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Politics
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Trump implores Congress to move on virus rescue package

WASHINGTON

The Senate late Wednesday passed an unparalleled $2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared somber and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.

“The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis,”said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt.”

The package is intended as relief for an economy spiraling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”

Senate passage delivered the legislation to the Democratic-controlled House, which will most likely pass it Friday. House members are scattered around the country and the timetable for votes in that chamber was unclear.

House Democratic and Republican leaders have hoped to clear the measure for Trump’s signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington.


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Myths, misinformation about COVID-19 spread more quickly than the virus

Scientists continue to say they know very little about the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and has turned the world upside-down over the past few weeks.

But the virus has been around long enough for myths to arise about all aspects of it — how it’s spread, what kills it, what home remedies people can use to fight it and where it came from.

Some myths have been dispelled and others remain somewhere in the territory of could-be-true-but-we-don’t-really-know.

Here are a few:

A French health minister tweeted sometime last week, suggesting that people with coronavirus symptoms should not use ibuprofen products because it could worsen the effects of the virus.

A non-peer-reviewed, not clinically tested study then appeared in the medical journal Lancet in which it was again suggested that instead of ibuprofen products such as Advil, people who think they might have the virus should take acetaminophen or paracetamol instead.

The World Health Organization has weighed in on this to say that, as yet, there is no data that suggests taking ibuprofen is bad for someone who may be infected with COVID-19.

However, sore throat and fever are symptoms of infection that can be relieved by either agent. Drinking a lot of water helps as well.

SALT WATER

And so does gargling with warm salt water, which brings us to another myth passed around on the internet.

A meme of a blue man, his head tilted back with starry spots on his throat, suggested gargling with warm salt water might kill the virus and keep it from descending into the lungs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention busted this one.

Gargling with warm salt water will soothe a sore throat, but there’s no evidence that it will kill the virus or stop it from getting into the lungs. The time-honored practice does reduce inflammation, however, and thus is good for a sore throat.

NUKING THE PAPER?

Many coronavirus myths revolve around heat.

One is that a microwave oven can kill the virus on surfaces such as paper. That one came to The Daily News from a reader.

An investigation into the question showed mixed results. The reader cautioned against microwaving paper any longer than 10 seconds because it could burn up, a problem that has apparently cropped up around the world in places such as Korea where it has been reported that people trying to sterilize their cash in the microwave caused it to begin disintegrating.

Whether high temperatures the microwave can generate will kill the virus remains non-definitive, say scientists at the World Health Organization, though tests conducted previously have shown that other viruses, such as HIV and avian coronavirus, died after being microwaved anywhere from five seconds to two minutes.

SUN AND SWEAT

Coronavirus is not transferred through airborne sweat, as has been rumored, but gym equipment can harbor the virus for up to 48 hours if it’s not disinfected after exposure, according to the CDC. That’s why gyms are shut down — not because people might exchange sweat.

Sunshine is good for health in general, but scientists haven’t yet thoroughly studied the effect of ultraviolet rays on COVID-19. Viruses have been known to be killed by light from ultraviolet lamps in a lab, but using one to try and eliminate coronavirus from skin and hair at home is not advised by most scientists because it’s bad for skin cells.


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As stay-at-home orders begin, some ask, 'Can I do that?'

Can I go grocery shopping? Yes.

Can I have the AC repair guy over? Yes.

Can I go to my job at the bank or the refinery? Yes.

Can I go fishing? Yes, as long as you stand at least 6 feet from the angler next to you.

Galveston County’s stay-at-home order went into effect on Wednesday morning, and many local people said at least part of the last day and a half was spent trying to wrap their head around what, exactly, the order means for them.

The seven-page order issued Monday evening begins by requiring all individuals living in Galveston County to remain at their place of residence through April 3.

But the plan then moves on to describe the essential businesses not subject to the order.

In announcing the stay-at-home plan on Monday, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said the county’s decree carved out so many exceptions that most people and businesses would not be affected by the order.

The county’s top lawyer said Wednesday it was the county’s design not to try to go business by business and list out which ones should be open or closed.

