continues to take its toll. To date, 17,699 people have died from the virus in the country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and Prime Minister Conte noted that “behind the numbers are names and surnames, life stories and broken families. The Italian nation is suffering.” The total number of confirmed cases in Italy now stands at 139,422 (this includes those that have died and recovered) although the true number could be far higher. Nevertheless, Italy’s testing regime, like Germany’s, is seen as much more robust than other countries, for example the U.K.’s, which is still struggling to implement mass testing. Conte, who has been pushing (along with other European nations, mainly in the south) for Europe to issue joint bonds as a way to help restart the region’s economy, said once again that the European project risked failing if leaders didn’t act.

Britain could be worst coronavirus-hit nation in Europe with 66,000 deaths in the first wave of the outbreak – three times as many as expected in Italy - Britain could suffer more than 60,000 coronavirus deaths and be hit harder by the the outbreak than any nation in Europe, leading scientists say. Modelling by researchers at the University of Washington predicted 151,680 people would succumb to the virus across the continent. It found the UK could record 66,300 COVID-19 deaths by July - almost half (44 per cent) of the entire fatalities in Europe and three times more than Italy (20,000). Spain (19,000) and France (15,000) will also record huge losses, according to the prediction, largely based on intensive care and hospital bed capacity. The researchers forecast Britain will need 100,000 beds by mid-April to cope with the crisis, compared to the 17,765 currently available. But the alarming projection does not take into account the thousands of beds that will become available at the new NHS Nightingale hospitals. The number is also in stark contrast to predictions by the UK's leading scientific advisers, who warned around 20,000 people will die during the crisis. Using local and international data on case numbers, as well as age mortality breakdowns from Italy, China and the US, the Washington University researchers modelled expected death tolls on a country-by-country basis. They said a key consideration was the number of hospital beds and ICU capacity in each nation. The model predicts 102,794 coronavirus patients will need hospital beds by April 17, the outbreak's peak in the UK, compared to 17,765 beds currently available. It forecasts 24,544 of those patients will need to be moved to intensive care, where there are just 744 ICU beds currently free. But the bleak predictions do not include the near-10,000 beds now available at temporary NHS Nightingale hospitals in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Harrogate and Bristol. The model also does not factor in the makeshift hospitals built in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - which free-up hundreds more ICU beds. Most European nations introduced strict social distancing measures to try to stem the virus spread at the beginning of March. But the British government took more than a fortnight to follow suit, initially standing firm against a tide of European action which saw schools, pubs and restaurants close.

 Doctor who warned Boris Johnson of shortage dies of COVID-19 - A doctor has died of the coronavirus three weeks after warning British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that medical workers on the front lines of the pandemic need more personal protective equipment, according to a report.Dr. Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, 53, a urologist at London’s Homerton Hospital, succumbed to the disease Wednesday after spending 15 days at Queen’s Hospital in Romford, according to Sky News.On March 18, he wrote an urgent message to Johnson on Facebook in an appeal for PPE for “each and every” health worker in the UK.“Remember we may be doctor/nurse/HCA/allied health workers who are in direct contact with patients but we are also human beings trying to live in this world disease free with our family and friends,” Chowdhury wrote.“People appreciate us and salute us for our rewarding jobs which is very inspirational, but I would like to say we have to protect ourselves and our families in this global disaster,” he added.Johnson, 55, who later also tested positive for the disease, remained in intensive care Thursday at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital while the government is being run by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. The Bangladesh-born doctor had no underlying medical conditions.

UK’s death toll jumps by 938 – higher than Italy’s worst day when 919 died - Another 938 people have died after contracting coronavirus, taking the UK death toll to 7,097, the Department of Health (DoH) has confirmed. Today’s jump in deaths is the biggest daily increase since the outbreak began, and is higher than Italy’s worst day when 919 people died. The toll was updated after England recorded another 828 deaths. Scotland reported 70 deaths, while 33 were recorded in Wales and five in Northern Ireland. The combined figure from the four nations comes to 936, which is slightly lower than the number – 938 – later released by the DoH this afternoon. The government has said this difference is because each devolved authority often makes amendments to their own data after reporting deaths to the DoH each day.A total of 60,733 people have now tested positive for coronavirus. A week ago, on April 1, the total was 29,474. The latest figures emerged as Downing Street said Boris Johnson is ‘responding to treatment’ as he remains in a stable condition in the intensive care unit where he is being treated for coronavirus. The Prime Minister continued to be in ‘good spirits’ on Wednesday after spending his third night in St Thomas’s Hospital in London, his official spokesman said. Mr Johnson was said to be no longer working while following the advice of doctors and receiving just the ‘standard oxygen treatment’ and ‘breathing without any other assistance’. When asked about further specifics about Mr Johnson’s condition or treatment, the spokesman said the update includes all the information the PM’s medical team ‘considers to be clinically relevant’.

The Misguided Discussion of “Herd Immunity” - 04/09/2020 - Yves Smith  -- Needless to say, Boris Johnson having become an unintended participant in his Government’s earlier “herd immunity” strategy might seem to constitute sufficient evidence that this wasn’t a great idea. Admittedly, the UK switched course rapidly, but the damage of the initial barmy idea was done. As summarized in Fortune:His government was pursuing a strategy that rested, at least in part, on the idea of shielding the most vulnerable members of the British public from infection while allowing a large percentage of others to catch the virus. The hope was that most of these people would experience relatively mild symptoms, recover, and wind up immune, stopping the virus’s further transmission. But this kind of herd immunity, experts said, could require upwards of 60% of the population becoming infected. Herd immunity as a deliberate policy, epidemiologists said, is usually achieved through a vaccination program. It was untested as a tool for responding to a pandemic. Epidemiologists and medical experts immediately assailed the plan as a dangerous gamble. And, when epidemiologists at Imperial College London, who had been advising the government on the likely spread of the virus, updated their models to take into account information on the number of hospital patients requiring intensive care in Italy, it became apparent that the minimal, voluntary restrictions Johnson had suggested were unlikely to save the NHS from being overwhelmed.  And the cost will be high. From the Guardian:World-leading disease data analysts have projected that the UK will become the country worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, accounting for more than 40% of total deaths across the continent.The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle predicts 66,000 UK deaths from Covid-19 by August, with a peak of nearly 3,000 a day, based on a steep climb in daily deaths early in the outbreak. The analysts also claim discussions over “herd immunity” led to a delay in the UK introducing physical distancing measures, which were brought in from 23 March in England when the coronavirus daily death toll was 54. Portugal, by comparison, had just one confirmed death when distancing measures were imposed.

Sweden challenges Trump and scientific mainstream by refusing coronavirus lockdown - Much of Europe is still on coronavirus lockdown, with severe restrictions on movement and penalties for those who transgress. But not Sweden. Restaurants and bars are open in the Nordic country, playgrounds and schools too, and the government is relying on voluntary action to stem the spread of Covid-19.It's a controversial approach, and one that's drawn US President Donald Trump's attention. "Sweden did that, the herd, they call it the herd. Sweden's suffering very, very badly," Trump said on Tuesday. But the Swedish government is confident its policy can work. Foreign Minister Ann Linde told Swedish TV on Wednesday that Trump was "factually wrong" to suggest that Sweden was following the "herd immunity" theory -- of letting enough people catch the virus while protecting the vulnerable, meaning a country's population builds up immunity against the disease. Sweden's strategy, she said, was: "No lockdown and we rely very much on people taking responsibility themselves."The country's state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, also pushed back against Trump's criticism that Sweden was doing badly. "I think Sweden is doing okay," he told CNN affiliate Expressen. "It's producing quality results the same way it's always done. So far Swedish health care is handling this pandemic in a fantastic way."As of April 9, Sweden has 9,141 cases of the Covid-19 virus and 793 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

This chart shows which European countries are expected to have the highest coronavirus death tolls - Britain will be hit harder by the coronavirus crisis than any other European country, researchers have predicted, with the U.K. expected to see more than 60,000 deaths from COVID-19. New research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), published Monday with a correction issued on Tuesday, forecast a total of 151,000 deaths across Europe during the “first wave” of the pandemic, which scientists predict will end on August 4. It compares to a total of 81,766 deaths expected to occur in the U.S. by the same date, according to IHME analysts. The European analysis was based on data from various sources, including national and local governments, the WHO, and individual countries’ social-distancing policies. For many countries, death tolls would be influenced by hospital resources being “well in excess of what it available,” researchers said. “For example, peak demand in the U.K. is expected to total 102,794 hospital beds needed compared to 17,765 available, 24,544 ICU beds compared to 799 ICU beds available, and 20,862 ventilators needed,” they explained, noting that data on the availability of ventilators in Britain was currently unavailable. According to the analysis, Britain was expected to reach its peak daily death rate on April 17, when researchers predicted there would be a total of 2,932 deaths in one day. The country was on a trajectory that would result in a total of 66,314 deaths by August 4, scientists concluded.

French state covered up mass COVID-19 deaths in retirement homes - Over the weekend, the reported number of daily COVID-19 deaths in France nearly tripled from the levels earlier in the week. According to initial data, it appears this increase was almost entirely due to the French government’s decision to acknowledge that COVID-19 has run rampant across the country’s retirement homes—leading to thousands of deaths that the government had not even bothered to acknowledge. After a record high of 509 COVID-19 deaths announced on April 1, April 2 saw 1,355 deaths, followed by 1,120 on April 3 and 1,053 on April 4. These three days by themselves roughly doubled the overall death toll in France in the epidemic. With Sunday’s figures of 2,886 new cases and 518 new deaths from COVID-19, this brought the official national totals to 93,780 cases and 8,093 deaths so far. Though the pandemic is the most serious global health crisis in a century, official data published by the French state is a farce. Only cases confirmed in hospitals are counted, while at the same time state policy is to demand that anyone suffering from COVID-19 monitor themselves and not come to hospital. As such, most COVID-19 patients in France who are resting or dying untreated in their own homes or in rest homes are not included in the official toll. The state has acknowledged that its figures are wild underestimates. When the official toll in France was 16,018, Health Minister Olivier Véran said he believed the true total was 30,000 to 90,000. The lack of accurate information, while it serves to mask the depth of the crisis from working people, hampers scientific analysis of the epidemic and the implementation of necessary protective measures. It is now emerging that President Emmanuel Macron’s government oversaw decisions that would block reporting of the disaster unfolding in the retirement homes, acting with barely disguised contempt for the homes’ roughly 700,000 elderly pensioners and their families. The government has made slashing social spending, including healthcare spending, a centerpiece of its plan to shovel hundreds of billions of euros into the pockets of the superrich and the army. On April 2, after news of COVID-19 outbreaks in a few retirement homes made national news, Professor Jérôme Salomon, France’s chief medical officer, announced that at least 884 elderly people living in retirement homes had died in the country since the beginning of the pandemic. He added that 14,638 “confirmed or possible” cases had been noted in these homes. Salomon said that this data was incomplete, stating, “This is an initial partial estimate due to the great unevenness in reporting between regions, and critical work is being done to bring together all of the data.” Salomon gave no estimated data for other social institutions for the elderly or for deaths of working age people in their homes.

 French officials report heart incidents in experimental coronavirus treatments with hydroxychloroquine --France reported dozens of heart incidents linked to an anti-malaria drug President Trump has hyped as a possible treatment for the coronavirus. Data released by France’s drug safety agency showed 43 cases of heart incidents linked to hydroxychloroquine, underscoring the risk of providing unproven treatments to COVID-19 patients. “This initial assessment shows that the risks, in particular cardiovascular, associated with these treatments are very present and potentially increased in COVID-19 patients. Almost all of the declarations come from health establishments,” the agency said. “These drugs should only be used in hospitals, under close medical supervision.” France has recorded 100 health incidents and four fatalities linked to experimental drugs for those with the coronavirus since late March. Three other patients had to be revived, and 82 incidents were considered “serious.” The incidents were roughly evenly split between hydroxychloroquine and HIV antivirals lopinavir-ritonavir. The report comes as Trump repeatedly touts hydroxychloroquine as a possible coronavirus treatment, calling the drug a possible “game changer.” However, health officials have expressed concerns over the drug, saying there’s no strong evidence it can be used for COVID-19. “We’ve got to be careful that we don’t make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug. We still need to do the kinds of studies that definitely prove whether any intervention is truly safe and effective,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said this week. “We don’t operate on how you feel, we operate on what evidence and data is.”

Spain death toll drops to lowest level in 19 days -Spain’s single-day death toll from the coronavirus dropped to its lowest level in 19 days as officials plan to ease some restrictions following the country’s vicious outbreak.  Spain’s health ministry reported that 510 people died from the highly infectious virus between Friday and Saturday, a drop from a single-day high of 950 reported earlier this month. The country still saw a slight uptick in new cases with 4,830, a rise from 4,576 reported the day before. Spain has confirmed 161,852 infections and 16,353 deaths since its outbreak began, leading all of Europe in the number of confirmed cases.Spain has worked to combat the coronavirus with a monthlong national lockdown and roadblocks to try to block nonessential travel. The country is now mulling winding down some of its restrictions to try to inject new life into its economy, allowing workers in construction and manufacturing to return to work on Monday, according to Reuters. Health Minister Salvador Illa maintained that the country wasn't in a "de-escalation phase" and the new guidelines allowing some nonessential employees to return to work come as the nation's leadership eyes plans to extend its national emergency beyond the current April 26 deadline, The New York Times reported.

 Refugees left to die as COVID-19 spreads across Greece - Nearly 42,000 refugees housed in overcrowded, festering detention camps remain trapped on Greece’s islands as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across Greece. With refugees lacking access to soap and water—as part of a lack of basic health care—and crammed into clustered living quarters, the camps on the islands Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros are the perfect breeding grounds for the virus. Yet, the right-wing New Democracy (ND) government has stalled moving refugees off the islands to mainland Greece, allowing for the virus to infect and possibly kill thousands. The COVID-19 death toll in Greece rose to 73 yesterday, with total confirmed cases standing at 1,735. According the daily Kathimerini, the economic strain caused by the pandemic may lead to cuts in workers’ wages in the public sector, and possibly massive unemployment in the coming weeks or months, while Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said recently that “no such issue is being discussed given that we expect a return to normality soon.” Greece’s health care system can barely keep up with the required amount of testing needed to contain the virus, let alone treat those infected. Years of European Union (EU) austerity, enforced by the previous pseudo-left Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) government, have gutted Greece’s public health care. Attempting to wipe its hands clean of the growing social disaster, Alexis Charitsis, a Syriza representative, accused ND of “insisting on focusing its rhetoric entirely on the citizens’ personal responsibility” and it “cannot and should not overshadow the government’s responsibility to immediately support the health system.” He added that the “sloppiness, ineffectiveness and interventions” are “clearly an issue of political will.” Syriza laid the groundwork for ND’s anti-refugee policies with a brutal campaign including attacks by riot police, forced evacuations and the establishment of concentration camps. In 2016, the EU, Turkey and the Syriza government brokered a deal establishing Greece as the EU’s prison camp for refugees at its southern border. It then forced all refugees entering Greece via “irregular” routes—those making the dangerous journey via boat from Turkey to Greece—to be deported back to Turkey.

Netanyahu Announces Full Lockdown Of Israel Ahead Of Passover - Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the entire country will enter complete lockdown starting 4 pm on Tuesday until 7 am Friday. This will also include a mandated home-confinement for all citizens from Wednesday׳s Passover Seder until 7am on Thursday, with citizens only allowed to venture outside up to 100 meters from their home during that time. All travel between cities will be banned, which appears to have already begun to be enforced by police.Netanyahu further indicated some restrictions will remain in effect for the full holiday week, with some likely to be lifted gradually following the Passover holiday. It's being interpreted as a controversial move to prevent families from traveling to gather for Passover. Local media reports have suggested the move is in part a bid to open up the economy again after the intensive period of 'stay at home' orders.Passover typically includes large family gatherings and heightened travel across the Jewish state, and the PM framed the drastic nationwide police-enforced lock down as aimed at preventing large-scale transmissions during the festivities.He also said during his statements, "we see positive signs on the horizon" at a moment over 8,400 Israelis have been confirmed for COVID-19, including 53 deaths as of Monday afternoon.

Iranian official backtracks after calling Chinese Covid-19 figures a ‘joke’ - Iran’s health ministry spokesman has backtracked after he described China’s official figures on the coronavirus outbreak as a “joke”. Kianoush Jahanpour made the remarks at a press conference and a tweet on Sunday, adding that China had given the impression that coronavirus was like influenza but with fewer deaths. His tweet led led to a reproach from the Chinese ambassador to Iran, Chang Hua, who said China’s health ministry had held a press conference every day. “I suggest that you read their news very carefully in order to draw conclusions,” the ambassador said. Chinese-Iranian relations are normally warm, partly because China is a key market for Iranian oil, and criticism of China’s coronavirus figures had previously come exclusively from the west. Jahanpour said he had merely been commenting on how China’s epidemiological assessment of coronavirus was not shared by Iran. After Chinese representations to the Iranian foreign ministry, Jahanpour, a familiar face on Iranian TV, said on Monday: “We should also see the glass half full. At the very least, we all decided that we had to respect principles of diplomacy.” Meanwhile, Iran announced plans to ban printed newspapers in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. Editors of seven titles including the reformist Etemad and Ebtekar protested against the decision, saying it represented a further incursion of press freedom and would bankrupt them. Alireza Zali, the commander-in-chief of the anti-coronavirus HQ in Tehran, said: “Especially in Tehran province, we have witnessed a very serious change in the presence and movement of people in cities, and unfortunately, at a time when we are witnessing this increase in motor traffic, the numbers entering Tehran’s hospitals is still increasing.” He said there had been a 25% increase in hospital admissions and a 15% increase in intensive care admissions on Sunday compared with the previous day. Iran said on Monday that its death toll from coronavirus had risen to 3,739, an increase of 136 in the past 24 hours, and a total of 60,500 people had been infected, up 2,274 since the previous day.

Here Comes Round Two- China Just Reported The Most New Covid Cases In A Month - Last week we reported that even as the world's attention had shifted to the new global coronavirus outbreak epicenters of New York, Italy, Spain and other western nations, China - which rushed to restart its economy at any cost as the alternative was too dire to even consider - had put a major county on lockdown after a new cluster of coronavirus infection had emerged. To wit, last Wednesday we learned that in post on its social media account, Jia county - which has a population of about 600,000 - said that no one can travel out of Jia county without proper authorization after one person tested positive. This new cluster emerged just days after China once again revised its virus reporting methodology to also include asymptomatic carriers of the disease, which naturally begged the question why China wasn't reported his subset of infections previously. We got the answer overnight when Mainland China reported 39 new coronavirus cases as of Sunday, up from 30 a day earlier, and the number of asymptomatic cases also surged, as Beijing continued to struggle to extinguish the outbreak despite drastic containment efforts. China's National Health Commission said in a statement on Monday that 78 new asymptomatic cases had been identified as of the end of the day on Sunday, compared with 47 the day before. 

China Ends Wuhan Lockdown, but Normal Life Is a Distant Dream - China on Wednesday ended its lockdown of Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus first emerged and a potent symbol in a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands of people, shaken the global economy and thrown daily life into upheaval across the planet.But the city that has reopened after more than 10 weeks is a profoundly damaged one, a place whose recovery will be watched worldwide for lessons on how populations move past pain and calamity of such staggering magnitude.  In Wuhan, sickness and death have touched hundreds of thousands of lives, imprinting them with trauma that could linger for decades.Businesses, even those that have reopened, face a wrenching road ahead, with sluggishness likely to persist. Neighborhood authorities continue to regulate people’s comings and goings, with no return to normalcy in sight.The Chinese authorities sealed off Wuhan, an industrial hub of 11 million people, in late January, in a frantic attempt to limit the outbreak’s spread. At the time, many outsiders saw it as an extreme step, one that could be tried only in an authoritarian system like China’s. But as the epidemic has worsened, governments around the world have enacted a variety of stringent restrictions on their citizens’ movements.  Some 1.4 million infections and 80,000 deaths have been reported worldwide — figures that are rising fast, and that officials say vastly understate the true extent of the pandemic. The contagion has slowed in hard-hit countries like Italy and Spain, but it continues to spread quickly elsewhere around the globe, including in the United States, which is approaching 400,000 known infections. News reports are filled with scenes of overflowing hospitals in New York City, uncollected bodies on streets in Ecuador, updates on the condition of Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who is hospitalized in intensive care, and expert warnings that the epidemic could be exploding, undetected, in the poorest parts of the world. Most of Europe, India, much of the United States and many other places are under orders for businesses to close and most people to stay at home, abruptly crippling economies and throwing millions of people out of work. The full measure of the sacrifice that such policies entail — in jobs and income lost, in lives disrupted — might first be taken in Wuhan. Wednesday’s reopening came after only three new coronavirus cases were reported in the city in the previous three weeks, and a day after China reported no new deaths for the first time since January. Controls on outbound travel were officially lifted just after midnight in China. People can now leave after presenting to the authorities a government-sanctioned phone app that indicates — based on their home addresses, recent travels and medical histories — whether they are contagion risks.

Coronavirus May ‘Reactivate’ in Cured Patients, Korean CDC Says - The coronavirus may be “reactivating” in people who have been cured of the illness, according to Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 51 patients classed as having been cured in South Korea have tested positive again, the CDC said in a briefing on Monday. Rather than being infected again, the virus may have been reactivated in these people, given they tested positive again shortly after being released from quarantine, said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director-general of the Korean CDC. “While we are putting more weight on reactivation as the possible cause, we are conducting a comprehensive study on this,” Jeong said. “There have been many cases when a patient during treatment will test negative one day and positive another.” A patient is deemed fully recovered when two tests conducted with a 24-hour interval show negative results. The Korean CDC will conduct an epidemiological probe into the cases, Jeong said. South Korea was one of the earliest countries to see a large-scale coronavirus outbreak, but the country has seen just 200 deaths and a falling new case tally since peaking at 1,189 on Feb. 29. One of the world’s most expansive testing programs and a tech-driven approach to tracing infections has seen Korea contain its epidemic without lockdowns or shuttering businesses. Fear of re-infection in recovered patients is also growing in China, where the virus first emerged last December, after reports that some tested positive again -- and even died from the disease -- after supposedly recovering and leaving hospital. There’s little understanding of why this happens, although some believe that the problem may lie in inconsistencies in test results. As of Wednesday, South Korea had 10,384 virus cases, with 6,776 released from hospital, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News.

More coronavirus patients testing positive again after recovery: report - Coronavirus patients in South Korea are now testing positive for the virus a second time, health officials are warning, following similar reports in other countries. Bloomberg reported Thursday that the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a statement announcing a formal investigation that dozens of patients have retested positive for the disease. “While we are putting more weight on reactivation as the possible cause, we are conducting a comprehensive study on this,” KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong said, according to Bloomberg. “There have been many cases when a patient during treatment will test negative one day and positive another.” NPR reported late last month that similar cases were also discovered in Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated. Health officials there say that some people who tested positive weeks ago for the virus have tested positive again, including two doctors treating patients with the virus. NPR reported that a false positive is possible if a test picks up residual virus from the initial infection. Japan in February reported its first case of a person testing positive twice for the disease. Some health officials have warned that the virus could remain dormant in the body before reaching the lungs and causing havoc. “Once you have the infection, it could remain dormant with minimal symptoms,” New York University microbiology and pathology professor Philip Tierno Jr. told Reuters. “And then you can get an exacerbation if it finds its way into the lungs.” For similar reasons, one of the doctors who told NPR they experienced a second positive coronavirus test after a recovery questioned China's decision to not include asymptomatic carriers in its official case count. China is also not counting new cases found in people who previously had the virus in its official count, NPR noted. "I have no idea why the authorities choose not to count [asymptomatic] cases in the official case count. I am baffled," the doctor reportedly said.

New Zealand's coronavirus lockdown has resulted in only one death - New Zealand’s coronavirus lockdown has led to only one death in the country so far, data from Johns Hopkins University shows as of Tuesday morning. New Zealand implemented a strict lockdown last month, beginning on March 25, set to last four weeks with a focus on eliminating the virus rather than containing it. Less than two weeks in, the number of new coronavirus cases per day has decreased two days in a row. A total of 65 recoveries were confirmed on Tuesday, higher than the 54 reported new cases, The Washington Post reported. One person, an elderly woman with underlying health conditions, has died from the virus. “The signs are promising,” Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand's director-general of health, said Tuesday, according to the Post. The lack of deaths and decreasing new cases have prompted some to call for the government to loosen restrictions, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has maintained the country will continue lockdown for two full 14-day incubation cycles. Ardern announced the lockdown 48 hours ahead of time to prepare the country to stay at home except to exercise, to obtain essential items and to work if they are an essential worker. Swimming at the beach and hunting in bushland were also banned. The number of new daily cases peaked at 89 on Thursday, with most cases involving international travel. Some American experts are calling on President Trump to follow in Ardern’s footsteps and implement an elimination-focused plan to reduce the number of cases in the U.S., which has recorded the most of any country. The prime minister is reportedly considering a mandatory quarantine for New Zealanders returning to the country. New Zealand has documented 1,160 cases total, with 241 recoveries, according to the Johns Hopkins University data.

Coronavirus LIVE: India’s toll rises to 124, speculation on lockdown continues - Speculation continued on Tuesday about whether the nationwide lockdown, due to end on April 14, will need to be extended as the coronavirus pandemic spreads in India. More chief ministers – those in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana – made remarks suggesting so, as did senior officials in some other states, even while the Centre urged the media not to speculate unless there is an official word.The number of Covid-19 cases in India rose to 4,789 on Tuesday evening, and the toll increased to 124, according to health ministry figures. Out of all patients, 352 have now been discharged. Although the ministry has confirmed 868 cases in Maharashtra, the state on Tuesday became the first to report more than 1,000 cases so far.Globally, the number of positive cases worldwide crossed 13.81 lakh, including over 78,200 deaths, according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins University. Here are the top updates from Tuesday:

  • The number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 4,789 on Tuesday evening, with 124 deaths, the Union Health Ministry said. The country reported 508 new cases in the last 24 hours. As many as 352 patients have now recovered.
  • Maharashtra, the worst-hit Indian state, confirmed 150 new positive cases, taking the total number of patients so far to 1,018. The state is the first to cross the 1,000 mark. The state capital Mumbai alone reported 116 of the new cases.
  • India said it will export paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine in appropriate quantities to “nations who have been particularly badly affected” by the coronavirus pandemic. This came hours after United States President Donald Trump had warned of retaliation if India turned down his requests to supply hydroxychloroquine.
  • Kerala plans to suggest the Centre to lift the nationwide lockdown in three phases, based on the recommendations of an expert committee set up by the state, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also said the lockdown cannot be lifted immediately and that the rollback of restrictions must take place in a phased manner. Madhya Pradesh and Haryana chief ministers also hinted that the lockdown in the states may be extended. The Centre urged the media not to speculate on this.
  • The novel coronavirus has infected more than 13.81 lakh people and killed over 78,200 worldwide, according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins University. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was on Monday taken to the intensive care unit for worsening coronavirus symptoms, is in a stable condition and in “good spirits”, a spokesperson said.
  • The Indian Council of Medical Research said 1,14,015 samples had been tested for Covid-19 until 9 pm, including 12,584 today. Of the samples tested today, 285 tested positive for coronavirus.

 "We Will Whip You" - Zambian Police Crackdown On Non-Quarantine-Compliant Citizens -  We noted on Monday that Africa could be facing an economic collapse amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 54 countries on the continent have imposed lockdowns, curfews, and or travel bans to mitigate the spread of the virus. In Zambia, a country with 17 million people, has shut down casinos, cinemas, and schools to minimize people's movements. Police Spokeswoman Esther Mwaata Katongo told Diamond TV Zambia in a local television interview that the police are enforcing a lockdown with hard measures for non-compliant civilians, reported RT News. "Zambian police have whips. So, if you want to dare authorities, if you want to dare the police, then you are welcome," Katongo said in a TV interview as she showed off a baton that officers are using. The host asked Katongo why the police force has adopted such an extreme policy. She responded:  "This is law enforcement. We will whip you. You know, to make you comply. We are directed on how to do the whipping. So we are going to whip you… We tell you not to go there, and you go there, we are going to whip you."  Zambia's Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya told reporters on Sunday that there are 35 confirmed cases of the virus in the country with one death.

Coronavirus 'could wipe out Brazil's indigenous people' -  Indigenous communities in the Amazon region and elsewhere in Brazil are in danger of being "wiped out" by the coronavirus, according to health experts. Respiratory illnesses - such as those that develop from the influenza virus - are already the main cause of death for native communities. By Sunday 5 April, Brazil had reported more than 11,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 486 deaths. Infections were initially concentrated in the industrialized state of São Paulo. However, they have now spread across the country, including to indigenous territories in the Amazon basin that are the size of France and Spain combined. "There is an incredible risk of the virus spreading across the native communities and wiping them out," says Dr Sofia Mendonça, a researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp). Dr Mendonça is the co-ordinator of a university-led health project among indigenous peoples in the Xingu river basin in the Amazon rainforest. She fears the coronavirus could have a similar impact to previous major outbreaks of highly contagious respiratory diseases such as measles. In the 1960s, a measles outbreak among members of the Yanomami community living near the border with Venezuela killed 9% of those infected. "Everyone gets sick, and you lose all the old people, their wisdom and social organization," Dr Mendonça says. "It's chaos." In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, she adds, some communities are planning to split into smaller groups and seek refuge inside the forest. That is how they avoided extinction during past epidemics. "They will gather materials needed for hunting and fishing and will set up camps, waiting there until the dust settles," she says. 

Global coronavirus death toll hits 100,000, cases over 1.6 million -  (Reuters) - The number of deaths linked to the novel coronavirus reached 100,000 on Friday, as the tally of cases passed 1.6 million, according to a Reuters tally. The first death came in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on Jan. 9. It took 83 days for the first 50,000 deaths to be recorded and just eight more for the toll to climb to 100,000. The toll has been accelerating at a daily rate of between 6% and 10% over the past week, and there were almost 7,300 deaths globally reported on Thursday. The death toll now compares with that of London’s Great Plague in the mid-1660s, which killed an estimated 100,000 people, about a third of the city’s population at the time. But it is still far short of the so-called Spanish flu, which began in 1918 and is estimated to have killed more than 20 million people by the time it petered out in 1920. The novel coronavirus is believed to have emerged in a Wuhan market where wild animals were sold late last year. It quickly spread through China and around the world. Much remains to be determined about it, including just how lethal it is. Estimates vary widely. Friday’s figures - 100,000 deaths of out 1.6 million cases - would suggest a fatality rate of 6.25% but many experts believe the actual rate is lower given that many mild and asymptomatic cases, when infected people don’t show symptoms, are not included in case totals. Some countries, including Italy, France, Algeria, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain are reporting that more than 10% of all confirmed cases have been fatal. One of the largest studies of the fatality of the disease, involving 44,000 patients in China, put the rate at about 2.9%. The same study reported that 93% of recorded fatalities were people over the age of 50, and more than half were over 70. Despite that, there are growing numbers of young adults and teenagers included in the global toll.

Coronavirus live updates: Coronavirus death toll has reached 100,000 worldwide; Trump confirms he’s creating task force focused on reopening country --The confirmed covid-19 death toll has reached 100,000 worldwide. But experts fear the total is worse than the numbers provided by Johns Hopkins University, given a lack of transparency in China and elsewhere, and the difficulty of confirming cause of death, especially outside of hospitals.Meanwhile, at Friday’s White House briefing, President Trump said he’ll announce Tuesday the members of a new task force made up of people from the medical and business communities to determine when and how to reopen the country. Authorities around the world are warning people to stay home during Easter weekend. Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays in numerous nations that are being ravaged by the virus.Here are some significant developments:

  • New York State recorded 777 known deaths Thursday, just 22 fewer from the record high the day before, but a flatter trend in severe cases is a “somewhat hopeful” sign that restrictive measures are working, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent three days in an intensive care unit receiving oxygen, is now back in a regular ward, where on Friday he “has been able to do short walks, between periods of rest,” Downing Street officials said.
  • Life is slowly returning to the streets and shops of Wuhan — the original epicenter of the outbreak — after the Chinese city reopened following 76 days of almost complete lockdown.
  • Taiwan is excluded from the World Health Organization, yet has become a case study in how to contain the virus. Twitter users there have been trolling the WHO director general with pictures of food and bubble tea following his accusation that Taiwan’s government was trying to smear him.

 The Global Food Supply-Chain Wasn't Designed For This - In the early 1980s, doctors and medical researchers around the world were confounded by the growing number of young, otherwise healthy patients who were dying of rare infections that typically only occurred in people with very weak immune systems. The situation was so alarming that the CDC in the United States set up a special task force in 1982 to study the condition and stop its spread. By 1983 the medical community had found the answer: they discovered a terrifying new retrovirus that utterly and permanently vanquished the human immune system. This retrovirus eventually became known as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus– HIV. And nearly four decades later, while there has been substantial progress in treatment and prevention, there is still no vaccine. Then there’s shingles – an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus– which is brutally painful for older adults. GlaxoSmithKline produces a vaccine for this virus called Shingrix that took them more than 10 years to develop and test. And the company has stated repeatedly that they are overwhelmed with demand: hundreds of millions of people want the vaccine. A few months ago, Glaxo announced that they already reached maximum production capacity of the vaccine, and they’ll have to build a new bioreactor facility just to increase production to ~20 million units per year. That new facility won’t be online until 2024. Obviously the novel Coronavirus is different. Its biology is different, the circumstances are different. But there does seem to be a prevailing attitude worldwide that there will be a vaccine ‘within 12-18 months.’ We can certainly hope so. Fingers crossed. But this “12-18 month” estimate has been repeated so many times by politicians, reporters, etc. that the public now views it as a foregone conclusion. And there seems to be zero consideration given to the possibility that, maybe just maybe, vaccine development could take a lot longer. Or perhaps, even if a vaccine is rapidly developed, that it would take at least five years to produce, transport, and administer BILLIONS of vaccines. Think about it– Glaxo will spend the next four years building a new facility just to be able to produce 10-20 million annual units of its Shingles vaccine. How many biotech facilities worldwide will be needed to produce billions of coronavirus vaccines?  The bottom line is that our brains cling to the idea that tomorrow is going to be just like today. And we have a very difficult time accepting rapid change.And even when radical changes do take place and we eventually become accustomed to our new realities, we still cling to the belief that things can’t get any worse.They can. Again, anything is possible now. All scenarios are on the table. So it would be dangerous to assume that it can’t get any worse, or that the pandemic won’t drag on for a longer period of time.

