Prince Harry pleaded with Meghans father, Thomas Markle, before wedding, filings show

31 0 20 Apr 2020

LONDON — In the days before his royal wedding, Prince Harry sent text messages to his now father-in-law, Thomas Markle, pleading with him to stop engaging with the media and blaming the press for souring their relationship, court documents released Monday show.

Harry’s wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is suing Associated Newspapers, the publisher of Britain’s Mail on Sunday tabloid, for breaching her privacy by printing a letter she wrote to her father.

The documents filed to London’s High Court filed Friday and released on Monday show a series of text messages sent by Harry to Markle, who had been expected to walk Meghan down the aisle but who ended not attending the wedding in May 2018.

These text messages were sent days after, Markle, 75, was found to have staged paparazzi photos of himself in the run-up to the event. He has since criticized the couple in television interviews.

“Tom, Harry again! Really need to speak to u. U do not need to apologize, we understand the circumstances but ‘going public’ will only make the situation worse,” Harry wrote on May 14, in an apparent attempt to salvage the situation.

“If u love Meg and want to make it right please call me as there are two other options which don’t involve u having to speak to the media, who incidentally created this whole situation,” the text reads. “So please call me so I can explain. Meg and I are not angry, we just need to speak to u. Thanks.”

The prince sent another message on the same day, “Oh any speaking to the press WILL backfire, trust me Tom. Only we can help u, as we have been trying from day 1.”

The document comes after Harry and Meghan issued a blunt statement to four of Britain’s leading tabloids, including the Daily Mail, saying that they will have “zero engagement” with the newspapers.

Back in May 2018, Markle did not respond to Harry’s texts, according to the court document, but rather issued a statement to the website TMZ that he had been hospitalized because of a suspected heart attack. This was the first time Meghan learned of the news, the document said.

“I’ve been reaching out to you all weekend but you’re not taking any of our calls or replying to any texts,” Meghan said in a message to her father. “Very concerned about your health and safety and have taken every measure to protect you but not sure what more we can do if you don’t respond…Do you need help?”

She added, “Can we send the security team down again? I’m very sorry to hear you’re in the hospital but need you to please get in touch with us… What hospital are you at?”

Her father responded by declining the offer of a security team, according to the document.

The court filing alleges that the media harassed Markle and led to the breakdown in relations between him and the couple, who stood aside from front-line royal duties earlier this year. Many people in Britain and beyond feel that the pair have been victim of ruthless coverage in the press that at times has been racist.

In the document, Meghan’s legal team said they published details of the messages because they claimed the defense team had provided a “selective account of these messages” in earlier filings.

In a previous statement, Associated Newspapers, the Mail’s publisher, has argued it was justified printing the letter Meghan wrote to her father because, as a member of the royal family, there is “a legitimate public interest” in the “activities, conduct and standards of behavior of its members.”

It also said that her father was not obliged to keep the letter private and that Meghan should have expected he might share its details with the media.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Laura Saravia contributed.

Fans go crazy for Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance: Couldve watched all 10 episodes right now

33 0 20 Apr 2020

Twitter lit up with praise Sunday night, from basketball fans to basketball greats, for the first two installments of “The Last Dance,” a documentary series chronicling Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls.

The 10-part series was initially scheduled to air in June during the NBA Finals, but ESPN moved up its release after fans begged for it on social media amid the cancellation of the rest of the NBA season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those fans, all of them hungry for substantive athlete-focused entertainment and some of them basketball legends themselves, were very satisfied.

Jordan-worship surged after the premiere.

And some expressed they were pleased to see Scottie Pippen’s story covered in the first two episodes of the doc.

“The Last Dance” is partially a product of film dating back to 1997, when Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and head coach Phil Jackson agreed to let an NBA Entertainment film crew follow the team for the season. It features archival footage of the entire span of Jordan’s youth and college career, alongside new interviews with his former teammates, high school and college coaches and former President Barack Obama, whose start in politics in Chicago overlapped with Jordan’s time with the Bulls.

Many on Twitter also praised the production value of the first two episodes.

Coronavirus batters the Navajo Nation, and its about to get worse

42 0 20 Apr 2020

On March 17, when the Navajo Nation saw its first COVID-19 case, the reservation’s limited health facilities sprang into action.

“We basically changed our hospital from an acute care hospital and an ambulatory care clinic to one that could take care of respiratory care patients,” said Dr. Diana Hu, a pediatrician at one of the reservation hospitals. “And that transition happened over a period of about seven days.”

It didn’t take long for one case to turn into two, and then 20. As of Monday, the Navajo Nation, which sprawls across three states, had 1,197 positive coronavirus cases. It has a per capita infection rate 10 times higher than that of neighboring Arizona and the third-highest infection rate in the country behind those of New York and New Jersey. Forty-four people have died, more than in 14 other states.

Watch Cynthia McFadden on “TODAY” this morning at 8:15 ET for more on the Navajo Nation.

With only 12 health care facilities across 27,000 square miles and a prevalence of chronic health issues like diabetes, the largest and most populous reservation in the U.S. is doing everything it can to cope with an outbreak that is expected to get even worse.

