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GOP officials flock to Parler social network. So do their trolls and impostors.

But Parler has also seen a sudden uptick in impostor accounts over the past few weeks, with 11 GOP congressional offices telling POLITICO there are new pages on the site wrongly purporting to be their official accounts, including for Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

The phony @RealSenGraham introduces himself with a post, which the site calls a “parley,” saying: “Well kiss my grits and call me Lindsey. I’m on Parler.” The senator is not, in fact, on Parler, but at least another four fake Grahams are, some more polished than others.

Many of the fake Parler accounts present themselves like any typical congressional social media page, posting advisories about upcoming events, putting out statements on timely issues and sharing notable articles with constituents — making them nearly indistinguishable from an official forum. Others are more flagrantly false, with one phony account for a Democratic lawmaker sharing links from a far-right blog known for spreading hoaxes.

The trend highlights Parler’s challenge to gain credibility as a platform striving to be an alternative to Facebook, Twitter, Google-owned YouTube and Reddit, even as it becomes the talk of conservative circles. Parler already had a reputation as a conservative echo chamber where some fringe characters banned from Facebook and Twitter found a home. Now, users have to figure out if the conservative voices they’re hearing are genuine.

Impostor accounts are nothing new to social media — the industry’s biggest companies routinely purge their platforms of scores of phony accounts impersonating public figures. But those firms have tightened their verification protocols over the years in an effort to ensure users aren’t fooled by accounts pretending to be political leaders.

That’s a challenge Parler is now running into at full speed, as officials in the highest ranks of the Republican Party join the site in rapid succession. While the site has been widely seen as freewheeling, Parler does have rules about content and user conduct, including community guidelines that prohibit impersonation of a public official.

The GOP movement onto Parler was at first slow, then suddenly swift. Paul, the libertarian Kentucky senator, was among the first lawmakers to publicly announce they had joined in August.

But dozens more Republican lawmakers have signed up over the past several weeks, according to a review of the platform and statements from congressional offices provided to POLITICO. The findings mark the most detailed look to date at how widespread use of the platform has become among GOP officials on Capitol Hill.

That comes as Parler is experiencing a boost in users overall, according to its CEO. Parler chief John Matze told CNBC its user base has grown from 1 million to 1.5 million in just a week — a growing figure that still pales in comparison to the over 2 billion users on Facebook. The stat highlights the massive uphill climb smaller platforms like Parler and others face in competing with the tech giants, who dwarf them in size and resources.

Parler is trying to seize a moment. President Donald Trump and his allies ratcheted up their attacks against Silicon Valley after Twitter began adding warning and fact-checking labels to some of the president’s tweets in late May. Trump has since ordered federal regulators to look at whether to narrow social media companies’ liability protections over user content, a move that could deal a major blow to the online industry.

The site has also attracted other high-profile conservative figures including Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and Fox News host Sean Hannity. And its CEO says they’re looking to convert that momentum into revenue by building an online advertising platform, a plan that arrives as Facebook faces a major advertising boycott over its handling of Trump’s posts. (Matze told Forbes the company got off the ground with some early investors, including friends.)

While some of those figures now on the platform, including the president’s children, have had their accounts verified by Parler and been labeled as such, others haven’t completed that process yet. Parler shows that public figures’ accounts are genuine with a gold badge.

“We are still going through the Parler verification process,” said Brigid Nealon, a spokesperson for Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.), who joined the site last week.

That could complicate efforts to make out who is and isn’t who they say they are from Parler’s new pool of recruits in Washington. Of the impostor accounts for lawmakers confirmed by POLITICO, several featured identical handles and visuals as the officials’ profiles on other platforms. That included a page impersonating Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), which has the same profile picture and background image as his profile on Twitter and goes by the same handle.

The account was shifted to “private” status on Wednesday, limiting its visibility, after POLITICO reached out to Parler and Kennedy’s office regarding the page.

“It appears that someone created a fake account in the senator’s name, and that the misleading account is no longer active,” said Jess Andrews, a Kennedy spokesperson.

At least one phony user even posted about wanting to get their page credentialed. “How do I become verified? #parler” posted an account under the handle @SenJohnThune. A Thune spokesperson confirmed the lawmaker is not on the platform.

Democratic officials have — unsurprisingly — been less eager to join the site. But a casual observer might think they have at least a limited presence. Impostor accounts exist purporting to be Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden. None of them have accounts on the platform, spokespeople confirmed.

One fake Schiff account posted a link to an article about Biden from Gateway Pundit, a far-right blog known for promoting conspiracy theories.

But such accounts are also less likely to dupe users aware that the platform has been less attractive to those on the left. Matze told CNBC he wants more liberals to sign up, and he’s even offering a “progressive bounty” of $20,000 for a prominent left-wing pundit to start a Parler account.

Several congressional offices said they planned to ask Parler to take down the impostor accounts after POLITICO sought comment on them. A Schiff spokesperson said his office is aware of fake pages masquerading as the House Intelligence chair and that they encourage Parler to take action. Schiff does not have an account on the platform, they said.

