WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Saturday defended his decision to fire Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general who flagged the Ukraine whistleblower complaint that ended in his impeachment, calling him a “disgrace.”
“I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible,” Trump said at a press briefing at the White House. “He took a fake report and brought it to Congress… not a big Trump fan, that I can tell you.”
“That man is a disgrace to IGs,” Trump said of Atkinson. “He is a total disgrace.”
Trump also attacked the whistleblower who first reported the phone call Trump had with Ukraine that was at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
“They give this whistleblower a status that he doesn’t deserve, he’s a fake whistleblower. And frankly, somebody ought to sue his ass off,” Trump said.
Trump informed lawmakers late Friday night that he was firing Atkinson, whose insistence that Congress needed to be made aware of a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine kicked off the impeachment proceedings last year.
Trump had reportedly been considering removing Atkinson since November. His decision to follow through on Friday sparked immediate criticism from Democrats and government watchdogs who warned that Trump’s pattern of removing officials from their positions that cooperated in the impeachment proceedings was concerning.
“That’s my decision. I have the absolute right,” Trump said, defending Atkinson’s firing.
Trump informed Congress in a letter Friday that he was firing Atkinson because he no longer had confidence in him.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide, were also let go from their positions after cooperating in the impeachment hearings.
Singer and social media celebrity Iyanna “Yaya” Mayweather, the daughter of boxer Floyd Mayweather, was arrested early Saturday on suspicion of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to court documents.
Mayweather, 19, was taken to a jail in Harris County, Texas, around 1:30 a.m. after a 25-year-old woman was stabbed and hospitalized, said Capt. Jonathan Zitzmann of the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office. The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries and underwent surgery, he said.
An altercation between Mayweather, rapper NBA Youngboy and a woman named Lapattra Lashai Jacobs turned violent Friday night, prompting law enforcement to show up at the rapper’s home and arrest Mayweather, according to TMZ, which first reported the arrest.
Zitzmann said police arrived at the scene after emergency medical staff responded to a 911 call shortly before 7 p.m. The medical staff that helped the injured woman contacted police and alerted them to the possible altercation.
NBA Youngboy, born Kentrell DeSean Gaulden, and Mayweather used to be in a relationship. Jacobs has a child with the rapper, according to TMZ.
“I can confirm that one of the witnesses interviewed by police at the scene is named Kentrell,” Zitzmann said.
Mayweather was released from jail on $30,000 bond, online records show. Her next court date is scheduled for Monday.
While many states have mandated people stay at home, a lot of restaurants are still open for takeout and delivery. Ordering food not only infuses cash into local restaurants (which is good for them and our economy), it can help make things easier on you.
Having someone else prepare your food lessens the overall burden of shopping, meal-planning, cooking and cleaning up — and it offers instant variety, which is a big perk these days. It’s also a good option for people who may not be able to cook for themselves. But even if takeout during the lockdown feels like a bigger treat than usual, it’s still important to be mindful about what you order, and keep it healthy — and safe.
For the safety part, we spoke with two experts about the limited risks: Craig W. Hedberg, a professor and the interim division head of the division of environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Tamika Sims, who holds a Ph.D. in virology and immunology and is the director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council.
Here’s what you need to know about ordering in while sheltering at home.
It’s safe to order takeout
Both of our experts agree with the general consensus that you’re very unlikely to contract the coronavirus from takeout meals, and they underscore that there’s no known risk of transmitting COVID-19 through food. And while restaurant staff members are already well-trained in safe food-handling measures (including handwashing, cleaning procedures and staying home when sick), Hedberg recommends ordering directly from restaurants that you trust have good food safety protocols in place. The main risk is if you get exposed to someone with COVID-19, so social distancing and contactless pick-up or delivery is recommended.
