Faulting inaction in Washington, governors and state lawmakers are racing to get pandemic relief to small-business owners, the unemployed, renters and others whose livelihoods have been upended by the widening coronavirus outbreak.
In some cases, elected officials are spending the last of a federal relief package passed in the spring as an end-of-year deadline approaches and the fall COVID-19 surge threatens their economies anew. Democrats have been the most vocal in criticizing President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate for failing to act, but many Republican lawmakers are also sounding the alarm.
Underscoring the need for urgency, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the United States reached 205,557 on Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University – the first time its daily figure topped the 200,000 mark. Its previous daily high was 196,000 on Nov. 20.
The total number of cases reported in the U.S., since the first one in January, has topped 13 million.
The Democratic governors of Colorado and New Mexico convened special legislative sessions in the closing days of November to address the virus-related emergency. Earlier this week, the New Mexico Legislature passed a bipartisan relief bill that will deliver a one-time $1,200 check to all unemployed workers and give up to $50,000 to certain businesses.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the state took action to help residents “who have real issues about keeping food on their table, a roof over their head.”
“While the United States of America is on fire, the Trump administration has left states to fight this virus on their own,” she said, noting state efforts alone simply are not enough. “It is clear no help is coming — not from this president, not from this administration. As we have done every day this year, New Mexico will step up.”
In Colorado, a special session scheduled for Monday will consider roughly $300 million in relief to businesses, restaurants and bars, child-care providers, landlords, tenants, public schools and others.
“Even as cases have exploded across the country, Congress and the president have not yet passed much-needed relief for people,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in announcing the session. “Here in Colorado, we want to do the best with what we have to take care of our own.”
In New Jersey and Washington state, Republicans who are a minority in both legislatures were the ones pushing for special sessions. They want to direct more money to struggling small-business owners.
Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, who control both houses of the Legislature, are considering whether to return in December to address effects of the latest coronavirus wave after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers put forward a $500 million COVID-19 relief bill earlier this week. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, plans to convene lawmakers in December to contend with the virus, partially at Republicans’ urging.
“Senate Republicans are committed to recovering our economy that has been harmed by broad and prolonged shutdowns,” Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said in a statement. “We will work with anyone to find solutions.”
State government leaders want Trump and Congress to extend the Dec. 30 deadline for spending virus relief money already allocated under the CARES Act, which was approved in March, and to provide more federal funding to deal with the consequences of the latest surge.
“It’s just heartbreaking what they’re allowing to happen with no federal government intervention,” said Washington state House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, a Democrat.
In making his decision to call the Minnesota Legislature into special session, Walz cited “a sense of urgency” around doing something on the state level due to the lack of a federal response.
The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits reported that more than half of the state’s charitable organizations received forgivable loans through the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program this year, while another $12 million from the CARES Act is going to organizations that provide food to the needy. But all that will be spent — or lost — by the end of December without congressional action.
“I would reiterate to our federal partners — to the outgoing administration and to the incoming Biden administration — please work together, please find a compromise in there, please. If you have to, move a package now with the idea that you will come back and move one later,” Walz said. “COVID is not going to end at the end of the month. We are in an unrelenting spike.”
In Ohio, where Republicans control every branch of government, Gov. Mike DeWine and legislative leaders pushed a $420 million pandemic spending package through a special bipartisan panel late last month. Funded through the CARES Act, it offered grants to small businesses, bars and restaurants, low-income renters, arts groups, and colleges and universities.
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican, gives credit to the federal government for the billions in aid previously sent out, but he said small businesses and people who have lost work need more federal assistance.
“The election’s over,” Benninghoff said. “This is not a time for finger-pointing.”
In neighboring New Jersey, the partisan divide over $4 billion in COVID-19 borrowing backed by the Democratic governor and Legislature prompted a court challenge by minority Republicans. The state’s high court sided with Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration, citing the unprecedented nature of the outbreak.
Even so, Murphy has regularly pleaded with Congress for more aid.
“It’s shameful that they have not acted in Congress, especially (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell and the Republican Senate, to throw a lifeline to small businesses,” he said.
Republicans have proposed a $300 million aid package to small businesses and nonprofits, but the legislation is stalled. GOP lawmakers told the governor if he does not call a special session to address the need, many businesses and charities “might not survive the winter.”