Parler did not return multiple requests for comment on the impostor accounts or its verification process.

Despite GOP lawmakers flocking to Parler, there’s been little to no indication any of them plan to quit the major social media platforms. Many announced that they had joined Parler in posts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and have continued to post to those sites since.

Some lawmakers’ offices who created accounts say they are still weighing whether to actively use the platform. And other offices, including McCarthy’s, said they wanted to secure accounts on the platform, where common handles for the lawmakers are quickly getting snatched up by other users. It’s unclear whether Parler would accommodate potential requests from lawmakers to make handles available to them that have already been claimed by other users.

“We reserved them to make sure they weren’t taken—but we have yet to decide if we’re going to follow through with using the platform,” said Sarah Selip, a spokesperson for Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga), who created an account last week.

But there’s already signs more may follow.

Kevin Bishop, a spokesperson for Graham, said the senator doesn’t “have a Parler account … yet.”

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Officials Trace More Than 100 Coronavirus Cases To Michigan Bar

At least 107 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been linked to a bar in Michigan. 

Some 95 people who visited Harper’s Restaurant & Brewpub in East Lansing June 12-20 have now tested positive for COVID-19, Ingham County Health Department announced Monday.

A further 12 people “who were in contact with a primary case but did not go to Harper’s themselves” have also been infected with the virus, per a statement released by the department.

The rising numbers from the outbreak prompted Ingham County to issue “an emergency order reducing restaurant capacity to 50% or no more than 75 people, whichever is less.”

The patrons who tested positive for the coronavirus were aged 16 to 28.

None were hospitalized. Most showed mild symptoms and 28 were asymptomatic. Forty percent were students at or recent graduates of Michigan State University.

Ingham Country Health officials urged people who attended the venue during the nine-day period to get tested for the coronavirus and self-quarantine for 14 days following the date of their last visit.

“There are likely more people infected with COVID-19 not yet identified,” Ingham County Health officer Linda Vail warned last week when the case count from the outbreak stood at 34.

The 950-capacity venue had reopened at 50% capacity on June 8 and was “following appropriate safety procedures related to employees, restaurant capacity and table spacing,” per the department’s inspectors.

Harper’s announced its temporary closure — in order to modify its air conditioning system and further improve social distancing measures — via a lengthy post on Facebook on Jun. 23.

“We have attempted to instruct customers waiting in line to wear face coverings and practice social distancing through signage on the public sidewalk and with a banner on our railing,” the venue wrote.

“Our oversight of the line on our stairs has been successful, but trying to get customers to follow our recommendations on the public sidewalk has been challenging,” it added. “Because we have no authority to control lines on public property, we are left with the dilemma of staying open and letting this situation continue, or closing until we can devise a strategy that eliminates the lines altogether.”

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus

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Roosevelt Bridge in Florida is not at immediate risk of collapse, officials clarify

Stuart Mayor Mike Meier said that the 24-year-old bridge will not immediately collapse, despite the Coast Guard’s cautioning on Wednesday after a large crack in the bridge was discovered. The initial warning was issued to “drive the point home that it was not safe to travel under the bridge,” Meier said.

“Let me be clear: There is no evidence to suggest that the bridge will collapse imminently,” he said during a news conference Wednesday.

A Florida bridge is at 'risk of an imminent collapse' after a large crack appears underneath

The Florida Department of Transportation discovered the crack Tuesday during a “routine bridge inspection” that occurs every two years, the mayor said.

A chunk of concrete fell off the bridge and exposed some rusted steel cables, so officials immediately blocked off a portion of Dixie Highway, also called the Old Roosevelt bridge, which crosses underneath the newer bridge.

Both the northbound and southbound Roosevelt bridge are closed to traffic while the Department of Transportation inspects them, Meier said. Both sides showed signs of structural damage.

Meier said the closures happened out of an “overabundance of caution,” though Department of Transportation officials concluded that there wasn’t a risk of immediate failure.

Boats can travel under the bridge again, where the Coast Guard had initially blocked off commercial maritime travel.

But the bridge itself is still closed, and will be until further notice, Stuart police said.

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What a West Virginia man says was a small, joking attempt at voter fraud shows just how closely officials are watching

According to a complaint written by an investigator working for the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, Thomas Cooper, 47, of Dry Fork, West Virginia, and a mail carrier for Pendleton County, was joking when he altered ballot requests sent by some people on his delivery route, changing their party affiliations from Democrat to Republican.

The complaint goes on to note that the local clerk knew the people named on the ballot requests weren’t Republicans and gave them a call.

The revelation launched an investigation by the West Virginia Election Fraud Task Force, led by assistant US attorneys from the Northern and Southern districts of West Virginia, special agents from the FBI and investigators from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, and an attempted election fraud charge against Cooper. US Attorney Bill Powell announced on the charge on Tuesday.