Wash your hands before and after handling takeout containers
Our experts say the risk of getting COVID-19 from takeout packaging is low; however, it’s still crucial to wash your hands both before and after you touch these materials — and again before you eat. “This will help ensure that if any germs got onto your hands from the outside of the container or the countertop, you’ve decreased your risks.” Additionally, when the food arrives, remove it from the containers, being careful not to let the food touch the outer packaging — and get rid of the containers. (Store any leftovers in your own containers.) Use your own utensils if possible too. Otherwise, wash disposable utensils with soap and water before using, says Sims.
Don’t let your healthy eating habits go by the wayside
It’s natural to try to use food for comfort when things get stressful, but if this becomes a habit, it can take a toll on both your physical and emotional well-being. It’s fine to splurge sometimes, but treating yourself by taking a break from kitchen chores is a healthier form of self care.
Seek out veggie-centric meals
Entrée salads are an excellent choice, but there are many other meals that incorporate lots of veggies. Think stir-fries and veggie-grain bowls, or create your own veggie-rich meal using a combination of side dishes. In general, it’s a good idea to fill up half your plate with produce.
Opt for whole grains over refined grains
Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat are rich in nutrients, such as fiber, magnesium, zinc, antioxidants and other health- and immune-supporting plant compounds. When available, choose these grains over their refined counterparts (like white rice, white bread, and regular pasta), which contain some nutrients that have been added back after processing but don’t offer the full spectrum.
Watch your portions
Restaurant portions tend to be on the large side. It may be tough to get used to, but a single serving of brown rice, quinoa or whole wheat pasta is a half-cup and a serving of whole wheat bread is one slice. Serving sizes depend on your individual nutrition needs, but most people’s grain needs tend to be in the range of 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups, whereas restaurant portions are frequently more than two times the higher amount. If you normally eat large servings of grains, there’s a chance these grains are replacing other healthful foods in your diet, and given the fact that 90% of Americans don’t eat enough servings of veggies each day, this may be an opportunity to get the proportions right.
Make sure you’re ordering a balanced meal
A meal that contains lots of veggies, along with lean protein, healthy fats (preferably plant-based options, like nuts or avocados) and starch (ideally from whole grains or starchy veggies, such as sweet potatoes and butternut squash) ensures you get the nutrients your body needs to thrive. And remember, you can find healthy combinations in any cuisine. Here are some ideas.
- Mediterranean: Order a platter with grilled veggies, chicken kebabs and a side of brown rice or a whole grain pita dipped in olive oil. At-home hack: Add raisins and sliced almonds to the rice to make it a more filling side.
- Diner food: Go for a veggie-filled omelet with sliced avocado, a small side of potatoes and extra veggies on the side. At-home hack: Top your omelet with jarred salsa for an extra hit of produce.
- Mexican: Try a fajita platter with grilled shrimp, fajita veggies and a couple of corn tortillas. Ask for a side of guac. At-home hack: Add some canned, rinsed and drained black beans sprinkled with cumin on the side.
- Italian: Enjoy a piece of grilled chicken or fish with a side of pasta (or a slice of pizza) and a big side of sautéed greens. At-home hack: Order an entrée size pasta and use leftovers as a side dish for another meal.
- Comfort food: Have an open-faced burger topped with tomato, onion and lettuce, an order of fries for sharing and a side Caesar salad. At-home hack: Swap the croutons out for nuts or pumpkin seeds.
WASHINGTON — There was a knock on our NBC News workspace door at the White House. I first assumed it was a colleague or a press aide coming by with an update. Instead, it was a White House official I’d never seen before with a forehead thermometer in his hand.
He had come to take my temperature before I could go into the White House briefing. The first reading he took was high; I’d been sitting by a heater at my desk for the past hour, but still my heart started to race. Several panic-inducing seconds later, I passed and was given a round, orange sticker to wear indicating I was allowed into the briefing room.
It was the third time my temperature was taken that day, the earlier two in a makeshift white tent set up outside the gate to the White House grounds.
It was all just part of the strange new reality of covering the White House amid a pandemic that officials have predicted could kill 100,000 to 240,000 Americans.
