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Rent the Runway lays off all retail employees due to coronavirus uncertainty

Rent the Runway, a popular clothing rental brand, laid off its entire retail staff via Zoom yesterday. The company, which primarily operates online, has brick and mortar locations in California, New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. All stores are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the company is not sure when or if they will be able to reopen.

During a Zoom meeting with retail staff, a company executive said the business has been forced to “dramatically reassess” its current operations in order to sustain the business. “All teams at RTR are being impacted in some way today,” she added. “With the current uncertainty and continued government restrictions that are aimed to protect public health during this unprecedented pandemic, we have no visibility into when or if we will be able to reopen our stores. As a result of this, all retail roles are being eliminated. This was a heartbreaking decision.”

Employees say their email accounts were disabled shortly after the call, which lasted less than 30 minutes. Retail employees are receiving their final paycheck on or before April 3rd, and hourly employees are being paid for any shifts they had scheduled prior to March 31st, according to documents reviewed by The Verge. In addition, employees are receiving severance pay and two months of health insurance. The company also sent out an email with details on how to apply for unemployment.

Rent the Runway already contacted customers earlier this month to address coronavirus concerns. “First, according to Harvard Health, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from soft surfaces like fabric or carpet to humans,” the email reads. “In addition, our cleaning agents and practices are designed to kill viruses such as the common cold and flu. While scientific information is still developing, we have no reason to believe that our processes are ineffective against COVID-19.”

In September, Jason Del Rey at Recode reported that the company was experiencing significant last minute delays on orders, resulting in hundreds of angry customers. Jennifer Hyman, the CEO, said the issue was the result of the company upgrading its warehouse system. In the immediate aftermath, it had to stop accepting new customers. By October, the operation appeared to be back on its feet.

But the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically reshaped the economy. State governments have asked non-essential businesses in California and New York to stay closed to stop the spread of the virus, and business owners are being forced to make tough decisions.

For companies like Rent the Runway that operate mostly online, closing retail locations is likely a necessary choice. “Rent the Runway has always been like a little too good to be true,” a former retail worker told The Verge. “We’re not selling anything, there’s not a lot to do in the store.” She asked to remain anonymous because her severance was conditioned on signing a non-disparagement agreement.

In a statement to The Verge, a Rent the Runway spokesperson said “We are striving to make this transition as seamless as possible for our employees, from compensation to continuation of health insurance coverage. While we don’t have a sense of how long our business will be impacted, we remain committed to serving and supporting our employees and customers during this challenging time.”

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A new COVID-19 test can return results in 5 minutes

A new COVID-19 test from the medical device company Abbott can return positive results in five minutes — and it can be run in a doctor’s office. The test was approved for emergency use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration last night.

The test uses Abbott’s small, portable ID NOW platform, and doesn’t have to be sent to a central lab for analysis. Instead, it can be done directly in an emergency room or urgent care clinic, which could cut down on the days-long wait time some patients now face for test results. Doctors could take a swab from a patient’s nose or throat and insert it directly into the machine, and have results within 15 minutes (it can take up to 13 minutes if the sample is negative for the virus).

“With rapid testing on ID NOW, healthcare providers can perform molecular point-of-care testing outside the traditional four walls of a hospital in outbreak hotspots,” said Robert B. Ford, president and chief operating officer of Abbott, in a press release.

This is the second point-of-care test for COVID-19 approved by the FDA. The first, from the biotechnology company Cephid, takes 45 minutes. That test is primarily intended for emergency rooms and hospitals, not for doctors’ offices or urgent care clinics.

Tests that give doctors answers quickly are critical during disease outbreaks, because they can help them know how much protective equipment they need to wear when they’re interacting with a patient, where in a hospital to send them, and what sort of care to provide. Tests done in a doctor’s office can also help diagnose patients with mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19, and help stop them from unknowingly spreading the virus.

The Abbott test works differently than the types of tests that have been the standard in the US during the pandemic. Normally, a patient sample gets sent to a lab so it can be processed using a method called PCR, which searches for tiny bits of coronavirus genetic material. For PCR to work, the sample has to be repeatedly cycled up to a high heat and then back down again. The Abbott test also looks for virus genetic material, but it works at one single temperature. That’s why the device it runs on can be so small — it doesn’t need as much energy.

