Tag Archives: COVID-19 pandemic

Biden on COVID-19 Surge: ‘Urgent Action is Needed Today’ In Absence of Federal Response, ‘Now is a Moment for Shared Responsibility and Shared Action’

President-Elect Joe Biden urged shared responsibility and shared action in response to a horrific surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, after meeting with the co-chairs of his transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. “Urgent action is needed today,” he said.  In absence of a federal response, “now is a moment for shared responsibility and shared action.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

President-Elect Joe Biden urged shared responsibility and shared action in response to a horrific surge in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, after meeting with the co-chairs of his transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. Here is his statement:

Today, I met with the co-chairs of the transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, Dr. Vivek Murthy, Dr. David Kessler, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith. 

They briefed me on the accelerating public health crisis. The facts they presented were alarming. Our country is experiencing surges in reported infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities all over the country, with virtually nowhere getting spared. Our doctors, nurses, and other health care workers are under enormous — and growing — strain. This week’s news on progress toward a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is positive, but it will be many months before there is widespread vaccination in this country. 

This crisis demands a robust and immediate federal response, which has been woefully lacking. I am the president-elect, but I will not be president until next year. The crisis does not respect dates on the calendar, it is accelerating right now. Urgent action is needed today, now, by the current administration — starting with an acknowledgment of how serious the current situation is. Resources for frontline health care workers, including personal protective equipment that is again in short supply. Surge capacity for hospitals that are at risk of running out of beds. Clear, science-based guidance for states, cities, tribal communities, businesses, and schools that are trying to manage the pandemic. Effective distribution of testing kits and supplies, as well as treatments and therapeutics. Making a priority of dealing with persistent race-based disparities in this pandemic.

Today, I renew my call for every American, regardless of where they live or who they voted for, to step up and do their part on social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing to protect themselves and to protect others. I understand it’s not easy. I know people are tired. But this will not go on forever. We are moving toward a vaccine. We are improving our ability to test. We are developing better treatments. We can get through this — and come out the other side stronger. But right now is a moment for shared responsibility and shared action. Together, we have the power to rein in this virus. And I promise you, from the moment I am sworn in on January 20, I will do everything in my power to lead this unified national effort.

Cuomo Hits Back at McConnell’s ‘Drop Dead Blue States’ Remarks as GOP Says Will Put Brakes on Aid in Midst of Pandemic

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo hit back hard on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch  McConnell signaling he would block aid to states most impacted by the coronavirus. McConnell boasted in a press release that he had no intention of bailing out “blue states.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo hit back hard on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch  McConnell signaling he would block aid to states most impacted by the coronavirus. McConnell, boasted in a press release that he had no intention of bailing out “blue states.”

Cuomo, who is staring down a $15 billion budget deficit, said that without federal aid, states (which are not allowed to go bankrupt) would be forced to cut back on health workers, police, fire, teachers, mass transit and social services as the state.

“15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democratic so why help them? Don’t help New York State because it is a Democratic state? How ugly a thought. Think of what he’s saying,” Cuomo said during his April 23 press briefing.

“For crying out loud, if there were ever a time for you to put aside your pettiness, your partisanship, your political lens you see the world through – help Republicans but not Democrats – that’s not who we are. If ever there was a time for humanity, decency, now is the time.”

Except that is exactly who McConnell and the Republicans are, and demonstrated it through every crisis.

McConnell is clearly seeing the political advantage of pushing Blue States into near bankruptcy – that figured into how he constructed the 2017 Tax Act which limited the deductibility of State and Local Taxes (SALT) because it would adversely impact blue states over red ones, force state government to cut back on services or risk a tax revolt.

But Cuomo also pointed to the stupidity of that: California is the world’s 5th largest economy and accounts for 14% of US GDP; New York State is the third largest economy in US, accounting for 8% of GDP – taken together, these two states alone account for nearly one-fourth of GDP.

“If New York and California are allowed to go bankrupt, that would take down the entire economy,” Cuomo said.