A few minutes later, I headed to the briefing room. Back in the days before the daily briefings ended over a year ago, the events were standing-room-only and the space would start to fill up an hour before it was scheduled to begin. People lacking designated seats clogged the aisles. Getting to my assigned seat was like trying to squeeze to the front row of a rock concert. I’d often go out early just to avoid the crush.
But today I waited until the very last moment.
I wanted to spend as little time as possible outside NBC’s enclosed workspace. And there would be no fighting for space, because the White House Correspondents’ Association has limited the number of reporters who can attend the briefing to follow social distancing guidelines.
There is no standing in the aisles allowed and every two seats are empty, with reporters on a rotation of when they can attend. A reporter from One America News, a conservative-leaning television network, was banned from future briefings by the White House Correspondents’ Association because she twice violated the policy by standing in the back of the room.
News organizations also have cut back on the number of reporters coming to the White House. The press area adjacent to the West Wing, usually filled with camera operators hauling around equipment and reporters working from the briefing room chairs, was empty until the briefing was about to begin.
The closet-sized, windowless room where the NBC News White House unit works is also starkly different. On a typical day, there would have been four reporters and producers crowded together less than a foot apart, with a fifth person sometimes perched on a stool as people rotate in and out during the day.
Now, my colleagues and I are there from 6 a.m. to after 7.p.m., leaving the space only to go to the camera on the White House North Lawn or to the bathroom (for which there is no longer ever a line). We almost obsessively sanitize our hands and wipe down every surface each time we enter and exit the workspace.
And our working conditions are not the only reflection of the new reality. There’s also the subject on which we report day in and day out.
At Tuesday’s coronavirus task force briefing, I sat less than a dozen feet away from President Donald Trump as he warned America we are about to go through a “very painful” few weeks. That was a turnabout after he downplayed the threat for weeks. Dr. Deborah Birx detailed how 100,000 to 240,000 Americans are expected to die within a few weeks, showing charts and graphs laying out the grim trajectory.
It was the most somber I have seen Trump in the scores of times over the past three years that I’ve been in question-and-answer sessions with him in the Oval Office, on Air Force One, from the White House North Lawn or in formal press conferences and speeches.
I have also been through a number of unprecedented moments with many of the reporters in that briefing room, and I could feel the weight of the information being presented settle over all of us, knowing how many Americans were at home watching and depending on the 14 of us in the room to get them the answers to the questions they needed.
It was a dramatic swing from the mood at the briefing the day before, which felt at times like an infomercial. The CEO of My Pillow stood at the lectern, and the president sparred with reporters, at one point displaying a new testing device like a Home Shopping Network presenter.
By the time I left at 7:30 p.m., 14 hours after arriving that day, it almost felt like my normal routine for a moment — the White House glowing in the night, a reporter doing a television hit and the regular rhythm of Secret Service agents moving about.
But as a man wearing a mask rode past me on his bike on Pennsylvania Avenue and I embarked on a 30-minute walk home to avoid taking the bus, I quickly returned to my new reality.
The husband of Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean penned an emotional tribute to her and their 8-year-old son, Gideon, after the pair was presumed dead following a canoe accident in the Chesapeake Bay.
“She was my everything. She was my best friend and my soulmate,” David McKean said in a lengthy Facebook post on Friday night.
“She was magical – with endless energy that she would put toward inventing games for our children, taking on another project at work or in our community, and spending time with our friends,” he continued.
McKean said that being in his wife’s presence “somehow allowed you to be a better version of yourself.”
“She was the brightest light I have ever known,” he wrote.
Maeve, 40, and her son went missing on Thursday after they got into a canoe to fetch a ball from the water, McKean said in his Facebook post. Maeve is the daughter of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy.
McKean said he and his wife had taken their children to a family home in Shady Side, Maryland, to self-quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic and to “give our kids more space than we have at home in DC to run around.”
Maeve and Gideon were playing kickball by a small cove behind the house when the ball went into the water.