Abbott says it plans to start shipping 50,000 ID NOW COVID-19 tests a day starting next week.

The US struggled to ramp up testing for the coronavirus, which is one reason the public health system wasn’t able to contain the virus before case numbers started to climb. Commercial and state labs are now running upwards of 100,000 tests per day, but the US is still running fewer tests per capita than many other countries. President Donald Trump promised that there would be easy to access drive-through testing sites in parking lots across the country, but there aren’t enough tests available to put that type of system in place.

There are more cases of COVID-19 in the US than in any other country in the world.



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New trailers: Killing Eve, Upload, Murder House Flip, and more

I’d completely expected to be writing a note this week about how the COVID-19 pandemic has largely shut down trailer production, but it turns out, my assumption was wrong. While things have certainly slowed down, streaming services are almost singlehandedly keeping up the new releases. If anything, this is a great moment for them to debut a new show or series since everyone is stuck indoors.

That said, we’ll see how long this lasts. Productions are being shut down for health reasons, and it seems like every major movie coming out in the next couple of months is being delayed. So there may come a point where the backlog of content thins out. I certainly suspect it’ll be a bit before we see any trailers for tentpole films.

For now, it’s a great moment to catch up on some old movies you haven’t watched in a while or check out a show you never got around to. My wife and I are now nearly a season into The Sopranos, something we newly have the time to spend watching through. Other than the occasionally strange ’90s music choices, it’s pretty good.

Check out 11 trailers from this week and last week below.

Killing Eve

While I’ve heard that the show’s second season didn’t live up to its much-loved first run, this teaser for season three of Killing Eve looks wonderfully stylized, fun, and dramatic. The show returns April 12th.

#blackAF

Black-ish creator Kenya Barris has a new comedy series coming to Netflix about life as a successful black artist in Hollywood. Barris stars as a fictionalized version of himself, with Rashida Jones playing his wife. From just the first moment of this trailer, it seems like the show is off to a strong start. It debuts April 17th.

Tigertail

Master of None co-creator Alan Yang makes his feature debut with Tigertail, a beautifully shot film about a Taiwanese factory worker moving to America. It comes to Netflix on April 10th.

Upload

Greg Daniels, who led the US version of The Office, is back with a new sitcom for Amazon. Upload is about people who live in a digital “afterlife” after having their consciousness uploaded pre-death. So far, it mostly looks like an excuse to make some pretty low-hanging tech jokes (hilarious, there are in-app purchases…). The show debuts May 1st.

The Great

Hulu has a ridiculous looking period piece comedy coming up that stars Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. It’s hard not to think of The Favourite while watching this, but that’s not a bad thing — the series comes from one of the film’s co-writers. The show debuts May 15th.

Defending Jacob

Chris Evans plays a father whose kid is accused of murder in this upcoming Apple TV Plus series. It’s based on a crime novel, and yeah… I just went ahead and read the entire synopsis on Wikipedia to find out if he did it or not. The show debuts April 24th.

Run

The basic premise of Run is super twee — two exes follow through on an old agreement to drop everything, reunite, and run away together if their lives get boring — but the actual execution looks surprisingly fun and lively. It comes out April 12th.

The Willoughbys

Netflix is turning Lois Lowry’s The Willoughbys into an animated film, and while it looks like the movie is filled with pretty conventional kids humor, the animation has an intricate stop motion-esque look to it. It comes out April 22nd.

Bad Education

Even though Netflix has made straight-to-streaming films a totally normal thing, I’m still a little skeptical about movies that go straight to HBO. But all that said: I’m very into this trailer for Bad Education, which is based on a real story about a beloved school leader whose years of theft starts to become exposed. It comes out April 25th.

Most Dangerous Game

I’m fully obsessed with watching Quibi trailers in a “let’s see just how much of a mess this is gonna be” kind of way. Most Dangerous Game is a movie “in chapters” up to 10 minutes long. There are two big stars in the lead, and despite my assumptions, it looks like a pretty altogether normal action movie. It comes to Quibi on April 6th, when the service launches.

Murder House Flip

Speaking of Quibi… here’s the trailer for what is likely its altogether most bonkers show. I absolutely hate that this is probably going to be its biggest hit.

