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States say federal coronavirus help still falling short

Washington state’s attempts to order personal protective equipment are mostly going unfilled amid global competition.

In Ohio, doctors are unsure whether federal shipments of remdesivir — a drug that can help shorten the duration of coronavirus symptoms — will continue past June.

As states try to take the lead on the coronavirus response, many are still turning to the federal government to help shore up critical supply shortages, only to find the federal response hit-or-miss. The White House has dropped its daily briefings with health experts and announced no new initiatives to ramp up supply production, even as top administration officials acknowledge the shortfalls persist.

The haphazard federal response has not only left states wondering whether critical medical supplies will be available month-to-month, but it has also increased anxieties that the US could be once again caught flat-footed if the virus resurges in the fall.

“We have, as a nation, I think been behind the eight ball from the beginning,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told CNN in an interview. “Testing, testing, testing is crucial and this supply chain issue remains a major problem.”

In Michigan, the state is struggling to hit its goal of running 25,000 coronavirus tests per day. The labs have the capacity to do so, but the state only has enough swabs to run about 15,000 tests per day, the Democratic governor said.

The federal government has responded to many of the state’s requests, but the deliveries often include different types of swabs than were requested — which can throw a wrench in the state’s testing strategy — and the timing of deliveries is often erratic.

“I know that the DPA (Defense Production Act) has been used, but we really need to use it, I think, more aggressively when it comes to PPE and additional production of swabs and reagents,” Whitmer said. “All of these are critical components to our ability to keep Covid-19 from growing exponentially again.”

A senior administration official said the Defense Production Act and other extraordinary measures were designed to address the peak of the coronavirus crisis and were never designed to be permanent.

“Many Americans would bristle at the notion of nationalizing production of large amounts of medical supplies in perpetuity,” the official said. Besides, the official said, “the private sector has risen to the challenge.”

A ‘complete lack of guidance’

While Vice President Mike Pence and some members of the coronavirus task force continue to hold calls with governors on the response, multiple state officials from both parties described it as increasingly useless, with some governors now skipping the calls.

Governors and staffers were shocked earlier this month when a conference call slated as a coronavirus check-in with President Donald Trump quickly devolved into a lengthy tirade from the President on how many of the governors were weak and needed to “dominate” and take back the streets during protests across the country over the killing of George Floyd.

This week, Pence — the head of the coronavirus task force — has insisted that increased testing is contributing to the appearance of new coronavirus spikes and has claimed the media is overblowing the problem. In fact, more testing helps identify and contain outbreaks. And it doesn’t account for the recent uptick in some states, according to health experts.

“It’s frustrating that the administration is not even acknowledging the increase in cases,” said Casey Katims, the director of federal and inter-state affairs for Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

He described a “complete lack of guidance” on how states should be responding and added that public health experts don’t support the White House narrative that recent spikes are due to increased testing.

“Epidemiologists and public health experts reject that narrative,” Katims said. “It’s fair to say we are highly concerned.”

The spikes in some states are also coinciding with efforts to reopen economies across the country. The combination has added more demand for personal protective gear while underscoring the need for widespread testing.

On critical supply issues, governors have worked to bolster their own state stockpiles, partner with local manufacturers to shift production to medical supplies and form coalitions to purchase supplies as groups of states rather than individually. But even with those efforts, some state officials said they’re still not getting what they need.

Last week, Inslee sent a letter to Pence imploring the administration to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up PPE production. He noted the state has tried to independently order $400 million worth of protective gear but has received less than 10% of those supplies as states compete against one another, the federal government and foreign nations in the global scramble for PPE.

Rear Adm. John Polowczyk — who leads the administration’s supply chain task force — acknowledged in congressional testimony this month that the government has made strides to increase the production of N95 masks but is still working to stock up on supplies like gowns and gloves

“We’ve turned to our textile industry to make textile gowns, non-disposable gowns and so those are, you know, that’s 50% there but on a ramp to be there by the fall,” Polowczyk.

Some health officials — burned by the administration’s sluggish response at the outset of the pandemic — aren’t buying the promises of preparedness.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think we’re going to have a massive second wave of infections,” said Megan Ranney, an emergency room doctor who helped found the group GetUsPPE to facilitate donations to health care systems. “One of the things that really worries me is I don’t see anyone planning for the next phase.”

Doctors are still conserving and reusing protective equipment and GetUsPPE receives tens of thousands of requests each week from health care systems with less than a week of PPE on hand, Ranney said.

Doctors are also struggling with access to drugs that can help treat coronavirus patients. The federal government took the lead on distributing remdesivir, but doctors found it difficult to get clarity on who would get shipments and when supplies would be replenished.

“When that all runs out, the real question is when will we have it available in the future?” said Dr. Thomas File, who practices medicine in Akron, Ohio, and is the president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “It’s almost like right now, when we see patients and we want to use it, if I use it on a patient now does that mean we’ll have limited supplies when a patient comes in four to six weeks from now?”

Earlier this month, Dr. Robert Kadlec, a US Department of Health and Human Services official, told CNN that the remdesivir supply would run out at the end of June.