“They got into a canoe, intending simply to retrieve the ball, and somehow got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay,” he explained. “About 30 minutes later they were spotted by an onlooker from land, who saw them far out from shore, and called the police. After that last sighting, they were not seen again.”
Townsend said in a statement on Friday night that the search for her daughter and grandson has now become a recovery effort. The U.S. Coast Guard found the pair’s canoe and later said that it was suspending the search.
Rescuers searched more than 3,600 square miles over air, sea, and land over a 26-hour period.
“This was a difficult case, and even more difficult to make the decision to suspend the search,” said Cmdr. Matthew Fine in a statement Friday. “Our crews and partners did everything they could to find them.”
McKean said in his Facebook post that it was clear to him that his wife and son have died. “The search for their recovery will continue, and I hope that that will be successful,” he posted.
He described Gideon as a child who had deep passions and spent hours reading, learning about sports and “trying to decipher the mysteries of the stock market.”
“But he was also incredibly social, athletic, and courageous,” he wrote. “And he was brave, leading his friends in games, standing up to people who he thought were wrong (including his parents), and relishing opportunities to go on adventures with friends, even those he’d just met.”
“It is impossible to sum up Gideon here. I am heartbroken to even have to try it,” McKean continued. “I used to marvel at him as a toddler and worry that he was too perfect to exist in this world. It seems to me now that he was.”
Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III said in a tweet Saturday that their family has lost “lost two of the brightest lights.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday that he had been in touch with Townsend “and on behalf of the people of Maryland I expressed our most heartfelt sympathies and prayers to her and her entire family during this difficult time.”
Maeve was the executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiative. She and her husband have three children.
Logan Williams, a young actor best known for his role on CW’s “The Flash,” died at the age of 16, a spokesperson for his family said.
“We are heartbroken,” Michelle Gauvin, the spokesperson, told TODAY. “We are in shock and mourning this tragic loss. Logan was an exceptional talent, with a kind heart, and an infectious spirit. We will all miss him tremendously.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones,” she added. She said a coroner would determine the cause of death, but it was not related to COVID-19.
Williams had played a young Barry Allen (aka The Flash) on the CW show. Grant Gustin, who plays present-day Barry Allen on the show, posted a heartfelt tribute to the young actor.
“This picture was early in the filming of The Flash pilot episode back in 2014. I was so impressed by not only Logan’s talent but his professionalism on set,” Gustin wrote. “My thoughts and prayers will be with him and his family during what is I’m sure an unimaginably difficult time for them. Please keep Logan and his family in your thoughts and prayers during what has been a strange and trying time for us all. Sending love to everyone.”
The original Barry Allen from the CBS version of the show, John Wesley Shipp, now plays the character’s father in the CW version and also posted his condolences.
“Heartsick to learn of Logan Williams’ death at 16. He was 100% committed to playing young Barry Allen, and we missed him once we moved past that part of the story,” he said. “Love and compassion to Logan’s family and friends in your grief.”
Actor Erin Krakow also posted her memories of working with Williams on “When Calls the Heart.”
Williams played Miles Montgomery on the Hallmark Channel show for several seasons, she said, and was a joy to work with.
“Logan was a beautiful, warm, silly, and talented young man. He could always make us laugh,” Krakow said. “He was just shy of 17 and had what I’m sure would have been a very bright future ahead of him.
Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett and six others will forever be basketball legends as it was announced they would be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The Hall of Fame’s announcement was delayed from the NCAA’s Final Four weekend in Atlanta after the tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it comes a little over two months after Bryant died in a helicopter crash.
“We wish that he was here with us to celebrate but it’s definitely the peak of his NBA career and every accomplishment that he had as an athlete was a stepping stone to be here. So we’re incredibly proud of him, and there’s some solace in knowing that he was probably going to be part of the 2020 Hall of Fame class,” Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, said in an interview with ESPN, as she began to choke up.
John Doleva, the president and CEO of the Hall of Fame, said this class was “undoubtedly one of the most historic of all time,” especially during a period of tragedy and hardship for basketball.