Moreover, Cuomo insisted, “When it comes to fairness, New York State puts much more money into the federal pot than it takes out. At the end of the year, we put in $116 billion more than we take out. His state, Kentucky, takes out $148 billion more than they put in. He’s a federal legislator distributing the federal pot of money  and New York puts in more money to fed pot than takes out, his state takes out more than it puts in. Senator McConnell,  who’s getting bailed out? It’s your state that is living on the money that we generate. Your state is getting bailed out. Not my state.

“How do you not fund schools, hospitals in the midst of crisis, police, fire, healthcare – frontline – if you can’t fund the state, the state can’t fund those services. It makes no sense.” (Probably the same way you cut $500 million in funding to the World Health Organization in the midst of a pandemic.)

“The entire nation depends on what governors do to reopen,  but then not fund state government? I am I going to do it alone?

“States should declare bankruptcy? That’s how to bring the national economy back? You want to see that market fall through the cellar, just let New York State declare bankruptcy, Michigan, Illinois, California declare bankruptcy. You will see a collapse of the national economy. That’s just dumb.”

Reports are showing that the $350 billion intended to help small businesses get through the crisis has almost entirely gone to big, profitable businesses and entities with close ties to banks. (See: Banks Gave Richest Clients ‘Concierge Treatment’ for Pandemic Aid)

The National Governors Association, a bipartisan group of governors from around the country, wrote federal officials this week pleading for $500 billion to help them make up for lost tax revenues during what they called “the most dramatic contraction of the U.S. economy since World War II.”

None of the four stimulus bills that have passed the Senate, amounting to trillions of dollars of funding, have provided any aid to states hardest hit by the virus. As it happened, these happen to be Democratic states – New York, which accounts for almost one-third of all coronavirus cases and deaths; New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois and California.

Republicans have been gleeful at sending billions to corporations and well-connected, able to skirt whatever oversight and provisions the Democrats had tried to impose (Trump said he would take the reporting requirements as a suggestion and promptly fired the Inspector General), balked at expanding unemployment assistance, and reneged on promises to help states now billions in the red because of the expenses of maintaining services as revenues have all but dried up with the lock-down of all but essential work.

Mimicking his obstruction to Obama’s recovery when refused to allocate enough money for the Recovery Act, McConnell has been content to see the budget deficit rise by $3 trillion (on top of the $1 trillion Trump added even as the economy boomed, because of the Republican tax scam) as long as it could be steered to friendly industries and donors, now  expressed glee to let blue states go bankrupt.

“I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated,” McConnell said in an interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has consistently asserted that future stimulus bills would send aid to states and localities, but McConnell is now signaling that now that they have gotten four stimulus bills amounting to a slush fund with little oversight and accountability, they will be unwilling to provide direct help to states. All of a sudden, they are concerned about rising debt. (Reminder: Republicans shut down government and threatened to refuse to raise the debt ceiling during Obama unless Obama would rescind Obamacare from the budget.)

Once this last stimulus bill passes the House, as is expected, Democrats will lose all leverage to get aid to states, localities, hospitals, workers and the unemployed.

Meanwhile, Cuomo reported on the preliminary results of the state’s first statewide survey intended to determine what percentage of the population has antibodies after being exposed to the infection.

The preliminary results suggest that 13.6% of the state has been infected (and now has antibodies), with the greatest proportion downstate: 21.2% of people in New York City, 16.7% of Long Island, 11.7% of Westchester/Rockland and 3.6% of the rest of the state. The 3,000 in the sample were randomly surveyed in grocery stores and box-stores – in other words, people who were out and about.

Based on that infection rate, it would suggest that 2.7 million New Yorkers have been infected. If that were true, the 15,500 fatalities would suggest a death rate of 0.5%. However, Cuomo stressed that the fatalities counted were only those that took place in hospitals and nursing homes, but do not include those who died at home.

