President Trump says ‘life and death’ at stake in following guidelines

Trump says ‘life and death’ at stake in following guidelines
By AAMER MADHANI, KEVIN FREKING and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is urging Americans to heed his administration’s guidelines for responding to the coronavirus pandemic, calling it “a matter of life and death.” The president’s warning on Tuesday came with new projections that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. even if social distancing guidelines are maintained. Public health officials stressed that the number could be less if people bear down on keeping their distance from one another. The coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, says officials believe the nation can do much better than the grim forecast if everyone takes seriously their role in preventing the spread of disease.

PA. State Police Report Wrong-way driver causes fatal interstate crash

State police: Wrong-way driver causes fatal interstate crash
BENSALEM, Pa. (AP) — State police say a driver traveling the wrong way on an interstate highway in eastern Pennsylvania caused a crash that left one person dead and two others critically injured. The accident occurred around 1:40 a.m. Wednesday in the northbound lanes of I-95 in Bensalem. State police say a southbound vehicle crashed head-on into another vehicle, though it wasn’t clear why the southbound vehicle was traveling in the wrong direction. Three people were taken to a hospital, where one was pronounced dead a short time later. The names of the injured and further details on their conditions were not disclosed.

Rural areas fear spread of virus as more hospitals close

Rural areas fear spread of virus as more hospitals close
By JAY REEVES Associated Press
CARROLLTON, Ala. (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic couldn’t come at a worse time for rural communities across the U.S. that have lost their hospitals. Nearly 200 small-town hospitals have closed nationwide since 2005, often forcing residents to drive much farther for health care. Last year was the worst yet for shutdowns, and officials say hundreds more rural hospitals are endangered by the pandemic. That’s because moneymaking procedures like elective surgeries are being delayed and resources diverted because of the viral outbreak. More than 46 million people live in rural areas, and the government says they are generally in poorer health than city dwellers.

Wolf Administration Grants Six-Month Extension to Act 235 Certifications

Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania State Police announced yesterday that Governor Tom Wolf has granted a six-month extension to the certifications held by privately employed agents pursuant to lethal weapons training.

The Lethal Weapons Training Act, commonly referred to as Act 235, provides certification to privately employed agents to carry a lethal weapon. A lethal weapon is any firearm, device, instrument, material, or any other substance that can bring about great bodily harm or death. The Lethal Weapons Training Act incorporates education and training as part of being a certified agent.

Privately employed agents include individuals employed by hospitals, health care facilities, and other life-sustaining businesses vital to the ongoing fight against COVID-19. The Governor’s action allows a six-month extension of the Act 235 certification for any agents whose five-year certifications expire from March 6, 2020, until September 7, 2020.

This extension was necessary because of the unavailability of Act 235 recertification training courses during the current state of emergency and will allow to continue their important duties during the ongoing public health crisis.

Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar Lead Lawmakers in Calling for Lifting U.S. Sanctions as Iran Reels from Coronavirus

WASHINGTON, March 31 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) led nearly three dozen lawmakers in urging the Trump Administration to ease sanctions against Iran, as the country suffers from a major humanitarian crisis triggered by COVID-19. The letter comes just two weeks after the Trump Administration levied additional sanctions against Iran in the midst of the pandemic, which has to date killed more than 2,600 Iranians.

“Rather than continue to invoke new sanctions in the Iranian people’s hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran during this global public health emergency in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus,” the letter reads. “Additionally, we encourage the U.S. to find a way to deliver aid directly to the Iranian people to support the Iranian people’s fight against Coronavirus, as many other nations have done. There is precedent for both of these steps, as the George W. Bush administration eased sanctions and delivered aid to Iran following a deadly earthquake near Bam in 2003,” the members of Congress conclude.

“Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster,” said Sanders. “As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions. Every country on earth is going to be affected by the coronavirus. We are all in this together. If there was ever a moment to show each other unprecedented cooperation and support internationally, this is that moment.”

“The United States can begin to restore our moral leadership by removing any obstacles that prevent life-saving humanitarian assistance from reaching frontline health care professionals in Iran and other countries battling the novel coronavirus,” said Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). “I am pleased to join Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Sanders to demand the Trump administration make practical changes to its sanctions on Iran and other countries to give them a fighting chance against our shared invisible enemy: coronavirus.”

“Keeping in place sanctions on Iran during the current public health crisis is not only cruel, it’s criminal,” said Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “These sanctions are not changing the behavior of the government of Iran, they are punishing innocent civilians who are suffering during this pandemic. A recent Human Rights Watch report found that our sanctions are making it harder for the country to import medicine and other humanitarian supplies—not to mention the devastating economic impact they have on everyday Iranians. The paralyzing network of US sanctions has led banks and companies to pull back from humanitarian trade, meaning Iranians suffering from coronavirus and other illnesses are unable to get the medicine and treatment they need. They are also making it harder for ordinary Iranian citizens to pay their bills—at a time of global economic crisis. Rather than putting in place even harsher sanctions, we need to lift these sanctions now. Lives are at stake.”

“Even as we relentlessly address the COVID-19 crisis at home, we can’t forget this is a global pandemic that requires American leadership,” said Congressman and Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). “That’s why I’m calling on the Trump Administration to enact temporary sanctions relief for the Iranian people and provide humanitarian assistance, as previous administrations have done during catastrophes.”

