In Brief: March 28, 2020

Trump boosts virus aid, warns governors to be ‘appreciative’

WASHINGTON — After days of desperate pleas from the nation’s governors, President Donald Trump took a round of steps Friday to expand the federal government’s role in helping produce critically needed supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic even as he warned the leaders of hard-hit states not to cross him.

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“I want them to be appreciative,” Trump said after the White House announced that he would be using the powers granted to him under the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to try to compel auto giant General Motors to produce ventilators.

Yet Trump — who hours earlier had suggested the need for the devices was being overblown — rejected any criticism of the federal government’s response to a ballooning public health crisis that a month ago he predicted would be over by now.

“We have done a hell of a job,” Trump said, as he sent an ominous message to state and local leaders who have been urging the federal government to do more to help them save lives.

Trump said he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence not to call the governors of Washington or Michigan — two coronavirus hotspots — because of their public criticism. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” Trump said.

US eyes new outbreaks as infections worldwide top 590,000

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans rushed to build a makeshift hospital in its convention center Friday as troubling new outbreaks bubbled in the United States, deaths surged in Italy and Spain and the world warily trudged through the pandemic that has sickened more than a half-million people.

In a reminder no one is immune to the new coronavirus, it pierced even the highest echelons of global power as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the first leader of a major country to test positive.

As the death toll continued to climb in France, health workers there received a huge show of gratitude — from the Eiffel Tower. “Merci,” French for ‘Thank you,” and “Stay at home” in English were emblazoned in lights at night on Paris’ world-famous landmark.

The escalation of cases worldwide came as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared a new rapid test from Abbott Laboratories, which the company says can detect the coronavirus in about 5 minutes. Medical device maker Abbott announced the emergency clearance of its cartridge-based test Friday night, saying the test delivers a negative result in 13 minutes when the virus is not detected.

While New York remained the worst hit city in the U.S., Americans braced for worsening conditions elsewhere, with worrisome infection numbers being reported in New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit.

States impose new restrictions on New York travelers

BOSTON — States are pulling back the welcome mat for travelers from the New York area, which is the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, but some say at least one state’s measures are unconstitutional.

Governors in Texas, Florida, Maryland and South Carolina this week ordered people arriving from the New York area —including New Jersey and Connecticut — and other virus hot spots to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon arrival.

Connecticut officials have also pleaded with New Yorkers and others from out of state to avoid visiting unless absolutely necessary.

But, in the most dramatic steps taken to date, Rhode Island State Police on Friday began pulling over drivers with New York plates so that National Guard officials can collect contact information and inform them of a mandatory, 14-day quarantine.

Gov. Gina Raimondo ratcheted up the measures Friday afternoon, announcing she’ll also order the state National Guard to go door-to-door in coastal communities starting this weekend to find out whether any of the home’s residents have recently arrived from New York and inform them of the quarantine order.

Trump seeks to force General Motors to produce ventilators

DETROIT — President Donald Trump issued an order Friday that seeks to force General Motors to produce ventilators for coronavirus patients under the Defense Production Act.

Trump said negotiations with General Motors had been productive, “but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course.”

Trump, who had previously been reluctant to use the act to force businesses to contribute to the coronavirus fight, said “GM was wasting time” and that his actions will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.

GM is among the farthest along of U.S. companies trying to repurpose factories to build ventilators. It is working with Ventec Life Systems, a small Seattle-area ventilator maker, to increase the company’s production and GM will use its auto electronics plant in Kokomo, Indiana to make the machines.

Experts say that no matter how many ventilators companies can crank out, it may not be enough to cover the entire need, and it may not come in time to help areas now being hit hard with critical virus cases.

From wire sources

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AP Sources: Alleged Maduro co-conspirator is in DEA custody

MIAMI — A retired Venezuelan army general indicted alongside Nicolás Maduro has surrendered in Colombia and is being taken by Drug Enforcement Administration agents to New York for arraignment, four people familiar with the situation said Friday.

Cliver Alcalá has been an outspoken critic of Maduro for years. But he was charged Thursday with allegedly running with Maduro, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello and another retired army general a narcoterrorist conspiracy that U.S. prosecutors say sent 250 metric tons of cocaine a year to the U.S. and turned the Venezuelan state into a platform for violent cartels and Colombia rebels. The Justice Department had offered a $10 million reward for Alcalá’s arrest.

Alcalá was being flown on a chartered plane to the U.S. from Barranquilla, Colombia, after waiving an extradition hearing and agreeing to collaborate with prosecutors, said the four people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss actions that had not yet been made public.

Alcalá has been living in the coastal city since fleeing Venezuela in 2018 after the discovery of a conspiracy that he was secretly leading in hopes of ousting Maduro.

After being indicted Thursday, Alcalá shocked many by claiming responsibility for a stockpile of U.S.-made assault weapons and military equipment seized on a highway in Colombia for what he said was a planned incursion into Venezuela to remove Maduro. Without offering evidence, he said he had a contract with opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his “American advisers” to purchase the weapons.

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NYC subway driver killed in fire being investigated as crime

NEW YORK — A New York City subway driver was killed and several other people were injured early Friday in a fire on a train that is being investigated as a crime, officials said.

Fires were reported at three other stations nearby at the same time, police said.

“We are investigating it as a criminal matter,” Deputy Chief Brian McGee said, adding that no arrests have been made.

The fire killed a motorman who was helping passengers to safety, officials said, and came the day after two of his fellow New York City Transit employees fell victim to the coronavirus.

“As all of you know, this has already been a devastating week for New York City Transit,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of the agency that runs the city’s buses and subways. “And this is another horrific moment for our family.”

For nursing homes, symptoms aren’t enough to tell who’s sick

SEATTLE — An investigation at a Seattle-area nursing home concluded that symptoms aren’t enough to identify who is infected once the coronavirus enters a long-term care facility.

Residents without symptoms could have the virus, so it won’t work to simply separate those with symptoms from others. Investigators found that screening based on symptoms alone may be failing to identify half the residents who are infected with COVID-19.

A report released Friday focused on a nursing home in King County, Washington, which health officials thought might become vulnerable after an outbreak at a nearby facility, the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland.

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It concluded that as soon as there’s a confirmed case, all health care workers should don masks and other protective garments, and residents should be isolated as much as possible.

“The rapid and widespread transmission of COVID-19 that happened at Life Care Center was not a unique event. All facilities should be aware,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Seattle and King County and a co-author of the report. “That’s why preventive measures, such as limiting visitors and excluding symptomatic staff, are so important.”

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