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CDC says ‘no’ to clearing encampments during coronavirus outbreak

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City workers throw away items left behind by homeless people during a temporary encampment clearing on L Street Northeast in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5, 2019. The District of Columbia frequently clears encampments temporarily so streets can be cleaned. Workers typically throw away anything left behind. (Photo by Julia Lerner/Howard Center for Investigative Journalism)

 

People living in outdoor homeless encampments should not be evicted during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus unless they can be moved to individual housing units, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended late Sunday.

Living outside for prolonged periods of time has long been associated with greater health risks. But the recommendations posted on the CDC’s website said the short-term impact of clearing the tents and temporary structures would likely increase the risk of spreading the virus because people would scatter to other parts of the community.

The CDC also recommended that people living in encampments set up at least 12 feet away from each other and that governments make sure that stocked restrooms with running water that allow people to wash their hands with soap are always available nearby.

The recommendations are very similar to those made by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty Thursday. The 30-year-old legal organization focuses on ending and preventing homelessness. The organization’s legal director said implementation of the recommendations will save lives.

“Not just the lives of the people who are experiencing homelessness directly. It’s for all of us,” said Eric Tars. “Every hospital bed that isn’t being occupied by someone who is experiencing homelessness is a bed that is available for your brother, your mother, your sister. We really are in this together.”

Tars is also calling on Congress to incorporate emergency housing into the coronavirus relief bill being debated in the Senate. He said federal dollars to help hotels, motels and cruise companies hurt by the pandemic should be tied to requirements that those companies provide housing to people who have nowhere else to go.

“If our public dollars are going to help their companies, then they need to be using those dollars to benefit the public and not just their own bottom lines,” Tars said.

The definition of encampments can differ by city, but they generally are a cluster of tents or other temporary structures where homeless people live outside. The makeshift homes are often found on sidewalks, vacant land or in underpasses. They can be home to as few as three but sometimes more than 100 homeless people.

Cities often clear these encampments for public health and safety reasons. An ongoing federal study looking at Chicago, San Jose and two other cities have found those cities have used encampment clearings to try to convince often-reluctant residents to move to a shelter or find permanent housing. The principal investigator thinks the approach is effective but said the CDC recommendations are “perfectly sensible.”

Tents line the sidewalk on 2nd Street Northeast in Washington, D.C., on October 15, 2019, as city workers prepare to clean the adjacent tunnels where the tents are normally erected. The District of Columbia frequently clears encampments temporarily so streets can be cleaned. Workers typically throw away anything left behind. (Photo by Julia Lerner/Howard Center for Investigative Journalism)

 

“In normal times, encampments are not particularly safe places to live,” said Jill Khadduri, who works for the social science research company Abt Associates, which is conducting the study. “They have sanitation problems. Biowaste hazards. They are not particularly healthy for the people who are living there. But these are not normal times.”

Khadduri said that Chicago has typically cleared three or four large encampments every year, but expects that city and others to put their clearing plans on hold during the outbreak.

In Maryland, the Department of Housing and Community Development has taken the lead in addressing homelessness. The department is trying to work with local organizations to get hotel and motel rooms for homeless people who need to isolate or quarantine themselves, said Sara Luell, its spokeswoman.

The department has also lifted restrictions on how state dollars can be used so that more can be diverted to paying for those hotel and motel stays.

It’s unclear how the District of Columbia, which has one of the largest populations of unsheltered homeless people in the country, will adjust to the new recommendations. Multiple requests for comment from city officials were not answered Monday.

A website that lists upcoming encampment cleanings still listed four planned for Tuesday and another planned Thursday.

The D.C. government often temporarily clears encampments so they can be cleaned. The process usually involves homeless people moving their things away for an hour or two as city workers throw away anything left behind and sometimes power wash sidewalks.

Almost 570,000 people sleep on the streets or in emergency shelters on a given night in theUnited States. An estimated 1.6 million Americans experience at least one night of homelessness each year.

Tars said the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty had been concerned that governments might use quarantine orders as an excuse to round up people who live in encampments. But keeping them out of large shelters is the best option.

“Would you, at this moment, want to be put into (a) shelter with hundreds of other people, with all using common facilities, breathing the same air?” Tars asked. “No, you wouldn’t. Why would we expect any homeless person to want that?”

