UNC-CH RESEARCHERS TARGETED BY CONSPIRACY THEORISTS OVER VIRUS: By March, Kari Debbink, a professor at Bowie State University who holds a doctorate from UNC-Chapel Hill, had received her first death threat. The reason: She was being accused of helping create the novel coronavirus, which has caused the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down much of the world, in a lab in North Carolina. One unfounded theory that many internet users have latched onto and that has been amplified by right wing news channels has placed its sights on North Carolina. It claims — falsely — that COVID-19 was created at UNC-Chapel Hill, specifically in the lab of Ralph Baric, where Debbink once worked. Baric is one of the world’s preeminent researchers of coronaviruses — having studied the family of viruses known for their crown-like shape for 30 years. His lab on the UNC campus was one of the first places in the U.S. to receive a sample of the novel coronavirus earlier this year to begin conducting tests.
GOVERNOR COOPER SETS SOME GUIDELINES FOR EASING RESTRICTIONS: "We want to get back to work while, at the same time, preventing that spike that will overwhelm our hospitals with COVID-19 patients," he said, describing a "dimmer switch" that will be adjusted instead of flipping the economic switch back on after weeks of being off. The state Department of Health and Human Services is already assembling public- and private-sector partners to expand the state's testing capacity. DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said self-administered tests are in development, which could reduce the need for health care workers to don masks, gowns and gloves to conduct each test. Tracing the contacts of infected individuals to contain potential outbreaks "requires a lot of people and a lot of legwork," Cooper said. DHHS is working with universities and hospitals statewide to expand the public health workforce to accomplish more tracing, Cohen said, and state officials are looking at "digital tracing" options. Even after restrictions are eased, efforts must be made to protect seniors and others from the virus, Cooper said, noting that a vaccine isn't likely to be available for another year or so.
PUBLIC WILL BE BARRED FROM GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN UPCOMING SESSION: The leader of North Carolina's state Senate plans to call legislators back to work later this month. But when the legislature starts its session on April 28, access to the legislative building in downtown Raleigh will be limited due to concerns about the coronavirus. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, issued a press release Wednesday while Gov. Roy Cooper was holding a press briefing. "In balancing the need to reopen the legislature with health and safety concerns, the General Assembly will limit access to the Legislative Building and the Legislative Office Building to members, staff and credentialed media beginning April 20, 2020 and extending through May 8, 2020," the announcement says. Berger's statement says the policy was developed in coordination with the Capitol Press Corps, which includes WRAL News, as well as public access advocacy organizations.
BIG SURPRISE, THERE'S A HUGE TAX CUT FOR MILLIONAIRES IN CORONA STIMULUS PACKAGE: The new coronavirus stimulus passed by Congress includes a temporary tax change for people who make at least $1 million a year, according to an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation. The analysis of the change shows 43,000 taxpayers in the highest income bracket, making more than $1 million a year, could save a combined $70 billion in taxes. Almost all benefits from the tax break go to people making more than $100,000 a year. “It’s a scandal for Republicans to loot American taxpayers in the midst of an economic and human tragedy,” Whitehouse said in a statement. “This analysis shows that while Democrats fought for unemployment insurance and small business relief, a top priority of President Trump and his allies in Congress was another massive tax cut for the wealthy. Congress should repeal this rotten, un-American giveaway and use the revenue to help workers battling through this crisis,” he said.
TRUMP'S CREATION OF MULTIPLE "TASK FORCES" IS A CONFUSING MESS: Some business leaders had no idea they were included until they heard that their names had been read in the Rose Garden on Tuesday night by President Trump. Some of those who had agreed to help said they received little information on what, exactly, they were signing up for. And others who were willing to connect with the White House could not participate in hastily organized conference calls on Wednesday because of scheduling conflicts and technical difficulties. In short, the rollout of what the president referred to last week as his “Opening Our Country Council” was as confusing as the process of getting there. Instead of a formal council, what Mr. Trump announced on Tuesday was a watered-down version that included 17 separate industry groups, including hospitality, banking, energy and “thought leaders.” And on Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers received emails inviting them to join another task force. Mr. Trump opened the call by saying that “testing is under control” in the country. But after each executive was given a minute or two to provide his or her overview of what was needed to reopen the economy, there was a wide consensus that more testing was needed before the economy could reopen, according to two people who participated on the call. Among those who made the point that the testing was necessary to track who was infected and who might have immunity before returning employees to work sites was Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.