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© 2020 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Cuomo Extends COVID-19 Lockdown to May 15; Lays Out Strategy for Reopening Economy, Outlining ‘New Normal’

Reopening New York State after the coronavirus shutdown requires monitoring the rate at which the infection is spreading, says Governor Andrew Cuomo (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended the lockdown through at least May 15 while at the same time unveiling a strategy for phased reopening of the economy and society. What is clear is that what happens next will involve a “new normal” rather than a return to the way things have been, in everything from the health care system to workplaces and transportation systems to schools. “Nothing short of a transformation of society,” Cuomo said in his April 16 press briefing.

Cuomo also raised the alarm that New York and every other state is being bankrupted by the costs of bolstering health care while shutting down their economy, cutting off revenue streams, and chastised the federal government for passing legislation that is counterproductive because it did not provide adequate funding for states. He said that the state’s federal representatives should not pass “bad legislation” that doesn’t help states and localities, and do it based on need, not politics.

“Now that we’ve shown we can flatten the curve and our efforts to control the spread of the virus are working, we must focus on a smart, effective plan to un-pause New York,” Governor Cuomo said. “The first part of the plan is to do no harm – don’t let that infection rate go up to the best of your ability and don’t lose the progress that we have made. Second, now that we have some stability in our health care system after a weeks-long overdrive, we continue to strengthen that system and ramp up testing and contact tracing to identify those who are sick and isolate them so they don’t transmit the virus to others. Then we can focus on phasing an economic return to the new normal – but we need all those activities going on at the same time for our plan to un-pause New York to work.”

While the curve in infections and hospitalizations has leveled off, numbers of dead – 606 yesterday, down from the mid-700s of previous days – continue at “horrific” levels. New York State has had more coronavirus cases than any country, and accounts for about one-third of the nation’s total.

Indeed, the Governor confirmed 8,505 additional cases of novel coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 222,284 confirmed cases in New York State.

But Cuomo also noted that the numbers of “positives” are not an accurate reflection of infection since they only count people who are sick enough to get tested or have access to testing. Many many more can be infected who remain home. Indeed the death rate, now exceeding 30,000 in the US (nearly half of the entire country), may not account for those who have died at home. The CDC has only recently issued guidelines for a new list of “probable”  COVID-19 deaths- people who have died of symptoms that mimic COVID-19.

Still, the worst seems to be over – indeed, the only reason that the Trump Administration can even contemplate a reopening of the economy is because of the outsized impact of New York State that disguises even the uptick in other states. But Cuomo emphasized that the numbers have only leveled off as a result of the lockdown and social distancing measures that have been imposed, and because of the cooperation of New Yorkers.

The Governor said that the threat coronavirus poses will not truly be over until there is a vaccine – which is not likely for 12 to 18 months – or if there are medical treatments so that even if someone is sickened, their life can be saved.

“How do we accelerate that, expedite that? New York is ready, willing and able to work with the FDA,”  Cuomo said, noting that the state is working with many companies to develop treatments and testing in hospitals, “but that is a medical R&D function, beyond us.”

Absent that, the strategy has to be “do no harm,” he said. “Control the rate of infection – don’t let the infection rate go up or we will lose the progress made.”

The strategy of “surge and flex” to strengthen the healthcare system, by which the state increased the capacity of hospitals by 50 percent and mandated sharing and redistribution of patients, equipment and staffing worked to get through “this horrific period.” Now that the crush is over – at levels at a fraction of what the models predicted the onslaught could have been had the state not imposed a lockdown – “we have a chance to be more intelligent about handling the health care system.”

Now a chance to be more intelligent about handling health care system.”

Reopening New York will necessitate wide use of testing and tracing which will require a federal partnership, says Governor Andrew Cuomo (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Reopening society will necessitate wide use of testing and tracing for which, he said, “we need federal partnership” because no state has the resources to handle the amount of testing and tracing necessary. Tracing contacts once a person has tested positive will require “an army” of people he said.

(Our suggestion: hire an army of people from among the 22 million newly unemployed; the job can be done by telephone with little risk.)

Testing and tracing is necessary to determine how much the “spigot” of economic activity can be opened.

Cuomo showed how this depends on determining how many people one infected person can infect.

Once infection rates and hospitalization rates have gone down phased reopening will come by analyzing businesses based on their degree of “essential” against their level of risk of infection.