“The Galveston County order is intended to allow businesses the flexibility to evaluate their operations, read the order for themselves and make a serious decision about whether they qualify to continue work on site,” said Paul Ready, Galveston County’s general counsel.

If someone is reading the order and doesn’t see how their business might qualify for an exception, “they probably know their answer,” Ready said.

Still, in places around the county, residents and city leaders were trying to get used to the new rules. In Galveston and Friendswood, city work crews put up fencing and caution tape around playground equipment.

Friendswood resident David Hendrickson said he called city hall Wednesday to ensure that it was OK to go fishing on the island after leaders ordered public piers closed.

The order doesn’t prevent people from fishing along the shores, however.

“My wife called them, and they told us what the rules are and we decided that we weren’t breaking any rules to come fish,” Hendrickson said. “When they say it’s a stay-at-home order, you’re thinking if they see you driving down the street, they’re going to pull you over.”

That’s not the case. There are no limits on travel within the county and the county’s order does allow people to exercise outside, provided they stay at least six feet away from other people. Hendrickson, a solo fisherman, was safe.

In League City, Rodney Dunklee wondered whether he could continue to have an air-conditioner repairman over to fix his unit. With temperatures hitting a seasonally unusual high of 90 degrees Wednesday, the repairs felt urgent and necessary, he said.

“What I saw is that all business should stop that’s non-essential,” Dunklee said. “It was confusing about what was essential and what was non-essential. For the long term, not having air conditioning would make my quality of life very poor.

“Could we live opening the windows for a few days? We could, but it wouldn’t be a comfortable existence,” he said.

The order does allow services “necessary to maintain essential operations of residences,” to continue operating during the stay-at-home order, and officials said that would include air conditioning repairs.

The point of the order is to help keep people away from each other and limit the spread of the coronavirus in the community, Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County’s local health authority, said Tuesday.

Although there may be many exceptions to the law, people who are thinking about going out in public or having people over during the next few weeks should reflect on their choices seriously, he said.

“If you can stay home, stay home,” Keiser said. “We want people to do the things that they need to do to live and, for the most part, stay home.”


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editor's pick centerpiece featured
Seeing a need, businesses around Galveston County pivot production

GALVESTON

The Texas Tail Distillery is in the heart of the economic crater left by the coronavirus on the island.

Bars and restaurants to the east and west of the distillery along Seawall Boulevard have closed their doors to customers as part of the city’s efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The doors of the distillery, 4116 Seawall Blvd., are open. But the only thing you can buy from the year-and-half-old establishment isn’t something you would or should drink.

This week, the distillery began producing hand sanitizer from the ethyl alcohol it would normally use to make vodka, said Nick Droege, the president of the distillery.

“We’re strictly making hand sanitizer right now,” Droege said. The distillery has actually had to enlist more help to produce the sanitizer, he said.

The distillery is producing up to 500 gallons of FDA-standard hand sanitizer a day, Droege said. He’s selling to local companies and to local police agencies, including the University of Texas Medical Branch Police Department, and may soon offer the sanitizer to people who walk up to the business.

“We’ve increased all of our part-time employees to full-time,” Droege said. “Being able to sell it made us be able to make sure our employees are taken care of.”

Texas Tail isn’t is the only distillery in Texas pivoting to making hand cleaners in the coronavirus crisis.

Earlier this month, before the coronavirus outbreak reached pandemic levels, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which produces in Austin is the oldest distillery in Texas, created some amusing buzz by sending out a press release notifying people that its namesake product could not be used as hand sanitizer.

Less than three weeks later, Tito’s announced it would convert its operations to make as many as 24 tons of hand sanitizer.

More locally, a business in Santa Fe also has reduced the number of products it sells in the name of making more hand cleanser.

Before the pandemic, Santa Fe Soap Factory, 4809 Ave. L, was centered on selling natural, hand-crafted soaps, owner Kristine Melton said.

But as the crisis grew, the business switched to making only a single product, an FDA guidance-compliant hand cleanser, Melton said.

