NC IS SLOWLY RAMPING UP TESTING FOR COVID 19: “Our issue and our limitation has been for supplies at our state lab,” said Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, in a Thursday afternoon news conference. “Our extraction supplies have been in extremely limited supplies.” It’s not just a North Carolina problem. The agent used to extract genetic material from the virus at the labs has created a nationwide problem, Politico and The New York Times reported. “The main issue appears to be an agent used for extracting the RNA in order to identify the genetic sequence that marks this as the coronavirus,” said state Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. In addition to the state lab, tests are being conducted at LabCorp, Atrium, Duke and UNC, Cohen said. LabCorp, which is based in Burlington, is currently able to perform several thousand tests per day at facilities across the nation, according to its website.
COMMITTEE MEETINGS AND TOURS ARE CANCELED AT NC LEGISLATURE: The North Carolina General Assembly postponed on Thursday government oversight committee meetings and cancelled student tours for at least three weeks as precautionary measures against coronavirus. Top staff for legislative leaders released directives that should lessen foot traffic dramatically at the Legislative Building complex through the end of March. Committee meetings and school group visits will be discontinued until April 1 at the earliest, while legislative assistants or other employees can work from home during a similar period if there's agreement with lawmakers or supervisors. “The work of the people does not stop or end during a crisis, and the General Assembly will remain operational throughout this period,” Senate leader Phil Berger said in an emailed statement. Additional guidance will be provided as April 1 approaches to determine whether the restrictions should remain in place. The April 28 start of the annual General Assembly session remains unchanged, Berger added.
ORANGE COUNTY COMMISSIONER PRIMARY FLIPS AFTER FINAL VOTE TALLY: Incumbent Mark Dorosin emerged the apparent winner in a closely contested race for Orange County commissioner, after the Board of Elections count Thursday evening flipped the final but unofficial results. Dorosin finished with 12,503 votes to 12,494 votes for his closest opponent, incumbent Commissioners Chair Penny Rich. The District 1 candidates were separated by nine votes — the same margin by which Rich was presumed to be the winner of the district’s second seat after the March 3 primary. Dorosin got the largest boost from absentee voters, while Rich earned slightly more from the provisional ballots. Rich, who was present for the final count Thursday, declined to say if she will seek a recount. State elections law allows for a recount if fewer than 1% of the total votes separate two candidates. The elections office will release the official results Friday morning.
TRUMP'S CORONAVIRUS SPEECH WAS A MISERABLE FAILURE: Trump’s 10-minute Oval Office address Wednesday night reflected not only his handling of the coronavirus crisis but, in some ways, much of his presidency. It was riddled with errors, nationalist and xenophobic in tone, limited in its empathy, and boastful of both his own decisions and the supremacy of the nation he leads. Futures for the Dow Jones industrial average fell in real time with virtually each word Trump uttered, signaling a lack of confidence among investors that he had control of the crisis and previewing another bloodbath once the markets opened Thursday morning. Trump — who believed that by giving the speech he would appear in command and that his remarks would reassure financial markets and the country — was in “an unusually foul mood” and sounded at times “apoplectic” on Thursday as he watched stocks tumble and digested widespread criticism of his speech, according to a former senior administration official briefed on his private conversations. Trump’s speech contained at least two errors and a significant omission. He said the travel ban would apply to cargo; it did not. He said health insurance companies would waive patients’ co-payments for coronavirus testing and treatment; industry officials later clarified that they would waive payments for testing only. And he did not fully explain the details of his travel restrictions, leaving out the fact that U.S. citizens would be exempt.
HOUSE WILL VOTE ON BROAD ECONOMIC PACKAGE (INCLUDING PAID SICK LEAVE) TODAY: After a day of intense negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, Ms. Pelosi told reporters that “we’ve resolved most of our differences” and the House would vote on Friday on the measure “one way or another.” It would then go to the Senate, which called off a recess that had been scheduled for next week in anticipation of a compromise. The legislation, according to a letter Ms. Pelosi sent to her members, will include enhanced unemployment benefits, free virus testing, aid for food assistance programs and federal funds for Medicaid. The package also ensures 14 days of paid sick leave, as well as tax credits to help small- and medium-size businesses fulfill that mandate. Language was still being drafted for provisions related to family and medical leave, according to a Democratic aide, as staff members worked through the night to prepare the bill. Ms. Pelosi, in her letter to lawmakers, also said that the House would soon pursue another package “that will take further effective action that protects the health, economic security and well-being of the American people.” The fast-moving measure reflected a sense of urgency in Washington to enact a fiscal stimulus in the face of a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the financial markets, which have proved impervious to other interventions. The Federal Reserve, in a drastic attempt to ensure Wall Street remained functional as volatility roiled even normally staid bond markets, said it would promptly inject as much as $1.5 trillion in loans into the banking system and broaden its purchases of Treasury securities. But neither the Fed’s actions, nor a plan by the European Central Bank to offer cheap loans to banks and step up its bond-buying campaign, were enough to assuage investors, who sent the S&P 500 down 9.5 percent.