AFTER DEATH OF MANAGER, RALEIGH SANITATION WORKERS SEEK BETTER PROTECTIONS: Union representatives sent a letter to city leaders on March 17 asking for more worker protections and for the city to issue a state of emergency. Two days later, Raleigh City Manager Ruffin Hall wrote that the city had since declared a state of emergency and was making strides to protect workers. The union’s suggestions would be included in the city’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. After Grubbs’ death, union leaders sent a second letter to the mayor and city manager. “We believe that if the city had acted swiftly based on the concerns we raised in our March 17 letter, that some of the current safety issues and anxiety from workers could have been avoided,” it said. In a news release, the union said sanitation trucks aren’t being cleaned on a regular basis; workers are violating social distancing by being on one truck; they are only getting two pairs of gloves per week; and there is a lack of “adequate hazard pay.”
STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS PUSHES FOR CHANGES DUE TO VIRUS: The State Board of Elections recommended more than a dozen changes to state election laws Thursday in response to COVID-19, including making Election Day a state holiday. Most of the suggestions stem from an expected uptick in absentee voting by mail. Among other things, state Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell will ask the General Assembly to pay postage on absentee ballots, make it easier to request absentee ballots and to ease witnessing requirements when people vote by mail. She laid out the requests in a six-page letter. “We believe the legislative recommendations released today would go a long way toward ensuring safe, accessible elections in 2020,” Brinson Bell said in news release accompanying the letter. “We look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly to respond to the unprecedented threat facing our elections system at this time.”
NORTH CAROLINIANS ARE LAGGING BEHIND ON CENSUS REPORTING: North Carolina lags the national average in responding to the 2020 Census so far, and it may have something to do with vacation homes and the internet. In the first 12 days that census forms were available, 16.6% of households in the state had filled theirs out, according to Carolina Demography, a service of the Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill. That compared with a national average of 19.2% and ranked the state 41st for response rate (Nebraska led all states with 25.1%). This is the first time that everyone has the option of completing the census form online, in addition to by phone or mail. Rebecca Tippett, Carolina Demography’s director, said North Carolina’s online response rate is a full three percentage points below the national average, which could help explain the state’s relatively slow start.
U.S. NOW HAS THE MOST REPORTED COVID 19 CASES: The United States now leads the world in confirmed cases after surpassing China’s reported total. More than 82,000 people have been infected and nearly 1,200 have died in the United States, which is quickly becoming the new epicenter of the outbreak. In Washington, the House is expected to vote Friday on a $2 trillion emergency relief bill, offering a measure of solace amid a sharp downturn and uncertainty over how long restrictions on movement will remain. Here are some significant developments: A Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that 9 in 10 Americans are staying home “as much as possible” and practicing social distancing to lessen the risk of becoming infected. Measures in the stimulus package aim to support households and businesses facing massive losses from the prolonged shutdown of normal life. One lawmaker, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) is threatening to stymie swift passage of the stimulus bill, potentially delaying a vote until the weekend. Anecdotal accounts from health-care providers at hospitals in New York City describe a shortage of supplies amid a surge of coronavirus patients. The New York City area is the current U.S. epicenter, but the number of confirmed cases is beginning to surge elsewhere, including Louisiana, Michigan and Texas.
TRUMP ADMIN BUNGLING PROJECT TO PRODUCE MUCH-NEEDED VENTILATORS: The White House had been preparing to reveal on Wednesday a joint venture between General Motors and Ventec Life Systems that would allow for the production of as many as 80,000 desperately needed ventilators to respond to an escalating pandemic when word suddenly came down that the announcement was off. The decision to cancel the announcement, government officials say, came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it needed more time to assess whether the estimated cost was prohibitive. That price tag was more than $1 billion, with several hundred million dollars to be paid upfront to General Motors to retool a car parts plant in Kokomo, Ind., where the ventilators would be made with Ventec’s technology. At the center of the discussion about how to ramp up the production of ventilators is Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House aide, who has told people that he was called in two weeks ago by Vice President Mike Pence to produce more coronavirus test kits and who has now turned his attention to ventilators. He has been directing officials at FEMA in the effort. Two officials said the suggestion to wait on the General Motors offer came from Col. Patrick Work, who is working at FEMA. Some government officials expressed concern about the possibility of ordering too many ventilators, leaving them with an expensive surplus. As the agency has sorted through offers, trying to weigh production ability and costs, hospitals in New York and elsewhere are reporting a desperate need for more ventilators, which are critical in treating respiratory problems in a fast-rising tide of severe coronavirus cases.