Headlines: March 16, 2020
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the latest Democratic Presidential debate took place on Sunday evening in Washington DC hosted by CNN and Univision with no live audience. The top two frontrunners in the race, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders predictably sparred over the issue of the coronavirus that has led to vast swathes of the nation being shut down. When asked what he would do as President, Sanders had harsh words for the current occupant of the White House. Mr. Sanders, who has been the most vocal proponent of a Medicare-for-All system, highlighted the need for systemic change while his opponent Mr. Biden suggested that the healthcare crisis had nothing to do with Medicare for All. The conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal commented the day after the debate that Biden’s more recent policy proposals, “Show How [the] Party’s Center Has Shifted Left,” and that, “Many Democratic proposals now described as moderate are more liberal than those of Clinton or Obama.” On Tuesday, four more states will vote in the primaries including Ohio, Arizona, Illinois, and Florida.
The spread of the coronavirus on a global scale has forced many parts of the nation to shut down as the public is urged to self-quarantine. President Donald Trump, who had been in direct contact with an individual who later tested positive for the virus, took a test himself and announced that it was negative. The White House has reportedly put into place protocols to screen staff and reporters using temperature checks. Senator Lindsey Graham who had self-quarantined after also coming into contact with an infected person has tested negative. Daniel Goldman, the lead attorney for the House Impeachment effort has tested positive. Meanwhile Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the face of the Trump administration’s response to the Coronavirus has said he would like to see a 14-day national shutdown to prevent the spread of the disease. He explained in an interview, “if it looks like you’re overreacting, you’re probably doing the right thing.” His words came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new national guidelines against gatherings of 50 people or more for 8 weeks. President Trump’s message has contradicted his own administration’s recommendations, saying on Sunday at a White House Press briefing, “Relax, we’re doing great…It all will pass.”
Over the weekend attempts at social distancing were hampered at US airports as Trump’s latest travel ban resulted in massive delays and crowds of travelers were forced to wait in line for hours at about a dozen of the nation’s busiest terminals. And, a report emerged that Germany is angered by President Trump’s attempt to buy a German firm called CureVac working on a coronavirus vaccine exclusively for the US. According to the New York Times a German newspaper reported that, “Mr. Trump offered CureVac roughly $1 billion in exchange for exclusive access to the vaccine,” and that an unnamed German government source said Trump wanted a vaccine, “only for the United States.” The US has since denied the story. Meanwhile the first official Covid-19 vaccine trial in the US began on Monday funded by taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health with a company called Moderna Inc. AP reports that, “Testing will begin with 45 young, healthy volunteers with different doses of shots,” but that, “it will take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine.”
Across the country scores of announcements took place about shutdowns by state and city level officials. Nearly 30 million school-aged children are staying home from school – that’s more than half of all children in the US. States and cities are asking for bars and restaurants to shut down or switch to take-out and delivery only. A number of major hotels on the Las Vegas strip are temporarily shutting down. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for his state’s 5.3 million seniors to stay at home. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti went further, calling for a shutdown of movie theaters and gyms. In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio, after resisting calls to shut down the city’s schools, finally capitulated. But DeBlasio was caught going to a public gym on Monday. Congressional lawmakers are also under fire for defying the federal government’s guidelines such as California representative Devin Nunes who said in an interview, “one of the things you can do if you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.” Party-goers across the US also defied government recommendations over the weekend and ate and drank at bars and restaurants including in New Orleans, Louisiana. While a majority of the nations’ workers are being asked to stay at home or work from home, 2.1 million federal workers are expected to report to work this week. On Friday the House passed a major piece of legislation in response to the coronavirus that included in part a provision for paid sick leave for workers. But a major loophole exempted companies with 500 or more employees which means that 80% of American workers will not be guaranteed paid sick leave.
On Wall Street the day’s trading once more began with a massive slump in stocks, yet again triggering a halt to trading for a short period – a now common occurrence as jittery investors pull money. The emergency action by the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates to nearly zero appears to have had little impact. At an emergency press conference Fed Chair Jerome Powell said, “It’s very hard to say how big the effects will be or how long they will last. That’s going to depend of course on how widely the virus spreads, which is something that is highly uncertain and I would say, in fact, unknowable.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration offered little actual relief to ordinary workers and in fact planned cuts to the food stamp program were halted on Friday by a federal judge who cited a greater need for food assistance given the pandemic.
In international news, European Union leaders came together on Monday to restrict foreign travel and to ensure medical supplies are available to those who need it. AP explained that, “The virus has infected more than 50,000 people across Europe and caused 2,000 deaths.” Italy has been the worst affected European nation with 368 deaths reported in just 24 hours, and a massive jump of 3,590 infections in a 24-hour period – the biggest one-day increase so far. The UK appears to have chosen a different means of tackling the coronavirus with Prime Minister Boris Johnson bizarrely promoting an erroneous idea of letting the virus move through the population unimpeded to acquire “herd immunity.” In fact herd immunity is the term for when enough of a population is vaccinated against a disease that it protects everyone. The UK is now scrambling to do damage control from Johnson’s position. Iran, which is also one of the hardest-hit nations, announced 129 deaths on Monday – its biggest one-day jump. Neighboring Iraq announced a one-week curfew. There are fears that the spread of the virus through African and Latin American nations could set off an even greater death toll.
In non-virus related news, a gunman killed 5 people including a police officer at a gas station in Springfield, Missouri. There is no known motive yet. President Trump is considering pardoning his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who was convicted of lying to the FBI. And former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in Florida has checked himself into a rehab facility saying he was struggling with depression and alcohol abuse after losing the 2018 election.