Chinese scientists say Wuhan animal market isn’t where coronavirus began

Chinese scientists say the coronavirus didn’t originate at a live animal market or a laboratory in Wuhan, pushing back against US officials over where the pandemic began, according to a report.

China’s top epidemiologist, Gao Fu, said samples taken from the wholesale market — where the deadly virus was reportedly first passed to humans — failed to show links between animals sold there and the pathogen, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“It now turns out that the market is one of the victims,” Gao told state-run media Tuesday.

The director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Wang Yanyi, also shot down accusations that the facility had unleashed the virus during a lab accident.

There’s no way it could have leaked from the laboratory because researchers have not studied pathogens similar enough to the coronavirus, he told the state-run China Central Television.

While both officials said they’d ruled out the sites as a possible ground zero, their comments didn’t address important issues such as widespread evidence that China initially covered up the severity of the outbreak.

The question of where the coronavirus began has been hotly disputed among Chinese and US officials in recent months, with President Trump dubbing it the “Chinese Virus” and blaming the country for failing to halt its spread. Chinese officials have pointed fingers at the US, with one government spokesman saying the US Army is responsible for the outbreak.

As of Wednesday, more than 5.5 million people had been infected with the coronavirus globally, and the death toll had topped 350,000.

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More Americans turning to anxiety medication amid coronavirus pandemic

Americans freaked out by the coronavirus crisis are increasingly turning to prescription drugs to calm their nerves, according to a report Monday.

Health-research firm IQVIA found that prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs spiked 10.2 percent in March, to 9.7 million, compared with 8.8 million during the same month last year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Meanwhile, prescriptions for antidepressants rose 9.2 percent, from 27.2 million to 29.7 million, from March 2019 to March 2020.

Even more startling increases were reported by other companies — Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit manager owned by Cigna, said that prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications rose 34.1 percent between mid-February and mid-March, according to the Journal.

Prescriptions for antidepressants and sleep medications increased 18.6 percent and 14.8 percent, respectively, according to Express Scripts.

Meanwhile, psychiatrists working for Ginger — a company that provides employers with video- and chat-based mental-health services for their workers — wrote 86 percent more scripts for psychotropic drugs, primarily antidepressants, in March and April 2020 than they did in January and February.

Dr. Bruce Schwartz, deputy chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, called the increased demand for the drugs “very problematic.”

“Many physicians have a low threshold for prescribing them,” he told the Journal. “Many people do develop a dependency on these medications.”

Dr. James Potash, director of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, noted that the most popular anti-anxiety drugs were benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax, Ativan and Klonopin.

“They are powerful, and they are powerfully attractive in that they work instantly,” he said.

“You take Ativan, and 30 minutes later you are feeling dramatically less anxious.”

But Potash cautioned that although the drugs are effective for short-term treatment, users can develop a tolerance to their effects in as little as two weeks.

That can lead people to increase their intake, making it hard for them to stop gobbling down the pills — and leading to potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms when they finally do.

Dr. Beth Salcedo, a psychiatrist and the past president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, said that the best ways to deal with anxiety included “exercising, eating well, avoiding alcohol and making sure we surround ourselves with our social support as much as possible.”

If those don’t work, she recommends a type of counseling known as “cognitive behavioral therapy,” possibly coupled with antidepressant medications like Lexapro and Prozac.

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Trump wants Republican National Convention to stay in North Carolina

President Trump said Monday that he’d like the Republican National Convention to remain in North Carolina — despite noting headwinds from Democrats who lead state and local governments — and shot down rumors that he was considering hosting the August event at Trump National Doral Miami.

“I have zero interest in moving the Republican National Convention to Doral in Miami, as falsely reported by the Fake News @nytimes in order to stir up trouble,” Trump tweeted. “Ballroom is not nearly big enough & would like to stay in N.C., whose gov. doesn’t even know if he can let people in?”

Last year, the White House announced plans to host this year’s G7 summit at Trump’s Miami-area resort, before relocating the site to Camp David.

Earlier Monday, Trump torched North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, writing on Twitter that Republicans would be “reluctantly forced” to relocate the convention if Cooper did not allow it to proceed citing coronavirus concerns.

“Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena,” Trump wrote. “In other words, we would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space.”

Trump added in his morning tweets: “Plans are being made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August. They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site. This is not something I want to do.”

The Republican Party has already committed large sums of money to host the convention in Charlotte and relocating to a different city would incur significant costs. Republican leaders are moving forward with plans for a standard convention as Democrats consider moving their convention in Milwaukee online after already shifting July dates to August.

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National security adviser compares China’s coronavirus response to Chernobyl

The White House national security adviser on Sunday compared China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic to the then-Soviet Union’s response after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

“The cover-up that they did of the virus is going to go down in history, along with Chernobyl. We’ll see an HBO special about it 10 or 15 years from now. And so we’re in a different place with China as we speak today,” Robert O’Brien said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

O’Brien was responding to a question from host Chuck Todd about whether the Trump administration was tough enough on Beijing as it tried to hammer out a trade deal with the country.