An affidavit filed with the criminal complaint alleges that last month, the Pendleton County clerk received “2020 Primary Election COVID-19 Mail-In Absentee Request” forms from eight voters, where the voter’s party-ballot request appeared to have been altered. The clerk reported the finding to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office, according to the US attorney’s office, which began an investigation.

That investigation found five ballot requests that had been altered from “Democrat” to “Republican.” On three other requests, the party wasn’t changed but the word “Republican” was circled in addition to the checked “Republican” box.

Fact-checking Trump's recent claims that mail-in voting is rife with fraud

Cooper, who was responsible for mail delivery in the three towns from which the tampered ballot requests were mailed, admitted to altering some of the requests, saying it was a joke, according to the affidavit.

CNN has reached out to Cooper and the US Postal Service for comment.

It was not immediately clear if Cooper has retained an attorney and no court date had been scheduled as of Wednesday afternoon.

The crackdown in West Virginia comes as President Donald Trump has repeatedly made false claims alleging widespread voter fraud in the US, including specific allegations that millions of illegal votes have been cast, and has criticized Democrats in California, Michigan and Nevada for their push to expand vote-by-mail amid the pandemic.
Fact check: Trump lies about voter fraud while states, CDC encourage voting-by-mail as pandemic-friendly option

There is no evidence of rampant nationwide voter fraud, and numerous studies have suggested that voter fraud is all but nonexistent in the US. But for years, Trump has embraced conspiracy theories about voter fraud. He set up a presidential commission to investigate the issue, but the panel disbanded without uncovering any evidence to support his claims that millions had voted illegally in 2016, costing him the popular vote.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner, a Republican, announced earlier this year that the state would send every voter absentee-voting applications for the June 9 primary election amid Covid-19-related health concerns.

He said last week that because of investigators’ quick response in this case, the scheme was uncovered early and will not have an impact on the outcome of the election.

“Our primary strategy is to deter and prevent election fraud from taking place. I prefer compliance with the law over criminal convictions,” Warner said in a statement announcing the investigation last week. “But those who try to meddle with our elections will be held accountable.”

CNN’s Holmes Lybrand and Daniel Dale contributed to this report.

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A woman suffers burns after entering illegally Yellowstone National Park, park officials say

She told park rangers she was backing up to take pictures when she fell into a thermal feature at the Old Faithful Geyser, one of the most famous geyser’s in the world.

“Hot springs have injured or killed more people in Yellowstone than any other natural feature,” reads the park’s website. It also warns visitors to stay on the boardwalks and trails in these thermal areas.

After falling, the woman, who was not identified by park officials, was able to get in her vehicle and drive through the park when she was contacted by rangers. Due to her injuries, she was life-flighted to the Burn Center at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, park officials said.

The Old Faithful Geyser erupts about every 90 minutes, according to the NPS, and the average water temperature is 169.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

The woman’s condition is unknown at this time. NPS said it is continuing to investigate this incident and is not sure which thermal feature she fell into.

Trespassing at the park can net individuals seriously repercussions.

Earlier this year, two men that were caught trespassing on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser, which is a closed thermal area, were sentenced to 10 days in jail and five years of probation. They were also ordered to pay $540 restitution and banned from the park for five years.

“Visitors must realize that walking on thermal features is dangerous, damages the resource, and illegal,” Park Chief Ranger Sarah Davis said in January about the sentencing. “Law enforcement officers take this violation seriously. Yellowstone National Park also appreciates the court for recognizing the impact thermal trespass can have on these amazing features.”
Last year, a man suffered severe burns when he took a walk off the boardwalk at night without a flashlight and tripped into the thermal water near the cone of Old Faithful Geyser. In that incident, NPS said if it was determined there was any damage done to the geyser cone they would forward the results to the US Attorney’s Office for prosecutorial review.
In June 2017, a North Carolina man suffered severe burns when he fell into a hot spring in the Lower Geyser Basin north of the Old Faithful area. A year before that, an Oregon man died when he went off a boardwalk and fell into a hot spring that was 212 degrees Fahrenheit. His body was not recovered.

The nation’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park is also its sixth-most popular national park, with 4 million visitors last year. It’s located in three states — Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

CNN’s Danielle Sills and Katia Hetter contributed to this report.

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Brooklyn funeral home: Officials removing bodies

A day earlier, officials discovered four trucks containing as many as 60 bodies outside the Andrew Cleckley Funeral Home after someone reported fluids dripping from the trucks, according to the law enforcement official.

It’s unclear how many bodies will be removed, thed official said Thursday.

Authorities have also asked the owner to gather paperwork that would help identify the bodies.

The Department of Environmental Protection issued two summonses to the owner of the funeral home for a foul odor.

CNN reached out to the home Thursday for comment. Wednesday, someone who identified himself as the owner would not comment.

The funeral home was overwhelmed and ran out of room for bodies, which were awaiting cremation, and used the trucks for storage, a second law enforcement source said Wednesday.

At least one of the trucks was unrefrigerated, according to one law enforcement official. One source said the bodies were put on ice.

