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Military recruiting struggles as enlistment stations close

April 04, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — Marine Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Meyer does his best recruiting face-to-face. He can look people in the eye, read their body language and get insight into whether they would make a good Marine.

But coronavirus quarantines have shut down most recruiting stations. So Meyer and other recruiters have turned increasingly to social media. And that has its drawbacks. “They usually won’t run away if you’re talking to them in person,” said Meyer, noting that if they are online or on the phone, they can just hang up. “They just stop responding, and the conversation just ends without a conclusion.”

As the coronavirus pandemic worsens and the country turns increasingly to the military for help, America’s armed services are struggling to get new recruits as families and communities hunker down. Recruiters scrounging for recruits online are often finding people too consumed with their own financial and health care worries to consider a military commitment right now.

The services, as a result, could fall thousands short of their enlistment goals if the widespread lockdowns drag on, forcing them to pressure current troops to stay on in order to maintain military readiness.

“This is going to have somewhat of a corrosive effect on our ability to have the numbers of people that we really need,” said Maj. Gen. Lenny Richoux, director for personnel for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The concern, it is growing.”

He said the military is watching this day-to-day and knows that it could take “a very long time” to rebuild the force. To entice prospects, recruiters are shifting to a softer sell, talking more broadly about service to the nation in difficult times. And they’re hoping to get a recruiting surge during the peak summer months.

They may also benefit from the exposure the military has gotten as Navy hospital ships, Army field hospitals and National Guard troops roll into communities to provide aid and health care during the crisis. And the military could be a popular option for those facing lingering unemployment because of the pandemic.

But shutting recruiting stations is a problem. And the lack of in-person contact with recruits hits the Marine Corps particularly hard. The Corps has long excelled in what it calls the kneecap-to-kneecap sales pitch that keeps new Marines linked with their recruiters as they head to boot camp.

“The heart of our recruiting effort is sending handpicked Marine sergeants and staff sergeants out there to go recruit their own image,” said Maj. Gen. James Bierman, commander of Marine Corps Recruiting Command. “And we’re never more comfortable than we are when we’re sitting down face-to-face with a young man or woman.”

Bierman said he’s reached about 40% of his roughly 37,000-recruit goal this year. The key problem is that the 4,000 Marine recruiters now can’t get into high schools to meet students and woo recruits, said Meyer, who’s in charge of recruiting at a Seattle substation.

Army leaders who struggled in recent years to get recruits had already moved to social media, e-sports tournaments and other online recruiting over the past year. So they had a bit of an advantage. “We were well ahead of glide path when this thing hit, which is good because it gave us some maneuver room,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command. He said some recruiting stations had gotten double or triple the number of recruit leads compared to the previous year.

Now, he said, they’re changing their pitch, posting information on sites like Instagram and YouTube that focus on what the Army can do. “Let’s go in softer,” he said he told recruiters. “Start a dialog. It’s a call to service, a call to the nation. Your nation needs you now. More of that. And then let them come to us.”

Bierman agreed, saying he doesn’t want Marine recruiters “trying to force a meeting or try to force a sale while families are dealing with really, really, tough, challenging circumstances.” Muth, whose enlistment goal for the year is 69,000, and Bierman said they’ll need to transition back to regular recruiting as soon as possible, but they don’t know when.

Still, recruiters said they’ve seen some successes — even some fueled by the virus outbreak. Army Staff Sgt. Bradley Martin, a recruiter in Tampa, said he spoke to a young man who, like many, got laid off because of the pandemic’s economic impact.

“He was sitting around thinking about his future and said he wanted to do something to be successful,” said Martin, who spoke to the prospect through FaceTime about Army careers and the tuition reimbursement program. “We ended up having a great conversation.”

Meyer said he had two successful online interviews. One was referred by a Marine recruit who had signed up earlier this year, and another was referred by his own mother. “They want to be Marines,” Meyer said. “The challenge is what happens next.”

Most military movement stalled when the Defense Department froze nonessential moves several weeks ago. But the Army and Marine Corps have continued to send recruits to initial or follow-on training. New Marines are still going to boot camp on the West Coast, but not to Parris Island, South Carolina, where there have been several cases of the virus at the base. Those finishing boot camp are immediately going to their follow-on infantry training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or Camp Pendleton, California, without getting the usual 10-day break at home.

Just last week, the Army chartered 32 buses to carry 812 new soldiers from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where they had finished basic combat training, to Fort Lee, Virginia, to start quartermaster and logistics training. A similar caravan will take medic trainees from Oklahoma to Texas.

Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, commanding general of the Army Center for Initial Military Training, said people ask why the Army is still recruiting and training during a pandemic. “We have to,” he said, adding it can be done with minimal risk to health and safety. “It’s our responsibility to America right now.”

AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

Virus deaths, unemployment accelerating across Europe, US

April 03, 2020

NEW YORK (AP) — Coronavirus deaths mounted with alarming speed in Spain, Italy and New York, the most lethal hot spot in the United States, while the outbreak has thrown 10 million Americans out of work in just two weeks and by Friday had sickened more than a million people.

The public health crisis deepened in New York City, where one funeral home in a hard-hit neighborhood had 185 bodies stacked up — more than triple normal capacity. The city has seen at least 1,500 virus deaths.

“It’s surreal,” owner Pat Marmo said, adding that he’s been begging families to insist hospitals hold their dead loved ones as long as possible. “We need help.” Worldwide the number of reported infections hit another gloomy milestone — 1 million, with more than 53,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. But the true numbers are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, many mild cases that have gone unreported and suspicions that some countries are covering up the extent of their outbreaks.

Spain on Thursday reported a record one-day number of deaths, 950, bringing its overall toll to about 10,000, despite signs that the infection rate is slowing. Italy recorded 760 more deaths, for a total of 13,900, the worst of any country, but new infections continued to level off.

France recorded a running total of about 4,500 deaths in hospitals, with 471 in the past day. But officials expect the overall toll to jump significantly because they are only now starting to count deaths in nursing homes and other facilities for older people.

France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he and his government colleagues are “fighting hour by hour” to ward off shortages of essential drugs used to keep COVID-19 patients alive in intensive care.

As the death toll grew, so did the economic fallout. New unemployment numbers showed the outbreak has thrown 10 million Americans out of work in just two weeks in the swiftest, most stunning collapse the U.S. job market has ever witnessed.

Roughly 90% of the U.S. population is under stay-at-home orders, and many factories, restaurants, stores and other businesses are closed or have seen sales shrivel. Economists warned unemployment would almost certainly top those of the Great Recession a decade ago and could reach levels not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

“My anxiety is through the roof right now, not knowing what’s going to happen,” said Laura Wieder, laid off from her job managing a now-closed sports bar in Bellefontaine, Ohio. The pandemic will cost the world economy as much as $4.1 trillion, or nearly 5% of all economic activity, the Philippines-based Asian Development Bank, said Friday.

At least a million people in Europe are estimated to have lost their jobs over the past couple of weeks. Spain alone added more than 300,000 to its unemployment rolls in March. But the job losses in Europe appear to be far smaller than in the U.S. because of countries’ greater social safety nets.

Estimates of those in China, the world’s second-largest economy, who have lost jobs or are underemployed run as high as 200 million. The government said Friday it would would provide an additional 1 trillion yuan ($142 billion) to local banks to lend at preferential rates to small- and medium-sized businesses that provide the bulk of employment.

With more than 245,000 people infected in the U.S. and the death toll topping 6,000, sobering preparations were underway. The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked the Pentagon for 100,000 body bags because of the possibility funeral homes will be overwhelmed, the military said.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said U.S. infection data suggest Americans need to emulate those European nations that have started to see the spread of the virus slowing through strict social distancing.

The Trump administration was formalizing new guidance to recommend Americans wear coverings such as non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandannas over their mouths and noses when out in public and preserve medical masks for those on the front lines.

But there are still shortages of critical equipment, including masks, in Europe and the U.S. Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that New York could run out of breathing machines in six days. He complained that states are competing against each other for protective gear and breathing machines, or are being outbid by the federal government.

Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in hopes of boosting production of medical-grade masks by Minnesota-based 3M to assist first responders. Washington is also trying to crack down on a growing black market for protective medical supplies.

Nine leading European university hospitals warned they will run out of essential medicines for COVID-19 patients in intensive care in less than two weeks. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia.

In a sign of the outbreak’s impact on the U.S. military, the captain of a Navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the virus was fired by Navy leaders who said he created a panic by sending his memo pleading for help to too many people. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly says the ship’s commander, Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” in the middle of a crisis.

Elsewhere among the world’s most vulnerable, aid workers were bracing for a possible outbreak among more than 1 million Rohingya Muslim refugees living in cramped camps in Bangladesh. And in a move likely to anger China, officials from the U.S. and Taiwan, the island claimed by Beijing as its own territory, held a virtual meeting Sunday to discuss ways of increasing Taiwan’s international participation, particularly in the World Health Organization from which it is excluded at China’s insistence.