“In 2020, the basketball community has suffered the unimaginable loss of iconic figures Commissioner David Stern and Kobe Bryant, as well as the game itself due to COVID-19,” Doleva said. “We have also banded together like never before in appreciation of the game and those who have made it the uniting force it is today.”
Bryant, Duncan and Garnett combined for 48 NBA All-Star game appearances, the most of any trio who retired in the same season. They are inducted alongside basketball coaches Eddie Sutton, Rudy Tomjanovich, Kim Mulkey, and Barbara Stevens as well as WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings and French basketball executive Patrick Baumann.
The moment, however, is particularly poignant because of the recent, sudden death of Bryant, considered one of the most elite players to dominate the basketball court for the NBA.
“He was one of the greatest competitors who stepped on the court and made sure his impact was felt on both sides of the ball,” the Hall of Fame said of Bryant.
The all-time leading scorer for the Los Angeles Lakers during his 20-year professional career, Bryant became one of the biggest basketball stars in modern history. The nation came to reflect on Bryant’s career after he died in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant on Jan. 26.
“All of us can trust that this Basketball Hall of Fame honor is one Kobe would, and will, deeply appreciate,” Lakers Vice President and General Manager Rob Pelinka said. “The highest of congratulations to you, dear friend. This one is so well deserved — for all the hard work, sweat and toil. Now, a part of you will live in the Hall with the rest of the all-time greats, where your legend and spirit will continue to grow forever.”
Late last month, as officials in Cambridge, Massachusetts, scrambled to defend the city against the coronavirus, Patrol Officer Bob Reardon got an assignment that signaled how suddenly his job had changed.
Someone complained about a football game.
There was no violence, no loud noise, no threats — just a group of men playing pickup in violation of a recently enacted prohibition against large gatherings.
Reardon pulled up in his cruiser and without getting too close told the men to scatter. They were respectful, and left without a fuss, he said. But the confrontation left an impression on the 30-year-old officer.
“I never thought that on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I’d be sent to a public park to tell people to stop playing a sport,” Reardon recalled thinking. “It’s a new world.”
Enforcing social distancing is one of the many ways the coronavirus pandemic has unexpectedly transformed American policing over the past few weeks, compelling officers to drop their routines and find new ways to protect the public and themselves.
They’re relaxing traffic enforcement and leaving medical calls to fire and ambulance services. They’re taking nonemergency reports by phone and substituting arrests for tickets and summonses. They’re avoiding going into homes and buildings. They’re staggering shifts and holding outdoor roll calls. They’re breaking up otherwise ordinary gatherings and ordering people out after curfew to go home.
“In certain ways, there’s been a 180-degree change from the way we were operating,” William Brooks, the police chief in Norwood, Massachusetts, said. “Where we used to be proactive, we’ve had to completely change that and go in the other direction and hold back.”
That doesn’t mean officers aren’t responding to serious crimes and emergency calls; authorities say that will never change. But the other adjustments are necessary, they say, to prevent outbreaks among their ranks, which could quickly overwhelm an agency and lead to dangerous staffing shortages.
In the New York City Police Department, more than 1,400 members have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus; four civilian employees and one detective have died and 6,100 officers have called out sick. In Detroit, 91 police department employees, including Chief James Craig, have tested positive; a captain and two civilian workers have died and another 525 officers have been quarantined.
“That would wipe me out,” said Mike Chitwood, the sheriff in Volusia County, Florida, where he has suspended staff meetings and training, and discouraged “nonessential contact” with the public. “I have almost 500 sworn members. So if there were that number of people in quarantine here, there would be no sheriff’s office.”
Outside of New York and Detroit, hundreds of officers have tested positive and thousands more have been exposed to the virus and are unable to work, according to the National Police Foundation.
Many law enforcement officials have complained that it is too difficult to get officers tested for the coronavirus, and that it takes too long to get results.
