New York mobilizes against virus, Trump urges action on aid

NEW YORK — New York authorities mobilized to head off a potential public health disaster in the city Wednesday, with its emergence as the nation’s biggest coronavirus hot spot a warning flare — and perhaps a cautionary tale — for the rest of the country.

A makeshift morgue was set up outside Bellevue Hospital, and the city’s police, their ranks dwindling as more fall ill, were told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing.

Public health officials hunted down beds and medical equipment and put out a call for more doctors and nurses for fear the number of sick will explode in a matter of weeks, overwhelming hospitals as has happened in Italy and Spain. New York University offered to let its medical students graduate early so that they could join the battle.

In Washington, President Trump implored Congress to move on critical coronavirus aid without further delay. Senate leaders were trying to overcome late objections to a $2 trillion economic rescue package to ease the financial pain of the pandemic.

Worldwide, the death toll climbed past 20,000, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the U.S. topped 900, with more than 60,000 infections.

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What you need to know today about the virus outbreak

Senate leaders were rushing to unravel last-minute snags and win passage of unprecedented emergency legislation to rush sweeping aid totaling some $2 trillion to businesses, workers and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

New York authorities mobilized to head off a potential public health disaster, which has emerged as a kind of a warning flare for the crisis in America as the overall U.S. death toll has passed 900. India’s 1.3 billion people joined the global lockdown, and Prince Charles has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Here are some of AP’s top stories Wednesday on the world’s coronavirus pandemic. Follow APNews.com/VirusOutbreak for updates through the day and APNews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak for stories explaining some of its complexities.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY:

— A makeshift morgue has been set up outside New York’s Bellevue Hospital as authorities mobilize to head off a potential public health disaster as the overall U.S. death toll passed 900. The city’s police, their ranks dwindling as more fall sick, are being told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing as the city has emerged as the nation’s biggest coronavirus hot spot. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has attributed the cluster to the city’s role as a gateway to international travelers and the sheer density of its population of 8.6 million.

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Trump implores Congress to move on virus rescue package

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders raced to unravel last-minute snags Wednesday and win passage of an unparalleled $2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history, and both parties’ leaders were desperate for quick passage as the virus took lives and jobs by the hour. The Senate stayed in session in anticipation of still passing the bill after days of delays.

Insistently optimistic, President Donald Trump said of the greatest public-health emergency in anyone’s lifetime, “I don’t think its going to end up being such a rough patch” and anticipated the economy soaring “like a rocket ship” when it’s over. Yet he implored Congress late in the day to move on critical aid without further delay.

The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”

Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion annual federal budget.

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‘The whole city laid off’: US jobless claims climb sky high

NEW ORLEANS — Barely a week ago, David McGraw was cooking daily for hundreds of fine diners at one of New Orleans’ illustrious restaurants.

Today, he’s cooking for himself, at home — laid off along with hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. in a massive economic upheaval spurred by efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. Department of Labor figures to be released Thursday are expected to shatter the old record for the greatest number of new unemployment claims filed in a single week. There are more suddenly jobless Americans than during the Great Recession — and more than in the aftermath of major natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires and floods.

But McGraw, and others like him, don’t need official numbers to understand the new realities of life in one of the nation’s hot spots for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

“The whole city, laid off. Everybody,” said McGraw, using an exaggeration that didn’t seem like much of one. “Everybody who worked at a restaurant is laid off.”

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New Zealand mosque shooter changes plea to guilty

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — One year after killing 51 worshipers at two Christchurch mosques, an Australian white supremacist accused of the slaughter on Thursday changed his plea to guilty.

Twenty-nine-year-old Brenton Harrison Tarrant pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism. The killing spree was the deadliest in New Zealand’s modern history and prompted the government to rush through new laws banning most semi-automatic weapons.

Tarrant was scheduled to go to trial on the charges in June. His change in plea came as a surprise and relief to survivors and relatives of the victims.

A sentencing date has yet to be set. Tarrant faces life imprisonment on the charges.

The plea came at a hastily arranged court hearing at a time that New Zealand was beginning a four-week lockdown to try and combat the new coronavirus. The lockdown meant that Tarrant appeared in the court from his jail cell via video link and that only a few people were allowed inside the courtroom.

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Trump’s Easter goal in war on virus a nod to faith, business

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s “beautiful” idea to reopen the U.S. economy by Easter Sunday and pack church pews that day was dreamed up during a conference call among business leaders desperate to get the country back up and running.