“We want good relations with China and with the Chinese people, but unfortunately we’re seeing just action after action by the Chinese Communist Party that makes it difficult. And with respect to the trade deal, we’ll see if they live up to it. But we’re dealing in a new world now with corona,” O’Brien said.

“They unleashed a virus on the world that’s destroyed trillions of dollars in American economic wealth that we’re having to spend to keep our economy alive, to keep Americans afloat during this virus.”

President Trump has blasted China and its President Xi Jinping for misleading the US and other countries about the coronavirus outbreak that began in the city of Wuhan in December and for failing to accurately report the number of cases it had.

Those actions by China, Trump said, allowed the coronavirus to spread widely before countries could take effective steps to combat it.

O’Brien described Trump’s Jan. 30 order banning travel from China as a “profile in courage” that “saved countless lives.”

“Unfortunately, China did none of that. And so, look, we’re in a very different place with China right now, and the president’s made that clear. But, you know, the Chinese didn’t do what they said. We’ve also learned that at the time, that they cracked down internally and refused to allow people from Hubei and Wuhan to travel throughout China, they allowed those folks to travel to Europe,” O’Brien said.

He was asked on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” whether he thought China would share a coronavirus vaccine with the US if it developed one first.

“I think we’re going to develop a vaccine first,” O’Brien said, but added “there’s a chance, and it’s been reported, that the Chinese have been engaged in espionage to try to find the research and the technologies that we’re working on both for a vaccine and a therapy … they’ve got a many-year history of stealing American intellectual property and knocking off American technology and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did that with the vaccines.”

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Coronavirus resisters could get violent if lockdowns drag on, feds warn

The federal government is warning that essential workers and authority figures — public and private — are at the highest risk of being attacked by stay-at-home resisters as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

Counterterrorism analysts at the Department of Homeland Security notified law enforcement officials and government leaders of their findings Thursday, according to ABC News, which obtained the report.

“Some illicit actors probably will view any continued state-mandated orders as government overreach, and anticipated safety guidelines and policies—specifically the use of face masks—probably also will serve as a driving factor behind continued violent incidents related to the pandemic,” the analysts wrote.

Protesters have responded violently to the mandatory lockdowns that virtually all the states imposed — and now are beginning to lift.

Early in May, white supremacists posted a sheriff’s private information online because they were angry over the arrest of a Colorado man who had encouraged others to carry firearms at an anti-lockdown demonstration.

Health Director Clay Goddard was confident his staff could contain the spread, particularly since everyone had been wearing masks.

“But I’m going to be honest with you, we can’t have many more of these. We can’t make this a regular habit or our capability as a community will be strained and we will have to reevaluate what things look like going forward.”

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Trump may launch White House panel to probe social media biases

President Trump may soon establish a White House panel to investigate conservatives’ complaints of online censorship and suppression by social-media companies.

The new body could take the form of a White House commission, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

“Left-wing bias in the tech world is a con­cern that definitely needs to be addressed,” a White House official said.

Trump has frequently railed against Facebook, Twitter, and Google for allegedly banning or throttling right-wing content — usually using his own 80-million-follower Twitter account to do so.

“The Radical Left is in total command & control of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google,” Trump tweeted last week, amid reports that the Department of Justice is preparing a federal antitrust

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Trump honors Harley-riding veterans at White House event

WASHINGTON — Harley-riding veterans burned rubber and blasted Guns N’ Roses at the White House on Friday as part of an event celebrating the nation’s military.

More than a dozen members of veterans service organization AMVETS were honored at the event with President Trump and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, with Trump praising their service and touting his support among bikers.

In a video of the event, bikers with Rolling Thunder, an advocacy group that aims to raise awareness of prisoners of war, can be seen loudly rumbling through the White House grounds, performing laps of the South Lawn to the tune of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.

The president walked onto the Blue Room balcony after Survivor’s 1980s ballad “Eye Of The Tiger” played and he smiled and waved as the bikers tore past him below.

The massive “Rolling To Remember” rally, which attracts hundreds of thousands of riders to Washington each Memorial Day weekend, was canceled this year amid the coronavirus pandemic and will instead be virtual.

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Trump wants churches open, says GOP crafting new coronavirus bill

President Trump says Republicans are working to draft a new coronavirus bill and that he plans to pressure states to allow churches to reopen as the pandemic ebbs.

Trump said he met on Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to discuss priorities for the legislation — after Trump and McConnell flatly rejected a $3 trillion bill passed by House Democrats on Friday.

“We just had a meeting with Mitch McConnell and the group and we’re working on a package of very positive things,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to Michigan.

Trump said he separately plans to push states to allow churches to resume operations as local authorities gradually end two months of mandated business closures and quarantine rules.

