Bowing to Inevitable, Trump Extends Social Distance Guidelines Through April as Coronavirus Toll Mounts

Going long distance: President Trump—backtracking on his professed desire to open the country in time for Easter—announced that the administration’s social distancing guidelines would be extended for another 30 days, through the end of April. As of mid-day Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, there were more than 175,000 confirmed cases in the United States, and more than 3,400 deaths, about 40 percent of them in New York. Cases globally passed 823,000, with more than 40,600  deaths. Chis Cuomo, the CNN host whose coronavirus coverage has featured jousting exchanges with his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has tested positive for the disease. He says he is feeling well and will work from home.

  • Also: At least 30 states and the District of Columbia were under stay-at-home orders. But not everyone is taking the  orders lying down. Three Texas pastors filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court arguing that the stay-at-home order imposed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo violates the Constitution by closing churches, Jasper Scherer reports for the Houston Chronicle. The pastors, who were joined by Republican activist Steven Hotze, also argued that closing gun stores “severely infringes” on Second Amendment rights. Meanwhile, in Denver, an enforcement team has given out four citations and hundreds of warnings to residents and businesses violating the city’s stay at home orders, which is in place until at least April 10. Citations include a court summons and recipients can be fined up to $999 or given up to a year of jail time.


Suspicious minds: The Justice Department is looking into stock market trading by lawmakers ahead of the precipitous market drop caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to reporting by CNN and The Wall Street Journal. The FBI has reached out to Sen. Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, who sits on two committees that received detailed briefings on the impending outbreak. Sen. Burr, who sold up to $1.7 million worth of stock after those briefings, said he acted on publicly available information. Trading on inside information received in the course of lawmakers’ duties has been banned since 2012, and it is normal for the FBI and SEC to review stock trades if there are questions about their propriety.

Out of work: Ruben Vives wrote about the plight of day laborers during the pandemic for the Los Angeles Times. According to Pablo Alvarado, the executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, there are nearly 120,000 men and women looking for work on any given day in the U.S. Many of those low-paid workers are in the country illegally and without access to paid sick days, health insurance, or unemployment benefits, and are forced to continue to look for work, even though they worry about getting sick. “We can’t afford to stay home,” Gabriel Reyes, a husband and father of three, told the Times. “We have to come out and look for a job.” When Reyes spoke to the Times, he said he was $600 short of his April rent and unable to find enough work to close the gap.


Strike for what’s right: On Monday, General Electric factory workers demanded the company reopen factories that normally produce jet engines to make ventilators, Edward Ongweso Jr.  reports for Vice. Workers staged protests in Lynn, Massachusetts, and Boston—while maintaining the recommended six feet of separation—after General Electric said the company would cut 10 percent of its domestic aviation workforce, firing nearly 2,600 workers, and temporarily lay off 50 percent of its maintenance workers.

  • Also: Workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island and Instacart delivery workers across the country walked off of the job Monday, demanding greater protections from the highly communicable coronavirus and greater pay, Alina Selyukh and Shannon Bond report for NPR. Amazon has since fired Chris Smalls, the warehouse worker who helped organize the Staten Island strike for allegedly violating social distancing guidelines, Annie Palmer reported for CNBC. Workers at Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, also went on strike on Tuesday with a mass “sick out,” calling in sick to demand paid leave, free coronavirus testing, and hazard pay for employees who show up to work during the pandemic, Lauren Kaori Gurley reports for Vice.


Kindness and generosity: Across the globe, individuals and community groups have been rallying to deliver groceries, medications, and less tangible support and care to vulnerable strangers, Sigal Samuel writes for Vox, citing a list with  links to more than 140 mutual aid groups across the U.S., plus groups in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Across the country, a network of home sewers are turning to their machines to make much-needed face masks for health care workers facing shortages, The New York Times reports. In the small town of Bertram, Texas, Al Revzematovic, the owner of Fratelli’s Pizza and Mambo Italian Ristorante, is giving away food to any family that is struggling because of the pandemic, no questions asked, Terri Gruca reports for TV station KVUE . And John Zutz, the owner of a three-family home in Milwaukee, slashed his two tenants’ April rent to $100. “I see what’s happening inside the world, in the country, and I realize there’s going to be a lot of people out of work, and they need help,” Zutz told WISN-TV. “I’m not sure if (my tenants) need it or not. That’s the point. They may not need it, but I encourage them, if they don’t need it, to spend the money in the neighborhood.”


License to pollute?: The Environmental Protection Agency has indefinitely suspended its enforcement of environmental laws, promising companies they would not seek penalties for noncompliance with routine reporting and monitoring, Rebecca Beitsch writes for The Hill. The announcement was condemned by regulators, public health officials, and environmentalists in California, and elsewhere. Judith Enck, who served as an EPA regional administrator from 2008 to 2017, told InsideClimate News: “This is a get out of jail free card, and don’t think that the industry won’t play it to their fullest advantage.” EPA officials said companies that violate rules will need to show it was due to the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Also: One particular concern is that air pollution can cause respiratory distress that makes vulnerable communities more susceptible to coronavirus. That at least is one reason that the U.S. Forest Service has halted the prescribed burn program, so that downwind communities wouldn’t be choked by smoke during shelter in place requirements, Kurtis Alexander reports for the San Francisco Chronicle. The downside to this is that it leaves California and other western states extra vulnerable to wildfires this year.


Monsanto knew: The Guardian has reviewed internal documents from Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF that shows they knew years in advance that their plan to introduce a new seed and pesticide system would damage many U.S. farms. In some internal BASF emails, employees make joking references to sharing “voodoo science” and hoping to stay “out of jail.” Dicamba is a potent weedkiller that can drift from specially engineered dicamba-tolerant crops to neighboring fields, causing damage to everything from cotton and soybeans to wheat and watermelons. According to estimates, millions of acres of crops have been damaged by dicamba drift, mostly in the Midwest and South. “The documents are the worst that I’ve ever seen,” said lawyer Angie Splittgerber, who works for the firm that won the first dicamba-related case against Monsanto and BASF. “So many of them put things in writing that were just horrifying.”


House rules: A tiny rural township in Pennsylvania (population: 741) has won its battle to block a permit for an injection well to dispose of fracking waste. “We are over the moon that the permit was rescinded,” says Grant Township Supervisor Vice-Chair Stacy Long. “However, we know the permit should never have been issued in the first place.” Residents have been fighting the injection well for years, worried that their private water wells would become contaminated. In 2014, the community wrote a local constitution that banned injection wells on grounds they violated the rights of residents and the rights of nature.  The state Department of Environmental Protection, which had granted the permit, has reversed itself and rescinded it.

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at

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