Dozens of departments also say they are unable to obtain enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, for their officers, the foundation has found.
That is one of law enforcement’s biggest worries, even in agencies that don’t have shortages, because the coronavirus is still spreading, and the need among police — not to mention doctors, nurses and paramedics — is rising.
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“I’m personally concerned that any minute now we’ll get a CDC recommendation that everyone should be wearing masks,” said Art Acevedo, Houston’s police chief and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Where are they going to come from?”
President Donald Trump on Friday announced new CDC recommendations urging Americans to cover their faces with cloth masks in public. On Thursday, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to impel American manufacturers to speed up production of masks and other equipment needed to fight the coronavirus.
The PPE shortage has exposed a painful lack of planning by local and federal agencies, law enforcement officials say. Police agencies, largely unprepared for such a long-lasting and volatile public health disaster, have been forced to improvise, officials say.
“We didn’t wrap our minds around the potential impact on our workforce, the potentially devastating impact,” said NYPD Sgt. Paul Grattan, a fellow at the National Police Foundation — stressing that he was speaking about police generally and not on behalf of his department. “I’m certain there are agencies with no plan of any kind for this kind of thing, and among those that did it was on the back of the bookshelf. And it was difficult to have a plan for something that is so unique and unpredictable like this pandemic.”
Jennifer Tejada, the police chief in Emeryville, California, near Oakland, said that when it became apparent a few weeks ago that the pandemic was coming, she realized she would have to come up with a plan on her own.
She split her 41-officer force in two, putting half on 12-hour shifts for 14 days while the other half stayed home, ensuring they would not be exposed to the coronavirus before beginning their own 14-day stint. She closed police buildings to the public and had the buildings and all police cars sanitized by a cleaning service. She told her officers not to come into contact with people unnecessarily, as in routine traffic stops, not to go into people’s homes if it wasn’t an emergency. She prohibited them from responding to medical calls unless someone’s life was in danger.
So far, all her officers are healthy. But Tejada said she has struggled to protect them. As part of a regular screening procedure, she sought out no-touch thermometers, but they were out of stock at stores and on backorder with local manufacturers. She ended up putting her request on Facebook. A distant relative saw the message and gave her two.
And she has been unable to get tests for any officers who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
“As first responders, we practice how to respond to emergency disaster situations. But in this situation, nobody has practiced what to do,” Tejada said. “There is nothing to fall back on. There’s no strategy. So it’s every department for itself to figure out how to make this work.”
In Little Rock, Arkansas, Police Chief Keith Humphrey said even the most resilient officers can’t help but feel anxiety over contracting the coronavirus.
“The officers have not lost their passion for the job. The officers care. But they are concerned,” Humphrey said. “They may not be concerned for themselves but if they expose their families — if they’re walking around with the virus inside of them without knowing.“
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Emeryville police Officer Nicolas Drexler, who just finished a 14-day stint and is now staying home for two weeks, said that while he tried to maintain social distance while conducting patrols, it was not always possible.
“There’s a little bit more risk but that’s part of the job, and we accept that,” he said.
Reardon, the Cambridge officer, sees it the same way.
“You’re seeing so many people get sick and hearing so many stories, NYPD members passing away, and it’s something we know is real and could happen to you,” he said. “You just don’t know. But you have to do the job the best you can.”
South Korea extends ‘strengthened social distance’ for two weeks
South Korea will extend “strengthened social distance” for two more weeks ending on April 19, government officials said on Saturday.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun has expressed concern over rising infections linked to recent arrivals amid broadening outbreaks in Europe and the United States.
“We very well know that continuing social distancing comes with massive costs and sacrifice,” Chung said after a meeting on anti-virus measures on Saturday, referring to the economic implications. “But if we loosen things right now, the effort we so far invested could pop and disappear like a bubble.”
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 94 new cases on Saturday, bringing the national total to 10,156 cases. While the country’s caseload has slowed from early March — when it reported around 500 new cases a day — there’s alarm over a recent steady rise in infections in the Seoul metropolitan area where around half of the country’s 51 million people live.
