A1 A1
Trump invokes emergency authority; Big 3 automakers closing

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — President Donald Trump moved to invoke a federal law Wednesday that allows the government to marshal industry to fight the coronavirus, as the economic fallout from the crisis mounted with word that Detroit’s Big Three automakers are shutting down their North American factories to protect workers.

On a day of head-spinning developments:

— Stocks tumbled again on Wall Street, falling so fast they triggered another automatic trading halt.

— More borders slammed shut across Europe and North America, with the U.S. and Canada agreeing to close their shared boundary to all but essential travel, and Trump saying he will do the same with Mexico and also bar entry to asylum-seekers.

— And the Trump administration pressed Congress to swiftly pass a potentially $1 trillion rescue package to prop up the economy and speed relief checks to Americans in a matter of weeks.

Calling himself a “wartime president,” Trump said he would sign the Defense Production Act “in case we need it” to deal with an expected surge in cases of the virus. The law, which dates to 1950, during the Korean War, gives the president extraordinary authority to compel industries to expand production and turn out vital materials.

Hospitals and public health officials fearing an onslaught of infections have pleaded for more face masks, goggles, gowns and other protective gear, as well as equipment such as ventilators.

“It’s a war,” Trump said, likening the anti-coronavirus efforts to measures taken during World War II and warning of national sacrifices.

The avalanche of news came as scientists announced the virus has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed over 8,000, while the United Nations warned that the global fallout could cost nearly 25 million job losses around the world.

Around the globe, officials took increasingly drastic measures to fight the epidemic and the threat of a recession, in some cases using emergency powers.

California’s governor warned that martial law could be imposed. The mayor of New York said the city’s 8.6 million residents should be prepared for a lockdown. Czech authorities used emergency powers to raid a warehouse and seize hundreds of thousands of face masks. Hong Kong widened the use of electronic wristbands that monitor people under self-quarantine.

With a growing number of Americans thrown out of work by the near-shutdown of much of the U.S. economy, Trump also said the Housing and Urban Development Department will suspend foreclosures and evictions from public housing through April.

The Trump administration’s plan for issuing relief checks to Americans calls for the payment of $500 billion in two installments over the next two months. The amounts have yet to be decided but would be based on income and family size.

Two people briefed on the matter said that Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler agreed to close all of their factories in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because the closings had not been announced. The move would idle about 150,000 workers, who are likely to receive supplemental pay in addition to unemployment benefits.

The U.S. reported more than 6,500 coronavirus cases and at least 119 deaths, almost half of them in Washington state, where dozens of residents from a suburban Seattle nursing home have died.

Some bright spots emerged: Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus was first detected in late December and which has been under lockdown for weeks, reported just one new case for a second straight day Wednesday. The situation had improved enough that China even sent medical supplies to hard-hit France, returning a favor done by the French weeks ago.

But in a grim illustration of the epidemic’s shifting center of gravity, the death toll in Italy moved closer to overtaking China’s. Italy had more than 2,900 dead after a record one-day total of 475 deaths; China’s toll was just over 3,200. Iran has also been hit especially hard, with more than 17,000 cases and 1,100 deaths.

In releasing the new global infection figures, Johns Hopkins University said more than 82,000 people have recovered from the virus, which causes only mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough in most cases, with severe illness more likely in the elderly and those with existing health problems.

Still, scientists have no doubt the true number of people infected is higher than the 200,000 reported by health authorities because of the possibility that many mild cases have gone unrecognized or unreported, and because of the lag in large-scale testing in the U.S., where the effort has been marked by bumbling and bureaucratic delay.

In the first-ever breakdown of its kind in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of Monday, the nation’s coronavirus deaths mirror what has been reported in other countries, with about 4 out of 5 fatalities occurring in people 65 and older — and no deaths in children.

The coronavirus is present in all 50 states after West Virginia reported an infection. In far-flung Hawaii, the governor encouraged travelers to postpone their island vacations. Las Vegas casinos were closed for the time since President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that residents should be prepared for the possibility of a shelter-in-place order within days — a near-lockdown like the one covering almost 7 million people in the San Francisco Bay area. In the most sweeping measure of its kind in the U.S., they are allowed to leave their homes only for food, medicine or exercise.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom put the National Guard on alert for humanitarian duties like ensuring proper food distribution and public safety, as some grocery stores resorted to rationing to control panic buying. But he also said “we have the ability to do martial law” — which gives the military authority and can suspend civil liberties — “if we feel the necessity.”