By Ryan E. Little
Howard Center for Investigative Journalism

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Coronavirus roundup: Deaths pass 6,500, jobless rate rises, other developments

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WASHINGTON — There are now 257,773 cases of the coronavirus and 6,574 deaths due to the pandemic in the United States as of Friday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering data dashboard.

The White House coronavirus task force advises that as many as 240,000 Americans will be killed by the virus.

The US sees a large unemployment rate increase
The national unemployment rate has seen a dramatic spike, up from 3.5% to 4.4% in just a month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The coronavirus pandemic has led to millions of Americans losing their jobs within the last few weeks.

This is the highest monthly increase in the rate in 45 years, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, pointed out in a statement Friday.

“Today’s unprecedented job losses will be tomorrow’s record of a resurgence, accompanied by stories of courage and perseverance as we banded together to defeat this virus and defeat this virus and save countless lives,” Hoyer said.

“Those numbers and those hardships are going to get worse before they get better, but that’s an acknowledgment,” President Donald Trump said on the unemployment numbers.

Maryland requests urgent medical supplies from FEMA as COVID-19 cases soar
The Maryland congressional delegation is pleading for more resources to fight COVID-19 from FEMA, including ventilators, PPE, test kits and mobile labs. The request is a response to a rise in cases of the virus in Maryland and across the Washington metropolitan region.

“The first Maryland hospital reported that it will need additional ventilators because it is running extremely low,” the lawmakers’ letter to FEMA reads. “A lack of this precious resource will result in the deaths of patients who could have survived.”

They added that it’s “much easier and clinically efficient to manage the COVID-19 hospital surge if testing is scaled up and PPE can be distributed to those with the highest need.”

Because labs don’t currently have access to necessary testing chemicals, many aren’t operating at their full ability.

“Maryland has been proactive in setting up multiple testing sites around the state; however, Maryland lacks the testing supplies to test patients appropriately and stem the tide of this disease,” the delegation said in their letter addressed to FEMA Region III Administrator MaryAnn Tierney.

According to the delegation, mobile test sites, which are currently lacking in Maryland, are “critical for the state’s Alternate Care Sites” in that they provide a quick, on-site response to sick individuals relying on the system to help.

“Doctors cannot determine what support or treatment is needed for sick patients without laboratory capability,” the letter says. “A simple blood test can mean the difference between life and death when planning a patient’s treatment.”

The delegation is working to get these necessary supplies and more, according to the statement.

The delegation is also requesting approval of the Crisis Counseling Program (CCP) in Maryland, which assists communities in recovering from events declared major disasters by the president through educational services and community outreach. The state received a federal disaster declaration on March 27.

Maryland’s department of corrections taking precautions amid coronavirus
Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is stepping up precautions to protect prison inmates and staff from an outbreak of the coronavirus.

The department has canceled all visits to inmates, implemented grab-and-go meals and limited inmate movement throughout the facilities, according to spokesman Mark Vernarelli.

“We have undertaken enhanced cleaning procedures and given inmates extra soap at no cost,” Vernarelli said. The facilities have also “extended recreation periods, and have social workers and mental health professionals on the tiers to assist the incarcerated,” he said in an email.

Additionally, the corrections agency has implemented temperature checks for employees before shift changes. These changes were put in place “weeks ago,” according to Vernarelli.

But this has not stopped cases of coronavirus from entering prisons. Two members of a parole board, four correctional officers, three inmates, and eight contracted employees have been infected by the virus in Maryland facilities as of Friday, according to Gov. Larry Hogan.

Inmates at Maryland prisons are also making personal protective equipment for staff and the community. They have produced 4,000 face masks, 5,000 face shields, gowns, and hand sanitizer, according to DPSCS Secretary Robert Green.

Hogan offers coronavirus update
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Friday to prohibit mortgage lenders from beginning the foreclosure process. Marylanders will also have expanded access to telehealth services during the pandemic.

Disabled services personnel are now going to be recognized as health care providers and will be deemed essential, the governor also said.

Hogan also announced during a Friday press conference that there are currently 2,758 cases of COVID-19 and 42 deaths in Maryland.

“We now have a widespread community transmission. The virus is everywhere,” Hogan said. The number of Maryland cases of coronavirus has tripled in the last week.

“We simply don’t know how long this will be or how bad it will get,” the governor said.