The fear is based on precedent. During the H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009, Native Americans died at four to five times the rate of other Americans.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know if there’s lasting immunity. We don’t know if you can get re-infected,” Hu said.

Hu said that at the Navajo-run hospital in Tuba City, Arizona, where she has practiced for 35 years, there is now a steady supply of personal protective equipment and no shortage of beds, but a 30 percent deficit in critical nursing staff means the hospital has already reached its capacity.

“We have dietitians that are in the screening tent. We have orthopedic surgeons that are doing triage,” Hu said.

Diante, 8, washes his hands at a hand-washing station installed by a volunteer for the Center for American Indian Health at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. The center is installing hand-washing stations in Chinle, Ariz., where many homes do not have access to running water.Nina Mayer Ritchie

So far, hospitals in the Navajo Nation’s hardest-hit areas have been able to transfer their most critical patients — those needing intubation and potentially weeks of care — to major hospitals in nearby cities like Phoenix and Flagstaff. But doctors worry that if those cities become inundated with their own cases, transfers might not be an option.

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“I watched the trends very, very early, and quite frankly, I was very concerned. We deal with a tremendous amount of health disparities out here, which leave us with a very vulnerable population,” said Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for the Navajo Nation at the federal government’s Indian Health Service. Christensen said she’s expecting a surge of new coronavirus cases in two to three weeks.

The Navajo Nation began educating its citizens earlier than many states about social distancing and hand-washing, but Christensen said part of the problem is that the advice rings hollow for many on the reservation.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez wears a mask at his home in Window Rock, Ariz., where he has been quarantining since learning that he and Vice President Myron Lizer were exposed to someone with COVID-19.Ray Farmer

“You’re telling people, ‘Wash your hands for 20 seconds multiple times a day,’ and they don’t have running water. Or you’re saying, ‘Go buy groceries for two or three weeks and shelter in place and don’t come out,’ but people can’t afford groceries for two or three weeks. So it’s just a setup for frustration and concern by the population here.”

When combined with the comorbidities, or pre-existing conditions, that already plague the Navajo Nation — like heart disease, diabetes and obesity — public health experts worry that difficulty accessing basic needs like food and water is going to compound the crisis.

“Our federal government, since treaties were signed in the late 19th and early 20th century, has broken promise after promise after promise,” said Allison Barlow, director of the Center for American Indian Health, or CAIH, at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And what we’re seeing today is the accumulation of those broken promises and where it has left people.”

“There has been chronic underfunding of the health systems and infrastructure, from electricity to plumbing to water supplies. All of these things are inflaming the COVID epidemic right now,” Barlow said.

To help alleviate the frustrations, CAIH and other public health groups that have long been active on the reservation are stepping in.

CAIH is building hand-washing stations for citizens without running water and delivering care packages of food, water and cleaning supplies to remote homes and the elderly.

The Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment program, or COPE, a nonprofit focused on native health that grew out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston a decade ago, has helped turn local motels into respiratory care facilities for the homeless population in Navajo country.

Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer.Ray Farmer / NBC News

Both CAIH and COPE are supporting the Indian Health Service with contact-tracing, and both organizations, which operate on donations and grants alone, estimate that their monthly costs for health activities on the reservation have doubled during the pandemic.

The U.S. government funds tribal health care, as agreed upon in historic treaties between the U.S. and American Indian tribes, but the Navajo Nation — among other tribal nations — has faced crippling delays in receiving emergency funding.

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Since COVID-19 began sweeping across Indian country five weeks ago, the Navajo Nation has spent $4 million from its own coffers, President Jonathan Nez told NBC News.

“I’m keeping all these receipts, because after this emergency operation, I’ll be giving those receipts to Uncle Sam for a full reimbursement,” Nez said. He noted that traditional sources of revenue for the tribal nation, like its casino and coal mine, have been shut down because of the virus.

Nez said that federal funds finally began to trickle into the tribal nation earlier this month and that Indian Health Service facilities received rapid-response tests and additional ventilators, but he said they still need more assistance.

“These dollars that were allocated by Congress and signed into law by the president are monies to help U.S. citizens,” he said. “And, you know, it just seems alarming that the first citizens of this country are kind of pushed to the back burner.”

On Thursday, the tribal nation made the unprecedented move of putting out a public call for donations, asking for money as well as supplies like N95 masks, hand sanitizer and thermometers for health care workers and the community.

Friday marked the deadline for the 574 tribal nations to submit their requests for funds from an $8 billion sum that was appropriated for American Indian tribes as part of the March coronavirus stimulus package known as the CARES Act. Tribal nations have been told that those funds will be disbursed by Friday.

“We are a sovereign nation, but we’re a ward of the federal government, and so we have to wait until decision-makers are able to, I guess, collaborate and agree upon themselves that this is the time to assist Indian Country,” Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer said.