Reluctant Republicans

For the most part, Republican governors — eager to stay on the President’s good side and preserve reputations as fiscal conservatives — have been less outspoken about the coronavirus challenges they continue to face. Some have downplayed spikes in their states and moved forward with reopening plans in spite of case increases.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, praised federal officials for their regular contact with governors in a recent press conference and made a veiled request for federal assistance commensurate with other emergency responses.

“As I look to the future in terms of the federal government’s role, I just want to make sure that the federal government continues to maintain their posture,” Reeves said. “Natural disasters have to be managed in the same way, and that is state managed, locally executed and federally supported.”

Democrat governors have been most blunt about the situation.

“Provide Covid money to the state government and local government so that we can function and not go bankrupt,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN’s Mark Morales. “All the studies, all the economists will tell you, you don’t get the economy back if you don’t fund state and local governments.”

Meanwhile, the National Governors Association has made it clear that governors from both sides of the aisle are at least privately pressing for additional assistance. High on its lists of asks for Congress is an assistance package that includes $500 billion in direct federal aid to states and territories to plug budget gaps.

In Arlington, Texas, the city is furloughing employees, dipping into cash reserves and reducing services across the board to make up for the budget strain from coronavirus.

“Without a doubt, the revenue loss that is being experienced by most cities is the direct result of the coronavirus,” said Jeff Williams, the city’s GOP mayor. “Cities are a major part of it. They can’t be left out.”

This story has been updated to include response from the Trump administration.

Mark Morales and Janine Mack contributed to this story.

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‘Nothing shocked me’: Bernie Sanders reflects on again falling short in his bid for the presidency

Now, as he takes a step back and reflects on his second failed bid for the White House, he remains proud of what he accomplished, but still believes there is a lot more work to do to bring more working class Americans into the political system and implement many of the progressive policy positions he has long advocated for.

“It’s hard,” Sanders said in an interview with CNN. “But we knew what we were doing, and nothing that happened really shocked me.”

“I think what we saw from Nevada on out was a cry the rooftops, from the political establishment, from the media that they wanted anybody but Bernie,” Sanders said. “My God, I don’t know how many articles there were about that. ‘We need anybody but Bernie’ and you know they ended up succeeding. And that’s that.”

He stayed in the race longer in 2016 and will end up earning fewer delegates this year than he did four years ago. But Sanders emerged as a front-runner this cycle, bouncing back after a heart attack in the fall, fundraising more than his rivals and winning over key endorsements from other progressive leaders. When Sanders won the popular vote in three of the first four primary contests, the nomination seemed within his grasp, but his hopes were dashed after Joe Biden’s victory in South Carolina.

Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president

The former vice president’s win there streamlined the establishment backlash to Sanders. Other moderate candidates dropped out and rallied around Biden, setting off a sweeping realignment of the contest that ultimately drowned Sanders, whose campaign was not prepared to weather a storm it so confidently predicted. And while Sanders had increased turnout and enjoyed strong support from young voters, their impact was not nearly what he and his campaign predicted.

While many of Sanders’ supporters were ready to claim the nomination after his victory in Nevada, the senator himself understood the challenges he faced.

In the aftermath of Sanders ending his bid, there has been a rigorous debate about the way the Sanders campaign approached Biden. Some forces in the Sanders world thought he should have been more aggressive in laying out the differences between the two candidates. But Sanders was insistent that any distinctions that were drawn not come at the expense of the personal relationship between the two men, one built while they were colleagues in the Senate. It is a decision Sanders does not regret – and he argues those lodging complaints likely don’t know the whole story.

“I think probably, what you’re going to find for the next five years is half of America was intimately involved in my campaign,” Sanders joked. “Look, there are difference in tactics, but I don’t think it was the tactics ended up helping us lose.”

Since ending his campaign a week ago, Sanders has thrown his support behind Biden and is left to help convince his passionate base of supporters to get behind the former vice president’s challenge to Donald Trump.

“Joe and I have our disagreements for sure. Joe is a decent guy and I think he is more than willing now to sit down, and we’ll listen to those people that supported him in the past, hear what they have to say and tried to address their concerns,” Sanders said.

He recognizes that Biden will have some work to do to win over progressive supporters, but Sanders argues by November, given the choices in front of them, most will come around.

“I think most people will wake up in the morning and say, ‘ OK, what will role will I play now? Is it acceptable for me to sit on my hands and allow the possibilities? Do I allow the more dangerous president in modern American history to get reelected or do I do everything that I can to defeat Trump while at the same time try to move the Biden campaign and his administration into his progressive position as possible?'” Sanders said. “And I think the overwhelming majority of the American people will conclude yes.”

The two sides are in the process of forming six policy task forces that will feature leading experts that supported both candidates. They will release a list of policy proposals that will be a part of the Biden campaign’s pitch to voters.

Sanders said he is prepared to stay engaged. He feels that, in many ways, his progressive coalition has won the argument. Many of the big issues he ran on in 2016, from single-payer health care to free college tuition, enjoy far greater levels of popular support now. He also has won the praise of many mainstream Democrats.