There are now two drive-thru style coronavirus testing sites, which are in White Oak in Montgomery County and Columbia in Howard County.
CASA to host car parade to protect incarcerated from virus

The non-profit organization CASA of Maryland will be hosting a car parade Sunday to persuade Howard County government officials to take measures to protect incarcerated individuals and undocumented immigrants at the Howard County Detention Center during the pandemic.

The choice to host a car parade is an effort on the part of community leaders and activists to practice social distancing while still fighting for change. The organization said its goal is to ensure the release of undocumented immigrants currently being detained by ICE in the detention center as well as improving protection against COVID-19 inside the facility.

Maryland gas prices drop during the pandemic
The price of gas per gallon in Maryland is now less than $2. Gas prices in Maryland have seen a significant drop of six cents in the last week, 40 cents in the last month and 66 cents since this time last year.

The national average for gas has dropped to $2 per gallon for the first time in four years, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

By MALIKA BUDD, ANNA HOVEY, and BRYAN GALLION
Capital News Service

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Coronavirus update: Deaths soar, supplies remain short, convention rescheduled

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WASHINGTON — The federal government offered increased financial aid to communities Thursday (April 2) as states continued pleading for more medical equipment to address the novel coronavirus in preparation for the pandemic’s peak.

Over 234,460 cases and almost 5,650 deaths were confirmed across the country as of Thursday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering data dashboard. Health experts and the administration warned that the worst is yet to come.

Democratic National Convention pushed back
The Democratic National Convention, originally scheduled to start July 13 in Milwaukee, will be postponed a month due to the pandemic.

“In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smartest approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention,” Joe Solmonese, the convention committee’s CEO, said in a statement Thursday.

The convention is now set to run for four days starting on Aug. 17.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s leading the delegate count for the Democratic presidential nomination, was vocal about his uncertainty surrounding the convention before the schedule change as the coronavirus continued to exponentially affect Americans.

“I doubt whether the Democratic convention is going to be able to be held in mid-July,” Biden told Jimmy Fallon during an appearance on the “The Tonight Show” Wednesday night. “I think it’s going to have to move into August.”

The Republican presidential nominating convention is expected to start as planned on Aug. 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Fifteen states and Puerto Rico have delayed their primaries because of the coronavirus as of Wednesday, while upcoming votes in states including Alaska and Wyoming are expected to be conducted completely by mail.

White House announces counter-narcotics mission amid growing coronavirus crisis
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States was launching an operation to curb the presence of illegal narcotics in the country as the pandemic persisted.

“We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives,” the president said during the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing.

The U.S. Southern Command will ramp up surveillance and seizures of drug shipments with cooperation from 22 other nations, according to Trump. Additional deployment of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force would help in “doubling our capabilities in the region,” the president said.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters that the initiative is part of the administration’s “whole-of-government approach.”

“At a time when the nation and the Department of Defense are focused on protecting the American people from the spread of the coronavirus, we also remain vigilant to the many other threats our country faces,” Esper said.

The announcement came as the country geared up for its peak in coronavirus cases and states pleaded for additional medical equipment to combat the virus.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said intelligence showed that drug cartels were going to “take advantage of the situation and try to infiltrate additional drugs into our country.”

New FEMA documents show medical supply shortage despite states’ requests
Only a fraction of protective equipment and medical supplies requested by five states and the District of Columbia were delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), new agency documents show.

As of Monday, less than 10% of the requested 5.2 million N95 masks, less than 1% of the 194 million requested gloves and none of the 15,000 body bags were sent to FEMA’s third region. Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia comprise this area.

“The new documents…confirm the urgent warnings we have been hearing from our nation’s governors and health care professionals for weeks,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said in a statement Thursday.

Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said a Wednesday briefing with FEMA and Health and Human Services Department officials exposed other equipment shortages. The demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the national demand, according to FEMA, and the shortage is expected to worsen.

To combat supply shortages, FEMA told lawmakers that medical professionals should be re-using protective equipment despite the increased risk of contracting the coronavirus that comes with this practice.

“Rather than casting doubt on the gravity of this pandemic, the administration should have been working around the clock to prepare and execute plans to obtain desperately needed personal protective equipment and medical supplies,” Maloney said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, called the findings “alarming.”

“We already know that the White House delayed taking action for weeks as the virus spread,” he said in a statement. “Now we are seeing further evidence of mismanagement in this emergency with its failure to answer states’ dire requests for masks, gloves, and other critical supplies needed by health care workers.”