Coronavirus: Air Pollution Might Raise Risk of Fatality - Two main risk factors are currently known to raise the chance of dying from the novel coronavirus that has brought the world to a halt: being old and having a weak immune system.Air pollution makes the second of those more likely.  "If you live in a polluted area, your lungs are compromised like somebody who smokes, so you're more susceptible to the coronavirus," said Kofi Amegah, an epidemiologist and air pollution expert at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.Dirty air, which claims more than 7 million lives a year, could make Covid-19 more deadly by contributing to chronic health conditions that leave patients weak in the face of infection.The European Public Health Alliance said last week that air pollution is likely to cut survival chances from Covid-19.Research on previous outbreaks has also suggested bad air makes viruses more deadly and spread further. A study of SARS-CoV-1 victims in 2003 found that patients were twice as likely to die in regions where air pollution was high rather than low. Even in regions that were only moderately polluted, the risk of dying was 84% higher.If a similar dynamic exists for Covid-19, it could add pressure on the critical care units of hospitals in smoggy cities with rapidly rising cases, such as Madrid, London and New York. It could also spell trouble for countries in the global south where most people burn wood, dung, kerosene or coal indoors to cook and heat their homes. In northern Italy and the Chinese city of Wuhan, home to high levels of pollution and some of the most severe outbreaks to date, preliminary data suggests that particulate matter may already have played a role in overwhelming health care systems.

 Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States - Abstract: United States government scientists estimate that COVID-19 may kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. The majority of the pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of death for COVID-19 are the same diseases that are affected by long-term exposure to air pollution. We investigate whether long-term average exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) increases the risk of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Methods: Data was collected for approximately 3,000 counties in the United States (98% of the population) up to April 04, 2020. We fit zero-inflated negative binomial mixed models using county-level COVID-19 deaths as the outcome and county level long-term average of PM2.5 as the exposure. We adjust by population size, hospital beds, number of individuals tested, weather, and socioeconomic and behavioral variables including, but not limited to obesity and smoking. We include a random intercept by state to account for potential correlation in counties within the same state. Results: We found that an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate, 95% confidence interval (CI) (5%, 25%). Results are statistically significant and robust to secondary and sensitivity analyses. Conclusions: A small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in COVID-19 death rate, with the magnitude of increase 20 times that observed for PM2.5 and all-cause mortality. The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

 European Union Approves Bugs For Human Consumption - The European Union’s Food Safety Authority has approved the sale of bugs as “novel food,” meaning that they are likely to be mass produced for human consumption throughout the continent by the end of the year. Can’t wait. “These have a good chance of being given the green light in the coming few weeks,” the secretary-general of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed, Christophe Derrien, told The Guardian. Since 1997, the EU has required a “novel food” classification to allow the sale of products that had no history of being consumed by humans, meaning that the sale of bugs has been banned in countries like Spain, France and Italy for over two decades. However, with the new approval, mass production of bug-based food is set to ramp up later this year. This means that locusts, crickets, grasshoppers, and mealworms may all appear on supermarket shelves by the autumn. Christophe Derrien is looking forward to the sale of bugs as both a stand alone food and incorporated into existing products, arguing that they are a great source of protein and the production of bug food doesn’t harm the planet.

Africa faces 'unprecedented threat' from locust outbreak 20 times larger than one earlier this year which was the biggest in seven decades - Africa is facing an 'unprecedented threat' from a second wave of locusts this year, 20 times larger than the first - which was already the worst in 70 years in some nations. Billions of the young locusts are coming in from breeding grounds in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, threatening 'total destruction' of crops and farmland and putting millions of people at risk. Some communities in Africa regard the desert insects as a greater threat than the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far spread less rapidly than in Asia or the West. But the virus outbreak is also making matters worse because frustrated farmers are prevented from leaving their homes and gathering to fend off the insects. A motorcyclist rides through a swarm of desert locusts in Kipsing, Kenya, during an outbreak which some believe is more dangerous than coronavirus.It is the locusts that 'everyone is talking about,' said Yoweri Aboket, a farmer in Uganda. 'Once they land in your garden they do total destruction. Some people will even tell you that the locusts are more destructive than the coronavirus. There are even some who don't believe that the virus will reach here.' Some farmers in Aboket's village near the Kenyan border bang metal pans, whistle or throw stones in an effort to drive the locusts away. However, they are largely barred by the coronavirus lockdown from gathering outside their homes. A failed crop of cassava, a local staple, means hunger. The same worries are reflected across a large part of East Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. The locust swarms also have been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania and Congo. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has called the locust outbreak, caused in part by climate change, 'an unprecedented threat' to food security and livelihoods. Officials have called this new wave some 20 times the size of the first.

A Google Plan To Wipe Out Mosquitoes Appears to Be Working - An experimental program led by Google parent Alphabet Inc. to wipe out disease-causing mosquitoes succeeded in nearly eliminating them from three test sites in California’s Central Valley. Stamping out illness caused by mosquitoes is one of Alphabet unit Verily’smost ambitious public-health projects. The effort appears to be paying off, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Biotechnology on Monday. Verily is also running coronavirus triage and testing in parts of California. Bradley White, the lead scientist on the Debug initiative, said mosquito-suppression is even more important during the pandemic, so that outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever don’t further overwhelm hospitals.Since 2017, the company has released millions of lab-bred Aedes aegypti male mosquitoes into several Fresno County neighborhoods during mosquito season. The insects are bred in Verily labs to be infected with a common bacterium called Wolbachia. When these male mosquitoes mate with females in the wild, the offspring never hatch. In results of the trial published on Monday, Verily revealed that throughout the peak of the 2018 mosquito season, from July to October, Wolbachia-infected males successfully suppressed more than 93% of the female mosquito population at field test sites. Only female mosquitoes bite. Working with the local mosquito abatement district and MosquitoMate, which developed the mosquitoes originally, Verily released as many as 80,000 mosquitoes each day in three neighborhoods from April 2018 through October 2018. In most collections, per night Verily found one or zero female mosquitoes in each trap designed to monitor the population. At other sites without the lab-bred bugs, there were as many as 16 females per trap. “We had a vision of what this should look like and we managed to do that pretty perfectly,” said Jacob Crawford, a senior scientist on the Debug project.

Thousands of Migrating Birds Found Dead or Injured in Greece - Thousands of swallows and other migratory birds have died in Greece trying to cross from Africa to Europe this spring. The group wrote that the night of April fifth to sixth was especially perilous for the birds. A combination of cold weather, strong winds and few insects exhausted birds that had already crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean. South-blowing winds pushed the birds to North Africa, where they then faced the north-blowing winds of the Aegean and flew towards eastern Greece for rest. The group described what happened next: On April 6th, the morning light revealed a shocking sight: tens of thousands of birds, chilly and exhausted, were unable to move. Swallows and martins had to rest on the ground, on the blacktop, on balconies, on rooftops and any other surface available. Swifts –a purely airborne species that can not rest on the ground or on a wire– found a temporary shelter by grabbing a wall or by hiding in scuppers or air ducts. Flycatchers filled parks and gardens in Athens and other cities. All this happened throughout Eastern Greece, from southernmost Crete to northernmost Macedonia.Greece is in the flight path of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, AFP reported, and storms are a major danger for all migrating birds, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Some deaths are sadly to be expected, and birds have evolved to weather harsh conditions to a certain degree, the Hellenic Ornithological Society explained. "However, this specific weather combination was unprecedented and pushed entire populations to their limits," the group wrote. "If we take into account all the hardships that human activity brings about during their journey — habitat loss, desertification, illegal killing etc. — these losses could prove devastating."

The link between virus spillover, wildlife extinction and the environment - As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, a common question is, can infectious diseases be connected to environmental change? Yes, indicates a study published today from the University of California, Davis' One Health Institute. Exploitation of wildlife by humans through hunting, trade, habitat degradation and urbanization facilitates close contact between wildlife and humans, which increases the risk of virus spillover, found a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Many of these same activities also drive wildlife population declines and the risk of extinction. The study provides new evidence for assessing spillover risk in animal species and highlights how the processes that create wildlife population declines also enable the transmission of animal viruses to humans."Spillover of viruses from animals is a direct result of our actions involving wildlife and their habitat," . "The consequence is they're sharing their viruses with us. These actions simultaneously threaten species survival and increase the risk of spillover. In an unfortunate convergence of many factors, this brings about the kind of mess we're in now." The data show clear trends in spillover risk that highlight how people have interacted with animals throughout history. Among the findings:

  • Domesticated animals, including livestock, have shared the highest number of viruses with humans, with eight times more zoonotic viruses compared to wild mammalian species. This is likely a result of our frequent close interactions with these species for centuries.
  • Wild animals that have increased in abundance and adapted well to human-dominated environments also share more viruses with people. These include some rodent, bat and primate species that live among people, near our homes, and around our farms and crops, making them high-risk for ongoing transmission of viruses to people.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are threatened and endangered species. These are animals whose population declines were connected to hunting, wildlife trade and decreases in habitat quality. These species were predicted to host twice as many zoonotic viruses compared to threatened species that had populations decreasing for other reasons.

Threatened and endangered species also tend to be highly managed and directly monitored by humans trying to bring about their population recovery, which also puts them into greater contact with people. Bats repeatedly have been implicated as a source of "high consequence" pathogens, including SARS, Nipah virus, Marburg virus and ebolaviruses, the study notes.

Animal Viruses Are Jumping to Humans. Forest Loss Makes It Easier. - NYTimes - The destruction of forests into fragmented patches is increasing the likelihood that viruses and other pathogens will jump from wild animals to humans, according to a study from Stanford University published this month.The research, which focused on contact between humans and primates in western Uganda, holds lessons for a world reeling from the coronavirus outbreak and searching for strategies to prevent the next global pandemic.“Covid has taught us that once a pandemic starts, it’s very hard to control,” said Laura Bloomfield, a doctoral candidate at Stanford and the study’s lead author. “If we can decrease the potential for people to come into contact with wild animals, that is one way to decrease the likelihood of having recurrent pandemics.”In Uganda, a rapidly growing population means more people are carving out patches of forest land to feed their families.Humans have already claimed more than a third of the Earth’s landfor agricultural use. Tropical forests are being destroyed at record or near-record rates every year. In places like the Amazon and Indonesia, for instance, virgin rain forest is being burned to farm commodities like soy, palm oil and cattle. Recently, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen sharply under the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.In Uganda, researchers combined satellite data with face-to-face surveys of more than 900 people near Kibale National Park, analyzing the geographic factors and behavioral traits that led to increased physical interactions between humans and wild primates. Among the human-primate contacts recorded: A boy digging in his family’s garden was bitten by a black-and-white colobus monkey. A young man foraging for timber in the forest tried to free a l’Hoest’s monkey from his dog’s jaws. A woman found a dead vervet monkey in her corn crops and cleared its body away. Each of these interactions offered viruses an invitation to jump from wild primates to humans.  Eric Lambin, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford and one of the study’s co-authors, said that the United States has its own example of an animal-borne disease linked to patchwork woodlands close to suburban and rural communities: Lyme disease, which spreads from wildlife to humans by ticks. “We see the animals as infecting us, but the picture that’s coming from the study and other studies is we really go to the animals,” said Dr. Lambin. “We intrude on their habitats.”

 Tiger at US zoo tests positive for coronavirus - A four-year-old female Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the coronavirus. The tiger, named Nadia, is believed to be the first known case of an animal infected by a human with Covid-19. The Bronx Zoo, in New York City, says the test result was confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa. Nadia, along with six other big cats, is thought to have been infected by an asymptomatic zoo keeper. The cats started showing symptoms, including a dry cough, late last month after exposure to the employee, who has not been identified. "This is the first time that any of us know of anywhere in the world that a person infected the animal and the animal got sick," Paul Calle, the chief veterinarian at the zoo, told Reuters news agency on Sunday. He said he intends to share the findings with other zoos and institutions researching the transmission of Covid-19. "We tested the cat [Nadia] out of an abundance of caution and will ensure any knowledge we gain about Covid-19 will contribute to the world's continuing understanding of this novel coronavirus," the zoo said in a statement. Nadia, her sister Azul, as well as two Amur tigers and three African lions who showed symptoms, are all expected to make a full recovery, the zoo said. The big cats did have some decrease in appetite but "are otherwise doing well under veterinary care and are bright, alert, and interactive with their keepers", it said. The zoo said it is not known how the virus will develop in animals like tigers and lions since various species can react differently to new infections, but all the animals will be closely monitored.

It’s not surprising tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo got coronavirus - On Sunday, the Bronx Zoo announced that one of its majestic Malayan tigers tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Meanwhile, three other tigers and three lions (who were not tested) were also sick and hacking. The zoo said an infected zookeeper transmitted the virus to the exotic cats, which became a well-publicized instance of the insidious microbe jumping between animal species.  Though it might sound strange that large, dominant cats have fallen ill to the same parasite that has severely sickened and killed people around the globe, infectious disease experts aren't surprised. Animals often pass diseases to other animals. And some 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans come from other animals species, known as "zoonotic diseases." For example, the SARS outbreak in 2003 (also a coronavirus) spread from bats, to another animal, to humans. MERS jumped from camels to humans. The dog flu that swept through greyhounds in 2004 came from horses. This latest coronavirus likely originated in bats. There are untold numbers of viruses living in wild animals that could potentially jump from species to species. It's just a matter of time."Jumps between species are often the reason why we get pandemics," said Rebecca Dutch, a virologist and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. (The grim Bubonic Plague, for instance, comes from a bacterial pathogen transferred by fleas)."The next ones are out there," Dutch added, noting that we already know of many bat coronaviruses. Another one, at some unknown point, may again jump to another species, perhaps eventually to humans.

  Multiple Cougars Seen Wandering the Streets of Santiago Amid Coronavirus Lockdown - A third cougar has been sighted wandering through a residential neighborhood in the Chilean capital of Santiago as millions of the city's residents are under lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus outbreak. A video shared by the National Zoo of Chile shows the big cat being released at "dusk under strict security measures" darting from an enclosure back into its mountain landscape. The zoo adds that the big cat was captured in a private home on Monday and was in deemed in good enough health to release it the same day, according to a Facebook post. Two other cougars have also been captured in the city as a majority of its six million residents are practicing quarantine and self-isolation measures amid the coronavirus outbreak. As people have moved inside for the last two weeks, wild animals often pushed to urban outskirts have been making their way into city centers. "They sense less noise and are also looking for new places to find food and some get lost and appear in the cities," Horacio Bórquez, Chile's national director of livestock and agriculture service, said of the animals in a report by the BBC. The foothills surrounding Santiago have also been experiencing a severe drought, which Reuters adds may be further pushing the thirsty felines toward urban centers in search of water. Central Chile has received 30 percent lass rainfall that normal over the last decade in what scientists have nicknamed a "megadrought." Last year was particularly dry with rainfall deficits of 80 to 90 percent, according to NASA. "An 80 percent deficit means that the semi-arid region north of Santiago has seen almost no water, as seen in the marked browning of the vegetation," said René D. Garreaud, a scientist at the University of Chile. "South of Santiago has received some rain — 100 to 300 millimeters (4 to 12 inches). That is still not much, but it has been enough to keep the vegetation green."

Lawsuit Prompts Review of Plastic Pollution on Hawaiʻi Beaches - Responding to a lawsuit from environmental groups, the Trump administration has ordered Hawaiʻi officials to examine the impact of plastic pollution on its waters, beaches and wildlife. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week notified state officials that it is withdrawing its 2018 approval of the “list of impaired waters” required under the Clean Water Act “specifically with respect to the consideration of plastics in Hawaiʻi waterbodies for which Hawaiʻi received data and information.” Hawaiʻi now has until May 29 to evaluate whether plastic pollution is impairing any of the state’s water bodies, including threats to wildlife and people. The Center for Biological Diversity, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation sued the EPA in February for failing to protect 17 coastal water bodies around Hawaiʻi from widescale plastic pollution that covers beaches, degrades coral reefs and threatens birds, fish, sea turtles and other wildlife. “This is great news for Hawaiʻi, which has been hit hard by plastic pollution,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawaii director. “The ocean plastic pollution crisis is a public health crisis. Plastic permeates our waters, chokes wildlife and carries toxins onto our beaches, through our food web, and eventually onto our tables. It’s time for Hawaii to finally address this threat.” Plastic pollution in Hawaiʻi ranges from microplastics that contaminate coastal waters and harm marine life to massive piles of plastic waste along Kamilo Beach, nicknamed “Plastic Beach.” Studies indicate that 17 water bodies around the Hawaiian islands are impaired by plastic pollution. “This is a critical first step to address marine plastic pollution through our nation’s water quality protection laws and to help prevent future degradation of beaches, coral and marine life.” The Clean Water Act requires the EPA to designate as “impaired” all water bodies that fail to meet state water-quality standards. Once a water body is designated as impaired, officials must take action to reduce the pollution.

Fossil Fuels Add to World’s Marine Dead Zones - Cutting out coal-burning and other sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from heavy industry, electricity production and traffic will reduce the size of the world's dead zones along coasts where all fish life is vanishing because of a lack of oxygen.Researchers in Hong Kong report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that cutting fossil fuel use in China would benefit not only the climate but also the fisheries along all the country's coasts.The finding is significant because many countries concerned about the loss of their coastal and lake fisheries caused by dead zones have been concentrating only on reducing agricultural fertilizer run-off from fields and sewage discharges, which are known to load the rivers with nutrients.When the nutrients reach lakes or the open sea they feed algae, which rapidly grow into huge green masses. When these so-called algal blooms die they sink to the bottom and decompose, using up nearly all the oxygen in the water.This process, known as eutrophication, leads to hypoxia, a level of oxygen that is too low for most organisms to survive. Fish usually swim away to healthier waters, but life forms which cannot easily move simply die.NOx emissions from fossil fuel burning and fertiliser manufacture lead to the formation of ground-level ozone, smog and acid rain, and contribute to global warming through the greenhouse effect.What the new research shows is that while fertiliser and sewage are very important in creating dead zones, the aerial input of NOx makes a bad situation far worse.The report's lead author, Yu Yan Yau, an MPhil student at the University of Hong Kong's Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), and her colleagues studied the South China, East China, Yellow and Bohai Seas.They found that the atmospheric deposition of nutrients from fossil fuel burning on the mainland increased the amount of organic matter decomposing at the bottom of the sea by 15%, and increased the dead zones by 5%. The South China Sea was the most sensitive to fossil fuel burning.

2020 Great Barrier Reef Bleaching Event Is Most Widespread to Date - The Great Barrier Reef's third mass bleaching event in five years is also its most widespread, according to new data released Tuesday.Professor Terry Hughes, director of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, spent nine days in a plane surveying 1,036 reefs from the air, The Guardian reported. He found that 25 percent of the overall reef was severely bleached. What's more, he observed bleaching in the north, center and south of the reef for the first time."It's the first time we've seen severely bleached reefs along the whole length of the reef, in particular, the coastal reefs," Hughes told The New York Times.The Great Barrier Reef has suffered six mass bleaching events due to warmer than normal ocean temperatures: in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2016, 2017 and now 2020. While the 1998 and 2016 bleachings occurred during El Niño events, a natural climate variation that brings warmer than average ocean temperatures to the region, the 2002 and 2017 events did not, The Washington Post pointed out. Neither did this year's, but it is the second most intense after 2016's. This suggests warmer temperatures caused by the climate crisis are ultimately driving these events. "It's now clear that we can have major bleaching events caused by global climate change alone with no tropical forcing," Mark Eakin, coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program, told The Washington Post.  2016 and 2017's bleachings together killed around half of the corals in the reef. But Hughes told Australia's ABC News that he didn't know how deadly this year's bleaching would be. He told The Guardian that the north and central portions of the reef would probably see less death because the less heat-resistant corals had already died off in 2016 and 2017. But the south, which remained relatively untouched in previous years, was a different story. "They hadn't bleached before, which means there are more corals and more of the corals that are particularly susceptible to heat stress," he told ABC News.

Great Barrier Reef’s third mass bleaching in five years is the most widespread ever - The government’s top Great Barrier Reef scientist says a third mass bleaching event in five years is a clear signal the marine wonder is “calling for urgent help” on climate change. One quarter of the Great Barrier Reef suffered severe bleaching this summer in the most widespread outbreak ever witnessed, according to analysis of aerial surveys of more than 1,000 individual reefs released on Tuesday. Dr David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, told Guardian Australia: “My greatest fear is that people will lose hope for the reef. Without hope there’s no action. “People need to see these [bleaching] events not as depressing bits of news that adds to other depressing bits of news. They are clear signals the Great Barrier Reef is calling for urgent help and for us to do everything we can.” Prof Terry Hughes, director of the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, surveyed 1,036 reefs from a plane over nine days in late March. The marine park authority also had an observer on the flights. Hughes has released maps showing severe levels of bleaching occurred in 2020 in all three sections of the reef – northern, central and southern – the first time this has happened since mass bleaching was first seen in 1998. Some 25% of the reefs were severely bleached – meaning that more than 60% of the corals on each reef had bleached. Hughes said previous observations had shown that bleaching at that extent leads to “high levels of mortality” of corals. Rescuing the Great Barrier Reef: how much can be saved, and how can we do it? Read more The Great Barrier Reef has experienced five mass bleaching events – 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017 and 2020 – all caused by rising ocean temperatures driven by global heating. Hughes said there probably would not be the same level of coral death in the north and central regions in 2020 as in previous years, but this was partly because previous bleaching outbreaks had already killed off the less heat-tolerant species.

 Category 5 Cyclone Harold Slams Vanuatu - The most powerful extreme weather event of 2020 lashed the Pacific nation of Vanuatu Monday as it tries to protect itself from the new coronavirus. Cyclone Harold made landfall as a Category 5 storm on the island nation's north and west after strengthening off the coast on Sunday, The Guardian reported."For those in Vanuatu it doesn't get much worse than this," head forecaster Philip Duncan said.The storm moved slowly over very warm ocean waters as it approached Vanuatu, Duncan said. The climate crisis is expected to make tropical cyclones stronger and more intense as they are fueled by warmer waters. It also makes them more devastating to islands like Vanuatu already battling sea level rise."As the Pacific battles to contain the spread of Covid-19, Tropical Cyclone Harold is a reminder that climate change represents yet another existential threat to nations like Vanuatu, that is not of their making,"Greenpeace Australia Pacific head of Pacific Joseph Moeono-Kolio said in a statement.Harold made landfall with winds of up to 133 miles per hour around 1 p.m. local time in Sanma province, located on the country's largest island and home to its second-most populated city, Luganville, Reuters reported.While there are no reports of injuries, images shared on social media show buildings flattened by the storm."Communications to Santo and Malekula [Vanuatu's two largest islands] are cut now, so we don't know what's happening," Eric Durpaire, the chief of UNICEF Pacific's Vanuatu's field office, told The Guardian. "The latest information we had was that the roof of the municipality building of Santo has collapsed and there is flooding." The Vanuatu meteorology department recorded wind speeds of 135 miles per hour in Sanma and gusts of up to 145 miles per hour, according to BBC News.

 Cyclone Harold Batters Fiji, Tonga Could Be Next -- After flattening buildings and cutting communications on the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu Monday and Tuesday, Cyclone Harold moved on to batter Fiji Wednesday.The storm is also expected to reach the island nation of Tonga within days, in a reminder of how vulnerable Pacific nations are to extreme weather events supercharged by the climate crisis and made more dangerous by sea level rise."It is unfair that countries on the frontlines of the crisis, like those in the Pacific, are constantly having to bear the brunt of the economic impacts of extreme weather events, that are made worse by carbon pollution in places like Australia," Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of Pacific Joseph Moeono-Kolio said in a statement.In Fiji, the storm struck the largest and most populous island of Viti Levu, home to its capital of Suva. It flattened buildings and caused flooding, The Guardian reported."The worst of TC Harold will strike Fiji through this afternoon … Flying debris and floodwaters can be deadly. All Fijians should stay indoors unless directed to evacuate," Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama warned early Wednesday.Injuries were reported in Suva, according to Reuters, but the storm also cut communication lines. "We've seen reports of injuries," Vasiti Soko, the director of the National Disaster Management Office, told Reuters by telephone. "As to the number, as well as the intensity, of the injuries, that's yet to be ascertained."

Op-Ed: Remember PG&E’s planned wildfire blackouts in October? They cost California millions, and the benefits don’t add up - Los Angeles Times - A federal judge took Pacific Gas & Electric on a fiery trip to the woodshed in mid-February, accusing the utility of failing to follow through on risk-reduction efforts, such as trimming trees near power lines. “I’m going to do everything I can to protect the people of California from more death and destruction from this convicted felon,” thundered U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the utility’s criminal probation related to the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.The judge could have added that Californians’ wallets as well as their lives need protection. Rather than assuming the costs of safely delivering electricity itself, PG&E imposes the burden on its customers — in the form of blackouts.Last fall, PG&E preemptively shut off power to millions of its customers to reduce the risk of its equipment sparking a fire in hot, dry, windy conditions. It cut power nine different times, leaving some of its customers without electricity for as long as one week. (Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric also preemptively cut power last fall, but those shutoffs affected far fewer customers.) This year, in its 2020 wildfire mitigation plan, PG&E anticipates “smarter, smaller and shorter” blackouts for the coming fire season. But, as Alsup pointed out, the company’s record on fulfilling its promises is “not even close to perfect.” And smarter, shorter blackouts would still be costly for Californians. Exactly how costly? The utility has not made public any analysis showing that the benefits of last year’s shutoffs were worth the costs imposed on its customers (some of which are not unlike the effects of the coronavirus crisis): shuttered businesses, refrigerators full of rotted food, disrupted work and personal lives, and even health risks to individuals who rely on equipment such as dialysis machines. In a just-published Manhattan Institute report, we fill the analysis gap. Our research shows that the costs of PG&E’s preemptive shutdowns have far exceeded the benefits of reduced wildfire risk. For example, based on the economic value of electricity to Californians, we estimate that the Oct. 9-12, 2019, shutoff imposed costs of about $850 million to $1.7 billion on the 750,000 customers, mostly in Northern California, who were affected. As for the benefits, even if we consider all of PG&E’s service territory and not just the 35 counties where the power was shut off, the expected benefits were just over $500 million. Looking just at the affected counties reduced those expected benefits to just over $100 million. By our calculations, the low end of the range of costs PG&E imposed on its customers was eight times larger than the expected benefits from reduced wildfire risk. In fact, had PG&E not preemptively shut off power and had the company’s equipment caused a wildfire, the expected costs of that wildfire would still be less than the costs imposed on those 750,000 customers.

Climate crisis: in coronavirus lockdown, nature bounces back – but for how long? - The environmental changes wrought by the coronavirus were first visible from space. Then, as the disease and the lockdown spread, they could be sensed in the sky above our heads, the air in our lungs and even the ground beneath our feet.While the human toll mounted horrendously from a single case in Wuhan to a global pandemic that has so far killed more than 88,000 people, nature, it seemed, was increasingly able to breathe more easily.As motorways cleared and factories closed, dirty brown pollution belts shrunk over cities and industrial centres in country after country within days of lockdown. First China, then Italy, now the UK, Germany and dozens of other countries are experiencing temporary falls in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide of as much as 40%, greatly improving air quality and reducing the risks of asthma, heart attacks and lung disease.For many experts, it is a glimpse ofwhat the world might look like without fossil fuels. But hopes that humanity could emerge from this horror into a healthier, cleaner world will depend not on the short-term impact of the virus, but on the long-term political decisions made about what follows.After decades of relentlessly increasing pressure, the human footprint on the earth has suddenly lightened. Air traffic halved by mid-March compared with the same time last year. Last month, road traffic fell in the UK by more than 70%, to levels last seen when the Beatles were in shorts. With less human movement, the planet has literally calmed: seismologists report lower vibrations from “cultural noise”than before the pandemic. Key environmental indices, which have steadily deteriorated for more than half a century, have paused or improved. In China, the world’s biggest source of carbon, emissions were down about 18% between early February and mid-March – a cut of 250m tonnes, equivalent to more than half the UK’s annual output. Europe is forecast to see a reduction of around 390m tonnes. Significant falls can also be expected in the US, where passenger vehicle traffic – its major source of CO2 – has fallen by nearly 40%. Even assuming a bounceback once the lockdown is lifted, the planet is expected to see its first fall in global emissions since the 2008-9 financial crisis.

Heartland Institute accuses 'climate alarmists' of exploiting COVID-19 pandemic to advance agenda   - The conservative Heartland Institute released a report on Tuesday in which it criticized leading politicians, activists, and media outlets for using the coronavirus to push theirenvironmental agenda."Not surprisingly coronavirus alarm has pushed most other issues and concerns out of the news ⎯ much to the dismay of climate alarmists," said Steve Milloy of the Heartland Institute. "But the alarmists aren’t taking displacement by coronavirus lying down. In fact, many climate alarmists are trying to use coronavirus as a means of advancing their agenda. They are trying to surf it." The report, published on and, comes amid complaints that Democrats have been trying to shoehorn some of their agenda, like emissions reductions, into legislation designed to relieve the virus' economic burden. Titled "Never Waste a Crisis," it focuses on tweets, which range from asserting the coronavirus had a "silver lining" to others in which people attribute clearing skies or water to the lack of economic activity resulting from the virus' spread. Prominent figures also suggested Trump treated the coronavirus like he did climate change, that the pandemic was an opportunity to pursue "sustainable" growth, and that the pandemic was revealing the weaknesses of the world's economy.In one example, Sky News' Ed Conway suggested that the coronavirus was "the ultimate weapon" against climate change. "Don’t take this the wrong way but if you were a young, hardline environmentalist looking for the ultimate weapon against climate change, you could hardly design anything better than coronavirus," he said in an op-ed posted by the Times. The paper argued that Conway was highlighting the virus' "silver lining." According to CBS Los Angeles, clearing canals and emissions reductions were part of the "silver lining" of the pandemic as well.Greenhouse gas emissions are in the spotlight amid the coronavirus pandemic. In early March, satellite images from NASA and the European Space Agency spotted an enormous decline in airborne pollutants, specifically nitrogen dioxide (NO2), in large areas of China. In the U.K., a recent report by solar power specialists The Eco Experts estimates that the country’s CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions are set to drop by 28.22 million tonnes over the 12-week period following the implementation of social distancing measures on March 19. NASA also tweeted on Monday that California saw decreased nitrogen dioxide concentration.

 Climate-Driven Biodiversity Loss Will Be Sudden, Study Warns - The biodiversity loss caused by the climate crisis will be sudden and swift, and could begin before 2030.That's the warning from a new study published in Nature Wednesday, which set out to determine how a variety of species and ecosystems would respond to rising temperatures over the course of the 21st century."We found that climate change risks to biodiversity don't increase gradually. Instead, as the climate warms, within a certain area most species will be able to cope for a while, before crossing a temperature threshold, when a large proportion of the species will suddenly face conditions they've never experienced before," lead author Dr. Alex Pigot of University College London's Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research said in apress release. "It's not a slippery slope, but a series of cliff edges, hitting different areas at different times."The researchers divided the globe into 100 by 100 kilometer (approximately 62 mile) grids and looked at the ranges of 30,652 species along with climate models from 1850 to 2005. They then used models to determine when the species in each grid would experience temperatures beyond their historic ranges for five years or more. The results showed that many species in an ecosystem would cross that temperature threshold at the same time, and 73 percent of species around the world facing temperature shocks would do so in the same decade.Jennifer Sunday, a McGill University biologist who was not involved with the study, told InsideClimate Newsthat its novel approach allowed for new insight into the timeline for climate-driven biodiversity loss."We did not know about the time-course of events. We have lots of models that compare species ranges today to those at a future date, but we did not know when most of the changes were going to happen," she said. "The research also makes it clear that global warming's impacts on ecosystems could arrive very suddenly." Just how sudden and how devastating those impacts will be depends entirely on how swiftly greenhouse gas emissions are lowered to reduce global warming.  The study found that, in a high-emissions scenario that allows more than four degrees Celsius of warming by 2100, at least 15 percent of ecosystems would suffer an event in which more than 20 percent of their key species hit their temperature limits in the same decade. This could happen before 2030 for tropical oceans and by 2050 for the far North and tropical forests.

Satellite spots new ozone layer hole opening up over the Arctic - Although a hole in the ozone layer might sound like a decidedly retro environmental issue, it’s still a problem today. Most eyes are fixed on the skies over Antarctica, but now scientists have spotted the biggest ozone layer hole in at least 25 years forming over the Arctic. The ozone layer protects Earth from the worst of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, but in the 1980s a hole in this layer was discovered over Antarctica. The main culprit was found to be chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals that were common in aerosols and refrigerants at the time. In response, the Montreal Protocol required countries to phase out CFCs, and the hole has been steadily shrinking for decades. It’s not just a static hole, though – its size fluctuates with the seasons. It peaks in October, as Antarctica comes out of its winter and starts to warm up. The extra sunlight means more UV radiation, which combines with extremely cold temperatures, certain wind field patterns and lingering CFCs to kick off the depletion process once again. The Arctic goes through a similar cycle, with ozone levels that fluctuate over the course of a year. But because temperatures don’t get quite as cold there as they do in Antarctica, there was never that serious a hole in the ozone layer around the North Pole. Until now, anyway. Scientists from the German Aerospace Center have recently spotted an unusually strong drop in ozone levels over the Arctic. Since March 14, levels have plummeted to less than 220 Dobson Units, which constitutes an “ozone hole.” The discovery was made using data gathered by the Tropomi instrument onboard ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite. At its largest, this Arctic ozone hole extends over an area of almost one million km2 (400,000 mi2). That makes it the biggest seen there since continuous records began in 1995. That said, it’s still very small compared to the Antarctic ozone hole, which can reach sizes of 20 to 25 million km2 (7.7 to 9.7 million mi2).