“Coronavirus is ravaging the globe, and nations like Iran are being hit especially hard. Stubbornly imposing harsh sanctions in the face of this deadly pandemic is inhumane. It will further damage the Iranian healthcare system that is already near collapse, and could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in ways that jeopardize the safety of Americans and our allies in the region,” said Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif). “Past Administrations of both parties have eased sanctions in response to natural disasters in Iran. We should not let our disputes with the Iranian government prevent us from treating the people of Iran with compassion, decency and common sense during this deadly pandemic.”

“The Trump Administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions campaign is blocking vital medicines and medical equipment from reaching the Iranian people during a global pandemic,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif). “Despite promises to stand by the Iranian people and despite ‘exemptions,’ they are preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching those who need them the most. These sanctions must be removed to ensure humanitarian assistance is not blocked from reaching the Iranian people.”

Additional signatories include Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Pressley (D-Mass.), Pocan (D-Wis.), Tlaib (D-Mich.), Grijalva (D-Ariz.), McGovern (D-Mass.), Beyer (D-Va.), Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rush (D-Ill.), DeFazio (D-Ore.), Khanna (D-Calif.), Johnson (D-Ga.), Foster (D-Ill.), Norton (D-DC), Connolly (D-Va.), Watson-Coleman (D-N.J.), Davis (D-Ill.), Garcia (D-Ill.), Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Haaland (D-N.M.), Welch (D-Vt.), DeGette (D-Colo.), Eshoo (D-Calif.), Pingree (D-Maine), Dingell (D-Mich.), and Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

Endorsing organizations include: Just Foreign Policy, J Street, National Iranian American Council, Win Without War, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Ploughshares Fund, Indivisible, Peace Action, Demand Progress, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Project Blueprint, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), and No War Campaign.

Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center has at least 26 residents who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19

(Brighton Twp.,Pa.) Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center has at least 26 residents who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The facility is where Beaver County’s first two deaths from COVID-19 occurred earlier this week when two patients who were in hospice care contracted the virus and died. As many as 44 residents of Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center are under quarantine while medical staff are seeing steady improvement in at least 14 patients, according to a press statement released Tuesday by ownership group Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services. The Facility is awaiting test results on an additional 18 patients.

McConnell: Impeachment ‘diverted attention’ from coronavirus

McConnell: Impeachment ‘diverted attention’ from coronavirus
By MATTHEW DALY Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial distracted the federal government from the coronavirus as it reached the United States in January. The Kentucky Republican said Tuesday that the deadly virus “came up while we were tied down on the impeachment trial.” Public health experts and other warned at the time about the spread of the virus. Trump said Tuesday that he does not think he would have “done any better” without impeachment. His administration has been severely criticized for its slow response. Trump initially downplayed the crisis, comparing it to the seasonal flu.

White House projects 100K to 240K US deaths from virus

White House projects 100K to 240K US deaths from virus
By AAMER MADHANI, KEVIN FREKING and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is warning Americans to brace for a “rough two-week period” ahead as the White House is releasing new projections that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained. Public health officials stress that the number could be less if people change their behavior. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, says, “We really believe we can do a lot better than that” if all Americans take seriously their role in preventing the spread of disease.

US finds major cross-border tunnel used to smuggle drugs

US finds major cross-border tunnel used to smuggle drugs
By ELLIOT SPAGAT Associated Press
SAN DIEGO (AP) — U.S. authorities say they seized a large haul of drugs, including opioids, methamphetamine and cocaine, being smuggled from Mexico to California in a tunnel equipped with ventilation, lighting and an underground rail system. The tunnel extends from warehouses in Tijuana to San Diego, running about 2,000 feet with an average depth of 31 feet and width of 3 feet. Authorities believe it has existed several months.  The tunnel was built near a vaunted double-layered border wall constructed under President Donald Trump’s watch, illustrating the limitations of such barriers against sophisticated drug smuggling organizations.

Gov. Wolf: Early Refill Availability for Prescriptions for Medicaid Recipients

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf announced today that the Department of Human Services (DHS) has directed the state’s Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) to let Medicaid recipients obtain early refills of all prescriptions at their pharmacy point-of-sale, which is especially important in light of 33 counties under stay-at-home orders. The MCOs are also being directed to be flexible with issuing prior authorizations for longer durations when medically necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and follow the stay-at-home orders, we must all reduce trips and interactions with others in order to limit the chance of coming in contact with or spreading the COVID-19 virus,” Gov. Wolf said. “By asking Medicaid providers and pharmacists to allow for earlier prescription refills and longer prescription supplies, we are all doing our part to practice social distancing to keep everyone safe and well.”

“During these stay-at-home orders, we strongly encourage Medicaid recipients to use this option to reduce the need for unnecessary trips out of the home that may jeopardize their or someone else’s health,” DHS Sec. Teresa Miller said. “We appreciate our Medicaid providers and pharmacists’ participation in this initiative to help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Pharmacies are essential-to-life services and will continue to operate during COVID-19 mitigation efforts, so Medicaid recipients are able to fill these prescriptions now if they have not yet. If the prescription is current and there are refills remaining on the prescription, the pharmacist would be able to issue early refills. If the prescription is out of refills, contact your health care provider for a new prescription.

This directive extends to both recipients covered by HealthChoices managed care organizations and fee-for-service Medicaid. Consumers may obtain early refills for opioids for pain management, but the prior authorization requirement based on day supply for short-acting opioids remains in effect.

Visit the PA Department of Health’s dedicated Coronavirus webpage for the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19.

Guidance to DHS providers related to COVID-19 is available here.