For health care providers like Hu in Tuba City, that means hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

“We’re kind of feeling like we’re at maybe mile 3.5. We’ve had the sprint start, and we kind of have to pace ourselves. So what we’re doing is we’re trying to strategize,” she said. “Let’s hope that the flattening of the curve occurs so we don’t overwhelm anyone in the medical systems, but if we don’t, let’s plan as if we need to keep this on until September.”

The Last Dance: Docuseries on Michael Jordans career debuts amid coronavirus

42 0 20 Apr 2020

Basketball fans still smarting from the double injury of Kobe Bryant’s sudden death and the aborted NBA season were treated Sunday night to an electrifying portrait of Michael Jordan, arguably the game’s all-time greatest player, in what some argue was his ultimate performance — the Chicago Bulls’ sixth championship season in eight years.

Sports cable network ESPN aired the first two episodes of its sweeping 10-part documentary series, “The Last Dance,” about Jordan’s Bulls through the lens of the team’s 1997-98 season, Jordan’s last in Chicago.

The series was initially scheduled to air in June during the NBA Finals, but the network moved up its release after fans clamored for it on social media as live professional sports ground to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Last Dance” has been in the works since 1997, when Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and head coach Phil Jackson agreed to let an NBA Entertainment film crew follow the team for the season.

It features archival footage of the entire span of Jordan’s youth and college career, alongside new interviews with his former teammates, basketball greats like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, as well as Jordan’s high school and college coaches and even former President Barack Obama, who cut his teeth in politics in Chicago during Jordan’s tenure with the Bulls.

Part one of the series introduces the high drama and tension that hung over the team to start the 1997-98 season.

Speculation swirled as to whether the Bulls would fire coach Phil Jackson, who led the Bulls to five titles in seven years. And Jordan’s most important supporting teammate, Scottie Pippen, was injured and publicly feuding with the team’s management over his salary and rumors that he would be traded despite coming off of back-to-back championship seasons.

Jordan’s fame and career were reaching a zenith as the team played in a tournament abroad in Paris before the season.

“Michael was like the pied piper walking down the Champs-Élysées,” remembers former NBA commissioner David Stern, who died in January.

The episode bounces back to Jordan’s success at the University of North Carolina, when he made the game-winning shot with seconds left in the 1982 NCAA national title game against Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas.

“It gave me the confidence I needed to start to excel at the game of basketball,” Jordan said.

The opening hour reveals Jordan’s jarring transition from the discipline of collegiate basketball under premier coach Dean Smith, to arriving as a rookie on the 1985 underperforming and hard-partying Bulls.

Michael Jordan performs a signature dunk during the 1988 slam-dunk competition, part of the NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago.John Swart / AP

Jordan describes one night on the road when he knocked on the hotel room door of a teammate. Inside, Jordan said he saw women and players snorting cocaine and smoking marijuana, “things I’ve never seen in my life as a young kid.”

Part two of the series flashes back to the earliest days of Jordan’s basketball life, his childhood in Wilmington, North Carolina, of the 1970s, where his notorious competitive spirit took shape playing basketball against his older brother Larry.

“I always felt I was fighting Larry for my father’s attention,” Jordan recalled.

His mother described a sobbing teenage Jordan who failed to make the high school varsity team as a sophomore and the fire that lit inside him to improve.

It bounces forward to the 1985-86 season, whose playoffs were something of a coming out party for him. Forced to play severely reduced minutes due to a broken ankle, Jordan somehow willed his 30-win team into the playoffs for the second year in a row.

With his time limitation lifted, his hunger to win high and the expectations for the Bulls against Larry Bird’s 67-win Boston Celtics low, conditions were ripe for Jordan to show basketball fans what he was capable of. The Bulls lost the series, but not before Jordan put up 49 points and then 63 points against one of the sport’s most formidable teams.

“That wasn’t Michael Jordan out there. That was God disguised as Michael Jordan,” Bird said of the performance.

Social media reaction to the first two of ten hours documenting Jordan’s career brought praise of some of the game’s greats.

“Michael Jordan’s Last Dance was fantastic and I loved all two hours of it!! Young fans that never got to see Michael play now understand why he’s the 🐐 of basketball!” Magic Johnson said in a tweet.

The next two installments in the series air on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. It will also be available for international fans on Netflix.

Coronavirus live updates: U.S. death toll passes 40,000

38 0 20 Apr 2020

UNICEF seeks more aid for at-risk kids in the Middle East

The U.N. children’s agency appealed Monday for an additional $92.4 million to help fight the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East and North Africa, a conflict-battered region with the highest number of children in need anywhere.

Yemen is a top concern, said Ted Chaiban, the regional chief of UNICEF. After five years of civil war, half the health centers in Yemen no longer operate. Two million children are malnourished, including 400,000 who suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

“It was already critical to address the needs of children in Yemen. With COVID-19, now you’ve got this extra lawyer of vulnerability,” Chaiban said, adding that the increased funding is needed for a range of programs across the region to soften the blow of the pandemic.