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“With me” videos on YouTube are seeing huge spikes in viewership as people stay home

YouTube creators are performing everyday tasks or taking on crafts and activities that people can do at home because everyone is stuck indoors right now. The genre has boomed as a result of social distancing.

Daily views of videos with “#withme” in the title have increased by 600 percent since March 15th compared to the rest of the year, according to YouTube. Uploads of videos from creators with “at home” in the title have also increased by more than 590 percent. Of those two types of videos, titles like “cook with me,” “work out at home” and “home office” have seen their average daily views grow by 100, 200, and 130 percent respectively.

YouTube has asked people to stay home (#StayHome) and encouraged creators to participate in a new “#WithMe” campaign that started today. A number of creators have already started asking viewers to stay home and continue to socially distance themselves as the world tries to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The company has also curated a number of “with me” playlists for people looking to exercise, cook, clean, study, and more through YouTube.

“It’s just me and you guys today,” Lauren Riihimaki of the popular LaurDIY channel says in a recent video where she makes tie-dye clothes using tools she found around the house while social distancing. “It’s just me, you, a monitor and two cameras — one wide, and a close up shot so you can see what I’m doing. It really does feel like old times.”

It’s unclear if these videos are seeing a surge in revenue. The Verge asked YouTube for more information, and will update if there is a response. Hank Green, one of the longest running YouTube creators on the platform, tweeted on March 22nd that while viewership across all channels has increased about five percent over the last week, advertising revenue is down 30 percent. Other creators are worried their advertising revenue will also fall, but are looking into doing other forms of videos to try and continue entertaining fans.

“With me” videos first started appearing on YouTube in 2007, but didn’t really become a genre unto its own until 2010. People getting ready for school or work would upload their routine, including choosing outfits to wear or making breakfast. The idea was that people at home could do their own morning routine while watching their favorite creators. By 2014, “with me” videos focusing on productivity started to emerge, including “study with me” and “journal with me.” By last year, “paint with me” became the most popular creative-focused version of the format.

YouTube’s culture team has described “with me” videos as ways of making lonely tasks “opportunities for connection.” That may explain why there’s a boom in views and uploads right now. People stuck at home are looking for new ways to entertain themselves, while YouTubers who might normally film outside their homes are looking for interesting and fun ways to continue providing entertainment to subscribers.



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Postmates couriers are eligible for unemployment benefits, rules New York appeals court

New York’s Court of Appeals has reinstated a 2015 decision determining that couriers for on-demand delivery app Postmates should be classified as employees, making them eligible for unemployment insurance at a time when the US is seeing record job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2015 decision by the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board originally found that a terminated Postmates courier, Luis Vega, should be classified as an employee and therefore eligible for unemployment benefits when he was kicked off the platform. That decision also required the company to pay into New York’s Unemployment Insurance Fund for that employee and for “all other persons similarly employed.”

The ruling could be significant for Postmates couriers, as shelter-in-place restrictions or the need to self-quarantine has led to mass layoffs and significantly reduced on-demand work. For those still able to work for on-demand delivery apps like Postmates, there is a risk of getting infected. Typically, gig workers are classified as independent contractors, which means they are ineligible for unemployment benefits or healthcare.

Postmates has tried to address this by launching a fund that couriers can take advantage of to pay back medical expenses related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And DoorDash and Instacart now offer up to 14 days of sick pay if they’re affected by coronavirus. But workers for these companies and others are still especially vulnerable while more and more Americans are relying on their services. For that reason, Instacart shoppers are organizing a work stoppage on Monday to fight for better sick leave and company-provided protective gear such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

In yesterday’s ruling, a majority of the judges supported the original decision’s determination that “Postmates exercised control over its couriers sufficient to render them employees rather than independent contractors operating their own businesses.” If those workers were classified as independent contractors, Postmates would not be obligated to pay into unemployment insurance for them.

“Today’s decision is a huge victory for thousands of gig workers across New York,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James in a statement. “The courts have solidified what we all have known for a while — delivery drivers are employees and are entitled to the same unemployment benefits other employees can obtain.”