Hoyer added: “It is unconscionable that FEMA would ask our frontline health care workers to re-use personal protective equipment, putting their lives and the health of their families at great risk.”

Maryland, D.C. unemployment insurance claims skyrocket amid a pandemic
Over 83,000 Maryland residents and almost 15,000 District of Columbia residents filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday.

Maryland residents who filed unemployment claims doubled from the previous week, making a total of over 120,000 claims in the past two weeks ending on March 28. In the District, residents filed almost 44,000 claims since mid-March, which is already more than the 27,000 claims that D.C. residents filed during 2019.

Over 6.6 million American residents applied for unemployment benefits last week, a record number that helped make a total of more than 10 million American unemployment claims in the month of March due to COVID-19.

Hoyer said in a statement that the unemployment claims data “demonstrates the urgency with which the federal government must step up rather than down.”

By BRYAN GALLION and HALEIGH WHISTED
Capital News Service

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Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force, IRS-CI warn of potential COVID-19 Economic Impact Payment scams

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ROANOKE – The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) are warning taxpayers to be alert about possible scams relating to COVID-19 economic impact payments.

United States Attorneys Thomas T. Cullen and G. Zachary Terwilliger, along with Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS-CI Washington DC Field Office, made the announcement today in an effort to prevent taxpayers in need from being victimized by criminals using the recently approved payments as an opportunity to commit a crime.

“During this time of crisis, scammers and thieves prey on those most vulnerable in our community in an attempt to personally benefit by stealing their money and personal identifying information,” Special Agent in Charge Jackson said today. “Please help us protect everyone in your community by telling family, friends and elderly neighbors to be on the lookout for these potential scams.”

“While most act selflessly and responsibly in a crisis like this, there are fraudsters out there who are attempting to scam and exploit good people,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “We are likely to see an uptick in government check scams tied to coronavirus-relief, including advanced-fee schemes promising government relief checks, student loan relief, and adjustments in other government benefits, such as increased social security payments. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“As we have seen over the past few weeks, the worst among us are finding new ways to exploit a global pandemic and prey upon the vulnerable,” said U.S. Attorney Cullen. “Americans need to be extremely vigilant in protecting their personal, financial, and tax information. Assume all unsolicited phone calls and emails regarding IRS or COVID-19 refunds and are potentially fraudulent. Do not respond and report them to law enforcement.”

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 economic impact payments will be on their way. For most Americans, this will be a direct deposit into your bank account. For the unbanked individuals who have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check, they will receive their economic impact payment through the mail.

Scammers may try to get you to sign over your check to them or get you to “verify” your filing information in order to steal your money. Your personal information could then be used to file false tax returns in an identity theft scheme. Because of this, everyone receiving a COVID-19 economic impact payment is at risk.

Special Agent in Charge Jackson offers the following information and tips to spot a scam and understand how the COVID-19 related economic impact payments will be issued.

• The IRS will deposit your payment into the direct deposit account you previously provided on your tax return (or, in the alternative, send you a paper check).

• The IRS will NOT call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do NOT give your bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information to anyone – even if someone claims it’s necessary to get your check. It’s a scam.

• If you receive a call, do NOT engage with scammers, even if you want to tell them that you know it’s a scam. Just hang up.

• If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal identifying information or clicking on links, delete these texts and emails. Do NOT click on any links in those texts or emails.

• Reports are swirling about bogus checks. If you receive a “check” in the mail now, it’s a scam. It will take the Treasury a few more weeks to mail out the COVID-19 economic impact payments. If you receive a “check” for an odd amount (especially one with cents), or a check that requires you to verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s a scam.

• Remember, the federal government will not ask you to pay anything upfront to get a legitimate benefit. No fees. No charges. Anyone who asks for an up-front payment for a promised benefit is a scammer.

The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force:
https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdva/covid-19-fraud

Western Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Baudinet, USAVAW.COVID19@usdoj.gov or 540-278-1494.

Eastern Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin G. Cooke, Kaitlin.Cooke@usdoj.gov or 804-819-5416.

To report a COVID-19 fraud scheme or suspicious activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or sending an email to disaster@leo.gov.

For more information, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/coronavirus

FBI at: https://www.ic3.gov or 804-261-1044.

To report fraudulent activity to the Virginia State Police, Virginians can contact the Virginia Fusion Center (VFC) at vfc@vfc.vsp.virginia.gov.