Having already committed the bulk of their virus relief allotment, lawmakers in one state, Illinois, were forced to end the year with an unaddressed $3.9 billion budget deficit. They canceled what would be their regular fall session in November, citing the health threat posed by the virus, and expressed hope for help from the nation’s capital when they return.
“If the federal government doesn’t stand up and step in, we’re in a very bad situation — for our schools, colleges and universities, health care programs, child care, senior services,” House Majority Leader Greg Harris, a Democrat, said. “This isn’t like all the blue states are hurting and all the red states are humming along. Everybody’s in bad shape.”
The Walt Disney Co. announced plans to lay off 4,000 more employees largely due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement by the company was made in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this week, saying 32,000 employees at the parks, experiences and products division will be terminated in the first half of fiscal year 2021, which began last month.
In late September, the company had already announced plans to terminate 28,000 theme park workers. The company did not say how many of the additional 4,000 employees work at the California or Florida theme parks.
In the SEC document filed on the eve of Thanksgiving Day, the company said it also put 37,000 employees not scheduled for termination on furlough as a result of the pandemic.
“Due to the current climate, including COVID-19 impacts, and changing environment in which we are operating, the company has generated efficiencies in its staffing, including limiting hiring to critical business roles, furloughs and reductions-in-force,” the document said.
The company also said they may make more cuts in spending such as reducing film and television content investments and additional furloughs and layoffs.
In Florida, the company has been limiting attendance at its parks and changing protocols to allow for social distancing by limiting characters’ meet and greets.
Disney’s parks closed in March as the pandemic started spreading in the U.S. The Florida parks reopened in the summer, but the California parks have yet to reopen pending state and local government approvals.
Also read : Disney to axe 28,000 jobs
Countries with decreasing COVID-19 numbers still need to stay "vigilant," a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Friday.
"Even as case numbers are coming down, all countries need to remain vigilant. You've heard of this before, but we really need to emphasize it again. Do not let your guard down," Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for WHO's Health Emergencies Program, said during a virtual briefing, reports Xinhua.
"It's good to see the measures taking effect and transmission going down. But it's not time to let up. It's time to even scale up," Van Kerkhove added.
Global COVID-19 cases have surpassed 61 million with the death toll topping 1.4 million, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
"What we don't want to see is situations where you are moving from a so-called lockdown state to bring the virus under control to moving to a so-called lockdown state," she warned.
Los Angeles County announced a new stay-home order Friday as coronavirus cases surged out of control in the nation’s most populous county, banning most gatherings but stopping short of a full shutdown on retail stores and other non-essential businesses.
The three-week “safer at home” order takes effect Monday. It came as the county of 10 million residents confirmed 24 new deaths and 4,544 new confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The county had set a threshold for issuing the stay-home order: an average of 4,500 cases a day over a five-day period, but hadn’t expected to reach that level until next month.
However, the five-day average of new cases reported Friday was 4,751.
“We know we are asking a lot from so many who have been sacrificing for months on end,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. “Acting with collective urgency right now is essential if we want to put a stop to this surge.”
The order advises residents to stay home “as much as possible” and to wear a face covering when they go out. It bans people from gathering with others who aren’t in their households, whether publicly or privately.
However, exceptions are made for church services and protests, “which are constitutionally protected rights,” the county Department of Public Health said in a statement.
Indoor retail businesses, which make much of their profits during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons, are allowed to remain open but with just 20% of capacity, including nail salons and other personal care services.
Stores considered essential will be allowed 35% capacity. Outdoor fitness centers, museums and outdoor amusements such as mini-golf can operate at 50% of capacity.
Restaurants in the county already were recently barred from in-person dining. They can still offer pickup, delivery and takeout services.
Beaches, trails, and parks will remain open, with safety requirements.
Schools and day camps can remain open except for those that have three or more COVID-19 cases over 14 days. Those should close for 14 days, the order said.
The order, which runs through Dec. 20, is more modest than a statewide closure order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom in mid-March. That order closed schools and most businesses and severely restricted movement except for essential workers or to perform essential chores such as buying groceries or picking up medications.
The restrictions are said to have slowed the spread of COVID-19 and some restrictions were eased but the caseload picked up again in summer and in recent weeks has surged to record levels throughout most of the state — as well as throughout most states in the country.
Daily cases numbers in California have set records in recent days. Hospitalizations statewide have increased more than 80% in the last two weeks. Nearly 2,000 people in the county are now hospitalized and the new order is part of an effort to prevent the county’s health system from being overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, public health officials are bracing for a wave of cases that could follow gatherings at Thanksgiving. Officials say it usually takes two to three weeks for such serious cases to show but about 12% of those infected could wind up hospitalized.