“While we do not agree with the majority opinion from the New York Court of Appeals in the matter of Vega v. Postmates, the court’s conclusions support a position for which Postmates has long advocated: we need a modern worker classification framework that is relevant to the autonomy and flexibility made possible by app-enabled work,” Postmates said in a statement provided to The Verge.

“We fully support designing a responsible framework that allows New Yorkers to choose if, when, where, and for how long they work, while also providing them access to the benefits and services they deserve. As stated in the dissenting opinion, ‘Our current framework, as inconsistently applied, fails to provide clarity to anyone involved.’ We want to work with New York to change that.”

In addition to its medical fund, Postmates has also followed other on-demand delivery apps in introducing “non-contact” meal deliveries to help encourage social distancing, which can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

You can read yesterday’s full decision here:

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Microsoft to end investments in facial recognition firms after AnyVision controversy

Microsoft says it will no longer invest in third-party facial recognition companies following a controversy around its funding of Israeli startup AnyVision, which critics and human rights activists say powered a surveillance program in the West Bank following an NBC News report about the company’s relationship with the Israeli government.

Microsoft now says an independent investigation led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder and his team at international law firm Covington & Burling found that “AnyVision’s technology has not previously and does not currently power a mass surveillance program in the West Bank that has been alleged in media reports.” Had it done so, Microsoft says it would have constituted a breach of the finance portfolio’s pledge on ethical facial recognition use.

Regardless, Microsoft says it is divesting from AnyVision and will no longer make minority investments in any facial recognition firms. “For Microsoft, the audit process reinforced the challenges of being a minority investor in a company that sells sensitive technology, since such investments do not generally allow for the level of oversight or control that Microsoft exercises over the use of its own technology,” reads an announcement on the website of the company’s M12 venture arm.

“By making a global change to its investment policies to end minority investments in companies that sell facial recognition technology, Microsoft’s focus has shifted to commercial relationships that afford Microsoft greater oversight and control over the use of sensitive technologies,” the announcement goes on to say.

While Microsoft is stepping away from funding facial recognition firms, it does still have a facial recognition technology of its own through its Azure cloud computing platform. The Face API, as it’s called, allows any developer to “embed facial recognition into your apps for a seamless and highly secured user experience.” However, the company’s chief legal officer, Brad Smith, said last year that Microsoft would never sell facial recognition for surveillance purposes, and Smith has gone on the record saying it’s denied law enforcement access to the technology over concerns it would contribute to civil and human rights abuses.

It’s unclear if Microsoft’s new investment stance means it can still acquire facial recognition firms or whether it is making any adjustments to its own use of internal facial recognition software as a result of the change in direction. Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.

Facial recognition, specifically the variety of the technology powered by advanced machine learning and other artificial intelligence tools, has come under a spotlight in recent years. At the same time, concern grows among politicians and activists that it could be used by law enforcement and governments to surveil citizens without their consent and in ways that violate privacy and human rights laws.

In January, Facebook was hit with a $550 million fine as part of a settlement for a class action lawsuit over its use of facial recognition without clear opt-in provisions for users of its social networking products. Tech leaders like Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who helped oversee the formation of the company’s AI ethics principles in 2018, has said a temporary ban on the technology might be warranted in response to the European Union’s ongoing efforts to more aggressively regulate it.

One notable provider, Clearview AI, has found itself at the center of the growing controversy around the tech, as its database of billions of photos scraped largely from social media sites is already in use by thousands of private companies and law enforcement agencies. As a result of the Clearview story, more attention is now being paid to lesser-known facial recognition firms, and especially whether they have deals with local law enforcement groups or under-the-radar relationships with big tech firms.

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Amazon gave workers a letter to prove they are doing an “essential” job

As a growing list of states order “nonessential” businesses closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, Amazon is giving warehouse and delivery workers letters to carry saying that they are engaged in essential work.

“This letter is provided as evidence that the carrier of this letter is an Amazon employee and, as such, an employee of an essential business,” reads a letter given to fulfillment center workers. “This employee is providing essential work to support Amazon’s delivery of critical supplies directly to the doorsteps of people who need them. In doing so, this employee enables members of the community to remain at home and reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission, including the elderly and other vulnerable persons.”

