The US Air Force Air Thunderbirds conducted a flyover in celebration of frontline workers, flying past all the major hospitals throughout the Las Vegas valley.
Brigadier general Robert Novotny said: “We were looking at how we could continue to fly and also give back to the community with a salute to the real heroes out there on the front lines who are keeping us safe from the virus.”
Oklahoma State University football coach Mike Gundy has apologized for comments he made during a teleconference this week about the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have been made aware that comments from my press conference have offended some,” Gundy said in a statement issued on Saturday. “It was never my intention to offend anyone and I apologize. My first priority is and will always be the student-athletes and doing what is best for the program and the university.”
Gundy has come under criticism since a Tuesday conference call with reporters where he said he hoped to have the team return to the on-campus football facilities on 1 May, in defiance of federal social-distancing guidelines. He said the the media has been overly negative in its coverage of what he called the “Chinese virus and added that if one of his players or coaches were to test positive after then, they would be “quarantined just like we do people that get the flu”.
“We get people that get the flu during the season, we quarantine them, we treat them, we make sure they’re healthy, we bring ‘em back,” Gundy said. “It would be the same thing here, but at some point, we’ve got to go back to work. We’ve got to get these guys back in here. … From what I read, the healthy people can fight this, the antibodies make it better. They’re doing some blood transplants now with the people that have already gotten the disease, that have gotten over it that have the antibodies that can fight it. There’s a lot of people who can figure this out. May 1’s our goal. Don’t know if it will happen. Players will come in after that.”
The remarks prompted a swift statement from the university, which said: “We will adhere to the advice of public health experts who are making informed decisions in the best interest of the citizens of our nation and state based on sound scientific data.”
It’s not the first time Gundy, whose annual salary is $5.13m, has whipped up controversy over his right-wing views. But USA Today’s Dan Wolken made a salient point in a Wednesday op-ed that Gundy’s political ideology is immaterial:
Hey, according to “Dr. Gundy,” what’s the harm in 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds possibly getting exposed to coronavirus? If they’re healthy, it’s all good, right? At any rate, we’ve got to get moving, Gundy suggested, because paying salaries and “continuing the economy in this state” relies on the bodies of unpaid amateurs and people will “feel better” watching football on TV.
Herd immunity, right? That’s actually what Dr. Gundy was getting at. In fact, he referred to players as “the herd of healthy people” who can fight the virus, even though that is, uh, not exactly the way any of this works.
None of this should be a surprise. Gundy has been edging toward the cliff of absurdity for a while now. In November 2018, he blamed “liberalism” for players transferring, saying “I’m a firm believer in the snowflake.” He acknowledged Tuesday he’s getting a lot of his information these days from the ultra-conservative One America News Network, an outlet he described as objective and non-political despite its history of pushing debunked right-wing conspiracy theories related to the murder of Seth Rich, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor David Hogg.
But this isn’t really about Gundy’s political ideology or his sources of information. It’s about him saying the quiet part out loud regarding how many college coaches view their players.
Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who floated a conspiracy theory which said the Chinese government created Covid-19 in a weapons lab claimed on Saturday that “common sense has been my guide” since he first learned of the outbreak in mid-January.
“Not Chinese communist lies. Not ‘the models’. Not so-called ‘public-health experts’. Just common sense. Many elected leaders have also been guided by common sense. Others haven’t.”
The virus is believed to have originated in a market in Wuhan in which wild animals were sold. But in an appearance on Fox News in February, Cotton floated a conspiracy theory which suggests the virus was manufactured in a Chinese bioweapons facility.
“Here’s what we do know,” he said. “The virus did not originate in the Wuhan animal market. Epidemiologists … have demonstrated that several of the original cases did not have any contact with that food market. That the virus went into that food market before it came out of that food market.
“So we don’t know where it originated. But we do know that we have to get to the bottom of that. We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level four super-laboratory, that researches human infectious diseases.
“We don’t have evidence that this disease originated there but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all.”
A federal judge has ruled Kentucky’s largest city cannot halt a drive-in church service planned for Easter. From the Associated Press:
On Fire Christian Church had sued Louisville mayor Greg Fischer and the city after Fischer announced drive-in style religious gatherings were not allowed on Easter.
US district judge Justin Walker sided with the church.
“On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter,” Walker wrote in his sternly worded 20-page opinion. “That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion.”
Walker added that “The mayor’s decision is stunning. And it is, ‘beyond all reason,’ unconstitutional.”
Fischer had argued that drive-in church services weren’t “practical or safe” for the community. However, Walker noted that drive-thru restaurants and liquor stores were still allowed to operate.
Coronavirus continues to tear through New York City’s jails. The city’s Department of Correction said that 318 detainees, and 562 staff members, have tested positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday morning; two jailed persons have died from the virus. According to the New York Times, seven jail staffers have died due to coronavirus as of Wednesday.
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy has issued an executive order requiring face coverings for all customers entering restaurants and bars to pick up carry-out food in the state.
Murphy’s order, which goes into effect on Monday at 8pm, comes as New Jersey’s numbers continue to surge with at least 58,151 cases and 2,183 deaths due to Covid-19 – including 3,599 new positive tests and 251 new fatalities in the last 24 hours – second only to New York nationally.