For continuing information on the COVID-19 virus and the federal response, check https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

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Coronavirus update: Rising cases and deaths, other developments in pandemic crisis

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WASHINGTON — The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States hit almost 175,000 Tuesday afternoon and the death toll surpassed 3,400 as the country prepared for an anticipated peak in fatalities in the coming weeks.

More Americans have been affected by the virus than any other population worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering data dashboard — and the number of U.S. cases continues to grow exponentially despite more and more states ordering their citizens to stay home.

Trump extends social distancing, claims test kit, ventilator surpluses
President Donald Trump extended national social distancing recommendations through the end of April on Sunday, preparing for the apex of deaths in the country before the coronavirus case count slopes downward.

“Challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days, and this is a very vital 30 days…But the more we dedicate ourselves today, the more quickly we will emerge on the other side of the crisis,”
Trump told reporters at a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing Monday evening. “And that’s the time we’re waiting for.”

The president also said that the United States has reached “a historic milestone in our war against the coronavirus”: over a million people have been tested. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar added that nearly 100,000 samples are being tested daily.

Like test kits, ventilators have also been in high demand for hospitals to keep coronavirus patients in the most critical condition alive. Trump said that thousands have already been delivered to communities across the country. Hundreds more were being split among Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana, and Connecticut.

Some domestically produced ventilators will be shipped to foreign countries, according to Trump.

“As we outpace what we need, we’re going to be sending them to Italy. We’re going to be sending them to France,” the president said. “We’re going to be sending them to Spain, where they have tremendous problems, and other countries.”

Governors fear consequences of supply shortages
While the White House claims test kits and other needed supplies to combat the coronavirus are stocked in surplus across the country, state leaders are sharing differing views of what’s happening on the ground in their communities.

Govs. Larry Hogan, a Maryland Republican, and Gretchen Whitmer, a Michigan Democrat, suggested ways the federal government can assist states amid the pandemic in a bipartisan opinion piece published Monday in the Washington Post.

“There simply aren’t enough test kits, medical supplies and other lifesaving equipment to meet the scope of this pandemic,” the governors wrote. “While states are doing all we can to secure access to these items, the federal government must take extraordinary steps to deliver what we need.”

Hogan and Whitmer also suggested increased federal relief funding and preparation for a surge in federal unemployment insurance as the coronavirus continues to drain the U.S. economy.

Based on several projections, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said he expects the peak of the virus to arrive between mid-April and mid-May but “we’re not quite sure when.” The lack of widespread testing contributes to the uncertainty, DeWine said in an interview with CNN.

“That is not unique to Ohio,” the governor said. “We have seen that throughout the country. That’s been a real challenge.”

States urge residents to stay at home as case count grows nationwide
Despite social distancing orders in place nationwide, the number of people affected by the coronavirus continues rising rapidly. States have been increasingly urging their citizens to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel.

At least 265 million people in at least 32 states, 80 counties, 18 cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have been given stay-at-home orders as of Tuesday, according to a New York Times analysis of states’ policies.

Hogan, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, and District Mayor Muriel Bowser all told their residents to stay at home starting Monday.

“We are in a public health crisis, and we need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly,” Northam said in a statement.

Maryland counties, cities will receive $48 million for coronavirus response
Localities throughout Maryland will be supported by $48 million in federal funds for their coronavirus responses, the state’s congressional delegation announced Tuesday. The monetary aid comes from the CARES Act, which Trump signed into law Friday.

“Local governments are on the frontlines of this crisis,” the state’s senators and congressmen said in a statement. “This federal funding will shore up the capacity of Maryland’s cities and counties to respond to its widespread consequences.”

The funds can be used for needs including shelter for homeless individuals, increased affordable housing and keeping critical public services afloat, the lawmakers said.

As of Tuesday, 1,660 cases have been confirmed statewide, according to the Maryland Department of Public Health data.

Baltimore City is being allocated the most money out of the 14 jurisdictions being funded, receiving $20.9 million.

The lawmakers said they expect additional funds to be awarded in the days and weeks to come.

Maryland Department of Health to offer tests at Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program (VEIP) sites
Symptomatic and high-risk Marylanders can receive drive-through coronavirus testing at VEIP locations starting Wednesday, according to the state’s health department.