Shake Shack to return $10 million in small-business loan money

Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer and CEO Randy Garutti announced just before midnight Sunday that the company had been able to access additional capital needed “to ensure our long term stability” and would return the $10 million it was granted through the CARES Act.John Locher / AP

Shake Shack, one of several large restaurant chains that secured federal loans through the coronavirus stimulus law meant to help small businesses, said Sunday night that it is giving all $10 million back.

The New York-based hipster-favorite burger company is among more than a dozen companies with revenues in the hundreds of millions that are reported to have received money from the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, which set aside $349 billion in the stimulus law called the CARES Act to help small businesses keep their workers on the payroll.

Less than two weeks after it started, the program has already run out of money.

In a statement Sunday night on LinkedIn, Danny Meyer, Shake Shack’s founder and CEO of its parent company, CEO Union Square Hospitality Group, and Randy Garutti, Shake Shack’s CEO, said they had no idea the money would dry up so quickly, and after they were able to secure separate funding last week, “we’ve decided to immediately return the entire $10 million” so restaurants that “need it most can get it now.”

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Nursing home transparency rules announced

The federal agency that oversees nursing homes announced new transparency measures Sunday requiring the disclosure of coronavirus cases to patients’ families and public health officials.

Speaking at a White House briefing, Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called the new policies “important” and said they will support a nationwide effort to track the virus and slow its spread.

“As we reopen the United States, our surveillance effort around the virus will begin in nursing homes,” Verma said.

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Reese Loggins, a 10-year-old boy from High Point, North Carolina, who’s battling leukemia at Duke University Hospital, looked outside his window and found a surprise birthday gift hanging in mid-air.

Because of visiting restrictions and social distancing guidelines, his parents wanted to make the day extra special for Reese. It was the second birthday he would spend in the hospital.

“It’s been really tough,” said his mother, Michelle Loggins. “The closer his birthday got, the more he was talking about biking, how much he misses biking around.” 

The morning of Reese’s birthday last Wednesday, construction crews used a crane to lift a bicycle gift up to his fifth-floor window, sang “Happy Birthday” and displayed a banner atop a nearby building that read, “Happy 10th Birthday Reese.” Then nurses and other staff entered Reese’s room and sang “Happy birthday.” 

The call has been answered: Animal shelters across the U.S. are emptying amid coronavirus pandemic

34 0 20 Apr 2020

Megan Lemaire always wanted a dog growing up, but was never allowed to have one.

So when Lemaire, a 22-year-old student at Washington University in St. Louis, heard that area shelters needed foster families to care for animals during the coronavirus outbreak, she and her roommate applied to provide a home to a pet in need.

They drove to the shelter, where they were paired with the second dog they met — Vorhees, a pitbull mix. “We just really loved her,” Lemaire said.

As coronavirus spreads across the U.S., Americans in some of the country’s hardest-hit regions have stepped up to foster and adopt animals, keeping them out of shelters. NBC News contacted shelters and animal advocacy organizations with facilities in California, Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Texas, Washington, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and North Carolina. Every single organization said it was overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support that got animals out of shelters and into loving foster and adoptive homes.

Megan Lemaire takes her foster dog, Vorhees, on a walk in St. Louis. Vorhees has lived with Megan and her roommate for three weeks.Arno Goetz

Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Kitty Block said that the organization has worked with its 400 shelter partners to spread the word about the need to clear shelters by placing pets with foster and adoptive homes. “The call has been answered,” Block said.

Matt Bershadker, president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), said that the organization has seen a 70 percent increase in animals entering foster care in their New York City and Los Angeles programs compared to this time last year.

In Los Angeles, Bershadker said the organization is delivering kittens to foster and adoptive families using ride-sharing apps. A spokesperson for Los Angeles County Animal Services told NBC News in an email that the county placed 307 animals in foster care and found homes for 919 pets in March.

Victoria Gingrey, a spokesperson for The Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County in hard-hit Washington state, told NBC News that the shelter has placed 475 animals in adoptive homes since March 1. The shelter had only 25 animals available for adoption as of Wednesday, which Gingrey said is “pretty low” for this time of year.

The Liberty Humane Society shelter in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from the pandemic’s epicenter in New York City, put out a plea to the public to foster pets, but Executive Director Irene Borngraeber said she did not know whether people would step up to care for the animals.

Borngraeber said the shelter was “overwhelmed” by the level of response they received from the public. “We were actually able to place every single one of our animals into foster care, the day before [New Jersey’s] shelter-in-place order formally went into place,” she said.

Baytown Texas Adoption Center was able to clear out its shelter by March 28. The shelter, just 30 minutes outside of Houston, had no foster program in place when the state announced its first coronavirus case on March 4. But April Moore, the animal services manager for the city, said that the shelter began building a foster program on March 16. Just eight days later, the shelter placed its first dog in a foster home. The shelter had just one dog left in its care when NBC News spoke to Moore on Wednesday.

In Georgia, shelters have also found success placing animals in adoptive and foster homes. “We’ve seen an incredible outpouring of support,” Atlanta Humane Society Spokesperson Christina Hill, said. “It’s been really heartwarming to see that.”

