March 26, 2020

Rikers Island — New York City's main jail that's supposed to be closed by 2026 — is a natural hotbed for coronavirus spread. Beds are closer than the CDC-recommended 6 feet apart, facilities are entirely shared, and prisoners are shuffled around in large groups, Slate notes. And as Brooklyn Defender Services, an advocacy group providing legal defense, reports, there are plenty of reasons to believe the complex is home to more than the 52 cases it has reported so far.

Brooklyn Defender Services' clients in Rikers have so far reported "overflowing sewage in a housing unit" that was used "before, during, and after the incident;" "squalid conditions" that staff refuse to clean out of fear of catching COVID-19; "symptomatic people not being tested for COVID-19;" a total lack of soap; and many more disturbing conditions. People who were in contact with a guard now believed to have COVID-19 weren't given any precautions to prevent spread, and many are now symptomatic, Brooklyn Defender Services also said in a Thursday press release.

With cramped cases and new people coming and going every day, prisons across the U.S. are at high risk for coronavirus spread. That's prompted calls for releasing elderly and other at-risk prisoners; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has so far ordered 300 prisoners released from Rikers amid the pandemic. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:42 a.m.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave an update from a hospital in London, where he was taken Sunday night. Downing Street said Sunday that Johnson's doctor advised him to take the "precautionary" step of checking in to the hospital because his novel COVID-19 coronavirus symptoms remained persistent 10 days after he was first diagnosed.

Johnson on Monday reaffirmed that he underwent "routine tests" and is in "good spirits" while keeping an eye on government affairs, which more or less echoes Downing Street's official report on his health status.

There are rumors, though, that Johnson's team is downplaying the situation. The Guardian reports that Johnson is more seriously ill than officials are admitting and that doctors are concerned about his breathing, while the Times of London reports the prime minister was treated with oxygen at the hospital. A spokesman for Johnson didn't deny that, but he did squash a claim from Russian state media that he is on a ventilator.

As it stands officially, though, Johnson's main symptoms are a high temperature and a cough rather than more severe respiratory symptoms. Tim O'Donnell

10:27 a.m.

New York City is looking more and more apocalyptic every day.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives in the U.S's coronavirus epicenter, every aspect of city's resources for managing the dead have been overloaded. So to deal with the influx of dead bodies that have overtaken morgues, funeral homes, and cemeteries, the city will soon begin using a park for temporary burials, New York City Councilmember Mark Levine announced Monday.

Levine, the chair of the council's health committee, explained in a Monday tweet thread how the city's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is "now dealing with the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11." Deaths in hospitals are dramatically rising, but so are the numbers of deaths in homes; 20–25 people are usually reported dead in their homes every day in New York City, but that's risen to 200–215. Overall daily death counts have also doubled.

So to avoid "scenes like those in Italy" where bodies have been found on the streets, New York City will likely soon use a park for "temporary interment" where "trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line," Levine wrote.

New York City's death toll from coronavirus was nearing 2,500 as of Sunday morning, though Levine noted that a lack of testing means that number is surely an undercount. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:05 a.m.

You can call him Dr. Peter Navarro, at least technically.

Navarro, President Trump's top trade adviser, doesn't have a medical degree. But he does have a Ph.D in economics, he explained in a Monday morning CNN appearance, and claimed that leaves him qualified to disagree with the U.S.'s top coronavirus doctor Anthony Fauci when it comes to a potentially dangerous COVID-19 treatment.

While Trump has repeatedly claimed that the malaria-fighting drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are a "game changer" in the coronavirus fight, Fauci recently pointed out there are not enough studies and information to declare them safe treatments. Navarro defended Trump's side of things on Monday, saying "doctors disagree on things all the time," and because he's a "social scientist" who "understand[s] how to read statistical studies," he's qualified to disagree with Fauci. CNN host John Berman butted in to say "that doesn't qualify you to treat patients" and noted the potential "deadly" effects of untested hydroxychloroquine use, but Navarro only pushed on.

A study to determine the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine just kicked off in New York last week. But so far, it's clear hydroxychloroquine can have detrimental effects on the health of some patients, including sometimes leading to cardiac arrest and psychiatric symptoms. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:53 a.m.

Tesla is offering a look at the ventilators it's making out of car parts amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Tesla engineers in a YouTube video uploaded Sunday explained they're "trying to make some ventilators out of some car parts so that we can help out the medical industry without taking away from their supply," showing a prototype for a ventilator that's "heavily based on Tesla car parts" and makes use of the Model 3's infotainment system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who last month claimed that "coronavirus panic is dumb," pledged that the company would make ventilators "if there's a shortage," prompting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to urge them to do so. "New York City is buying," de Blasio wrote. New York has been facing a ventilator shortage, and de Blasio said Sunday that "we believe now we can get to Tuesday or Wednesday with the supplies we have."