Trump Signs Executive Order to Mine the Moon for Minerals -- In the midst of a global pandemic, President Donald Trump found time earlier this week to sign an executive order for U.S. companies to mine the moon's mineral resources, according to Newsweek.The executive order makes it clear that the administration does not view space and celestial bodies as global commons, allowing for mining operations without any international treaties, as The Guardian reported."Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view space as a global commons," the order, called Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources, states.According to Mining Technology, the order states that commercial partners participate in an "innovative and sustainable program" headed by the U.S. to "lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations." The document adds that successful long-term exploration of space will require commercial entities to recover and use resources, including certain minerals, in outer space.While the order specifically noted that a return to the moon would allow the country to explore and exploit lunar minerals, it implied a future commercialization of the solar system would apply to "the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies," as The Palm Springs Desert Sun reported.The U.S. never signed the 1979 moon treaty, which states that non-scientific use of space resources must be governed by international regulations. Then in 2015, Congress passed a law to allow American companies and citizens to use resources from the moon and asteroids, as Newsweek reported.As The Guardian points out, the willingness to plunder natural resources is part and parcel with the administration's policies on Earth. The Trump administration has opened up wide swaths of public land to mining and rolled back environmental regulations in an attempt to prop up the coal industry. The federal government has routinely ignored requests to update the main law governing hardrock mining, even as the planet careens towards a climate crisis. The law has been effectively untouched since its inception in 1872, according to The Palm Springs Desert Sun.

 We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe - Scientific American The telecommunications industry and their experts have accused many scientists who have researched the effects of cell phone radiation of "fear mongering" over the advent of wireless technology's 5G. Since much of our research is publicly-funded, we believe it is our ethical responsibility to inform the public about what the peer-reviewed scientific literature tells us about the health risks from wireless radiation. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced through a press release that the commission will soon reaffirm the radio frequency radiation (RFR) exposure limits that the FCC adopted in the late 1990s. These limits are based upon abehavioral change in rats exposed to microwave radiation and were designed to protect us from short-term heating risks due to RFR exposure.  Yet, since the FCC adopted these limits based largely on research from the 1980s, the preponderance of peer-reviewed research, more than 500 studies, have found harmful biologic or health effects from exposure to RFR at intensities too low to cause significant heating.Citing this large body of research, more than 240 scientists who have published peer-reviewed research on the biologic and health effects of nonionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF) signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal, which calls for stronger exposure limits. The appeal makes the following assertions:“Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life.” The scientists who signed this appeal arguably constitute the majority of experts on the effects of nonionizing radiation. They have published more than 2,000 papers and letters on EMF in professional journals.

New Renewable Energy Capacity Hit Record Levels In 2019  - Almost three-quarters of new electricity generation capacity built in 2019 uses renewable energy, representing an all-time record. New data from theInternational Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) shows solar, wind and other green technologies now provide more than one-third of the world’s power, marking another record. Fossil fuel power plants are in decline in Europe and the US, with more decommissioned than built in 2019. But the number of coal and gas plants grew in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In the Middle East, which owns half the world’s oil reserves, just 26% of new electricity generation capacity built in 2019 was renewable. The world has invested about $3tn in renewables over the past decade, according to Irena, but annual investments must double by 2030 to tackle the climate emergency.  “While the trajectory is positive, more is required to put global energy on a path with sustainable development and climate mitigation,” said Francesco La Camera, director general of Irena. “At this challenging time, we are reminded of the importance of building resilience into our economies.”  La Camera said the huge spending planned by governments in response to the coronavirus pandemic must support green initiatives rather than fossil fuels. “In responding to today’s crisis, governments may be tempted to focus on short-term solutions,” he said. “Yet distinctions between short-, medium- and long-term challenges may be deceptive. The pandemic shows that delayed action brings significant economic consequences.” The global oil market is in turmoil, hit by collapsing demand due to Covid-19 lockdowns and a savage price war between Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US. La Camera said: “Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility.” Solar and wind power are now the cheapest form of electricity in two-thirds of the world.  New solar power provided 55% of the new capacity, most of which was installed in Asia, with China, India, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam leading the way. Other major increases were seen in the US, Australia, Spain, Germany and Ukraine. Wind power made up 34% of the total, with almost half in China and significant additions in the US. Global wind power capacity remains just ahead of solar, with 95% being onshore turbines.

Renewable Sources Made up 72% of New Energy Added in 2019 -- Renewable energy made up almost three quarters of all new energy capacity added in 2019, data released Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows.That's a record breaking figure, The Guardian reported. As is the fact that more than one third of global power is now provided by renewable sources like wind and solar. But IRENA Director General Francesco La Camera warned that governments must not backtrack on this progress as they work to jump start their economies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic."In responding to today's crisis, governments may be tempted to focus on short-term solutions," he said, according to The Guardian. "Yet distinctions between short-, medium- and long-term challenges may be deceptive. The pandemic shows that delayed action brings significant economic consequences." Overall, the report found that renewable energy added slightly less overall capacity in 2019 compared to 2018, at 176 gigawatts (GW) compared to 179. However, the amount of new fossil fuel power added also declined, The Guardian pointed out. Renewables also grew 2.6 times more than fossil fuels and made up 72 percent of new energy capacity added, the report found.  Renewable energy grew by 7.6 percent in 2019. On a regional level, 54 percent of that growth occurred in Asia. When it comes to power sources, 90 percent of the growth was driven by solar and wind, which increased by 98 GW and around 60 GW respectively.

The coronavirus is hitting renewable energy supply chains and could hurt global energy transition - Global renewable energy capacity hit 2,537 gigawatts (GW) at the end of last year, an increase of 176 GW compared to 2018, but the coronavirus continues to cast a shadow over the sector’s prospects for 2020, impacting both supply chains and manufacturing facilities. According to figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) “Renewable Capacity Statistics 2020” report, new additions last year were slightly lower than the revised total of 179 GW added in 2018. Looking at the bigger picture, however, the organization said Monday that renewables “accounted for 72 per cent of all power expansion” in 2019, with solar and wind growing by 98 GW and almost 60 GW respectively. Together, these two technologies were responsible for 90% of renewable additions in 2019. In terms of other sources, hydropower growth was described as being “unusually low” last year. In a foreword to the report, IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera explained that a number of large projects had “missed expected completion deadlines.” Breaking things down geographically, the report shows that Asia was responsible for 54% of renewable capacity additions last year. While the additions reported by IRENA may appear promising overall, this year looks set to pose a number of challenges for the renewables sector, many of them connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused issues with supply chains and forced some factories to shut. There are also fears that the pandemic could negatively affect investments in clean energy, while the steep drop in oil prices is another factor that could potentially make renewables less attractive to some markets.

Social cost of carbon could further sway Virginia from fossil fuel power plants - Virginia utility regulators will consider broader impacts of building fossil fuel-fired power plants under pending legislation on the governor’s desk. The concept is known as the social cost of carbon. Agencies tasked with measuring the costs and benefits of climate regulations use such a figure to estimate the harm caused by releasing more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Environmental and social justice organizations rallied to include the figure in the mammoth Virginia Clean Economy Act as a way to protect the health of long-ignored, disadvantaged communities. Harrison Wallace, the Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said assigning a cost to each metric ton of carbon emissions will create incentive enough for electricity generators to trade fossil fuels for renewable energy. “People see natural gas as being inexpensive,” he said. “Now, this legislation includes the true cost to the public of fossil fuels as opposed to just the fuel cost we see on our bill.” Initially, Wallace and other proponents supported a measure that called for the State Corporation Commission to use its own judgment to define the social cost of carbon. “They said they may not know what to look for if we were giving them full discretion,” he said. “They told us, ‘We’re accountants and we’re not thinking about how this affects public health.’” That prompted Wallace’s coalition to offer commissioners guidance in the form of Executive Order 12866, published in August 2016 when Barack Obama was president. A dozen federal entities created the backbone of that order as the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases.

New England fishing groups wary of rapid offshore wind development plans -As offshore wind moves up the coast of New England, efforts are underway to make sure the region’s fishing interests have a seat at the table early in project development.An alliance of industry and academic stakeholders is promoting the need for research and best practices as offshore wind takes hold in waters where fishing has long been an economic anchor.Fishing groups have several concerns about the potential for boating obstacles and ecological impacts. A dearth of research makes the industry hesitant as it prepares for a slew of projects that could overwhelm their operations.Above all, fishing stakeholders want to be included from the start of wind project development.Wind and fishing advocates say they don’t want another kind of dispute like the one that led federal authorities to delay the permitting process for the Vineyard Wind offshore project in federal waters off Massachusetts. An ongoing environmental review by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has raised uncertainty for 14 other projects in the region. Those types of disputes are “what we’re trying to avoid happening now,” said Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, or RODA. The coalition of fishing stakeholders aims to get the industry on the same page as researchers and wind developers across the region.

Con Edison reaches 170 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths, as risks rise for utility workers - Consolidated Edison has 170 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 — 11 have recovered and returned to work as of Friday morning, and three have died, spokesperson Allan Drury told Utility Dive. These are the first utility worker deaths connected to COVID-19 confirmed by Utility Dive.  It is unclear whether the three ConEd employees who died were working remotely or not, but union leaders representing utility workers in New York and other states are raising the alarm about the risks posed to their members from customer interactions. New York has been impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic more than any other state. According to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker of global cases, the state has 92,743 confirmed cases, as of Friday morning. The U.S. has a total of 245,573 confirmed cases. ConEd has seen that reflected in its own staff. Nearly half of ConEd's employees are working remotely, but the transition happened unevenly and it is difficult to pinpoint which infections came from the work environment or outside of that, according to Drury. The company is not distinguishing in its statistics which affected employees are remote or which are field workers at this time, but the workers who contracted COVID-19 come from throughout NYC's five boroughs and Westchester County, including field workers, control rooms, substations and other facilities across ConEd's electric, gas and steam sections.​  Essential employees, including utility workers, come into contact with the public in a variety of ways when restoring power or providing essential services. When New York has such high confirmed cases, the ConEdnumbers don't seem that shocking, according to Jim Slevin, president of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA).

Clearer picture of coronavirus-driven grid load declines emerges in US after weeks of lockdowns  --North American power markets will see disruptions lasting at least 18 months due to the spread of COVID-19 and the economic impacts of a shuttered economy, according to a new report from Wood Mackenzie. Demand has fallen in all markets as stay-home orders have closed businesses and likely forced a global recession. Loads have declined 5% to 15% with significant regional variation, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).  Fossil fuel generators are running less due to lower demand, based on preliminary data from March and April, RMI experts told Utility Dive. That could potentially set off a new batch of coal retirements, though experts say it may also slow investment in energy efficiency and clean energy projects.It has now been almost three weeks since the first U.S. lockdowns related to the spread of the novel coronavirus began and grid operators are beginning to get a clearer sense of how that is impacting load. However, there is significant regional variation and figures are complicated by changing weather patterns."American power markets are entering uncharted territory," Wood Mackenzie said in a research note this week. The firm said its baseline view "yields lower power demand and power prices across North American power markets" and includes a recession for the remainder of 2020 with a rebound beginning in the first quarter of 2021.In addition to changes in load and energy usage, operators are also seeing shifts in the timing of demand. "One of [the] clearer signals from the past few weeks is a changing load shape as people stay home and office buildings, whose lighting and HVAC loads are a big driver of afternoon peaks, have seen their occupancy fall," RMI principal Mark Dyson told Utility Dive in an email. "This has caused an observable flattening of the load curve in many regions, from one with a twice-daily peak (characteristic of normal springtime shapes) to a flatter, lower peak." The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) is observing daily peak loads trending about 4% lower than typical for this time of year, officials said. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said that while it has seen little impact to daily peaks, morning loads are currently 6% to 10% lower than what forecast models would typically predict. In the Midcontinent Independent System Operator territory, the grid operator says its load shape "continued to shift during the last half of March as more states implemented stay-at-home orders. Morning and evening load levels are lower than normal and morning peaks have moved closer to noon compared to 9 a.m. in previous weeks."

PJM Ramps Up Preparations as COVID-19 Hotspots Emerge in Its Footprint - PJM Interconnection, the nation’s largest regional transmission organization (RTO), is intensifying its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing campuses for worker sequestration and closely coordinating with generators and transmission owners across its system as they grapple with workforce and supply impacts. Although most of PJM’s employees—with the exception of system operators and other essential personnel—are working from home and will continue to do so until May 4, the grid operator said in an April 6 update it is equipping its campuses for sequestration if needed and readying logistics as they pertain to extended stay. It is also readying its control room simulator to serve as a third control room if needed, determining what would be the best use of that facility. PJM said that the pandemic has not yet had a “major impact” on generator maintenance. However, some generators have reported contractor crew shortages due to travel restrictions, and parts shortages owing to COVID-19 supply chain issues. Several generators have also deferred or reduced the scope of longer, planned outages, and/or shifted work to shorter periods during off-peak hours. Transmission owners, meanwhile, have not reported significant impacts to maintenance schedules, but the entity is urging transmission owners to inform PJM as soon as possible if COVID-19–related delays will require advanced rescheduling of affected outages. Like other major RTOs/ISOs, PJM has also reported a drop in power demand—of between 5% and 7% lower than historical trends—but the entity is still exploring how much of that decline can be attributed to the COVID-19 fallout. It noted: “PJM expects that to increase and continues to analyze numbers to isolate weather impact [versus] COVID-19 impact on load,” it said.

Virus May Nix 39% of Projects to Build New U.S. Power Plants - More than a third of new U.S. electricity generation expected to come online over the next six months could hit roadblocks as the coronavirus pandemic curbs power consumption and disrupts supply chains. About 4.9 gigawatts, or 39%, of new utility-scale capacity will be “either canceled or indefinitely postponed” from April through September, said Energy Information Administration economist Tyler Hodge. Wind, solar and natural gas projects will be affected relatively evenly. States with the largest slated additions during the period are Texas, California and Pennsylvania, he said. “Supply chains, including both international and domestic, have been disrupted to some extent,” said Hodge. The potential slowdown of new power supplies is a blow to the renewables industry that has become more competitive against low-cost gas. The broader U.S. electricity sector is bracing for demand to plunge as businesses and industrial facilities remain shuttered amid widespread lockdowns to contain the virus. Total power consumption is expected to fall 3% this year compared with 2019, the EIA said in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook. “The impact of the pandemic on the real economy is going to be severe, at least in the short term, and will put a damper on capital expenditures throughout the economy, including on solar, wind, and battery power,” John Tobin, a Cornell University professor who focuses on corporate sustainability, said in an email.

Trump wants to cut pay for TVA's CEO 'by a lot' under COVID-19 infrastructure package -- President Donald Trump wants to cut the pay of TVA's chief executive, who Trump said "is paid a lot of money" to run agency that "when we want them to do something for us they are not there for us." During a news conference at the White House on Wednesday night, Trump questioned the $8.12 million compensation package give to TVA President Jeff Lyash, a former Ontario Power Co. CEO who was hired to head the nations biggest government utility a year ago. Trump said he wants to "reduce by a lot" the executive pay for Lyash, who is the the highest paid federal employee in America, as part of an infrastructure package being negotiated to spur the U.S. economy. "I don't know the gentleman, but he's got a heck of a job," Trump said about Lyash when asked about proposals to require TVA to cut executive pay. "He gets paid a lot of money, which is an amazing thing."Trump appoints the directors of the board that governs TVA, but the president was critical of the federal utility which last year ignored his appeal to keep running an aging coal plant in Kentucky. Despite appeals by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Trump, TVA shut down the last unit at its Paradise coal plant in western Kentucky in February.Trump is an ardent supporter of what he calls "beautiful coal" and asked TVA to consider keeping the plant open even though TVA estimated it would be cheaper to idle the 57-year-old plant. "When we want them to do something for us, they are not there for us, and that's not good," Trump said.  Lyash's $920,000 base salary is more than twice the $400,000 salary for the president, and his compensation exceeds all other federal employees.

BIOFUELS: 10th Circuit won't rehear refinery exemption case -- Wednesday, April 8, 2020 -- Petroleum refiners won't get a second chance to convince a federal court to save EPA's small-refinery exemptions under biofuel blending mandates.

POET to idle ethanol production at Ashton, Iowa, plant and others in Midwest -- POET, one of the largest producers of ethanol in the U.S., announced Tuesday a decision to idle production at three plants in Iowa and South Dakota, including one in Ashton. According to the announcement, POET bioprocessing units in Chancellor, South Dakota, Ashton, Iowa, and Coon Rapids, Iowa, will be idled, while the startup of a new plant in Shelbyville, Indiana, will be delayed. The status of the plants' employees is not known. The closures will reduce corn demand by 110 million bushels, according to POET, while ethanol production will drop by 330 million gallons between the output of the four facilities, including the Shelbyville plant which has not yet opened. "Across the board, biofuel producers and our partners in the farm community face an unprecedented challenge," POET founder and CEO Jeff Broin said in the statement. "From day one of this crisis, we have placed the highest priority on protecting the health and welfare of our workers, partners and farm suppliers. At the same time, we are working hard to ensure that every biorefinery remains well-positioned to support a strong and swift recovery once daily life returns to normal. That means responding dynamically to shifting conditions and optimizing production, market by market, as the situation evolves over the next few months." Ethanol producers have been battered by a price crash blamed, at least in part, on the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Wednesday, ethanol prices hovered around 87 cents per gallon on the NASDAQ exchange. As recently as February, prices had been as high as $1.37, and last June prices were as high as $1.61.

COAL: EPA relaxes emissions rule for 4 power plants -- Thursday, April 9, 2020 --  EPA today finalized a rule lowering emissions standards for six units at four coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Stream pollution from mountaintop mining doesn't stay put in the water - Since the 1980s, a sprawling mountaintop removal mining complex in southern West Virginia has been leaching pollutants—such as selenium—into nearby streams at levels deemed unsafe for aquatic life.Now, even though the mine is closed, researchers have also found high concentrations ofselenium in stream insects when they fly out of the waterand the spiders that eat them along the banks, an indication that the contaminant moves from water to land as it makes its way up the food chain.The study shows how "a lot of stream contaminants get out of the water and defy gravity," said co-author Emily Bernhardt, a biologist at Duke University who has been studying the impacts of mountaintop mining on the region for 10 years.The researchers looked at 23 streams in the Mud River watershed, a network of creeks and streams meandering through the steep forested terrain in Lincoln County, West Virginia. The watershed also happens to drain the 9,900-acre Hobet 21 coal mine, one of the largest mountaintop removal mining operations in Appalachia.For three decades until its closure in 2015, the mining operation blasted the tops off mountains to get at the coal beneath and pushed the leftover rock into neighboring valleys, burying streams under hundreds of feet of rubble.The water runoff from this mining waste contains naturally occurring trace elements such as selenium and other dissolved substances.In a previous study, Bernhardt and colleagues found an uptick in selenium and other trace elements in water samples taken immediately downstream of mining sites in the Mud River watershed.The new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, looked at how selenium moves through food webs once it gets in the water.

Experts: W.Va. coal mines may be spreading ground for COVID-19 - Home to just under 1,000 residents, Rivesville sits on the northwest bank of the Monongahela River, smack dab in the middle of the Fairmont coal fields, a coal-plush region concentrated in the county. That is where West Virginia House of Delegates Democrat and minority whip Mike Caputo calls home.The geographical location of Rivesville made it quite significant in the 20th century — nearly the only area in and around Rivesville where the coal has not been mined out is directly under the older portion of the town and under the riverbed. The town was a coal mining hotbed.Thus, Caputo, among many others raised in the town over the last century, grew up in a coal-mining family and was raised around the culture. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a coal miner for 20-plus years, and served on the Rivesville Town Council in the 1980s. In the 90s, he took the step toward state politics, where he has remained since.When the global COVID-19 pandemic became recognized in the United States, and subsequently West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice was quicker than many states with numerous confirmed cases of the virus to shut down non-essential businesses.One industry that remained open was coal mining. However, many experts in mining and public health are beginning to raise alarms that keeping mines open during the pandemic could be extremely dangerous for both those who work in mines, as well as the general public. And some of the same folks are wondering why Justice was so quick to call mining an essential business and is so far hesitant to take steps toward ensuring mines run safely during a public health crisis. “I gotta tell you, being totally honest with you, I’m very concerned about the risk that coal miners face with the pandemic right now. MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration), that’s the federal administration mandated to make the coal companies provide us with a safe place to work … those inspectors are mandated to make sure the operators provide us with a safe place to work,” Caputo said.

Weak lungs and small spaces: Coal miners face heightened risk as essential workers during COVID-19 - Kristin Collett's husband works third shift at a Blackhawk Mine in Leslie County. Her husband Kenny has worked in the mines since he was about 20 years old, he's now 49. About three weeks ago, the men were furloughed for two weeks amid the COVID-19 outbreak. They returned to work at the beginning of this week. Homeland Security says coal mining is an essential business. On their website identifying "critical infrastructure workers," it says "workers supporting the energy sector, regardless of the energy source" count as essential. "The first night he went back to work I didn't sleep," said Kristin. "I feel like it's a risk for all of our miners to be going back to work right now." She and other miners and their families are worried about the coronavirus getting into the mines. During normal flu season, Collett says if one man gets sick, it spreads incredibly quickly from miner to miner underground. There are a couple of factors that go into why a virus spreads so rapidly. The first is the sheer proximity of the miners. Many go in underground together in large groups and when they are underground together, staying six feet apart is very difficult if not impossible to do. "If one of them gets sick, due to the very nature of the mines it gets passed around to man to man to man," Collett added. The second reason is that the machinery is not usually sanitized. If anything it's washed, but not thoroughly. One of the biggest factors though is the airflow underground.

Coal Miners With Black Lung Brace for COVID-19 - In some states like West Virginia, coal mines have been classified as essential services and are staying open during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the close quarters miners work in and the known risks to respiratory health put miners in harm's way during the spread of the coronavirus. In Appalachia, miners with pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, are at particularly high risk of coronavirus, according to HuffPost. Official statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the number of underground coal miners with black lung disease at one in 10, though experts estimate the number could be 20 percent or higher.When someone has black lung disease, scarring in the respiratory tract makes breathing labored. The notion of adding exposure to a severe respiratory illness like COVID-19 has some workers terrified, according toHuffPost. Furthermore, the communities where coal miners live tend to have higher than average comorbidities like obesity and diabetes.Appalachians, for example are more likely than other Americans to have ailments such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, due in part to smoking and a more sedentary lifestyle, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission, all of which could complicate the effects of COVID-19. "Nobody knows what this virus is going to do when it gets to this area," said Jimmy Moore, a 74-year-old black lung patient in Shelby Gap, Kentucky, to HuffPost. "It's probably just going to wipe us out." The age of many black lung sufferers also complicates exposure to the coronavirus, according to Anna Allen, a West Virginia doctor who cares for black lung patients, as Bloomberg reported. In Australia, which has a robust coal mining industry and a significant portion of GDP derived from exporting coal to China and India, there have been drastic improvements since 2015 to improve working conditions for miners. However, miners with long-term exposure have most likely already had their lungs damaged but may not know it yet."The disease usually takes a minimum of five years to 10 years in very heavy exposure to develop, and a bit longer if the exposures are not so heavy,"

"They're Crooks": Coal Industry Aims to Exploit Coronavirus Crisis to Cut Payments to Miners With Black Lung -Some of the largest coal companies in the United States are using the coronavirus crisis to pressure Congress to slash the tax that finances the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, a lifeline for more than 20,000 miners whose lung disease makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.The Washington Post reported this week that the National Mining Association (NMA), a trade group that represents the biggest U.S. coal operators still standing, "asked Congress last month for a 55 percent cut in the excise tax for the trust fund, and a suspension of another fee that pays to clean up abandoned mines. Altogether the operators say they could save about $220 million.""While the level of taxation to back the fund has fluctuated sharply over the past two years," the Post noted, "it currently stands at $1.10 for every ton of coal mined underground and 55 cents for surface coal." Harold Sturgill, a 60-year-old retired miner who was diagnosed with black lung in 1998, said in an interview with the Post that coal companies are "going to try to use this virus thing to stop paying benefits."  "They're crooks," Sturgill said. The NMA explicitly pointed to the coronavirus crisis in its tax cut request to Congress — which was not included in the stimulus package that Congress passed last month — and labeled the coal industry "essential" to energy production in the United States. A group of Republican senators is currently pressuring the Federal Reserve to allow coal companies to benefit from the multi-trillion-dollar CARES Act. As EcoWatch reported earlier this week, "in some states like West Virginia, coal mines have been classified as essential services and are staying open during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the close quarters miners work in and the known risks to respiratory health put miners in harm's way during the spread of the coronavirus." "

Federal safety officials say they do not have data on COVID-19 cases in US mines   U.S. mine safety officials said they could not identify mines closed for COVID-19 related causes nor offer figures on the number of cases of the disease reported by mine employees. U.S. Department of Labor spokesperson Laura McGinnis said the agency does not actively collect data on the reasons for mine status changes and does not have access to comprehensive data on COVID-19 cases reported by mining employees. However, there have been multiple cases in the U.S. of miners testing positive for the novel coronavirus.McGinnis did say that if a mine operator alerts the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration to changes in production, the agency would "to the extent possible, limit the number of inspectors sent to that mine for a regular inspection proportional with the mine's continuing operations.""MSHA is committed to protecting the health and safety of America's miners, and we will continue to perform our essential functions, including mandatory inspections, serious accident investigations, and investigations of hazard complaints (imminent danger or serious in nature)," McGinnis wrote in an email.The United Mine Workers of America, or UMWA, said it is tracking cases at mines with union-represented employees. There were three positive tests at Peabody Energy Corp.'s Shoal Creek coal mine and two more at Warrior Met Coal Inc.'s No. 7 mine as of April 8, according to Phil Smith, the union's director of communications and governmental affairs.Both metallurgical coal mines are in Alabama, and incidences of the disease had not been reported in news releases or securities filings by either company as of April 8. A Warrior spokesperson declined to comment. Julie Gates, Peabody's vice president of investor relations and communications, said the company expects some of its employees to be among those affected as community-spread cases continue to rise, as is the case at Shoal Creek.

Murray Energy warns of possible layoffs as it tries to sell assets - Coal-mining company Murray Energy is warning that it might lay off 508 workers at operations throughout eastern Ohio. The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection this past October, said in letters to the state on Thursday that it is trying to sell assets as part of its bankruptcy case. “At this time, the company does not know exactly when the sale will occur or exactly when employees will be offer employment,” the company said. Murray issued six notices to the state for affiliated companies. The biggest notice was for American Energy in Beallsville, where 358 workers have been notified of possible layoffs. The layoffs could take place as soon as June. Other layoffs could occur in Saint Clairsville, Clarington, Alledonia and Powhatan Point. All are in Belmont or Monroe counties. Last week, the company said it could be forced to liquidate unless a federal judge lets it cut health-care payments to retirees. It has asked the judge overseeing its Chapter 11 filing to let it cut some of those obligations to stave off a default under its bankruptcy loan and conserve cash.

Murray Energy’s Bankruptcy Plan Releases Face Challenge by U.S.- Murray Energy Corp. shouldn’t send its reorganization plan to a creditor vote without amending provisions that would shield others tied to the bankrupt coal giant from litigation, the Justice Department said.Murray hasn’t justified the inclusion of the releases in its Chapter 11 plan, the U.S. Trustee’s office said in a filing Wednesday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The materials explaining the plan also don’t provide a basis to bind creditors to those releases if they reject the plan or abstain from voting, the DOJ’s bankruptcy watchdog said.Creditors only should be bound to...

 Nearly half of global coal plants will be unprofitable this year: Carbon Tracker - (Reuters) - China and other countries could be planning to build more coal plants to stimulate their economies in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic but nearly half of global coal plants will run at a loss this year, research showed on Wednesday. China has over 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power, accounting for about 60% of the country’s total installed generation capacity and around 100 GW under construction. London-based environmental think tank Carbon Tracker analysed the profitability of 95% of coal plants in operation or planned around the world. It looked at 6,696 operational plants and 1,046 in the pipeline and found that 46% will be unprofitable this year, up from 41% in 2019, based on estimated revenues from wholesale power markets, ancillary and balancing services and capital markets, as well as running costs, carbon pricing and pollution policies. That will rise to 52% by 2030 as renewables and cheaper gas outcompete coal, the think tank said. China, which produces and consumes about half the world’s coal, might be considering building more coal plants to stimulate its economy in the wake of COVID-19, after the National Energy Administration announced it was ready to relax rules on coal power investment, the report said. Nearly 60% of China’s existing coal plant fleet is running at an underlying loss, it said. China has 99.7 GW of coal under construction and another 106.1 GW in various stages of the planning process but 61% of that would enter the market with negative cashflow, it added. “China and other governments may be tempted to invest in coal power to help their economies recover after the COVID-19 pandemic, but this risks locking in high-cost coal power that will undermine global climate targets,” said Matt Gray, co-head of power and utilities at Carbon Tracker. Governments and investors building new coal may never recoup their investment because coal plants typically take 15 to 20 years to cover their costs, the report said.

NUCLEAR: Plant Vogtle worker tests positive for coronavirus -- Monday, April 6, 2020 -- A worker at the nation's lone nuclear construction project tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Georgia Power said this weekend.

Three coronavirus cases confirmed at Plant Vogtle - Three cases of COVID-19 have been logged at the Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 construction site near Waynesboro, Georgia, as of late Wednesday night. Test results are pending for 14 other workers, a Georgia Power spokesperson said. Seventy-one workers there have tested negative for the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Georgia Power is one of four joint owners of Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power plant south of Aiken and Augusta that is home to two operating reactors, Units 1 and 2, as well as two in the works, Units 3 and 4. The Units 3 and 4 workforce comprises roughly 9,000 people. The first case of COVID-19 at the plant was disclosed April 4. Those who have worked closely with the people who ultimately tested positive were sent home and are now self-quarantined, the Georgia Power spokesperson said. Construction work continues, but with rules meant to reduce worker-to-worker contact and keep well-traveled and heavily trafficked areas cleaned. Tools are being sanitized. The on-site cafeteria is closed. Mass-transit tram and bus services are suspended. And large, in-person meetings are avoided, according to the company.

Limerick nuclear plant worker tests positive, raising coronavirus fears during refueling outage --One of about 1,400 contract workers involved with the refueling outage at the Limerick nuclear power plant in Montgomery County has tested positive for COVID-19, which is likely to further raise concerns of local officials who have protested Exelon Generation’s decision to proceed with the annual maintenance event.Exelon notified county health officials that a contract worker at the Limerick Generating Station tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday night. The worker, who is from central Pennsylvania, was last on site on Monday. The areas that the worker used have been decontaminated and plant employees were notified, the company said in a statement.Two other full-time Limerick workers were diagnosed recently with COVID-19 at the plant, but they have not been on site since March 20, Lacy Dean, director of communications for Exelon Generation, said in a statement.The refueling outage, which involves the influx of about 1,400 workers, began on March 27.“The health and safety of our employees and contractors, and limiting the spread of the virus, are our utmost priorities, and we have strict protocols in place to address each case as it occurs,” the company said in a statement Friday. “Any employees who came in close contact with the affected persons or work at that reporting location are notified, and we perform an additional deep cleaning of all areas that have potentially been exposed.” Of the 1,400 workers, Exelon said about half are local and half come from out of state. But nobody who has traveled recently overseas, or is coming in from hard-hit New York City, is permitted to work on site. News of the infected worker is likely to heighten concern among Montgomery County officials, who have raised protests in recent days about Exelon’s decision to proceed with the refueling.

Workers 'terrified' at Limerick nuclear plant amid coronavirus  - — Contractors working during a refueling project at the Limerick Generating Station are “terrified” they’re working in a “breeding ground” for COVID-19 and expressed concerns about the company’s safety practices during the pandemic.“I’m in a constant state of paranoia. In my opinion, it’s just a complete breeding ground, a cesspool for this,” said one man, who spoke on condition of anonymity to MediaNews Group out of fear of losing his job.The contractor said supplemental workers began showing up at the plant days before a Unit 1 refueling outage began on March 27. Montgomery County officials have said they were informed that up to 1,400 contractors may have been summoned to work on the project as a coronavirus outbreak was taking shape in the county.The first cases of coronavirus were reported in the county on March 7.The workers interviewed claimed that social distancing measures of standing at least six feet apart, which have repeatedly been recommended by health officials during the outbreak, were not in place at the plant as they initially reported for their jobs.“From the first day I got there, there were no less than 100 people in the training room being processed. I have pictures from that day of people literally sitting on top of each other, no one enforcing social distancing,” the man said on Friday. “There were computer labs for people to take the tests they need to get into the plant, people sitting at every computer elbow to elbow. So, I’ve been concerned since the minute I walked in there.” During shift changes, he said, people from both shifts congregated in the break room “standing room only, just packed in there.” “They did not enforce any social distancing whatsoever until this past Wednesday (April 1) when the news got to the media. That’s when they started enforcing some social distancing,” the man claimed. “Being put at risk like this makes us mad.”The contractor described the current social distancing at the plant as “a half-assed thing.” “They made us sit further apart in the break room. But that first week and a half we were elbow to elbow with 40 people in the break room at any given time,” he claimed.Those interviewed said social distancing is now being practiced somewhat outside the plant but inside is a different story.“There’s groups of people just working on top of each other, still to this day,” the contractor claimed on Friday, adding there are jobs in the plant where social distancing cannot be adhered to, “because you need multiple pairs of hands to accomplish the jobs.”

5 coronavirus cases confirmed at Limerick nuclear plant; 38 employees quarantined - — Exelon officials confirmed there have been five cases of COVID-19 among the more than 1,000 employees and contractors at the Limerick Generating Station, which is currently conducting a refueling outage.“We can confirm that we have five cases of COVID-19 among our workforce. Two were last on-site prior to the outage and three have recently tested positive. All are receiving care, and we are thinking about our colleagues and wishing them a quick recovery,” Dave Marcheskie, communications manager at the Limerick Generating Station, confirmed for MediaNews Group.Company officials previously said the first two cases of COVID-19 among the workforce at the plant had not been at the worksite since March 20. The refueling outage on Limerick Unit 1 began on March 27 and was scheduled to last 18 days, according to company officials.“The outage is nearing the halfway point and the number of positive cases of COVID-19 at Limerick remain very low,” Marcheskie said.Outage workers and contractors arrived anywhere from a few days to a week prior to the outage to prepare, according to officials.“Limerick Generating Station’s refueling outage requires significant additions to our workforce in order to execute the work safely. About 1,500 people from local union halls, other Exelon locations, and specialty contractors are needed to supplement the approximately 750 year-around Limerick employees in order to execute the outage,” Marcheskie explained. “While the total number of additional workers required is approximately 1,500, no more than 750 or so are onsite at the same time due to shift schedules,” Marcheskie told MediaNews Group.Company officials said that as of April 6 there were 38 employees or contractors quarantined after the positive COVID-19 cases were identified.Some elected officials, like state Senator Katie Muth (D-44th), had called on Exelon to work with federal, state, and county officials to create and implement a 14-day, controlled quarantine protocol for all contracted employees who participate in the outage work. Muth also called on Exelon to continue to fully compensate workers during that time and to cover all costs incurred by workers during the quarantine.In a letter sent to Exelon last week, Muth expressed concern that many of the workers would move on to additional refueling projects, such as the scheduled Beaver Valley refueling project in western Pennsylvania, as well as at other nuclear facilities across the country, and that without proper safety and quarantine measures, officials were risking “a massive spread of Covid-19 across this state and nation.”