Hill told NBC News that the shelter has placed 217 animals in foster homes since March 11, and found 151 animals permanent homes between March 11 and 15. As of Tuesday, Atlanta Humane Society had only 15 animals in the shelter.

And between April 5 and April 12, Chicago Animal Care and Control had no adoptable animals, according to an emailed statement from spokesperson Jennifer Schlueter.

Now for the bad news

The shelters are empty now, but experts worry about the future.

Shelter directors told NBC News they worry that the economic impact of the pandemic, which hit the U.S. at the start of peak breeding season, may cause an influx of homeless pets in the coming months.

Early spring marks the beginning of “kitten season,” when animals tend to reproduce in large numbers. Usually, shelters work with animal control officers to trap and sterilize homeless animals to combat overpopulation. And new adoptions are spayed or neutered before the adoption process is completed.

But most of the shelters NBC News contacted have halted spay and neutering procedures, saving surgical veterinary care and essential supplies for the sickest animals. The Humane Society of Greater Miami is spaying and neutering shelter animals once per week, but the clinic is closed to the general public.

Susie, a dog fostered and adopted during the coronavirus pandemic, plays with her new owner.Courtesy Atlanta Humane Society

With an estimated 22 million Americans now unemployed, the shelter directors said that they worry it will be difficult to find homes for the surge in newborn animals they expect to see, and that already-adopted pets may be surrendered by families that can no longer afford to care for them.

The majority of shelters NBC News spoke to have programs to get pet food to families in need. Other shelters, like the Humane Society of Greater Miami, do not have a pet food bank but provide the food and supplies foster families need to care for their pets.

Bershadker said that the ASPCA has provided 9,000 pets with food at its distribution centers in New York City, Miami, Fla., Asheville, N.C., and Los Angeles. He said the organization expects to serve 100,000 pets by mid June.

“The idea behind this is to provide the critical resources to pet owners so that they can responsibly keep and care for the pets that they love and they’re bonded to — keep them out of the shelter in the first place,” Bershadker said.

And with at least 720,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S. as of Saturday, shelters are concerned they may see an influx of animals surrendered or abandoned by sick owners.

Scott Giacoppo, president of the National Animal Care and Control Association, told NBC News that the best way to prevent that type of overcrowding is to make a plan for what will happen to a pet if the owner becomes sick with COVID-19. He said that owners should put a list of multiple people who would take their pet in on their front door, along with contact information and care instructions, in case animal control is called for an unresponsive pet owner.

Ziggy plays with his new owner and two of his foster kitten housemates. He was fostered and adopted during the coronavirus pandemic.Courtesy Atlanta Humane Society

If foster families are no longer able to care for their animals, the shelters NBC News spoke to said they either recruit a new family to take the animal or take the animal in while they try to find the animal a new home. “While we always want to empower our foster care providers to take an active role in helping the pet in their care find their new home,” said Moore. “We are also prepared to take a pet back into care at the shelter when or if the need arises.”

Hill said that more than 70 percent of the animals in Atlanta Humane Society’s foster care program have already been adopted. But she emphasized that it is important for foster families to try to let the shelter know as soon as possible if they can no longer care for the pet, so that the shelter can find another home.

Shelters are also in need of more financial and material donations to help provide essential care for their animals. But James Bias, executive director of the Connecticut Humane Society, said that it is important to find out what a local shelter needs before trying to donate. “Reach out. Check their website, check their social media,” Bias said. “Don’t assume that they’re going to need certain things and just show up with those items.”

In St. Louis, Lemaire has now had Vorhees at home for three weeks. In addition to the comfort of daily dog snuggles, Lemaire said having a dog has provided a lot of structure to a schedule that would have otherwise revolved around remote classes. Lemaire said she does not plan to adopt Vorhees because of the uncertainty of post-graduate life, and has worked with the organization she fosters for, the Center for Animal Rescue and Enrichment STL, to place the dog in a permanent home. Lemaire said that the experience has been “a true dream come true.”

Grainger, silent partner in coronavirus contract, sold protective gear to U.S. for double the cost

36 0 20 Apr 2020

WASHINGTON — It pays to be the middleman — especially in a time of crisis.

For W.W. Grainger Inc., a big industrial supply company, that meant quickly doubling the price of coveralls in a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is worth as much as $35.8 million. The short of it: Grainger, acting as the silent partner in a deal between the federal government and two other companies, bought coveralls at $4 apiece from DuPont and then sold them to Uncle Sam for $7.96 apiece.

“Yes, these are the same suits,” a spokesperson for the HHS department said. “Grainger is DuPont’s distributor.” The coveralls are used to protect health care workers, first responders and others from the coronavirus.

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For a while, Grainger’s role in the four-way partnership, established through the White House coronavirus task force’s Project Airbridge, was something of a secret.

Under the deal, the U.S. government paid Federal Express to fly Tyvek, a synthetic material, from a DuPont facility in Richmond, Virginia, to Vietnam, where it was sewn into coveralls at a factory that DuPont uses. DuPont first told NBC News that it sold the suits to the federal government, which paid FedEx to fly the finished product back to the U.S.