In his endorsement of Biden’s campaign, former President Barack Obama described Sanders as “an American original.” Sanders said the embrace by figures like Obama serves as a recognition of where he believes American politics are headed.

“If he (Obama) were running for president today, he would not be saying what he said in 2008 because the world has significantly changed and political consciousness has changed,” Sanders said. “And any good politician — Obama and Biden they’re both very good politicians — understand that you’ve got to go where the people are.”

What discourages Sanders, though, is that many of the average Americans who would benefit the most from progressive policies like guaranteed health care, a higher minimum wage or free college tuition are still not actively involved in the political process. Sanders believes it is not because they don’t exist, but because they still don’t feel the system works for them.

“We as a nation have the lowest voter turnout of almost any major country on earth. I think it is very difficult to get people to vote when they believe the system is totally rigged against them and that they’re vote does not make a difference. I’ve heard that a million times and that’s tough,” Sanders said. “But that is exactly what has to be done.”

There is one role that, moving forward, he does not expect to play again: candidate for President.

“No one could predict the future, but I think it is fair to say I will not be running for president again,” Sanders said. “I guess.”

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Record online sales give short U.S. holiday shopping season a boost: report

(Reuters) – U.S. shoppers spent more online than in retail stores during the shortest winter shopping season in the past six years, with online sales hitting a record high, a report by Mastercard Inc (MA.N) showed.

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers make their way through Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, decorated for the holidays, in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. December 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The holiday shopping season is a crucial period for retailers and can account for up to 40% of annual sales. But this year, Thanksgiving, which traditionally starts the U.S. holiday shopping period, was on Nov. 28, a week later than last year’s Nov. 22, leaving retailers with six fewer days to drive sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers’ demand for the best deals across all channels and devices,” said Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard.

E-commerce sales this year made up 14.6% of total retail and rose 18.8%, according to Mastercard’s data tracking retail sales from Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve.

Overall holiday retail sales, excluding auto, rose 3.4%.

The last shortened shopping season was in 2013, when retail chains and delivery companies scrambled to get packages to shoppers in time for Christmas.

Since then, retailers have invested heavily to provide same-day delivery, lockers for store pick-up and improve their online presence as they battle against retail giant Inc (AMZN.O) for market share.

“E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online,” Sadove said.

Consumers also benefited from a low unemployment rate and rising wages, even as global uncertainty and trade tensions have hit business investment.

The data showed sales at department stores fell 1.8% and online sales growth of 6.9%, emphasizing the importance of click-and-collect and online ordering.

The apparel category registered stronger-than-expected e-commerce growth, Mastercard’s data showed, with online sales rising 17%.

The holiday season was challenging for retailers after Amazon expanded its free return policy to include products that were not previously eligible, giving consumers until January to return even small purchases bought on the website.

The National Retail Federation had forecast U.S. holiday retail sales over the two months to increase between 3.8% and 4.2%. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.7% over the past five years.

The SpendingPulse report tracks spending by combining sales activity in Mastercard’s payments network with estimates of cash and other payment forms but excludes automobile sales.

Reporting by Nivedita Balu; additional reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler

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When a Waffle House was short on staff, customers jumped behind the counter to help out

Crispo told CNN only a single employee was working in the restaurant.

He described the cook’s face, as “awash in bewilderment,” at finding he was by himself managing the night shift.

More than 30 people were there eating, and there was just one man left to “fend off the incoming crowd of hungry, heavily imbibed customers,” Crispo said.

He became resigned to going home on an empty stomach.

But a customer finished his meal, asked for an apron and stepped behind the counter to wash dishes.

“It was a smooth transition,” Crispo, 24, said. “He just busted his butt and helped out.”

After a night out, a woman in heels saw to clearing tables and stacking cups.

‘It was one of my most memorable experiences’

Crispo said he asked Ben, the lone associate working, who the man washing dishes was.

Turns out he didn’t work at the restaurant, nor did he work at a Waffle House anywhere.

Another woman, wearing a dress and heels, also stepped up. She walked behind the counter to get a coffee pot.

“At first I thought it was out of necessity, like she just wanted coffee,” Crispo said. But she was enlisting as a second member of the volunteer staff.

The two worked together in a team, busing tables, stacking cups and washing dishes. Meanwhile, Ben, the actual employee, manned the cash register and cooked at the grill.

The man washing dishes occasionally “had to ask Ben where stuff should go,” Crispo said, but otherwise it was as though though two strangers, without even talking to each other, had spontaneously learned to run a restaurant in tandem.

Pat Warner, a spokesman for Waffle House, told CNN the store had a miscommunication about the duty roster that night, and it had created “a little gap” in staffing.

“We’re very appreciative and thankful, but we do prefer to have our associates behind the counter,” Warner said.

He added that Waffle House restaurants tend to have a special sense of community. He recalled a similar time in 2014 when diners volunteered to keep a restaurant running when paid staff couldn’t get to work during Atlanta’s notorious Snowmageddon storm.

But, for Crispo it was the first time, and it’ll stick out to him for years to come, as an example of humanity at its best.

“I’ve never seen anything like this ever happen, nor will I again, probably,” Crispo said. “It was one of my most memorable experiences.”

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