China pays tribute to those who died in epidemic with day of mourning
China mourned the thousands of “martyrs” who have died in the coronavirus outbreak on Saturday, flying the national flag at half mast throughout the country and suspending all forms of entertainment.
At 10 a.m. local time, the country observed three minutes of silence to mourn those who died, including frontline medical workers and doctors. Cars, trains and ships sounded their horns and air raid sirens wailed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders paid silent tribute in front of the national flag, with white flowers pinned to their chest as a mark of mourning, state media reported.
The day of mourning coincided with the start of the annual Qingming tomb-sweeping festival, when millions of Chinese families pay respects to their ancestors. More than 3,300 people in mainland China have died in the epidemic as of Saturday.
Pressure grows on U.K. soccer stars to cut pay as crisis deepens
After days of mounting pressure, the top soccer clubs in Britain said Friday they would ask their players to take a 30 percent pay cut as the sport grapples with the damaging fallout from the coronavirus crisis.
“The overriding priority is to aid the health and wellbeing of the nation and our communities, including players, coaches, managers, club staff and supporters,” the Premier League said in a statement following a pivotal meeting earlier in the day.
It remains to be seen how players — whose wages span a wide spectrum in a league with no salary cap — will respond to the request following calls from government ministers to cut their often-astronomical wages.
After resisting efforts to shut doors, Hobby Lobby has closed all stores
OKLAHOMA CITY — Hobby Lobby announced that the ongoing coronavirus crisis is prompting it to close its stores until further notice.
In a statement, the Oklahoma City-based crafts retail chain said it also is furloughing all of its store employees and many of its corporate and distribution workers.
Hobby Lobby had resisted efforts to close its stores as nonessential services, saying its sale of fabric was essential. A team enforcing Denver’s shelter-in-place order had issued citations to Hobby Lobby stores. On Thursday, deputies in Dallas County, Texas, served Hobby Lobby with cease-and-desist orders for it to close or be found in violation of the county’s order closing all nonessential businesses to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Hobby Lobby describes itself as the world’s largest privately owned arts-and-crafts retailer with more than 900 stores in 46 states with more than 43,000 employees, according to the chain’s website.
Hospital at NYC’s Javits Center starts taking patients
A 2,500-bed emergency medical facility being run by the U.S. Army in New York’s the Javits Center began taking COVID-19 patients Friday night, the governor’s office said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the center, which had initially been planned to take non-virus patients, would instead take only those suffering from the coronavirus illness.
The New York City area has been called the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the United States, and as of 5 p.m. Friday it had more than 56,000 cases with 1,867 deaths in the city itself, according to the city’s health department.
Cuomo said in a statement Thursday that he asked President Donald Trump to allow the Javits Center facility to take COVID-19 patients, and the president agreed to the request. Cuomo thanked Trump for his quick action in the matter.
The Defense Department said Friday that in addition to the Javits Center, COVID-19 patients would also be taken at federal medical stations set up at convention centers in New Orleans and Dallas.
Americans stranded in Russia after last flight canceled just before takeoff
Hundreds of Americans are stranded in Russia after the last flight scheduled to leave the country was canceled as they sat on the plane Friday.
Aeroflot flight 102, which was scheduled to fly from Moscow to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, was preparing to depart when the pilot announced that the trip had been called off.
“A couple of people just started shouting,” said Joe Democritos, an English teacher trying to get back to New Jersey. “They were saying ‘I refuse to leave the plane. I will not leave the plane,’ in Russian, then they got the police to escort people off the plane.”
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued several alerts this week encouraging citizens to book the Aeroflot flight, noting that it “may be the last flight available this month” due to strict travel restrictions from the Russian government.
Embassy spokesperson Rebecca Ross called the cancellation “inexplicable” in a series of tweets. “To those of you who were boarded on Aeroflot 102 today only to have it canceled moments before takeoff, we understand and share your frustration.”