But DuPont typically doesn’t sell directly to the federal government and it may have needed a partner for immediate entree into the contracting system. A person familiar with the arrangement said the federal government was specifically interested in purchasing DuPont’s Tyvek-based coveralls.

President Donald Trump, the HHS Department, DuPont and FedEx all heralded the agreement last week. They praised each other, but none of them mentioned Grainger. Later, a DuPont spokesman told NBC News that his company had actually sold the suits to an intermediary but refused to name the company.

Federal contracts revealed that it was Grainger, a Fortune 500 company that has suddenly become a more prominent provider of protective clothing as the government’s response to coronavirus kicked into high gear last month. The HHS department bought the first batch of 2.25 million suits at a total cost of $17.9 million from Grainger and holds an option for a second set of the same size at the same cost.

Though Grainger has a nationwide distribution network, its contract with the HHS department is only for the purchase of the coveralls and the associated paperwork that cleared the way for FedEx to leave Vietnam with the goods and land in the U.S., according to the HHS department spokesperson.

“It’s important to note that the sale price was nearly 10 percent lower than the standard listed price for this off-schedule transaction,” Joseph Micucci, a spokesman for the company, said in an email response to questions from NBC News about what is by far the largest federal contract Grainger has ever won for apparel. “[W]e carefully review all pricing to ensure that any price increases are only the result of our increased costs.”

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Grainger lists several styles and sizes of Tyvek coveralls at $221 for packages of 25, a 10 percent cut from which is $7.96 per suit — the amount charged to the HHS Department for the stock DuPont says it sold to Grainger for $4 per unit.

A senior administration official familiar with supply-chain issues said that Vice President Mike Pence’s coronavirus task force and its subunits bought as much available stock of personal protective equipment as possible and have worked to use partnerships like Project Airbridge to expedite the process of obtaining material from overseas. In the case of the coveralls, that reduced shipping time from the U.S. to Vietnam and back from 90 days to 10 days.

Canadian authorities say at least 10 people, including officer, killed in mass shooting

49 0 19 Apr 2020

Authorities in Canada said Sunday that at least 10 people, including a police officer, were killed in a mass shooting in Nova Scotia over the weekend.

The suspect, identified earlier as Gabriel Wortman, 51, was killed after a lengthy manhunt, said Chris Leather, the criminal operations officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Nova Scotia.

Commanding Officer Lee Bergerman identified the officer as constable Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force. She was married with two children. Another officer was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries, Bergerman said.

“The impact of the incident will extend from one end of the province to the other,” Bergerman told reporters.

Gabriel Wortman.RCMP Nova Scotia

Police went to a home in the small rural community of Portapique on Saturday night in response to multiple 911 calls, Leather said. On arrival, they found several bodies inside and outside the home but no suspect, Leather said.

The relationship between the victims and the suspect wasn’t immediately clear. Leather declined to specify a potential motive, saying it was too early in the investigation. He said the shooting appeared to be random, but added Wortman was wearing a police uniform and driving a “mock up” of a Mountie cruiser when he fled the scene.

This pre-planning made it seem as though it wasn’t a random act, he said.

An initial search for Wortman led to multiple structures that were on fire, Leather said. The search later continued continued to “multiple” communities around Nova Scotia.

Wortman was located Sunday morning and is now dead, Leather said. Authorities did not say how he died.

Tom Taggert, a councillor for the area for for the Municipality of Colchester, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Portapique was a “beautiful, quiet, rural community” with about 100 to 250 residents.

What a renowned infectious diseases doctor learned when he got COVID-19

32 0 19 Apr 2020

Dr. Michael Saag is one of the nation’s best authorities on the coronavirus — not only because he’s researched viruses for more than three decades, but also because he recently recovered from the illness himself.

Saag has published research on HIV/AIDS dating back to the 1980s. He now serves as the associate dean for global health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, as well as the director of UAB’s Center for AIDS Research.

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He was diagnosed with COVID-19 just over one month ago, on March 16. He described the illness as a “horror” that included fever, muscle aches, fatigue and difficulty thinking.

Dr. Michael Saag is an infectious disease expert, and director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He also just recovered from COVID-19.Courtesy Dr. Michael Saag

Now fully recovered, Saag, an infectious diseases doctor, treats other COVID-19 patients at a clinic in Birmingham.

NBC News spoke with Saag recently about his experience with the illness, which he recovered from without needing to be hospitalized. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

NBC News: Talk about your personal experience with COVID-19. How did the illness affect you?

Saag: It’s been an interesting ride; a scary roller coaster, and every night is horrible. The mornings are better, but it sort of teases folks — myself included — into thinking that it’s going away. And then, boom,! It comes right back. For me, that went on for eight days in a row.

I would sit awake, counting the minutes until morning almost, wondering if my breathing was going to get worse and I’d end up on a ventilator.

The nights are so bad, because as a physician, I know what can happen. And so I would sit awake, counting the minutes until morning almost, wondering if my breathing was going to get worse and I’d end up on a ventilator. That was the horror of it.