“They were like almost everyone doing their best to cope,” one source said.

New York has been the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak for weeks, with 17,866 confirmed and probable Covid-19 deaths, according to the city website.

New York has freezer trucks that funeral homes can use if they are overwhelmed, and the city sent one to hold the bodies, CNN affiliate WABC reported.

“Funeral directors are required to store decedents awaiting burial or other final disposition in appropriate conditions and to follow their routine infection prevention and control precautions,” the New York State Health Department said in a statement regarding the incident.

CNN’s Theresa Waldrop contributed to this report.

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Covid-19 testing: Officials turn to sewage

Groups of scientists around the world are using wastewater testing as a non-invasive way to measure the prevalence of coronavirus in their communities.

Local governments in the US are also turning to the tests, which detect traces of coronavirus genetic material — known as RNA — in fecal matter.

The data can be used to gain a sense of how many people may have had the virus asymptomatically and are passing it through, in addition to those testing positive because they are outwardly sick, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer told CNN.

New Castle County just completed its first week of testing and expects to have results early this week, Meyer said. In its pilot 24-hour test, Biobot estimated there were 15,200 cases of Covid-19 in New Castle County alone. Those results would far outpace the 4,034 estimated number of confirmed cases in the state, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

“We’re confident as we do this weekly, now that we’re working with Biobot, that this can give a varying indication of the total number of cases in our county, which is somewhat useful,” Meyer said. “We want to identify hotspots, run this at 10 treatment facilities across a county of 560,000 people, and find out with these hotspots where they are and where they’re not.”

Meyer said he has spoken with state officials about implementing wastewater testing across the state — though he said he’s been met with some skepticism.

“I think it’s fair there’s skepticism, to be honest,” Meyer said. “What (Biobot is) doing seems really smart. The science seems sound. There are uncertainties everywhere … I hope this works and we’ve got to be skeptical.”

‘Early warning system’

Meanwhile, in the Syracuse area of New York, four professors across three universities have partnered up to test Onondaga County wastewater using a centrifugal process to isolate the virus — a process they say could significantly speed up detection of Covid-19 outbreaks.

David Larsen, a public health professor at Syracuse University, told CNN he organized the project after coming across a paper showing that scientists in the Netherlands had successfully performed a wastewater test for Covid-19.

Larsen said he recruited his colleague Teng Zeng in Syracuse’s engineering department to collaborate with wastewater facilities in Onondaga County. Samples were then sent to Hyatt Green and Frank Middleton, both of whom are part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

Middleton, a professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University, said the isolation process they have devised adheres RNA samples of Covid-19 in wastewater to polyethylene glycol, a resin that destroys the active virus and concentrates into a pellet.

The pellet is then tested through a process known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The PCR is used to detect Covid-19 specifically, as opposed to other viruses that may have found their way into the testing samples, Middleton said.

He estimated that in the group’s academic lab, they could test up to 100 samples a day, though if there were enough samples provided, PCR could perform as many as 1,500 tests daily.

“This is unlike anything that I’ve done in the past,” Middleton, who serves as the director of the SUNY Molecular Analysis Core, said. “We can do that PCR almost instantaneously, after we have the pellet. About 12 minutes later — by lab standards, it’s almost instantaneous — (we have the results).”

Green, a microbiologist at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, said the entire testing process would most likely take close to four to eight hours because of what’s entailed in actually collecting and filtering out the wastewater samples.

But he said the difference in hours of testing for Covid-19 presence regularly — compared to testing only symptomatic patients when there are spikes in cases — could be a major deterrent in reducing hotspots both now and in a potential second wave.

“In some areas, it’s not practical,” Green said. “But in a lot of areas, it is. If you have surveillance set up ahead of time and can crank it up at the beginning when you first hear about the possibility of an outbreak, you can use the platform as an early warning system. That would give us days or weeks lead time in coping with the pandemic or epidemic.”

Testing overseas

Scientists in other countries have also been using their sewerage systems to mass test for Covid-19, though they express caution on how accurately wastewater samples reflect community levels of the virus.

In early April, the journal Nature reported that more than a dozen research groups around the world were analyzing wastewater for Covid-19, with traces of the virus found in wastewater in the US, Netherlands and Sweden.
The Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said in a statement last month that coronavirus had been detected in a wastewater sample taken four days after the country’s first confirmed case.
Worldwide coronavirus death toll passes 205,000

“A small percentage of patients with Covid-19 have the novel coronavirus in their gastrointestinal tract, and thus excrete it in their faeces,” the institute said in a statement, issued on March 24.

The wastewater testing approach had previously been used to detect viruses such as polio and measles, the statement said.

The Italian Institute for Health (ISS) reported last week that wastewater samples had returned positive results for parts of Milan and Rome. It said the RNA that was detected did not necessarily represent live, infectious virus.