Testing will be offered in Glen Burnie, Anne Arundel County; Waldorf, Charles County; and Bel Air, Harford County.

“We are focused on testing people who really need it and by using these sites, we can allow them to be tested away from busy emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and physicians’ offices,” the state’s Deputy Secretary of Public Health Fran Phillips said in a statement.

Residents must meet testing criteria determined by a healthcare provider, receive a testing order and register for an appointment online. Phillips and Hogan stressed that these testing sites are geared toward people with visible coronavirus symptoms.

“Like every other state in the nation, we simply do not have enough testing supplies,” Hogan said in a statement. “We need to use our resources wisely.”

By BRYAN GALLION
Capital News Service

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Health insurers say they’ll waive coronavirus testing fees; Trump, Congress weigh payroll, industry aid

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WASHINGTON – Dome of the United States Capitol, where Congress is considering ways to provide aid to limit the economic impact of the coronavirus. (Heather Kim/Capital News Service)

 

WASHINGTON — Major health insurance companies will waive copayments for novel coronavirus testing, Vice President Mike Pence said at a briefing with firm executives and President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday.

“While the risk to the average American of contracting the coronavirus remains low, we want a full partnership with industry and give the American people all the information they need to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus,” said Pence, who’s chairing the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The companies at the table — which insure nearly 240 million Americans through private insurance and support of Medicare and Medicaid, according to Pence — will also extend coverage for treatment in benefit plans and telemedicine while avoiding surprise billing.

“We have been very focused on ensuring access to care and that cost is not an issue for people to have the testing appropriately done,” Gail Boudreaux, president and CEO of Anthem Inc., said. “So we’re pleased that we’re able to continue to expand this access.”

Telemedicine options aim to aid the country’s vulnerable senior population, allowing them to receive the necessary care without visiting a hospital or their doctor.

“I would just like to say as a large servicer of Medicare, that we are very oriented to the aging population, and most importantly, how do we make it as easy as possible for them to receive their tests,” Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said.

Over 8,500 specimens have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States since Jan. 18, while the number of cases ticks up across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Almost 650 cases have been confirmed so far, and 25 people have died from the virus across the 36 U.S. jurisdictions that have been affected.

Some healthcare professionals and members of Congress have expressed worry that not enough tests are available nationwide.

“We are very worried about the president’s incompetence and lack of focus on fighting the spread of coronavirus,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told reporters. “We believe that his lack of focus is hamstringing efforts to address this public crisis and inflicting pain on the stock market.”

Pence said an additional 4 million tests are expected to be distributed this week on top of the more than 1 million that are ready at CDC and U.S. Public Health Labs.

Members of Congress grilled CDC Director Robert Redfield about the shortage of testing at a House Appropriations Committee labor and health subcommittee hearing. Redfield pointed out the growing capacity for testing now that clinical laboratory networks LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics can administer them.

“We have slowed the spread of COVID19 through the United States as a consequence of the positive impact of the investment in public health that there has been at the federal, state, local and tribal level,” Redfield said in his testimony.

As cases of the coronavirus multiplied, schools and universities announced plans to close or move to remote teaching, airlines continued cutting schedules and major events — like Washington’s Gridiron Spring Dinner, an annual gathering of media and political people — were canceled.

Both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, who are vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, announced they were scrubbing planned rallies.

And Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League issued a joint statement that they were closing their team locker rooms to reporters because of the virus threat.

The administration and Congress also are exploring potential economic aid to industries that will be hit hard by a major consumer slowdown.

Trump said his administration is working closely with the cruise line and airline industries as people are canceling their travel plans, instead opting to stay home to lessen their chances of coming in contact with the virus.

“They’re taking very strong steps in terms of people going on and going off. But they’re spending a lot of money and they are working very hard…So we are working very closely with them,” the president said at the briefing. “We’re helping them. They’re two great industries, and we’ll be helping them through this patch.”

Congress has been working on an economic package to alleviate financial strains caused by coronavirus response.

The president, accompanied by National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin pitched a temporary payroll tax cut to Senate Republicans on Tuesday afternoon. He had no updates to share on the path forward following the meeting.

“We just had a great meeting. Tremendous unity in the Republican Party,” Trump said. “And we’re working on a lot of different things. We’ve also had some very good updates on the virus. That’s working out very smoothly.”

