Effects of gerrymandering felt in Wisconsin as governor, GOP clash over Covid restrictions
At one point during the pandemic, Black residents of Milwaukee County were six times more likely to die from the coronavirus than Wisconsin’s white residents, state health officials said.
The state’s governor, Tony Evers, a Democrat in his first term, issued a mask order and other mandates to protect all citizens, but the Republican-led legislature successfully sued to strike down those decisions.
The more Evers fought for Covid-19 restrictions, the more GOP resistance he faced inside the state Capitol. The state Supreme Court issued several decisions siding with Republicans in limiting Evers’ power to act during a public health emergency.
“It’s pretty shameful they didn’t want to act or didn’t seem concerned with the loss of life toward Blacks and Latinos,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat, said. “It seemed like they could care less.”
Virginia enacts Covid-19 workplace safety standards
Virginia has enacted permanent Covid-19 workplace health and safety standards to protect workers.
The standards “mandate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record-keeping, training, and hazard communications in workplaces,” according to a statement from the office of Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam.
“No Virginia worker should have to weigh their family’s economic security against their physical safety,” the governor’s chief workforce development adviser, Megan Healy, said in the statement. “These permanent standards provide workers with essential recourse if faced with this untenable decision while giving businesses a clear understanding of the steps they must take to maintain a safe working environment.”
The standards require all employees who interact with the public to wear masks. Employers must make hand sanitizer readily available. The new rules also lay out guidelines for returning to work after testing positive for Covid-19.
In July, Virginia became what Northam said was the first state in the nation to adopt emergency temporary workplace safety and health requirements in response to the pandemic in the absence of federal regulations. Since then, at least six other states have adopted Covid-19 workplace standards, Northam’s office said.
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry will enforce the permanent requirements. So far, the department has received more than 13,000 complaints concerning Covid-19 workplace safety, with 100 needing a full investigation due to serious concerns and 27 employers being cited, the governor’s office statement said.
Long Beach vaccine distributing outpacing the rest of California
The port city of Long Beach, in Los Angeles County, is outpacing the rest of California when it comes to vaccine distribution, Mayor Robert Garcia said during an Instagram Live discussion with Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The city, which has its own health department, is “pretty much done” vaccinating its medical workers with more than 50 percent having received second doses as of this week. Long Beach is now vaccinating people 65 years and older, teachers and food workers.
“We’ve been planning for six months,” Garcia said. “I would argue we have one of the best vaccine rollouts in the state of California.”
California and Los Angeles County, in particular, continues to experience rollout difficulties amid confusion, frustration and short supplies. As of last week, L.A. has received roughly 850,000 doses but requires 4 million to complete shots for health care workers and seniors over the age of 65 who are eligible to receive the vaccine, according to public health officials.
Both California and county public health officials have blamed dwindling supplies at the federal level for vaccine distributions problems at the local level.
Maryland gov announces $258M in additional rental relief funds
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that a total of $402 million in federal Covid-19 relief funding has been given to his state to help people struggling to cover their rent because of the pandemic.
Hogan said $258.1 million was given to the state this week alone, and an additional $143 million was sent out directly to eight jurisdictions with populations over 200,000 people, including Baltimore County.
“We continue to back one of the strongest eviction moratoriums in the country with direct relief for rental payments, legal services, and affordable housing,” Hogan said in a statement. “We look forward to working with legislative leaders to determine the best way to utilize these resources for Marylanders in need.”
Oklahoma seeking to return $2 million worth of hydroxychloroquine
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma attorney general’s office is attempting to return $2 million worth of a malaria drug once touted by former President Donald Trump as an effective treatment for COVID-19, a spokesman said Wednesday.
Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike Hunter, said Hunter is attempting to negotiate a return of the 1.2 million hydroxychloroquine pills Oklahoma acquired in April from a California-based supplier, FFF Enterprises. He said the office was acting on a request from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which authorized the purchase.
A spokeswoman for FFF Enterprises didn’t immediately return a message Wednesday seeking comment.
The attempt by Oklahoma to return the hydroxychloroquine was first reported by the online news publication The Frontier.
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt defended the purchase last year, saying the drug was showing some promise as a treatment in early March and he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to acquire it.
“I was being proactive to try and protect Oklahomans,” Stitt said at the time.