“The result reinforces the prospects of using urban center sewage control as a non-invasive tool for early detection of infections in the population,” the ISS said in a statement. “In Phase 2, surveillance can be used to indirectly monitor the circulation of the virus and to early detect its possible reappearance, thus allowing to recognize and circumscribe any new epidemic outbreaks more quickly.”

Disinfecting wipes are causing major pipe problems

Australian researchers have also found traces of the virus in sewage and said they are working towards a national testing program.

“The hope is eventually we will be able to not just detect the geographic regions where Covid-19 is present, but the approximate number of people infected — without testing every individual in a location,” the head of Australia’s national science agency — CSIRO — said in a statement issued on April 16. “This will give the public a better sense of how well we are containing this pandemic.”

In neighboring New Zealand, scientists at the state-owned ESR said they are testing wastewater for Covid-19 to try to gauge the effectiveness of eradication efforts and better understand the patterns of community transmission.

“We’re collaborating with research organizations here and internationally and contributing to the global effort to learn more about Coronavirus and ultimately find a vaccination,” said ESR Chief Scientist Brett Cowan in a statement earlier this month.

But the ESR researchers noted that Covid-19 was a respiratory illness and “unlikely to be spread by contaminated faeces,” suggesting levels of the virus would be low and hard to detect.

CNN’s Livia Borghese and Sharon Braithwaite also contributed to this report.

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‘Nothing to worry about’ and ‘it’s being contained’: How Trump officials downplayed the coronavirus

“I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” he said. Kudlow noted the stock market was “cheaper” implying investors could buy a dip in stocks, saying of coronavirus, “I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.” He did add “it may be out there, I don’t want to negate it.”

“This President will always put America first,” she said, speaking of Trump’s travel restrictions on China. “He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.”

By then, the US already had 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus and the CDC warned there would be “community spread” within the country, though the number could have been much higher, as testing for the virus was severely limited.

The comments are just two examples of 18 from spokespeople for the Trump campaign and White House officials downplaying the coronavirus and minimizing the potential impacts on the economy and Trump’s re-election campaign. The comments came as the crisis slowly– and then quickly — spiraled out of control.

Even as the death toll continued to rise and the stock market continued to plunge as the virus spread, Trump officials confidently projected that the United States was either ahead of the curve in responding to the virus or that the risk to the average Americans was low and there would be minimal impact.

These comments came as some White House officials and intelligence agencies warned privately of a pandemic, saying it could claim millions of lives and inflict trillions in economic damage.
President Donald Trump echoed those comments himself, oscillating between claiming the virus was like a flu and would disappear miraculously to claiming that “maybe” the coronavirus improved US job numbers to blaming the media for overhyping the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the coronavirus taskforce, was more cautious in media appearances. He told NBC’s “The Today Show” on February 29, “There’s no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day by day basis. Right now the risk is still low, but this could change,” but added that when the US saw the beginnings of “community spread” guidance could change quickly.

In March, Fauci advocated Americans follow the social distancing guidelines outlined by the federal government and said he occasionally disagreed with Trump, at one point recommending against events with large crowds. Meanwhile, some White House officials and Trump campaign staffers continued to convey confidence and certainty that it wasn’t irresponsible to continue to hold rallies and events.

The Trump administration continues to face scrutiny over its response to the virus — from its lack of preparations for the coronavirus pandemic to its slow response to providing states and cities with sufficient testing kits and personal protective equipment

At the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, in late February, top White House officials including Kudlow, then-acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Joe Grogan, the director of domestic policy at the White House, all made comments downplaying the potential impact of virus.

“This is just a temporary blip in the markets,” Grogan said on February 28.

At the same time, two top officials from Trump’s campaign, Marc Lotter and Tim Murtaugh, made public statements that Americans’ risk from the virus was low and the economic impact would be minimal.

“I think people can rest easy that the risk to the general population is extraordinarily low,” Murtaugh said on March 2, the same day the US surpassed 100 confirmed cases, according to a CNN tally.

Lotter said on March 3, “The risk to the average American is very low from this and the government is responding accordingly. They’re taking the necessary steps to make sure that everyone is protected and that the information gets out there.”

As late as March 11, the same day the NBA halted their season and Trump suspended most travel to Europe, the campaign made more news when McEnany said the President would not be canceling rallies.

White House spokesperson Judd Deere told CNN that while the media and Democrats focused on impeachment and refused to seriously acknowledge the virus in January and February, “President Trump took bold action to protect Americans and unleash the full power of the federal government to curb the spread of the virus, expand testing capacities, and expedite vaccine development when we had no true idea the level of transmission or asymptomatic spread.”

Trump campaign spokesperson Murtaugh told CNN that the President “acted early and decisively” in handling the coronavirus, citing the China travel restrictions.

“The President has a responsibility to project calm to the American people, which is what the campaign expressed as well. The coronavirus crisis will pass and President Trump has great optimism that the United States will thrive and prosper when it is over,” said Murtaugh.

Republican National Committee spokesperson Steve Guest told CNN that “nearly everyone,” including Democrats and the media made similar comments at the time. He added that the President’s steps to “limit worse fallout from the virus” were “mocked as xenophobic by Democrats and the media at the time.”