“The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors. I want to get our churches open, and we’re going to be taking a very strong position on that very soon,” he said.

After four major coronavirus bills, Trump is pushing for a payroll tax cut in new legislation and McConnell wants liability protections for companies that reopen. But Democrats who hold the House insist on state bailouts, which Trump and Republicans are wary of granting.

Republicans also are skeptical of a Democratic proposal to extend a $600-per-week boost in unemployment insurance pay through January. Members of both parties, however, expressed interest in additional stimulus checks and new infrastructure spending.

Each of the prior pandemic bills was drafted during late nights of bargaining among the White House, McConnell and congressional Democrats.

McConnell’s office and the White House did not immediately offer additional information on the Thursday meeting.

In a Thursday morning speech on the Senate floor, McConnell blasted House Democrats for authorizing proxy voting on Friday, saying that “there will be enormous constitutional questions around anything the House does if they fail to demonstrate a real quorum [of 50 percent attendance].”

The Democratic reform allows House lawmakers to vote for up to 10 colleagues.

McConnell did not mention elements of emerging GOP legislation on the floor, but knocked Democrats for holding few House gatherings, despite senators continuing to show up on Capitol Hill.

“I’m wondering if we should send senators over there to collect their newspapers and water their plants,” McConnell said. “About the only product to emerge from their lengthy sabbatical has been an 1,800-page, $3 trillion messaging bill that couldn’t even unite their own conference.”

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New Jersey gym owners who reopened in violation of governor’s orders receive summons

Cops issued a summons to the owners of a New Jersey gym that flouted Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home regulations to reopen Monday morning — but the owners still plan to keep their business running.

The disorderly conduct summons, issued to Atilis Gym owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti on Monday afternoon, did not specify the penalty — but state law indicates the offense could land them six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Camden County gave the order for the summons, which was delivered by Bellmawr police, according to a man who answered the phone at the gym.

“We’re assuming that came down from the governor,” he said. “It’s my assumption.”

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Gym-goers and supporters gathered outside were asked to disperse, which they did.

“I think it was important we show some faith because this was never a battle with law enforcement,” the man said. “We complied with that, we had the crowd disperse.”

The gym will open again Tuesday, he added.

Hours earlier, the owners had hoped they were in the clear.

Two Bellmawr police officers, wearing masks, came to the door of the Atilis Gym shortly after 10 a.m. and asked to speak with Smith and Trumbetti.

“We are and were only here for everybody’s safety today,” one officer said, addressing the owners and the crowd. “We plan for the worst and hope for the best, and it seems like that’s what we have out here today. Formally, you are all in violation of the executive order. On that note, have a good day, everybody be safe.”

The owners hugged each other, and more than 100 people crowding the gym’s parking lot high-fived each other and cheered, “USA! USA!,” “Freedom!” and “We won!”

“[The officers] actually surprised the hell out of me,” Trumbetti told WCAU. “[They] did their job and upheld their oath … and know that we are not doing anything wrong.”

Earlier in the morning, Bellmawr authorities and New Jersey State Police used their own cruisers, as well as Department of Public Works vehicles, to block some entrances in an attempt to limit the number of people entering the gym.

People were able to enter through another doorway.

Trumbetti urged other businesses to follow in the gym’s footsteps, but “make sure you’re compliant, you can’t just open up and be a rebel,” he added.

The gym has taken several precautions, including taking temperatures at the door and spacing equipment about 10 feet apart.

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Louisiana cop fired for racist coronavirus Facebook post

A white Louisiana police officer is out of a job for a racist Facebook post in which he allegedly suggested it was “unfortunate” that the coronavirus pandemic had not killed off black people, officials said.

Kaplan Police Officer Steven Aucoin was fired after an investigation into the hateful social media post, department officials announced Friday.

“We are writing this to inform everyone that we were made aware of the situation with the comments on Facebook from Steven Aucoin,” a police statement read. “Chief [Joshua] Hardy had the incident looked into and the officer was terminated. Chief Hardy and the Kaplan Police Department would like to apologize for the matter.”

The department did not detail exactly what Aucoin wrote, but Hardy told KATC the officer insinuated he thought it was “unfortunate” that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak had not killed off all black people.

“I don’t tolerate behavior like that in my department,” Hardy said. “It’s very unbecoming of a police officer, or any person for that matter, to make a comment like that.”

Aucoin previously worked as an officer in Kaplan for eight months before leaving the department for a job in the oil business. He then returned to work as a patrol officer three months ago, Hardy said.

Aucoin’s troubling Facebook comment was made as he argued with another woman on a local news story about the coronavirus. The officer was later fired for violating the department’s social media policy, Hardy said.

“Police officers are held to a higher standard and should not be acting that way,” the chief continued. “But sometimes you really don’t know who a person is until you’re around them for a while.”

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