Lack of Savings Worsens the Pain of Coronavirus Downturn

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Alicia Cook was down to $22 on Monday, a month after her hours as head banquet chef at a hotel in Nacogdoches, Texas, had dwindled to almost nothing.

Her $10.25-an-hour wage had been enough to live on but not enough to save. A few hours of work over Easter will get her another $100.

“It’s five $20 bills to rub together and I got to give away four of them to the light bill,” she said.

Ms. Cook, 41, is one of the many working Americans who had little or no money set aside before the coronavirus pandemic closed much of the U.S. economy and ended a record-stretch of low unemployment and solid economic growth.

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A long Texas road trip for 525,000 masks

RAW SOTRY: All it took was one little call to spur Tom Banning into action, undertaking a giant mission across a very large state — distributing 525,000 masks to health care providers around Texas, a sprawling landmass roughly the size of France.

In mid-March, amid the emerging US coronavirus outbreak, the doctor was contacted by a golf buddy who had come into possession of hundreds of thousands of professional-grade masks from Mexico and wondered whether Banning knew anyone who might be in need.

“The whole state is looking for this PPE!” Banning said, using the acronym for personal protective equipment — vital everyday items such as masks and gowns that health care professionals depend on to protect themselves.

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Border wall work camp sparks coronavirus anxiety in New Mexico town

KFOX 14: One year ago, President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border, a controversial move that gave him access to money for his long-promised border wall.

One month ago, Trump declared a national emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Those two declarations intersect in a small town in Southern New Mexico, where opponents of the president’s border wall are celebrating a small victory: They were able to shut down a temporary worker camp, but they haven’t been able to stop the wall.

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Trump oil deal raises question for Mexico: At what cost?

REUTERS: Mexico’s president has incurred a debt with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump by accepting U.S. help to end a standoff over global oil cuts, triggering concern the American will in return make the country pay on issues like migration and security.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist oil nationalist, had balked at a demand by the OPEC+ group of oil producing nations to cut output by 400,000 barrels per day.

Instead, he offered a cut of 100,000 bpd and said Trump “generously” agreed last week to help Mexico make up the rest.

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Mexican border city reports 34% coronavirus death rate

BORDER REPORT: Juarez reported two additional COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, bringing the total to 16 during the pandemic. In addition, 29 patients remain hospitalized, seven of them in “very serious” condition and on ventilators.

With only 47 confirmed cases of the disease, the death rate from the virus in this Mexican across the border from El Paso, Texas stands at 34%, compared to the worldwide rate of 6%. By contrast, El Paso has recorded 300 COVID-19 cases and only two fatalities.

Some Juarez officials have expressed concern that not enough residents are being tested and that the actual number of COVID-19 cases here could be much higher. A Chihuahua state health official, Dr. Gumaro Barrios, said last week it’s possible there may be 10 asymptomatic coronavirus cases for every case that has been recorded through testing in the city.

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US expels thousands to Mexico after largely halting asylum

NORTH STATE JOURNAL: A U.S. Border Patrol agent wouldn’t let Jackeline Reyes explain why she and her 15-year-old daughter fled Honduras and needed asylum, pointing to the coronavirus. It was just days after the Trump administration essentially shut down the nation’s asylum system.

“The agent told us about the virus and that we couldn’t go further, but she didn’t let us speak or anything,” said Reyes, 35, who was shuttled on March 24 to Reynosa, Mexico, a violent border city.

President Donald Trump’s administration is relying on a seldom-used public health law to set aside decades-old national and international immigration laws. People seeking refuge in the U.S. are whisked to the nearest border crossing and returned to Mexico without a chance to apply for asylum. It may be the most aggressive clampdown on immigration by a president who’s made reducing asylum claims a top priority.

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Reopening the economy requires testing, and the U.S. still isn’t close

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Six weeks after the president and other senior officials promised that any American would soon be able to get a test for coronavirus, testing continues to lag, prompting an escalating call from leading medical centers, lawmakers and others for the administration to put in place a coordinated national strategy.

Effective testing is considered essential before state and local governments can lift restrictions on Americans’ movements, reopening schools and businesses and allowing the nation’s faltering economy to recover. But multiple, persistent problems continue to sharply limit the number of tests that can be done.

Labs remain short of supplies, ranging from simple cotton swabs used to take samples from patients to complex chemicals, known as reagents, needed to carry out the tests.

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In unprecedented move, Treasury orders Trump’s name printed on stimulus checks

WASHINGTON POST: The Treasury Department has ordered President Trump’s name be printed on stimulus checks the Internal Revenue Service is rushing to send to tens of millions of Americans, a process that could slow their delivery by a few days, senior IRS officials said.