Mnuchin also met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to identify “common ground” on legislative efforts that would support people affected by the virus.
Pelosi told reporters that the “nature of it was pleasant” and that conversations will continue.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said after the meeting that he’d let the pair handle a bipartisan agreement.

“The secretary of the treasury is going to have ball control for the administration and I expect that will speak for us as well,” McConnell told reporters. “We’re hoping that he and the speaker can pull this together.”

By BRYAN GALLION and NICOLE WEINSTEIN
Capital News Service

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Affordable housing and political will can end U.S. homelessness, new book says

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Almost 570,000 people sleep on the streets or in emergency shelters across the United States on any given night. The count rises to about 1.6 million over a full year. But who are they? What causes their homelessness? How does the country end it and prevent it from persisting?

These are the questions that the new book “In the Midst of Plenty: Homelessness and What to Do About It” by Marybeth Shinn and Jill Khadduri tackles. It’s a comprehensive look at an issue that’s endured for decades nationwide.

Modern homelessness was born out of the late 1970s housing affordability crisis — which was a product of income inequality, rising real-estate prices and a declining number of units available for people experiencing poverty, among other factors.

The problem continues due to the tension between exorbitant housing costs and unlivable wages, the book argues. Policy decisions, coupled with the allocation of already available resources in the United States, could end homelessness.

“Just as individuals sometimes make choices that may lead them to homelessness, nations make choices that can lead to high rates of homelessness for their citizens,” Shinn and Khadduri write.
Shattering widely believed perceptions, the book presents some surprising demographic findings: the highest risk of entering a shelter exists at infancy, and half of the adults who experience sheltered homelessness over the course of a year don’t have a severe mental illness or disability.

“People who experience homelessness are not another species…Homelessness is a state that people pass through. It’s not permanent,” Shinn, a professor in Vanderbilt University’s human and organizational development department who’s been researching homelessness for over three decades, said in an interview with Capital News Service.

Affordable housing is a key to ending and preventing homelessness, the book says. Ongoing rental subsidies alone can often help people avoid falling into homelessness and save those who are experiencing it.

“Some people with serious mental illnesses or other disabilities will need additional supports, but everyone needs housing,” Shinn and Khadduri write.

Housing-first approaches, largely favored by service providers and advocates, supply permanent, affordable housing to people experiencing homelessness. These programs can act as a springboard for addressing other issues like unemployment or substance abuse, instead of requiring participants to address those factors before being housed.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has shifted its support to housing-first programs in recent years. It encourages local homeless service providers to use the federal funds they’re allocated on rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing instead of the previously preferred transitional housing model.

Rapid rehousing offers short-term, personalized rental assistance that doesn’t require prerequisites like employment, lack of a criminal record or sobriety. Permanent supportive housing combines housing assistance and voluntary support services for people who have been chronically homeless while struggling with conditions like physical disabilities, mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders.

Transitional housing — which offers subsidized or sometimes free housing and intensive services for up to two years — hasn’t yielded much success, based on the limited number of studies conducted on such programs.

Expanding the federal government’s Housing Choice Voucher Program is the most effective way to grow the country’s affordable housing stock, the book argues. It holds rental costs to 30% of households’ adjusted incomes, the HUD standard for housing affordability.

The number of severely rent-burdened households, those that spend over half their income on rent and utilities, more than doubled — from 4 million to 8.5 million — between 1978 and 2008. The count was 8.3 million in 2015, according to HUD data.

Studies have proven that Housing Choice vouchers can prevent poor families from becoming homeless and rescue others already experiencing it. But the number of subsidies has only grown by about 200,000 from the early 2000s to 2018 when it used to grow by 300,000 a year.

Khadduri said she hopes readers see that homelessness is a solvable problem. After working on housing policy at HUD for 25 years, she joined the social-science research company Abt Associates as a principal associate for social and economic policy. Since 2007, she’s also been one of the lead investigators for HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report for Congress.

“We know how to do it. We know how to provide people with effective housing assistance,” Khadduri told CNS. “We know from a whole body of research on tenant-based housing vouchers that they’re effective, that people can use them successfully, that they prevent homelessness.”

Evidence supports housing programs’ successes, but what’s needed to drive a systematic end to homelessness, Shinn and Khadduri argue, is political will.

“The inequality that leads some to live in mansions and others in the streets is not an inexorable consequence of market forces. It is a consequence of social policies,” they write. “We could choose differently.”

BRYAN GALLION
Capital News Service

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