 Coronavirus strikes Fermi 2 nuclear plant during refueling; utility keeps working  — An undisclosed number of coronavirus cases have been documented inside Fermi 2 during the nuclear plant’s latest refueling outage. But owner-operator DTE Energy said it believes it has enough precautions in place now to complete the work and get the plant restarted in the coming weeks. In a statement, DTE spokesman Stephen R. Tait said the company “can confirm that we have had employees test positive, but are not giving out numbers, locations or names at this time.” Media reports showed the first worker tested positive about the same time the refueling outage began on March 21. A Detroit television station reported at least two more positive cases were documented within days of that. But many similar operations — which once took six weeks or longer — have been shortened to about a month in recent years. Utilities lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential electricity sales each day nuclear plants sit idle. Nuclear plants are refueled every 18 to 24 months, depending on the type of uranium used in their reactor cores. Fermi 2, located along western Lake Erie in northern Monroe County’s Frenchtown Township, is one of many nuclear plants across the United States scheduled to be refueled during the spring or fall of 2020, the two seasons when demand for electricity is lowest. Energy Harbor’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant along the Lake Erie shoreline in rural Ottawa County recently completed its latest refueling. Both plants are about 30 miles from downtown Toledo. The coronavirus pandemic has, of course, complicated those efforts this year.

Chernobyl Radiation Levels Suddenly Surge 17x --Radiation across the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone spiked 17x as firefighters over the weekend battled a 250-acre forest fire, reported NBC News.  More than 100 firefighters, several Antonov AN-32P Firekiller air tankers, and a Mil Mi-8 helicopter were dispatched near the village of Vladimirovka to fight the fire. Ukrainian emergency services said firefighters battled the blaze over the weekend and wrapped up operations by Monday.VIDEO: A forest fire is underway in the restricted zone around Chernobyl, scene of the world's worst nuclear accident, but Ukrainian government agencies have denied an official's claim that the fire caused a spike in radiation levels— AFP news agency (@AFP) April 7, 2020"There is bad news - radiation is above normal in the center of the fire," ecological inspection chief Yegor Firsov wrote in a Facebook post alongside a video of a Geiger counter. "As you see on the video, the appliance indicators are 2,3 at ok 0,14. But such a situation is only in the fire."Firsov said the spike in radioactivity was observed in the proximity of the fire. He wrote in a Sunday post that nuclear experts recorded no increase of radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, about 60 miles from the exclusive zone.Vladimirovka is part of a 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone, which was deserted in 1986 after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion, which exposed millions of people to radioactive materials across Europe. The region is the most radioactively contaminated area in the world. 

Chernobyl radiation levels spike dramatically as forest fires burn in exclusion zone - Radiation levels in the Chernobyl exclusion zone spiked 17 times over the normal background reading Sunday, the head of Ukraine's ecological watchdog said Sunday, as forest fires blazed about 12 miles into the Chernobyl disaster area. "There is bad news," ecological inspection chief Yegor Firsov wrote in a Facebook post from the closed Chernobyl region. "At the center of the fire, radiation levels are high ... readings are 2.3, when the normal level is 0.14." Firsov's post included a video of a Geiger counter, a device used to measure radiation levels. Image: A Geiger counterA Geiger counter measures a radiation level at a site of fire burning in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant outside the village of Rahivka, Ukraine, on Sunday, April 5, 2020.Yaroslav Yemelianenko / Reuters According to Firsov, the alarming jump in radioactivity was found only in the center of the fire. In a later post Sunday, he wrote that nuclear specialists had charted no increase in radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, only about 60 miles from the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Ukrainian authorities said the fire, which engulfed an area of more than 250 acres over the weekend, was most likely caused by human negligence. Firsov said the blaze was likely the result of someone's setting fire to grass, which then spread to trees. The Ukrainian Emergency Services Ministry said the fire had been extinguished. Radiation levels in the zone are within normal limits, the statement said. Ukraine sees spikes in human-sparked forest fires annually, typically in the spring and the fall, according to the Emergency Services Ministry. Such fires are more dangerous around Chernobyl, as the trees and plant life are still irradiated from the 1986 nuclear disaster. Firsov used the radiation spike to call for increasing fines for sparking forest fires. Currently, the fine is about $6.50 for committing arson. "This can't continue. The fine must go up 50-100 times," he wrote on Facebook.

 BG schools join consortium to get pipeline money - Two county school districts have addressed a resolution to join a pipeline consortium. The Bowling Green City Schools Board of Education voted in March to join the Ohio School Pipeline Coalition. The school board at Otsego Local Schools discussed the resolution at length in February and tabled it. “We are going to unite as one and hopefully keep the values where they proposed them to be initially,” said Bowling Green Treasurer Cathy Schuller at the March 19 meeting. The cost of membership in the consortium is $500 per year. The consortium will allow districts to “band together and basically create a PAC that will lobby to try to keep the values of the pipeline where they’re at,” said Superintendent Francis Scruci earlier this week. “When you look at potentially losing 50% of the value, $500 to have people lobby for you is a good investment,” he said. According to the resolution, the purpose of the pipeline coalition is to further the interests of the member boards of education by addressing the issues related to the reduction in property tax revenue stemming from natural gas transmission lines. It also will take any reasonable steps to protect the member boards of education, and perform related functions in compliance with Ohio law. The Rover and Nexus pipelines, which both traverse through Wood County, have appealed the valuation of their projects, cutting the initial amount expected to be sent to school districts. Schuller said this week that based on communication in December from the county auditor, the Rover appealed value is 54% of the original value. The revenue cited in October by the Wood County Auditor’s Office was $3.6 million. Schuller said the appealed amount is closer to what was cited in 2015, or $1.93 million. Otsego, after lengthy discussion, tabled joining the coalition. Plans to address the resolution in March were put on hold after coronavirus closed the schools. At their Feb. 27 meeting, Otsego school board members heard Superintendent Adam Koch describe the coalition as a way to work together “to make sure that the pipeline is fairly taxed.” Additional costs would be based on a district’s valuation.

Lawsuit stops virtual meeting on proposed injection well site in Belmont County— Attorney Michael Shaheen has won a complaint for injunctive relief against Ohio Department of Natural Resources on behalf of coal tycoon Bob Murray, who owns property near a proposed injection well site between U.S. 40 and State Route 331. Omni Energy Group seeks a permit to install two saltwater injection wells there, and the location has generated concern among residents, businesses, county commissioners, and Richland Township trustees."So, many local people, not just my client, Mr. Murray, but so many local constituents, residents of Richland Township, Belmont County at large, are invested in this situation. When I say invested, I mean emotionally health-wise, not financially. "At the county's request, ODNR agreed to hold an in-person public meeting. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting was set to take place via phone or computer.ODNR says the general assembly and the governor authorized the use of technology to satisfy public meeting guidelines.However, Friday’s scheduled meeting (at 12:30 p.m.), which was to be limited to 200 participants who must sign up to speak beforehand, will not happen, after a decision made by Judge John Vavra. Shaheen, Murray, commissioners and township trustees all reached out to ODNR voicing their opposition.

For the Ohio River Valley, an Ethane Storage Facility in Texas Is Either a Model or a Cautionary Tale - The Trump administration and industry leaders have pointed to a major petrochemical storage complex outside Houston as a model for the upper Ohio River Valley.  If only they could find a place like Mont Belvieu, Texas, where geological features allow for large-scale underground storage of the chemicals used to make plastic products, there could be an economic resurgence to follow the collapse of steel and coal. Tens of thousands of jobs would follow.  With enough storage of ethane from thousands of existing natural gas fracking wells in the Appalachian region's Marcellus and Utica shale deposits, the argument goes, several multi-billion-dollar plastic manufacturing plants could be built, lifting economic fortunes across four states: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.But if Mont Belvieu—a massive chemical distribution center for what has been a booming Gulf Coast plastics and petrochemical industry—has been a model for those promoting an Appalachian petrochemical renaissance, it also serves as a cautionary tale to those who would rather the Appalachian region reject a boom-or-bust fossil fuel future.An examination of the chemical plants, pipelines and other gas handling equipment that sit atop the massive stores of natural gas liquids at Mont Belvieu reveals a history of fires, explosions, leaks, excess emissions, fines for air and water pollution violations, and an oversized carbon footprint."We have the evidence that this is harmful, and Mont Belvieu is the prime example of that," said Dustin White, project coordinator with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, based in West Virginia. "The intention is to have a massive petrochemical buildout, and it's outlandish they want to build it here, especially in an area that already has major health issues due to existing fossil fuel industries." A January report meant as a warning to Appalachia, by the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington-based watchdog group founded by former EPA staff, found that the Mont Belvieu complex was marked by multiple explosions, fires, evacuations and fatalities throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and continues to be a major polluter. The largest Mont Belvieu operator is subject to ongoing federal and state enforcement actions, InsideClimate News found."Communities in Appalachia are at risk from a plan for an aggressive expansion of the petrochemical and plastics production industry, including construction of a massive new ethane storage hub," the report concluded. "Area decision makers and residents need to consider the serious hazards that have arisen at a similar development complex in Mont Belvieu, Texas."

Coronavirus could increase interest in gas-driven Pennsylvania petrochemical growth - Pennsylvania Business Report - The vision of Pennsylvania becoming a center of the U.S. petrochemical industry could get a fresh boost from, of all things, the coronavirus.The high-profile supply squeeze on personal protective equipment (PPE) nationwide has the federal government seriously looking at shortening the supply chain for items such as respirator masks, gloves, face shields and other high-demand products made largely of plastic. And business leaders say Pennsylvania would be the perfect location for new PPE factories that would be a day’s drive from many major U.S. cities rather than a slow boat voyage from Asia.“The front line of our defense is chemicals,” Tom Gellrich, founder and CEO of TopLine Analytics, said at the first virtual edition of the “Think About Energy” series.George Stark, director of External Affairs for Cabot Oil & Gas and moderator of the panel, agreed and added, “We need to be thinking about on-shoring these industries again.” Healthcare safety equipment is just one of the product fields that would conceivably flourish in Pennsylvania thanks to an accompanying increase in the production of plastics and other chemicals using gas from the Appalachian Basin, particularly the Marcellus Formation. The proximity of Pennsylvania to industrial customers in the Northeast and Midwest should make the region a tempting location for new plants that manufactures not only PPE but scores of other products unrelated to coronavirus that depend on access to low-cost raw materials.

Pipeline Opponents Raise Coronavirus Concerns - Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline could resume this spring, but opponents of the project say crews from other states should not be coming to Virginia and West Virginia during a health emergency. Mountain Valley Pipeline suspended construction last year, and it still lacks key federal permits that would allow the work to resume, but the company says it still intends to complete the project by the end of this year. At a time when Virginians have been ordered to stay home, and many businesses have shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, opponents of the project are saying, not so fast. 'They're coming from states in many cases that have higher COVID-19 rates than we do, like Louisiana where a lot of pipeline workers come from," said pipeline opponent Diana Christopulos. In West Virginia, the group Preserve Monroe is asking Governor Jim Justice to issue a stay that would prevent transient pipeline construction crews from entering the state. In a news release, the group described the workers' return as a "recipe for disaster." "This issue is not about whether the pipeline should be finished or should not be finished," said activist and landowner Maury Johnson. "This issue is what risk are they bringing to our rural communities." A spokesperson for MVP said the project team is focusing on environmental activities, including erosion and sediment controls that are essential requirements. Natalie Cox said the company can balance the need for environmental protection while operating under COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. Diana Christopulos says it's not the work that concerns her the most. "They would be living here. They would be eating here. They would be grocery shopping here. They would be getting their healthcare here," she said. "Why can't they fall under the same kind of rules that the rest of us do?" she asked.

 Contaminated Pipelining Soils from WV Delivered Illegally to KY - — A 2019 car crash lawsuit has revealed a conspiracy to illegally dump contaminated soil at the Big Run Landfill, according to a recently amended complaint.The lawsuit charges three environmental clean-up companies with civil conspiracy, fraud negligence. Two roadside assistance companies were also charged in the suit.The complaint alleges Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc. and Valicor Environmental Services, LLC knowingly sent a truckload of contaminated soil from Poca, West Virginia, to the landfill located in Ashland on May 15, 2019. After the truck experienced a blowout on I-64 near Milton, West Virginia, it experienced brake failure, the complaint states. Once it made its way to exit 181 in Kentucky, the complaint states its brakes failed again and slammed into a vehicle with two teenagers inside.The amended complaint sheds light on why the 42,000-pound rollback truck continued its trek after already experiencing brake failure about 20 miles from where it left.Clean Harbors was contracted with disposing soil contaminated by the Mountain Valley Pipeline project in Braxton County, West Virginia, a more than two-hour drive from Boyd County, the complaint states. The soil was dirtied with fracking fluid, which can include lead, radium, uranium, methanol, mercury, hydrocholoric acid and formaldehyde, according to the suit. Due to the nature of the waste, it needed to be tested prior to being dumped at any landfill, the suit further elaborates. Initially, the load was stored by Safety-Kleen the suit states. Safety-Kleen nor Clean Harbors tested the soil, the complaint alleges.At the time, the Big Run Landfill had an agreed order that prevented it from accepting any waste created in West Virginia outside of Cabell and Wayne counties, the suit noted. The landfill could also not accept any contaminated soil without a test being run on it first, according to the suit. The suit alleges various companies cooked the books to keep the load legal on paper so the dump would accept it.

New York State Codifies Fracking Ban in Budget | NRDC - The New York State legislature permanently banned fracking in its Fiscal Year 2021 Budget yesterday—one of several budget items that prioritize the health and future of New York’s people and environment. This measure comes five years after Governor Andrew Cuomo initially banned fracking in New York State, which, while monumental, was accomplished through executive action, leaving it vulnerable to jettison by future governors. Codifying the ban makes it permanent, protecting generations to come. Fracking is a dangerous process that uses a mixture of water, salt, and thousands of toxic chemicals to extract fossil fuels like oil and gas from the earth. The thousands of chemicals used in fracking are harmful to human health, linked to cancer, mutations, and other adverse effects. The fracking process releases toxic pollutants into the air and sometimes drinking water, and is therefore especially damaging to people living in nearby shalefields. On an even larger scale, fracking fuels the climate crisis, releasing methane at all stages of the gas extraction, transmission, and combustion process. Methane is a particularly dangerous greenhouse gas that is 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. By memorializing the fracking ban in state law, New York is demonstrating leadership against fossil fuels and making way for a clean energy transition.  New York’s new ban on fracking also institutes a moratorium on gelled propane fracking. While fracking typically refers to hydraulic fracturing, which uses water as the base fluid, gelled propane fracking uses gelled propane or liquefied petroleum gas as its base. Gelled propane fracking is as harmful to human and environmental health as hydraulic fracking. While the new law does not implement an outright ban on gelled propane fracking, it puts New York on track to do so in the future, and halts gelled propane fracking activity for the time being.  While fracking itself is banned in New York, the fight is not over—gas pipelines still crisscross the state. The fight against proposed pipeline projects like the Williams Pipeline, which would transport fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York, continues. Williams faces strong community opposition and rebukes from both New York and New Jersey, but both states still must deny the pipeline critical certifications under the Clean Water Act to block construction from moving forward.

 LNG terminal hearing postponed by virus » An April 15 adjudicatory hearing on a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the Delaware River in New Jersey has been postponed due to the coronavirus, Kallanish Energy reports. The quasi-judicial hearing on the plan by developer Delaware River Partners had been arranged by the Delaware River Basin Commission, a government agency that oversees the river. A hearing officer will hear evidence and then decide whether to recommend that the commission uphold or reject its approval of the project last June. The commission can accept or reject the recommendation. The public will not be allowed to speak during the multi-day hearing that was to have been held in Mercerville, New Jersey. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network had argued that the commission did not allow enough time for public comment in approving the project that would allow two tankers to dock at Gibbstown on the Delaware River in New Jersey’s Gloucester County. Those tankers would load LNG that had been moved about 200 miles by truck and rail from the Marcellus Shale in northeast Pennsylvania under the plan by Delaware River Partners and its parent company, New Fortress Energy LLC. The company received a special federal rail permit to be allowed to move LNG by rail in specially designed rail cars.

 State advisory council members ask Whitmer to slow Enbridge tunnel permit  On Wednesday, Enbridge submitted an application for a permit to build the Line 5 tunnel. The planned bedrock tunnel would encase the replacement for 67-year-old oil pipelines that currently sit on the lakebed beneath the Straits of Mackinac. Last week, tribal leaders raised the alarm about the state reviewing permits, holding public comment or engaging in tribal consultation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribal governments in the Straits area are unilaterally opposed to the tunnel. On Sunday, more than half the members of the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice sent a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, asking her to use executive action to extend deadlines for public comment and participation on Enbridge's permit. "Starting the permitting process for this tunnel is inappropriate at a time when many tribal government offices are shut due to COVID-19," said the letter. "During this time of unprecedented crisis, it will be impossible for important stakeholders to adequately participate in the permit process. This not only includes tribes, but citizens, conservation organizations, businesses, and city governments." On Thursday, the Governor's Office had not yet replied to the letter. However, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said the pandemic may slow the process down. EGLE has 30 days to review the application before anything happens, said spokesman Scott Dean. “It’s difficult to comment what the next steps will be in terms of timing," he said. "It’s a very dynamic situation with the pandemic.” According to a press release on the Canadian company's website, Enbridge still expects the replacement segment of the lines to be operational by 2024. “The Great Lakes Tunnel Project unequivocally is the most practical, long-term solution to delivering a secure energy supply to the region while enhancing environmental safeguards in the Straits,” said Amber Pastoor, Enbridge Tunnel Project Manager. “The existing Line 5 was designed to last and has served this region well for more than 60 years. With today’s technology, the Great Lakes Tunnel Project will help deliver an enhanced level of safe, reliable energy, along with measures to protect our waterways for generations.”

Dominion prepares to file Virginia IRP without natural gas buildout - Dominion Energy asked regulators for permission on Thursday, ahead of the filing of its 2020 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), to avoid certain requirements that will no longer apply, such as a comprehensive analysis of new natural gas or nuclear power build-outs. The utility notified Virginia regulators that a natural gas build-out would not be viable in the state without "a threat to reliability or security of electric service." Dominion signaled the change in response to the 100% clean energy mandate by 2045 established by the Virginia Clean Economy Act, but the request on Thursday is "a procedural step to remove some outdated reporting requirements," according to a spokesperson. This marks a big shift for Dominion, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) noted, as its previous IRPs included scenarios with up to 10 new combined-cycle or combustion turbine facilities. Other environmental groups believe the lack of need for gas infrastructure could also extend to the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In Virginia, IRPs are filed every two years to plan for for the next 15 years, and the 2020 IRP reflected several regulatory and legislative changes, from increased clean energy state measures to looser federal power plant regulations. Dominion wants to stop incorporating certain modeling and analysis as required under the Clean Power Plan, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency replaced in 2019 with the Affordable Clean Energy rule. Dominion said regulatory staff read this proposal and does not oppose its request to stop fulfilling requirements related to the Clean Power Plan. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) also asked Dominion in 2015 to include a risk analysis of constructing new natural gas and nuclear power generation. In the last five years, Dominion built several new gas units in the Greensville, Warren and Brunswick counties. But in 2015, clean energy advocates "were able to get the [SCC] to say, 'Hey, you need to do more assertive and more comprehensive risk assessments of these new gas builds,'" Amanda Levin, policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told Utility Dive. The utility also asked to stop modeling how competitive an addition of North Anna 3, a new nuclear unit, would be, as the company "paused material development activities" for the project, according to its request on Thursday.

Law creates barriers for Virginia utilities seeking to recoup gas capacity costs — A new Virginia law will require state regulators to scrutinize utility requests to pass on the cost of securing additional natural gas pipeline capacity to electricity ratepayers, potentially creating a barrier to infrastructure projects. Governor Ralph Northam signed Virginia House Bill 167 into law on April 6 after it passed in both chambers of the state legislature with bipartisan support. The law empowers the State Corporation Commission to reject an electric power utility's request to recover the cost of entering into a contract for new pipeline capacity. It requires utilities to prove they need additional fuel capacity to maintain reliable service and that reserving gas pipeline capacity is the lowest-cost option.The legislation comes amid a push to reassert the SCC's authority over electric utilities, including Dominion Energy. The bill's chief sponsor, Republican Delegate Lee Ware, has also co-sponsored the Fair Energy Bills Act, which would unwind a 2015 freeze on base rates and allow the SCC to order ratepayer refunds when utilities generate excess profits. Environmentalists and pipeline opponents said the law would prevent companies from charging Virginia ratepayers for pipelines that may become stranded assets in light of the Clean Economy Act. That bill, which is awaiting Northam's signature, would require Dominion, Virginia Electric and Power Co., and competitive electric power providers to obtain 100% of the power they supply from renewable or carbon-free sources by 2045. The law would not prevent pipeline construction, Appalachian Voices said, but it would shift the risk of pipeline investment from ratepayers to developers. Historically, the SCC has allowed utilities to recover the costs of reserving capacity on gas pipelines, even when they do not utilize that capacity. Under the new law, when electric utilities ask to recoup those costs, they must first show that they cannot maintain reliable service without securing additional fuel supplies. They must then identify how much new fuel capacity they require and when they will need it. Next, they will have to study all available options, including alternatives to gas capacity contracts. Finally, they must demonstrate that gas capacity contracts are the lowest-cost option, taking into account both fixed and variable costs and projections for future utilization of the capacity.The SCC's Division of Public Utility Regulation does not employ staff capable of conducting the reviews, and, therefore, the commission will have to hire consultants to review company filings. The consultant will make a recommendation to the SCC on whether the utility has satisfied each requirement "by a preponderance of the evidence." The law applies to proceedings for recovery of fuel costs where the utility is seeking to recoup the expense of entering into a natural gas capacity contract with a term of 10 years or more for supplies of at least 250,000 Dt/d.

FERC has a big pipeline problem - Virginia Mercury - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a pipeline problem. A really, really big one. According to publicly available information on FERC’s website, the commission approved no fewer than 46 onshore gas pipeline “mega-projects” from 1997 to 2019. These largest-of-the-large pipeline projects consist of gas pipelines measuring 24 to 42 inches in diameter, with over 100 miles of new pipeline. FERC’s most productive years during this time period were 2007 and 2017, when the commission approved nine and eight pipeline mega-projects, respectively. What immediately stands out is how notorious the class of 2017 is in terms of environmental impacts and operational risks. The roster is a veritable who’s who of fracked gas behemoths, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), and Rover Pipeline, among others. It seriously calls into question FERC’s understanding, and exercise, of its role as a true “regulatory” body. The Rover Pipeline is one of the most environmentally destructive gas pipelines in U.S. history, having incurred several million dollars in fines for environmental violations during construction in Ohio and West Virginia. In spite of that, the Rover Pipeline, unlike the MVP and ACP, was completed and is currently in service. The MVP continues to implode under its second project-wide stop work order – it is $2 billion over budget and two years behind schedule – and is awaiting the outcome of multiple court cases and agency permit review processes. The ACP is in extremis. To resume construction, the ACP first needs a favorable verdict in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (one which will also impact the MVP). Then it will need a veritable cornucopia of other state and federal permits to be reissued. However, the devil is in the details. The final environmental impact statements for the MVP, ACP, and Rover pipelines are sobering documents. The damages and risks outlined are a strong indictment of the Kafkaesque process FERC employs to approve – indeed, to rubberstamp – interstate gas pipelines in the U.S. They clearly demonstrate FERC is not performing its most basic regulatory duty.

FACTBOX: Coronavirus keeps US gas oversupplied as LNG demand wanes | S&P Global Platts  Onshore domestic and export prices for US natural gas continue to hover just above record lows this week as strong production outpaces demand. Anticipated cuts in associated gas production – which could range between 3 Bcf/d and 15 Bcf/d in April, May and June – could help offset demand destruction related to the coronavirus pandemic, S&P Global Platts Analytics forecasts show. With gas supply expected to tighten through the fourth quarter, forwards prices at the Henry Hub, Appalachian benchmark Dominion South and the Permian Basin's Waha hub have hit annual highs in recent trading.In the global market, continued demand weakness and low import prices in Europe and Asia could keep higher-priced Henry Hub-linked exports out of the money, potentially limiting utilization rates at US LNG export terminals as early as the third quarter."Fundamentals are now starting to point in a bearish direction in Asia, especially outside of China," said Jeffrey Moore, Platts Analytics manager for LNG in Asia, during a Platts webinar Wednesday. "There simply is less demand available within Asia than what we expected at the beginning of the year."Moore added, "It's our expectation that downward pressure will remain on spot prices because there is so much supply in the market." **Export prices for LNG shipped FOB from the US Gulf Coast were assessed Wednesday at $1.60/MMBtu, up 30 cents from a record low in late March.**Import prices for LNG delivered to Northeast Asia are hovering just above record lows, with Platts JKM assessed Wednesday at $2.40/MMBtu. **US Henry Hub cash prices traded Wednesday near $1.80/MMBtu; on April 3 the benchmark index tumbled to a 21-year low at $1.45/MMBtu.

U.S. natgas futures rise near 7% on cooler forecasts - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures rose almost 7% on Monday on forecasts for cooler weather and higher heating demand next week than previously expected. "Today’s gains are led by a shift to stronger demand brought by cooler weather forecasts," said Daniel Myers, market analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston. "If it materializes, the spell of April chill will still have enough bite to significantly restrain the first month of storage injections." Front-month gas futures for May delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 11.0 cents, or 6.8%, to settle at $1.731 per million British thermal units. Despite the increase, gas was still less than 20 cents over the $1.552 settle on April 2, its lowest close since August 1995. Even before the coronavirus started to cut global economic growth and energy demand, gas was already trading near its lowest in years as record production and months of mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more fuel in storage, making shortages and price spikes unlikely. Gas futures, however, are trading much higher for the balance of 2020 and calendar 2021 on expectations demand will rise in coming months after governments loosen travel and work restrictions once the spread of coronavirus slows. As forward prices rise, speculators have been cutting their short positions on the NYMEX and Intercontinental Exchange. Last week, their net shorts fell for a fifth week in a row to their lowest since May 2019, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. With cooler weather coming, data provider Refinitiv projected gas demand in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, will rise from an average of 94.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 100.3 bcfd next week. That compares with Refinitiv's forecasts on Friday of 94.6 bcfd this week and 97.9 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants edged up to 8.2 bcfd on Sunday from a two-week low of 8.0 bcfd on Saturday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 8.9 bcfd last week due to a reduction at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass export plant in Louisiana for pipeline work.

U.S. natgas futures jump to three-week high on cool forecasts -(Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures jumped for a third day in a row to a three-week high on Tuesday on a confirmation of forecasts for cooler weather and higher heating demand next week. Traders noted that increase came despite lower liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and higher gas production. Front-month gas futures for May delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 12.1 cents, or 7.0%, to settle at $1.852 per million British thermal units, their highest in three weeks. That put the front-month up about 21% over the past three days. Just last week the contract fell to its lowest since August 1995. Even before the coronavirus started to cut global economic growth and energy demand, gas was already trading near its lowest in years as record production and months of mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more fuel in storage, making shortages and price spikes unlikely.  With cooler weather coming, data provider Refinitiv projected gas demand in the U.S. Lower 48 states, including exports, will rise from an average of 93.3 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 99.8 bcfd next week. That compares with Refinitiv's forecasts on Monday of 94.0 bcfd this week and 100.3 bcfd next week. The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants, meanwhile, slipped to a near three-week low of 7.8 bcfd on Monday from 8.2 bcfd on Sunday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 8.9 bcfd last week due to reductions at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass in Louisiana and Corpus Christi in Texas. Unlike the drop in energy use seen around the world so far, U.S. gas use has not yet shown much of an impact from the coronavirus. Analysts, however, expect to see production and demand drop in the second quarter. Energy Aspects projected industrial consumption would drop in the second quarter by 2.1 bcfd from the same period last year due to factory closures and lower manufacturing capacity utilization. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projected gas production and demand will drop in 2020 and again in 2021 from record highs in 2019 as steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus cut economic activity and energy prices.

UPDATE 1-U.S. natgas futures fall on forecast for less cool, big storage build - (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell almost 4% on Wednesday on midday forecasts calling for a little less cool weather over the next two weeks than earlier expected and analyst forecasts that last week's storage build was much bigger than usual. In addition, electricity trade group Edison Electric Institute (EEI) said power demand fell last week to a 16-year low EEI-. Analysts said steps to slow the spread of coronavirus reduced demand from commercial and industrial companies, as offices closed and factories run at lower capacities. Front-month gas futures for May delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 6.9 cents, or 3.7%, to settle at $1.783 per million British thermal units. The fall came after three days of gains that boosted the front-month by 19% on forecasts for cooler weather in mid April. Last week, the contract fell to its lowest since August 1995. Even before the coronavirus started to cut global economic growth and energy demand, gas was already trading near its lowest in years as record production and months of mild winter weather enabled utilities to leave more fuel in storage, making shortages and price spikes unlikely. Gas futures for the balance of 2020 and calendar 2021, meanwhile, are trading much higher than the front-month on expectations demand will jump in coming months as the economy recovers with the loosening of travel and work restrictions as the spread of the new coronavirus slows.  The amount of gas flowing to U.S. liquefied natural gas export plants, meanwhile, edged up to 8.0 bcfd on Tuesday from a three-week low of 7.8 bcfd on Monday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 8.9 bcfd last week due to reductions at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass in Louisiana due to a pipeline upgrade. Gas production in the Lower 48 states slipped to a two-week low of 92.5 bcfd on Tuesday from 93.2 bcfd on Monday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an average of 93.1 bcfd last week and an all-time high of 96.5 bcfd on Nov. 30.

US working natural gas in underground storage rises 38 Bcf: EIA - The natural gas injection season started with a bang during the week ending April 3 as storage fields added 38 Bcf, well above the S&P Global Platts survey calling for a 25 Bcf build, prompting the NYMEX Henry Hub May contract to fall, reversing gains made earlier in the week. Storage inventories increased to 2.024 Tcf, the US Energy Information Administration reported Thursday morning. The injection also was above the 6 Bcf injection reported during the corresponding week in 2019 as well as the five-year average, which also comes to a 25-Bcf build. It was also 9 Bcf more than the Platts Analytics storage model, which underestimated the build in the South-Central region by 7 Bcf. Modeling errors for the US Gulf Coast have increased since mid-March, suggesting current models are underestimating demand destruction from the coronavirus pandemic. Industrial demand, given its size and capacity, would be the most obvious driver, but residential and commercial demand also is likely playing a role, according to Platts Analytics. Storage volumes now stand 876 Bcf, or 76%, above the year-ago level of 1.148 Tcf and 324 Bcf, or 19%, above the five-year average of 1.7 Tcf. With the injection season now underway, the natural gas market is in a precarious position, according to Platts Analytics, because of the coronavirus outbreak and oil price war. Demand destruction is nearly certain this summer. So too are declines in associated gas production as oil producers lay down rigs across the Permian Basin. The NYMEX Henry Hub May contract slipped 12 cents to $1.73/MMBtu in afternoon trading, following the release of the storage report. However, prices were up about 1 cent across the balance-of-summer Henry Hub contract strip, now pricing in at about $2.04/MMBtu. The winter strip rose about 3 cents to average $2.74/MMBtu. Platts Analytics' supply and demand model currently expects a 57 Bcf addition to US storage for the week ending April 10, which would be nearly double the five-year average build. US-level heating degree days dropped 17% for the week in progress, cutting into residential and commercial demand across the US as storage fields shift to injections. 

 UPDATE 2-U.S. natgas falls 3% big storage build, coronavirus demand destruction outlook  (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas futures fell about 3% on Thursday on a bigger-than-expected storage build and longer-range forecasts calling for demand destruction from the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities injected 38 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage during the week ended April 3. That was much more than the 24-bcf build analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with an increase of 25 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2015-19) average addition of 6 bcf for the period. The increase for the week ended April 3 boosted stockpiles to 2.024 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 19.1% above the five-year average of 1.700 tcf for this time of year. On the last day of trade before Good Friday and Easter holiday weekend, front-month gas futures for May delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 5.0 cents, or 2.8%, to settle at $1.733 per million British thermal units. For the week, the front-month was up 7% after falling about 1% last week to its lowest since August 1995. Analysts said steps to slow the spread of coronavirus reduced demand from commercial and industrial companies as offices closed and factories run at lower capacities. Electricity trade group Edison Electric Institute (EEI) said power demand fell last week to a 16-year low EEI-. The EIA projected U.S. gas consumption would fall to 83.79 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in 2020 and 81.24 bcfd in 2021 from a record 84.97 bcfd in 2019. That would be the first annual decline in consumption since 2017 and the first time demand falls for two consecutive years since 2006. In Texas, gas forwards for 2021 at the Waha hub in the Permian basin were trading at their highest levels in years, up from below zero now, on expectations gas supplies from oil drilling will drop as low crude prices prompt energy firms to cut rigs.

