LAWMAKERS LIKELY TO CALL SPECIAL SESSION FOR COVID 19 RELIEF: A draft bill filed Wednesday would finalize some temporary changes already made administratively by Gov. Roy Cooper in the areas of jobless benefits and tax deadlines. But other changes have to be made by lawmakers, and leaders of the Economic Support working group that met Wednesday signaled they may push for a special session soon. Legislative leaders have said for days the state needs to wait to see what the federal government does before taking action and that no response bill is likely before the regular session resumes. However, Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, said some changes may need to be made immediately. Howard said the most urgent need is to ease the strain on the unemployment filing system as it processes a record number of claims – more than 166,000 thousand since in March 16, far exceeding previous records set in 2009. Allowing employers to file claims on behalf of all of their employees would dramatically reduce the flood of applications, speeding up claim processing for everyone, she said.
FIRST NC DEATHS FROM CORONAVIRUS, NOW 608 REPORTED CASES: North Carolina reported its first coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday. A Cabarrus County resident in his late 70s with underlying medical conditions died Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said. A Virginia resident in their 60s traveling in North Carolina also died. North Carolina has at least 608 reported cases of coronavirus as of Thursday morning, according to the state and county health departments. Mecklenburg County has the highest number of cases in the state, with 170. Durham and Wake counties each have 84 cases. More than half of the North Carolina’s 100 counties have now reported at least one case, and more than 10,000 tests for the virus had been completed in the state. Health officials said the number of positive test results isn’t a good indicator of how many people are infected. As the virus becomes more widespread, the difference between case counts and “the actual disease” increases.
SECTION OF BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY CLOSED DUE TO VIRUS: Fourteen miles (23 kilometers) of the Blue Ridge Parkway through southwestern North Carolina were closed to the public Tuesday in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the National Park Service announced. Officials did not say when the stretch, ranging from the Soco Gap to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, would reopen. The service noted that other sections of the parkway, which runs more than 450 miles (724 kilometers) from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, would remain accessible. Officials noted they would continue to monitor "changing conditions" across the region. The announcement comes as popular national parks across the country closed their gates Tuesday as visitors continued flocking to the sites. Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw visitation rates higher than those recorded at the same time last year, which led to congestion at some sites before its closure Tuesday, officials said.
SENATE PASSES REVISED STIMULUS PACKAGE: Americans losing jobs because of the outbreak would see their weekly state insurance benefits – which average about $400 – increased by $600 for four months. A new program would provide unprecedented jobless benefits to self-employed workers and contractors, who typically aren’t eligible. The gig workers would also be eligible for the $600 federal supplement. Independent contractors, gig workers, temporary and part-time workers number 57 million in the U.S., representing more than a third of the working population and driving $1 trillion in income. They were frustrated that the initial coronavirus relief measures didn’t include them. The legislation includes $500 billion in loans to larger industries, such as airlines and possibly cruise ships. The money would help keep the companies afloat now that revenue has shriveled, helping them avoid layoffs or furloughs. Some Democrats oppose that kind of bailout to big companies that typically have more cash and larger lines of credit. With the stimulus, the economy would contract by 17.4% in the second quarter and the chances of a more devastating downturn are sharply reduced, Zandi says. His forecasts are based on the assumption that the number of U.S. coronavirus cases, now about 56,000, peaks at 200,000 to 250,000 by summer.
BRAZIL'S LEADER IS A LATIN VERSION OF DONALD TRUMP: He said self-isolation was "mass confinement." He called the novel coronavirus a "little cold." He asked, if only people older than 60 are at risk, "why close the schools?" This was Jair Bolsonaro, leader of Latin America’s largest country, calling on Brazilians to return to jobs, public spaces and commerce amid the coronavirus pandemic, contradicting not only his own health officials, but also the global consensus on how to see countries through the pandemic without a crippling loss of life. “Most of the media has been countervailing,” he declared in a national address Tuesday. “They spread the sensation of dread, with their flagship the high number of victims in Italy. The perfect scenario to be used by the media to spread hysteria.” The minister of health has warned the health system will collapse by the end of April. Millions of already impoverished people face weeks without income. Hunger could sweep the country. Rio and Sao Paulo clang each night with the sound of panelaços, pot-and-pan-banging protests against Bolsonaro’s dismissal of the virus. But to Bolsonaro, things aren’t that bad. He says the measures being taken by state governors to slow the disease’s spread — encouraging social isolation, closing churches, malls and schools, banning large crowds — are needlessly excessive. “It will pass shortly,” he predicted Tuesday. He called on businesses and schools to reopen. “Our lives have to continue; jobs should be maintained.”