The letter, written on Amazon letterhead, also includes a paragraph addressed to law enforcement with a phone number for verifying the carrier’s employment. The Verge confirmed that similar letters have been given to warehouse workers and delivery drivers around the country this week, with minor variations by role and region.

Though no states have required workers to carry documentation, Target and McDonald’s have told workers to carry similar letters. In Italy, France, and other countries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, residents are required to carry forms explaining why they’ve left the house. It’s possible the letters are a preemptive measure in case similar measures are taken in the US. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Department of Homeland Security considers warehouses, logistics, food delivery, and other sectors Amazon could reasonably fall under to be essential services, and millions of Americans told to stay home have come to rely on the company’s distribution network for basic necessities. To meet surging demand, Amazon last week halted deliveries of nonessential items to its warehouses and announced plans to hire 100,000 additional workers.

But the company has a long history of injuries and grueling conditions at its warehouses and delivery network, and as COVID-19 has spread, workers across the country have called for better safety precautions. Amazon says it has intensified cleaning procedures, but workers say cleaning materials are often in short supply and the pace of work doesn’t leave time to use them. Amazon halted team meetings and altered schedules to avoid workers crowding together, but workers say their jobs still often require being in close proximity. There have now been confirmed cases of COVID-19 at 15 US warehouses. Amazon has closed only one, a returns-processing facility in Kentucky, and only after the governor ordered it shuttered. The company has also failed to notify workers when there has been a coronavirus case at their facility, leaving workers to rely on rumors and hearsay.

Last week, a group of senators wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos expressing concern for the safety of Amazon workers during the pandemic and asking what precautions are being taken. Bezos published a memo the following day listing several safety measures, including the ordering of millions of masks for workers, though he acknowledged that the masks are in short supply and many of the orders have yet to be filled. Bezos’ memo, like the letters given to workers, also made clear that the company is positioning itself as an essential service during the pandemic, referring to “essential work” that cannot be done from home. “We’re providing a vital service to people everywhere, especially to those, like the elderly, who are most vulnerable,” he wrote.

But it’s unclear how long Amazon can continue providing this service if workers don’t feel safe. Many warehouse workers say they have begun staying home rather than risk infection, and drivers report bottlenecks at their delivery stations. Delivery times for some items already stretch to a month or more and threaten to get worse if Amazon can’t staff up.

Last week, the company raised pay by $2 per hour and increased overtime pay, but for many workers, it wasn’t enough. “At the end of the day, it’s just about being safe,” said a worker at a North Carolina fulfillment center. “At the end of the day, it’s not about making the dollar.”

He walked out after hearing rumors, which Amazon denied, that a co-worker had tested positive for COVID-19. He’s not sure whether he’ll come back.

See the full letter below:

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Tesla’s shrinking its workforce at the Nevada Gigafactory because of the coronavirus

One week after Tesla said it would keep up “normal” operations at the Gigafactory in Nevada, the company now plans to scale back the workforce there by “more than 75 percent” as the state shelters in place to fight the novel coronavirus. Panasonic, which helps make Tesla’s batteries in a section of the Gigafactory, suspended its operations there last week. Legacy automakers have also halted manufacturing operations in the United States amid the pandemic.

Tesla has already paused some nonessential operations at the factory and is encouraging employees to work from home if possible, which has “significantly” reduced the number of people showing up to work every day, according to an email obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal. The company expects to be down to only essential “supply chain” work by next week, as well as roles like security, facility maintenance, limited critical production, and IT support.

It’s unclear if the Gigafactory workers who are being told to stay home are being offered paid or unpaid leave. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. The company is paying the hourly employees at its other factories during similar shutdowns, though it also recently made its first pandemic-induced workforce cut in Norway.

Tesla is taking a number of steps to reduce the chance of spreading the novel coronavirus among the employees who will keep coming into work, according to the email. The company will close some entrances and will perform temperature checks at the entrances that remain open. Hand sanitizer will be required upon entry. Workers will have to stay six feet apart, including in the cafeteria, where the company will only have one chair per table. Work stations will be disinfected twice per shift, too.

On Thursday, Tesla confirmed two office employees had tested positive for COVID-19, but did not specify where those workers were located. The company said in an internal email that the employees “had been working from home for nearly two weeks” before they tested positive for COVID-19.