 In Gulf’s Oil Rigs, Crews Fight Virus to Keep Crude Flowing - Inside more than a thousand offshore drilling rigs and oil production platforms that dot the Gulf of Mexico, workers navigate narrow corridors, sleep in shared rooms and dine in crowded mess halls. It’s an environment designed for efficiency -- not for keeping a lethal coronavirus at bay. “There’s no way to do social distancing on a rig,” said Tim Tarpley, vice president of the Petroleum Equipment and Services Association. That’s led to worries about the safety of the sites, the biggest of which resemble mini-cities with as many as 200 workers, and the nation’s dependence on their output. Oil wells in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico supply about 2 million barrels of crude a day, or 15% of U.S. production. Similar coronavirus concerns are affecting other energy businesses that rely on employees sleeping in cramped conditions on site -- from oil worker camps in North Dakota and Alaska’s North Slope to an aluminum smelter in Canada and copper mines in the Chilean desert. There have been notable outbreaks in other close quarters too, including the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt and cruise ships, underscoring the challenge of containing a virus that spreads easily. The practical complication of extracting oil amid the coronavirus pandemic is only the latest headwind for an industry already reeling. Oil prices have crashed as Russia and Saudi Arabia engage in a price war even as the virus causes demand to plummet. In response to the outbreak, offshore operators have stepped up screening and cleaning, lengthened job assignments and subjected workers to isolation periods. Some officials have even gamed out hypothetical scenarios that include shutting down operations if the pandemic spreads. For now, the focus is on staying “fully operational,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told industry representatives in a conference call Friday, according to two people familiar with the discussion. Bernhardt also said he was deploying Interior’s top offshore drilling regulator, Scott Angelle, to Louisiana, in an effort to keep outer continental shelf oil operations running and ensure a nimble agency response.

Gulf oil spill still affecting wildlife, group says— A decade after the nation’s worst offshore oil spill, dolphins, turtles and other wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico are still seriously at risk, according to a report released Tuesday. The fact that the Gulf hasn’t fully recovered is “hardly surprising given the enormity of the disaster,” said David Muth, director of the Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program for the National Wildlife Federation, which authored the report. The April 20, 2010, explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and spewed what the nonprofit environmental organization Ocean Conservancy estimated to be 210 million gallons (795 million liters) of oil before it was capped 87 days later. What followed, Muth said, was the largest restoration attempt ever in the world, with billions invested or committed to projects to help restore the Gulf and its ecosystem, and another $12 billion to be spent through the year 2032. In the report, the NWF said it believes a large portion of the money should be spent on estuary restoration, where freshwater mixes with the saltwater of the Gulf. “Projects that restore wetlands, rebuild oyster reefs, protect important habitats from development, and recreate natural patterns of water flow and sediment deposition will help many species harmed by the oil. In addition to helping wildlife, many of these projects will help protect coastal communities from rising seas and extreme weather,” the report said.

Local oil industry group joins fight for federal relief - Houma-Thibodaux’s largest oilfield trade group has joined a widespread industry call for the federal government to temporarily cut the amount the federal government charges companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. The push by the South Central Industrial Association and others comes as a crude-oil price war and reduced demand amid the coronavirus pandemic spark work slowdowns and layoffs throughout the U.S. oil industry. The association’s board and officers, in a March 27 letter to President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, call the developments an “existential threat to America’s ability to continue to produce energy in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.” The SCIA claims a membership of 250 companies that employ about 250,000 people combined. “As producers in the U.S. cut spending to adjust to lower prices and suppressed demand, we face a devastating domino effect throughout the supporting service and supply chain industry,” the SCIA board wrote. “Painful work stoppages and cuts to staff are beginning to ripple through the Gulf Coast and across the nation as capital spending among producers of all sizes evaporates.”  Added to the mix are reports Thursday that Saudi Arabia and Russia, whose increased production has been cited as leading to a global crude glut and resulting price declines, had tentatively agreed on a deal that could reverse the trend. Oil prices dropped nonetheless after analysts suggested the production cuts wouldn’t be enough to offset the decreased demand caused by the pandemic. U.S. benchmark crude closed trading at $22.76 a barrel, down 9.3% for the day and 17% for the week. Brent, the global benchmark, closed at $31.48 a barrel, down 4.1% for the day and 7.8% for the week.

COVID-19 is Buying Time for Gulf Coast Towns Fighting Oil and Gas Projects - -  Dozens of pipeline projects have been proposed to ship crude from the Permian Basin of West Texas to the Gulf Coast, where the product can be loaded onto tankers and shipped overseas. In January, those pipelines pushed crude export volumes from Corpus Christi to “truly astonishing” volumes, one market analyst says. The Texas coast has been the site of its own frenzied industrial buildout in recent years, as petrochemical companies have raced to construct ethane crackers, chemical processing plants, and oil export terminals, reaping profits but also spewing pollutants and spurring worker deaths from fires and explosions. But now, oil and gas economists told the Observer that the petroleum industry is in for an enormous slowdown. Revenues have been in freefall for years, despite a production boom in the Permian Basin that’s made Midland and Odessa some of the fastest-growing U.S. cities. An all-out price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia has flooded global markets with cheap oil, pushing crude prices to a dismal $20 a barrel. Stay-at-home orders in cities across the United States have decimated demand for gasoline. On top of all that, the country is poised for a recession, another stressor for the industry, says Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “The first response right now is save cash, cut your capital expenditures in the short term,” he says. To weather the financial storm, many proposed oil and gas projects will be stalled or eliminated in the near future. Phillips 66, for example, is cutting $3 billion from its budget and postponing upgrades at a Houston-area refinery. Oil and gas producer Devon Energy said on Monday that it would slash its capital spending by $300 million.. Altogether, oil and gas companies have cut $37 billion in capital expenditure spending for the year. That’s good news for the tourist town of Port Aransas, near Corpus Christi, where city leaders and a nascent advocacy group are fighting plans to construct a new crude oil terminal on Harbor Island. The plan would include dredging the shipping channel to 75 feet, churning up sediment that could shade out seagrass and threaten the coastal inflows and outflows that sweep shrimp and fish larvae into estuaries. The Port of Corpus Christi, the government agency pursuing the plan, is also seeking to dump contaminated soil from the construction site in the surrounding area, prompting concerns from residents about releasing pollutants in the diverse but fragile ecosystem.

 Shocking drop in wholesale gas prices signals more refinery cutbacks and gasoline under $1 - Wholesale gasoline prices are collapsing, a sign that more refineries will cut back or shut down and prices at the pump could sink to under $1 a gallon in more parts of the country, analysts said. In some sections of the Midwest on Wednesday, distributors were getting just about 10 cents for a gallon of unleaded gasoline mixed with ethanol. Prices of less than 20 cents a gallon were found in Colorado, Wisconsin, Iowa, Montana and the Dakotas, but in other parts of the country they are higher. In Los Angeles, for instance, the price was about 35 cents per gallon, according to Oil Price Information Services. As the U.S. economy went into shutdown, an over supply of gasoline became a major glut, and even though refineries have cut back by about 20%, they are running out of places to put gasoline. “I’m pretty sure these wholesale prices and spot prices are as low as anything we’ve seen since before the Arab oil embargo” in the early 1970s, said Tom Kloza, head of global energy analysis at Oil Price Information Services. “I think you are going to see much more common sub-$1 gasoline prices in the nation’s midsection, and I think we are looking at a national average of $1.25 to $1.50″ at the pump. Unleaded gasoline retail prices averaged $1.90 per gallon nationally Wednesday, but were lower in much of the country, according to AAA. The states with the cheapest average prices include Wisconsin, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The highest prices were in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and on the West Coast and other parts of the West. Many of these areas have higher gasoline taxes. “The sore spots extend from Ohio through to the Great Lakes and all the states that border that, and the Rockies,” said Kloza. He explained that the super low prices under 20 cents per gallon at the rack, where trucks fill up with fuel, are lower than spot prices in the wholesale market and are way below gasoline prices in the futures market. Government data shows that drivers used just 5.1 million barrels a day last week, well below the 9.8 million barrels a day at the same time last year. Kloza said the U.S. drivers last consumed that amount in 1968. “We’ve never been in a situation where demand ran into a brick wall and dropped precipitously in such a short time. In other situations, where we had economic shutdowns, we’ve seen a deterioration in demand over time — over months and years,”“When you see these discounts and you see these numbers, that tells you they can’t clear gasoline,” said Kloza. “In the country’s midsection, there is too much gasoline. There is more than 50 days supply there, and they are going to cut refinery runs.”

Some of America’s Oil Refineries May Be on Brink of Shutting - The next step for some U.S. refineries that have already cut way back may be a full stop. Marathon Petroleum Corp. will idle its Gallup, New Mexico, refinery and related assets April 15, the company said. It’s the first U.S. facility to shut as the coronavirus pandemic empties skies of passenger planes and the roads of cars. It’s not likely to be the last. Major U.S. refiners, including Marathon, Valero Energy Corp. and Phillips 66, have lowered rates at their facilities to be at or near minimum levels as storage tanks fill up with fuel they can’t sell. While that “minimum” level differs from company to company, and in fact from plant to plant, it’s seen typically somewhere around 60% to 65% of capacity. Below that, many facilities need to be idled. “If after cutting rates to a minimum, refiners are still unable to move their products, they are faced with the prospect of completely shutting down,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston. Slowing down a refinery isn’t like turning down the fire on a gas range when the water threatens to boil over. A refinery is a complex web of interconnected units, so once the amount of crude being processed in the distillation unit falls too low, secondary units don’t have enough feedstock to keep running. Since many units operate under high pressure as well as high temperature, it becomes more difficult to maintain the proper conditions for operation. “It’s complicated to keep the refinery in balance,” said Stephen Wolfe, head of crude oil at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. “The rule of thumb for me was always 65% of the CDU. Below that, things get complicated. As you reduce rates, all the downstream operations have to be properly supplied, there are hydraulics limitations to how low you can go.” Refiners have been forced to take drastic measures to reduce fuel supply with gasoline demand plunging by almost half and storage tanks filling up. Measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 have hit gasoline and jet fuel especially hard, sending wholesale prices in some markets below 20 cents a gallon and crushing profit margins. Marathon’s Gallup refinery will maintain regular staffing levels while it is down and will be returned to normal operations “as soon as demand levels justify doing so,” Jamal Kheiry, a spokesman, said Thursday. In Canada, Newfoundland’s only refinery, North Atlantic Refining Ltd.’s Come by Chance facility, has shut for as long as two to five months.

Texas Court Orders Patience For COVID Delay In Pipeline Row - Law360-- A Texas appellate court has declined to intervene inKinder Morgan’s fight to dissolve a temporary injunction blocking construction on the $2.2 billion Permian Highway natural gas pipeline, urging the developer to allow the trial court some more time to figure out the technology needed to hold a hearing during the coronavirus pandemic.A Third Court of Appeals three-judge panel told Kinder Morgan Texas Pipeline LLC and Permian Highway Pipelines LLC on Friday to allow a Hays County Court-at-Law judge another week to figure out the best way to hold a hearing remotely. The pipeline is fighting to dissolve temporary restraining orders that block construction on the pipeline granted to groundwater services company Electro Purification LLC, which operates groundwater wells on the contested pieces of land. Kinder Morgan had accused the judge of abusing his discretion by indefinitely postponing a March 24 hearing on the restraining orders. The developer told the appellate court that if the restraining orders stayed in place, they could result in “catastrophic consequences,” including costing Kinder Morgan $65 million to stop construction and reroute the pipeline around the contested pieces of land.But the panel said because of the “extenuating circumstances” caused by the coronavirus and the judge’s assurances that he was working on a solution, it could not conclude that the lower court judge had abused his discretion.“We recognize that these are unprecedented circumstances and that the trial court may need additional time to put an appropriate system in place to successfully hold a remote evidentiary hearing involving multiple law firms and attorneys, numerous litigants, and the submission of evidence,” the panel said. “We are also sympathetic to the trial court’s concern that it not endanger essential staff who fall into the category of people who are most at risk from an in-person hearing.”

US oil, gas rig count plummets 80 rigs to 641 on the week: Enverus— The US oil and natural gas rig count fell by 80 to 641 over the past week, the biggest decline in more than five years, as the industry sheds rigs and slows activity, rig data provider Enverus said Thursday. Not registered? Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience. Register Now Seventy-five of the rigs that halted operations over the past week, or 93%, were oil-weighted, leaving 511 in the field, while rigs chasing gas fell by five to 130 as demand destruction caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a global price war continued to ravage 2020 upstream budgets and shutter new drilling. Since March 11, the domestic rig count total is down nearly a quarter, falling 23%, or 194 rigs, from 835. "The thud you heard was the sound of the US rig count falling flat on its face," said Bob Williams, Enverus' director of content. The 75 oil rigs was "the biggest one-week decline in recent memory," Williams said. Among large basins, the biggest single chunk of rig reductions, 40, this week came from the Permian Basin, leaving 334 at work. "The ongoing collapse has gouged deeper in the Permian, where well breakevens have been among the best," Williams said. "Roughly half of the sidelined rigs were in the Bonespring and Wolfberry oil plays, where ExxonMobil has been the most active operator." Williams noted ExxonMobil on Tuesday announced a 30% cut in capital spending, but it is not known whether that cut includes operations covered in the latest Enverus weekly rig count. Multiple rigs were also shut down other plays over the last week. Oklahoma's SCOOP-STACK play lost eight rigs, leaving 26 operational; six rigs were dropped in the Williston Basin of North Dakota/Montana, for a total of 41; while five rigs halted operations in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas, leaving 58 at work. Rigs from gas-prone basins, on the other hand, barely moved. The count for the Marcellus Shale, which is largely located in Pennsylvania, dropped by just two over the week to 36, while the Utica Shale held steady at 10 for a fifth straight week, and the Haynesville Shale of Northwest Louisiana and East Texas gained a rig, making 38 at work.Click here for full-size image.  Rig counts tend to drop rapidly in a price collapse. In the last downturn that began in late 2014 and lasted about three years, the US rig count tumbled more than 850 rigs in the four months from late October 2014 to late February 2015. "If the trajectory of cuts is similar to 2015, we'll likely be close to around 315 rigs before year-end," investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt said in a Monday note.

Texas Gets Double Punch From Coronavirus and Oil Shock. ‘There’s No Avoiding This One.’ – WSJ Texas had one of the best economic records of any U.S. state after the 2008 financial crisis. In this crisis, it faces the prospect of a deep and prolonged downturn.The Lone Star State is exposed to many of the pandemic and shutdown’s economic ill consequences, with three cities—Austin, Houston and Dallas—home to an abundance of service-sector jobs, especially at risk. A downturn in the oil industry and other businesses big in Texas, including airlines and ports, will likely amplify its pain. Industry analysts expect the oil downturn to outlast the current viral outbreak.Oil prices surged late last week on hopes of a global pact involving Russia, Saudi Arabia and possibly the U.S. to cut crude output. But the prospects are uncertain, and even sizable oil production cuts would fall short of making up for the enormous drop in demand for fuels caused by coronavirus. Prices remain below $30, at levels where most Texas producers cannot make money.Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by 259,652 in Texas during the two weeks ended March 28, non-seasonally adjusted Labor Department data released Thursday show. Layoffs hit a broad range of businesses including accommodation and food services, transportation, health care, oil and gas, manufacturing, retail, real estate and construction, the data showed. Two major shale producers are asking Texas regulators to consider curtailing crude output for the first time since the 1970s. For Texas, “there’s no avoiding this one,” said James Gaines, chief economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.

Railroad Commissioner asks state officials to extend oil & gas tax deadlines -  Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, one of three officials elected to regulate the Texas oil and gas industry, is asking state officials to extend a monthly deadline for production taxes to help companies weather record low prices. In a public letter delivered on Monday, Craddick asked Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar to extend the monthly deadline to file crude oil and natural gas production taxes for three to six months. Under state law, production taxes are due on 25th day of the month following the production month. Crude oil prices crashed in early March going from $43 per barrel down to $20 per barrel in less than two weeks as a price between Russia and Saudi Arabia exacerbated a global supply glut and shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic cut demand — leaving the industry to scramble for survival. "A delay in filings may make the difference for companies giving them time and the needed flexibility to get through this crisis," Craddick wrote.

 IEEFA urges Texas Railroad Commission to curtail state oil production – Tom Sanzillo, Director of Finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), today submitted comments urging the Texas Railroad Commission(RRC) to approve production cuts for the state’s oil industry. The Commission will hold a public hearing on April 14 to address the measure.  “The Texas Railroad Commission is being asked to set production goals for oil and gas producers. It should do so. U.S. companies now produce more oil and gas than any other country in the world. And, right now, the world wants less of it. Prices are low. Companies and countries are locked in a senseless competition.  The economy is down, the people are crippled by a strange virus and worried about climate change. Patience is in short supply and there is no time to waste. The RRC is a blunt instrument trying to perform a delicate surgery. The situation is unprecedented, unfair, uncertain and unreasonable. Leadership is required,” said Sanzillo.  The cuts were requested by two companies active in Permian Basin oil and gas exploration and production (E&P), Pioneer Natural Resources U.S.A Inc. and Parsley Energy, Inc. (“the complainants”). The fracking companies had asked the RCC to mandate production limits to protect the sector from decreased demand and plummeting prices.  ACCORDING TO THE COMPLAINANTS, THE GLOBAL MARKET IS EXPERIENCING DISRUPTION due to two major “shocks” affecting both supply and demand: “a market share war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, resulting in a sudden, massive surge in the supply of oil; and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the precipitous decline in oil demand.” The RRC invited comments on whether the complainants were characterizing the problem accurately.

Shale Cuts to Fall on Smaller Drillers as Glut Crushes Market- U.S. shale drillers are engaged in a bitter test of wills as sinking oil prices force the weakest operators to retreat just as OPEC urges the world’s biggest source of crude to help rescue a market roiled by the coronavirus pandemic. With American production expected to decline this year for the first time since 2016, it’s becoming increasingly clear any reductions in domestic output will fall on the companies that can least afford it. The result is likely to be a sector increasingly dominated by international behemoths that have the ability to endure the downturn and ramp back up once prices recover. “The pain is definitely going to be felt by smaller and medium players in second-tier acreage,” said Raoul LeBlanc, a Houston-based analyst at IHS Markit Ltd. “If you ramped it up in the last couple of years and you grew fast, you now have a hangover.” U.S.-focused oil producers have slashed more than $27 billion from drilling budgets this year in an unprecedented contraction in the sector responsible for the lion’s share of global supply growth over the past decade. But for the largest companies, such as Exxon Mobil Corp., the rout is only prompting a slowdown in growth rather than outright reductions. Exxon took an ax to its Permian Basin drilling budget on Tuesday, saying that the shale region would absorb the largest share of $10 billion in global cuts this year. Even so, production is expected to increase through the end of 2021. Chevron Corp. also probably will boost output this year, despite a 20% reduction in its forecast. Independent shale specialists like EOG Resources Inc., Pioneer Natural Resources Co. and Diamondback Energy Inc. are also pledging to keep production flat or slightly higher this year, despite cutting their budgets by at least a third. Marathon Oil Corp. announced a 46% spending cut on Wednesday without signaling whether output will be impacted. Those drillers are protected by financial hedges designed to blunt the worst excesses of the price collapse, which saw some North American crudes trading for less than $10 a barrel last month. The unwillingness of some of the marquee names in shale to curb output flies in the face of growing calls by Saudi Arabia and other major producers for a new era of supply restraint to arrest the freefall in prices. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies are scheduled to conduct an emergency session later this week.

Enbridge submits key Line 5 tunnel construction permits to state, feds -Enbridge submitted an application to state and federal regulators Wednesday seeking a permit to begin construction on a roughly 4-mile utility tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. If granted, the permit would allow the Canadian oil pipeline giant to begin construction on the Great Lakes Tunnel Project next year with a target operational date in 2024. The tunnel would house Enbridge’s new Line 5 oil pipeline and replace a 67-year-old dual span that transports up to 540,000 barrels a day of natural gas liquids and crude oil along the lake bed between the Upper and Lower peninsulas. The project’s permit phase is moving forward under court order as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel battle the continued operation of the existing pipeline in court. Both Whitmer and Nessel spoke out against the pipeline on the campaign trail and challenged Enbridge’s agreement with Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder shortly after taking office in 2019. The pipeline has been a source of concern for environmental groups worried about the catastrophic effects of a potential spill from the line, especially in light of the 2010 Enbridge spill along the Kalamazoo River in Marshall. “The existing Line 5 was designed to last and has served this region well for more than 60 years,” said Amber Pastoor, project manager for the tunnel. “With today’s technology, the Great Lakes Tunnel Project will help deliver an enhanced level of safe, reliable energy, along with measures to protect our waterways for generations.” A coalition of 16 environmental groups, Native American tribes and civic leaders asked Whitmer in a Wednesday letter to delay consideration of the permit applications because the statewide shutdown makes it more difficult for tribal and local governments to weigh in on the applications. “Our goal is to ensure that all Michigan citizens in every Michigan community that are interested in participating in the public comment process have ample opportunity to offer their views on the permit applications, including at public hearings and at public information meetings," the group said in its letter.

Canada's oil-industry implosion could affect Enbridge's Minnesota pipeline project -  As Enbridge nears it goal of building a controversial $2.6 billion pipeline across northern Minnesota, Canada’s oil industry is imploding. The U.S. is the largest market for Canadian oil, and Enbridge’s corridor of six pipelines across Minnesota is its primary artery. Enbridge has spent years navigating Minnesota’s regulatory process to build a new pipeline to replace its deteriorating Line 3. The Canadian oil crisis opens the door for a last-ditch effort by Line 3 opponents to persuade the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to rethink its approval of the $2.6 billion project. “There is a lot of new evidence and changed circumstances,” said Scott Strand, attorney for Friends of the Headwaters, an environmental group opposing Line 3. “Our case is stronger. [Oil] demand is gone, and it’s not going to snap right back up. There are long-term demand problems.” Prices for Canadian crude have hit historic lows: Recently, it cost more to ship a barrel of Alberta oil than to buy it. And significant oil-production cutbacks are in the offing, analysts said. “Canada’s petroleum sector has never faced a greater threat to its existence than it does right now,” said a report from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. Enbridge does not see any material changes to the information already submitted to the PUC, said Vern Yu, Enbridge’s executive vice president of liquids pipelines. “This temporary [demand] destruction will be very painful, but once we are through with COVID-19, demand will return to normal,” Yu said. The global oil industry is stuck in an unprecedented predicament: Demand has plummeted as the spread of COVID-19 has paralyzed economic activity, while a price war between big crude producers Russia and Saudi Arabia has created a supply glut. Canada is a higher-cost oil producer, and it tends to get particularly slammed in downturns. “There’s no question that Canada gets hit harder when global oil and gas fundamentals deteriorate, especially over the past month,” “Even under comparatively ‘normal’ market conditions, a significant portion of Canadian heavy oil production [at least 65%] is subject to higher sales risk.”

Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Some Pipeline Projects Push Forward While Others Falter Nationwide - - Last Friday, the Iowa Utilities Board issued an order that would allow the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) to double the amount of oil that flows through the state from 550,000 barrels a day to 1.1 million barrels a day. The utilities board, which also announced it had waived a hearing on the matter, made its move over the objections of environmental organizations and other civic groupsopposed to DAPL operator Energy Transfer’s expansion plans. Iowa’s approval landed just two days after a federal judge in North Dakota found that the project must undergo a full environmental review in a March 25 order, throwing the pipeline’s legal status into question. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, who issued that order, also asked attorneys involved in that dispute to submit briefs on whether DAPL should be shut down while the pipeline undergoes its environmental review.The DAPL expansion, meanwhile, still needs approval from Illinois state regulators, and environmental groups have asked the Illinois Commerce Commission to hold off from making any decisions for the time being, citing not only Judge Boasberg’s ruling but also the turmoil in the global oil market and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on oil demand.In North Brooklyn, New York City, a National Grid pipeline — the 30-inch diameter Metropolitan Reliability Infrastructure Project planned to carry gas from Long Island and Massachusetts — had drawn community opposition and protests before the pandemic set in, in part due to climate concerns and objections to its $185 million price tag for National Grid customers, and in part because construction had proved disruptive for neighborhood businesses. On March 24, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that a construction worker had tested positive for COVID-19 — but it wasn’t until two days later, on March 26, that National Grid stopped work on the project, after photos showed workers were not social distancing (National Grid denied that there had been positive cases at its construction site, Brooklyn Eagle added).In Pennsylvania, the troubled Mariner East project has also been at the heart of controversy after its builder, Energy Transfer, sought to continue construction following the state’s shut down of all “non-life sustaining” businesses. Though the order, by Governor Tom Wolf, lists pipeline construction among industries required to shut down, it allows companies to seek waivers. Energy Transfer sought and obtained waivers allowing it to continue construction at 15 sites across Pennsylvania, according toState Impact.Further south, in Virginia, opponents of the $5.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) have urged against resumption of construction on that project, which had been slated to re-start construction this spring. “They’re coming from states in many cases that have higher COVID-19 rates than we do, like Louisiana where a lot of pipeline workers come from,” said pipeline opponent Diana Christopulos told a local ABC News affiliate.

Trump Tells Aides He Opposes Cutting Oil Company Royalties -President Donald Trump has told aides he doesn’t support a broad plan to temporarily stop charging energy companies royalties for oil and gas produced on federal lands and waters, according to two people familiar with the matter.Trump ruled out a wide-ranging royalty relief proposal during a White House meeting Tuesday, according to the people, who asked not to be named describing a private discussion.Congressional and oil industry champions of the idea will continue pushing for a narrower, offshore-only focused approach, arguing it is necessary to keep Gulf of Mexico oil producers in business amid an epic downturn in demand. Trump has been known to change his mind on energy policy matters before, and the president’s verdict Tuesday may not be his final decision.A top administration concern has been protecting the budgets of states such as Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah that are reliant on a 50% share of royalties tied to oil and gas production on federal lands within their borders. Already, some New Mexico lawmakers have called for a special legislative session to reconsider the state budget as revenue tied to oil production has cratered along with the price of crude.Administration officials also have voiced concerns about doing anything that would appear to be a bailout for big oil companies. The Interior Department, in an email, said companies may apply for a suspension of lease requirements under an established procedure. “Such requests may be granted in cases where an operator is prevented from operating or producing on a lease for reasons beyond or outside their control,” Interior said.

Work starts in Montana on disputed Canada-US oil pipeline (AP) — A Canadian company said Monday that it’s started construction on the long-stalled Keystone XL oil sands pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border, despite calls from tribal leaders and environmentalists to delay the $8 billion project amid the coronavirus pandemic. A spokesman for TC Energy said work began over the weekend at the border crossing in northern Montana, a remote area with sprawling cattle ranches and wheat fields. About 100 workers will be involved in the pipeline’s early stages, but that number is expected to swell into the thousands in coming months as work proceeds, according to the company. The 1,200 mile (1,930 kilometer) pipeline was proposed in 2008 and would carry up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily for transfer to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s been tied up for years in legal battles and several court challenges are still pending, including one that’s due before a judge next week. TC Energy’s surprise March 31 announcement that it intended to start construction came after the provincial government in Alberta invested $1.1 billion to jump start work. Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality on Friday issued the final state permits the company needed, agency spokeswoman Rebecca Harbage said. Leaders of American Indian tribes and some residents of rural communities along the pipeline route worry that workers could spread the coronavirus. As many as 11 construction camps, some housing up to 1,000 people, were initially planned for the project, although TC Energy says those are under review because of the virus. TC Energy says it plans to check everyone entering work sites for fever and ensure workers practice social distancing.

Cleanup complete at scene of Oil Tanker Crash In Santa Barbara County - Crews have completed cleanup at the site of a tanker truck crash in Santa Barbara County which spilled 4500 gallons of crude oil. The accident happened March 21st, on Highway 166 northeast of Santa Maria. The driver of the truck apparently lost control and crashed, with the overturned tanker ending up in the Cuyama River bed. The driver was unhurt, but there was a large oil spill. First responders built containment berms and deployed oil absorbing materials to keep the oil from spreading downstream. That effort was successful, and for the last few weeks crews have focused on removing the oil, and contaminated soil. Cleanup was completed over the weekend, and crews are now doing final on-site equipment decontamination. Some birds and turtles were taken to wildlife care facilities for decontamination.

Small oil spill reported at facility near Lompoc - Emergency crews were called to an oil production facility in the Lompoc area Wednesday morning for a small oil spill. It happened in the early morning at a facility in the 3900 block of Rucker Road. According to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, four barrels of oil spilled. Three barrels worth of oil were contained. The spill has reportedly been stopped and crews are now working to mitigate the spill using a vacuum truck and other equipment. Fire officials say the cause was a failed gasket on a pump.

In Alaska’s North, Covid-19 Has Not Stopped the Trump Administration’s Quest to Drill for Oil - Along the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the long-fought over stretch of wilderness that President Donald Trump has been working hard to open to drilling—a successful lease sale is looking less and less likely before the end of the year. But west of the refuge, in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the Interior Department is moving ahead with ConocoPhillips' Willow project. The project is a massive development expected to produce approximately 590 million barrels of oil over its 30-year life, and it could include a central processing facility, up to 250 wells, an airstrip, pipelines and a gravel mine. On March 20, the Bureau of Land Management opened a public comment period on the project that will last until May 4—colliding head-on with the coronavirus and making it harder for nearby communities like Nuiqsut to weigh in. Nuiqsut is home to fewer than 500 people and is nearly 90 percent native Alaskan. The village, which is already surrounded on most sides by drilling, is about seven miles from where the gravel mine is planned. At the time the BLM opened the comment period, one-fourth of Americans had been ordered to stay home due to the virus, a figure that's by Tuesday had grown to more than 90% of the U.S. population, or at least 311 million people. The public comment period will end just a few weeks after the pandemic is projected to peak in Alaska, and almost certainly before life has returned to normal. "Just think about how challenging it is in Alaska," said Adam Kolton, the executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. "A lot of the people most impacted by potential oil and gas projects are in native villages, where sometimes internet access is limited, not widely available to everybody and public meetings with in-person dialogue are one of the ways that villages have to engage with the process." Nuiqsut is currently not reporting any Covid-19 cases—and hopes to keep it that way, which makes adherence to Alaska's shelter in place order so crucial. Health care options in the village are limited—the medical clinic is staffed by community health aides and is serviced by a doctor who visits the village for a week every three months. In March, Nuiqsut was one of several North Slope villages that began restricting access by land, sea or air. "We are bunkered down," said Martha Itta, the tribal administrator of Nuiqsut. Over in Prudhoe Bay, roughly 75 miles away, an oilfield worker with BP recently tested positive, which has set the community on edge. "But there's also a lot of concern about this project," said Itta.

America must take steps now to sustain its energy dominance - In recent weeks, global energy markets have been whipsawed.  Pain has been especially acute in the U.S. oil patch where both majors and independents, along with oil field service companies, have fired or furloughed thousands of employees.  Does this mean the end of U.S. energy dominance? Will the shale revolution that has made us the world’s No. 1 oil- and gas-producing country grind to a halt? Will we revert to becoming a net energy importer instead of a net exporter? Let’s hope not. But in the face of economic and political uncertainties, a number of initiatives and policy changes today could help sustain our energy industry and keep us globally competitive tomorrow.  Oil and gas aren’t going away, at least for the next 50 to 60 years. Once the global economy starts to recover from the coronavirus, the demand for energy will grow quickly. To ensure America is able to meet that growing demand we should use this downtime to improve the infrastructure for transporting and processing our oil and gas resources. For example, in recent years serious mid-stream bottlenecks have occurred in the Permian because of a lack of pipeline takeaway capacity. Similarly, as production of natural gas has surged in the Marcellus and Utica shales of the Northeast, investment in pipeline infrastructure has lagged. Consequently, Marcellus gas sells at up to a 50 percent discount to the national benchmark at Henry Hub while New England relies heavily on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), sometimes from Russia. Expediting the issuance of state and federal construction permits can help unclog these chokepoints. The same is true for LNG facilities and export terminals. LNG demand is projected to reach 500 million tons per year within a decade, with Asia the leading customer. This means permitting and building additional LNG trains and related infrastructure so U.S. producers can capture a substantial share of that market. Here again, regulations should be streamlined to expedite the construction of these facilities. Revising the Jones Act can also help America’s energy producers and consumers. This law, which has been around for 100 years, requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports must be transported on ships that are built in the U.S., owned by U.S. companies, and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents under the U.S. flag. However, the average cost of operating a U.S.-flagged vessel is almost three times greater than a foreign-flagged vessel. What’s more, there are no LNG carriers compliant with the Jones Act. Thus, consumers in the Northeast can’t import abundant and inexpensive gas in liquefied form from ports in the Gulf of Mexico. Moving oil is another expensive logistical nightmare for domestic producers since it’s actually cheaper to ship oil to northeastern ports from Nigeria and Saudi Arabia than from the Gulf Coast.

Chaos and scrambling in the U.S. oil patch as prices plummet - (AP) — In Montana, a father and son running a small oil business are cutting their salaries in half. In New Mexico, an oil truck driver who supports his family just went a week without pay. And in Alaska, lawmakers have had to dip into the state's savings as oil revenue dries up. The global economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the oil industry in the U.S., which pumps more crude than any other country. In the first quarter, the price of U.S. crude fell harder than at any point in history, plunging 66% to around $20 a barrel. A generation ago, a drop in oil prices would have largely been celebrated in the U.S., translating into cheaper gas for consumers. But today, those depressed prices carry negative economic implications, particularly in states that have become dependent on oil to keep their budgets balanced and residents employed. “It's just a nightmare down here,” said Lee Levinson, owner of LPD Energy, an oil and gas producer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Should these low oil prices last for any substantial period of time, it's going to be hard for anyone to survive." Crude prices recovered some ground, trading at around $28 a barrel Friday, after a week in which President Donald Trump tweeted that he expects Saudi Arabia and Russia will end an oil war and dramatically cut production. On Friday, he met with oil executives but there were no announcements, and prices remain well below what most U.S. producers need to stay afloat. Among the latest casualties is Whiting Petroleum, an oil producer in the Bakken shale formation with about 500 employees that filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday. Schlumberger, one of the largest oilfield services companies, slashed its capital spending by 30% and is expecting to cut staff and pay in North America. And Halliburton, another major oilfield services provider, furloughed 3,500 of its Houston employees, ordering workers into a one-week-on, one-week-off schedule. In New Mexico, where a third of the state's revenue comes from petroleum, the governor slashed infrastructure spending and will likely cut more in a special legislative session. In Texas, which produces about 40% of the country's oil and employs more than 361,000 people, the picture is especially bleak.  “It’s dead. It’s dead as can be,”

Coronavirus May Kill Our Fracking Fever Dream - Ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the idea of energy independence, which in its grandest incarnation meant freedom from the world’s oil-rich trouble spots, has been a dream for Democrats and Republicans alike. It once seemed utterly unattainable — until the advent of fracking, which unleashed a torrent of oil. By early 2019, America was the world’s largest producer of crude oil, surpassing both Saudi Arabia and Russia. And President Trump reveled in the rhetoric: We hadn’t merely achieved independence, his administration said, but rather “energy dominance.” Then came Covid-19, and, on March 8, the sudden and vicious end to the truce between Saudi Arabia and Russia, under which both countries limited production to prop up prices. On March 9, the price of oil plunged by almost a third, its steepest one-day drop in almost 30 years. As a result, the stocks that make up the S.&P. 500 energy sector fell 20 percent, marking the sector’s largest drop on record. There were rumblings that shale companies would seek a federal lifeline. Whiting Petroleum, whose stock once traded for $150 a share, filed for bankruptcy. Tens of thousands of Texans are being laid off in the Permian Basin and other parts of the state, and the whole industry is bracing for worse. On the surface, it appears that two unforeseeable and random shocks are threatening our dream. In reality, the dream was always an illusion, and its collapse was already underway. That’s because oil fracking has never been financially viable. America’s energy independence was built on an industry that is the very definition of dependent — dependent on investors to keeping pouring billions upon billions in capital into money-losing companies to fund their drilling. Investors were willing to do this only as long as oil prices, which are not under America’s control, were high — and when they believed that one day, profits would materialize.Even before the coronavirus crisis, the spigot was drying up. Now, it has been shut off. The industry’s lack of profits wasn’t exactly a secret.  The basic reason is that the amount of oil coming out of a fracked well declines steeply after the first year — more than 50 percent in year two. To keep growing, companies have to keep plowing billions back into the ground. The industry’s boosters argue that technological gains, such as drilling ever bigger wells, and clustering wells more tightly together to reduce the cost of moving equipment, eventually would lead to a gusher of profits.  The promised profits haven’t materialized. In the first half of 2019, when oil was around $55 a barrel, only a few top-tier companies were profitable. “By now, it should be abundantly clear that the current shale oil business model does not work — even for the very best companies in the industry,” the investment firm SailingStone Capital Partners explained in a recent note.