Meanwhile, miles-long traffic jams spread at border crossings around Europe after leaders closed international boundaries to nonessential traffic. Tens of thousands of people across the continent struggled to return home amid the closed land crossings and dramatic cuts in the number of flights.

At one point, trucks were backed in Austria up for 28 kilometers (17 miles) and cars for 14 kilometers (nearly 9 miles).

In an unprecedented move during peacetime, the French army started evacuating critical coronavirus patients from eastern France, the country’s worst-hit region. France is Europe’s third worst-hit country in fatalities, with at least 175.

In Southeast Asia, the causeway between Malaysia and the financial hub of Singapore was eerily quiet after Malaysia shut its borders, while the Philippines backed down on an order giving foreigners 72 hours to leave from a large part of its main island.

Taiwan said that it, too, would ban foreigners from entry and citizens would have to quarantine at home for 14 days.

Even tourists on Ecuador’s Galapagos islands — 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) off the South American mainland — have been affected. Canadian Jessy Lamontaine and her family were stuck there when flights were suspended.

”I was in tears this morning,” Lamontaine said. “I couldn’t get any answers from the airline. I had no money and didn’t know whether I was going to keep my job.”

AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Novel coronavirus can stay active on surfaces, in air for days

SEBRING — Novel coronavirus can stay infectious on surfaces as long as three days, according to study results just released by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Researchers detected the virus still alive up to three hours after contact with aerosols — the air — four hours later on copper, 24 hours later on cardboard and two to three days later on plastic or stainless steel.

That’s why the two biggest tips to prevent infection with novel coronavirus involve washing hands and maintaining a six-foot “social distance.”

Highlands County Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski said people are ignoring that advice, at the risk of catching the virus.

“The reason we’re pushing it is [because] people aren’t doing it,” Rybinski said.

When in public, people need to stay at least six feet from others and not congregate in groups of more than 10, especially at restaurants. While bars are closed, restaurants may remain open as long as staff seat customers apart from each other and disinfect tables and tabletop items between seatings.

However, results of the new study could change how people practice social distancing and how well or often they disinfect surfaces around them.

The World Health Organization had previously estimated COVID-19’s survival time on surfaces at a “few hours to a few days” based on research on other coronaviruses, such as the one that caused the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak — SARS-CoV-1.

The NIH study, however, is the first by scientists at a federal laboratory on the virus causing a current pandemic, SARS-CoV-2.

Comparing and contrasting the two viruses, the NIH study tried to mimic how the new virus gets deposited from an infected person onto everyday surfaces, such as by coughing or touching objects. Scientists then investigated how long the virus stayed infectious on these surfaces.

Scientists found the two viral strains had similar ability to live outside a host, but SARS-CoV-2 has resulted in more cases. It appears, NIH stated that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 might be spreading it before they recognize that they have any symptoms.

Also, the study suggests, most secondary cases of SARS-CoV-2 transmission seem to happen in community settings more than healthcare facilities.

That doesn’t mean that healthcare settings are less vulnerable, the study states, but personnel there practice strict washing and disinfection procedures whereas people in casual settings do not.

Basic NIH messages for social distancing and sanitizing remain the same:

- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth before washing your hands.

- Stay home if you are sick.

- Cover any cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw that tissue in the trash.

- Clean and disinfect all frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Slightly more extreme advice comes from Asaf Bitton, a primary-care physician, public-health researcher and the director of the Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Bitton, cited by The New Yorker magazine, said not only should people wash their hands thoroughly if they touch publicly-accessible surfaces, they should consider showering upon returning home if they bumped into others or were not able to maintain social distancing.

He also suggested they set aside their affected clothes to be washed.

Social distancing, as he put it, is an extreme physical disconnect from people that reorients daily life: “And it is very hard.”

Still, he doesn’t say not to go outside. He advises not to touch unwashed surfaces and to maintain as much personal space as possible.

$1.9 million earmarked for teacher pay boost in Highlands


SEBRING — Florida lawmakers will vote today on a proposed state budget that includes spending $500 million to increase teacher salaries.

The School Board of Highlands County is earmarked to receive $1,945,531 under the teacher-salary plan.

The amount budgeted to increase teacher salaries for other area counties includes: Okeechobee: $1,095,123; Hardee: $807,570 and DeSoto: $790,263.

Highlands Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said Tuesday he was aware of the amount designated for the Highlands District, but the conforming language has not be released, which will tell the districts how to use the money.

“I know the amount, but I don’t know the details on how that is going to be handed out to the teachers,” he said.