Musk recently donated ventilators to New York that reportedly aren't the kind hospitals most need. The Verge notes that Tesla "has been criticized for attempting to invent a new ventilator rather than utilizing an existing design." In the video, the Tesla engineers say they wanted to use parts "that we know really well," that "we know the reliability of," and that are "available in volume."

Asked on Sunday about Tesla's efforts, though, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said, "Nobody can make you a ventilator right now in two weeks. That's General Motors, that's Ford, that's Elon Musk. ... their time frame, frankly, doesn't work for our immediate apex because whether we're talking two days or 10 days, you're not going to make ventilators at that time." Brendan Morrow

9:45 a.m.

President Trump is very excited about hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, frequently touting it as a "game changer," and he isn't alone in his enthusiasm. His economic adviser Peter Navarro, who reportedly sparred with top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci about hydroxychloroquine, told Fox & Friends on Monday morning he would "bet on President Trump's intuition on this." Other boosters Trump is apparently listening to include his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Dr. Mehmet Oz, the controversial television personality.

At Sunday night's press briefing, Trump said he hopes doctors use the drug, "because I'll tell you what, what do you have to lose?" He added: "I may take it. I'll have to ask my doctors about that." When a reporter asked Fauci about hydroxychloroquine, Trump stepped in and shut it down.

Most health officials and medical scientists, like Fauci, are unconvinced about the malaria drug's effectiveness at treating the coronavirus, noting that the evidence so far is anecdotal and contradictory. "I think we've got to be careful that we don't make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug," Fauci said on Friday's Fox & Friends. Hydroxychloroquine also has heath risks, including cardiac arrest in some cases.

Giuliani has been pushing hydroxychloroquine on Twitter, his podcast, and, he tells The Washington Post, in one-on-one calls with Trump. He said he has no financial stake in hydroxychloroquine. After watching Dr. Oz repeatedly tout the drug on Fox News, Trump said he wants to speak with Oz and told health officials it would be "a good idea" if they did, too, The Daily Beast reports. At least one official, Medicare administrator Seema Verma, spoke with Oz privately.

In mid-March, Reuters reports, "Trump personally pressed federal health officials" to green-light hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, and "shortly afterward, the federal government published highly unusual guidance informing doctors they had the option to prescribe the drugs, with key dosing information based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science." When asked about its guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Trump's coronavirus task force had requested the document. Peter Weber

8:49 a.m.

With a flying leap off a balcony, former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski became a WWE champion on Sunday night.

Gronk, who was the host of the two-day WrestleMania 36 in Orlando, Florida, had said earlier in the show that "I've won three major championships in my life and that's cool and all, but that's in the past. I wouldn't mind winning the 24/7 title before the end of tonight." And that he did, by vaulting over a balcony railing to flatten a crowd of wrestlers and pin his friend, Mojo Rawley, in order to take the 24/7 championship belt — which, as the name suggests, can be defended anytime anywhere.

ESPN reports that "Gronk relinquished his hosting duties and left the event immediately after winning the title." Jeva Lange

8:39 a.m.

Wisconsin's presidential primary remains scheduled for Tuesday with in-person voting even amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, an idea a group of mayors is calling "irresponsible and contrary to public health."

Amid calls for Wisconsin to postpone its primary as other states have done in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers (D), who previously issued a safer-at-home order, recently called a special session of the GOP-held legislature to consider canceling in-person voting and extending the deadline to mail in ballots. The legislature ultimately didn't do so. Wisconsin general elections are also set for Tuesday.

Now, a group of 10 Wisconsin mayors, including the mayor of Milwaukee, have written to the state's top health official, Department of Human Services Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm, asking her to take action and close the buildings where voting is to take place, Politico reports.

"We need you to step up and stop the state of Wisconsin from putting hundreds of thousands of citizens at risk by requiring them to vote at the polls while this ugly pandemic spreads," the letter, signed by 10 Wisconsin mayors representing 1.3 million people, reads. "...We believe it would be irresponsible and contrary to public health to conduct in-person voting throughout the state at the very time this disease is spreading rapidly."

Politico notes that in Ohio, the governor's top health official shuttered polling places when that state's primary was scheduled for March 17. In that case, Ohio subsequently extended absentee voting until April 28.

The Wisconsin mayors in their letter also urge the state's legislature to meet before Tuesday in order to "craft a procedure that protects public health and protects the right to vote," which they suggest would be "to mail every registered voter a ballot."

As the voting remains set to go ahead for now, NPR reports that "clerks are now dealing with a shortage of about 7,000 poll workers across the state." Brendan Morrow

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