Hinnant reported from Paris. Sherman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers around the world contributed.

Trump: US to deploy anti-drug Navy ships near Venezuela

April 02, 2020

MIAMI (AP) — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Navy ships are being moved toward Venezuela as his administration beefs up counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean following a U.S. drug indictment against Nicolás Maduro.

The president’s announcement was a break from the daily White House press briefing to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, which has left much of the country in lock-down and which the government warns could cause 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.

“The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro and his criminal control over the country, and drug traffickers are seizing on this lawlessness,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said after the president’s announcement.

The mission involves sending additional Navy warships, surveillance aircraft and special forces teams to nearly double the U.S. counter-narcotics capacity in the Western Hemisphere, with forces operating both in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific. Esper said the mission would be supported by 22 partner nations.

“As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus there is a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain,” said Trump. “We must not let that happen.”

The enhanced mission has been months in the making but has taken on greater urgency following last week’s indictment of Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled socialist leader, and members of his inner circle and military. They are accused of leading a narcoterrorist conspiracy responsible for smuggling up to 250 metric tons of cocaine a year into the U.S., about half of it by sea.

“If I was just indicted for drug trafficking by the United States, with a $15 million reward for my capture, having the U.S. Navy conducting anti-drug operations off my coast would be something I would worry about,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has been among those calling for a tougher stance against Maduro.

It also comes as Maduro steps up attacks on his U.S.-backed rival, Juan Guaidó. Maduro’s chief prosecutor ordered Guaidó to provide testimony Thursday as part of an investigation into an alleged coup attempt. Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s congress who is recognized as his country’s legitimate leader by the U.S. and almost 60 other nations, is unlikely to show up, raising the possibility he could be arrested. The U.S. has long insisted it will not tolerate any harm against Guaido.

“No matter where you sit ideologically, any move to try to bring democracy back to Venezuela requires first recognizing the criminal nature of the Maduro regime, and making moves that scare the regime into negotiating,” said Raul Gallegos, a Bogota, Colombia-based director in the Andean region for Control Risks, a consulting group.

Maduro has blasted the Trump administration’s offer of a $15 million reward for his arrest, calling it the work of a “racist cowboy” aimed at getting U.S. hands on Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, the world’s largest. He also points out that the vast majority of cocaine leaves South America from Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally.

Others have faulted a U.S. plan, unveiled Tuesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to create a five-member council without Maduro or Guaidó to govern the country until elections can be held within a year. While its the first attempt in months by the U.S. to seek a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s stalemate, coming on the heels of the indictments many say it has little hope of succeeding and likely to drive Maduro farther away from the path of dialogue.

The Trump administration has long insisted that all options are on the table for removing Maduro, including military ones. Still, there’s no indication then, or now, that any sort of U.S. invasion is being planned.

Rather, the sending of ships fits into a longstanding call by the U.S. Southern Command for additional assets to combat growing antinarcotics and other security threats in the hemisphere. In January, another Navy vessel, the USS Detroit, conducted a freedom of navigation operation off the coast of Venezuela in a show of pressure against Maduro.

“That presence sends a big statement about U.S. commitment, it sends a big statement to our friends, it reassures them, and then to our adversaries that those are capable performers,” Adm. Craig Faller, the head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command, said in congressional testimony last month.

The report of the planned deployment comes two days after one of Venezuela’s naval patrol boats sank after colliding with a Portuguese-flagged cruise ship near the Venezuelan-controlled island of La Tortuga. Maduro accused the ship of acting aggressively and said it was possibly carrying “mercenaries” seeking his ouster.

“You have to be very naive to see this as an isolated incident,” Maduro said Tuesday night on state TV. But Columbia Cruise Services, the operator of the cruise ship, said the patrol boat fired gunshots and than purposely rammed into the liner at speed. There were no passengers on board and none of its 32 crew members were injured, the company said.

US opposes Kosovo’s ‘new barriers’ to Serbian goods

April 01, 2020

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The decision of Kosovo’s government to phase out the country’s 100% tariff on imports from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina starting Wednesday did not ease international pressure on the tiny Western Balkans country and sparked more domestic tensions.

Although the United States and the European Union had pushed for lifting the import taxes, Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced early Wednesday that his caretaker Cabinet would instead require goods from Serbia to be certified for quality, a mandate already in place for Kosovar products shipped to Serbia.