News of the partial shutdown of the Gigafactory was first announced by the local county manager, Austin Osborne, in a post on the local government’s website late Thursday.

“Our companies at TRIC [the industrial park where Tesla operates] are taking the COVID-19 matter seriously, and regularly report to us the measures they are taking to adhere to the established guidelines while maintaining essential operations,” Osborne wrote. “Checking employee temperatures, creating central access, allowing remote work, maintaining workstation distance, and others are occurring.” Osborne declined to offer more information in a follow-up email.

Tesla announced on March 19th that it was shutting down its electric car factory in California and its solar panel factory in New York. The shutdown in California came almost a full week after local authorities had implemented a shelter-in-place order that forced nonessential businesses to close. Tesla also briefly shut down its newest Gigafactory in China earlier this year, though production there is back up and running.

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What happens when extreme heat collides with a pandemic? 

The COVID-19 pandemic is on the verge of colliding with another public health threat: extreme heat, which kills more people in the US each year than any other weather-related event. Public health officials usually recommend that people without air conditioning head to places like malls and libraries where they can cool off, but that’s not an option for a lot of people sheltering at home.

The problem could soon begin to affect India, where temperatures begin to climb in April and have reached as high as 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit). India’s 1.3 billion residents have been ordered to stay indoors until April 14th to stop the spread of disease, and only about 5 percent of the population has air conditioning.

Heat-related illness can begin with mild symptoms like a headache and muscle cramps, and they can progress to confusion, dizziness, vomiting, and losing consciousness. Once the body reaches a point where it can no longer cool itself down by sweating, heat stroke can lead to organ failure and eventually death. Those most at risk are often the poor and elderly, groups that are similarly hard-hit by the novel coronavirus. Heat-related deaths can be prevented by checking in on people who might be isolated indoors and providing public places for them to get out and cool down. But those strategies contradict efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, which mostly focus on keeping people apart.

“We’re in between a rock and a hard place if it were to become a heatwave during the time when we’re enacting physical distancing measures,” says David Eisenman, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles’ department of community health sciences.

In developing countries, the migration to cities from rural areas has posed new problems when it comes to preventing deaths from heat. Traditionally built homes in less densely packed areas often included designs that naturally kept the structure cool, like inner courtyards and windows aligned to allow prevailing winds to pass through. But poorer newcomers to cities have packed into informal settlements where homes may be little more than brick or metal walls with a corrugated metal roof. “That’s literally an oven,” says Kurt Shickman, executive director of the Global Cool Cities Alliance, which partners with governments to plan more heat-resilient cities. It’s estimated that 40 percent of the world’s urban expansion takes place in slums, and more than two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

“The problem is way worse in the developing world, but we shouldn’t take that and say that we’re out of the woods here [in the US],” Shickman says. The US sees upward of 600 heat-related deaths each year. Heat waves, which are becoming more frequent and more intense because of climate change, took a heavy toll in Europe last year, too, killing almost 1,500 in France last June and July.

“[Extreme heat] is even more of a pressing issue with the pandemic than it was beforehand, and this need for staying at home is only bringing out issues that already existed,” says Sonal Jessel, a policy and advocacy coordinator for the Harlem-based nonprofit WE ACT for Environmental Justice. Even though New York City has just stepped into spring, Jessel is already scrambling to figure out strategies to keep people safe in case hotter temperatures arrive earlier this year.

Temperatures can be several degrees hotter in cities like New York compared to surrounding areas, because all the asphalt and concrete absorb and trap heat. It can be even hotter in industrial neighborhoods with fewer trees and parks, which means some communities are more vulnerable than others. Almost half of all people who lost their lives to heat in New York City between 2000 and 2012 were African American, although they’re just under 25 percent of the city’s population.

“Now that we’re all instructed globally not to gather in close proximity, it’s going to really call for creativity and quick pivoting among public health systems around the world,” says Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, who has worked with Jessel’s organization in New York and other groups in India to prevent heat-related illness and death. She and other public health experts are beginning to put their heads together to figure out how they may need to tackle two crises — coming heat waves and the ongoing pandemic — in tandem. But they don’t have answers just yet.