“Business has actually picked up because of that,” Melton said. “Before that, a lot of people were hitting the grocery stores and we needed to figure something else to keep us afloat.”

One of the customers buying the store’s new hand cleanser is the city of Santa Fe, Melton said. The product is being distributed to the city’s police officers.

Because the soap factory is making cleaning products, it’s considered an essential business and plans to remain open during the countywide stay-at-home order, Melton said.

Texas Tail Distillery had the same plan, although other factors might get in the way. Although Texas Tail has all the equipment it needs to make the hand sanitizer, Droege was encountering a shortage of bottles to contain the product.

“Spray or pumps or whatever, that’s what been hard to fine,” Droege said.


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Very little risk of infection from pets, expert says

GALVESTON

Most people know to keep their distance from each other to avoid spreading coronavirus, but some worry they should be taking precautions around their pets, too.

Although people should exercise some degree of caution when handling their pets, animal owners should not panic — there’s no evidence pets can contract COVID-19 or spread it to their humans, said Debra Zoran, a professor of medicine in the department of small animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M University at College Station.

There’s no evidence of people becoming ill with coronavirus because of transmission from a cat or dog, Zoran said.

“With many thousands of cases diagnosed around the world, this type of transmission has not yet been shown to happen, which tells us that it is extremely rare if it happens at all,” Zoran said.

CAUSE v EFFECT

Part of the worry about pets and COVID-19 might have been caused by a report about dogs in Hong Kong, Zoran said.

Two dogs in Hong Kong, whose owners were sick with COVID-19, tested positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus, but did not get sick with COVID-19, the illness, Zoran said. The dogs likely got the virus in their noses or mouths by being around when the owner was coughing or sneezing or by licking the owner, Zoran said.

People should understand that COVID-19 is the illness that people get from coronavirus, but SARS-CoV-2 is the official name of the coronavirus, she said.

The dogs could theoretically transport the virus to a healthy person, Zoran said.

“As far as we can tell, that is a very, very unlikely occurrence, but it could happen,” Zoran said.

If someone tests positive for coronavirus and lives with other people, they should try to take caution around their pets, said Dr. Lea Fistein at The Animal Clinic, 701 Broadway in Galveston.

“They shouldn’t be kissing the animal or having close contact with the animal,” Fistein said.

No reports have emerged about pets or livestock becoming ill or spreading coronavirus in the United States, according to the World Health Organization.

STEPS TO TAKE

Whereas there’s no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted to or from animals, it’s a good idea to wash your hands both before and after direct contact with pets and their food, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Pets who have been in contact with a sick person should get a bath with normal pet shampoo and the person doing that should wear gloves, goggles and a mask, Zoran said.

“Once a pet is out away from the sick person and gets a bath, they are safe to handle and provide care for,” Zoran said.

People should takes animals to the shelter only as a last resort, Fistein said.

“Unless you’re so sick you’re going to be hospitalized, I think you should try to take care of your dog yourself,” Fistein said.

People should absolutely take care of their pets, Zoran said. There’s no need to panic or give up pets, she said.

“Pets can be a huge comfort to people during these trying times, so we do not want people separated from them,” Zoran said. “We just want them to take the steps we are all taking to reduce our exposure and risk.”

A GOOD TIME TO FOSTER

And for many people, now is a good time to help foster pets, said Caroline Dorsett-Pate, executive director of the Galveston Island Humane Society.

“You’re at home. You’ve got kids. They’re bored,” Dorsett-Pate said, adding that a dog or cat to play with could help ease the boredom.

It’s also a good time for students, who are usually busy, to foster, she said.

People who have been thinking about adopting an animal might also consider now to do so, Dorsett-Pate said.

“You’ve got time at home to help them acclimate,” Dorsett-Pate said.

Now could be a critical time to foster or adopt pets to help the humane society clear out some room, as well, Dorsett-Pate said.

“Now, in the economic downturn, people are going to be in dire straits,” Dorsett-Pate said. After hurricanes, pets are the first things people give up and this, unfortunately, could be a similar situation, she said.