Marko Djuric, head of Serbia’s office for Kosovo, rejected Kurti’s move, saying “the situation did not deescalate or return to the previous state when uncivilized taxes were introduced.” Kosovo imposed the punitive tariffs in November 2018 over Serbian efforts to block Kosovo from joining international organizations. The dispute led to the suspension of European Union-mediated talks to normalize ties between Pristina and Belgrade.

Most Serb goods stopped arriving in Kosovo after the import taxes were introduced, except for products that were mainly smuggled into Kosovo’s Serb-dominated Mitrovica. Annual trade between Serbia and Kosovo was valued at about 400 million euros ($440 million) before the tariffs were adopted, and inflation in Kosovo rose to about 3% in 2019 after the import taxes took effect compared to 1.1% the previous year.

Kosovo was formerly a part of Serbia and won independence after a 1999 NATO bombing campaign that ended a bloody Serb crackdown on an armed uprising by members of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority. Serbia refuses to accept Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

Since the start of the Pristina-Belgrade talks in 2011, 33 deals have been signed to ensure the country’s recognition each other in areas such as education and professional degrees. Kosovo claims Serbia has not fulfilled its side of the agreements. Kosovo recognizes diplomas from Serbian universities, but Serbia does not accept the degrees of Kosovar university graduates. It’s the same with drivers’ licenses.

Kurti said the government would monitor whether Serbia moves toward reciprocity until June 15 and if not, the tariffs will be restored. The junior partner in Kurti’s coalition government, the Democratic League of Kosovo, or LDK, initiated a successful parliamentary vote of no-confidence vote in his Cabinet last week. His government now is acting in a caretaker capacity.

The motion came after an LDK minister was fired for not supporting the restrictions on movement the government imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The LDK also wanted Kurti to fully revoke the 100% tariff and not damage ties with the Kosovo’s most important ally, the United States.

The United States argued that Kurti’s actions would strangle Kosovo’s economy. “We remain opposed to the latest move to implement reciprocal measures on the movement of goods from Serbia.” the U.S.Embassy in Kosovo said in a statement Wednesday.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, hailed Kosovo’s move as “an important decision.”

Associated Press witers Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade.

‘A battlefield behind your home’: Deaths mount in New York

April 01, 2020

NEW YORK (AP) — New York authorities rushed to bring in an army of medical volunteers Wednesday as the statewide death toll from the coronavirus doubled in 72 hours to more than 1,900 and the wail of ambulances in the otherwise eerily quiet streets of the city became the heartbreaking soundtrack of the crisis.

As hot spots flared around the U.S. in places like New Orleans, Detroit and Southern California, the nation’s biggest city was the hardest hit of them all, with bodies loaded onto refrigerated morgue trucks by gurney and forklift outside overwhelmed hospitals, in full view of passing motorists.

And the worst is yet to come. “How does it end? And people want answers,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “I want answers. The answer is nobody knows for sure.” Across the U.S., Americans braced for what President Donald Trump warned could be “one of the roughest two or three weeks we’ve ever had in our country.” The White House on Tuesday projected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. before the crisis is over, and Vice President Mike Pence said models for the outbreak show the country on a trajectory akin to hard-hit Italy’s.

Under growing pressure, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis belatedly joined Cuomo and governors in more than 30 states in issuing a statewide stay-home order, taking action after conferring with fellow Republican Trump. The governors of Pennsylvania and Nevada, both Democrats, took similar steps.

Meanwhile, European nations facing extraordinary demand for intensive-care beds are putting up makeshift hospitals, unsure whether they will find enough healthy medical staff to run them. London is just days from unveiling a 4,000-bed temporary hospital built in a huge convention center.

In a remarkable turnabout, rich economies where virus cases have exploded are welcoming help from less wealthy ones. Russia sent medical equipment and masks to the United States. Cuba supplied doctors to France. Turkey dispatched protective gear and disinfectant to Italy and Spain.

Worldwide, more than 900,000 people have been infected and over 45,000 have died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, though the real figures are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, differences in counting the dead and large numbers of mild cases that have gone unreported.

The U.S. recorded about 200,000 infections and about 4,400 deaths, with New York City accounting for about 1 out of 4 dead. In New York, more than 80,000 people have volunteered as medical reinforcements, including recent retirees, health care professionals taking a break from their regular jobs and people between gigs.

Few have made it into the field yet, as authorities vet them and figure out how to use them, but hospitals are expected to begin bringing them in later this week. Those who have hit the ground already, many brought in by staffing agencies, have discovered a hospital system being pushed to the breaking point.