Exxon cuts capital spending by 30%, but CEO says it's 'committed to maintaining' dividend - Exxon is slashing its 2020 capital spending plan as depressed oil prices hammer the energy sector, but CEO Darren Woods said that the company’s dividend is safe for the time being. “A lot of our shareholders are retail shareholders — people who depend on that dividend — so we’ve been pretty committed to maintaining that and if necessary in the short-term using the balance sheet to support it,” Woods said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “It’s a capital-intensive commodity business so we know we are going to go through cycles, and the way we have prepared ourselves to manage through those cycles is to maintain a strong balance sheet,” he added. Shares of Exxon rose about 5% during on Tuesday, although the stock has shed more than 38% this year. On Tuesday, the company said that it was reducing capital spending for 2020 by 30 % — from $33 billion to around $23 billion — and cutting operating expenses by about 15%. The largest share of the reduction will be in the Permian Basin, where it’s easier to adjust short-cycle investments, Woods said. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude has slid 56% this year as the coronavirus outbreak has sapped demand. At the beginning of the year, a barrel of WTI fetched more than $60. Today, it trades around $26.44, hammering the highly-leveraged energy sector as producers struggle to break even with lower prices. “The fact that we’ve lost 23% of demand here in a very short order, that’s a huge transition for the industry to make. ... Capacity has to come offline and there will be economics that drive that, that force the producers to shut-in,” Woods said. “The market will address the shut in, and drive levels down, frankly, because there’s no demand for the product and so eventually you have to stop making it.”

Marathon Will Take Frac Holidays to Cut Spending-- Marathon Oil Corp. is reducing its capital spending this year to about half of 2019 levels, joining a parade of shale drillers doing the same with oil prices trading at depressed levels as demand suffers due to coronavirus. Capital expenditures in 2020 are now seen at $1.3 billion, a cumulative budget reduction of $1.1 billion from initial capital spending guidance for the year, according to a statement by the Houston-based company on Wednesday. Marathon joins drillers including EOG Resources Inc. and Murphy Oil Corp. and oil majors Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. in slashing budgets in response to U.S. crude oil trading in the $20-a-barrel range, down more than 50% since the start of the year. Marathon plans to take “frac holidays in both the Bakken and Eagle Ford” during the second quarter, Marathon Oil CEO Lee Tillman said in the statement. Marathon Oil previously said it would suspend its activities in Oklahoma. It also plans to suspend further drilling in the northern Delaware section of the Permian basin, with only a limited number of wells to sales expected through the rest of the year. Marathon will continue to optimize development plans in the Bakken and Eagle Ford, before moving to a lower and more continuous drilling and completion program over the second half of the year in both basins. “Against a highly volatile and uncertain environment, these decisive actions are designed first and foremost to protect our balance sheet and our hard-earned financial strength,” Tillman said.

Trump could impose 'very substantial' tariffs on oil imports, but doesn't think he'll need to do so - President Donald Trump on Sunday reiterated his threat to target foreign oil as global producer infighting continues to impact the price of crude, saying he could impose ‘very substantial tariffs’ to protect the American energy industry but doesn’t think he will need to do so. “I would use tariffs, if I had to. I don’t think I’m going to have to,” Trump said at a White House briefing on the coronavirus. Trump on Saturday also signaled a willingness to implement tariffs on foreign oil. The president said he thought there would ultimately be an agreement on production levels between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Along with a sharp reduction in demand from the coronavirus pandemic, disagreements on production cuts between Saudi Arabia and Russia that began in early March has caused the price of crude oil to fall dramatically. “It’s obviously very bad for them,” Trump said of low oil prices.  Trump’s comments Sunday came as oil prices fell after a scheduled virtual meeting between OPEC and its allies was delayed. The meeting had been set for Monday but will “likely” be held Thursday, CNBC reported Saturday.  Oil prices surged last week as Saudi Arabia called for the meeting.  Last week, Trump told CNBC’s Joe Kernen in a phone conversation that he was anticipating a production cut of up to 15 million barrels to be announced by the leaders of Russia and Saudi Arabia.  Declining oil prices have made it unprofitable for many U.S. firms to remain active, analysts have said. Trump also met with U.S. energy executives at the White House on Friday.  “If I did the tariffs, we essentially would be saying we don’t want foreign oil. ... We’re just going to use our oil and that would help to save an industry,” Trump said Sunday.

US Will Return to Being Net Importer of Oil -The United States will return to being a net importer of crude oil and petroleum products in the third quarter of 2020 and remain a net importer in most months through the end of 2021. That’s what the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts in its latest short-term energy outlook (STEO), which was released on Tuesday. “This is a result of higher net imports of crude oil and lower net exports of petroleum products. Net crude oil imports are expected to increase because as U.S. crude oil production declines, there will be fewer barrels available for export,” the report stated. “On the petroleum product side, net exports will be lowest in the third quarter of 2020, when U.S. refinery runs are expected to decline significantly,” the report added. The EIA projects that U.S. crude oil production will average 11.8 million barrels per day this year, which marks a 0.5 million barrel per day decrease from 2019 and the first annual decline since 2016. In 2021, the EIA expects U.S. crude production to decline by another 0.7 million barrels per day. “Typically, price changes impact production after about a six-month lag. However, current market conditions, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, will likely reduce this lag as many producers have already announced plans to reduce capital spending and drilling levels,” the EIA stated in the report. In its latest STEO, the EIA forecasts that Brent crude oil prices will average $33 per barrel this year, which is $10 per barrel lower than last month’s STEO projected. The organization expects prices will average $23 per barrel during the second quarter of 2020 before increasing to $30 per barrel during the second half of the year. Average Brent prices are forecasted to rise to an average of $46 per barrel in 2021, “as a return to declining global oil inventories puts upward pressure on prices”. The EIA’s latest STEO assumes that there will be no OPEC+ deal during the forecast period. “Despite recent news of OPEC+ emergency meetings within the next few days to discuss production levels, without an agreement actually in place, EIA assumes no re-implementation of an OPEC+ agreement during the forecast period,” the EIA stated in the report. “If there is ultimately an agreement, this forecast will incorporate that information into its ensuing release,” the report added.

COVID-19 Is Killing Oil/Gas But Could Poison Renewables - Whiting Petroleum Corp. has succumbed to COVID-19 and the oil battle now taking place between Saudi Arabia and Russia. It filed for bankruptcy last week. Questions abound, ranging from how many more independent oil and gas operations could go under to what are the possible implications for energy markets. Given the economic downturn — 7 million jobs lost in March alone — the demand for oil and gas will remain weak. That will cause prices to fall even further, perhaps as low as $20 per barrel. But the dip will be relatively short-lived. And while oil prices are expected to climb again, green energy’s future is now in limbo. With gasoline prices so low, the pressure is off to invest in alternative fuels. “The sharp decline in the oil market may well undermine clean energy transitions by reducing the impetus for energy efficiency policies,” writes Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency. “Without measures by governments, cheaper energy always leads consumers to use it less efficiently. It reduces the appeal of buying more efficient cars or retrofitting homes and offices to save energy.”  World leaders have a prime role here: Birol says that, globally, $400 billion in fossil fuel subsidies exists and that 40% of those are designed to make oil cheaper and more affordable. The International Energy Agency says that governments have the most leverage to drive energy investment. And the agency credits policymakers for last year’s halt in global CO2 emissions — even as the world economy expanded by 3%; global emissions remained 33 giga-tonnes in 2019, which it attributes to the growing market share of wind and solar as well as the switch from coal to natural gas. It also praises the use of more nuclear energy generation. Emissions from the power sector alone fell to levels not seen since the 1980s as a result.  “We may well see CO2 emissions fall this year as a result of the impact of the coronavirus on economic activity, particularly transport,” says Director Birol. “But ... this would not be the result of governments and companies adopting new policies and strategies. It would most likely be a short-term blip that could well be followed by a rebound in emissions growth as economic activity ramps back up.”   The flip-side? Whiting Petroleum will be the first of many independents to restructure. With thousands of jobs at risk, the government may be forced to act: oil prices have fallen from $53 a barrel in mid February to $30 a barrel. A Wall Street Journal story says that producers could default on $32-billion in high-yield debt, citing companies like Chesapeake Energy Corp., Ultra Petroleum Corp. and California Resources Corp.

'We Need People's Bailout, Not Polluters' Bailout': Climate Groups Move to Preempt Big Oil Giveaway Amid Pandemic - A coalition of climate organizations strongly criticized President Donald Trump's in-person Friday meeting with the chief executives of some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, saying the industry that fueled climate disaster must not be allowed to profiteer from government giveaways by getting bailout funds or preferred treatment during the coronavirus pandemic. The CEOs attending the White House meeting, scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, have been dubbed "the seven oily henchman of the climate apocalypse" and reportedly include ExxonMobil's Darren Woods, Chevron's Michael Wirth, and Energy Transfer's Kelcy Warren, as well as billionaire and fracking pioneer Harold Hamm, who recently stepped down as CEO of Continental Resources CEO. The summit comes on the heels of a month in which more than 10 million Americans lost their jobs, and millions of Americans may be stuck waiting weeks to receive their one-time stimulus check while big businesses stand ready to reap benefits of their share of $500 billion in corporate bailout funds that were part of the coronavirus relief package passed last week."If corporations are people, they shouldn't be getting more financial assistance than the American people," said Mary Gutierrez, executive director of Earth Ethics. "This isn't the time for bailouts, it's the time for transitioning. We need to be transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources."Earth Ethics is part of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, which advocates for financial institutions to stop funding and investing in projects the group says amount to "climate destruction."The big oil summit, the coalition warned, must not lead to a bailout for the industry, especially at a time working Americans' needs must be centered and as the climate crisis necessitates huge investments away from dirty energy towards renewables.The meeting's agenda "is reportedly expected to include discussions about federal storage of oil, tariffs on foreign oil, and drilling on public land," CNBC reported Thursday. CNN added, "The American Petroleum Institute, the industry's biggest lobby, has said oil companies aren't seeking a bailout from Trump." But the climate coalition isn't convinced of that API claim. "Let's not be fooled by these CEOs' claims that they don't want bailout money: if they're going to the White House, it's either to ask for yet another spigot of federal government money for corporations or for yet another relaxation of environmental protection rules," said Moira Birss, Amazon Watch's climate and finance director. "It's unacceptable that Trump is more focused on serving corporate interests that are destroying our climate than responding to the urgent needs of workers, the unemployed, and the sick. We need a people's bailout, not a polluters' bailout!" she added.

Oil majors paid $216 billion more to shareholders than they earned directly from business over the past decade - ‒ The world’s five largest publicly traded oil and gas companies shelled out a total of $71.2 billion in dividends and share buybacks last year, while generating only $61.0 billion in free cash flow. This “deficit spending” points to a deeper crisis in the increasingly volatile industry, according to a briefing note released today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). Performance of Oil Majors vs S&P 500In 2019, ExxonMobil paid $9.9 billion more to shareholders during the year than it generated from its core business operations, while Shell paid $7.4 billion more. Meanwhile, Chevron’s cash flow surplus declined by $6.4 billion, year over year, while Total and BP both improved their cash performance compared with 2018. With shareholder payouts exceeding free cash flow, ExxonMobil and Shell relied on other sources of cash to sustain dividends and share buybacks. “For the five supermajors, 2019 was a big comedown from the previous year, when they produced $17 billion more in free cash flow than they paid out to shareholders,” said IEEFA energy finance analyst and lead author of the report Clark Williams-Derry. All told, these five companies generated $340 billion in free cash flows from 2010 through 2019, while rewarding their shareholders with $556 billion in share buybacks and dividends—leaving a $216 billion cash flow deficit that these companies covered with other sources, including new borrowing and asset sales. In other words, over the last decade, these five companies covered only 61 percent of their shareholder payouts from free cash flows, while funding 39 percent of those payouts by other means. “Everything seems fine when the dividend checks keep coming in the mail, but there is an underlying weakness in the supermajors’ practices that should give investors pause,” said Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA’s director of finance.

Cargo vessel accident dumps 600 gallons of oil in Galapagos Islands - A devastating 600-gallon oil spill has occurred in the Galapagos Islands — a UNESCO World Heritage web site that’s residence to 1 of probably the most fragile ecosystems on the planet. The center-pounding caught-on-camera spill off the coast of Ecuador occurred Sunday morning when a crane loading a diesel container onto a neighborhood cargo vessel tipped over, inflicting the boat to overturn, CNN reported. Sailors will be seen diving to security because the crane plummets into the water with the driving force nonetheless inside, bringing the cargo ship and the large container of gas down with it. Nobody was injured, authorities stated. Emergency groups and the Ecuadorian army at the moment are working to manage the spill round San Cristobal Island, erecting containment boundaries and absorbents cloths despatched from Santa Cruz to scale back the environmental threat. Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno on Monday declared that the spill was beneath management, however native authorities nonetheless described the state of affairs as an emergency and ordered an investigation. San Cristobal Island is residence to sea lions and the area’s famed tortoises, that are the most important in the world. The Galapagos archipelago of volcanic islands is residence to many species that can not be discovered wherever else in the world and was acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage web site in 1978. Charles Darwin visited the islands in the 1830s — and his analysis on Galapagos was essential to the famed principle of pure choice he later developed. The spill has alarmed environmental teams, who’ve been more and more vocal concerning the area’s fragile ecosystem coming beneath menace from tourism. On Twitter, environmental group SOS Galapagos stated the catastrophe was the outcome of an “unlawful and harmful logistics operation” and referred to as for the port to be moved to a different web site.

Oil prices could plunge below $20 a barrel this quarter as demand craters: CNBC survey - The oil price bust may not be over. A historic demand shock sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is set to worsen in the current quarter, undermining any coordinated effort by heavyweight producers Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States to cut supply aggressively and rebalance the market, according to a CNBC survey of 30 strategists, analysts and traders. Episodic spikes of $20 a barrel or more in benchmark crude oil futures of the type seen last week cannot be ruled out as rivals Saudi Arabia and Russia attempt to reverse a damaging battle for market share and engineer a global supply deal which could cut up to 15 million barrels a day, the equivalent of about 10% of global supply. But such price rallies are unlikely to last, according to the findings of the CNBC survey conducted over the past two weeks. Brent crude futures, the barometer for 70% of globally trade oil, are likely to average $20 a barrel in the current quarter, according to the median forecast of 30 strategists, analysts and traders who responded to a CNBC survey, or 12 out of 30 respondents. However, nearly a third, or nine of those surveyed, said prices may drop below $20 a barrel this quarter. Amongst the more pessimistic projections, ANZ’s Daniel Hynes saw the risk of prices in the ‘mid-teens’ while JBC Energy’s Johannes Benigni warned that both Brent and US crude futures could ‘temporarily’ fall to around $10 a barrel.

Brent crude could plunge to 'single-digit lows' if OPEC+ can't agree on output cuts, says Fitch - Brent crude futures could plunge to “single-digit lows” if major oil producers fail to reach a deal to cut output at a time when demand has collapsed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fitch Solutions said in a Friday report. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies are expected to meet on Thursday — a delay from Monday — in an attempt to agree on production cuts. A previous deal by the group — commonly known as OPEC+ — expired in March after Saudi Arabia and Russia failed to reach an agreement. The fallout sent oil prices plummeting to multi-year lows. The expiry of the deal means that producers are free to increase output this month, with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Russia among those saying that they would do so. Analysts from Fitch Solutions said a fall in demand and an increase in supply could result in more than 20 million barrel per day of excess oil. That would put the oil market under “extreme physical pressure,” they wrote in the report published before the OPEC+ meeting was postponed. “While it is unlikely that nominal storage capacity will be breached, it is possible that the sheer scale of the oversupply will overwhelm global logistics chains, plunging Brent into single-digit lows,” the analysts added. Oil futures have fallen by roughly 50% since the start of the year. On Monday, however, oil prices trimmed earlier losses after Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, told CNBC on Monday that Moscow and Riyadh were “very close” to a deal. Brent crude fell by around 1.7% to $33.53 a barrel, while the U.S. West Taxes Intermediate crude dipped by 2% to around $27.72 a barrel.

Putin- Oil Glut Is Really About Saudi Desire To Crush US Shale - While it appears an expected emergency virtual OPEC+ meeting planned for Monday has been postponed, pushed back to later in the week to allow more time for negotiations, it's likely that we'll actually see the heated blame-game for the collapse in oil prices ratchet up and oh, in the meantime oil is set to crater come Monday as the feud is only expected to get uglier. Indeed the aggressive war of words has started, with Putin offering a biting Russian narrative aimed at the Saudis in remarks Friday: “It was the pullout by our partners from Saudi Arabia from the OPEC+ deal, their increase in production and their announcement that they were even ready to give discounts on oil” that drove the crash alongside the double-whammy of the coronavirus-driven drop in demand, Putin said according to Bloomberg.“This was apparently linked to efforts by our partners from Saudi Arabia to eliminate competitors who produce so-called shale oil,” Putin continued. “To do that, the price needs to be below $40 a barrel. And they succeeded in that. But we don’t need that, we never set such a goal.”Thus in one fell swoop Putin, ironically enough, framed the new 'war on US shale' as in reality a Saudi dirty little secret and motive despite all spin to the contrary, perhaps also seeking to inject division and tension in the close Washington-Riyadh alliance.Both Russia and the Saudis opened the taps and prices plunged following Russia's early March declaration that it would be quitting the OPEC plan to slash output by 1 million bpd, conditioned also on Russia-led non-OPEC countries cutting 500,000 bpd. Moscow reasoned that ultimately US shale-oil producers would be the ones benefiting as they had previously, filling the gaps in earlier curtailments.  Putin's attack has for the time being had the immediate effect of forcing Riyadh into the awkward position of having to deny it could have been a willing participant in deeper machinations to crush US shale producers in a price war. This as already the steep drop-off in prices have left some US shale producers saying they're ready to initiate voluntary production cuts amid the ballooning oil glut, as the WSJ reported Friday.

Moscow and Riyadh are 'very, very close' to an oil deal, says Russia's sovereign wealth fund chief - Russia and Saudi Arabia are “very, very close” to a deal on oil production cuts, according to the chief executive of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF. “I think the whole market understands that this deal is important and it will bring lots of stability, so much important stability to the market, and we are very close,” said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. A virtual meeting between OPEC and its allies was scheduled to happen on Monday, but is now “likely” to take place on Thursday instead, sources familiar with the matter told CNBC. Reductions in oil output were expected to be discussed at the meeting that could bring the price war in oil to an end. Chart: World oil market share 200401 Asia Oil futures pared earlier losses after the report on Monday in Asia, with U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude down 2.86% at $27.53 after falling as much as 9% earlier in the session, and Brent crude down 3.31% to $32.98 after briefly turning positive. When asked if Riyadh and Moscow will get together by the end of this week for some kind of deal, Dmitriev said: “Well actually look, a very positive message, I think they’re very, very close.” He pointed to comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week when he proposed a combined production cut of 10 million barrels per day, according to a Reuters report. ″(Putin) talked about how important this oil deal is, so Russia is committed,” Dmitriev told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Monday. That sentiment was echoed by Andrey Kostin, chief executive of Russia’s VTB Bank. “Russia is definitely very much interested in stabilizing oil prices and ... there’s the political will,” he told “Squawk Box Europe.” “No one is interested in low oil prices. Neither the United States nor Russia, nor the Saudis,” he said. “From this point of view, I think there should be a reasonable agreement achieved at the end of the day.”

 Crude Crashes Over 10% After OPEC+ Meeting Delays - As Ransquawk details, an OPEC+ call that was scheduled for Monday has been delayed until Thursday, amid an intensifying dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia over who is to blame for falling crude prices. Participants are to discuss the demand hit to crude from COVID-19. Analysts do not seem to be convinced that the group will make sufficient progress; the Saudis and Russia have called for other global producers – namely US, Canada and Mexico – to share the burden of cuts, while Norway has also said it would consider cutting production in any coordinated global effort. LEVEL OF CUTS: Ahead of the now notorious March OPEC meeting, there was a recommendation to cut an additional 1.5mln BPD from April 2020 through the end of 2020, with a review in June. The deal was conditional on support from OPEC+, and OPEC said any deal could only be applied on a pro-rata basis, and proposed core members cut by 1mln BPD, and non-OPEC by 500k. Ahead of Thursday's meeting, a figure of 10mln BPD cut to output has been floated (around 10% of global supply), although following a call with Saudi Arabia, US President Trump last week indicated that it could be as much as 15mln BPD. A source has suggested that the 10mln should be slashed from current levels of output. Either way, Goldman Sachs thinks that the demand hit might actually be more like 26mln BPD, and a cut of 10mln BPD may prove to be insufficient.

OPEC+ likely to agree to cut production if U.S. joins effort: sources - (Reuters) - Major oil producers including Saudi Arabia and Russia are likely to agree to cut production at a Thursday meeting but only if the United States joins the effort, aimed at coping with the disastrous effect of the coronavirus on fuel demand, three OPEC+ sources told Reuters on Monday. Worldwide oil demand has dropped by roughly 30%, or about 30 million barrels a day, at the same time that Saudi Arabia and Russia have been flooding markets with extra supply. Last week, in response to a weeks-long market rout, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+, started talking about cutting production, but want other non-OPEC nations to participate, particularly the United States. “Without the U.S., no deal,” one of the sources said. Two OPEC sources said Thursday’s meeting would be held by video conference at 1400 GMT. The United States has not committed to taking part in any deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump has said could take 10% to 15% of world supply off the market. U.S. companies cannot coordinate production due to antitrust laws. The White House has said it was encouraging talks between the other countries, instead. Major U.S. oil companies and industry groups are opposed to mandated cuts, which would be an extraordinary step in the United States. On Friday, G20 energy ministers and members of some other international organisations will hold their own video conference, hosted by Saudi Arabia, a senior Russian source told Reuters. Efforts to get the United States involved in the production cut deal will be on the agenda, the source said. 

Wall Street strategist is skeptical of Russia-Saudi 'dance,' says investors should wait - Cantor Fitzgerald’s global chief market strategist said Monday that he is skeptical of the “dance” between Saudi Arabia and Russia over oil production and that a deal from OPEC and its allies would likely not be enough to save struggling United States energy companies. “I’m really, frankly, not all that convinced that this is an all out fist-fight between Saudi Arabia and Russia. I think it might be a little bit more of a veiled attempt, frankly, by both of them to take a swipe at US E&P while US E&P has been shut out of the capital markets,” Peter Cecchini said on “Closing Bell.” Oil prices fell on Monday, with West Texas International futures falling roughly 8% and Brent crude futures slipping 3.1%. A virtual meeting between OPEC and its allies that was originally scheduled for Monday will now likely take place Thursday, sources told CNBC. The head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund said a deal between his country and the Saudis was “very, very close.” However, Cecchini said that a deal likely wouldn’t boost oil prices enough to prevent more defaults in the energy industry. “I do, by the way, think on Thursday that we get some sort of deal that makes it look like there’s cooperation afoot. But let’s face it, with oil prices this low, for US E&P it doesn’t really matter that much,” Cecchini said. Energy stocks have been crushed this year, with the SPDR S&P Exploration and Production ETF down about 60% in 2020. However, Cecchini said investors should not try to buy the stocks that appear cheap because of the risk of bankruptcies.

Oil Prices Rally as Saudi-Russian Deal “Very, Very Close” – Oil prices rallied in Asia on Tuesday from a dramatic 8%-fall in their last session. International Brent Oil Futures rose 2.43% to $34.11 by 9:52 PM ET (2:52 AM GMT) and U.S. Crude Oil WTI Futures jumped 4.1% to $27.15. Russian Direct Investment Fund’s chief executive told CNBC overnight that his country and Saudi Arabia are “very, very close” to an agreement to cut production. “I think the whole market understands that this deal is important, and it will bring lots of stability, so much important stability to the market, and we are very close,” Kirill Dmitriev, who heads the Russian sovereign wealth fund, added in his interview. Andrey Kostin, chief executive of VTB Bank, agreed with Dmitriev as he said in a CNBC interview, “Russia is definitely very much interested in stabilizing oil prices and ... there’s the political will. No one is interested in low oil prices. Neither the United States nor Russia, nor the Saudis. From this point of view, I think there should be a reasonable agreement achieved at the end of the day.” But even as OPEC+ members are said to be preparing for a virtual meeting on Thursday, investors are focusing on whether the two producers can reach an agreement on production cuts amid plummeting demand. This Saudi-Russia rift, that’s really key to the deal,” Herman Wang, S&P Global (NYSE:SPGI) Platts Middle East and OPEC managing editor, told CNBC. “Set aside whether the U.S. will participate or not,” he said. “Without Saudi and Russia on the same page, there’s no deal to be had at all,” he added.

 Oil gains as hopes rise for production cut amid coronavirus outbreak - Oil prices clawed their way into positive territory on Tuesday as hopes that the world’s biggest producers will agree to cut output outweighed analyst fears that a global recession in the wake of the coronavirus crisis could be deeper than expected. West Texas Intermediate crude was up 24 cents, or 0.8%, at $26.27, having dropped nearly 8% in the previous session. Brent crude fell 5 cents to $33 per barrel after falling more than 3% on Monday. “Oil prices are holding their ground with market expectations building on an agreement for an output reduction of 10 million barrels per day (bpd), or at least close to 10 million bpd,” BNP Paribas analyst Harry Tchilinguirian told the Reuters Global Oil Forum. The world’s main oil producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, are expected to agree to cut output at a meeting on Thursday, though that would depend on the United States joining in, sources told Reuters. However, the threat of a major recession hangs over the market after the hit to economic activity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with half the global population under some form of lockdown or social distancing measures. Worldwide oil demand has dropped by as much as 30%, coinciding with moves by Saudi Arabia and Russia to flood markets with extra supply after a previous output deal fell apart. “With 28 million bpd of oversupply in the oil market in April and 21 million bpd in May, the global coordinated production cuts that are really needed may be too large for the producers to accept; perhaps twice as large as the numbers being discussed,” said Rystad Energy’s Bjornar Tonhaugen. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers including Russia, a grouping known as OPEC+, had been curtailing production in recent years even as the United States ramped up its own output to become the world’s biggest crude producer. There are questions whether the United States would join any coordinated action to curb supply. U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said that OPEC had not asked him to push domestic oil producers to cut production to buttress prices. He also said that U.S. output was declining in response to falling prices.

EIA cuts 2020 oil price outlook by over 20%, lowers crude production forecasts - The U.S. Energy Information Administration lowered its 2020 forecast for West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude oil prices and cut its expectations for U.S. crude-oil production, according to theShort-Term Energy Outlook report released Tuesday. The EIA pegged its 2020 WTI oil price forecast at $29.34 a barrel, down 23% from its March forecast. It also cut its Brent crude price forecast by nearly 24% to $33.04 for 2020. The agency expects U.S. crude production of 11.76 million barrels a day this year, down 9.5% from the previous view, with its forecast for 2021 output down nearly 13% at 11.03 million barrels a day. In Tuesday trading, May WTI oil was up 26 cents, or 1%, at $26.34 a barrel and June Brent was down 2 cents, or 0.06%, to $33.03 a barrel.

Oil Tumbles 9% on Doubts Whether Any Producer Cuts Will Be Enough - The world is trying to get together to contribute oil production cuts to pacify the Saudi and Russian oil titans in the hope they’ll go back to cutting and cutting even more. Yet crude prices fell 9% on Tuesday, erasing early gains, as traders wondered whether any production restraints now will be enough to rescue a market facing a potential demand loss of 20 million to 30 million barrels per day due to the coronavirus pandemic.West Texas Intermediate, the New York-traded benchmark for U.S. crude, settled down $2.45, or 9.4%, at $23.63 per barrel.WTI rose to $27.24 earlier, trying to restart last week’s record 32% rally, on initial optimism about OPEC+-G20 meetings later this week could result in taking a total of 10 million bpd from the market. That would be the steepest coordinated production cuts in oil’s history and could include unprecedented commitments from Brazil and Canada.Brent, the London-traded global benchmark for crude, settled down $1.18, or 3.6%, at $32.16 per barrel.Brent hit $34.17 earlier before turning negative on doubts that the main actors in the game — Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States — will be able to send a convincing message to the market on their commitment to put a floor under prices, which were down more than 50% on the year.“The Russians want to cut a nominal 0.5-1 million bpd according to reports and the U.S. might just come to the meetings, saying its production has already fallen 2 million bpd or so over the past month, so that’s it’s contribution,” said John Kilduff, founding partner of New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.  “That means the ball will be back at the Saudis’ feet, to see if they’ll do more than the 3 million bpd everyone expects of them.” “The market isn’t inspired at the least by all this, and we could give back a chunk, if not all of the gains from last week, depending how these meetings go.”

A historic production cut from global oil powers this week 'won't necessarily help all that much' - Some of the world’s largest oil producers will meet to discuss a historic production cut later this week, with energy analysts split over the prospect of non-allied partners, including the U.S., signing up to a deal immediately thereafter. An emergency meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC partners, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, will be held on Thursday, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage global oil demand. OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC leader Russia are seen as likely to agree to cut production in an effort to arrest an oversupplied market, but only on the condition that the U.S. joins a global pact, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources. President Donald Trump said Monday that OPEC hadn’t asked “that question” yet, but suggested U.S. oil production had already fallen anyway. Crucially, G-20 energy ministers will convene for their own extraordinary meeting one day after OPEC+ producers sit down for talks. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $33.87 a barrel Tuesday morning, up around 2.5%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $27.04, more than 3.7% higher. Brent fell over 3% in the previous session, with WTI down more than 7% amid fading hopes of an unprecedented supply cut. Both benchmarks have fallen more than 50% from their January peak.

Oil futures end lower after EIA cuts price forecasts - Oil futures settled lower on Tuesday, giving up earlier gains after the Energy Information Administration lowered its U.S. and global benchmark crude price forecasts for this year and next. Traders also weighed prospects for a global output cut when major producers meet later this week. May West Texas Intermediate oil CLK20, 5.42% fell $2.45, or 9.4%, to settle at $23.63 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

WTI Slides On Huge Crude Inventory Build - The American Petroleum Institute (API) estimated on Tuesday a huge crude oil inventory build of 11.938 million barrels for the week ending April 4 as demand destruction stemming from the coronavirus wears on. Today’s inventory move was expected to be for a large build of 9.27 million barrels. In the previous week, the API estimated a large build in crude oil inventories of 10.485 million barrels, while the EIA’s estimates were even more bearish, reporting a build of 13.8 million barrels for the week. Oil prices were trading sharply down on Tuesday afternoon prior to the API’s data release. At 4:02 pm EDT on Tuesday the WTI benchmark was trading down on the day by $1.65 (-6.33%) at $24.43, although it is still up $4 per barrel week over week. The price of a Brent barrel was also trading down on Tuesday, by $0.70 (-2.12%), at $32.35—up by roughly $6 week on week. The higher prices over last week was due mainly to optimism that OPEC+ could reach a production cut deal and bring other states on board the cuts as well. The API reported a large build of 9.445 million barrels of gasoline for week ending April 4, after last week’s 6.085-million-barrel build. This week’s build compares to analyst expectations for a 4.333-million-barrel build for the week. Distillate inventories were down, by 177,000 barrels for the week, compared to last week’s 4.458-million-barrel draw, while Cushing inventories saw a large gain of 6.804 million barrels. US crude oil production as estimated by the Energy Information Administration showed that production for the week ending March 27 was unchanged at 13.0 million bpd. At 4:36 pm EDT, WTI was trading at $24.05 while Brent was trading at $32.04

Oil Prices Tumble After Record Inventory Builds, Collapse In Demand -  Oil prices have been on a vicious rollercoaster overnight, surging (oddly) after API reported US inventories rose by almost 12 million barrels last week (while those in Europe grew by a similar amount, according to data provider Kayrros); then tumbling as Europe opened, only to be panic-bid from around the US equity market open this morning (WTI testing up to $25). This came after the U.S. slashed its 2020 oil-production forecast by more than 1 million barrels a day on Tuesday, a move that could be enough to satisfy Riyadh and Moscow. “Many oil producers around the world are now increasingly forced to reduce or close production basically because pipelines and local storage facilities are full,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities strategist at SEB AB.  “Natural declines or forced production cuts will thus likely be counted as deliberate cuts” when OPEC and other producers thrash out a deal in talks on Thursday. So, all eyes once again on the official inventory data this morning as the real impact of global lockdowns begins to show itself. DOE:

  • Crude +15.177mm - biggest build ever
  • Cushing +6.417mm- biggest build ever
  • Gasoline +10.497mm - second biggest build ever
  • Distillates +476k

Massive surges in stockpiles last week, (and API reporting huge builds in the latest week) were followed in the latest week by even bigger builds...