Renowned ballet dancer Julian Mackay was on the plane and took to social media to document the confusion. Videos posted to the Montana native’s Instagram account show bewildered travelers trying to get information from airport staff.
The State Department is working to organize a charter flight for citizens, but it requires the approval of the Russian government, according to an alert on the Embassy website. Passengers have been encouraged to seek lodging for the time being.
Mnuchin praises first day of small-business loan program — but applicants call it confusion and a scam
The launch day of the highly touted $350 billion small-business loan program had a stuttering start Friday, from technical issues with bank websites to opaque lending rules that appear to qualify hedge funds to get aid, while some cash-strapped local businesses were shut out.
“I know there’s a lot of hard-working small businesses that couldn’t get their applications processed this week,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged in an interview on Fox Business on Friday afternoon. “They shouldn’t worry about it. There’s plenty of time, there’s plenty of money left.”
“It’s been nothing short of a disaster. It’s been confusion at every turn,” said Grant Geiger, CEO of EIR Healthcare, which submitted a loan application Friday.
Geiger said he tried to apply via his company’s primary lender, Wells Fargo, but was told the bank probably wouldn’t be ready to start accepting applications until Monday. The website he was directed to turned out to be little more than a shell.
“We had our stuff yesterday ready to go. I’m still sitting here with my application,” Geiger told NBC News. “We have runway, but it only takes us so far.”
Banks had already sounded the alarm late on Thursday, with senior executives at some leading banks telling NBC News that with just hours to go before launch, they were still awaiting final guidance from the Treasury Department.
Even once the program went live at midnight on Thursday, borrowers found there was no standard application process. While Bank of America’s website rejected applicants who did not have an existing small business lending relationship with the company, Chase did not have the same requirement.
Bank of America started taking applicants at 9 a.m., but Chase didn’t open its online doors until 11 a.m. — then promptly crashed, before recovering a short while later. Wells Fargo said it was “working as quickly as possible to be ready,” but as of early afternoon had not started taking applications.
Social media quickly filled with complaints and dismay from disappointed small business owners.
“Are you kidding me @BankofAmerica with this requirement of having a credit card to apply for the PPP? What type of scam is this. I have been a loyal customer for years with my business accounts.#bankofamerica #PPPloan” tweeted Melissa Perri, CEO of Produx Labs, a New York City-based product management consultancy.
Despite the issues, the small business relief program took in a surge of applicants. BOA said it had received a staggering $22.2 billion in applications from some 85,000 businesses.
However, current and former government officials warned and acknowledged that there were gaps in the design that could leave behind some of the businesses that need the relief the most.
“It is absolutely a concern that the smallest, most vulnerable business won’t be first in the queue because they don’t have the assets to prepare an application quickly,” said Karen Mills, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and a former SBA administrator.
When the evolving rules were first designed, businesses would need to show they had a 50 percent revenue loss in the last year. Later, those rules were changed to be open to any business that had the expectation their business would be hurt.
The loan program’s designers acknowledged there are improvements to be made and the program needed to continue to evolve after it already started taking applicants and approving loans.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business, where the Senate version of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act originated, said that the gaps were real and would need to be addressed.
“There is the opportunity here for some people to come in who aren’t the dry cleaner down the street, the bakery around the corner, or the small restaurant who we are really trying to help out,” he said. One of the owners of a small business might be an investment fund, he said, noting that there should perhaps be exceptions made, based on their size.
“I don’t want to read headlines that the well-financed, well-capitalized businesses came in and were able to suck up all the money and now we ran out of money and we can’t help the small business down the street,” Rubio said in an interview with MSNBC.
“This program matters a great deal to determining whether the country is able to bounce back quickly or get sucked into a morass,” said Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who was chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration.
“If there is not sufficient governance and accountability such that worthy small businesses have to shut down, and then we find out that the undeserving high-income small businesses or politically connected businesses are the ones that get the money … then that will be a credibility disaster for the program,” Goolsbee said.