The unprecedented decision, finalized late Monday, means that when recipients open the $1,200 paper checks the IRS is scheduled to begin sending to 70 million Americans in coming days, “President Donald J. Trump” will appear on the left side of the payment.

It will be the first time a president’s name appears on an IRS disbursement, whether a routine refund or one of the handful of checks the government has issued to taxpayers in recent decades either to stimulate a down economy or share the dividends of a strong one.

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Trump announces cutoff of new funding for the World Health Organization over pandemic response

WASHINGTON POST: President Trump announced Tuesday that he will suspend payments to the World Health Organization in response to the United Nations agency’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as the organization is in the midst of combating a global outbreak that has killed thousands and crippled world economies.

Trump’s announcement was expected, as he seeks to deflect blame for his early dismissal of the virus as a threat to Americans and the U.S. economy. It is not yet clear how the United States will cut off money to the main international organization focused on fighting the pandemic, or whether Trump is setting conditions for a resumption of U.S. payments.

“We have not been treated properly,” Trump said, as he announced a suspension period of 60 to 90 days for U.S. funding.

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March Retail Sales Plunged Record 8.7% as Coronavirus Shutdowns Took Hold

WALL STREET JOURNAL: U.S. retail sales posted its largest drop on record in March, as widespread shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic prompted American shoppers to sharply reduce spending on vehicles, clothing and dining.

Retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online, decreased a seasonally adjusted 8.7% in March from a month earlier, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

Social distancing, lockdowns and travel restrictions related to the pandemic last month made a sharp dent in retail sales, which account for about a quarter of all consumer spending.

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Texas’ oil and gas regulators aren’t ready to cut production yet. They’re not even sure how it would work if they did.

TEXAS TRIBUNE: Facing a steep drop in oil demand with much of the world staying home to practice social distancing, more than 55 energyexecutives, analysts and critics appeared one after another Tuesday at a video meeting of theTexas agency thatregulates the oil and gas industry to weigh in on a request that the state’s oil production be cut.

Some oil producers asked the Texas Railroad Commission for such a cap. Others said regulators should not get involved in determining oil production, even during the novel coronavirus’ parallel public health and economic crises. And a few speakers who testified took a neutral position butprovided their thoughtson industry mattersanyway.

“If we are forced to prorate, we are going to cease all activity right away,” testified Kaes Van’t Hof, chief financial officer of Houston-based Diamondback Energy, a company that focuses primarily on the Permian Basin.

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Texas school closings fray the personal bonds between teachers and students

TEXAS TRIBUNE: Around this time of the school year, Karen Sams expects to be in the “sweet spot” with her 17 third graders — the point at which, after months of watching them closely, she knows their quirks and understands how to motivate them.

Sams used to greet every child at the classroom door, giving each the choice of a hug, high five, fist bump or dance before they walked inside — a ritual expected of all teachers at Crockett Elementary School in Weatherford Independent School District, outside of Fort Worth, where she has spent four of her 16 years as a teacher.

She used the time together in her colorfully decorated classroom to build community among her students. On “make-it-happen Mondays,” they each talk about what their goals are for the week. On “wonderful friend Wednesdays,” the class picks one student and takes turns saying nice things about them.

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Analysis: What will Texas reopen, and when?

TEXAS TRIBUNE: Have a little empathy for the people in elected office as they fret over possible answers to the question we’re all asking: “Is it safe to go outside yet?”

The conversation of the week centers on the economy — on which businesses can restart and which people can get back to work. But this isn’t just about commerce. Other conversations lurk behind that one, and have more to do with people than with businesses and other institutions: When is it really safe to stand in lines for this and for that, for groceries or hardware or movies or voting? When will it be safe to go back to school? Should parents send their children back to school before a vaccine has been found and proven?

The answers are hard. The consequences are enormous. And public officials are flummoxed.

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Coronavirus in El Paso: 2 more COVID-19 deaths reported, 46 more cases added

EL PASO TIMES: El Paso public health officials reported two additional COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to four.

The patients were both men in their 70s with underlying health conditions, officials said.

El Paso added 46 more COVID-19 cases on Tuesday evening, bringing the county’s total number of confirmed cases to 346. The cases include 175 females and 171 males.

There are 61 patients hospitalized, and 26 of those are currently in intensive care, with eight on ventilators, health officials said.

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COVID-19: Some fear coronavirus pandemic could fuel increase in El Paso domestic violence

EL PASO TIMES: Centers offering women an escape from domestic violence fear a surge could occur at homes where victims are trapped with their abusers during the coronavirus shutdown.

In El Paso, the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence reported an increase in calls during the first week of April.