The drug has since been shown to have little or no effect on severe cases of Covid-19, and a former state health official chalked up Oklahoma’s purchase to something that happens in “the fog of war.”
While governments in at least 20 other states obtained more than 30 million doses of the drug through donations from the federal reserve or private companies, Oklahoma and Utah bought them from private pharmaceutical companies.
Then-Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, initially defended the state’s $800,000 purchase of 20,000 packets of hydroxychloroquine compounded with zinc, but later canceled an additional plan to spend $8 million more to buy 200,000 more treatments. The state then managed to secure a refund on the $800,000 no-bid contract it signed with a local pharmacy company that had been promoting the drugs.
The CEO of the pharmacy company has since pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor for mislabeling the drug imported from China. Dan Richards, the operator of Meds In Motion, acknowledged receiving large amounts of the drug from an unregistered manufacturer in China incorrectly labeled as an herbal supplement.
His lawyer has said he trying to help procure as much of the product as possible because at the time it seemed like a promising treatment for the coronavirus.
Cannes Film Festival delayed until July
Initially scheduled for May 11-22, the current “global health situation” has forced officials to redraw plans with hopes to stage it between July 6 and 17.
The annual winter Sundance Film Festival went off last year in Utah, as one of America’s last, mass cultural events before the coronavirus shutdown. This year’s Sundance is scheduled to begin on Thursday, as a largely virtual event.
Auschwitz survivors mark liberation anniversary online amid pandemic
WARSAW, Poland — A Jewish prayer for the souls of the people murdered in the Holocaust echoed Wednesday over where the Warsaw ghetto stood during World War II as a world paused by the coronavirus pandemic observed the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Most International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations were being held online this year due to the virus, including the annual ceremony at the site of the former Auschwitz death camp, where Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people in occupied Poland. The memorial site is closed to visitors because of the pandemic.
In one of the few live events, mourners gathered in Poland’s capital to pay their respects at a memorial in the former Warsaw ghetto, the largest of all the ghettos where European Jews were held in cruel and deadly conditions before being sent to die in mass extermination camps.
Biden to reopen Obamacare enrollment for those affected by Covid
President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Thursday to re-open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act markets for people who need medical care because of the pandemic, Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, confirmed.
Boushey said the move was in the works in an interview with MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson on Wednesday, adding, “I cannot stress how important this is.”
“Opening this up for Americans right now in the middle of a health crisis is a way to ensure more people can get access to the health insurance they need,” she said. “People need access to health care.”
The Associated Press first reported the expected action. Former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly tried to repeal “Obamacare,” had resisted calls to allow such a special enrollment period.
It’s unclear when Biden’s order would take effect. The AP reported the details were still being hashed out.
Cuomo: If supply weren’t an issue, all of New York state could be vaccinated in a month
With an adequate supply of Covid-19 vaccines, everyone in New York state could be vaccinated within one month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
“That’s the real shame,” Cuomo told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle. “One month, we could get the state done. We have 3,000 providers who are now online. We have mass distribution sites that could do hundreds of thousands [of doses]. This is purely a supply issue.”
Speaking a day after President Joe Biden announced his administration is working to buy 200 million more doses of Covid-19 vaccines — enough to inoculate nearly everyone in the United States by the end of the summer — Cuomo slammed the Trump administration for not buying more earlier.
“What was shocking about President Biden’s announcement yesterday was that the United States government hadn’t even ordered enough medicine. How do you treat a pandemic? First, order the medicine necessary,” he said.
The purchase from the Biden administration comes in addition to the 400 million doses pharmaceutical companies have already promised to the U.S., for a total of 600 million doses — enough for 2 doses for 300 million Americans.
“The president said honestly, which is always refreshing, it’s going to take six months to get that number of doses,” Cuomo said. “I wish the previous administration had done that.”
White House task force introduces plan to increase number of vaccinators
White House officials announced on Wednesday a plan to speed up the administration of vaccines and avoid bottlenecks from resource constraints.
Jeff Zients, head of the President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 task force, said the Department of Health and Human Services will introduce changes to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) to allow retired doctors and nurses to administer shots and to enable licensed doctors and nurses to help out with vaccinations across state lines.
The PREP Act is designed to provide immunity from liability, but amendments are often introduced to address public health emergencies and enforce countermeasures to fight infectious diseases.