The Latest: Crackdown pledged on black-market medical gear

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— New York City mayor urges covering faces in public.

— Trump administration finalizing recommendation for widespread wearing of masks.

— Passengers on two cruise ships allowed to disembark in Florida.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s administration is looking to crack down on a growing black market of medical supplies.

The national Defense Production Act policy coordinator, Peter Navarro, says there is a “black market springing up” to drive up prices of protective gear.

He said the federal government would step in to stop the practice.

But Trump added that states would remain the primary purchaser of medical supplies and that the federal government would remain in a backup role.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of N95 protective masks by Minnesota-based by 3M to assist first responders.

A memorandum signed by Trump calls for DHS Secretary Chad Wolf to “use any and all authority available” under the act to acquire masks produced by 3M Co. FEMA Administrator Rear Adm. John Polowczyk is charged to determine the number of masks needed, according to the memo.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers in late February that the U.S. needed a stockpile of about 300 million N95 face masks for medical workers on the front lines of stemming the spread of the virus.

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WASHINGTON — The White House says it is prepared to launch a $350 billion lending program on Friday that is intended to help struggling small businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus catastrophe.

Small Business Administration administrator Jovita Carranza said the paycheck protection program will help small companies keep employees on payroll and remain afloat.

Lenders have raised concerns that they won’t be able to handle the crush of applications as businesses scurry for a cash infusion and help keeping employees on the payroll. The Labor Department announced that unemployment claims soared to 6.6 million last week, more than double the previous week.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration decided to raise interest rate to 1% instead of 50 basis points to make the program more attractive to community lenders.

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has asked New Yorkers to wear a face covering when they go outside and will be near other people.

He cited research showing asymptomatic people could be spreading the coronavirus without realizing it. De Blasio said at a press briefing that until now, “there just wasn’t evidence” to support the move.

“When you put on that face covering, you’re protecting everyone else,” he said.

The mayor said it could be a scarf or a bandanna or anything homemade, but it should not be a surgical mask needed by front-line medical workers.

A recent study by researchers in Singapore became the latest to estimate that somewhere around 10% of new infections may be sparked by people who carry the virus but have not yet suffered its flu-like symptoms.

In response to that study and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed how it defined the risk of infection for Americans. The agency’s new guidance targeted people who have no symptoms but were exposed to others with known or suspected infections. It essentially says that anyone may be a carrier, whether that person has symptoms or not.

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WASHINGTON — The Congressional Budget Office on Thursday projected the U.S. unemployment rate will exceed 10% this quarter, while the economy could shrink by an annualized rate exceeding 28%.

The estimates don’t take into account the massive economic rescue package that Congress passed a week ago. They could be much larger.

CBO Director Phillip Swagel wrote in a blog post that “CBO expects that the economy will contract sharply during the second quarter of 2020 as a result of the continued disruption of commerce stemming from the spread of the novel coronavirus.”

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TORONTO — The mayor of Canada’s most populous city says anyone caught walking within 2 meters (6 feet) of another person in a Toronto public park or square may be subject to a fine of up to $5,000 Canadian (U.S. $3,536).

Mayor John Tory says the public has been warned many times and the willful disobedience needs to stop.

Tory says parks and public spaces are where the problems are now. He says people who don’t live with each other need to separate themselves.

The mayor says he doesn’t want Toronto to become New York, which has been the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

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WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency says it will give Americans more time to comment on its proposal to change the way it regulates public health threats, after a storm of complaints that it was pushing through the rollback during the coronavirus crisis.

The agency said it would accept public comment through May 18, a four-week extension.

The rule at issue would require disclosure of more of the raw data behind any public health studies that federal authorities consider in deciding whether to regulate a hazardous substance. Critics say it would weaken regulation overall, by potentially requiring regulators to disregard broad health studies based on confidential patient or client data.

Democratic lawmakers, state attorney generals, environmental groups and others objected when the agency released its latest version of the proposal in mid-March, and set a 30-day comment period.

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many, if not almost all, Americans wear face coverings when leaving home, in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The recommendations were still being finalized Thursday. They would apply at least to those who live in areas hard-hit by community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force’s discussion said officials would suggest that non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth when outside the home — for instance, at the grocery store or pharmacy. Medical-grade masks, particularly short-in-supply N95 masks, would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed guidance before its public release.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Passengers aboard two cruise ships that have had coronavirus cases and deaths have been given the green light to disembark at a Florida port.

Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine said Thursday that an agreement had been reached between local, state and federal officials and Carnival Corp., which owns the Zaandam and the Rotterdam. And Port Everglades traffic records list the two ships’ arrival as “confirmed.”

The cruise line Holland America is operating the ships. Holland America says 45 passengers who are mildly sick will stay on board until they recover, but that it needs 10 people to be taken to a Fort Lauderdale hospital for immediate medical care.

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NEW YORK — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide passed the 1 million threshold Thursday as the pandemic swept across the globe.

Johns Hopkins University’s website showed the milestone was hit Thursday afternoon. The count represents confirmed cases, but the true numbers are believed to be much higher.

Nearly 51,500 people have died from the virus.

The United States accounts for about 236,000 of the confirmed cases — more than any other country, according to the tally.

The milestone came on the same day that figures showed more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week in the latest indication that the pandemic is ravaging global economies.

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UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the U.N. is facing a cash crisis because of non-payment of dues by member states, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.N. chief said in a letter to the 193 U.N. member nations obtained Thursday by The Associated Press that outstanding payments for regular budget operations have now reached $2.27 billion “and we have no clear indication of when these payments might be received.”

Guterres said “unpredictable cash inflows, exacerbated by the global crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, seriously threaten” the U.N.’s ability to do its work.

He announced a temporary hiring freeze and urged all countries to pay their dues and adopt measures to enable the U.N. to better cope with a cash crisis.

The U.N.’s annual operating budget for 2020 is nearly $3.1 billion, and Guterres said the gap between its planned and actual collections is already more than $220 million.

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SEATTLE — Federal authorities have proposed a $611,000 fine for a Seattle-area nursing home connected to at least 40 coronavirus deaths.

State regulators and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services conducted an inspection of the Life Care Center of Kirkland on March 16, finding serious infractions that they said placed residents in immediate danger.

Authorities said Life Care had at least partially fixed the most serious problems by the time they conducted follow-up inspection last weekend. In a letter to Life Care on Wednesday, CMS proposed a fine of $611,000, but said that could be adjusted up or down based on how Life Care continues to correct remaining problems.

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RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia long-term care facility that tested all of its residents because of the scope of its coronavirus outbreak announced more deaths Thursday, bringing the total to 16, but said many residents who tested positive showed no signs of being ill.

The testing more than doubled the number of confirmed cases at Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, according to a statement from the facility. Ninety-two in-house or hospitalized residents tested positive, the statement said, up from a total earlier in the week of 41.

Of those who tested positive, 53, or about 58%, showed no sign of being ill.

Canterbury’s medical director, Dr. Jim Wright, said in an interview this week that at one point in the outbreak, staff were triaging patients in a way he never expected to see in the United States.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — More than 5,000 medical masks that an Alabama county received from the national stockpile were rotted, the local emergency management director said.

States and cities are receiving shipments from the National Strategic Stockpile to try to relieve shortages in medical equipment because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Christi Thornton, director of the Montgomery City/County Emergency Management Agency, said the shipment of 5,880 procedure masks was unusable because of dry rot. The masks had a 2010 expiration date, according to the city’s response to a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Thornton said they received a replacement shipment Wednesday.

Alabama has more than 1,100 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the state health department. There have been 32 COVID-19 deaths reported to the state; health officials have so far confirmed 17 of them.

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BRUSSELS — NATO foreign ministers have tasked the organization’s top military officer to help improve the 30-nation military alliance’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday the ministers had asked General Tod D. Wolters “to coordinate the necessary military support to combat the crisis, to speed up and step up assistance.”

Wolters’ job will be to locate the right aircraft to help deliver medical supplies, coordinate the use of any surplus stocks and equipment among members and ensure they reach countries most in need quickly.

While the disease is hitting all its member countries and could yet raise security concerns, NATO itself has no front-line role to play against its spread, apart from supporting national efforts with logistical, transportation and communications help.

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LONDON — The British government has written off 13.4 billion pounds ($16.5 billion) of historic debt that hospitals owe in order to free up resources in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the government’s daily news conference that it was a “landmark step” for the National Health Service.

Following days of criticism, Hancock also spelled out a five-point plan to ratchet up tests for the virus from 10,000 a day to 100,000 by the end of the month.

U.K. figures earlier showed that the number of people who have died from the virus had risen by a daily 569 to 2,921.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Categories: National News