Reopening New York’s economy will require an analysis of risk/reward to expand the definition of “essential businesses,” says Governor Andrew Cuomo (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

“How do do you restart the machine after stopping everything? In a coordinated way that doesn’t drive up infection. What businesses reopen is a nuanced question. There is no light switch.

“Are there more ‘essential businesses’, and what risks do they pose and what changes can they make in their businesses to make them safe?”  (But this will raise the question whether the new requirements enable them to still operate economically, such as if restaurants are required to operate at half capacity if they are to reopen.)

“In a new normal, new reality, tell us how they can adjust to it.

 “We now have an economy working with ‘essential workers’ – public transit, groceries, pharmacies.  Now as we start to bring the economy up, we move up one tranche on what is defined as essential. Are there ‘safer’ businesses that can be reopened, or can be safer? How do they reopen and operate? Where should they open first (or last)? When?

“There is a matrix based on how important the enterprise is to society and how risky is that business to the rate of infection. The lower the risk and the more a priority, the sooner they can reopen. We will do it in phases of priority, then phase up, the way phased down, by percentages.

Reopening New York’s economy will require an analysis of risk/reward to expand the definition of “essential businesses,” says Governor Andrew Cuomo (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

“This will be an ongoing process, in coordination with other states. This is regional. Coordinating doesn’t mean we will always be in lockstep, but we will talk through first and hopefully not do something contradictory to other states.”

The analysis is underway, he said.

But just determining what enterprises can open based on how important and how risky is not enough.

“We must reimagine the workplace,” Cuomo said. “The private sector now has to think about what they do, how they do it, and what they need to do differently.”

That might mean determining which workers can continue to telecommute; how people can maintain social distance in the workplace.

“Businesses must strategize. There will be a new normal precaution and practice.”

“We must reimagine the workplace,” says Governor Andrew Cuomo (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Mass transportation is critical before workers can be sent back to their workplaces, so there need to be guarantees for workers and commuters to have safe transport – public-interacting employees will need necessary protective supplies and transit-goers will need to wear masks.

“Our goal is that the ‘new normal’ will be a better New York,” Cuomo said. “This will be a moment of transformation for society. And we paid a high price for it.”

But to build the “bridge” to the “new normal” requires first and foremost testing. “It is the best tool to inform decisions, to calibrate progress of risk/reward,” Cuomo said. “This is a new frontier for all of us.”

New York State tests more than any other state (which is one reason why the numbers are so much higher than any other stte). We were very aggressive and set an ambitious goal and reached it – 500,00 tests in 30 days, more than California, Florida and Michigan combined.

“This is all about figuring it out first and creating a system that didn’t exist before. But we have 19 million people, 9 million workers; 500,000 tests in one month doesn’t sound so big.”

So testing has to be much more widely available, but there are logistical and practical problems: how to set up sites and have the personnel, obtaining the supplies including swabs and vials, laboratory capacity and the acquisition of chemical reagents.

Here the problem becomes coordination of the demand for testing, with all 50 states and the federal government competing for the same materials, posing the same “e-bay” problem of bidding up the cost, interfering with orders, as happened with the ventilators.

Testing is one part of the equation; tracing contacts is also critical. “We need to create a tracing army” because every person who tests positive, all their prior contacts have to be investigated, then all of them need to be tested.  “We need to assembling an army that does not now exist,” Cuomo said, who added that he spoke to the White House again this morning.

 “We are looking forward to working with the federal government. We need federal help. Period.”

Reopening also requires strengthening the health care system, and continuing the “surge & flex.”

“Every hospital system has been an independent enterprise until now.” Now the strategy has to continue to be sharing resources “like was never understood before.” This means building out the strategic PPE and equipment stockpile; sharing among states. (New York is sending 100 ventilators to New Jersey and has sent 100 to Michigan and 50 to Maryland.)

“The key is not to increase the infection rate. We need people to understand, we can’t allow the infection rate to go up.”

So far, the infection rate has been determined by the hospitalization rate, but people are only hospitalized after they are infected and severely ill. Advanced testing will help determine the actual infection rate.