NBC News: What was your treatment plan?

Saag: We don’t have a proven treatment and I think that’s essential to understand. It points out how spoiled we’ve become in the world of medicine. We have so many treatments for so many disorders that we just assume that when something pops up, we can handle this.

But the reason we can handle it for other diseases is that we’ve had time to do randomized trials that we haven’t had time to do with COVID. So, in my case, after the second night of horror I’ll call it, I was very concerned that I was heading the wrong direction. And that’s about the time a study came out that suggested using hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin.

So I called 10 colleague experts and said, ‘What do you think?’ They said, ‘Well, go ahead and try it.’ I did. I can’t really tell you it helped or hurt. In retrospect, now that I’ve been able to look into it a little bit more, I’m a little bit ashamed of myself, because I could have put myself into harm’s way in terms of sudden death. That can happen when you use those two particular drugs together, because they can cause a fatal arrhythmia, and I was not being monitored properly.

The take-home point is I totally get why someone who’s that sick would want something, because doing nothing is very, very difficult.

On the other hand, we really do need randomized controlled trials to tell us the truth of what the drug regimen does or does not do, and what its safety profile is. Until we have that, we’re really trying to fly an airplane in fog without instruments.

NBC News: You’ve not only been infected yourself, you’re treating patients at a COVID clinic. What more are you learning about the symptoms and how this disease is acting in people?

Saag: It’s unique. The infection is not like the flu that hits you all at once. These symptoms sort of gradually creep up on folks, and then it crescendos.

For some people, they may not have symptoms at all or they could clear it in five days. But for most people, by five to 10 days, that’s when symptoms intensify, and are typically worse at night: fever, muscle aches, fatigue, headache.

Loss of sense of smell is kind of a unique symptom. It’s not present in everyone. But if I have a patient call me and say, ‘I don’t feel good and I’ve lost my sense of smell’ — until proven otherwise, they have COVID, there’s no question about it.

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NBC News: It’s now been shown the virus can have a neurologic impact. Did you have those kinds of symptoms?

Saag: There’s no question that it clouds cognition. At night, I was not thinking clearly. I can’t say I was delirious, but I had to focus hard when talking. And I had to focus hard when thinking of, for example, answering an email, which I learned not to do when I didn’t feel well.

NBC News: What mechanism do you think causes those cognitive deficits?

Saag: I’m pretty confident it’s inflammation. It’s our immune system that’s aggressively attacking the virus, and the byproduct of that battle is causing collateral damage. It’s friendly fire. It’s our immune system going haywire trying to throw everything at this virus. But in the course of doing that, it’s causing damage inadvertently to other tissues.

To get a little bit more technical, when the immune system responds to a pathogen, say this virus, [the immune system] recognizes that it’s under attack. And it fights by recruiting other cells of the immune system and it does that by releasing chemicals called cytokines.

These cytokines can be released in prodigious amounts. And when they are released, that’s what causes the symptoms of the infection. And the cytokines are released into the body. And those are the things that in my opinion, are causing the other symptoms such as cognitive dysfunction, neurologic sequela, heart trouble, kidney failure, maybe even the diarrhea that we see.

And it’s not until those cytokines come back under control, that the body starts to heal.

NBC News: What do we know about immunity and how long might that last?

Saag: Well, I am connected to a lot of people in research labs, so I sent blood off to several places. I’ve been informed that I have high levels of antibody, and those antibodies seem to be neutralizing antibodies, which means that they can attack the virus, and protect cells and tissue culture from becoming infected.

But the question still remains: how does that translate into true protection should I be re-exposed to the virus?

Based on other viruses that we encounter, like measles or mumps, the evidence is pretty clear that that type of immunity is protective. But in other infections, such as hepatitis C, people can be reinfected. The same thing is true for viruses like dengue, which is a tropical virus.

So it’s not 100 percent clear with coronavirus, but my personal bet is that the immunity will be protective.

If that’s true, then that’s great news because the people who’ve had the infection are protected, and that’s going to help us get out of this in the long run. But more importantly, it means that a vaccine can work.

A vaccine will be a game changer. That will allow us to think about getting back to “normal life” if it’s available — widely available — and effective.

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Governors decry Trump support of coronavirus protesters: Dangerous

50 0 19 Apr 2020

Governors across the country on Sunday criticized President Donald Trump’s expression of solidarity with those protesting various state-issued stay-at-home orders, saying his comments are “dangerous” and “don’t make any sense.”

“I don’t know any other way to characterize it, when we have an order from governors, both Republicans and Democrats, that basically are designed to protect people’s health, literally their lives, to have a president of the United States basically encourage insubordination, to encourage illegal activity,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, told ABC’s “This Week,” adding, “To have an American president to encourage people to violate the law, I can’t remember any time during my time in America where we have seen such a thing.”

Inslee said Trump’s comments were “dangerous” because they “can inspire people to ignore things that actually can save their lives.” Trump’s promotion of the protesters was “hobbling our national efforts to protect people from this terrible virus.”