“Some may view this as another inconvenience,” Murphy said during his daily press briefing on Saturday in Trenton. “But you know what would be really inconvenient, is if you ended up in hospital with Covid-19 or if you infected a family member. We accept this is inconvenient.”
The order also includes a directive for NJ Transit and private carriers to cut all rail and bus capacity by 50% in an effort to curb the spread and for all transit workers to be provided face masks and gloves.
Every US state is now under a disaster declaration
Wyoming has become the 50th, and final, US state to be under a disaster declaration following approval by Donald Trump on Saturday. That means for for the first time in history every US state is under a disaster declaration. The US Virgin islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico are also under disaster declarations, which allow federal funds to be used by state and local governments during the pandemic.
“Though Wyoming has not reached the dire situations of some states, this declaration will help us to prepare and mobilize resources when we need them,” said Wyoming’s governor, Mark Gordon, in a statement after requesting the declaration earlier this week.
There have been 253 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Wyoming to date. Wyoming is the least populated state in the US. So far there have been no deaths from Covid-19 among its 578,000 residents.
The US government has executed the Defense Production Act for the law’s first project during the Covid-19 outbreak. The act allows the government to order private industry to assist in the defense of the nation. The $133m project will “increase domestic production capacity of N95 masks to over 39m in the next 90 days,” according to a government press release. The release said that the companies involved in the project will be released in the coming days.
Coronavirus continues to take its toll on the emergency services. The New York Fire Department says that 714 of its members have tested positive for Covid-19 and approximately 2,700 of the department are currently sick or on medical leave. That’s a striking number given that the FDNY has a total of 17,000 members, a number that includes firefighters EMS and civilians.
The archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Aymond, is one of nearly 20,000 residents of Louisiana to have tested positive for Covid-19, so it’s no surprise he took precautions when giving his Good Friday blessing.
The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reports that the 70-year-old, who has now recovered from the virus, sprinkled holy water from a second world war-era biplane above the city. “When I first did it, the water came back on me,” Aymond said, “but then I got situated.”
He was not the first religious leader to fly above the city this month. Rabbi Lexi Erdheim of the Congregation Gates of Prayer Synagogue in Metairie flew in the same plane as the archbishop to offer a Passover blessing. “It was really powerful, seeing everything at once,” she said, “especially after being inside the same four walls for so long.”
Aymond said he was cautious at first about flying in a plane that is older than himself. “I asked some questions about the plane,” he said. “Eventually my questions became trust.”
The US navy dismissed Brett Crozier, the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, earlier this month after he raised the alarm about an outbreak of coronavirus on his ship. The acting secretary of the US navy, Thomas Modly, subsequently resigned after he said Crozier was “too naive or too stupid” to captain the ship.
Meanwhile, Crozier’s concerns continue to look justified. CNN reports that 550 of the ship’s sailors have tested positive for Covid-19. Fox News reports that that figure is 75% of the total number of members of the US navy to have tested positive for the virus worldwide. One member of the ship’s crew is understood to be in intensive care in Guam.
New Jersey has the second most deaths from Covid-19 of any state in the US. The state’s governor, Phil Murphy, has said customers entering restaurants and bars for takeouts must now wear a facemask, while capacity on public transport will be cut by 50% in an effort to control the outbreak. Murphy said on Saturday that 251 people had died of the virus in New Jersey over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 2,183 since the outbreak began.
Murphy added that he believed measures to slow the spread of the virus are working but there is still work to do. “The curve is flattening,” he said. [But] we’re not in the end zone folks, we cannot spike any footballs, we’re not even first and goal.”
Richard Luscombe has an update from behind the scenes at the White House.
A devastating New York Times report published on Saturday chronicles Donald Trump’s repeated failures over several months to take the coronavirus crisis seriously, and how his suspicion of the so-called Deep State “colored” his tortoise-paced response even as the death toll from Covid-19 began to soar.
The newspaper paints a picture of a chronically divided White House, with scientists and medical experts at odds with, and often losing out to, Trump’s political, economic and financial advisers in the battle for the president’s ear.
The internal wranglings, the Times says, slowed any clear, consistent or timely decision-making against the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment and trial in the US Senate.
“Mr Trump’s response was colored by his suspicion of and disdain for what he viewed as the ‘Deep State’ – the very people in his government whose expertise and long experience might have guided him more quickly toward steps that would slow the virus, and likely save lives,” the report, compiled and written by six New York Times reporters, claims.
“The shortcomings of Mr Trump’s performance have played out with remarkable transparency as part of his daily effort to dominate television screens and the national conversation,” it adds, referring to the president’s rambling and falsehood-ridden press briefings from the White House, which even Republican allies believe are hurting his popularity.
The Times article adds more recent detail to the Guardian’s in-depth investigation of Trump’s missing six weeks published two weeks ago. Our reporting found that a botched rollout of testing, the administration’s decision to disband the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic response team and Trump’s reliance on his own hunches over professional medical advice contributed to the confusion and lack of leadership at a critical moment for the US.