Here’s a timeline of the comments:

Feb. 24, 2020: White House trade adviser Peter Navarro publicly said Americans had “nothing to worry about” while he privately warned the White House that the coronavirus pandemic could cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of American lives.

“Since the day that President Trump pulled down the flights from China to the US, he has been actively leading the situation in terms of this crisis with the task force,” Navarro said in a press statement outside the White House. “Nothing to worry about for the American people.”

What happened that day: The White House requested $1.25 billion in emergency funding to address coronavirus as cases surged in Italy and Iran.
Feb. 25, 2020: White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said in an interview on CNBC that the US had coronavirus “contained” and it was “pretty close to airtight.” Kudlow added the coronavirus was a “human tragedy,” but “I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.” He added that investors should “very seriously” look at purchasing stocks after they decline in value.
What happened that day: The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost almost 900 points, marking a total loss of about 2,267 through four days.
Feb. 25, 2020: Speaking on Fox Business, then-Trump campaign spokeswoman and current White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said because of travel policies enacted by the President, the coronavirus would not continue to come to the United States.

“This President will always put America first,” she said. “He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here. And isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?”

What happened that day: The US confirmed 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus as a top CDC official warned there would be “community spread” in the US, adding it was “a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

Feb. 26, 2020: McEnany, then serving as a Trump campaign spokeswoman, told Fox Business that the virus had “not in the slightest” chance of affecting the President’s re-election campaign and praised the President for having the crisis under control.

“The President has this under control, and America will see that — just like with every single international incident — he knows what he’s doing,” she said.

What happened that day: Trump shook up his coronavirus task force team by appointing Vice President Mike Pence as its leader after privately expressing frustration with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, according to administration sources. Azar told the press that the coronavirus posed a “low” immediate risk but noted “we can expect to see more cases in the United States.”
Feb. 26, 2020: Lotter said in a radio interview that the stock market fallout from the coronavirus would recover quickly, comparing the market recovery to the Ebola and SARS outbreaks.

“Even with this dip in the stock market, when we went through the Ebola scares and the SARS scares from many years ago, the stock market drops 20 percent and then quickly rebounded. Well, right now after the last few days, we’re at 8 percent. So we’re not on anything along those lines,” said Lotter. “And I’m confident and I’ve even, you know, already started to hear experts saying buy the dip, buy the dip. And I have a feeling you’ll see a lot of that starting to happen here in the coming weeks. And as this situation plays itself out, that we’ll see, that we’ll see the markets quickly recover.”

What happened that day: The Dow and the S&P 500 declined for the fifth day in a row with the Dow having lost nearly 2,400 points in a little less than a week, according to a report from CNN Business.

Feb 28, 2020: Kudlow told CPAC attendees that the coronavirus said that socialism, not the coronavirus, would sink the US economy, saying Trump took “unprecedented and historical steps to contain the virus.”

“The virus is not going to sink the American economy,” Kudlow said. “What is or could sink the American economy is the socialism coming from our friends on the other side of the aisle.”

“And when you look at the numbers so far, God bless, we don’t know what’s ahead of us. The numbers so far are very low. We’re in good shape,” said Kudlow earlier.
What happened that day: Bill Gates penned an op-ed calling the coronavirus could be “once-in-century pandemic.”
Feb. 28, 2020: Grogan appeared on a conservative podcast and claimed the United States was “way ahead of the rest of the world” on coronavirus. He noted the coronavirus caused “a temporary blip in the markets” and that “we will get through it. It will be fine.”

“We are hustling on this. We are way ahead of the rest of the world. We have the best healthcare system, the best public health system in the world, and the best scientists working on this,” said Grogan. “We will get through it. It will be fine. And this is just a temporary blip in the markets…We have an incredibly resilient economy.”

What happened that day: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell wrote in a rare statement that while the fundamentals of the US economy are strong, the coronavirus “poses evolving risks to economic activity.” Trump expressed support for the Fed to “get involved” by slashing interest rates.
Feb. 28, 2020: Mulvaney was interviewed at CPAC and accused the media of covering the coronavirus so much because “they think this is going to be what brings down the President.”

“The reason you’re paying so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the President. That’s what this is all about,” said Mulvaney.

Mulvaney went on to acknowledge that the coronavirus “absolutely is real,” but stressed that “This is not Ebola, OK? … It’s not SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), it’s not MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).”

What happened that day: After coming into contact with one CPAC attendee who later tested positive for the coronavirus, a host of Republican lawmakers would self-quarantine for 14 days.

Feb. 28, 2020: Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel blamed prominent Democrats for tanking the stock market and accused them of stoking fears of coronavirus for political purposes in a radio interview.

“I think it’s a short bump. I think having Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and (New York Mayor Bill) de Blasio yesterday trying to stoke fears for political purposes, we don’t have many cases here in the United States,” McDaniel said.