“And it is doubly frustrating to us governor because this is such a schizophrenia, because the president basically is asking people: Please ignore Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx. Please ignore my own guidelines that I set forth, because those guidelines made very clear, if you read them — and I don’t know if the president did or not — but, if you read them, it made very clear that you cannot open up Michigan today or Virginia,” Inslee said. “Under those guidelines, you need to see a decline in the infections and fatalities. And that simply has not happened yet.”

The past week saw an increasing number of protests across the country where demonstrators railed against the coronavirus restrictions that health experts say are necessary to curtail the spread of the virus.

The protesters have said they believe the shutdowns, which have harmed business and stunted leisure activity, have gone too far, especially in areas that haven’t seen major outbreaks like those in New York City and Detroit. But health experts have warned it won’t take much for a relatively unaffected place to become a hot spot, as just one infected person is able to spread the virus to several others.

The demonstrations have been small for the most part. A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month found that just 20 percent of Americans would like to see an immediate return to normal, while 71 percent prefer to wait and see how the outbreak develops. That includes just 31 percent of Republicans who want to see an immediate return as well as 23 percent of small town and rural-dwelling respondents.

The protests, which have been promoted in large Facebook groups with names such as “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine” and “ReOpen NC,” have seen a large pro-Trump contingency, with demonstrators wearing and waving Make America Great Again gear, as well as “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Protests, like “Operation Gridlock” in Michigan, the largest of the demonstrations so far, have been organized and promoted by leading conservatives. Some have even been seen waving Confederate flags at the rallies.

The rallies have led to crowds gathering in close proximity, with many participants forgoing masks and violating social distancing guidelines that have been put in place.

Late last week, Trump cheered the effort to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, three states with Democratic governors. He defended those tweets Friday, saying that he thinks some states stay-at-home orders “are too tough,” adding he feels “very comfortable” with his tweets.

“These are people expressing their views,” he said. “I see where they are and I see the way they’re working. They seem to be very responsible people to me, but it’s — you know, they’ve been treated a little bit rough.”

The administration last week released guidelines for how states can begin easing restrictions, recommending a multi-stage process that includes robust testing. Governors on Sunday said Trump’s encouragement of the protesters was confusing considering the new guidelines.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, told CNN’s “State of the Union” his state is “doing everything we possibly can to reopen in a safe manner,” but “I don’t think it’s helpful to encourage demonstrations and encourage people to go against the president’s own policy.”

“The president’s policy says you can’t start to reopen under his plan until you have declining numbers for 14 days, which those states and my state do not have,” he said. “So then to go encourage people to go protest the plan you just made recommendations on Thursday — it just doesn’t make any sense. We’re sending completely conflicting messages out to the governors and to the people as if we should ignore federal policy and federal recommendations.”

Speaking with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said he’s asked protesters to “observe social distancing” and “we’re all big believers in the First Amendment.”

“They were protesting against me yesterday and that’s just fine,” he said. “They have every right to do that. We’re going to do what we think is right, what I think is right, which is try to open this economy but do it very, very carefully so we don’t get a lot of people killed. But we have to come back and we’re aiming to do that May 1. It’s very consistent … with the very thoughtful plan the president laid out.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, told CNN that Trump was focusing on protests after being “unable to deliver on tests.”

“And this is not the time for protest,” Northam said after Trump encouraged gun rights activists in his state. “This is not the time for divisiveness. This is time for leadership that will stand up and provide empathy, that will understand what’s going on in this country of ours with this pandemic. It’s the time for truth. And it’s the time to bring people together.”

A new NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll conducted just before the announcement of the administration’s new reopening guidelines showed that 58 percent of registered voters are more concerned that America will “move too quickly in loosening restrictions” and cost more lives than they are about the country taking too long to loosen the orders. Meanwhile, earlier last week, Trump said he was “not going to put pressure on any governor to open.”

Speaking with “Fox News Sunday,” Vice President Mike Pence addressed Trump’s encouragement of the protests, saying “no one in America wants to reopen this country more than” Trump, and that “when the president speaks about re-opening America it’s all about encouraging governors, as soon as they determine as most proper and most appropriate to be able to do that and do that quickly.”

Pence told “Meet the Press” that the U.S. has “to make sure the cure isn’t worse than the disease,” and that there are “real costs” to staying shut down, pointing to business closures and health risks tied to isolation.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has instituted one of the most restrictive stay-at-home orders as her state deals with one of the worst outbreaks in the U.S., told “Meet the Press” on Sunday she stood by the measure.

“Michigan right now has the third-highest number of death from COVID-19, and yet we’re the 10th largest state,” she said. “We have a disproportionate problem in the state of Michigan. And so we could take the same action that other states have, but it doesn’t rise to the challenge we’re confronting. And that’s precisely why we have to take a more aggressive stand.”

“Who among us wouldn’t rather forgo jet skiing or boating right now it’s going to save your grandparent or your neighbor’s life,” she later told CNN. “And that’s precisely what the trade-off is in this moment.”