Huge Inventory Build Halts Oil Price Rally - A week after reporting the largest oil inventory build since 2016, the EIA once again had bad news for oil bulls: inventories added 15.2 million barrels over the week to April 3, the authority said. This compared with a build of 13.8 million barrels for the week before and analyst expectations of a build of 10.13 million barrels. A day earlier, the API estimated inventories had added 11.94 million barrels in the first week of April. The EIA also reported gasoline inventories had increased by 10.5 million barrels and distillate fuel inventories had added 476,000 barrels. This compared with a gasoline inventory increase of 7.5 million barrels for the previous week and a distillate fuel inventory fall of 2.2 million barrels. A day before the EIA released its weekly petroleum report, it issued its latest-Short-Term Energy Outlook, in which the authority forecast a substantial decline in fuel demand over the first half of the year with the hardest blow to come in the current quarter. The EIA said it expected gasoline consumption alone to fall by 1.7 million bpd this quarter from last, to 7.1 million bpd. During the second half of the year, however, gasoline consumption should recover to 8.9 million bpd. Refineries processed 13.6 million bpd of crude last week, the EIA also said in its weekly report, which compared with 14.9 million bpd a week earlier as the first signs of the demand slump became visible. Gasoline production last week averaged 5.8 million bpd, with distillate fuel production at 5 million bpd. This compared with a daily average of 7.5 million bpd for gasoline and 5 million bpd for distillate fuels a week earlier. Despite the API’s gloomy weekly update on inventories and the EIA’s report today, oil prices may continue trending higher for at least another day. OPEC and its partners in the production cuts are scheduled to meet tomorrow to decide on another, much deeper cut that will involve other producers such as Canada and Norway as well.

OPEC+ oil cut talks head down to the wire, with Saudis, Russians still not on same page — Saudi Arabia's attempt to negotiate a global pact with Russia to rescue oil prices from the coronavirus crisis will come to a head Thursday, when ministers from OPEC and other key countries log on to a high stakes online summit to settle geopolitical scores and parcel out production cuts. Stay up to date with the latest commodity content.  The meeting will not include the world's largest oil producer, the US, though Energy Secretary Dan Brioullete is expected to take part in an emergency Saudi-chaired G20 ministerial webinar Friday that could endorse and widen any OPEC+ accord to narrow the widening gap between surplus oil supply and sickly demand. With Trump administration officials exerting strong back-channel pressure on the countries to close a deal to stave off further industry bleeding, Saudi Arabia and Russia will likely be motivated to avoid a repeat of their last meeting a month ago, which ended in recriminations and launched a bitter price war. Dated Brent prices have fallen some 70% since that meeting, and the market is waiting to see if the so-called OPEC+ alliance can craft a deal that claws back 10 million-15 million b/d of global supply, as US President Donald Trump claimed last week was in the works. Russia would be willing to cut 1.6 million b/d from its Q1 production level, Tass news service reported Wednesday, while Saudi Arabia has not disclosed how much output it would be willing to rein in, as the two countries remain split over the baseline production figures from which to determine new quotas. "The dilemma for Saudi and Russia is whether they will benefit from throwing the high cost producers a lifeline," said Chris Midgley, global head of S&P Global Platts Analytics. Saudi Arabia and Russia, the two OPEC+ leaders, have insisted that they will only participate if the US also agrees to production cuts. US President Donald Trump, however, is hostile to the idea, and US officials instead have offered up as their contribution to a deal projections from the Energy Information Administration showing that American oil output will fall on its own by 1.81 million b/d in a year due to market forces. Russia, however, has rejected that line of reasoning, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters in Moscow that conflating involuntary declines with actual production cuts "is like comparing length and width."

Crude settles higher as Russia signals willingness to cut output — Crude futures settled higher Wednesday on optimism that Thursday's OPEC+ meeting would yield a production cut agreement.ICE June Brent settled 97 cents higher at $32.84/b and NYMEX May WTI was up $1.46 on the day at $25.09/b.Oil rallied in the final minutes of trading after the Tass news service reported that Russia would be willing to cut 1.6 million b/d from its Q1 production level. Crude futures shot to session highs following the report, with Brent and WTI jumping around $1.20/b and $1.60/b respectively.NYMEX May ULSD settled down 1.68 cents at $1.0107/gal and May RBOB was up 2.98 cents at 67.80/gal at market close.Ministers from OPEC, Russia and nine other producers - the so-called OPEC+ group - will log on to a high-stakes online summit Thursday to settle geopolitical scores and parcel out production cuts."The following 24 hours will be critical for global oil prices," OANDA senior market analyst Edward Moya said. "With global storage tanks nearing capacity, this OPEC members and allied producers meeting should see some consensus reached, otherwise ugly uncoordinated production cuts could happen over the next couple of months." The meeting will not include the world's largest oil producer, the US, though Energy Secretary Dan Brioullete is expected to take part in an emergency Saudi-chaired G20 ministerial webinar Friday that could endorse and widen any OPEC+ accord to narrow the widening gap between surplus oil supply and sickly demand.  But Ryan Sitton, a commissioner at the Texas Railroad Commission, said Wednesday that US crude output would fall at least 4 million b/d over the next three months "organically."

 Oil prices jump as focus swivels to OPEC, Russia meeting on output cuts - Oil prices jumped on Wednesday, supported by hopes that a meeting between OPEC members and allied producers on Thursday will trigger output cuts to shore up prices that have collapsed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thursday’s videoconference meeting between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia is expected to be more successful than their gathering in March, which ended in a failure to extend supply cuts and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. “The coming extraordinary producing-countries meeting is the only hope on the horizon for the market,” U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 73 cents, or 3%, to trade at $24.34 per barrel. Brent crude gained 40 cents, or 1.3%, to trade at $32.26 per barrel. On Wednesday the U.S. Energy Information Administration said that inventory rose by 15.2 million barrels for the week ending April 3. Analysts had been expecting a build of 9.67 million barrels, according to estimates from FactSet. Crude has collapsed in 2020 because of a slide in demand due to the coronavirus outbreak and excess supply. Brent dropped to $21.65, its lowest since 2002, on March 30. While OPEC sources have said a deal to cut production is conditional on the participation of the United States, doubts remain as to whether Washington will contribute. The U.S. Department of Energy said on Tuesday U.S. output was already declining, without government action. U.S. crude production is expected to slump by 470,000 bpd and and demand is set to drop by about 1.3 million bpd in 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Tuesday. Before the OPEC and other producers’ meeting, the latest round of U.S. oil inventory data will be in focus on Wednesday. In a sign of excess supply, the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said U.S. crude inventories jumped by 11.9 million barrels.

Expectations for an oil deal remain low ahead of crucial OPEC+ meeting - Oil markets are facing their greatest moment of uncertainty in decades ahead of a virtual meeting of OPEC+ ⁠— the alliance of OPEC and non-OPEC producers ⁠— on Thursday, which was delayed from Monday over persistent disagreements and abrasiveness between some leading member states. In the spotlight will be whether countries can agree to communally cut crude production in order to salvage plunging prices at a time when no one is buying oil and the world is running out of places to put it. “Stalemate is not an option for any of the parties involved,” “It’s only a matter of time” until some agreement is reached, he said, predicting “a matter of weeks as opposed to months.” “It’s against everyone’s interest to oversupply the world,” Saleri said. “There is a common element here, and that is that everybody is hurting.” It comes as oil prices are down more than 50% year to date, with global benchmark Brent crude trading at $31.94 per barrel Wednesday and U.S. West Texas Intermediate at $24.18 per barrel 9:00 a.m. ET. Oil situation likely to endure whole 2nd quarter: Fmr Saudi Aramco executive vice president At the same, leading producers Saudi Arabia and Russia are engaged in a price war, increasing or maintaining production to grow their market share, while U.S. shale companies are pumping at record levels. Oil prices are at their lowest in nearly two decades, prompting massive capex and job cuts across the U.S. shale basin where high-cost operations are no longer economically viable. But Russia and Saudi Arabia’s market share strategies will be painful to sustain too, Saleri said. “The economies of Saudi Arabia and Russia are all being affected by the oil prices.” If Saudi Arabia and Russia are to cut their output — as President Donald Trump has called on them to — they want to see the U.S. play its part in cutting too. The tense dynamics of big egos and foreign relations among the world’s heavyweight energy players will now determine the future of the entire global oil industry. That now means not just OPEC+ producers, but also the U.S., Canada, Norway and Brazil. In the U.S., production levels are decided by individual companies, making a centralized cutting effort extremely difficult — and something that Trump has made clear he will not do. But even American executives are now calling for industry cuts, in line with market forces.

 Oil prices rise on optimism OPEC+ meeting will result in supply cut - Oil prices rose on Thursday on expectations the world’s largest oil producers would agree to cut production at a meeting later in the day as the industry grapples with a coronavirus-driven collapse in global oil demand. Brent crude futures rose 1.2%, or 41 cents, to $33.25 a barrel as of 0529 GMT. The contract rose to an intra-day high of $33.90, climbing for a second day. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 3.3%, or 82 cents, at $25.91 a barrel, after earlier climbing by as much as 6.1%. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia — a group known as OPEC+ — are set to convene a video conference meeting on Thursday. The meeting is expected to be more successful than their gathering in March, where they failed to agree to extend supply cuts and triggered a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Hopes of an agreement to cut between 10 million and 15 million barrels per day (bpd) rose after media reports suggested Russia was ready to reduce its output by 1.6 million bpd and Algeria’s energy minister said he expected a “fruitful” meeting. Such a sizable reduction would be far bigger than any production cut OPEC has ever agreed on before. “We’re waiting with bated breath,” said Lachlan Shaw, head of commodity research at National Australia Bank. “I think there’ll be a deal, which will bring a bit of cheer in the short run. Then everyone’s attention will refocus on the fundamentals. The fundamentals are appalling,” he said. Following the OPEC+ meeting, energy ministers from the Group of 20 major economies are set to meet to find ways to help ease the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global energy markets. “If the G20 came out and talked about adding to strategic reserves, that would be taken positively,” Shaw said. However with oil prices having lost half their value since the start of the year and oil demand forecast to slide as much as 30%, analysts are skeptical about how effective an OPEC+ cut would be in shoring up prices. “Ultimately, the size of the demand shock is simply too large for a coordinated supply cut,” Goldman Sachs said in a note. Moreover, given the rapidly rising oil inventories, the market is likely to be still awash with cheap oil even when demand recovers. U.S. Energy Information Administration data on Wednesday showed crude stocks rose by 15.2 million barrels, their biggest ever one-week rise.

These are the three big things to focus on from OPEC and the G-20 meetings over the next 48 hours - There are three big things to focus on from OPEC and the G-20 meetings over the next 48 hours: 1) total global output cut, 2) benchmark production levels for those cuts, and 3) the length of time of any formal deal. The world is expected to cut an unprecedented 12 million to 15 million barrels of oil per day from global production.  Assuming talks don’t break down, here’s a very simplistic possible breakdown of how the cuts play out garnered from a variety of research:

  • OPEC = 5 million to 6 million barrels per day
  • Russia = 1.5 million barrels per day
  • US = 1.5 barrels per day, within a few months
  • Brazil, Canada, Mexico = 1.2 million to 1.5 million barrels per day
  • Norway = 250,000 barrels per day
  • Others = 1 million barrels per day

So by late Friday a variety of agreements could be made to remove nearly 12 million barrels of oil from the daily global market.   But like everything with global energy politics, it’s not that simple. One major sticking point of any OPEC+ Russia deal is from what level of production do any Saudi cuts originate.   Saudi production has risen over the past two months as the market share and price war kicked off. The Saudis are willing to cut more than any single producer, but Russia and Iran have made it fairly clear that whatever cuts come from the Kingdom must come from pre-output surge levels, not current production. In other words, if the Saudis cut, say, 3 million barrels per day, that should come off of the 10 million output figure, not the newer 12.5 million level, because then was it really a big cut at all?  On the U.S. side, keep in mind that we have neither a national American producer nor an OPEC, so there is no way for us to assure OPEC or the G-20 that any cuts can be guaranteed. It’s every company for itself in the Permian Basin right now. Maybe even more vital than the output cut size are the length of any deals made.  The world is oversupplied by 25 million to 30 million barrels per day of oil. So whatever happens at OPEC and the G-20 won’t be enough to balance the market.  The goal is only to minimize the damage until the world can get back on its economic feet.   An extra 30 million barrels of oil floating around the world (literally, now, on ships) could grow to 2.7 billion barrels over the next three months.  That would completely overwhelm global storage and oil could quickly slide to single-digit prices. Taking 15 million barrels per day from that supply cuts 1.35 billion barrels from those totals over the next 90 days, and makes managing that storage a little easier, with hope that economies everywhere begin to recover sooner than later and demand picks back up.   The longer a deal, the better, or markets may simply decide the path of least resistance for prices is down once again.

OPEC and allies to decide on historic oil production cut as coronavirus ravages demand   - Some of the world’s largest oil producers will try to agree on the terms of historic output cuts on Thursday, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to crush worldwide demand for crude. An emergency video meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC partners, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, started shortly after 4:10 p.m. Vienna time. President Donald Trump has fueled hopes of a cut far larger than any deal OPEC+ has ever agreed on before, suggesting the energy alliance could take between 10 to 15 million barrels of crude off the market. International benchmark Brent crude traded at $35.86 a barrel Thursday afternoon, up over 9%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $27.92, more than 11% higher. Oil prices surged higher shortly after Reuters, citing one unnamed OPEC source and one unnamed Russia source, reported OPEC+ had secured a deal — one that could climb as high as 20 million barrels per day (roughly 20% of global supplies). A simmering feud between OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC leader Russia is thought to be one of many possible complications to an unprecedented production cut. On Thursday morning, Reuters, citing two unnamed OPEC sources, reported that Riyadh and Moscow continue to disagree over the baseline and volumes for any oil cuts. Shortly thereafter, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin told Reuters that the Kremlin had no plans to discuss oil markets with the leadership of Saudi Arabia or the U.S. on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia, Russia strike deal to reduce oil production amid market tumult: reports - Russia and Saudi Arabia have agreed to cut oil production as world leaders eye historic cuts of as much as 20 million barrels per day in an effort to stabilize crashing oil markets, according to reports from multiple outlets. A trade war between the two nations has led to an oversupply in the oil market as coronavirus brings the economy to a standstill, crushing demand for petroleum. Saudi Arabia will limit production by 4 million barrels per day from April production totals, while Russia will reduce output by 2 million barrels per day, according to The Wall Street Journal. The deal was reached at a virtual meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other oil-producing countries. This falls below projections from President Trump, who hoped to strike a deal with the two nations to reduce production anywhere from 10 million to 15 million barrels per day. Energy Sec. Dan Brouillette told CNBC Thursday morning that surpassing the 10 million barrels a day figure could rely on securing commitments from other countries. “I think they can easily get to 10 million, perhaps even higher. And certainly higher if you include the other nations who produce oil, nations like Canada, Brazil and others, it’s easily, easily done,” he said. A 20 million barrel per day cut would represent a massive decline in global production equivalent to nearly 20 percent of global supplies, according to Reuters. Such a deal may be difficult to attain without commitments from multiple countries, leaving talk of a 10 million barrel per day cut very much on the table. Neither figure would compensate for the decline in oil demand, which has dropped 30 percent due to the pandemic. Oil was trading at roughly $26 a barrel Thursday morning, down from a February high of $53 per barrel.

Oil jumps 12% amid report Saudi Arabia and Russia have reached a deal, cut could reach 20 million barrels per day -- Oil prices jumped on Thursday on reports that Saudi Arabia and Russia have reached a deal on a deep output cut, according to Reuters which cited two sources, and that cuts could reportedly be as high as 20 million barrels per day. The reported deal comes as a virtual meeting between OPEC and its allies, known as OPEC+, kicked off in which some of the world’s largest producers were set to discuss production policy as the coronavirus pandemic saps demand for crude. U.S. West Texas Intermediate jumped 12% to trade at $28.36 per barrel, while international benchmark Brent crude rose 8.5% to trade at $35.79 per barrel. “We’re optimistic that they’ll reach an agreement between the Saudis and Russians in an effort to stabilize the markets,” U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said Thursday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” ahead of the meeting. “I think they can easily get to 10 million, perhaps even higher, and certainly higher if you include the other nations who produce oil, nations like Canada and Brazil and others. Easily, easily done,” he added. The virtual meeting, which was initially planned for last Monday, began around 10 a.m. ET. President Donald Trump had fueled hopes of a cut far larger than any deal OPEC+ has ever agreed on before, suggesting the energy alliance could take between 10 million to 15 million barrels of crude off the market. The meeting comes as relations between some of the world’s largest producers has grown fraught, and Saudi Arabia and Russia have signaled that any cut would need to include action from non-OPEC nations such as the U.S., Canada and Norway. “OPEC+ is trying mightily to cobble together a sizable production cut, and they are in full spin mode to try and rally prices,” Again Capital’s John Kilduff told CNBC. The “teleconference will be a make-or-break moment for the oil market. The math on a 10 million barrel per day cutback, which is the minimum necessary to stabilize the situation, is almost impossible to compute.” Energy ministers from the Group of 20 major economies will convene for their own extraordinary meeting on Friday, in which Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette will participate. The G-20 presidency said Tuesday that the meeting would be held “to foster global dialogue and cooperation to ensure stable energy markets and enable a stronger global economy.” When it comes to U.S. energy companies, Trump has commented that market forces will prevail, and on Wednesday said that producers have “already cut way back.” Brouillette echoed this on Thursday, telling CNBC that the “demand downturn has led to production cuts in the United States of about 2 million barrels per day thought the reminder of 2020.”

Too Little Too Late? Russia And Saudi Arabia Reach Truce In Oil Price War - OPEC+ leaders Saudi Arabia and Russia arrived at an historic crude production cut late Thursday, effectively halting a bitter oil war which saw prices implode by more than 50% from January highs. Details from the virtual OPEC+ conference have just emerged:

  1. Members will adjust downwards their overall crude oil production by 10.0 mb/d, starting on 1 May 2020, for an initial period of two months that concludes on 30 June 2020. For the subsequent period of 6 months, from 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2020, the total adjustment agreed will be 8.0 mb/d.
  2. To be followed by a 6.0 mb/d adjustment for a period of 16 months, from 1 January 2021 to 30 April 2022.
  3. The baseline for the calculation of the adjustments is the oil production of October 2018, except for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and The Russian Federation, both with the same baseline level of 11.0 mb/d.
  4. The agreement will be valid until 30 April 2022, however, the extension of this agreement will be reviewed during December 2021.

The U.S. shale patch has been rooting for such an agreement, which ideally would cut supply, raise prices, and toss a lifeline to an industry that has been buffeted by catastrophically low prices. President Trump pushed for a 10-15 million bpd OPEC production cut personally in an April 2nd phone call with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman. It seems OPEC listened.

 Saudis, Russians Bury Differences, but Mexico Threatens Oil Deal – WSJ - Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed in principle Thursday to lead a 23-nation coalition in massive oil-production cuts after a monthlong feud and a drop in demand due to the coronavirus crisis devastated oil prices. But following more than 11 hours of negotiations, Mexico abruptly exited the talks, jeopardizing a final pact.Delegates said the talks would continue at a Group of 20 meeting of energy ministers set for Friday.Prices shot higher ahead of the Saudi-Russia announcement before abruptly losing momentum and reversing course. The benchmark U.S. crude price, for May delivery, ended 9.3% lower on the day at $22.76 a barrel.Two of the world’s top oil producers joined a coalition of other countries via teleconference, seeking a solution to the global crude glut. The meeting includes representatives from 13 countries in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, 10 countries led by Russia, and a handful of other crude-producing nations.For Saudi Arabia, the output curbs will involve decreasing its current production level of 12 million barrels by 3.3 million barrels a day, while Russia has agreed to cut 2 million barrels a day from its current production of 10.4 million barrels a day.Most delegates in attendance agreed to reduce output by a collective 10 million barrels a day in May and June, OPEC said in a press release. They would then continue curbs of 6 million barrels a day until April 2022, it said.But the group said the agreement remains “conditional on the consent of Mexico.”Late in Thursday’s proceedings, Mexico, a member of the alliance, refused to join the cuts, putting the deal in jeopardy, they said.Mexican officials believe that stronger players in the oil market, such as the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia, should be cutting back more than Mexico, an oil official in that country said. But as a compromise, Energy Minister Rocío Nahle said Mexico had proposed a reduction of 100,000 barrels a day in the next two months. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, told the gathering there would be no final deal without resolving the Mexico issue and talks would continue at a G-20 meeting Friday, the delegates said. “No deal without Mexico, the Saudi prince said [it] loud and clear,” said a participant in the call. Even as the deal looked nearly completed, investors remained concerned that the cuts might not be enough to support higher prices in the coming weeks as world-wide lockdowns pummel demand for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The curbs will mitigate some issues in oil markets, “but in a sense, it’s too little, too late for this month, given the collapse in demand. The boats are loaded, the pipes are full and the refineries are cutting runs,”

Mexico throws OPEC's historic oil production cut into doubt ahead of G-20 meeting - Oil producer group OPEC and its allies failed to comprehensively secure a deal to take a historic amount of crude off the market on Thursday, after Mexico balked at the suggested production cuts. An energy alliance of some of the world’s most powerful oil producers, sometimes referred to as OPEC+, proposed a deal to cut 10 million barrels per day following a marathon video meeting that stretched deep into the evening. The deal was agreed on by all OPEC and non-OPEC producers participating in the conference, with the exception of Mexico. It means the cuts, which amount to roughly 10% of global supply, will not take place unless the broader alliance also receives their consent. U.S. West Texas Intermediate fell 9.29%, or $2.33, to settle at $22.76 per barrel on Thursday evening. Earlier in the session, the contract had been up more than 12% trade at a session high of $28.36. International benchmark Brent crude slipped 4.14% to settle at $31.48, after earlier hitting a high of $36.40. Both Brent and WTI futures are in bear market territory, down 53% and 63% respectively since climbing to a January peak. Oil markets are closed on Good Friday. To be sure, the suggested cuts are far larger than any deal OPEC+ has ever agreed on before, but many are concerned it won’t be enough to prop up prices with the market already awash with crude as the coronavirus crisis ravages global demand. Led by OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC leader Russia, the group outlined a cut of 10 million barrels per day from May 1 for an initial period of two months through to June 30. For the subsequent six months, OPEC+ said in a statement that from July 1 through to December 2020, the total adjustment agreed would amount to a cut of 8 million barrels per day. Thereafter, for a period of 16 months through to April 30, 2022, the cuts would amount to 6 million barrels per day. Following Thursday’s emergency meeting, Mexico’s Secretary of Energy Rocio Nahle said in a tweet that the country would be willing to cut production by 100,000 barrels per day for the next two months. OPEC+ had reportedly asked for a cut of 400,000 barrels per day, according to Reuters. Crucially, the record size of the potential cut was not contingent on nations outside of OPEC+ curbing production, which some had suggested might be a stipulation for Saudi Arabia and Russia to scale back production.

Oil Prices Crash Towards $20 Despite Historic Cuts -- OPEC+ agreed to the largest oil production cuts in history on Thursday, but oil prices crashed towards $20 as markets decided that a 10 million bpd cut was insufficient to balance the demand deficit. Today, the G20 will meet to discuss more cuts and more details will likely come out about the OPEC+ deal. Markets are closed today and so all eyes will be on developments over the weekend.OPEC+ agreed to joint cuts on the order of 10 mb/d, a historic agreement. The deal calls for both Saudi Arabia and Russia capping production at 8.5 mb/d for May and June, after which cuts would ease in phases – down to 8 mb/d and then to 6 mb/d of cuts. The deal was not received well by the markets, which sold off WTI and Brent over fears that the reductions are inadequate. “The supply and demand fundamentals are horrifying,” said OPEC Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo. OPEC+ is also looking for help from other non-OPEC countries in the G20. Mexico temporarily held up the OPEC+ deal because it does not want to cut. At the time of this writing, Mexico’s president said that he spoke with President Trump, who promised to contribute to the cuts on Mexico’s behalf. “First they asked us for 400,000, then 350,000” Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador said. Mexico was only able to cut by 100,000 barrels a day, and Trump “very generously expressed to me that they were going to help us with an additional 250,000 to what they are going to contribute. I thank him.”. The OPEC+ deal is historically large, but still insufficient to plug a 20 to 30 mb/d decline in demand. Inventories are set to rise in the coming months. “The proposed 10 million bpd cut by OPEC+ for May and June will keep the world from physically testing the limits of storage capacity and save prices from falling into a deep abyss, but it will still not restore the desired market balance,” Rystad Energy said.  Other analysts also said the risk is to the downside. “These cuts are not enough to prevent massive stockbuilds in May, let alone April,” JBC Energy wrote in a note. Oil prices could fall back despite the cuts.

Oil prices fall again despite Opec+ deal to cut production - Oil prices dropped on Friday as traders feared that an Opec deal to slash global supplies by 10% would not offset a historic drop in demand due to the coronavirus outbreak. The price of Brent crude fell nearly 2.5% to $31.82 per barrel on Friday, despite news that the oil cartel and allies – known as Opec+ – had reached a deal that would end a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that threatened to flood the market with more oil than the world could use. Mexico initially cast some doubt over Opec’s plans, after apparently refusing to sign up to its share of cuts, which would have been 400,000 barrels per day (bpd). The country instead offered to cut 100,000 bpd. The central American country signalled on Friday that the US may be willing to make further cuts to its production in order to allow Mexico to make less stringent reductions. Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that US president Donald Trump had agreed to help out by cutting additional US output. However, G20 energy ministers did not mention production cuts in a statement released after a virtual summit hosted by Saudi Arabia on Friday. The meeting had been expected to seal the deal on production cuts but the statement pledged that the G20 would work together to ensure oil “market stability”. “We commit to ensure that the energy sector continues to make a full, effective contribution to overcoming Covid-19 and powering the subsequent global recovery,” the statement said.

Record oil production cut hangs in the balance as G20 meeting concludes with no specifics - A record oil production cut hangs in the balance after energy ministers from the Group of 20 major economies on Friday agreed that stabilization in the market is needed, but stopped short of discussing specific production numbers. “To underpin global economic recovery and to safeguard our energy markets, we commit to work together to develop collaborative policy responses,” a press release said. “We recognize the commitment of some producers to stabilize energy markets. We acknowledge the importance of international cooperation in ensuring the resilience of energy systems.” The energy ministers’ meeting came one day after oil producer group OPEC and its allies — in their own emergency meeting — proposed taking a record 10 million barrels per day of crude off the market. In a marathon video meeting that lasted for more than nine hours on Thursday, all members of OPEC and its allies, commonly known as OPEC+, agreed to the cuts apart from Mexico. This means the cut, which amounts to roughly 10% of global supply, is still subject to the country’s approval. On Friday President Donald Trump said the U.S. would cut production in an effort to get Mexico “over the barrel.” Mexico’s portion of the OPEC cut amounts to 400,000 bpd, which the country refused. Following Thursday’s meeting, Mexico’s Secretary of Energy Rocío Nahle said the country would be willing to take 100,000 bpd offline. At a White House press briefing on Friday, Trump said he spoke to Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and had agreed to “pick up some of the slack” by cutting production on behalf of Mexico. He did not elaborate on how the cuts would be enacted, and said Mexico would reimburse the U.S. at a later date. Trump has sought to ease relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia since a price war broke out between the two powerhouse producers following OPEC+’s meeting on March 6. The OPEC+ meeting was scheduled after Trump said he spoke to Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and expected them to announce a deal. While Trump has previously stopped short of saying the U.S. would scale back production, he has noted that market forces would naturally curb output. U.S. Energy Secretary Brouillette reiterated this point on Friday, saying that about two million bpd of U.S. production would have been taken offline by the end of the year, with the number potentially as high as three million. OPEC+’s proposed cut was not contingent on nations outside of the group curbing output, although the expectation is that there will be global efforts to prop up the market. The coronavirus-induced demand loss has sent oil prices tumbling to near two-decade lows.

 Industrialized Nations Fail to Come Up With Oil-Market Fix – WSJ -- A virtual summit of Group of 20 energy ministers failed on Friday to devise a detailed plan to help resolve an unprecedented oil glut partly triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. Some producers continue to pin their hopes on President Trump, who has emerged in recent weeks as a top diplomatic presence in oil-market talks. The G-20 gathering came a day after an alliance of producers including the Saudi-led Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries failed to complete a collective oil truce with Russia and other oil-producing nations. The majority of countries at that meeting agreed to take part in oil-production cuts to support prices. Mexico refused to join production curbs and had yet to reach a deal with OPEC Friday, putting the broader international agreement in jeopardy. OPEC had expected Friday’s G-20 meeting to show that the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and other producers not allied with the cartel can pull back 4 million barrels a day of output, according to delegates at Thursday’s meeting. OPEC and its allies including Russia are trying to complete a deal that would have them cut 10 million barrels a day. But the meeting ended with a press release that didn’t mention specific targets for oil-output reductions. “We recognize the commitment of some producers to stabilize energy markets,” said the press release. “We acknowledge the importance of international cooperation in ensuring the resilience of energy systems.” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, who represented Mr. Trump at the G-20 meeting, told attendees Friday that U.S. production would fall by nearly 2 million barrels a day by the year’s end. And Norway and Brazil said they were either cutting production or planned to do so, according to people familiar with the deliberations. And the G-20 officials agreed to set up a special committee to monitor oil markets, according to the press release. Mr. Brouillette has been the Trump administration’s point man in its efforts to help resolve a month-long oil-price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Behind the scenes, Mr. Trump has been making frequent late-night phone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and other key players in the oil market.

US deal with Taliban breaks down while coronavirus spreads in Afghanistan - A “peace” deal concluded between Washington and the Taliban Islamist movement that was supposed to bring an end to US imperialism’s longest war is rapidly unraveling amid rising violence and the failure of the crisis-ridden Kabul regime to carry out a prisoner release agreement brokered by Washington. The Taliban warned on Sunday that the agreement signed in the Qatari capital of Doha on February 29 is breaking down under the impact of what it charges are US violations in the form of airstrikes that have targeted its forces and killed civilians. The latest reported airstrike took place early Sunday in the central Afghan province of Uruzgan, leaving at least eight civilians killed and two others gravely wounded according to regional officials. The Taliban blamed the US and its NATO-led “coalition” for the attack. In another incident on Sunday, the Taliban charged that an airstrike carried out against a funeral in southern Zabul province killed two civilians. The Afghan Ministry of Defense claimed that its forces had attacked Taliban fighters there after a clash at a checkpoint manned by security forces of the Kabul regime. Warning that its deal with the US was reaching the breaking point, the Taliban stated that the attacks had created “an atmosphere of mistrust that will not only damage the agreements, but also force the mujaheddin to a similar response and will increase the level of fighting.”

China Prepares To Close "Oil Deal Of A Lifetime" In Iraq - Over the past week or so, China has eased quarantine measures in Wuhan – the city in which the global coronavirus pandemic began – with the entire lockdown scheduled to end on 8 April. With China’s President Xi Jinpiang having visited the city just a few days ago, the industrial economy across China as a whole is back working and operating at levels even above the pre-coronavirus rates, although the service sector remains more cautious.For the oil industry, this means that China is back and busy taking up where it left off in terms of exploring and developing new field opportunities.This is at a time when the U.S. is just beginning to see the full onset of coronavirus mayhem. There has been no clearer sign of this move by China than last week’s awarding of a US$203.5 million engineering contract for Iraq’s supergiant oil field, Majnoon, to the little known China Petroleum Engineering & Construction Corp (CPECC).With the U.S.’ focus increasingly on fire-fighting the coronavirus outbreak at home, Beijing has good reason to believe that it has largely a clear run at target country Iraq, provided that it does not stick it too much in the U.S.’ craw. This specifically means continuing to develop oil and gas field opportunities in geopolitically ultra-sensitive areas, such as Iraq, on the basis of rolling contracts for specific work undertaken by companies that are not top of the U.S.’ radar, like CPECC.This method is also being used by Russia, and the focus of it right now is Iraq and Iran, two countries that are right in the centre of the Middle East and vital to both China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ multi-generational dominance strategy and to Russia’s ongoing attempt to sequestrate the entire Middle East.  Majnoon is a key focus in Iraq because it has so much oil that its very name in Arabic means ‘insane’, to signify the insane amount of oil that has always been present there. Before the U.S. noticed that China was stealthily acting hand in glove with Russia to provide the money where the muscle had been put in place, the ever-fractious senior Iraqi politicians had offered China a stunningly lucrative deal for the development of the Majnoon field. Specifically, the terms of the deal were that China would obtain a 25-year contract but one that would officially start two years after the signing date. This would allow China to recoup more profits on average per year and less upfront investment.

Japan PM Abe declares state of emergency amid widespread virus infections - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared on Tuesday a state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus after an alarming growth in cases in urban areas. The declaration, effective through May 6, will enable prefectural governors to take stronger preventive steps, ranging from instructing citizens to stay at home to restricting the operation of schools and other facilities, although there are no legal penalties for noncompliance. Measures to be taken based on the first-ever such declaration in Japan could curtail people's rights and freedoms to some extent. But it will not lead to hard lockdowns on a scale seen in other countries hit by the virus like China and France due to the limits of the Japanese law. "We're in a situation in which the spread of infections is rapid and widespread across the country, threatening to seriously impact people's lives and the economy," Abe told a meeting of a government task force as he declared a state of emergency. Roughly 56 million people, or about 45 percent of the country's total population, in Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama as well as in Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka, will be asked to refrain from nonessential outings. Grocery shopping, visits to hospitals and commuting are excluded. But they will be asked to stay away from bars, karaoke places and live music clubs to lower the risk of transmission. Public transportation services will be available, although Abe asked citizens in the designated prefectures to hold off on going to other parts of the country. Aichi Prefecture, home to the big city of Nagoya which has a population over 2.2 million, was not among the seven prefectures included in the state of emergency. Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, told a meeting of a parliamentary panel that the government discussed whether the three prefectures of Aichi, Hokkaido and Kyoto should be on the list as well, but decided not to include them due partly to the relatively slow pace of increase in virus infections in these areas.