“But I do think that they are using this as a political tactic and we’re seeing that affect the markets. And it will even out,” she said, later adding “Long term, as an investor, I think we’re going to be fine.”

What happened that day: The US confirmed its 60th case of coronavirus and medical officials in California said one case indication there is evidence of community transmission.
March 2, 2020: Murtaugh said in a radio interview that the US is in better shape to tackle the coronavirus than other countries such as China, Italy and Iran. He noted “the risk to the general population is extraordinarily low.”

“People are rightfully a little bit nervous about this. It’s an unknown sort of virus that’s on the scene, and they need to know that the government is taking care of it,” said Murtaugh. “The government is taking all measures to protect them. The United States is in a far better position than these foreign countries. You hear about China and Italy and certainly Iran.

“I think people can rest easy that the risk to the general population is extraordinarily low,” added Murtaugh.

What happened that day: The US surpassed 100 confirmed cases, according to a CNN tally, as Trump weighed more travel restrictions.
March 3, 2020: Lotter said in a radio interview the risk to the average American was very low. “You saw the Vice President standing in the White House briefing room with the head of the CDC, with the Secretary of Health and Human Services answering questions from the White House media corps,” Lotter said. “Reassuring the American people that you should go out and live your life. The risk to the average American is very low from this and the government is responding accordingly. They’re taking the necessary steps to make sure that everyone is protected and that the information gets out there.”

What happened that day: A man in Westchester County, New York tests positive, suggesting there was localized spread. An estimated 1,000 people would eventually end up quarantined.

March 6, 2020: Senior Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway got into a heated exchange with a reporter saying the coronavirus was contained.

“It is being contained and — do you not think it’s being contained in this country,” Conway said in the White House briefing room. “You said it’s not being contained … You just said something that’s not true.”

What happened that day: The coronavirus death toll in Washington state rose to 14.

March 6, 2020: Kudlow tells CNBC in an interview that Americans should still buy the dip and the virus is contained, at one point comparing it to the seasonal flu.

“So far, It looks relatively contained and we don’t think most people — I mean the vast majority of Americans are not at risk for this virus,” Kudlow said.
What happened that day: There were now 227 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US per a CNN tally.
March 6, 2020: Murtaugh says the press is being “sensational” about coronavirus and said Trump was “ahead of the curve” on coronavirus, adding that most of the media was “rooting” for the stock market to tank.
“I think the President has made it pretty clear that he is, he moved faster than the other countries did. He’s got the United States ahead of the curve,” he said in a radio interview.
What happened that day: 44 people in New York state were confirmed to have coronavirus.
March 9, 2020: Murtaugh says that Trump was “way ahead of the curve” in recognizing and reacting to the virus in a radio interview.

“The President appointed a task force to look at it and go after the coronavirus on January 31. That was a long time ago. That was well before any of this hysteria really got started. And in fact that was 12 days before the World Health Organization even gave the virus a name. So the President was way ahead of the curve and against political advice.”

“The fact is the President is on top of the situation,” he added. “The fundamentals of the economy are broad and strong and that we’re going to be just fine.”

What happened that day: North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, goes into self-quarantine as a protective measure, after potentially coming into contact with a CPAC attendee who tested positive for Covid-19. The Dow Jones had its worst point drop on record, falling more than 2,000 points, or 7.8%, the worst day on record since the 2008 financial crisis.
March 10, 2020: McEnany says in a radio interview that the President is advising people to wash their hands and maintain good hygiene to combat the virus, and that “this is something that is under control.”

“We’re just taking the same common sense measures that the President has instructed America to take. Look this, obviously you want to take seriously. Good hygiene habits, washing your hands and making sure not to touch a doorknob and then touch your eye. But, you know, outside of those common sense measures, this is something that is under control.”

What happened that day: The 22nd person dies in King County, Washington, an early hotspot of the virus in America, as the total US death toll reaches 29.
March 11, 2020: McEnany said in a radio interview that Democrats were just focusing on the coronavirus because impeachment was over, and that Trump stopped it from being worse than it could have been:

“We knew when impeachment was over, they’d find something else to glom onto. This President’s taken unprecedented action to protect this country from the coronavirus. He stopped it from being so much worse than it could have been, but leave it to the media, and to the left to score cheap political points.”

In another interview on a radio show, McEnany said that it wasn’t irresponsible to continue to hold rallies and events:

“I’d say that the President says this is safe. Dr Fauci has said, you know, it depends on the location. As long as you’re not having it in a hot spot where there’s a big outbreak, like outside of New York for instance, then it’s safe to proceed. So, you know, as long as the experts say it continues to be safe, then we follow that lead that; we will proceed as normal. And you’ll take precautions as I said, but not panic because we have a president leading on this.”

Note: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, actually disagreed with Trump and said he recommended against events with large crowds.
What happened that day: The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in the US reached 1,000 and the American death toll rose to 31. The global death toll surpassed 4,200. The NBA announced that all games would be suspended until further notice. An employee in Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office becomes the first publicly known case of a congressional staffer testing positive for coronavirus and Trump suspended most travel to Europe.