Advanced testing will determine how quickly the virus is spreading. “As we bring people out of their homes, we have to be able to measure how fast is the virus is spreading and how quickly the infection rate is rising because as Dr. Fauci noted, COVID-19 is a virus that is quite good at transmitting from one person to another. “We learned that the hard way.”

 “The rate of infection is everything,” Cuomo said. “All those early projection models assumed a higher rate of infection.

Why were all projection models higher than actualized – so far? – controlled the beast, brought rate of spread down. But if rate of spread actually happened, we would have been in much much worse situation, in a really bad placed.

Early projects of the number of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, deaths were based on not mitigating through social-distancing and a lockdown. “Plan for the worst, hope for the best,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Early projection models were based on modeling without lockdown measures:  the CDC on March 13 projected 160 million to 214 million Americans would be infected, or half to 2/3 the population – and 2.4 million to 21 million hospitalizations which would mean 925,000 staffed hospital beds or twice as many beds as there are; while the White House coronavirus Task Force on March 12 projected 1.5 million to 2 million deaths, or, in the best case scenario “if everything went perfectly,” 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.

All the models projected higher infection rates.

But, Cuomo said, that these projections have not materialized is proof that the actions taken in New York and other places have worked (and because New York accounts for the majority of cases, slowing the rate of infection here accounts for the flattening of the curve for the country).

The projected spread of the virus depends on how many people one infected person infects. If one person infects fewer than one person, the disease is under control; if one person infects just one more person, the rate is stabilized. But the infection is out of control if one person infects two or more people. “The number increases exponentially, like a fire through dry grass.”

 “This is what we have to control as we start to reopen the economy – if we turn the valve on the  economy a bit and watch the meter – the meter is hospitalization rate, or even better, the virus spread rate determined by testing and tracing– so as we start to turn on the valve, and people come out of homes and businesses reopen, if the infection rate goes up, we can turn back the valve right away.”

We have already seen this in action: on the Diamond Princess ship, one person infected on average 2.2 persons;

In Wuhan, one person infected an average of 2 to 3 people

During the Spanish Flu of 1918, one person infected an average of 1.4-2.8 people.

Here is New York State, at the severe spread,  one person infected 1.4-1.8 others, while as the rate moderated, the level was brought down to 1.2-1.45 people.

 “After mitigation – social distancing, stay at home – we brought that rate of infection to one person  to less than one other, .9. this compares to Wuhan, which locked up everything, and brought down the infection rate to .3.

So at the current infection rate of .9 there is only a margin of  of .3 before you get to 1.2, which would trigger new increases in hospitalizations.

“That doesn’t leave you a lot of wiggle room. So we start to phase reopening. We are at .9 now after an entire lockdown, if go back up to 1.2, we will have a problem.

The goal of “New York Pause” has been to cut down the infection rate to one person infecting fewer than one other, said Governor Andrew Cuomo. That will be the measure of how much the “valve” reopening the economy can be turned on or off (c) Karen Rubin/news-photo-features.com

“New York Pause has worked – the close down has worked. But we are not there yet: .9 is not enough. New York Pause will be continued with other states in the region to May 15. (That is New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, Massachusetts.)

The new shutdown will continue through May 15. “We don’t want to project beyond that – that’s one month, a long time. People need certainty, clarity to plan. We need a coordinated action plan with other states. “

After May 15, he said, “we don’t know. We will see, depending upon what the data shows. Tell me what the infection rate is, is it .9?  then experts will tell us the best course of conduct based on that. There are not political decisions.”

Cuomo has issued an executive order requiring everyone to wear a mask when in public.

 “As relatively simple but annoying as it seems, wearing a mask is one of the best things we can do.” He said he is well aware that people are not happy about it. I am sorry if it makes people unhappy, but I don’t consider it a major burden and is a simple measure that can save lives (and reopen economy). Understand, it is not just about you. I have rights, my kids and yours have rights also – we have a right for another to take reasonable safeguard not to infect.”

People will be required to wear masks on public transportation systems and private transportation carriers and for-hire vehicles, and the operators will also be required to wear masks at all times.