Rich Countries Are Buying up Medical Supplies, Leaving Poor Countries Stranded - The supply chain that provides medical supplies to the world is favoring the U.S. and Europe, which are outbidding poorer nations for masks, gowns, gloves and ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic, according to NPR.The Trump administration is accused of modern piracy for effectively hijacking shipments of masks and additional crucial supplies meant for other countries, including allies. The administration has also used its leverage to strong-arm private firms to prioritize America over other parts of the world, according to POLITICO. Last week, Trump announced he was invoking the Defense Production Act to restrict U.S. exports of key medical supplies, leaving many poorer countries scrambling for supplies as they too try to contain COVID-19 and also protect their healthcare workers. The order restricts companies from selling respirators, masks or gloves overseas.Scientists in Africa and Latin America received the unfortunate news that vital testing kits that they ordered will not be delivered for several months since everything in the supply line is headed to the U.S. and Europe. Furthermore, the increased price in all supplies from testing kits to masks has strained the fragile budgets and borrowing ability of poorer countries, according to The New York Times.UNICEF has seen an uptick in countries turning to the agency for help. UNICEF is trying to secure 240 million masks to help people in 100 countries. So far, the global relief agency has only sourced 28 million masks, less than 12 percent of its target, as The New York Times reported."There is a war going on behind the scenes, and we're most worried about poorer countries losing out," said Dr. Catharina Boehme, the chief executive of Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, whichcollaborates with the World Health Organization in helping poorer countries gain access to medical tests, to The New York Times.The global demand for supplies and the hoarding from rich countries has led to pernicious trade wars as new rules around the world place restrictions on the export of medical supplies. "All it takes is some other country out there to say, 'Oh, you're going to impose a limit on what you sell to us, [say] masks? Well, then, we're going to restrict our exports to you of gloves. Or gowns. Or thermometers,"

India Bans All Exports of Virus Drug Often Touted by Trump - India banned all exports of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted as a “game changer” in the fight against Covid-19. Exports of the drug and its formulations are prohibited “without any exceptions” and with immediate effect, India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade said in an April 4 order on its website. The trade regulator had last month restricted overseas shipments of the drug, allowing only limited exceptions such as on humanitarian grounds and for meeting prior commitments. At a press conference on Saturday, Trump said he spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and appealed for the release of shipments U.S. has already ordered. India is giving his request “serious consideration,” he said. On Sunday, Trump continued to promote the drug, saying the U.S. has secured 29 million choloroquine or hydroxychloroquine pills for its medical stockpile, again touting the drug’s promise despite an absence of scientific scrutiny. Saying he was “trying to save lives,” the president asked “what really do we have to lose?” “I’ve seen things I sort of like,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “What do I know, I’m not a doctor. But I have common sense.” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Sunday said there had been “some accounts, some stories” about hydroxychloroquine “helping” and the drug has been available for years. “We feel a little bit better regarding its safety than we do about a completely novel drug, even though this is being used at much higher dosages,” Adams said on “Fox News Sunday” There’s no conclusive scientific evidence that hydroxychloroquine can treat the infection from the novel pathogen, and it hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. to treat Covid-19. Trump has been undeterred, though. “What do you have to lose? Take it,” the president said at Saturday’s briefing. “I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice.” “We just want to be able to facilitate physicians and patients having that conversation,” Adams said. “That’s what I tell people. That’s what I’ve heard the president tell people.” The ban reflects India’s rising concern over the rapid spread of the coronavirus, with risks of community spread rising in the country of 1.3 billion people. India has recorded 3,374 positive cases so far and has lost 77 lives, according to the federal health ministry. The country has struggled to keep people indoors during a three-week lockdown that started March 25, raising fears of accelerating spread.

 India to export drugs to virus-hit nations following Trump's threat - India says it will supply key drugs being tested as a potential COVID-19 cure to "nations that have been badly affected" by the pandemic, hours after United States President Donald Trump hinted at "retaliation" if New Delhi did not lift a ban on such medicines. India, the world's leading supplier of generic medicines, had restricted the exports of 26 pharmaceutical drugs and ingredients in March including paracetamol to ensure adequate domestic stock amid the rising number of coronavirus cases. On Saturday, it banned the export of hydroxychloroquine, an inexpensive malaria drug that Trump has touted as a game-changer in the fight against the pandemic, though it is yet to be established as a treatment for COVID-19. In a statement Tuesday, India's foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said given the enormity of the pandemic, India had always maintained that the international community "must display strong solidarity and cooperation." "In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would license paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine in appropriate quantities to all our neighboring countries who are dependent on our capabilities. We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic," he said. He added that they would be "kept in a licensed category and ... continuously monitored." But exports of hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol will be allowed depending on the availability of the stock after fulfilling domestic requirements and existing commitments, he added. India on Monday night also lifted restrictions on the export of 14 drugs – including vitamins and antibiotics – that had sparked fears of global shortages. Trump had called Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the weekend requesting supplies of hydroxychloroquine, following which Indian authorities began reviewing the hold on exports. At a White House briefing on Monday, Trump issued a veiled warning if India did not agree to export the anti-malaria drug believed by many to be effective in the treatment of the novel coronavirus. "I spoke to him (Modi) Sunday morning, called him, and I said, we'd appreciate your allowing our supply to come out," Trump told reporters. "If he doesn't allow it to come out, that would be OK. But of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn't there be?" the U.S. president said.

India’s Poorest Now Have Access to Basic Bank Accounts, and Many Already Received their First Cash Stimulus Payment By Last Saturday; Meanwhile the IRS May Get You Your $1200 Check in Five Months - So, while I was drinking my morning coffee yesterday and reflecting on the logistical troubles the United States is having in getting stimulus funds to people who need them, the following account in the Times of India caught my eye, Covid-19 lockdown: Cash reaches 40% of 20 cr women beneficiaries: The largest-ever cash transfer scheme launched on Friday to put Rs 30,000 crore in Jan Dhan accounts of women has validated the evangelical push for implementation of the Jan Dhan scheme which saw the government exhorting crores of people to open bank accounts. By Saturday, the accounts of around 40% of the 20-crore women beneficiaries had seen cash deposits of Rs 500 each [about $US 7). Similarly, around 8 crore beneficiaries of the Ujjwala scheme will get close to Rs 5,000 crore in their bank accounts to purchase cooking gas cylinders for three months. Let me translate this into terms that non-Indians will understand, 1 crore is 10,000,000. So 20 crore is 200 million women beneficiaries. According to the Hindu, Women beneficiaries can withdraw ₹500 from Jan Dhan accounts from April 3: The Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) has said that women beneficiaries of the Jan Dhan account can start withdrawing ₹500 from April 3, in the first of the three instalments of a sum of ₹1,500 relief announced by the Centre as part of the fight against COVID-19. The government has announced ₹1,500 transfer to the women beneficiaries of Jan Dhan account holders in three installments. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Jan Dhan scheme in 2014 to provide basic banking services to the considerable number of Indians- who then lacked bank accounts, but this program was the brainchild of the previous government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. These accounts allow the government to make direct benefits transfers (DBTs) direct to beneficiaries without the involvement of any middleman.  The latest 500 rupee cash deposit  stimulus is only one such payment, and subsidized cooking gas another. Another type of DBT is payments students. The 500 rupee cash deposits are not the only crisis payments being made at this time. According to the Times of India: The government’s announcement will see 20 crore women Jan Dhan account holders get Rs 500 per month for the next three months; increase in [Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment MGNREGA] wage to Rs 202 a day from Rs 182 to benefit 13.62 crore families ; ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 to 3 crore poor senior citizens, poor widows and poor disabled.The government will also front-load Rs 2,000 paid to farmers in the first week of April under the existing PM Kisan Yojana to benefit 8.7 crore farmers, as well as extend insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh per health worker fighting Covid-19.

Billionaire Who Writes Off 2020 Says Worst of Virus Yet to Come - Philippine billionaire Enrique Razon said he has written off 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic slams major economies. What concerns him more? The world hasn’t yet seen the worst of the virus. Volumes at port operator International Container Terminal Services Inc., where Razon is the chairman and which operates terminals in nearly 20 countries, likely fell 10% to 15% last month and are expected to decline further in April, he said Tuesday. His Bloomberry Resorts Corp. has shut its gaming operations during the lockdown on the Philippines’ main Luzon island. “We will have to tally up the losses later on,” he said during a phone interview with Haslinda Amin and Yvonne Man on Bloomberg TV. “The only thing that counts now is defeating the virus.” Razon said his conglomerate has a “healthy” amount of cash, though, so “there’s really no concerns there.” He supports a two-week extension of the Luzon lockdown through April and expects a recovery in consumer spending to take some time even after the quarantine is lifted as people focus on buying basic goods and saving money. “The concerns of businesses are secondary at this point,” he said. “Get the infection down. Lifting the lockdown in this environment is going to be very tricky, a lot of people are underestimating what this is really going to take.” Razon’s comments stand in contrast to some billionaires and business elite in the U.S., who are pushing to restart the American economy even as coronavirus infections and deaths continue to rise.

 WHO chief addresses death threats, racist insults: ‘I don’t give a damn’ - The leader of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Wednesday he’s received death threats and racist insults while running the global efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic. “I can tell you personal attacks that have been going on for more than two, three months. Abuses, or racist comments, giving me names, black or Negro. I’m proud of being black, proud of being Negro,” he told reporters on a conference call from the organization’s Geneva headquarters on Wednesday. “I don’t care, to be honest ... even death threats. I don’t give a damn.” Tedros was responding to a question about whether criticism from world leaders such as President Donald Trump in the midst of a global pandemic makes it more difficult to operate the WHO. Tedros commented specifically on insults that he said came from Taiwan. “Three months ago, this attack came from Taiwan. We need to be honest. I will be straight today. From Taiwan,” he said. “And Taiwan, the Foreign Ministry also, they know the campaign. They didn’t disassociate themselves. They even started criticizing me in the middle of all that insult and slur, but I didn’t care.” Tedros also referenced remarks made by scientists on French TV that Tedros had condemned on Monday as artifacts of a “colonial mentality.” The scientists were discussing the potential of moving a vaccine trial in Europe and Australia to Africa, according to the BBC. Tedros said Wednesday that the remarks insulted “the whole black community.” Tedros pleaded for world leaders and politicians to put aside differences and focus on the fight against the pandemic, which has now infected more than 1,452,378 people around the world and killed at least 83,615, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

"Horrifying Global Surge In Domestic Violence" Amid COVID-19 Lockdowns: UN - As world leaders continue to impose stay-at-home orders and many businesses, schools, and services across the globe remain shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is expressing concerns about reports of alarming increases in domestic violence and urging all governments to incorporate protections for abuse survivors into response plans for the public health crisis. Guterres called for an immediate global ceasefire amid the virus outbreak last month. "I appealed for an end to violence everywhere, now," the U.N. chief said Sunday. "But violence is not confined to the battlefield. For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes."  While domestic violence impacts both males and females, research has shown women and girls are disproportionately victimized. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women, noted Monday that "in the previous 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner." "As the COVID-19 pandemic continues," Mlambo-Ngcuka warned, "this number is likely to grow with multiple impacts on women's wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health, their mental health, and their ability to participate and lead in the recovery of our societies and economy." Guterres detailed related developments in a video address Sunday, explaining that "over the past weeks as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence." The secretary-general cited increased calls to domestic violence support centers, overwhelmed healthcare and police services, shuttered shelters, and limited funding for local groups that help survivors. He also urged governments worldwide "to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19." 

'Lives In Danger'- Canada Lashes Out After US Blocked Export Of Millions Of N95 Masks - Over the weekend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will not retaliate against the US for banning exports of crucial medical protective supplies shipments into Canada, after on Friday a major shipment of masks from Minnesota-based 3M to Canada was halted by US authorities as part of the Defense Production Act.“We are not looking at retaliatory measures or measures that are punitive,” Trudeau said Saturday at a dire moment the Canadian health care system is feeling the same strain as the US. He did call the move a "mistake" and the Trump administration has since been unmoved.Ontario Premier Doug Ford's words, however, were more aggressive and blunt, explaining in so many words that essentially Washington's ban on the exports puts lives in danger. This after European leaders likened similar measures and interventions impacting Germany and France to "modern piracy". “What I understand is we have 3 million masks that were stopped by U.S. officials,” Ford told a Monday press conference. Ford later indicated that some of the masks up to 500,000 have since been released and that should “buy the province a week” before health workers run out.  “Our supplies are strained right at this moment... We're exhausting every avenue available to us,” the Ontario leader said. “The hard truth is our supplies in Ontario are getting very low.”

Container Shipping Lines Cancel Sailings to Weather Coronavirus Storm – WSJ - Global container shipping lines have canceled more than 160 sailings over the past week as they try to maintain freight rates in the face of billions of dollars in potential losses driven by falling trade demand. The service cancellations have grown from 45 last week to 212, according to Copenhagen-based consulting firm Sea-Intelligence ApS, a trend indicating that the summer peak season could be largely muted and that the shipping lines that carry most of the world’s manufactured and retail goods expect the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic to extend into the peak shipping season. Sea-Intelligence estimates the biggest international carriers will see combined losses ranging from $800 million to $23 billion this year, depending on how they manage the economic impact from widespread coronavirus-driven lockdowns. The financial fallout for the shipping lines appears to be relatively mild so far compared with that of airlines and other transportation operators that depend on passengers. But shipping lines are hunkering down with major national economies wavering while their businesses halt operations, factories idle assembly lines and job losses mount. Carriers including Denmark’s Maersk Line, Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Co. and Japan’s Ocean Network Express Pte. Ltd. are trying to guard against crashing freight rates on major trade lanes as capacity increasingly outweighs demand. “It’s a developing storm,” said Sea-Intelligence Chief Executive Lars Jensen. “The challenge will be to carefully manage capacity going forward so to prevent a freight rate collapse.” Mr. Jensen said industrywide losses could reach $23 billion if liners embark in an all-out price war similar to that after the 2008 financial crisis, when freight prices fell to levels that barely covered fuel costs. “The rate collapse during the financial crisis was partly caused by an inability to reduce capacity in a timely fashion,” he said. “The potential loss is of such a staggering magnitude that carriers are highly likely to blank far more sailings in case we begin to see rates slide too far.” Cancellations focused on Asia-Europe and trans-Pacific services began to mount in January and February when the coronavirus began to spread in China, pushing Beijing to bring economic activity to a near standstill. China is now pushing out cargo again, but demand has nosedived with urban centers in the U.S. and Europe increasingly being locked down.

Services Sector Falls Off Cliff: First Data Points from the Eurozone Where Lockdowns Started Earlier -  In developed economies, the services sector – finance, insurance, health care, professional services such as technology, lawyering, or architects, and many others, including transportation, travel, tourism, restaurants, bars, clubs, etc. – account for 60% to 70% of the economy. What we’re now seeing is a sudden fall-off-the-cliff collapse in the services sector in addition to a dizzying downturn in manufacturing. We got the first glimpse today, from the Eurozone where COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed well ahead of those in the US. And the data for the Eurozone released today picked up the effects. The IHS Markit Services PMI for the Eurozone, which tracks how executives of unnamed companies see various aspects of business at their own company, collapsed in a totally unprecedented manner. In these Purchasing Managers Indices, 50 is the no-growth line; above 50 means expansion; below 50 means contraction. The lower the number below fifty, the faster the decline. The services PMI for March performed a gut-wrenching off-the-cliff plunge from moderate growth in February (52.6), past the low point during the Financial Crisis (39.2), to a horridly low 26.4: This plunge in activity was “wide-reaching across the Eurozone,” the report said. Germany, France, Italy, and Spain – the four largest economies in the Eurozone – all experienced sharp declines, with the sharpest declines hitting Italy and Spain. Incoming work fell at a record pace in the data series, after five years of growth, with Italy and Spain getting hit the hardest. Some other horrid standouts:

  • “Firms were also increasingly unsure of the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic over the coming year. This led to a sharp and considerable drop in business confidence to a new survey low, with service providers across the whole region pessimistic about the future.”
  • “Overall, employment declined for the first time in nearly five-and-a-half years and to the greatest degree in the survey history.”
  • “The data indicate that the eurozone economy is already contracting at an annualized rate approaching 10%, with worse inevitably to come in the near future.”

The lockdowns and travel bans essentially shut down travel services (such as airlines), accommodation services (hotels, resorts, vacation rentals, etc.), tours, cruises, conferences, and all the other services that business travelers, conference goers, and tourists spend money on. The Services PMI for Italy, which got hit first and the hardest by the COVID-19 crisis, and imposed lockdowns before other countries did, collapsed to 17.4. And this, the report said, “likely gives a taste of things to come for other countries as closures and lockdowns become more prevalent and more strictly enforced in coming months.”

China Forces Italy To Buy Back PPE It 'Donated' - China has distributed nearly 4 billion masks to foreign countries as it ramps up production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a move to restore its image as a global leader focused on humanitarian relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic that originated in its country and spread across the world. However, The Spectator provides a new account of how China's latest diplomacy has turned out to be an absolute 'disaster,' in the latest example with Italy and other European countries. China told the world that it would donate tons of PPE to Italy to slow the virus outbreak. Reports now indicate that China actually charged Italy for PPE, instead of donating. It also turns out the PPE China sent over was the same equipment that Italy donated to China earlier in the year. What a mess... "Before the virus hit Europe, Italy sent tons of PPE to China to help China protect its own population. China then has sent Italian PPE back to Italy -- some of it, not even all of it ... and charged them for it," a senior Trump administration official told The Spectator.  Since March 1, China has exported 3.86 billion masks, 37.5 million pieces of PPE, 16,000 ventilators, and 2.84 million test kits across the globe, according to the New York Post.

 After Blasting "Russian Troll Attacks," Swedish Ministers Admit Local Grandma Stoked Anti-5G Fears - Swedish Minister of Energy and Digital Development Anders Ygeman accused Russia "of destabilizing the Swedish 5G debate" by deploying Russian trolls on Facebook in late 2019. A new report by Swedish national broadcaster (SVT) found there was no evidence of Russian bots posting upwards of 2,000 anti-5G posts in total, but rather a granny in Sweden running a grassroots social media group, who was opposed to cellular network radiation. The posts began in December 2019, when Ygeman pointed out to the Swedish press that thousands of negative 5G comments were showing up on his Facebook account. He immediately blamed "Russian trolls," and the mainstream media took his word as face value, reported RT News. "There is a Russian political interest in disrupting and hindering other countries' development of 5G," Ygeman told Swedish reporters earlier this year. He said the thousands of negative posts were from "Russian trolls." Dagens Nyheter, a leading newspaper in Sweden, ran a headline that was titled "Ygeman target for Russian net attack" with no credible evidence that Russia launched a troll attack on him. Earlier this year, Russian Embassy rejected his claims: "Our special congratulations go to Anders Ygeman. As we have learned, the popularity of his Facebook page has increased dramatically, which we wholeheartedly congratulate him on!" the Russian Embassy wrote, adding that the government minister "suffers from  paranoia in search of 'Russian trolls.'" As it turns out, SVT traced the posts back to a local grassroots group called "WiFi Radiation Health Risks Stop 5G," which is led by Katarina Hollbrink, 64, who describes herself as a granny that is against 5G and lives in Södermalm, Stockholm. The Swedish paper quoted Hollbrink, who said it's kind of "ridiculous" for the government to accuse "ordinary Swedish citizens of being Russian trolls."

Impossible dilemma? World watches Italy as businesses plead to return to work - (Reuters) - Many Italian companies and academics are pressing the government to reopen factories to prevent an economic catastrophe, as the world watches how the first Western country to impose a lockdown can extricate itself from the unprecedented measures. The same debate is being held around the globe: how long and stringently can bans to combat the coronavirus pandemic be held in place before irreversible damage is wrought, with businesses sunk and swathes of the population jobless? Italy faces among the most pressing dilemmas, not only because its lockdown has been in place longer than most nations and it has the world’s highest death toll, but because the novel coronavirus has hit hardest in the northern industrial heartlands that generate a third of its economic output. “How can I pay wages if I do not make money? How can I keep American clients if I am not in the position to respect any contracts?” said Giulia Svegliado, CEO of Celenit, a producer of industrial insulating panels with 50 employees in the northern town of Padua. About 150 Italian academics have published a letter in Italian financial daily Il Sole-24 Ore, owned by the Italian business lobby Confindustria, urging the government to unblock the economy. “The social and economic consequences would risk producing irreversible damage, probably more serious than those caused by the virus itself,” the letter said.

Spain is moving to permanently establish universal basic income in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic  - Spain is moving to implement a universal basic income as a measure to help workers battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Nadia Calviño, the country’s minister for economic affairs, told the Spanish broadcaster La Sexta on Sunday evening that the government was planning to introduce the cash handouts as part of a barrage of policies meant to help people get back on their feet. She said enacting basic income was “mostly aimed at families, but differentiating between their circumstances.” Calviño didn’t offer a specific date as to when basic income could be rolled out in the country. But she said the government hoped it would become “a permanent instrument.” “We’re going to do it as soon as possible,” she said. “So it can be useful, not just for this extraordinary situation, and that it remains forever.” If the plan moves from proposal to reality, Spain would become the first nation in Europe to pass universal basic income, according to The Independent. Finland previously tried a two-year basic-income experiment with 2,000 unemployed residents that ended in 2019, Business Insider’s Aria Bendix reported. Recipients reported they were happier and healthier, but many of them were still jobless. It’s not immediately clear what universal basic income could look like in Spain, given that the proposal appears to be in its early stages. The concept generally entails regular no-strings-attached cash payments. Spain enacted a nationwide lockdown on March 14 to try to curb the spread of the virus, effectively shutting down the economy as restaurants, bars, and hotels were ordered to closed their doors. The country reported more than 135,000 cases so far and 13,000 deaths.

Germany’s coronavirus travel restrictions: What you need to know DW The German government on Monday announced new restrictions for travelers, including a mandatory two-week quarantine for German citizens, residents and EU nationals upon entering the country. In March, the government imposed border controls at ports of entry and land borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark. DW examines the specifics of the coronavirus-related restrictions.  German citizens are allowed to return to Germany at all times.  Non-German citizens, including EU and foreign nationals alike, are allowed to enter the country under certain conditions. According to the Interior Ministry, those conditions include:

  • "persons returning to their home or legal residence in Germany."
  • "work purposes or to carry out professional contractual services," such as commuters or diplomats.
  • "urgent reasons requiring entry," such as medical treatment.
  • "transit through Germany to return to one's home country if no other travel connection is possible."

Authorities will allow for cross-border commuting and transport of goods "with as little disruption as possible."  Entry into Germany for purposes of tourism is strictly prohibited. Non-German citizens attempting to enter the country for "any non-essential travels may be refused entry," according to the Interior Ministry. Although Germany has extended restrictions on public life until mid-April, it is unclear how long border controls may remain in place. In general, Schengen area member states may only impose border controls for three months at a time. The EU has suggested controls could last until May 12. Given the volatile nature of the pandemic, end dates are subject to change.

Angela Merkel Urged To Put European Solidarity Over German Interests and Back Coronabonds --A meeting of eurozone finance ministers ended this morning without agreement on how to pay the huge costs of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Financial Times reports. Italian and Dutch ministers had disagreed sharply over the idea of ‘coronabonds’ – a form of shared debt. Northern European governments were also unwilling to remove conditions on loans from the European Stability Mechanism, a fund that has been set up to help eurozone economies in difficulty.Before the meeting started yesterday, more than 300 political scientists, historians, sociologists, economists and international experts from thirty European countries published an open letter to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The signatories, including two Nobel laureates, more than twenty MEPs, the former head of the International Atomic Agency and the general secretary of the European Trade Union conference, call upon Merkel to support the creation of European bonds to finance economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Here is the full text of the letter:

Special Report: Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus - but they were slow to sound the alarm - (Reuters) - It was early spring when British scientists laid out the bald truth to their government. It was “highly likely,” they said, that there was now “sustained transmission” of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. If unconstrained and if the virus behaved as in China, up to four-fifths of Britons could be infected and one in a hundred might die, wrote the scientists, members of an official committee set up to model the spread of pandemic flu, on March 2. Their assessment didn’t spell it out, but that was a prediction of over 500,000 deaths in this nation of nearly 70 million. Yet the next day, March 3, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was his cheery self. He joked that he was still shaking hands with everyone, including at a hospital treating coronavirus patients. “Our country remains extremely well prepared,” Johnson said as Italy reached 79 deaths. “We already have a fantastic NHS,” the national public health service, “fantastic testing systems and fantastic surveillance of the spread of disease.” Alongside him at the Downing Street press conference was Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser and himself an epidemiologist. Whitty passed on the modelling committee’s broad conclusions, including the prediction of a possible 80% infection rate and the consequent deaths. But he played them down, saying the number of people who would be infected was probably “a lot lower” and coming up with a total was “largely speculative.” The upbeat tone of that briefing stood in sharp contrast with the growing unease of many of the government’s scientific advisers behind the scenes. They were already convinced that Britain was on the brink of a disastrous outbreak, a Reuters investigation has found. Interviews with more than 20 British scientists, key officials and senior sources in Johnson’s Conservative Party, and a study of minutes of advisory committee meetings and public testimony and documents, show how these scientific advisers concluded early the virus could be devastating. But the interviews and documents also reveal that for more than two months, the scientists whose advice guided Downing Street did not clearly signal their worsening fears to the public or the government. Until March 12, the risk level, set by the government’s top medical advisers on the recommendation of the scientists, remained at “moderate,” suggesting only the possibility of a wider outbreak.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Hospitalized for Coronavirus Tests – WSJ - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized for tests on Sunday after suffering persistent symptoms of the new coronavirus 10 days after he tested positive for the illness, his office said. It said his admission to a hospital, under his doctor’s advice, was a precautionary step. An official said the admission wasn’t an emergency, but was considered sensible given his continuing symptoms, which included a high temperature. Mr. Johnson, 55 years old, was said to remain in charge of the government, and in contact with ministerial colleagues and officials. Hardest-hit states brace for coronavirus infection apex, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hospitalized, and data from a travel company shows many Chinese have begun traveling again. WSJ’s Jason Bellini has the latest on the pandemic. Photo: Will oliver/Shutterstock Mr. Johnson has been in isolation in his apartment at 11 Downing Street since testing positive for the virus.   Mr. Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, said Saturday she was “on the mend” after isolating herself for seven days after she suffered symptoms. The announcement of Mr. Johnson’s hospitalization came minutes after a rare, special televised speech to the nation by Queen Elizabeth II, who drew parallels with British experience during World War II. The monarch, in a prerecorded address from Windsor Castle, thanked health care workers and focused on the difficulties of being isolated from loved ones. She cited a radio address she made as Princess Elizabeth, along with her sister, Princess Margaret, 80 years ago, as children were being evacuated from cities to avoid bombing attacks.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Moved to Intensive Care – WSJ —British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fighting a serious coronavirus infection, was admitted to the intensive care unit of a London hospital Monday evening, leaving his country’s leadership in question at a moment of deep crisis as the virus’s spread accelerates. As Mr. Johnson’s condition worsened, he deputized his foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to run the government, a spokesman said. The 55-year-old premier was conscious when he was wheeled into the intensive care unit of a central London hospital at around 7 p.m. local time, a step taken in case he needed to be put on a ventilator, an official said. Mr. Johnson, who tested positive for the new coronavirus nearly two weeks ago, had led Britain’s response to the pandemic while isolated in his official residence next to 10 Downing Street. He was hospitalized on Sunday. Earlier on Monday Mr. Johnson tweeted that he was “in good spirits.” The prime minister is the first head of government known to have been infected with the new virus, which erupted in China late last year. His hospitalization risks creating a leadership vacuum as Britain faces up to its worst health crisis in over a century. The virus outbreak is expected to peak in the U.K. in the coming week and the government has been grappling with critical policy decisions, including how long to continue restrictions on business and other social-distancing measures that have shut down swaths of the economy. Mr. Johnson, who was recently elected on his promise to deliver Britain’s divorce with the European Union, has instead found himself leading the country’s fight against Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. Britain, like several other Western nations, is trying to come to terms with a shortage of equipment for protecting medical personnel and testing for the disease. Mr. Johnson has been criticized by some doctors and epidemiologists for failing to move faster to put the country into lockdown after the virus arrived in the U.K. at the end of January. Adding to the complications, if Mr. Johnson’s health continues to deteriorate it could raise a constitutional headache at a crucial moment in the U.K.’s battle against the virus. Britain doesn’t have the equivalent to a vice president who automatically takes over if the prime minister dies.

British 5G towers are being set on fire because of coronavirus conspiracy theories  - 5G phone masts are being set alight in the UK, after online conspiracy theories have misleadingly linked the cell towers to the coronavirus pandemic. The BBC reports that at least three 5G towers were set alight within the last week, and police and fire services were called to extinguish the flames.  A Vodafone UK spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that four cell towers were targeted in the past 24 hours. Police have now launched investigations into how the 5G towers caught fire. At least one tower in Birmingham, operated by EE, doesn’t even provide 5G services but was still set on fire. “Our engineers are assessing the cause of the fire at one of our towers in Birmingham. If it transpires that it was arson, which looks likely at this time, then we will work to help West Midlands police identify a culprit,” says an EE spokesperson. “This site served thousands of people in the Birmingham area, providing vital 2G, 3G and 4G connectivity as it has done for many years. We will try to restore full coverage as quickly as possible, but the damage caused by the fire is significant.”  Rumors and conspiracy theories over a link between the roll out of 5G and the spread of coronavirus have been spread primarily through social media networks. A variety of groups exist on Facebook and Nextdoor, where thousands of members repeat false and misleading claims that 5G is supposedly harmful. One theory claims that the novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan because the Chinese city had recently been rolling out 5G. It’s now supposedly spread to other cities that are also using 5G. These false conspiracy theories neglect to mention that a highly contagious virus would naturally spread more in densely populated cities with access to 5G, and that the coronavirus pandemic has hit counties like Iran and Japan where 5G isn’t in use yet.  There is no scientific evidence that links the coronavirus pandemic to 5G, nor any immediate negative health effects to 5G. Full Fact, an independent fact checking charity in the UK, has explored the claims after a British tabloid newspaper highlighted them recently. 5G uses a higher frequency of radio waves than 4G or 3G, but regulators in the UK have recorded 5G electromagnetic radiation levels well below international guidelines.

Coronavirus: Sophie Raworth’s deserted London - BBC photo essay. The silence in the centre of London is eerie now. I have lived in this city for most of my life and I'm used to dodging crowds on the streets, being crammed into tube trains, shoulder to shoulder with my fellow commuters. I have always loved the buzz of London, the cacophony of voices from all over the world, and now suddenly it has all gone. BBC Broadcasting House behind All Souls Langham Place ChurchImage copyrightSOPHIE RAWORTH Our newsroom is in the centre of London, by Oxford Circus, Europe's busiest shopping street with nearly half a million visitors a day. Now there are more pigeons than people. They must be wondering where we've all gone. I live about six miles from the BBC. Over the past fortnight, I've been zigzagging my way along different streets into the capital, now in its shutdown state. And it is quite extraordinary. Every so often I just stop, look around me and listen. It's the silence that is so unnerving. A stillness that I have never felt in London before. The other day I stood in Leicester Square and gasped out loud. Nothing was moving around me. The heart of London and all I could hear was a flag flapping on top of one of the shut-down cinemas. Around the corner, China Town was ablaze with colour, but all the restaurants have closed their doors, the constant queues of people have gone. Even Piccadilly Circus, busyness personified, is not itself any more. The lights are still on but who's looking? Giant adverts have been replaced by tributes to NHS workers and the emergency services. Waterloo, Paddington, St Pancras - some of London's busiest main train stations - through which millions of people pour every day. Now there are just a few passengers milling around looking a little lost, and railway staff, in their fluorescent jackets eyeing me quizzically, then smiling and waving as I run past. Regent Street, Covent Garden, Knightsbridge - people flock to London for its shops. But now unless they're selling essential items, their doors are closed. Harrods, shut until further notice for the first time in 170 years, has swapped the glamorous mannequins in its window displays for giant murals of NHS rainbows instead. Covent Garden is usually so bustling with tourists and shoppers that I wouldn't try to run through it. But now I can hear my footsteps echo as I pass the shuttered shops. I have the market all to myself.  And I'm running to work through the streets of London alone - because I'm no longer allowed to run with anyone else. It is the stillness of this city that I find most strange. I can hear bird song and people's conversations from many feet away. The sound of an aircraft now takes me by surprise. London feels like an abandoned film set. As I run, my mind projects on to the city a kaleidoscope of memories, layer upon layer, of my family, friends, places, parties that I've been to, as if though they've all gone. There is a strangeness about this time. My children will tell their children about these weeks, maybe months, when our city stopped. London's life will return, the noise and crowds will be back. Until then, I will continue to commute to work on foot and marvel at this moment in time when my city stood still.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order – Henry Kissinger - Nations cohere and flourish on the belief that their institutions can foresee calamity, arrest its impact and restore stability. When the Covid-19 pandemic is over, many countries’ institutions will be perceived as having failed. Whether this judgment is objectively fair is irrelevant. The reality is the world will never be the same after the coronavirus. To argue now about the past only makes it harder to do what has to be done. The coronavirus has struck with unprecedented scale and ferocity. Its spread is exponential: U.S. cases are doubling every fifth day. At this writing, there is no cure. Medical supplies are insufficient to cope with the widening waves of cases. Intensive-care units are on the verge, and beyond, of being overwhelmed. Testing is inadequate to the task of identifying the extent of infection, much less reversing its spread. A successful vaccine could be 12 to 18 months away. The U.S. administration has done a solid job in avoiding immediate catastrophe. The ultimate test will be whether the virus’s spread can be arrested and then reversed in a manner and at a scale that maintains public confidence in Americans’ ability to govern themselves. The crisis effort, however vast and necessary, must not crowd out the urgent task of launching a parallel enterprise for the transition to the post-coronavirus order. Leaders are dealing with the crisis on a largely national basis, but the virus’s society-dissolving effects do not recognize borders. While the assault on human health will—hopefully—be temporary, the political and economic upheaval it has unleashed could last for generations. No country, not even the U.S., can in a purely national effort overcome the virus. Addressing the necessities of the moment must ultimately be coupled with a global collaborative vision and program. If we cannot do both in tandem, we will face the worst of each.

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