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Breaking New

Tennessee doctors and local officials call on Gov. Bill Lee to mandate stay-at-home order

At least 80% of the U.S. population is under a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, according to a CNN count. In Tennessee, Lee has resisted issuing a mandate, opting instead to issue an order that strongly urges residents to stay at home.

“I want again, to speak to the Tennesseans, who have the privilege and the capacity to safely stay home for the next two weeks. We need you to do that,” Lee said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Signed Monday, the order closes non-essential businesses that were still open, like hair salons, spas, theaters, concert venues and other entertainment establishments. Churches are exempt from the state order which took effect overnight on Tuesday.

Lee said Monday that he was not issuing a mandated shelter in place order because it is “deeply important to me” to protect personal liberties.

These states have implemented stay-at-home orders. Here's what that means for you

Dr. Aaron Milstone, a Franklin County-based acute care pulmonologist, is part of a group of doctors that have been critical of Lee’s decision not to issue a mandate.

“Urging people is not a mandate,” Milstone said. “Unfortunately human psyche is unless you are told what to do, and there are some teeth in that telling, you won’t do it.”

Milstone likened the Covid-19 outbreak to a Category 5 hurricane where mandates are issued for the public’s safety.

“Covid-19 is going to be larger than any Category 5 hurricane to hit,” Milstone said. “It is going to make Katrina look like a rain shower. (Governor Lee) needs to stop politicizing this pandemic.”

Petition from doctors for stay-at-home order

Milstone’s group joined with the Tennessee Medical Association to organize an online petition that, as of Wednesday morning, had nearly 30,000 signatures of both doctors and residents in support of the governor issuing a stay-at-home order.

Nearly every medical association and more than 100 mayors across the state have endorsed this cause as well, according to Milstone.

Millstone and nine other medical leaders sent a letter to the governor last week urging him to “act swiftly.”

“It is our estimation that we have little time to “flatten the curve” on the current situation,” the letter reads. “China and South Korea have made great progress by imposing restrictive measures. We ask that Tennessee do the same.”

Milstone’s letter was accompanied by a letter from the Middle Tennessee Mayors Caucus urging the governor to listen to the outcry from the medical community.

“We feel strongly that the quickest path to recovery is a uniform response to this challenge,” the letter reads, adding that the mayors “must also emphasize that our ability to manage the pandemic at the local level is limited and varied.”

Milstone said he has been modeling what Tennessee may need on projections on the demand for hospital usage in each state by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Based on the institute’s modeling, Milstone said the outbreak may peak in three weeks, Tennessee will be short 7,000 hospital beds and 1,700 ICU beds, and in need of 2,000 ventilators the state does not have.

CNN’s Alicia Lee contributed to this report.

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Breaking New

Abortion-rights advocates sue Texas officials for limiting abortion access in coronavirus order

On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton confirmed that “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother” was included in Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that health care providers “postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary” to preserve a patient’s life or condition.

Paxton noted that violating the order, which lasts until April 21, could result in fines of up to $1,000 or 180 days imprisonment.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday against Abbott, Paxton and other state officials by local providers, as well as Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, the groups called on a federal judge to block the restriction on abortion. They argued that it “violates Plaintiffs’ patients’ fundamental constitutional right to decide whether to have an abortion prior to viability.”

“The Texas Attorney General’s enforcement threats are a blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda, without any benefit to the state in terms of preventing or resolving shortages of (personal protective equipment) or hospital capacity,” they wrote. “As a result of these threats, this week Plaintiffs have already been forced to turn away patients in need of time-sensitive care.”

Texas is not alone in limiting abortion access in light of the coronavirus outbreak. State officials in Mississippi and Ohio have also limited abortions in response to the virus, saying that the steps are necessary to preserve protective supplies that are becoming increasingly precious as the pandemic worsens. But abortion-rights groups have decried the actions, saying officials are exploiting a public health crisis to advance a political agenda.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, said on a press call Wednesday that their three clinics in Texas had canceled more than 150 appointments this week in light of the order.

Paxton’s decision “has already created a health crisis on top of a health crisis,” she said. “Abortion is essential health care and it is a time sensitive service.”

Paxton accused the providers of looking to divert key health resources and vowed to uphold the order.

“It is unconscionable that abortion providers are fighting against the health of Texans and withholding desperately needed supplies and personal protective equipment in favor of a procedure that they refer to as a ‘choice,'” he said in a statement to CNN. “My office will tirelessly defend Governor Abbott’s Order to ensure that necessary supplies reach the medical professionals combating this national health crisis.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Texas has looked to restrict abortion rights and access in the last year. Texas lawmakers considered a bill in April that would allow a woman who undergoes an abortion procedure to possibly be charged with capital murder, a crime punishable by death in the state, and multiple cities have recently declared themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn” and adopted unenforceable ordinances that claim to outlaw abortion within city limits.

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