Cities might have to figure out how to create publicly accessible places where people can cool down while also maintaining enough physical space between each other to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Eisenman at UCLA says. “It just seems like a really hard thing to pull off,” he says.

If beating the heat by going to a public place is out of the question, then more needs to be done to help people cool down at home, says Jessel. That means getting air conditioners into more homes, and helping people pay their utility bills so that they don’t need to choose between running their air conditioning and paying for other necessities. With lots of people losing their jobs during the pandemic, making air conditioning affordable is even more pressing. Jessel’s organization is advocating for more funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federally funded program that provides assistance with home energy bills. Beyond that, Jessel and other advocates are pushing for ways to retrofit homes to keep them cooler. Installing better insulation, painting roofs white to reflect the sun, and planting rooftop gardens can keep homes and buildings cool.

Temperatures in parts of California, where there’s a state-wide shelter-in-place order, are going to rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 27 degrees Celsius) next week. While Eisenman doesn’t think those numbers will begin to pose a threat just yet, he warns that the first really hot days of the season can be particularly dangerous because people are still adjusting to the change in temperatures. And while California and New York are current hotspots for COVID-19 in the US, he worries that other states with fewer coronavirus cases now but hotter climates, like Arizona, might see their number of cases peak closer to the start of summer. That potential scenario could be deadly, which is why Eisenman and others are encouraging groups to take early measures to address the combination of threats — before the case counts and temperatures start to rise.

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House approves $2 trillion coronavirus bill as members struggle with infection

After weeks of negotiations, Congress approved its $2 trillion coronavirus relief package on Friday. But that measure’s final approval was threatened by the same virus that made it necessary.

Over the past few weeks, more than 30 lawmakers have been exposed to the novel coronavirus or showed some degree of symptoms that have led them to self-quarantine. But so far, only three have tested positive for the virus, including Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL) and Ben McAdams (D-UT) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

Paul announced that he tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Sunday as senators continued to negotiate provisions in their relief package on Capitol Hill. Both Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) were advised to self-quarantine for 14 days by the Capitol’s attending physician after they had interacted with Paul. Other members like Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Rick Scott (R-FL) have also gone home after potential exposure to the virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has renewed calls from some lawmakers for congressional leadership to allow remote voting. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Constitution does require a majority of members to establish a quorum to vote, but it’s the House and Senate’s own rules that require lawmakers to be physically present to cast their votes. So far, congressional leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have opposed total remote voting. The Senate already allows members to vote on behalf of others in committee, known as proxy voting, and Pelosi has entertained changes to the rules that may allow proxy votes on the House floor in the future. But none of those rules were in effect when the House voted on Friday’s relief package.

Still, many lawmakers stayed home to protect themselves from infection as congressional leaders nailed down the specifics of the deal on which the House planned to vote on Friday morning. House leaders sought to pass the measure by voice vote, a seldom-used procedure that doesn’t require the entire chamber to be present for passage.

Those plans changed after Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) told a local radio station on Thursday that he planned to object that vote and request a recorded tally, meaning 216 members need to be present, threatening to delay an already-delayed stimulus package.

“We have notified our Members of the possibility that the bill may not pass by voice vote,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) press office wrote in a statement on Thursday. “The Majority Leader’s Office has sent a notice to Members that if they are able and willing to be in Washington, DC by 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, they are encouraged to do so, while exercising all due caution.”

By Friday morning, enough House lawmakers had raced back to Washington by car and plane to override Massie’s objections.

Earlier this week, the House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, issued guidance advising lawmakers to stay in their offices until the vote was called and required them to use hand sanitizer as they entered and left the chamber. According to The Washington Post, the galleries that hang above the House floor were opened up so more members could filter in while maintaining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance of six feet of distance between one another.

Still, not every lawmaker was able to make remarks on the House floor on Friday either lauding or critiquing provisions in the titanic relief package. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Hoyer’s office told lawmakers outside of DC that they could record their own video statements that would be aired on C-SPAN during primetime hours next week. They will also be shared on social media.

The pandemic has upturned political life. Aside from threatening congressional business, presidential candidates like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump have all started to host rallies and campaign events online. No one knows exactly how long the pandemic will last, but it could force lawmakers to reimagine political business entirely as much of it moves online.



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