Specifically, the Times notes that it was Trump’s fear of, and belief in the existence of a ‘Deep State’ – a conspiracy theory dismissed by even his closest allies as “for nut cases” – that caused him to ignore warnings from government experts. “He could have seen what was coming,” the Times headline says.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio once again had differing opinions on who has authority to implement certain Covid-19 policies.
This time, it involved De Blasio’s announcement on Saturday morning that New York City schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year. De Blasio said his administration is forging a “comprehensive plan” to safely reopen schools in September and that “next year is going to have to be the greatest academic year New York public schools have ever had.”
At Cuomo’s daily press briefing shortly thereafter, however, the governor contended “there has been no decision on [closing New York City] schools.”
Cuomo added: “When we made the decision to close the schools, we made it for the entire region. Any decision to reopen them will also be a coordinated decision.”
Cuomo was then pressed on the topic and De Blasio’s earlier statements. “That’s his opinion. He didn’t close them and he can’t open them,” Cuomo said “It happened on a metropolitan-wide basis and we’ll act on a metropolitan basis, coordinating with Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester [counties].”
Cuomo insisted school closures and reopenings were his call. “It is my legal authority in this situation,” he told reporters.
Freddi Goldstein, De Blasio’s press secretary, took issue with Cuomo’s comments.
“The Governor’s reaction to us keeping schools closed is reminiscent of how he reacted when the Mayor called for a shelter in place. We were right then and we’re right now,” she tweeted. “Schools will remain closed, just like how we eventually – days later – moved to a shelter in place model.”
A TV news channel in Mississippi has found a church pastor who says he plans to hold an in-person Easter Sunday service – in contravention of a mayor’s executive order – because he’s upset that more people will be at home improvement stores tomorrow than would be permitted in his congregation.
“It’s kinda hard for me to understand why I can only have 10 in a worship service when I go to Lowe’s, Home Depot, and there are more than 10,” Jesse Horton Sr, pastor at Jackson’s Emmanuel Baptist missionary church, told WAPT-TV.
“Why is it that everything else can be open?”
Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the mayor of Jackson, has taken a hard line on a coronavirus lockdown, challenging the authority of Tate Reeves, the Mississippi governor, and threatening to cut off electricity to any businesses that defy his instructions.
“If you live in the city of Jackson, you take my executive order,” said Lumumba, who has signed a directive outlawing gatherings of more than 10 people. Conversely, as in many other states, Reeves’ own stay-at-home order appears to exempt religious services at houses of worship.
Horton says he plans to press ahead with his Easter service tomorrow, but promises to shut it down if Jackson cops show up to enforce the order.
“We will likely have more than 10. We will be sitting in space. I’m going to say to the congregation, ‘Let’s be as safe as possible. Let’s not do anything foolish’,” he said.
Horton’s is not the only Mississippi church making waves in the debate over religious freedoms during the pandemic. Greenville’s Temple Baptist Church is suing the city government and mayor for breaking up a drive-in service it recently staged, and issuing $500 fines to attendees, according to the Washington Times.
The church insists it followed state and federal guidelines and that those who attended remained in their vehicles with windows fully closed, turning into the service on their car radios.
“This is government overreach,” Kristen Waggoner, general counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious rights law firm, said in a tweet.
“If [the] government allows waiting in a car at Sonic it should permit a drive-thru Easter service. [The] first amendment is not completely suspended, nor does government have unlimited authority to target churches however they please.”
The Greenville mayor Errick Simmons told the newspaper he hadn’t seen the lawsuit but that the city’s actions were to save lives and not intended to restrict religious freedoms.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau says his country faces a “fork in the road” after public health officials revealed a projected death toll between 11,000 and 22,000.
“We will not be coming back to our former normal situation; we can’t do that until we have developed a vaccine and that could take 12 to 18 months,” Trudeau said in an address to the House of Commons in Ottawa. “We don’t exactly know how long – we hope it’s earlier rather than later.”
He adds: “Over the coming weeks and months, we will face a number of obstacles. We will go through periods of uncertainty. Fear and uncertainty will continue to be a part of our daily lives. And unfortunately, together, we will mourn the loss of loved ones. Even if we take every possible precaution, the situation may get worse before it gets better. That is the sad reality our country faces. Our determination to put an end to this virus and our commitment to look out for one another will be put to the test, but I know that we are up to the challenge.”
US passes Italy to record most coronavirus deaths
The US is poised to reach 19,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths – more than any other country, new data indicates.
The US was also the first country to report 2,000 deaths in a single day, with 2,108 people dying in the previous 24 hours.
The US outbreak, now exceeding a half-million confirmed cases, outpaces Spain, the country with the second-most confirmed cases, by approximately 340,000.
“To the extent it’s flattering I appreciate it,” Cuomo says of the speculation about his running for higher office, before going out of his way to shut it town. “There is no politics here. I have no political agenda, period. I’m not running for president, I’m not running vice-president. I’m not running anywhere. I’m not going to Washington. I’m staying right here. I said to the people of this state, unequivocally, when I was running for governor, I will serve as your governor. Well they all say that, and then they do something different.
“I’m not that person. I am going to do what i said I was going to do.”