“It’s hard when you lose patients. It’s hard when you have to tell the family members: ‘I’m sorry, but we did everything that we could,’” said nurse Katherine Ramos, of Cape Coral, Florida, who has been working at New York Presbyterian Hospital. “It’s even harder when we really don’t have the time to mourn, the time to talk about this.”

To ease the crushing caseload, the city’s paramedics have been told they shouldn’t take fatal heart attack victims to hospitals to have them pronounced dead. Patients have been transferred to the Albany area. A Navy hospital ship has docked in New York, the mammoth Javits Convention Center has been turned into a hospital, and the tennis center that hosts the U.S. Open is being converted to one, too.

With New York on near-lockdown, the normally bustling streets in the city of 8.6 million are empty, and a siren to some is no longer just urban background noise. The city’s playgrounds are closing, too, at Cuomo’s order.

“After 9/11, I remember we actually wanted to hear the sound of ambulances on our quiet streets because that meant there were survivors, but we didn’t hear those sounds, and it was heartbreaking. Today, I hear an ambulance on my strangely quiet street and my heart breaks, too,” said 61-year-old Meg Gifford, a former Wall Streeter who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Near severely swamped Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, resident Emma Sorza, 33, described an eerie scene. “I think everyone’s just doing what they can, but at the same time it bothers you. Especially if you’re around Elmhurst, because you can hear all the ambulances, she said. “There is a truck and people are actually dying. It’s like a battlefield behind your home.”

Cuomo said projections suggest the crisis in New York will peak at the end of April, with a high death rate continuing through July. “Let’s cooperate to address that in New York because it’s going to be in your town tomorrow,” he warned. “If we learn how to do it right here — or learn how to do it the best we can, because there is no right, it’s only the best we can — then we can work cooperatively all across this country.”

Elsewhere around the country, Florida’s DeSantis was locked in a standoff over whether two cruise ships with sick and dead passengers may dock in his state. More than 300 U.S. citizens were on board. Two deaths were blamed on the virus, and nine people tested positive, Holland America cruise line said.

DeSantis, who is close to Trump, said the state’s health system is stretched too thin to accommodate the passengers. But the president said he would speak with him. “They’re dying on the ship,” Trump said. “I’m going to do what’s right. Not only for us, but for humanity.”

In Southern California, officials reported that at least 51 residents and six staff members at a nursing home east of Los Angeles have been infected and two have died. Even as the virus has slowed its growth in overwhelmed Italy and in China, where it first emerged, hospitals on the Continent are buckling under the load.

“It feels like we are in a Third World country. We don’t have enough masks, enough protective equipment, and by the end of the week we might be in need of more medication too,” said Paris emergency worker Christophe Prudhomme.

Spain hit a record of 864 deaths in one day, for a total of more than 9,000. In Italy, with over 13,000 dead, the most of any country, morgues overflowed with bodies, caskets piled up in churches, and doctors were forced to decide which desperately ill patients would get breathing machines.

England’s Wimbledon tennis tournament was canceled for the first time since World War II. India’s highest court ordered news media and social media sites to carry the government’s “official version” of developments, echoing actions taken in other countries to curb independent reporting.

The strain facing some of the world’s best health care systems has been aggravated by hospital budget cuts over the past decade in Italy, Spain, France and Britain. They have called in medical students, retired doctors and even laid-off flight attendants with first aid training.

The staffing shortage has been exacerbated by the high numbers of infected personnel. In Italy alone, nearly 10,000 medical workers have been infected and more than 60 doctors have died. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and lead to death.

China, where the outbreak began late last year, on Wednesday reported just 36 new COVID-19 cases.

Charlton reported from Paris. Sherman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers around the world contributed, including Joseph Wilson in Barcelona; Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless in London; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Karen Matthews in New York; and Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand.

Judges slow abortion bans in Texas, Ohio, Alabama amid virus

March 31, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Federal judges on Monday temporarily blocked efforts in Texas and Alabama to ban abortions during the coronavirus pandemic, handing Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers a victory as clinics across the U.S. filed lawsuits to stop states from trying to shutter them during the outbreak.

A new Ohio order is also unconstitutional if it prevents abortions from being carried out, a separate judge ruled Monday. The ruling instructed clinics to determine on a case-by-case basis if an abortion can be delayed to maximize resources — such as preserving personal protective equipment — needed to fight the coronavirus. If the abortion is deemed necessary and can’t be delayed, it’s declared legally essential.