The district has about 872 teachers so if the money was split evenly among all the teachers it would be about $2,231 per teacher, but raising starting teacher salaries to $47,500 has been a major part of the boost in funding for teacher pay, he explained.

The Highlands District’s current starting teacher salary is $40,000, Averyt said. “I have done some preliminary work and it doesn’t look like that is going to be enough money to get us to $47,500, but until I get the details I can’t comment on it.”

He believes the money was based just on classroom teachers, so it may not apply to guidance counselors, resource teachers and the many teachers who are not necessarily in the classroom.

The state budget being considered now would take effect for the 2020-21 fiscal year, Averyt noted. There are a lot of issues that have to be resolved.

Included in the revenue is about $551,000 in the new scholarships programs so he has to increase the budget for that, he said. It doesn’t look like the district’s enrollment dropped by 300 students, but it actually did in revenue.

In November Governor Ron DeSantis called for spending an additional $1 billion on teacher raises.

In January in his State of the State address, DeSantis called for $600 million to raise teacher salaries.

“I’m recommending we take the bold step of setting the minimum salary for public school teachers at $47,500,” DeSantis said.

A challenge to take care of our own

It takes a village. Five bars were closed down Tuesday night. As you read that fact it probably doesn’t get your attention as much as this next statement will.

Twenty-four people went home not knowing how they will make it through the next 30 days. Twenty-four people not knowing how they will pay bills, put food on the table, or take care of loved ones in whatever manner they need. Twenty-four families adversely affected with one announcement.

My heart goes out to these people as I am sure yours does also. However, that may not be enough. It takes a village to take care of its own.

I am proud to say that Highlands County is my village and I believe we need to take care of these people as best we can. They lost jobs and are in despair. I have talked to the correct people from the Wet Dog Brewery, the Tap Room, Sheila’s Corner Pub, Sally Ricks Bar and Carlie Lynn’s Bar and those 24 people who have to go through the next 30 days without income are scared.

I am proposing that the village in some way adopt these folks and help them through it. We are going to need donations of food, toiletries, and just about anything you can think of to make a family work for the 30 days.

Personally, I am going to adopt a family to help them out as best I can through this and I challenge anyone who has the means to help to adopt a family to get through this to do so as well. Private citizens, companies and charities, you now know that 24 families in our village need our help. I know all of the Canadians are being recalled home, but if you have stuff to donate that would work as well.

Each location has agreed to get lists together and submit to us. Additionally, each location will serve as the distribution place so we can fulfill those lists for their employees as drop-off points.

Highlands County, we are going to have to pull together to get through this “thing.” We cannot be like some of those cities we see across our nation. We simply have to stop, think, and help out our neighbors and some strangers along the way. Together, working to get our village through this is how we come out on the other side stronger than we entered it.

Start today and adopt a Highlands County family in need or donate what you can materially or in cash. We can be a part of the solution right now and hold onto what we all value so much, our home and way of life.

If I have missed a local bar that is closing down with employees who are in need, please contact me so we can get them added to the list.

Call Tim Smolarick at 863-386-5624 or email tim.smolarick@highlandsnewssun.com to get information on how you can help. I have got a feeling we are going to need a lot of volunteers. Thank you.

Highlands News-Sun parent company helps in fight

As the unprecedented advance of the coronavirus impacts our daily lives, our locally owned businesses are the forgotten voice. With each new restriction, our local owners are increasingly negatively impacted.

D-R Media, owned by a fifth-generation Florida family, today announced up to $1 million in support for locally owned businesses. In each of its newspapers in Highlands, Lake, Polk and Sumter counties, D-R Media will run full pages with free listings of local businesses that are still open and actively serving the public. The company will also run ads encouraging residents to buy gift certificates from local businesses to sustain their cash flow.

In Highlands County, sales representatives from the Highlands News-Sun will seek out local businesses, whether they are current customers or not, to offer this free, no strings attached advertising space, designed to let the public know the status of the individual business.

For fellow publishing customers of D-R Media’s printing plant in Lakeland, the plant will increase the size of the product at no charge, to allow the local publisher to use that space to help their small business customers.

D-R Media CEO David Dunn-Rankin explained the reason for the up to $1 million support program for locally owned businesses. “We are a family-owned business too. We understand the challenges of making payroll and payroll taxes. Our purpose as a company is to help locally owned businesses survive and thrive.

“We will all work together to move beyond the current panic and come out stronger.”

For more information about taking advantage of the D-R Media financial support program in Highlands County, contact tim.smolarick@highlandsnewssun.com or amanda.young@highlandsnewssun.com