Despite its reputation for sprawl, Los Angeles has some of the densest neighborhoods in the U.S. Many of those areas have multi-generational households where workers who don’t have the luxury to telecommute are exposed to the virus at work or on public transportation and spread it to family members.
Case numbers in those communities have been higher and the virus has disproportionately affected more Latinos and Black people.
With infections out of control, the other options for public officials to take are even more onerous and unlikely to be enacted in the U.S., said Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
China, for example, tested millions of people and enforced quarantines. Italy brought in the military to enforce a shutdown.
“It’s hard to imagine how much further you can go in a society like we have,” he said. “It’s a balancing act, right? You want people to obey it but you don’t want to make it so draconian that people are trying to figure out ways around it all the time.”
President Donald Trump’s legal team suffered yet another defeat in court Friday as a federal appeals court in Philadelphia roundly rejected the campaign’s latest effort to challenge the state’s election results.
Trump’s lawyers vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court despite the judges’ assessment that the “campaign’s claims have no merit.”
“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” 3rd Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee, wrote for the three-judge panel, all appointed by Republican presidents.
The case had been argued last week in a lower court by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who insisted during five hours of oral arguments that the 2020 presidential election had been marred by widespread fraud in Pennsylvania. However, Giuliani failed to offer any tangible proof of that in court.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, another Republican, had said the campaign’s error-filled complaint, “like Frankenstein’s Monster, has been haphazardly stitched together” and denied Giuliani the right to amend it for a second time.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called any revisions “futile.” Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith and Judge Michael Chagares were on the panel with Bibas, a former University of Pennsylvania law professor. Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, sat on the court for 20 years, retiring in 2019.
“Voters, not lawyers, choose the president. Ballots, not briefs, decide elections,” Bibas said in the opinion, which also denied the campaign’s request to stop the state from certifying its results, a demand he called “breathtaking.”
In fact, Pennsylvania officials had announced Tuesday that they had certified their vote count for President-elect Joe Biden, who defeated Trump by more than 80,000 votes in the state. Nationally, Biden and running mate Kamala Harris garnered nearly 80 million votes, a record in U.S. presidential elections.
Trump has said he hopes the Supreme Court will intervene in the race as it did in 2000, when its decision to stop the recount in Florida gave the election to Republican George W. Bush. On Nov. 5, as the vote count continued, Trump posted a tweet saying the “U.S. Supreme Court should decide!”
Ever since, Trump and his surrogates have attacked the election as flawed and filed a flurry of lawsuits to try to block the results in six battleground states. But they’ve found little sympathy from judges, nearly all of whom dismissed their complaints about the security of mail-in ballots, which millions of people used to vote from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump perhaps hopes a Supreme Court he helped steer toward a conservative 6-3 majority would be more open to his pleas, especially since the high court upheld Pennsylvania’s decision to accept mail-in ballots through Nov. 6 by only a 4-4 vote last month. Since then, Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett has joined the court.
“The activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania continues to cover up the allegations of massive fraud,” Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis tweeted after Friday’s ruling. “On to SCOTUS!”
In the case at hand, the Trump campaign asked to disenfranchise the state’s 6.8 million voters or at least “cherry-pick” the 1.5 million who voted by mail in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other Democratic-leaning areas, the appeals court said.
“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption,” Brann, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, wrote in his scathing ruling on Nov. 21. “That has not happened.”
A separate Republican challenge that reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week seeks to stop the state from further certifying any races on the ballot. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is fighting that effort, saying it would prevent the state’s legislature and congressional delegation from being seated in the coming weeks.
On Thursday, Trump said the Nov. 3 election was still far from over. Yet he said for the first time he would leave the White House on Jan. 20 if the Electoral College formalizes Biden’s win.
“Certainly I will. But you know that,” Trump said at the White House, taking questions from reporters for the first time since Election Day.
On Twitter Friday, however, he continued to baselessly attack Detroit, Atlanta and other Democratic cities with large Black populations as the source of “massive voter fraud.” And he claimed, without evidence, that a Pennsylvania poll watcher had uncovered computer memory drives that “gave Biden 50,000 votes” apiece.
All 50 states must certify their results before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14, and any challenge to the results must be resolved by Dec. 8. Biden won both the Electoral College and popular vote by wide margins.