According to Sandra Garcia, the center’s executive director, during the first week of March the center received 83 calls; April’s first week saw 111.

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Coronavirus crisis deepens Mexico’s misery

USA TODAY: Mexican business leaders begged President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to announce a stimulus package for an already ailing economy about to be battered further by the coronavirus pandemic. 

But López Obrador balked at the idea of bailouts and tax breaks. Using his quarterly state-of-the-nation address – delivered in an empty National Palace – he instead announced plans focused on the poor, along with “belt-tightening” in the federal government – mostly by slashing bureaucrats’ salaries. 

The president also called the pandemic a “transitory crisis” and promised to restore normalcy “as soon as possible.”

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State health call center in El Paso closes because of COVID-19 case

EL PASO MATTERS: A Texas Health and Human Services Commission call center in El Paso’s Lower Valley has been closed temporarily after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, an agency employee in El Paso said.

HHSC spokeswoman Christine Mann would only say the “HHSC office at 215 Padres Drive in El Paso is closed for maintenance” and would reopen April 20. When asked if the closure was connected to COVID-19, Mann simply repeated her prior statement.

But the El Paso HHSC employee, who asked not to be identified because he or she wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said the closure came in response to an employee testing positive for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

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Border manufacturers increase focus on medical devices during pandemic

EL PASO MATTERS: Border manufacturers are teaming up in an unusual race to provide life-saving medical supplies and devices during the COVID-19 crisis. The timing couldn’t be more critical.

“Our message is simple,” said Cecilia Levine, founder of the non-profit US Mexico Canada Strategic Alliance, “We are one North American region. We are part of the solution to a problem that has turned our world upside down.”

The framework to collaborate is already in place. The El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region is home to 32 companies making medical devices, 50 suppliers and a workforce of about 40,000 people. 

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City of Laredo confirms 17 additional cases of coronavirus, 223 total

LAREDO MORNING TIMES: The City of Laredo and Webb County have confirmed an additional 17 cases of the novel coronavirus in their noon update today, bringing the city’s total number of confirmed cases to 223.

According to Health Department Director Dr. Hector Gonzalez, 23 patients are currently hospitalized, with 12 currently under intensive care.

Clarifying a number reported yesterday, Dr. Gonzalez reported over 50 health care providers have tested positive for COVID-19 as of their newest update. These 50 professionals are from hospitals, clinics and doctors offices throughout Laredo.

All preventive and protective measures are being adopted to ensure their safety and wellness.

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Webb officials announce freeze in property values

LAREDO MORNING TIMES: The chief appraiser at the Webb County Appraisal District reported to board members last week that most property values in the county will freeze at their 2019 appraisal for the 2020 tax year.

Martin Villarreal, chief appraiser at Webb CAD, said based on property values conducted by the Texas comptroller, the county has reached 100% market value.

“This will allow the Appraisal District to roll over the values from last year,” he said in a statement. This applies only to residential and commercial properties; and new improvements will still have to be appraised at market value, he said.

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Laredo coronavirus drive-thru testing clinic will open Thursday

LAREO MORNING TIMES: The City of Laredo Health Department has announced a coronavirus drive-thru testing clinic will open in Laredo starting Thursday, April 16.

The clinic will open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the El Metro Park and Ride at 1819 E Hillside Rd.

Citizens must have a prescription from their doctor in order to be tested. According to health department director Dr. Hector Gonzalez, the tests being used for the clinic will not be rapid-response tests, instead the city will make use of their supply of confirmatory nasal tests.

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BPUB announces relief for customers; Funds would help those affected by COVID-19

BROWNSVILLE HERALD: The Brownsville Public Utilities Board announced an approval of relief efforts that offer assistance to customers who were hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The approvals include a $2 million expansion to its BPUB Project SHARE Fund that will help customers in most need with $200 toward their utility bill and an extension of the suspension of service disconnections and late fees until June 30.

According to a press release sent by BPUB, the assistance was approved at a board meeting held April 13 where the members voted to expand the scope of the BPUB Project SHARE program using surplus improvement funds.

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9 coronavirus cases reported in Rio Hondo; 23 countywide

VALLEY MORNING STAR: Cameron County is reporting 23 new cases of COVID-19, including nine in Rio Hondo all related to previous patients.

The Rio Hondo cases include one girl, age six, and two women, ages 22 and 52; three males, including four boys, two of them are 11-years-old and the other two are both 17. Two men age 31 and 50 also have the virus.

Brownsville is reporting five new cases, including three tied to the community, one associated with a previous case and one other blamed on travel.

Health officials say this raises the total number of cases to 239 in Cameron County. Of the 239 cases, 73 individuals have recovered.

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