But his target date for easing coronavirus restrictions is another outstretched hand to a group he has long courted: evangelical Christians.

Cooped up at the White House and watching the stock market tumble, Trump had already been eager to ease federal guidelines aimed at halting the spread of a virus that has infected more than 55,000 Americans when about a dozen business leaders convened a conference call on Sunday.

“There was a concern — not unanimity, but consensus — that you had to have a reopening of the economy at some point soon,” said Stephen Moore, a conservative economist and informal Trump adviser. On the call, Moore said, he argued in favor of setting a specific date as a goal by which point the economy could gradually begin to be reopened.

“One of the things we were saying was that this would instill some confidence in people, that there would be some kind of light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

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Family: US believes ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson has died

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government has concluded that retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished more than a decade ago, has died while in the custody of Iran, his family said Wednesday.

Shortly after the family’s announcement, President Donald Trump told reporters that “I won’t accept that he’s dead,” even though his own acting national intelligence director appeared to confirm the news with a statement conveying sympathies for the Levinsons.

The family said in a statement posted on Twitter that it had no information about how or when Levinson had died, but that it occurred before the recent coronavirus outbreak. The family said information that U.S. officials had received led them to conclude that he is dead.

U.S. officials communicated the news to Levinson’s family in a meeting in Washington in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private encounter. The person said the information about Levinson had come from Iran’s foreign minister.

“It is impossible to describe our pain,” the family’s statement said. “Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man, a new reality that is inconceivable to us. His grandchildren will never meet him. They will know him only through the stories we tell them.’

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Trump administration urged to free migrants as virus surges

WASHINGTON — Pressure was mounting on the Trump administration Wednesday to release people from immigration detention facilities where at least one detainee has tested positive for COVID-19 and advocates fear tight quarters and overall conditions could cause rapid spread of the virus.

The U.S. holds around 37,000 people in immigration detention. Detainees and advocates say many are vulnerable because of age and pre-existing medical conditions, and because they are often held in open rooms, beds 3-feet apart, and without adequate supplies of masks or other protections.

“It’s impossible to stay calm,” said Marco Battistotti, an Italian who is among 170 people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts. “People are panicking. People are in fear.”

The 54-year-old Battistotti was among about 100 detainees at the county jail near Cape Cod who signed a letter released by a local immigration lawyer detailing conditions inside. They asked to be released to await decisions on their immigration cases.

“I don’t want to die in an ICE jail,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Why can’t I fight my case on the outside?”

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Joe Biden’s inner circle: No longer a boys club

Weeks before Joe Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign, he released a social media video to address allegations from women who said his uninvited displays of affection had made them uncomfortable.

“Social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted,” said the former vice president, then 76. Looking straight into a cellphone camera, he added: “I hear what they are saying. I understand.”

Kate Bedingfield, an adviser the same age as Biden’s youngest daughter, was first to propose a direct-to-lens declaration. She joined forces with Anita Dunn, an alumna of President Barack Obama’s West Wing and relative newbie to Biden’s orbit. Together with two of Biden’s longest-serving confidants – Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon – they convinced the almost-candidate it was the right course.

When the boss was ready, Bedingfield held up her phone to record.

Those early days of spring 2019 portended a defining new reality for Biden: His innermost circle for decades was dominated by men, with the crucial exceptions of his wife, Jill, and sister, Valerie. But the 50-year political veteran has expanded his brain trust, and the cadre of women now included have helped shape — and even rescue — a campaign that has whipsawed Biden from early favorite to disappointing afterthought and finally to prospective Democratic nominee.

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Darius Swann, who fought for school integration, dies at 95

The Rev. Darius L. Swann, whose challenge to the notion of segregated public schools helped spark the use of busing to integrate schools across the country, has died at his Virginia home. He was 95.

The Rev. David Ensign, interim pastor at Burke Presbyterian Church, where Swann’s family attended church, confirmed in an email that Swann died on March 8.

Swann’s wife, Vera, told The Washington Post that her husband died of pneumonia.

On Sept. 2, 1964, Swann wrote a letter to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, asking that his son James be allowed to attend Seversville School, two blocks from his home, rather than the all-black Biddleville School, which was more than twice as far away. He was allowed to argue his case at a subsequent meeting of the school board, which suggested that the Swanns enroll James in Biddleville, then request a transfer.

The Swanns said no thanks.

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