The rulings indicated judges were pushing back on Republican-controlled states including abortion in sweeping orders as the outbreak grows in the U.S. In Texas, the ruling came down after state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said abortion was included in a statewide ban on nonessential surgeries.

But U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said the “Supreme Court has spoken clearly” on a woman’s right to abortion. One abortion provider in Texas, Whole Woman’s Health, said it had canceled more than 150 appointments in the days after the Texas order went into effect.

“There can be no outright ban on such a procedure,” Yeakel wrote. Paxton said the state would appeal. The rulings happened Monday as lawsuits were also filed in Iowa and Oklahoma, after governors in those states similarly ordered a stop to non-emergency procedures and specifically included abortion among them.

The lawsuits were filed by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and local lawyers in each state. Their aim, like abortion providers in Texas, is to stop state officials from prohibiting abortions as part of temporary policy changes related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Friday that abortions were included in his executive order banning all elective surgeries and minor medical procedures until April 7, unless the procedure was necessary to prevent serious health risks to the mother. Stitt said the order was needed to help preserve the state’s limited supply of personal protective equipment, like surgical masks and gloves.

A spokesman for Stitt referred questions about the challenge to Attorney General Mike Hunter, who vowed in a statement to defend the ban. “My office will vigorously defend the governor’s executive order and the necessity to give precedence to essential medical procedures during this daunting public health crisis,” Hunter’s statement said. “Make no mistake, this lawsuit will itself drain significant resources, medical and legal, from emergency efforts, and likely, directly and indirectly, bring harm to Oklahomans as a result.”

Monday night, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary restraining order against Alabama’s order, saying the ruling with be in effect through April 13 while he considers additional arguments.

Thompson wrote the state’s concerns about conserving medical equipment during the pandemic, does not “outweigh the serious, and, in some cases, permanent, harms imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to privacy.”

Attorneys for the Alabama clinics said facilities had canceled appointments for 17 people scheduled this week. “Patients that have already had their appointments canceled have been devastated; in many instances the calls cancelling the appointments have ended in tears,” lawyers for the clinics wrote.

Alabama closed many nonessential businesses with a state health order, effective Saturday. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said earlier Monday the state would not offer a “blanket exemption” to abortion clinics.

In Ohio, Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics that sued last year to try to thwart a law that bans most abortions after a first detectable fetal heartbeat are asking a court to speed up its decision in that case and to consider a recent coronavirus order by the state health director. In filings Monday, the groups’ attorneys argued “the state is again attempting to ban abortions” through Dr. Amy Acton’s directive barring all “non-essential” procedures and Attorney General Dave Yost’s threats that it will be rigidly enforced.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said the governor “is focused on protecting Iowans from an unprecedented public health disaster, and she suspended all elective surgeries and procedures to preserve Iowa’s health care resources.”

Reynolds said Sunday the move was not based on her personal ideology but a broad order to halt nonessential procedures to conserve medical equipment. The Iowa lawsuit said abortion procedures do not require extensive use of medical equipment and do not use N95 respirators, the devices in shortest supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Patients’ abortions will be delayed, and in some cases, denied altogether,” the lawsuit states. “As a result, Iowa patients will be forced to carry pregnancies to term, resulting in a deprivation of their fundamental right to determine when and whether to have a child or to add to their existing families.”

The lawsuits seek court orders halting action pertaining to abortions and ask judges for immediate hearings.

Weber reported from Austin, Texas. AP Writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Kimberly Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Julie Smyth in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this story.

Sen. Bernie Sanders wins California primary

MARCH 12, 2020

By Danielle Haynes

March 12 (UPI) — Sen. Bernie Sanders won the biggest Super Tuesday prize — California — news outlets projected Thursday.

More than a week after Californians participated in the state’s Democratic primary, a final count of mail-in votes and provisional ballots gave Sanders, I-Vt., the win. Both CNN and NBC News called the race in his favor, with 34.3 percent of the vote, or about 184 delegates.

Former Vice President Joe Biden won 27.6 percent — good for an estimated 144 delegates. The remaining 81 delegates are unallocated, some going toward candidates who’ve since dropped out of the race, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who got 13.2 percent of the vote and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg who got 12.9 percent.

California is one of four states Sanders won on March 10, compared to Biden’s nine. This primary season, Biden has 864 pledged delegates and Sanders has 711.

The two candidates will next face each other Sunday during a debate at CNN’s Washington, D.C. The Democratic National Committee announced Thursday it won’t have a live audience for the event as a precautionary measure due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The next primaries are scheduled for Tuesday in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

Source: United Press International (UPI).


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