 “It’s inconvenient, yes, but in a closed environment, where you are not socially distancing, this is a precaution for everyone. It balances individual liberties with social conscience. After all, what determines infection rate spread? You!”

Cuomo made a big plea to emphasize that he has limited ability to enforce the measure, that it has to come down to people understanding the facts, believing in the urgency, and acting responsibly.

“It’s not about government, it’s about what people decide to do wand what people have decided to do. They have brought infection rate down. It’s about your behavior, your discipline, your education of your children, your consideration of others.

 “Wear a mask, wash your hands, maintain social distance, educate your children on what to do/not, use hand sanitizer  – make smart choices. That makes all the difference in the world.”

Cuomo reflected, “Of all the unique aspects of this crisis, the most positive and surprising to me is how New Yorkers, how Americans rose to the challenge. The policies I communicated aren’t worth the paper they are presented on unless people decide to follow them.

“I can say as governor we must do this or that, these are the most life-changing policies government has ever issued – this isn’t government saying this is your tax rate, or how to vote – this is government saying ‘Stay in house, don’t touch, wear mask’.  I don’t have the ability to enforce these measures on any scale if people are not willing to do it.

“The policies are difficult, life changing are being implemented by people because people are choosing to do the right thing. It’s that simple.

“I trust that if the facts are presented, New Yorkers will do the right thing.

“What is the right thing? The appropriate path that is socially and morally correct. New Yorkers have very strong ‘right thing’ quotient. They know what the right thing is. What I must do is give the facts, the information to explain why I am suggesting these actions. They decide. I can’t put a mask on 17 million people. 17 million people will decide, but they have done it. They understand the facts, risks, rewards, consequences.

“We brought this state forward, and will bring the nation forward.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo chided Congress for passing stimulus measures that did nothing to aid states and localities drowning under astronomical health care expenses as revenue streams have dried up.

The Congress is presently preparing a fourth stimulus bill that so far again focuses on bailing out businesses, but not states.

As counties and cities throughout the state plead for more funding, he said, “I’m not in a position to help counties, cities. I’m in the hole,” he said, pointing to the ballooning $10-15 billion deficit as a result of the coronavirus. Congress “passed major legislation to protect the economy and move the economy forward but not fund state and local governments? Then state and local government has to turn around and cut everyone that relies on them (like police, teachers, transportation). That’s not smart, not right, and is counterproductive.

“They don’t get the same political credit if they fund New York State, New York City , Nassau County or Suffolk, because that doesn’t benefit their voters. I get that politically they want to pass legislation where they can call up their people at home and say, ‘Hey, I got money for you.’ How can you even pretend you are addressing the crisis when you are starving state and local governments? This is not Democratic or Republican. The National Governors Association, headed by Chairman Hogan of Maryland, a Republican and myself as vice chairman, sent a letter to the administration.  I say to our Democratic Congressional members- Senators Schumer and Gillibrand — you passed legislation that starved state and local governments; you’re not helping the country. Well, they say, we have to get to ‘yes.’ But I say, it doesn’t matter to get to yes if the bill doesn’t do what the purpose is.”

He said rejecting a new stimulus bill would be better than passing a piece of irresponsible legislation. “We are at a point financially where we have a $10-15 billion deficit. I hope and believe the federal government should have more inclusive policy.”

As Cuomo laid out in fairly meticulous fashion the strategy to phase in reopening of the metropolitan region’s economy, the Trump administration was getting set to issue its own guidelines. Trump had initially declared he had “total authority” to order states to reopen, but then retreated after an outpouring of objections.

The economic pain for the country became clear as unemployment numbers swelled a further 5 million, to bring the number of people filing for unemployment to 22 million in just four weeks. Economic data documented the sharpest drop in retail activity in history.

Significantly, though, though New York has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus and has seen a 783% increase in unemployment claims from the beginning of the year, the increase being the 21st smallest among the states, according to Wallethub.

 “This is better than the average increase of 1,709%,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst.

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© 2020 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Easter Sunday in New York Amid Coronvirus Pandemic

By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com

A dramatic change from what Easter Sunday usually looks like. Fifth Avenue is traditionally the scene of the Easter Parade, with elaborate hats and fancy dress and, since it is New York, wild sometimes whacky costumes. This year, the streets were desolate, the churches shuttered and famous boutiques closed. At Times Square, the Tower flashed electronic thank you’s to health care workers and first responders. Broadway theaters were shut down. Here are some images:

Fifth Avenue hasn’t been closed to traffic for the Easter Parade, it is just vacant. Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Rockefeller Center, Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
“Plaza Suite,” starring Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, along with all other Broadway theaters closed. Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Times Square, Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Times Square, Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Times Square, Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Times Square, Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Easter Sunday in New York City amid coronavirus pandemic © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In contrast, this is what the famous Easter Parade along Fifth Avenue looked like in happier times:

Easter Parade, Fifth Avenue, New York City, 2013 (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Easter Parade, Fifth Avenue, New York City, 2013 (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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Biden to Trump: Lift Sanctions on Iran to Combat COVID-19 Pandemic

Demonstrating once again a clear contrast between the failed leadership of a clueless Donald Trump, who only knows how to politicize, attack and destroy, Vice President Joe Biden is calling for the US to lift sanctions on Iran, which is undergoing one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world.(c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Demonstrating once again a clear contrast between the failed leadership of a clueless Donald Trump, who only knows how to politicize, attack and destroy, Vice President Joe Biden is calling for the US to lift sanctions on Iran, which is undergoing one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. “America should lead. We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger… To stop this pandemic effectively, every country on earth will need to work together.” Here is Biden’s statement:  –Karen Rubin, news-photos-features.com.

In times of global crisis, America should lead. We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been. And, in the midst of this deadly pandemic that respects no borders, the United States should take steps to offer what relief we can to those nations hardest hit by this virus — including Iran — even as we prioritize the health of the American people.

Iran is struggling to contain one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. While the Iranian government has failed to respond effectively to this crisis, including lying and concealing the truth from its own people, and it continues to act provocatively in the region, the Iranian people are hurting desperately. It is bad enough that the Trump administration abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in favor of a “maximum pressure” strategy that has badly backfired, encouraging Iran to become even more aggressive and restart its nuclear program. It makes no sense, in a global health crisis, to compound that failure with cruelty by inhibiting access to needed humanitarian assistance. Whatever our profound differences with the Iranian government, we should support the Iranian people. 

There are already humanitarian exceptions in place for sanctions, but in practice, most governments and organizations are too concerned about running afoul of U.S. sanctions to offer assistance. As a result, our sanctions are limiting Iran’s access to medical supplies and needed equipment. The Trump Administration should take immediate steps to address this problem and streamline channels for banking and public health assistance from other countries in response to the health emergency in Iran. 

Specific steps should include: issuing broad licenses to pharmaceutical and medical device companies; creating a dedicated channel for international banks, transportation companies, insurers, and other service firms to help Iranians access life-saving medical treatment; issuing new sanctions guidance to these groups and international aid organizations to make it clear how they can immediately, directly, and legally respond to the tragedy in Iran, without fear of penalty; and, for entities already conducting enhanced due diligence, it should issue comfort letters to reassure them that they will not be subject to U.S. sanctions if they engage in humanitarian trade with Iran to support its COVID-19 response. The administration should also consider similar steps to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not inhibit live-saving medical assistance to other countries hard hit by the virus.

The administration’s offer of aid to Iran is insufficient if not backed by concrete steps to ensure the United States is not exacerbating this growing humanitarian crisis. Whatever our many, many disagreements with the Iranian government, it’s the right and the humane thing to do. And Iran also should make a humanitarian gesture and allow detained American citizens to return home.

To stop this pandemic effectively, every country on earth will need to work together. We must address COVID-19 outbreaks wherever they occur, because as long as this virus is spreading anywhere in the world, it is a danger to public health everywhere. Artificially limiting the flow of international humanitarian assistance to pursue a political point will not only allow the Iranian government to deflect responsibility for its own botched response, it will increase the threat this virus poses to the American people, now and in the future.